The letter to Titus is the third in a group of letters (I & II Timothy and Titus) referred to as the "Pastoral Epistles." They were written in order to teach, guide and encourage two evangelists, Timothy and Titus, who were sent out by the Apostle Paul (Timothy to the church at Ephesus and Titus to the churches located on the island of Crete) to defend against false teachers, set these churches in order and appoint men to the role of elder, thus establishing church leadership.
I Timothy and Titus contain many similar ideas and phrases. For this reason it is believed that they were written on the same day somewhere between 62-64 AD when Paul had a brief time of freedom after being released from his first Roman imprisonment. The Apostle used this time to revisit many congregations he had previously established. It was during this period that he instructed Timothy to remain at the church in Ephesus (I Timothy 1:3) and Titus to remain at Crete (Titus 1:5).
The island of Crete is southeast of Greece, located on the imaginary boundary between the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. Aside from its appearance in the letter to Titus, it is only mentioned two other times in the book of Acts:
- Acts 2:11 - People from Crete were among the crowd in Jerusalem on Pentecost Sunday. Converts made on that day might explain the presence of a church on the island some 30 years later.
- Acts 27:7 - Luke mentions that the ship transporting Paul to Rome sailed by the island.
Titus is mentioned several times, however we don't have much background information on him personally:
A. He was a Gentile convert to Christianity and an early disciple and traveling companion of Paul.
1Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. 2It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain. 3But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.
- Galatians 2:1-3
B. He was sent to Corinth to see if the problems that had existed there had been resolved according to Paul's teaching in I Corinthians:
13For this reason we have been comforted. And besides our comfort, we rejoiced even much more for the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. 14For if in anything I have boasted to him about you, I was not put to shame; but as we spoke all things to you in truth, so also our boasting before Titus proved to be the truth. 15His affection abounds all the more toward you, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling. 16I rejoice that in everything I have confidence in you.
- II Corinthians 7:13-16
C. Paul left Titus on the island of Crete to organize the church and appoint elders.
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you,
- Titus 1:5
D. Paul also referred to him a final time in II Timothy 4:10 saying that he had travelled to Dalmatia (Croatia) for unknown reasons.
We know from references in II Corinthians that Paul was fond of Titus, but his feelings about him are less noticeable in this letter to the young preacher. Unlike the fatherly tone we sometimes hear in I and II Timothy when Paul is addressing Timothy, Titus' letter is all business.
In Titus' epistle, Paul includes much of the information given to Timothy but adds sections of practical teaching concerning church life specific to Titus' ministry which is still relevant for us today.
Background on Titus
In this brief letter, Paul emphasizes one important lesson: there is a relationship between what we believe and how we act. Bad theology or philosophy produces a bad society, (e.g. Nazism = war + ruin). You can't live in a correct and productive way if you think or are taught incorrectly.
To this end, Paul will charge Titus with the task of preparing leaders who will be able to correctly teach the church, and he will provide examples of the teaching and desired results as guides to measure progress.
The Prevalent False Teaching - Gnosticism
The reason Paul takes great care in emphasizing this idea, bad teaching = bad life, was that in the first century, as in our day, there was great danger that the purity of the gospel would be polluted by false ideas thus rendering it powerless. The gospel is the power unto God for salvation (Romans 1:16) so long as it is maintained but it has no power to save if changed or perverted. This is the reason why maintaining sound doctrine is so crucial.
Today in our society we have many "isms" that war against the gospel: humanism (man is supreme), existentialism (you can create your own reality), emotionalism (follow your heart), not to mention the effects of atheism (no God) and spiritual pluralism (all gods are ok) to name a few. The pressure of these influences try to move us towards being a more worldly or ecumenic body. Maintaining the pure essence of the gospel, therefore, is a great challenge in the face of these clamoring voices often disguised as catalysts for positive change when in reality they are agents for unsound or unproven teaching.
In the first century church at the time that Titus was preaching, the pressure came from a particular group of teachers and teachings that were referred to as Gnosticism.
Gnosticism is really a modern name for a system of teaching that was prevalent in the first and second century. It died out shortly after. It did not have a body of teaching, but very much like the New Age Movement of the 90's, had many strands of teachings and ideas woven into a loose system of doctrine. The strand that conflicted with Christianity and that Titus had to deal with was a combination of ideas from Jewish and Greek Gnosticism. Basically it revolved around teachings regarding the origins of the earth. Doesn't that sound familiar?
