Compared to Timothy, we know a lot less about Titus. He is not even mentioned in Acts, although Paul writes about him frequently in his letters. We know that he was one of Paul's traveling companions and a member of his inner circle, but how and when and where they met is unknown. We can reconstruct somewhat of a scenario based on Paul's letters.
According to Paul's account in Gal 2:1-10, Titus accompanied him and Barnabas to Jerusalem. This visit occurred fourteen years after his first trip when Paul had only spoken with Peter and James. If this incident in Galatians is a reference to the Jerusalem Council, then the year would have been 48-49 C.E. The purpose of this trip to Jerusalem was to determine the issue of circumcision regarding the Gentiles. Paul defended his mission to the Gentiles in terms of being against those who believed that all the Gentiles had to be circumcised and required to obey the Law of Moses. The argument was that this was a requirement from God, Himself. God had given the law; God had given the covenant. All believers had to be circumcised. The decision of the Council was that since God had made no distinction between Jews and Gentiles, circumcision would not be required of them. And Paul writes in Gal 2:3 that Titus was not compelled to be circumcised.
Sometime later, Paul again mentions Titus as one of his companions. He sent Titus to the Corinthians as his emissary when relations with them were very rocky. Since this letter was written from Ephesus, it is likely that they had spent some time together there. It fell to Titus to smooth things over with the Corinthians and to attempt to restore relations with them. Apparently, Titus was quite successful in his efforts, joining up with Paul in Macedonia. At some point, Titus returned to Corinth and was involved in gathering the collection for the poor in Jerusalem (which is also not mentioned in Acts).
The next we hear about Titus is from this letter, wherein Paul has left him behind in Crete. Acts does not talk about a mission to Crete, so scholars are unable to determine when this might have taken place, but most opt for a time nearer the end of Paul's ministry. Nonetheless, Titus' mission at this point is to appoint elders in every city and to correct all deficiencies. It suggests that Paul did not found this church. Indeed, some scholars think the Cretan church was founded by those in attendance at the very first Pentecost in Jerusalem (when a sound like the blowing of a violent wind was heard by all). If those individuals had gone back to Crete and founded a church with no additional apostolic support, it is no wonder more work needed to be done. Of course, Paul gives no indication how long they were there or why he didn't stay longer to complete this task. Unfortunately, the Cretan people were highly stereotyped in antiquity. They were among those commonly referred to as barbarians by the Greeks. They were thought to be lacking in morals and were considered to be rude and greedy.
And while this scenario does provide a sketchy outline of Paul's relationship with Titus, it does not prove Pauline authorship of this letter. Most modern scholars still believe that these letters were written pseudonymously between 90-125 C.E. That is an ongoing debate (See Bible overview on 1 Timothy).
There are many similarities between this letter and 1 Timothy. The style and tone of the letters are comparable. Some verses are almost identical. Both deal with leadership issues, and opponents are present in both congregations. Neither Timothy nor Titus seems to be a member of the churches; they are not bishops, deacons, or even elders. They are there on Paul's behest to make things better. The letters are ostensibly written to them privately, but with the intention of being made public. But there are also several significant differences between them. In Ephesus where Timothy was stationed, the opponents were from within the church. This does not seem to be the case in Crete. In fact, the opponents play a minor role there. Timothy's main task is to appoint elders in every church, indicating these churches did not have a working administrative structure. He does not have to deal with rebuking bad leaders; he is only to establish new ones – choosing moral, upright individuals who meet stated qualifications. In addition, Titus is to preach the gospel in a way that brings spiritual growth. Of course, the best model for correct behavior must be Titus, himself. Paul elucidates approaches and responsibilities for each gender and age group, ending with a word to the slaves. Most of the message in Titus seems to be directed to new believers, people who are in the process of figuring out how to exist within a pagan environment. The author speaks often of "good deeds," not only for those in need, but also for those who were "outside," who might be watching them. In their behavior, the Cretans were to be beyond reproach – the natural state for those who had been redeemed in Christ. Their "good works" were not so they could "earn" salvation, but were the expectations for a people who had received God's grace.
