Paul's Letter to Titus
The letter to Titus gives us a powerful understanding of the church in Crete as it was beginning to grow and also an insightful glimpse into Paul's work there. These people were new converts in a culture where conduct was very crude. Paul, the aged missionary, demonstrates a mature finesse in adapting the Good News to the spiritual condition and circumstances of these believers in Crete.
Map: The Setting of Titus
The Setting of Titus, about AD 63. Paul wrote to Titus, who was stationed in Crete, around the same time as he wrote his first letter to Timothy in Ephesus (see 1 Timothy Introduction, p. 2048). Paul's instructions to Titus reflect the rough cultural environment in which he was working.
A group from Crete had been in Jerusalem during Passover at the birth of the Christian church (Acts 2:11). Some of these might have carried the Christian faith back to the island at that time, but this letter to Titus suggests that the church on Crete had been recently founded as a result of Paul's mission (see 1:5; 3:15). The only other mention of Crete in the NT comes during Paul's transfer to Rome as a prisoner (Acts 27:7-21), but he did not have an opportunity to become active in Crete at that time. Most likely, Paul's work in Crete began after the events of Acts 28 (AD 60-62) and before his final Roman imprisonment (about AD 64~65?).
As during his first missionary journey out of Antioch, Paul had begun the church in Crete without appointing leaders. As with those earliest churches, he now wanted leaders to be established (cp. Acts 14:23), although in this case he delegated the responsibility to Titus, a longtime co-worker. Paul was headed for Nicopolis on the west coast of modern Greece, and he wanted Titus to join him there when Artemas or Tychicus had arrived on the island of Crete (3:12). Paul's plan to winter at Nicopolis suggests that he planned to sail westward from there when spring arrived (see 2 Tim 4:21), probably heading for Italy and possibly Spain (Rom 15:24, 28).
On Crete, the degenerate culture was negatively influencing the believers in the young church. False teachers were also troubling the community, seemingly like those mentioned in 1 and 2 Timothy. As Paul's delegate to Crete, Titus had to set this church in order before the arrival of Artemas or Tychicus. Above all, he needed to assign elders in each city. When this was completed, he would depart and join Paul.
Salutation from Paul
Leadership in Crete
Relationships in the Church
Relationship with Society
Saul's conversion near Damascus
Paul's ministry in Ephesus
Paul is imprisoned in Rome
Paul is released, travels freely, including Crete and Ephesus
about AD 63
Paul writes 1 Timothy and Titus from Macedonia
about AD 64~65?
Paul is imprisoned, writes 2 Timothy, and is martyred in Rome
The letter to Titus is all business, setting the tone for Titus himself to follow. Each section of the body (1:5-3:11) is composed in a pattern of command, rationale, and charge. Paul consistently repeats this pattern—whether addressing the appointment of elders (1:5-16), right conduct among members of the household of faith (2:1-15), or right conduct in society at large (3:1-11). The rationale for Paul's commands in the first section, on leadership, is that the community is threatened by false teachers and needs decisive leadership. In the next two sections, on right conduct, the commands are based on the rationale of God's grace and mercy and its provisions.
All three of the letters to Timothy and Titus were written at about the same time, addressing three distinct situations and yet sharing significant historical and theological elements. It is possible that Paul wrote these letters, including the one to Titus, during the period prior to his arrest in Acts 21, but a date sometime after the imprisonment of Acts 28 is more likely (see Introduction to Paul's Letters to Timothy and Titus, "Date of Writing," p. 2047).
The study of Greek mythology at Crete has given us insight into the situation Paul faced there. According to Cretan mythology, the god Zeus was once a mere human who lived and died on Crete but who had achieved godhood through the benefits he gave to humans (see note on 1:12). The idea of a great human benefactor being exalted to the status of god by virtue of good deeds contradicts the Good News. God graciously lowered himself to humanity in Jesus Christ—"our great God and Savior" (2:13)—and offers salvation through pure mercy (3:5).
Like 1 Timothy, this letter has characteristics similar to a Greco-Roman mandatum principis ("commandment of a ruler")—see 1 Timothy Introduction, "Literary Genre," p. 2049.
The writer is... dealing with communities in a fairly early stage of Christian life... To secure [a civilized] character the foundation is laid in sound, wholesome teaching.
The Pastoral Epistles, p. 123
This is a proof of the virtue of Titus, that [Paul] did not require many words, but a short remembrance.
The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom
Although Crete is some distance from the church in Ephesus (the recipients of 1 & 2 Timothy), there are some intriguing parallels between the two situations. The characterization of the false teachers and their teaching (1:10-16) suggests that quite similar teachings were being confronted in both places (see 1 Tim 1:4-7; 4:1-4; 2 Tim 3:1-7; 4:3-4). That said, the situation on Crete as addressed in Titus is not identical to that of Ephesus in 1 & 2 Timothy. The church in Crete was new, whereas the church in Ephesus was long established. Crete was socially less civilized than Ephesus. The newness of the church in Crete might explain the absence of a widows list (1 Tim 5:3-16) and deacons (1 Tim 3:8-13). The differences in the troublemakers might account for silence on the subject of women teachers (see 1 Tim 2:11-15). The criteria for leaders (1:6-9), as well as the standards of conduct for members of the community (see 2:3-4), might represent a lowering of the bar to accommodate new converts from an uncouth background. Finally, the stress on guarding the "deposit," so important in Timothy (1 Tim 1:18; 6:20; 2 Tim 1:12-14; 2:2), is absent in Titus.
