Paul’s Letter to Titus
Background information about this epistle:
“The Pastoral Epistles (PE) comprise a corpus of pseudepigraphical teachings attributed to the apostle Paul and ostensibly written to his closest followers, Timothy and Titus. These books were likely compiled in the early second century CE.” (Aymer, p 589)
“While the canonical shape of the PE corpus places Titus at the end (being the shortest of the writings), it is quite likely that the corpus was originally intended to conclude with what is now called 1 Timothy, which takes the form of a final testament from Paul before his death.” (Aymer, p 602)
“…Timothy and Titus stand for those leaders who work to keep the church alive as it moves forward and finds its shape and purpose in each succeeding generation.” (Aymer, p 608)
“Our hypothesis is…that the Pastoral Epistles belong to the period shortly after the death of Paul. They, especially 2 Timothy, are based on authentic Pauline materials whose extent cannot now be traced precisely, and they may well have been produced in a group which included Timothy and Titus themselves. The stimulus came from the existence of an authentic letter behind 2 Timothy, which was already beginning to face up to the problems of the opposition, and led to the composition of 1 Timothy and Titus to deal more explicitly and fully with the problems caused by opposition and heresy in Ephesus and Crete. The letters were intended to give Pauline backing to Timothy and Titus and associated church leaders in their work of calling the congregations back from false teaching and practices.” – Howard Marshall, 1999 International Critical Commentary via The Pastoral Epistles, page 92 (1)
“…we must not forget that it was the author’s intention that those reading the letters would do so as though they were listening to Paul himself. The intention was to reproduce what Paul himself would have said were he still alive. We should remember that this is how these letters were read, and why they were preserved, treasured, copied, and distributed. This is how they have been read down through the centuries. We would be wrong to so highlight their pseudonymity as to fall into the temptation of thinking that their value is thereby lessened. We, too, would do well to focus on the content and to listen to Paul as we read…” – The Pastoral Epistles, TITUS: The Letter of Paul to Titus, p 636-637 (1)
Heeding Fr. Fallon’s words above, and because I am in agreement with him, I will proceed, in my detailed discussions of the actual words found in Titus, as though we are listening to Paul himself.
Who was Titus?
We are given the answer in Galatians 2:1-3 and 2 Corinthians 7:5-16; 8:23; 12:18. Titus was with Paul on his second trip to Jerusalem. He was a Gentile and was not required to be circumcised. He is described as Paul’s companion (partner) and fellow-helper (co-worker) and as being closely affiliated with the Christian community of Corinth and was seen as a fruitful pastor.
“Titus was a Greek believer. Taught and nurtured by Paul, he stood before the leaders of the church in Jerusalem as a living example of what Christ was doing among the Gentiles. Like Timothy, he was one of Paul’s trusted traveling companions and closest friends. Later he became Paul’s special ambassador [to the church in Corinth] and eventually the overseer of the churches on Crete.” (Life Application Study Bible)
Epistle of Titus:
- Opening Words of Paul to Titus.
“Titus parallels the scenario envisioned in 1 Timothy; Paul is writing during the period of his Aegean ministry (prior to his departure to Rome) to one of his trusted emissaries, in this case Titus on the Island of Crete.” (Aymer, p 607)
Titus 1:2 “God, who does not lie,” (LSV) reminds me of my devotional reading of Hebrews 6:18, “it is impossible for God to lie” (BLB).
- Leadership in the Church.