The Greeks had developed an idea which proposed that the earth was created by the descendants of the gods. In this scenario the god of darkness created the earth. They also taught that man's spirit was good and desired a return to the god of light that had created it. However, the material world, which was essentially evil, prevented this from taking place. From this basic scenario two main ideologies were developed to solve the classic conflict of the soul (man's spirit - good) versus the flesh (the material world - evil), a problem referred to by Plato as Dualism:
- Asceticism - A complete renunciation of the flesh in order to liberate the soul. Saturnius taught that one ought not to marry because it led to the creation of more material (children) which was bad. Paul the Apostle refers to this in Colossians 2:8-23 and I Timothy 4:1-4. Many religions (e.g. Hinduism, Buddhism, Medieval Roman Catholicism) adopted versions of this idea.
- Antinomianism (no law) - This taught that once the soul was released from the body through enlightenment, it was no longer morally responsible for what the flesh did. Many ancient "cults" disguised and justified their immoral sexual behavior on the basis that they were acting from a position of higher reasoning or enlightenment (i.e. Nicolaitans - Revelation 2:6-15) and thus were not subject to judgment.
To this thinking Jewish Gnostics added their particular brand of mysticism, the study of genealogy and penchant for debate which gave these Greek ideas a certain Jewish flavor. The result was a church that either:
- Searched for salvation through a "works" oriented system driven by the Greek idea of Dualism (salvation through self-denial).
- Was so unconcerned with sin and moral responsibility that it was in danger of losing its soul (e.g. Corinth).
Either way, the false teaching undermined the gospel and had to be dealt with by those who knew the truth and had the capacity and courage to teach it. This then, is what Paul is setting Titus up to do in Crete with his letter.
Outline of Titus
- Salutation - Paul's mission - 1:1-4
- Preserve and pass on sound doctrine - 1:1-4
- Body - Titus' mission - 1:5-3:11
- Appoint sound elders - 1:5-16
- Provide sound doctrine - 2:1-3:11
- Conclusion - 3:12-15
- Personal greetings / instructions - 3:12-15
The letter to Titus is delivered in a compact three chapters but contains the core teaching of the Christian faith concerning the gospel.
Salutation — 1:1-4
This is no casual greeting, (for example, "hello, how are you?"), this is a statement and declaration of identity, purpose and proclamation.
1Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness, 2in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago, 3but at the proper time manifested, even His word, in the proclamation with which I was entrusted according to the commandment of God our Savior,
- Titus 1:1-3
In these verses Paul does the following:
- Describes his relationship to God: bond servant. Not a hired hand but one completely submitted to his master.
- He describes his relationship to Christ as an Apostle, an envoy or special messenger. One word, "slave," describes who he is; and the other, "Apostle," describes what he, as a slave, has been given to do by God: be a messenger for Jesus Christ.
- He also describes the message that he, as an Apostle, has been given to proclaim and the ministry that this task has produced. He begins by explaining his ministry. The faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth according to godliness are the same thing: the gospel. Christians become the "chosen of God" when they believe the gospel. The truth according to godliness (proclaimed and lived out in a godly way) is the gospel.
It is through this gospel, promised through the patriarchs and prophets, that eternal life is offered and obtained. My task, Paul explains in verse 3, now that the proper time has come (Jesus has appeared, died, resurrected, ascended to heaven as the prophets said He would) is to proclaim this good news. I do this as a slave of God according to His command, and as a servant of Christ.
For Paul this task is not merely a job or obeying an order, but a sacred trust. God Himself has entrusted him with this mission: to proclaim the gospel and teach God's word.
In these opening verses Paul has not only described his unique mission but also his credentials (sent by God, chosen by Christ). This he has done to establish his spiritual authority that he will exercise when teaching later on in this letter.
To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.
- Titus 1:4
Paul now addresses Titus with both affection and respect. He refers to Titus as his "true child," the same expression he used with Timothy (I Timothy 1:2). He says that he and Titus have a "common faith" meaning that he knows that Titus holds the same doctrine/teaching as well as expectation (eternal life) as he, Paul, does. This point may not be necessary for Titus (he already knows this) but it is a definite signal to the church (especially the Gnostic teachers and sympathizers) that as far as doctrine is concerned, the Apostle Paul and his disciple Titus, teach the same things. This speaks to Titus' credibility before the church and other teachers.
The Apostle completes his greeting in the same way that he did in his first letter to Timothy:
- Grace - all the blessings of God summarized in one word.
- Peace - the peace that surpasses understanding that the one who is blessed experiences.
The grace is what produces the peace. The source of grace is God the Father. The connection to the grace is Jesus.
Paul writes a brief letter to a young preacher, Titus, who was working with a young congregation. They had no elders whereas the church at Ephesus, where Timothy served, already had elders (Acts 20:17). Titus faced problems with Gnostic teachers as did Timothy, but did so without the help of elders which he had to establish in more than one congregation.
Paul helps establish his credibility as a teacher and leader, and also provides him with a blueprint outlining the core principles of the Christian faith that he, as well as any of the leaders he might appoint, needed to learn, teach and pass on to the next generation.