Titus 1:1-16

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Paul refers to himself as a “slave of God,” having been honored to be in the service of the Most High. Moreover, as an apostle of Jesus Christ, he had been sent forth to proclaim the message about him and what he had effected through his death for the human family. (1:1)

The Greek word katá, often meaning “according to,” here, in relation to faith and the “knowledge of the truth,” appears to function as a marker of purpose. So the significance would be that as a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul served to further the faith of God’s elect or chosen ones (all who accept God’s invitation through his servants to become reconciled to him as his beloved children) and to aid them to become well-grounded in the knowledge of the truth about God and Christ, leading to an ever-closer relationship with them. (1:1)

Translators have variously rendered the phrase, “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth” (NRSV), “for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth” (NIV), “to help the faith of God’s chosen people and to help them know the truth,” (NCV), “marked as such [a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ] by the faith of God’s chosen people and the knowledge of the truth enshrined in our religion” (REB), and “to bring those whom God has chosen to faith and to the knowledge of the truth.” (NJB)

The next phrase, which relates to godliness, also starts with katá (in its contracted form) and could either indicate the purpose the “knowledge of the truth” serves or point to godliness as accompanying the “knowledge of the truth.” Accordingly, the thought could be that the “knowledge of the truth” results in a godly life, or that godliness accompanies, manifests itself in, or is in harmony with this knowledge. (1:1)

The words, “upon the hope of eternal life,” seemingly reveal the powerful motivation for Paul’s faithfully discharging his responsibilities as a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. The hope itself was certain of fulfillment, for God, who does not lie, has given his promise as the sure foundation for the hope of coming to enjoy eternal life, the real life of a never-ending relationship with him and his Son as part of the sinless family of his beloved children. “Before eternal times,” or in ages past, God determined that humans would come to have a permanent relationship with him as his children. Therefore, Paul could speak of God’s promise as having been made “before eternal times.” (1:2)

In his “own times” (or at the appropriate appointed times), God revealed his “word” or message. This message, as the context indicates, pertains to the eternal life that God has promised and which comes to be the possession of all who put faith in his Son and the surrender of his life for them. The message itself was made known by its being proclaimed. As an apostle, Paul had been entrusted with the proclamation “by the command of God our Savior.” The apostle did not act on his own authority, but was commissioned to proclaim the message by God’s order. Being the ultimate source of the arrangement for delivering humans from sin and its consequences, God is the Savior. (1:3)

Paul addressed Titus as a “genuine child according [katá] to the shared faith.” In this way, the apostle may have affectionately identified Titus as a true fellow believer, one who shared the faith in God and Christ that the community of believers held in common. The term “child” may also imply that, by reason of the common faith, Titus was a member of God’s family of beloved children. In this context, the Greek word katá serves to indicate the reason for the close relationship existing between Paul and Titus. They had the same faith in common. (1:4)

Paul then added his prayerful expression, “Favor and peace from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Savior.” The gracious favor or unmerited kindness would include all the aid and guidance that the Father and his Son provide. Peace would be the inner sense of tranquility and calmness from the continued awareness that God and Christ would never fail to come to the aid of the believer, sustaining and strengthening the individual to be able to endure trials and distressing circumstances. (1:4; see the Notes section.)

Paul had left Titus on the island of Crete to care for matters that needed attention in the communities of believers and to designate qualified men as elders in every town where believers resided. According to a literal reading of the Greek text, Titus needed to “set right” (epidiorthóo) “the [things] left” (leípo). The term leípo can apply to something that is left behind or something that is lacking, and the word epidiorthóo can refer to the act of setting right, correcting, or setting right in addition to what had already been corrected. Modern translations convey various specific meanings. “I left you behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should put in order what remained to be done.” (NRSV) “My intention of leaving you behind in Crete was that you should deal with any outstanding matters.” (REB) “I left you in Crete to set right matters which needed attention.” (J. B. Phillips) “I left you in Crete to do what had been left undone.” (CEV) “I have left you behind in Crete in order that you may set right the things which still require attention.” (Weymouth) The apostle had given Titus orders or instructions to carry out his commission. The directives included guidelines he needed to follow when selecting men who would function as elders and servants. (1:5)

A qualified man would have to be “blameless” or known for conducting himself in an exemplary manner. A married man was to be the “husband of one wife.” This has been variously understood. In the Greco-Roman world, polygamy existed and divorce could be obtained on various grounds. Married men might have mistresses. So the meaning could be that a man should have only one living wife and be faithful to her. One ancient manuscript adds the following explanatory comment: “Do not appoint the twice married nor make them servants.” The strictest application would be to regard a man’s being the “husband of one wife” as being “married only once.” (NAB, revised edition) Whereas a number of interpretations are possible, the main thought is that any married man serving as an elder must be known for adhering to the highest standard in his married life. His family should also be exemplary, with the children being believers and not debauched and disobedient The children should be conducting themselves in a respectful, laudable manner. A charge of debauchery or intemperance in food, drink, or other areas of life would not be made respecting young children. This indicates that Paul had in mind children who were old enough to choose their own path. (1:6; see the Notes section.)