“The churches [in Crete] were probably founded by Cretan Jews who had been in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2:11)…” (Life Application Study Bible)
Paul describes the qualifications to Titus that are required of the elders that he appoints (he gave similar instructions to the church in Ephesus in 1 Timothy 3:1-7; 5:22):
An elder must live a blameless life, be faithful to his wife, have children that are steadfast believers and not seen as having a reputation for being wild or rebellious. An elder is God’s steward and again it is said that he is to lead a blameless life. He must not be arrogant, quick-tempered, given to drunkenness or violence, and must not be dishonest or greedy with money. He must be hospitable to strangers (guests), and must be a lover of what is good. He must be wise and just and live a devout and disciplined life. He must hold fast to the faithful word that he may also be able to encourage others with sound doctrine and also convince those who speak against it. (Titus 1:6-9. NRSVCE, YLT, NLT, NIV, TPT, NTE, RGT)
You may notice that the above-required qualifications for the most part are all related to a person’s character and how they live their life and conduct themselves in relationships. And not about skills or knowledge. Something I think we all should remember when considering (and evaluating) leaders in the church. “It is important to have leaders who can effectively preach God’s Word; it is even more important to have those who can live out God’s Word and be examples for others to follow.” (Life Application Study Bible)
As I mentioned prior, Cretans were present, at the Feast of Pentecost. Paul’s description of the Cretan character in Titus 1:10-16 was one agreed upon by several writers in antiquity. In Titus 1:12, “The people of Crete are all liars, cruel [evil] animals, and lazy gluttons”, Paul is quoting a well-known poet of Crete, Epimenides of Knossos. The opinion, “Cretans are always liars…” was repeated by Callimachus in the Hymn to Zeus 8 (“Epiphanius and Jerome think that Callimachus took the words from Epimenides” – Meyer’s NT Commentary).
The people of Crete were known for their mendacity, self-indulgent behavior, and sexual promiscuity. The men in particular were known for their violence, and many were mercenary soldiers.
This was the environment that Titus and the church in Crete were surrounded by.
All this discussion of mendacity is in stark contrast to how Paul talks about God, and that He is a “God, who does not lie”.
“…Paul warns Titus to be on the lookout for people who teach wrong doctrines and lead others into error.” (Life Application Study Bible). He tells Titus, “They must stop listening to Jewish myths and the commands of people who have turned away from the truth.” – Titus 1:14 (NLT)
- Right Living in the Church – Promote Right Teaching.
Chapter two of Titus includes verses that can rip open (old and new) wounds. Some of these verses have been used (incorrectly) to hold women submissive and to condone slavery (especially of African-Americans in antebellum America).
Paul does briefly discuss older men and younger men and how they should live. And that Titus should “Teach older men to exercise self-control, to be worthy of respect, and to live wisely. They must have sound faith and be filled with love and patience.” – Titus 2:2 (NLT)
And to also “encourage young men to live wisely” and that Titus should himself be “an example to them by doing good works of every kind”… “teach the truth so that your teaching can’t be criticized.” – Titus 2:6-8 (NLT)
“The advice given to young men was very important. In ancient Greek society, the role of the husband/father was not viewed as a nurturing role but merely as a functional one.” (Life Application Study Bible)
No one really seems to have much conflict (or wounds) tied to these verses regarding how older and younger men should conduct themselves. It is the verses sandwiched in-between and the ones that follow afterward that are the crux of the debate.
“…teach the older women to live in a way that honors God. They must not slander others or be heavy drinkers. Instead, they should teach others what is good. These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God.” – Titus 2:3-5 (NLT)
Again, not many find the directive that older women are to live in a way that honors God, they are not slander others, they shouldn’t drink heavily, they should teach others what is good, or even that they should be instructive to (in general — share their wisdom) with younger women. The verse continues with the directive that the older women should teach younger women to live wisely, be pure, and do good. As a side note here, personally, I would like to believe that the older women mentioned here (in conjunction with Paul in the former chapter quite recently talking about elders) that their role as a teacher of other women could be considered one that implies or at least entertains the possibility, that they were regarded as a deaconess.
The discomfort begins with the directive that the younger women should be instructed to love their husband and their children and to work in their homes. Not that there’s anything wrong in general with espousing (and showing) love for your husband and children, or being a housewife. But many see it as pigeonholing women into the role of (only) a wife and/or mother.
But the discomfort (and often downright anger) bubble up in earnest with the next words, “and to be submissive to their husbands.”