Central to this letter is the realization that the Christian community should enact God's saving grace, which has been shown to the world in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The community's behavior among its members, and in relation to those outside, should be consistent with the way that God had dealt with it. Christians must embody God's grace in the world and toward the world. In so doing, they will advance the Good News within their territory and culture (2:10-11; 3:2-3, 8; see Matt 5:14-16).
The drama of the divine salvation of humanity invites participation. As Christ's followers, we must become players in this performance of grace. Our communities should promote godly lives because the appearance of grace, in the person of Christ, has taught us how to live and has made such living possible (2:1-15). As believers, we must also conduct ourselves properly in a fallen world, with hearts bent on the salvation of others. We must bear in mind our former lives—remembering how God has dealt with us, has given us salvation, and has provided for our godliness (3:1-11).
GORDON FEE 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (1988)
LUKE TIMOTHY JOHNSON Letters to Paul's Delegates (1996)
JON LAANSMA Titus in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol. 17 (2008)
I. HOWARD MARSHALL The Pastoral Epistles (1999)
WILLIAM MOUNCE The Pastoral Epistles (2000)
1:1-4 The opening of Titus, like that of 1 Timothy (1 Tim 1:1-2), establishes Paul's authority for his delegate.
1:1 to proclaim faith to: Or to strengthen the faith of. • and to teach... godly lives: See 2:11-14; 1 Tim 6:3.
1:2 The confidence that they have eternal life enables God's people to live in the present in light of the future (see 2:11-14; 3:7-8). • God—who does not lie: The true God contrasts with popular Cretan conceptions (see note on 1:12). This statement also underlines God's plan of salvation as unchanging (1:1): God can be trusted to fulfill his promises (see Num 23:19; 1 Sam 15:29; Rom 3:3-4).
1:3 at just the right time: The initiative is entirely with God, who carries out his plan on his own timetable by his own will(see 3:5; 1 Tim 2:6; 2 Tim 1:10). • God our Savior: In 1:4, Jesus is also called "our Savior," identifying Jesus with God (see 2:10,13; 3:4, 6).
Theme: Church Leaders (1:5-9)
Acts 6:1-6; 13:1-3; 14:23; 15:4-35
1 Cor 12:28-30; 14:26-33
1 Tim 3:1-13; 4:11-16; 5:17-22
2 Tim 2:2, 25-26
Spontaneity and spiritual gifted ness characterized the first church gatherings (see 1 Cor 11:4-5; 14:26-33). The apostles exercised general oversight of the Christian communities (Acts 6:2; 8:14; 14:23) together with the elders in Jerusalem (Acts 15:4, 6, 22-23), whose function was drawn from the Jewish synagogue and Greco-Roman models. The titles and functions of Christian leaders in communities outside of Jerusalem appear to have been fluid (e.g. Acts 6:1-6; 13:1-3), but local leaders were dependent on the apostles when possible. Teachers and prophets also had important roles in guiding the church (see Acts 2:17-18; 11:27-30; 1 Cor 14:26-40). Churches were often founded before their leaders were appointed (1:5; Acts 14:23). Such appointments were almost certainly related to spiritual gifting (e.g. 1 Cor 12:28-30; Eph 4:11) and (in some situations) to age.
There were always community leaders, whether or not they occupied a formal office. In the letters to Timothy and Titus, however, there is a strong emphasis on elders (see note on 1 Tim 5:17), overseers (see note on 1:7), and deacons (see note on 1 Tim 3:8-13). How these offices developed over the years is unclear, and even the practices described in 1 Timothy and Titus might not have been universal. Elders in Ephesus and on Crete may have carried more of the teaching role because the false teachers had to be decisively counteracted. Otherwise, the norms of 1 Cor 14:26-40 might have prevailed. These letters are more concerned with ensuring that the Good News be faithfully transmitted than with perpetuating a form of government (see note on 1 Tim 6:20).
The apostle Paul exercised influence and control over his entire mission field, but there is no evidence that he intended to build or leave a regional or mission-wide infrastructure of governance. Apparently the overseers were to carry on the teaching and disciplinary role of Paul and his delegates without the wider responsibilities and authority of the apostles. As leaders of the local church, they wielded real and distinctive authority (see 1 Tim 4:11-16; 5:19-22; 2 Tim 2:14-19, 25-26; Titus 2:15; 3:10-11; 1 Cor 5:3-5).
1:4 Titus was Paul's delegate in dealing with the church in Crete. • my true son: The wording authorizes the delegate (as in 1 Tim 1:2).
1:5-16 Strong, faithful leadership was needed in the churches of Crete to address the danger of false teachers (1:10-16). This part of Titus's task dovetails with the larger concern of the letter: to shape a community that bears witness to Christ by embodying God's grace in its conduct. Cp. 1 Tim 3:1-7.
