Child, Children

Allan Martin

We talk using the language of the people. We may ask someone if they have any children. Having but one child, they would answer, “Yes, I have a boy (or girl).” They understand that “child” is included in the term “children.” They don’t say, “No, I have no children, but I do have one child.” That wouldn’t make sense and would confuse people. Use common sense. People just don’t talk that way. Not now, and not thousands of years ago. The Lord used the language of the people when authoring the Bible, and expected the people to apply that to what He said in the Bible. Otherwise we could never understand the Lord’s will.

“17 Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” Eph 5:17

There is a position today, held by some, that the term children always indicates a multiplicity of children. Multiple means “consisting of, including, or involving more than one” (Merriam-Webster). And based on this position some say that in 1 Tim 3:4-5 an elder in the Lord’s church is required to have a multiplicity of children.

“4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)” 1 Tim 3:4-5

Of course, the passage just uses the term children. It doesn’t say, “having more than one child” or “having a multiplicity of children.” It is an inference that this is what it means, but it is not a necessary inference. And, there are others that understand that contextually the term children in this passage is not used to indicate a multiplicity of children. The passage is simply emphasizing that the elder is one who has a household, and has learned to rule well his household, regardless of the number of children he has whether it be one or many.

This writer believes that those who hold the multiple child position, do so in all honesty, and are simply following their conscience, and deserve courtesy and respect. And many times, accommodations can be made in respect of their conscience.

It is the persuasion of this writer that the Bible definitely teaches that the term children does not require a multiplicity of children. And this writer believes that to teach that the term children requires a multiplicity of children involves those who so believe and teach in a multiplicity of inconsistencies. It becomes an untenable theory. To “theorize” means “To form a theory or theories; speculate” (Webster).

Following are examples where the theory leads to inconsistencies. Let’s look first at some cases in the Old testament, where it is simple to see that the terms child and children can refer to the same individual idiomatically (following the idioms, language, of the people). Look at the following passages:

Look at Gen 16:1-3; Gen 16:15

Gen 16:1-3

“16 Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. 2 And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. 3 And Sarai Abram's wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.”

Gen 16:15

“15 And Hagar bare Abram a son: and Abram called his son's name, which Hagar bare, Ishmael.”

So, Sarai wanted to obtain children by Hagar, and she got what she wanted. Hagar bore her a son through Abraham, called Ishmael (the only son Hagar had by Abraham, Gen 21:9-14). Then no one could say that Sarai had no children by Hagar. She did. She had a son by Hagar.

Look at Gen 21:5-7

“5 And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him. 6 And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me. 7 And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck? for I have born him a son in his old age.”

Sarah said, “Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck? For I have born him a son in his old age.”

Regarding Isaac being born, Sarah asks a rhetorical question. “Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck?” The answer is obvious. In context, no one in their right mind who knew Sarah would say that, because she was 90 years old and past child-bearing age. But God performed a miracle, and caused Sarah to bear Abraham a son in his old age. And yes, now because Sarah gave birth to her first child. Isaac (a son, singular), people could say that she gave children suck.

What Sarah said in Genesis 21:5-7 causes difficulty to the position that the term children means a multiplicity of children. So, some theorize that Sarah’s use of the term children in Gen 21:5-7 has to mean that Sarah must have been a wet nurse before Isaac was born. Of course, the text in no way implies that conclusion. In reality, the terms children and son in this same passage are closely contextually related, referencing the miracle that Sarah had given birth to a son, and that she was giving him (this son) suck. To try to make the passage imply anything else detracts from the point that Sarah was trying to make, that she, through the miracle of God, was finally able to nurse children (a child).

And then again, some theorize that the use of the term children in Genesis 21:5-7 by Sarah to describe one child, Isaac, was a misnomer, a mistake, and that she was mixed up or lied (detracting from her intelligence and character). But Sarah was using the language of the people, and neither the people nor God misunderstood her and tried to correct her. But the opposite happened when the angel of God originally said that Sarah was going to have a son in a year. Sarah laughed within herself at the idea that a woman of her age would have a son, temporarily showing doubt (Gen 18:10-12, Hebrews 11:11). This was correctable, and the angel of the Lord immediately brought it to her attention, that she had laughed (within herself) at the idea. But she denied it, and the angel of the Lord said she did indeed laugh at the idea (Gen 18:13-15). The point is, that in Gen 21:5-7 there was no correction made to Sarah’s statement concerning the birth of a son that enabled Sarah to say that she now gave children suck. Describing a son by the term children was perfectly okay. It was just a case of using the common language of the people, as we do today.