There are roughly five sections in the letter to Titus: 1:1-4 – Salutation; 1:5-16 -- Discussion of Elders and False Teachers; 2:1-15 – Various Groups within the Congregation; 3:1-11 – Believers Relating to Non-believers; IV – 3:12-15 – Final Greetings
I – 1:1-4 – Salutation
- Paul elaborates on his apostleship
- He is a "servant of God" – the word really is "slave"
- It implies God's ownership of him; he is God's agent
- His task is for the faith of God's elect – those who believe
- They are to have knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness
- Ultimately this knowledge is grounded in the hope of eternal life
- God has promised this and He does not lie
- This is the message that Paul has brought to the world
- The purpose of this letter is to assure the purity of that message in Crete
- This letter is addressed to "Titus, my true son in our common faith"
- "My true son" suggests that Titus was converted by Paul
- As always, Paul greets him with "grace and peace"
- "Grace" is God's unmerited gift
- "Peace" is the harmony and well-being evidenced in the lives of believers
II – 1:5-16 – Discussion of Elders and False Teachers
- Qualities of Elders (Church Officials) (Similar to 1 Timothy 3:1-7)
- Paul had specifically left Titus in Crete (Scholars do not know when this would have occurred)
- He was left behind to "straighten out what was left unfinished"
- It suggests the church had deficiencies that needed attention
- He was to appoint elders in every town
- It suggests the church was spread out and perhaps disorganized
- The purpose was to continue the nature of Paul's authority
- Their personal qualifications are stipulated
- They must be "blameless"
- This is defined as only having one wife
- His children must share in his faith – be believers themselves
- If he can't lead his children, he probably can't lead a church
- Since he will be entrusted with God's work, he cannot be overbearing, quick-tempered; no drunkenness, violence, or pursuit of dishonest gain
- These are the requirements for those who would be God's stewards
- Indeed, they should be hospitable, lovers of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined
- These qualities represent his relations to God, to others, and to himself
- He must also adhere to the teachings he has received
- In that he will be able to exhort the faithful and confront the false teachers
- (This is all very similar to what he said to Timothy)
- Warnings against the false teachers
- Elders are needed because there are many rebellious people
- They have rejected the truth of the gospel, Paul's authority, and Christ's lordship
- They are "talkers" and "deceivers" of the circumcision party (i.e. Jewish)
- The elders need to "silence" these people because they are ruining households
- They teach things they should not teach
- (Apparently they were in the business of religion only for profit)
- Paul quotes a Cretan prophet: "Cretans are liars, brutes, and gluttons"
- (Hardly a flattering description of a people)
- Nonetheless, Paul's point is the people of Crete are susceptible to heresies
- Therefore, the elders should rebuke the false teachers
- Then all will be "sound in the faith"
- They will pay no attention to Jewish myths/teachings of men
- (Needless to say, scholars wish they knew more of these false teachings)
- To the pure, all things are pure
- This is an apparent rebuke against Jewish notions of clean/unclean
- Those who believe this are themselves corrupt because they do not put their trust in Christ
- These people claim to know God but their deeds prove otherwise
- (Again, it is not clear what activities are referred to here)
- The bottom line is that they are unfit for doing anything good
- They are detestable and disobedient
- In short, Paul gives them up to their own evil devices
II – 2:1-15 – Various Groups within the Congregation
- Building up the believers
- Paul repeats that Titus is to only teach what is in accord with "sound doctrine"
- The teachings have to promote spiritual health, good conduct
- This is less about actual doctrine than about behaviors
- First comes instruction for the older men
- They are to be temperate, worthy of respect, and self-controlled
- They are also to be sound in faith, love, and endurance (hope)
- Basically, they should be reputable in every way
- Next comes instruction for the older women
- They are to be reverent in the way they live (good inner character)
- They cannot be slanderers or drinkers of too much wine They need to teach what is good (possibly by modeling good behavior)
- In so doing, they will train the younger women to be pure
- Paul also has a word for the younger women
- Overall, she is to be a good wife – so others will not disparage the gospel
- (This is consistent with a society that believed a wife's behavior reflected on the husband; here it reflects on the gospel. Generally, wives were home bound, expected to be keepers of the house, and submissive to their husbands.)
- She is to be controlled and pure, busy at home, kind, and submissive
- If others see that, then no one will malign the word of God
- Her good behavior, then, will be of benefit to others
- (These "domestic codes" reflect how the church was trying to adapt to its role in second century antiquity. Despite the "freedom of equality in Christ" that was a tenet of the gospel, societal norms had to be honored in order for the church to exist.)