1:5-9 Titus was directed to appoint leaders in order to complete our work there—i.e., to establish the church (cp. 1 Tim 3:1-13). Deacons are not mentioned, possibly because these were new, small churches. • These leadership qualities might be an accommodation to the newness of these converts and the roughness of their culture. It is assumed that the elders will be male (see 1 Tim 3:4-5).
1:5 Crete was located in the Mediterranean, south of the Aegean Sea. It was an important location for travel and trade by sea, so it had a mix of influences, including a Jewish population. Some from Crete had been at Pentecost (Acts 2:11), but this letter seems to deal with an infant church. • elders in each town: There may have been more than one house church in a given town and possibly more than one elder in a given house church. Clearly, there were churches in at least two towns and the leadership was specific to each town.
1:6 must live a blameless life: See 1 Tim 3:2,10. • must be faithful to his wife: Or must have only one wife, or must be married only once; literally must be the husband of one wife. See note on 1 Tim 3:2. • children: See 1 Tim 3:4-5,12. • wild or rebellious: This probably reflects Cretan culture with its low moral standards (1:12).
1:7 An elder (or An overseer, or A bishop) is a manager of God's household: See 1:11; 2:2-10; 1 Tim 1:4; 3:4-5,12,15; 2 Tim 2:20-21. • These qualities indicate that an elder should not be running with the Cretan masses (see 1:12). • must not be a heavy drinker: Literally must not drink too much wine.
1:9 The elders had a leading role in teaching the community. This may have been necessary in dealing with the immediate threat to these particular communities (as also in Ephesus; see 1 Tim 3:1). • Only with a strong belief in the Good News would an elder be able to provide wholesome teaching. Paul's specific concerns are addressed in 2:1-3:11, in light of the problems mentioned in 1:10-16 and 3:9-11 (see also 1 Tim 1:10). • Titus had a similar role (cp. 1:13; 2:15; 3:10-11). The local leadership would carry on where Paul and his delegates left off. • Those who oppose it are described in 1:10-16.
1:10-16 In a native population of troublemakers, Titus would need to exercise a firm hand to rid these Christian communities of corruption and make them healthy in the faith (1:13-16).
1:10 rebellious people: The same Greek word is used of children in 1:6. • those who insist on circumcision for salvation (literally those of the circumcision): This probably refers to Jewish Christians; the Greek phrase leaves open whether or not they required circumcision of Gentiles. The Jewish flavor of this false teaching is suggested in 1:14-15 and 3:9.
1:11 turning whole families away: This also happened in Ephesus (cp. 1 Tim 4:3; 2 Tim 2:18; 3:6). • only for money: Elders must not have this characteristic (1:7; see also 1 Tim 6:5-10; 2 Cor 2:17; 1 Pet 5:2).
1:12 one of their own men, a prophet from Crete has said: This quotation is from Epimenides of Knossos, a philosopher who lived on Crete around the 500s BC. • all liars: This charge was directed specifically at the Cretan claim to have Zeus's tomb on the island. According to Cretan mythology, the god Zeus was once a mere human who lived and died on Crete (his tomb was said to be there) but who had achieved godhood through his patronage (i.e., gifts and benefits) to humans. Some Greek moralists opposed this legend and characterized it as a lie. A quote from Alexandria in the 200s BC reads: "Cretans are always liars. For a tomb, O Lord, Cretans build for you; but you do not die, for you are forever." One of Crete's own prophets (Epimenides) had the same assessment, and Paul cites his voice of conscience approvingly (1:13; see Acts 17:28), for the God who does not lie (1:2) stands in opposition to the lies of such myths. • liars... animals... gluttons: It was believed that Cretan immorality resulted from their belief about Zeus; religious lies had given rise to moral corruption. Paul later counters these vices by presenting the contrasting virtues (2:12). He calls the Cretans to reach ethical ideals that are extolled in human society generally but were absent on Crete, as bemoaned by their own prophet. They would reach these ideals only through the gospel of Jesus Christ (2:11-14). • lazy gluttons: Cretans were known to do anything for a little cash. They were famous as mercenaries and as insatiate consumers. They reputedly saw no shame in greed (see Phil 3:19). • Paul applies the quotation more directly to the current false teachers than to Cretan culture generally; the false teachers carried on this Cretan tradition of immorality built on falsehood.
1:13 This is true: See note on 1:12. • Being strong in the faith is here defined as rejecting false teachings (cp. 1:9).
1:14 Jewish myths: See 3:9; 1 Tim 1:4; 4:7; 2 Tim 4:4. • have turned away from the truth: This was apostasy, not mere unbelief. See 1 Tim 1:6-7.
1:15-16 These two verses comment on the people of 1:14 and their commands, while transitioning to a discussion of wholesome teaching (2:1-3:11).
1:15 Cp. 1 Tim 4:3-5.
1:16 Sound teaching and godliness are always linked together in the letters to Timothy and Titus (see 1 Tim 1:7-11; 3:15-16; 5:24-25; 2 Tim 3:5, 9). Similarly, the ungodly way they live is connected with false teaching. • anything good: This contrasts with 3:1.