Regarding Sarah’s character, she was a very righteous lady of God, and she is set forth in the New Testament as a woman of faith and a great example for others to follow. See below:

Heb 11:11-12

“11 Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.”

1 Peter 3:1-6

“1 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; 2 While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. 3 Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; 4 But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. 5 For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: 6 Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.”

Look at Ex 21:1-6

“21 Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them. 2 If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. 3 If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself. 5 And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: 6 Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.”

So, if a purchased Hebrew servant came in by himself, then he should go out by himself. If he had married a wife prior to his coming, she could go out with him.

But if his master had given him a wife, and she had born him sons or daughters, then the wife and the children were the master’s and the man had to go out alone.

But if the servant wanted to keep his wife and children that were the master’s, then he had to agree to serve his master forever.

But according to the theory that the term children always has to mean more than one child, then theoretically all he has to do is have just one child by the wife given by the master. Then he would be free to take his wife and child with him when he leaves, because he wouldn’t have the restraint of having a wife and children (multiple children) per some.

So, per the theory that the term children always indicates a multiplicity, he would be free to take the family (a wife and one child) given by the master and go. Try pulling that one on the master and see what happens! The language of the people makes it understood that the term children includes just one child. As it does today.

Look at Lev 25:38-41

“38 I am the Lord your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God. 39 And if thy brother that dwelleth by thee be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee; thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bondservant: 40 But as an hired servant, and as a sojourner, he shall be with thee, and shall serve thee unto the year of jubilee: 41 And then shall he depart from thee, both he and his children with him, and shall return unto his own family, and unto the possession of his fathers shall he return.”

If a brother who is a hired servant only had one child, then according to the theory that the term children always has to mean more than one child, he could not go out in the year of Jubilee. Per the theory, he would be required to have had a multiplicity of children before he could go out. Use common sense. We just don’t talk that way. Let’s judge righteous judgment (John 7:24).

Look at Lev 25:52-54

“52 And if there remain but few years unto the year of jubilee, then he shall count with him, and according unto his years shall he give him again the price of his redemption. 53 And as a yearly hired servant shall he be with him: and the other shall not rule with rigour over him in thy sight. 54 And if he be not redeemed in these years, then he shall go out in the year of jubilee, both he, and his children with him.”

Once again, if a yearly hired servant only had one child, then according to the theory that the term children always has to mean more than one child, he could not go out in the year of Jubilee. Per the theory he would be required to have a multiplicity of children before he could go out. Use common sense. We just don’t talk that way.

Look at Num 3:4

“4 And Nadab and Abihu died before the Lord, when they offered strange fire before the Lord, in the wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children: and Eleazar and Ithamar ministered in the priest's office in the sight of Aaron their father.”

If Nadab or Abihu had had one child, could it be said that they had no children? That wouldn’t make any sense. Use common sense and the language of the people.

Look at 1 Sam 1:1-2

“1 Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim, of mount Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephrathite: 2 And he had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah: and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.”

Hannah prayed to God and He granted her a child, Samuel. According to the theory, that children always means plural, then even though Hannah now had a child, it would still, at that point in time, have to be said that she had no children. Be reasonable. We just don’t talk that way. Use common sense that the Lord gave us.

Look at 1 Sam 30:9-10; 1 Sam 30:22-24

1 Sam 30:9-10

“9 So David went, he and the six hundred men that were with him, and came to the brook Besor, where those that were left behind stayed. 10 But David pursued, he and four hundred men: for two hundred abode behind, which were so faint that they could not go over the brook Besor.”