First we need to look at Titus 2:4-5 in the Greek culture in Crete at the time. “Paul’s directive…was appropriate for the young wives in Crete at that time, yet these instructions do not define these women or women in general. Instead, the Bible shows that some women, even in ancient times, were involved in all kinds of ventures, ministries, and roles with God’s blessing. New Testament women such as Lydia, Priscilla, and Phoebe worked, traveled, and had influential leadership roles in ministry. Paul did not identify these women primarily by their family relationships or their domestic situations. Instead, they are described and identified by their work, their travels, and their ministries.” (2)
“…nowhere does the New Testament give any indication that young girls or older women should be confined to the home or restricted to domestic duties. Paul’s instruction in Titus 2:4-5 (and in 1 Timothy 5:14) was specifically related to young women of childbearing age and is similar to instructions, also concerning young wives, that were written by pagan authors of the time. Paul’s instruction directly reflects the cultural values of his day. …his words relate to a group of women in a culture different from our own. The principle behind his instruction, however, continues to have relevance.” (2)
I also must point out here that husbands are told in Ephesians 5:25 to “love your wives. Love them just as Christ loved the church. He gave himself up for her.” And in verse 33 that a husband “must love their wife as he loves himself”. (NIRV) And in Ephesians 6:4 are instructed to nurture (nourish, love) their children with loving discipline and counsel that bring the revelation of our Lord.
“One particular strategy of the PE writer in Titus 2 that Dewey [Women’s Bible Commentary, Joanna Dewey] uncovers is the conscripting of older women to “encourage younger women in their submission to the patriarchal social order and their subordinate role within it (Titus 2:3-5; see Dewey, 361). This strategy has a long history in the implementation of patriarchy. Often, within women’s struggle for equality in ecclesial structures over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries,” (Aymer, p 609)
I thought it’d be interesting to look at what words are used for this verse in the various Bible translations. Here is what I found:
…be living under the authority of their husbands. – ASV, BBE
…be/being submissive/submit to their own husbands. – CEB, CJB, HCS, NLT, NRS, OJB, RSV, WNT
…being (to be) subject to/in subjection to their own husbands. – DBY, JUB, LEB, NASB, NIV, WYC, YLT, WEB
…be obedient to their own husbands. – KJV, NKJV, RHE, TMB, TYN WBT
…be good wives. – MSG
…yield to their husbands. – NCV
…must follow the lead of their husbands. – NIRV
I would say that most of the words used: submissive, submit, subject to/in subjection, be obedient to — all would be similar to obey and all connote submission. Yield to / must follow the lead of — are not quite as harsh but are in the same vein. The only truly charitable translation is from The Message Bible — “be good wives.”
I found this study of the various translations to be quite enlightening, especially upon further research. There is much more to be said about the word being translated here –hupotassō.
Catherine Clark Kroeger writes, “hupotassō has a broader range of meanings than just “submit.” It can also mean: “to support,” “join with,” “identify or associate with,” “behave responsibly toward” or “relate in such a way as to promote meaning and understanding.” (3)
Thayer’s Bible Dictionary [says]: “In non-military use, [hupotasso] was ‘a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden’”
So I believe we can venture to extrapolate, based on this additional, broader information regarding the definition of the word hupotassō, that he is communicating that wives are participating in and choosing to partake in a mutual (voluntary) submission between both husband and wife. A carrying of each other’s burdens, cooperating with (each other), acting responsible toward (each other), joining with (each other), supporting (each other), relating to each other in a way that promotes meaning and understanding.
But this does not take away anything from the abuse that has been heaped upon women because of this verse and other similar verses in the Bible. Victims of domestic violence, in Christian – Bible believing homes – have been subjected to terrible emotional, verbal, sexual, and physical abuse. Often based on how the abuser sees his God-given role as the head of the family and his expectation of total submission and obedience from his wife. The use of these verses in this way, is a form of abuse in itself. Often causing women to associate the abuse with God and blaming herself. Jesus weeps with and for these victims — women abused in His name. Their behavior, based on power and control over another, has absolutely no connection to/or with our Savior Jesus Christ.