An elder is also an overseer, entrusted with the work of looking after the spiritual welfare of fellow believers and resisting corrupting influences from undermining their faith. He is “God’s steward,” or God’s servant with a special spiritual trust in the congregation, and accountable to him for the way he looked out for the interests and well-being of fellow believers. As God’s steward, he must be without reproach or free from valid censure, not arrogant, self-willed, overbearing or inconsiderate, not given to anger, not addicted to wine, not prone to violence, not shamelessly bent on gain. (1:7)

An elder or overseer would have to be a man who lived an exemplary life of moderation and contentment. He could not be a man who thought too highly of himself and was contemptuous of others, was easily irritated and quick to lose his temper, engaged in heavy drinking, flared up in rage (as is common among men given to drink), bullied others, or tended to settle matters with his fist. Others should know him as an honest man, not avaricious or shamelessly fond of dishonest gain. He would have to be completely trustworthy, never seeking to profit personally from the responsible service that had been committed to him. (1:7)

After having listed attributes that should not be tainting the life of an elder or overseer, Paul mentioned qualities that should distinguish a man who would be suitable for appointment. One who qualified to serve as an elder or overseer needed to be hospitable (philóxenos). The Greek word philóxenos literally signifies love for strangers, which would include being willing to open one’s home to fellow believers whom one did not know and to treat them as welcome guests. A love of goodness would be evident in a man’s actively doing and promoting whatever is good, right, noble, or praiseworthy. As a man to whom the Greek word sóphron applied, he would be sensible, thoughtful, and known for having sound judgment. A “righteous” or just man would be upright, honest, and impartial in his dealings with others. The Greek word hósios may be defined as “holy,” “pure,” or “devout” and would describe a man who has reverential regard for God and conducts himself accordingly. A man who has “self-control” is able to keep his emotions, impulses, or desires in check and is not given to rash or thoughtless behavior. (1:8)

“According to the teaching,” an overseer needed to hold to or adhere to the “faithful” or “trustworthy” word, or the truthful message about God and Christ as Paul had proclaimed it. The phrase “according to the teaching” could signify in his teaching or when teaching. Another meaning would be that the “faithful” or “trustworthy” word or message would be according to or in agreement with the content of sound teaching. (1:9) “By holding on to the trustworthy word just as we teach it, an elder can help people by using true teaching.” (NCV) “They [elders] must stick to the true message they were taught.” (CEV) “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught.” (NIV) “He must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching.” (NRSV)

When adhering firmly to the dependable word, or the message that properly conveyed the truth about God and Christ, an elder would be able to encourage, admonish, or comfort fellow believers with sound teaching. He would also be in a position to reprove those who disputed, contradicted, or spoke against the truth, exposing their error and thereby protecting fellow believers from being deceived by plausible arguments and aiding those who had strayed to correct their ways. (1:9)

Many in the congregations on the island of Crete failed to be obedient to the truth Paul had taught. The apostle referred to these unsubmissive ones as “empty talkers,” foolish babblers, or windbags, and “deceivers of the mind” or misleaders. Especially were they to be found among the “circumcised” or Jewish believers. (1:10)

Possibly the problem had initially arisen when Jewish believers had been forced from their homes on account of persecution and had come to Crete, where their fellow Jewish believers received them hospitably. These newcomers may have placed great emphasis on law observance and, like those who stirred up trouble in Galatia, advocated circumcision and adherence to the law as being needed in order to be fully approved by God. (Compare Acts 21:20-24; Galatians 1:6, 7; 2:15-21; 3:1-5.) Possibly they claimed to know what the apostles and elders in Jerusalem had taught, and this may have carried great weight with believers in Crete. It is likely that these Jewish proponents of error distorted the truth that faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and as the one whom the Father resurrected from the dead was the all-essential requirement for being divinely approved. Their assertions about the law doubtless emphasized human effort as the prime way to gain a right standing with God.