1 Sam 30:22-24

“22 Then answered all the wicked men and men of Belial, of those that went with David, and said, Because they went not with us, we will not give them ought of the spoil that we have recovered, save to every man his wife and his children, that they may lead them away, and depart. 23 Then said David, Ye shall not do so, my brethren, with that which the Lord hath given us, who hath preserved us, and delivered the company that came against us into our hand. 24 For who will hearken unto you in this matter? but as his part is that goeth down to the battle, so shall his part be that tarrieth by the stuff: they shall part alike.”

According to the theory, that children always means a multiplicity, if a man had a wife and only one child he would not fit the category of having his wife and his children, and he couldn’t retrieve his captured family. Nonsense. Absolutely, he could retrieve a captured wife and one child. They would be included in the category his wife and his children. Think long and hard on this one.

Look at 1 Chron 2:30-35

“30 And the sons of Nadab; Seled, and Appaim: but Seled died without children. 31 And the sons of Appaim; Ishi. And the sons of Ishi; Sheshan. And the children of Sheshan; Ahlai. 32 And the sons of Jada the brother of Shammai; Jether and Jonathan: and Jether died without children. 33 And the sons of Jonathan; Peleth, and Zaza. These were the sons of Jerahmeel. 34 Now Sheshan had no sons, but daughters. And Sheshan had a servant, an Egyptian, whose name was Jarha. 35 And Sheshan gave his daughter to Jarha his servant to wife; and she bare him Attai.”

Note that in the chronology the term sons is used to represent either a multiplicity of children or a singular child (King James version or American Standard version).

Translations other than the KJV and the ASV sometimes translate sons as son. But The Pulpit Commentary notes that the Hebrew term translated sons in this passage (KJV and ASV) is literally just that, sons:

“Still, as all the other sons of this passage mean sons strictly, it would be unlikely that sons of Sheshan only should mean "grandsons."”

But some other translations using son proves the very point of this study, that the plural form of a word sometimes can include the singular form. We need to use the language of the people. God uses the language of the people so that we can understand the Bible.

Also note that in verses 31 and 32, a genealogy is listed where the sons of Appaim, Ishi, Sheshan, and Jada are given, but, we find that the first of the three men Appiam, Ishi, and Sheshan each had but one son, whereas Jada had two sons. Carefully note that in this Biblical passage the term sons is used to represent a single son or a multiplicity of sons!

Furthermore, the passage speaks of the children of Sheshan being but one person, Ahlai. The plural covers the singular.

Important. Also note that Jada’s two sons were Jether and Jonathan. It says that Jether died without children. By any stretch of the imagination, could it be claimed that if Jether had had a son, but not two, then that means he died without children? Certainly not! But if we accept the theory proposed by some, that the plural always means multiple (more than one), then that sort of unwarranted conclusion is possible. Let’s use common sense and the language of the people.

In order to understand the Bible, God used our language, the language of the people, in writing the Bible. The singular is many times included in the plural.

Look at 1 Chron 4:27

“27 And Shimei had sixteen sons and six daughters; but his brethren had not many children, neither did all their family multiply, like to the children of Judah.”

Note that the term children can mean many or few. It has no reference to a particular number of children.

Look at Prov 4:1-4; Prov 5:3-9; Prov 7:24-27; Prov 8:32-33

Prov 4:1-4

“4 Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding. 2 For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my law. 3 For I was my father's son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother. 4 He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live.”

Now, very carefully notice the language used in this passage. The writer says that children are to hear the instruction of a father. According to some, children must mean a multiplicity, and therefore he is talking about a father instructing children (a multiplicity). But now, note that the example the writer gives of children receiving instruction from a father, is an example of a child receiving instruction from a father (Prov 4:3-10, see below).

“3 For I was my father's son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother. 4 He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live. 5 Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth. 6 Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee. 7 Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. 8 Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her. 9 She shall give to thine head an ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee. 10 Hear, O my son, and receive my sayings; and the years of thy life shall be many.” Prov 4:3-10

His example on children receiving instruction of a father is a very long dissertation on how a child should receive instruction of a father. This Biblical logic, showing that the general term children can be explained by the term child cannot be escaped. Let the Bible explain itself.