- Next is a word for the younger men
- They, too, are to be self-controlled
- Titus is to deal with them directly (as opposed to having the older women teach the younger women)
- Titus is to model good behavior for them – his own conduct must be in accord with his teachings
- Again, this will prevent anyone from speaking against the gospel
- Titus is to show integrity, seriousness, and soundness of speech
- There can be no basis for accusation in his actions or speech
- Those who oppose will simply have no grounds
- Lastly, Paul has instructions for the slaves
- Obviously, slaves encompassed male and female and all ages
- Not only are slaves to be subject to their masters, but also they are to "please" them
- They cannot talk back to their masters or steal from them
- They are to be completely trustworthy
- Again, others will see and find the gospel more attractive
- Each of these groups, then, is to stand outside the norms of Cretan behavior
- They are to live in a way that no one can speak against the gospel
- They are to live in a way that attracts people to the gospel
- Theological reasons for living like a Christian
- God's grace that brings salvation to all has appeared
- This could be through the saving act of the Christ or the hearing of the gospel
- God's grace allows Christians to say "no" to ungodliness and worldly passions
- These involve estrangement from God
- Instead, Christians are to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives
- These three qualities encompass the inward, outward, and upward aspects of life – characteristics of one's entire life These good behaviors are done in anticipation of Christ's return While living godly lives, we also wait for the "glorious appearing of …..Christ"
- It is not clear whether the Greek should be translated our "great God and Savior, Jesus Christ"
- Or, "our great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ"
- Scholars are quite divided on this; the first would be a bold claim for Jesus' divinity, but many prefer the second translation In either event, Jesus gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity
- Also, he died to purify for himself a people that are his own
- These people are characterized as wanting to do what is good
- All these good works are a proper response to God's grace
- Paul urges Titus to teach them all these things
- He is to both encourage the faithful and rebuke the false
- He has the authority to do this – the message is authentic
- No one should despise him (look down on him)
- He must not permit the message to be denigrated in any fashion
IV – 3:1-11 – Believers Relating to Non-believers
Having dealt with how believers should relate to other believers, Paul addresses the issue of believers in the world Everything they do is being noticed by someone They should always act in accord with the message of the gospel
- Titus is to remind believers they have a duty towards government
- Becoming a Christian does not change that
- In fact, they are to submit themselves to rulers and others in authority
- They are to do whatever is good and to slander no one
- In doing this, they should show humility toward all men
- Paul reminds them that at one time they were like the nonbelievers
- They were foolish, deceived, and enslaved
- Their fortunes changed when the kindness of God our Savior appeared
- This kindness refers to the person and work of Jesus Christ
- His kindness and love brought salvation
- This was not due to any meritorious actions on their parts
- It was God's complete gift
- They were saved through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit
- This could be a metaphor for spiritual renewal or a reference to baptism
- Nor do scholars know whether washing and renewal are the same
- The washing and renewal were poured out generously by the Christ
- This is seen as the Spirit being poured out through Jesus Christ
- In this passage God, the Spirit, and Jesus Christ are all involved in salvation
- We are all justified by God's grace
- When we accepted Christ, we were all justified, righteous
- Grace always comes through faith
- Salvation will be realized eschatologically
- Through Christ, we are heirs of God and have the hope of eternal life
- Even though this is present reality, it also represents a future hope
- Paul verifies that this is a trustworthy saying
- And this is what Titus should focus on in his teachings
- Titus should devote himself to this so that those who have trusted in God will devote themselves to doing good
- Then everyone (including all mankind) will benefit
- "It will be profitable for everyone"
- Dealing with false teachers
- Paul cautions Titus to avoid foolish questions and genealogies
- Nothing good comes of such debates and they are unprofitable and vain
- He is to reject a man who is a heretic – here, meaning someone who holds to false doctrine, not the standard orthodoxy
- He is using this distinction to cause divisions in the church
- Titus is to give him an opportunity to explain himself, and to repent
- But if he chooses not to do this, the man should be cut off (rejected)
- (No procedure is given for this)
- Such a one would have chosen to go along the wrong path
- He is accountable for his decision
- He will be condemned of himself If he is trying to create separations within the church, he will himself be separated from the church
- In this case, the punishment would fit the crime
IV – 3:12-15 – Final Greetings
- Paul concludes with closing instructions
- He plans to send a worker (Artemas or Tychicus) to replace Titus
- Nothing further is known about Artemas
- Tychicus was later sent to Ephesus
- He wants Titus to join him in Nicopolis
- Though there were several cities by this name, one was about two hundred miles NW of Athens
- He is to meet Paul there, which means Paul is writing this from some other place
- (None of this corresponds to any information in Acts)
- Titus is also to help Zenas (a lawyer) and Apollos with whatever they need
- A lawyer would have been well versed in the law
- Presumably they had worked with Paul and were now on their way to Crete
- No doubt they were the bearers of the letter
- Titus is to practice Christian hospitality
- But this was not just his duty. All Christians were to be helpful
- They all must learn to do what is good and to provide daily necessities
- This is critical so that they do not live unproductive lives
- In short, Christians are to minister to others
- The final greeting is from all who are with Paul
- In turn, Titus is to greet all those who love them in the faith
- The final words are "Grace be with you all"
- The "you" is plural, which indicates this letter was to be read to all
Paul ends his letter to Titus in the same way he ended all his letters – with formal greetings and final instructions. He tells Titus that he will soon be sending his replacement and that he wants Titus to hurry to his side in Nicopolis. Eventually, Titus will end up further north in Dalmatia. If there is one message to be derived from this letter, it is that Christianity is meant to be practical. The author stresses the importance of "good works." These are works that are intended to be helpful to those in need, but are also essential demonstrations of the Christ in action to outsiders. This is what Christianity is all about. Doing "good works" is a natural result of living a Christian life.
Barclay, William. "The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon." Daily Study Bible. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press. 1975.
Duling, Dennis and Norman Perrin. The New Testament. Proclamation and Parenesis, Myth and History. Philadelphia, PA: Harcourt Brace College Publishers. 1994.
Fee, Gordon. "1 and 2 Timothy, Titus." New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson. 1988.
Gaebelein, Frank. "2 Timothy." Expositor's Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing. 1985.
Hanson, A.T. "The Pastoral Epistles." The New Century Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans. 1982.
Hultgren, Arland. "I-II Timothy, Titus." Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing. 1984.