Paul maintained great confidence in Titus; he had given the younger evangelist quite the tall order. Cretans were notorious for lying and gluttony; Titus would do well to set all things in order and exhort them unto righteousness. To this end Paul wrote to Titus.
Paul’s letter to Titus is the seventeenth book in modern editions of the New Testament; along with 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus is considered one of the “pastoral letters,” featuring counsel for preachers in how to work among the people of God. Paul is listed as its author (Titus 1:1); it would seem as if he wrote the letter personally. Pauline authorship of Titus is strongly contested by scholars on the basis of style and content. Nevertheless Christians of the late second century believed it to be genuine, and differences in style and content can be easily explained in terms of Paul’s later age and different audience. The letter is undated. Paul exhorted Titus to meet him in Nicopolis for the winter (Titus 3:12), which could be in Epirus, Thrace, or Cilicia; regardless, we have no evidence from the book of Acts of Paul spending the winter in any of these areas, and thus it is believed that Titus was written after Paul’s first Roman imprisonment but before the second (ca. 61-64 CE). Paul wrote to Titus to give direction regarding appointing elders and exhorting the Cretans to righteousness.
In his epistolary greeting Paul spoke of himself as a servant of God who cannot lie and who promised eternal life through the message of His Son Jesus of whom Paul was an apostle charged to proclaim His commandments for the faith of the elect according to the knowledge of truth (Titus 1:1-4). Paul then explained the reason why he left Titus in Crete: to set in order that which was wanting and to appoint elders in every city; Paul then again set forth qualifications for the overseers, concluding with their ability to teach the healthy doctrines; in Crete many Jewish people, perhaps even Christians, were unruly, deceptive, and overthrowing houses by teaching doctrines they ought not for the sake of riches (Titus 1:5-11). Paul then characterized Cretans according to the testimony of Epimenides of Crete, considering them as liars, beasts, and gluttons; on account of this Titus must reprove them so they may be healthy in faith, no longer following Jewish myths and traditions (Titus 1:12-14; cf. Epimenides of Crete’s Cretica). Paul reminded Titus how all is pure to the pure, but to the defiled nothing is pure (Titus 1:15).
Paul encouraged Titus to teach healthy doctrines (Titus 2:1), providing specific exhortations for Christians in various circumstances: older men (Titus 2:2), older women (who themselves were to teach younger women; Titus 2:3-5), and younger men (Titus 2:6). Titus himself was to display in himself an example of good works and faithful teaching so as to cause shame on any who would speak in opposition (Titus 2:7-8). Paul provided further exhortation to Christian slaves to remain faithful to God and subject to their masters (Titus 2:9-10). God’s grace appeared, bringing salvation to everyone, instructing those who would hear to deny ungodliness and lust and live soberly, righteously, and godly while awaiting the return of God our Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for His people: such grounded Paul’s exhortations to Christians, and Titus was to proclaim them with all authority, allowing none to despise him (Titus 2:11-15).
Titus should also remind Christian to remain in subjection to rulers and authorities, obedient, ready to do good works, speaking evil of none, not contentious but gentle, meek to all (Titus 3:1-2). Christians are to live this way because they also were once disobedient, deceived, living in malice and envy, hated and hating in turn, but had received salvation through the kindness and love of God manifest through Jesus; this salvation is not based in works Christians did in righteousness but through God’s mercy in baptism and the Holy Spirit so that Christians could be justified by grace and inherit eternal life (Titus 3:3-7). Paul affirmed these things so that Titus could affirm them as well so that believers in Christ would maintain good works which prove profitable; nevertheless, contentions, strife, foolish questions, and speculations about the Law are vain and unprofitable (Titus 3:8-9). Anyone proving to be factious should be warned twice and then rejected or refused, since such a one proves self-condemned in their sins (Titus 3:10-11).
Paul concluded with specific directions for Titus: Paul would send Artemas or Tychichus to take his place, and he was to meet Paul in Nicopolis where he planned on wintering; Titus was to provide for whatever Zenas the lawyer and Apollos might need on their journey (Titus 3:12-13). Cretan Christians were to maintain good works and not be unfruitful (Titus 3:14). Having given final greetings, Paul ended his letter with a standard epistolary conclusion (Titus 3:5).
Paul’s letter to Titus provides Christians with a glimpse of the kind of instruction and exhortation the Apostles provided to those commissioned to continue to teach the Gospel of Christ after them. To this day many continue to teach things they ought not for monetary gain and obsess over speculative issues and myths; to this day those who proclaim the Gospel must insist on the healthy teachings about Jesus. Christians continue to need exhortation to remember from whence they have come and on what basis God has saved them so they may be fruitful with good works; Christians continue to need reminders about how to interact with one another, to avoid the lusts of the world, and to live righteously and soberly as they await the return of the Lord Jesus. To this day churches require things to be set in order and to maintain Scriptural leadership and organization with elders in local congregations. With a few detail changes an older preacher could write almost the same letter to a younger preacher today! We do well to take heed and uphold the healthy doctrines of God in Christ, encourage each other unto good works in Jesus, and await the return of the Lord Jesus!
Ethan R. Longhenry