Continuing on with other passages along this line, look at:

Prov 5:3-9

“3 For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil: 4 But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a twoedged sword. 5 Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell. 6 Lest thou shouldest ponder the path of life, her ways are moveable, that thou canst not know them. 7 Hear me now therefore, O ye children, and depart

not from the words of my mouth. 8 Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house: 9 Lest thou give thine honour unto others, and thy years unto the cruel:”

Prov 7:24-27

“24 Hearken unto me now therefore, O ye children, and attend to the words of my mouth. 25 Let not thine heart decline to her ways, go not astray in her paths. 26 For she hath cast down many wounded: yea, many strong men have been slain by her. 27 Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death.”

Prov 8:32-33

“32 Now therefore hearken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are they that keep my ways. 33 Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not.”

In summary, Children in these passages can also include but one child. Look at the context. Be reasonable and use common sense. The term children does not limit the instruction to a multiplicity of children of a father, but will include a one child situation.

Look at Prov 13:22; Prov 14:26: Prov 20:7; Prov 31:28

Prov 13:22

“22 A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children's children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just.”

Prov 14:26

“26 In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge.”

Prov 20:7

“7 The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him.”

Prov 31:28

“28 Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.”

If the term children in these passages means, according to the theory, strictly a multiplicity of children, then regarding the situation where there is a single child, a good man wouldn’t be authorized to leave his inheritance to the single child, nor would the single child have a place of refuge, nor would the single child be blessed, nor would the single child rise up to bless the mother. That is not reasonable. Use common sense. Obviously, the term children includes the situation where there is just a single child.

Look at Isa 38:19

“19 The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day: the father to the children shall make known thy truth.”

According to the theory, that children only means a multiplicity of children, then a single child would not be included. There would have to be a multiplicity of children to whom the truth is made known, because, supposedly per the theory one child can’t fall into the category of the father’s children. That is unreasonable. Use common sense.

Once again, there is a theory today, held by some, that the term children always must mean a multiplicity of children. And those who hold this position become involved in inconsistencies. For examples, let’s look now at cases in the New Testament, where it is simple to see that the term children can be used idiomatically (following the idioms, language, of the people) to describe the singular as well as the plural. Look at the following passages:

In the New Testament, we can see that idiomatically the term children is not limited to describing just a multiplicity of children:

Look at Matt 7:11

“11 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”

Jesus, in his comparison, acknowledged that parents know how to give good gifts to their children. He didn’t mean to restrict his discussion to parents who have a multiplicity of children. Parents who have just one child certainly also know how to give good gifts to that one child. That is included. Use the common sense that the Lord gave us concerning communication.

Look at Matt 10:21

“21 And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death.”

Jesus, in his discussion, didn’t mean to exclude the possibility of one father from rising up against many children. Nor, in the latter part of the verse, he didn’t mean to exclude the possibility of many children from rising up against just one parent. Nor was he excluding the possibility of one child from rising up against two parents. Use common sense. We just don’t talk that way. The Lord didn’t intend that the Bible should be cumbersome and wordy. He used the language of the people so it could be understood. General statements are made concerning fathers and children, and we understand that other possible combinations are included.

Use common sense that the Lord gave us. Jesus said:

John 7:22-24

“22 Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision; (not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers;) and ye on the sabbath day circumcise a man. 23 If a man on the sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the sabbath day? 24 Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”

Look at Matt 19:29

“29 And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.”

Note that according to the theory, the plural form always means a multiplicity. Then according to that it is not enough to forsake one house, or one brother, or one sister, or one child, or one land. That wouldn’t get you everlasting life. According to the theory, it must take a multiplicity in each category. Let’s don’t allow ourselves to get in a position where we get caught in an untenable defence.

Look at Matt 22:23-24

“23 The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him, 24 Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.”

If, according to the theory, children always has to mean a multiplicity of children, and a man happens to have only one child and then he dies, he still would have no children. then his brother will have to marry the man’s wife and raise up seed (at least one more child) unto his brother, to reach the theoretical level of children (multiple). That’s what we can get into when we step outside the conventions of language.