My last comment about this specific topic is that the main point of all this instructing of others on how to behave was based on the members of the church in Crete needing to be Christians that behave in an appropriate way that is not disruptive to social harmony within the church body. Behaving in ways that are not in unison with the beliefs ascribed here would bring disrepute to God and Christian doctrine, and would be disruptive to the church and the unbelievers around them would speak poorly of the Christian men and women and the church, and it would make it difficult to share the Word of God (with conviction) to others. (Titus 2:5, 8, 9-10).
Onward, to the next verse that has been wounding to others when misused.
“Slaves must always obey their masters and do their best to please them. They must not talk back or steal, but must show themselves to be entirely trustworthy and good. Then they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive in every way.” – Titus 2:9-10 (NLT)
I need to provide a bit of historical and cultural background regarding first-century slaves:
“In the first century, slaves were not distinguishable from free persons by race, by speech or by clothing; they were sometimes more highly educated than their owners and held responsible professional positions; some persons sold themselves into slavery for economic or social advantage; they could reasonably hope to be emancipated after ten to twenty years of service or by their thirties at the latest; they were not denied the right of public assembly and were not socially segregated (at least in the cities); they could accumulate savings to buy their freedom; their natural inferiority was not assumed.” (4)
“Slavery in the Roman Empire was a fact of life. Most people could not imagine a society without slaves. Some people spoke out against the mistreatment of slaves, and there were slave revolts, but no abolitionist movement existed.” (5)
I will discuss in more detail the life of first-century slaves and slavery as mentioned in the New Testament when I discuss the Letter to Philemon in my next blog post which I will post within a few days.
In several New Testament epistles, it strongly tells (counsels) slaves to obey their masters. (Eph 6:5-8, Col 3:22-24, 1 Tim 6:1-2, 1 Pet 2:18, Titus 2:9-10). These verses were used to show (by twisting them to conform to their idea of slavery) that God was instructing African-American slaves in antebellum America, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, how they were to behave toward their masters.
“Slavery was common in Paul’s day. Paul did not condemn slavery in any of his letters, but he advised slaves and masters to be loving and responsible in their conduct (Ephesians 6:5-9).” (Life Application Bible)
“The teaching in Titus 2:9, “tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and give satisfaction in every respect: they are not to talk back” (an eerie echo of the mandate for women’s silence in 2 Tim. 2:12), has played a role in casting all of Paul’s teachings in a negative light. The great twentieth-century North American theologian Howard Thurman recounts the story that his grandmother (who was enslaved as a child) would ask him to read the Scripture to her, but rarely asked for the writings of Paul. When Thurman asked why, she noted that the slave master’s preacher would often remind the slaves that Paul said slavery was God’s will and several times a year would quote, “slaves should submit to and honor their masters” (Thurman, 30-31).” (Aymer, p 609)
- Right Living in society – Do What is Good – Avoiding Controversy for the Whole Church.
“The PE writer’s concern for “the quiet life” continues into chapter 3 with a call for members of the church to be “subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling (Titus 3:1-2).” (Aymer, p 609)
“As Christians, our first allegiance is to Jesus as Lord, but we must obey our government and its leaders as well. Christians are not above the law. Obeying the civil law is only the beginning of our responsibility; we must do what we can to be good citizens.” (Life Appreciation Study Bible)
“In the mist of the call for obedience among church members…the PE writer challenges his audience to positively “devote themselves to good words,” to “avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law,” and “to have nothing more to do with anyone who causes divisions” (Titus 3:9-10). …the writing stands within the church’s tradition of promoting ecumenical engagement even in the midst of acknowledging doctrinal difference. The concept is captured well in the phrase (often attributed to Augustine) “In necessary things, unity; in unnecessary things, liberty; in all things, charity.” (Aymer, p 610)
How might we apply this idea/concept to help introduce a Not-Yet Christian to Jesus and/or interest a No-Longer Christian to give Him another try?