In view of their ruinous influence, Paul wrote, “They must be silenced.” Titus, therefore, would need to expose their error and keep it from spreading, for these teachers of falsehood “overturned whole households, teaching what they ought not for shameful gain.” This suggests that they succeeded in getting all members of certain households to accept their distortions of the truth that Paul proclaimed. The “shameful gain” could have been the prominence they sought for themselves and attained and the financial support they received from those who were deceived by them. (1:11)

Although Jews, these teachers of falsehood apparently had yielded to the corrupt influences of Cretan society. In commenting on the moral corruption existing among the Cretans, Paul quoted a familiar saying, which he attributed to their own Cretan prophet, “Cretans [are] always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies.” (1:12)

In this case, the apostle used the term “prophet” in the broad sense the word had in the Greco-Roman world. Poets were thought to be inspired by the Muses (the nine sister goddesses of Greek mythology) and so were regarded as speakers for the Muses or as prophets. (1:12)

Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-c. 215 CE) attributed the saying to Epimenides of Crete. (Stromata, Book I, chapter 14) No works of Epimenides have survived, and so there is no way to establish the setting in which the words may have appeared (if indeed originally from Epimenides). The quotation suggests that the ancient Cretans were not known for being truthful and proved to be vicious and gluttonous. (1:12)

Paul acknowledged the testimony of the Cretan “prophet” as true or as an apt description of the moral condition existing among the Cretans in his day. For this reason, the apostle admonished Titus to rebuke the believers sharply. This indicates that they reflected the flaws of the general populace and so needed to be rebuked in very strong terms in order to jolt them to their senses with a view to their becoming healthy or sound in the faith. The wrong teaching to which certain ones among them had given heed led to their coming to be in an unhealthy spiritual state. So they needed to become sound in the faith that was solidly based on Jesus’ example and teaching, and not to give heed to Jewish myths and the commands of men who rejected the truth. Speculative fables diverted attention away from focusing on teaching that served to strengthen faith and promoted upright conduct. The truth particularly related to Jesus Christ and that an approved standing with his Father depended solely on having come to be at one with him through faith in him and his sacrificial death, which faith manifested itself in an upright life. Commands of men that contradicted this truth proved to be spiritually ruinous. (1:13, 14; see the Notes section.)

The Jewish deceivers to whom Paul referred appear to have insisted on the need to abstain from certain foods in order to be divinely approved. This seems to be the reason behind his words, “Everything [is] clean to clean [persons]; to the defiled and unbelieving, however, nothing [is] clean, but even [their] very mind and conscience are defiled.” Persons who were pure in mind and conscience did not look upon any food that was acceptable for consumption as unclean, but accepted it gratefully as God’s provision for them. (Compare 1 Timothy 4:3-5.) The teachers of error, though, did not look at matters in this way. They rejected the teaching of Jesus that defilement did not result from what entered a person’s mouth. (Mark 7:14-23) Their wrong view of the nature of defilement meant that they were defiled in mind, and this defilement affected their conscience, which gave rise to the unwarranted scruples that they commanded others to observe. With defiled minds and consciences, the teachers of error would be in no position to make any proper evaluation of what was either clean or unclean. (1:15)

They might confess or claim that they knew God or had a relationship with him, but their works or deeds would deny their claim. In disposition, word, and action, they did not reflect God’s ways, proving that they had no relationship with him. Therefore, the apostle described them as “abominable, disobedient, and unsuitable for any good work.” Their ruinous influence made them abominable or detestable. They did not obey the truth, for they failed to act according to the example and teaching of God’s Son. Their activity worked against his interests and proved to be harmful, bringing spiritual ruin to entire households. They demonstrated themselves to be completely unfit for any “good work,” or for anything that contributed to promoting and strengthening genuine faith in God and Christ. (1:16)


After “favor” (in verse 4), numerous manuscripts add “mercy.”

In verse 6, the reference to the children could either be understood to mean that they should be believers or that they should be faithful or trustworthy.

The opinions of rabbis that are preserved in the Babylonian Talmud provide examples of “myths” (verse 14) or mere fables of a speculative nature. “Our Rabbis taught: Egypt is four hundred parasangs by four hundred, and it is one sixtieth of the size of Ethiopia; Ethiopia is one sixtieth of the world, and the world is one sixtieth of the Garden [of Eden], and the Garden is one sixtieth of Eden, and Eden is one sixtieth of Gehenna; thus the whole world compared with the Gehenna is but as a lid to the pot.” (Ta‘anith, 10a) In Baba Mezi‘a, 59a, and Shabbath, 56a, David’s adultery with Bathsheba is explained away. She supposedly had received a bill of divorce from her husband Uriah before he went off to war, and the bill of divorce was to take effect retroactively if he did not return alive. So, while he was away, Bathsheba could be regarded as a woman who might be divorced or who might be married.

Among the Dead Sea Scrolls are writings that preserve Jewish fables that embellish the biblical accounts. According to what has been called “The Genesis Apocryphon” (a fragmentary manuscript thought to date either from the late first century BCE or the early part of the first century CE) relates that Lamech suspected that his wife had conceived by one of the “Watchers” or “Holy Ones,” that is, by one of the fallen angels. “The fruit was planted by you,” she insisted, “and by no stranger or Watcher or Son of Heaven.” Her denial did not convince him, but he asked his father Methuselah to travel to paradise to consult Enoch for confirmation about the nature of the conception.