Look at Luke 14:26

“26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”

Note that according to the theory, the plural form must always mean a multiplicity. Then according to that reasoning, it is not enough to hate (love less than the Lord) one child, or one brother, or one sister. That wouldn’t be enough to allow you to become a disciple of the Lord. Applying the theory, the real test would be that you have to love less a multiplicity in each category. That’s not reasonable. Judge righteous judgment.

Look at 1 Thess 2:7

“7 But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children.”

It is obvious in this passage that the reference to children can be taken to include one or many children. Otherwise we are driven to the totally unwarranted position that Paul applies his example “only” to a nurse caring for a multiplicity of children. Use common sense and the grammatical language of the people.

Look at 1 Thess 2:11

“11 As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children.”

It is obvious in this passage that the reference to children can be taken to include one or many children. Otherwise we are driven to the totally uncalled for position that Paul applies his example “only” to a father with a multiplicity of children. Use common sense and the grammatical language of the people.

And, comparing this to 1 Tim 5:3-4 the same principle applies.

1 Tim 5:3-4

“3 Honour widows that are widows indeed. 4 But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God.”

It is obvious in this passage that the reference to children and nephews can be taken to include one or many children, or one or many nephews, respectively. Otherwise we are driven to the untenable position that Paul applies his exclusion for a widow indeed only to a widow having either a multiplicity of children or a multiplicity of nephews. If she has one child or one nephew, then according to the theory, she doesn’t have “children” or “nephews,” and therefore is not restrained by the passage and could become a widow indeed. Such logic would burden the church. See 1 Tim 5:8:

1 Tim 5:8

“8 But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”

Look at 1 Tim 5:7-8

7 And these things give in charge, that they may be blameless. 8 But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.

This passage is set contextually in the midst of the discussion of widows indeed, and indicates that if a widow has capable relatives, then they should care for her that the church be not charged (1 Tim 5:1-8). Verse 8 indicates that if a man won’t take care of his own, especially for “those” of his own house, then he has denied the faith and is worse than an infidel.

The those of his own house, is in the plural (Webster’s Dictionary). So, the man in the passage is obligated to care for his own, especially for those (plural) of his own house. Per the theory that the plural form of a word must indicate a multiplicity, and cannot be used for the singular, then if there remains only one individual in his household, he is not obligated to care for that individual. He would only be obligated to care for a household with a multiplicity of individuals. The those [plural] of his own house phrase would bind him to caring for a household with a multiplicity of individuals, but not to caring for a single individual!

Someone might say, “That’s not logical.” That’s exactly the point. It’s not logical. It doesn’t make sense. The same is true when it comes to the phrase “One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity” (1 Tim 3:4). It doesn’t make for good grammar or good sense to limit his children to a man with a multiplicity of children! Whether he has one child or many, he is obligated to have his children in subjection. The number of his children is not the point of Paul’s discussion, but rather, the behavior of his children is the point.

Look at 1 Tim 5:9-10

“9 Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, 10 Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints' feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work.”

It is obvious in this passage that the reference to children can be taken to include one or many children. Otherwise we are driven to the untenable position that Paul would be saying that a widow must have raised a multiplicity of children, or must have had a multiplicity of occasions to lodge a stranger, or must have had a multiplicity of occasions to perform a foot washing, or must have had a multiplicity of occasions to relieve the afflicted. If she, due to circumstances, has had but one occasion to have only one child, or only one lodging of a stranger, or only one foot washing, or only one relief of the afflicted, then following the theory of some, she wouldn’t qualify, and therefore could not become a widow indeed! Use common sense.

And in 1 Tim 3:4-5 and Titus 1:6 the same principles as above will apply.

1 Tim 3:4-5

“4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)”

Titus 1:6

“6 If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.”

The Lord is teaching us that to qualify as an elder, a man should be a successful family man with his children in subjection, not accused of riot or unruly. He wasn’t applying a requirement that children means a multiplicity of children. As we have definitely seen, the Biblical language does not require that the term children means a multiplicity of children. The Biblical language shows that it can mean one or many. That can be seen in the case of the prior discussion, concerning passages such as 1 Tim 5:8 and 1 Tim 5:9-10.