I don’t know that I would choose Titus as a letter to use in trying to reach not-yet Christians. Partly due to the hot-button issues in a few of the verses. Especially women submitting to husbands and slaves are to obey their masters. Although I do believe I would be able to discuss these issues if they were brought up by a not-yet Christian or one who has left the church. But there are so many other books/letters and verses that include the love of Jesus and the message of His gift of salvation available to all that I would go to first. I would for sure use this letter when trying to reach those that have left the church and with new Christians. This letter does contain valuable lessons, guidance, directives, knowledge, and counsel for today’s church and believers. But I would always remember and heed the words of Fr. Fallon (found directly below in my closing) when sharing the message of Jesus of Nazareth.
I would like to close my discussion of the Epistle of Titus with the words of Fr. Fallon, bringing us back to our current world and more importantly back to our Savior Jesus Christ:
“Our world is desperately crippled, desperately hungry for meaning, and thirsty for love. Too much idolatry, too much false religion, too many false Jesus, have added to the confusion and driven too many honest people into a lifeless agnosticism. Those of us who claim to follow Jesus have an obligation to our world to ensure that when we present Jesus as the answer to our modern ills, it is the real Jesus of Nazareth that we present. He is the revelation of the one and only God. He is the ‘only one by whom we can be saved’ (Acts 4:12).” – Fr. Michael Fallon (1a)
Though our lives as Christians have many challenges and times of sadness and times of joy, I will continue to exalt thee Lord. . . It is well with my soul. (It is well, it is well with my soul. Regardless of our season in life (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)). As Blessed Julian of Norwich said, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
(In her thirteenth showing, Julian receives a comforting answer to a question that has long troubled her:
“In my folly, before this time I often wondered why, by the great foreseeing wisdom of God, the onset of sin was not prevented: for then, I thought, all should have been well. This impulse [of thought] was much to be avoided, but nevertheless I mourned and sorrowed because of it, without reason and discretion.
“But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’
“These words were said most tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any who shall be saved.” All shall be well | InContext | Christian History Institute).
Required for course:
Aymer, Margaret (Ed.), Briggs Kittredge, Cynthia (Ed.), Sanchez, David A. (Ed.), (2014) Fortress Commentary on the Bible: The New Testament. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press
Life Application Study Bible, New Living Translation, 2014, Wheaton, Il: Tyndale House Publishers
I used various translations of The Bible when comparing how Titus 2:3-5 has been translated.
Additional References Used:
1. The Pastoral Epistles, Michael B. Fallon, MSC
Father Michael Fallon is a Missionary of the Sacred Heart (MSC) in Australia.
1a. I am a big fan of Fr. Fallon’s most recent book Jesus as Portrayed in the New Testament: Divine Love in a Human Heart, (Melbourne, Australia: Coventry Press, 2020). It is available for purchase online Jesus as Portrayed in the New Testament: Divine Love in a Human Heart: Fallon, Michael: 9780648861225: Amazon.com: Books, but most of it is also available to read on his website here: Microsoft Word – jesus_book-2020.docx (mbfallon.com)
2. Mowczko, Marg (BTh). “BUSY AT HOME: HOW DOES TITUS 2:4-5 APPLY TODAY?” Web blog post. Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism. margmowczko.com, 11 Jun. 2013. Web. 13 Mar. 2021.
3. Aída Besançon Spencer and Catherine Clark Kroeger, “1 Peter,” The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 787.
4. Murray Harris, Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devotion to Christ, NSBT Volume 8 (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press – Academic, 2001), 44
5. Katy E. Valentine, “Slavery in the New Testament”, n.p. [cited 14 Mar 2021]. Online:
Image related to women in Titus and message of Titus 3:7 are both from Bible Journaling pins on Pinterest:
☆ This blog entry is from my work in my Intro. to the New Testament course I took at Phillips Seminary. ☆
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