As far as the number of children required to be an elder, some may say why stop at two. Some may say to raise the bar (speaking from a human standpoint) and make it a whole lot more. They may say two are better than one, three are better than two, or four are better than three, or five are better than four. And so on. The more the better. Or, is that really better? Consider that the patriarch Jacob had twelve sons, but nine of them gave consent to sell their brother Joseph into slavery (Gen 42:13-23; Gen 42:24-34) and then they claimed to Jacob that Joseph had been killed by a wild beast (Gen 37:1-36). Or consider that King David was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), but he didn’t fare so well with raising a large family (1 Chron 3:1-9). He had difficulty in keeping them all on the straight and narrow. His firstborn Amnon was a rapist who tricked and then raped his sister Tamar (2 Sam 13:1-21). And his thirdborn Absalom was a treacherous power grabber who tried to take over the kingdom from David (2 Sam 15:1 to 2 Sam 18:33). And his son Solomon became deeply involved in polygamy having hundreds of wives and concubines, with some of them turning his heart away from God to idols (1 Kings 11:1-11).

On the other hand, one could make an argument that the raising of only two children has its own set of problems. Consider that Isaac and Rebecca raised two boys, Jacob and Esau, who had serious problems for quite some time with trickery, deceit, and profaneness, (Gen 25:27-34; Gen 27:1-37; Heb 12:16-17). Consider that the priest of God, Eli, raised two boys who were moral horrors when it came to dealing with people and cavorting with women around the temple of God (1 Sam 2:12-17; 1 Sam 2:22-25; 1 Sam 3:11-14). And consider that the esteemed prophet of God and judge of Israel, Samuel, raised two boys who turned out to be covetous men and bribe takers as judges of Israel (1 Sam 8:1-3).

Then again, an argument can be made that the raising of one child can be more challenging and rewarding than the raising of several children. The parents of one child have to work hard to keep from showing favoritism for their child over the children of others, and they have to be careful to keep from spoiling that one child with gifts and attention and control. Children need to be trained and encouraged to learn to take the initiative to do the right thing in life. It can be said that in the Bible there are parents of one child who have been successful in raising some mighty men and women of God. Consider Abraham and Sarah, who had only one son, Isaac (Gen 22:1-14), and Isaac became one of the greatest of the patriarchs (Gen 17:19). Consider Jephthah who had an only child, a daughter, who totally submitted to her father’s will under very trying circumstances, and in so doing it became a great custom in Israel for the daughters of Israel to remember her and lament her willing sacrifice for four days each year (Judges 11:30-40). And consider the example of Elizabeth and Zachariah the priest who had one son named John, who turned out to be the greatest of the prophets (Luke 1:10-66; Luke 7:24-28).

But this is all human supposition and guesswork. We can introduce reasoning and cases for and against any number of children best for an elder, and reach no conclusion. It cannot successfully be argued that the Biblical language requires more than one. God is far more interested in good moral character than in quantity. Some may be taking the issue and saying, “Our judgment says the more the better, and so let’s stay on the safe side and require many.” But it is never safe to make human ideas into hard and fast laws (Matt 15:9). If we feel more comfortable with the idea of multiple children, then admit that it is a personal scruple of ours, and nothing more. Personal scruples may have some merit in the eyes of the beholder, but personal scruples should never be allowed to become a bone of contention. We shouldn’t charge the opposition either way with being false teachers (see Rom 14:1-4 below):

“1Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. 2 For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. 3 Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. 4 Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.” Rom 14:1-4

The Bible language requires a successful family unit where the father rules his household well with a submissive wife and submissive children. Let’s avoid rules, that say that the term children must always refer to a multiplicity of children, and restrict good, qualified men from being elders. And on the other hand let’s not despise and pass judgment on those whose judgment is that a multiplicity of children is the better way to go for an elder.

Experience has shown it is hard for churches of Christ today to muster elderships, partially due to human requirements. There are several long-term churches of Christ in the area who do not have elderships. Compare that to what happened in New Testament days. Paul and Barnabas went back through the churches they established and appointed elders in every church (Acts 14:23). Titus was commanded by Paul to appoint elders in every city (Titus 1:5). Something is wrong today, and it’s not the Lord’s fault.