3:9 But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, quarrels, and fights about the law, because they are useless and empty. 3:10 Reject a divisive person after one or two warnings. 3:11 You know that such a person is twisted by sin and is conscious of it himself.
Sound or healthy teaching is one of the prominent themes of the pastoral epistles. Healthy teaching is teaching that is in line with the apostolic tradition and God’s special revelation through His inspired writers (Luke 1:2; Rom. 6:17; 1 Cor. 11:2; 15:1-4; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6; Heb. 2:3-4; 1 Pet. 2:21; 2 Pet. 3:15-17; Jude 3, etc.). At the heart of this teaching is the gospel truth of the person and work of the Savior (1 Cor. 15:1-4; Tit. 2:11-14; 3:4-7). But the reason for this emphasis found over and over again in the pastorals is that only such healthy teaching is profitable and forms the foundation for a healthy faith and productive Christian living. Anything else is not only futile, but dangerous (cf. 1 Tim. 1:4 with 1:6 and 4:6 with 4:7 and 6:3 with 6:4-5; see also 2 Tim. 1:13; 2:23; 4:3-4; Titus 1:9, 13; 2:1-2, 8).
Thus, having stressed the profitability of teaching that is centered in the person and work of the Savior (3:4-8), the apostle once again warns against the futility and worthlessness of the perverted (the non-biblical) opinions of man. Titus, the Cretans, and all of us will come in contact with false teachers and their teaching. While we are to be able to defend the faith and give a reason for the hope within us, we must not get involved in the wrong kind of discussions. Thus, Paul first warns against some of the various kinds of false teaching that Titus and all believers will face (vs. 9) and then gives abbreviated directions for handling these false teachers themselves (vss. 10-11).
“But” introduces the reader to the contrast between what is important (the priority) and what must be avoided not only because of its uselessness, but because it is dangerous to the spiritual life. We should not be surprised because of Satan’s character and his tactics. He “is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44) and though his ultimate goal is always to deceive, he and his servants often appear as angels of light (2 Cor. 11:3, 14-15). Consistently, he seeks to perpetuate one deception after another and always at the expense of the truth as it is found in God’s special revelation. Let’s remember:
He does not come as the devil, the adversary of God. He could have come to Adam and Eve revealing his terrifying fury and evil intentions. But he has no regard for truth in advertising. He comes under a disguise and without revealing who he really is. He changes himself into something he is not to deceive others. He does not come to frighten, but to soothe, to encourage, to instruct.187
“Avoid” is periistemi. In the active voice this verb means “to place around” or “to stand around.” But in the middle voice as here, it carries the idea of “going around something in order to avoid it.” As context suggests here, the middle voice stresses the subject’s personal involvement and interest (one of deep concern and caution) in the action. Here is something we are to pay special attention to because of the various problems incurred when we do not. Finally, the verb is a present imperative of command calling for a continual attitude that seeks to avoid such useless discussions.
In the Greek text, the things to be avoided are placed before the verb as a means of emphasis. Four terms are used to describe this, but these are not four different errors of false teaching. Rather, they are four descriptions that together describe the nature of what Titus, the Cretans, and all believers may face. As was the case at Ephesus, the doctrinal nature of the problem was centered around mythological genealogies and arguments about the law by which these teachers were seeking to add legal demands (commands) for either salvation or sanctification or both (see 1 Tim. 1:4-8; Tit. 1:14). Let’s now look at the four terms (Foolish controversies, Jewish myths, genealogies, and disputes about the law).
“Foolish controversies.” “Controversies” is zetesis from the verb zeteo, “to seek, search after, inquire into.” Zeteo was used of philosophical inquiry in classical Greek as well as in the New Testament (see 1 Cor. 1:22; Acts 17:27). But it was also used of seeking God in prayer (Matt. 7:7-8), of seeking first the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:32-33), and of seeking things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. The noun zetesis could mean “investigation, inquiry” (see Acts 25:20) and while one might think the use of this term in the pastoral epistles (1 Tim. 6:4; 2 Tim. 2:23; Tit. 3:9) would denote the investigation of religious and theological problems in search of the truth, it is best understood to have a different meaning in the pastorals.188 As suggested by our context and its use for philosophical investigation, this word occurs in the New Testament with the idea of “controversy, dispute, debate” with the emphasis not on seeking the truth, but on the manner in which it is done. In John 3:25; Acts 15:2, 7, and in the pastorals, the stress seems to be on an exchange of words rather than a genuine search for truth. With this in mind, there is little wonder that Paul stresses time and again that discussions are useless, unprofitable, and incompatible with faith and productive Christian living.
Paul described “controversies” as foolish because this adjective describes one of the results of the doctrinal error being promoted. “Foolish” is the moros, “foolish, stupid,” from which we get our term moron. No matter how brilliant or sophisticated or scholarly the proponents may appear, such discussions are foolish because they fail to seek the truth or heed the clear teachings of Scripture. As a result, these kinds of discussions become occupied with nonsense “like the problem whether Lot’s wife as a pillar of salt, or one who has risen from the dead, will make unclean according to the laws of uncleanness through contact with the dead.”189
“Jewish myths” (see 1:14), “genealogies” and “disputes about the law” (3:9) point us more precisely to the nature and source of the foolish and empty discussion. It concerned Jewish legendary and fictitious tales added to Old Testament history, legends about Adam, Moses, Elijah, and other Old Testament saints. But somehow fictitious additions were added to the genealogical trees of these and other Old Testament saints. Some have sought to link these with gnostic aeons as found in the teaching of Gnosticism as it was later developed, but such lists are never called “genealogies.” Kittel’s one volume theological dictionary has a good summary of the issues involved with these “genealogies” (genealogiai, the plural of genealogia).
… The only NT instances are in 1 Tim. 1:4 and Tit. 3:9. The meaning here is contested. The texts link the term with (Jewish) myths and therefore with Jewish Gnostics who claim to be teachers of the law (1 Tim. 1:7) but who do not truly keep the law (1:8), teaching human commandments instead (Tit. 1:14). The genealogies, then, are probably human ones taken from the OT and the reference in the phrase “myths and genealogies” is to the biblical history enriched by interpretations and additions.190
This poses a warning to all of us against those kinds of theological discussions that are not truly aimed at knowing the truth and its ramifications on faith and practice or on the impact that our theology should have on our daily walk with the Savior. Barclay has an excellent description on the historical background of these discussions that highlights their foolishness.
The second part of the passage warns against useless discussions. The Greek philosophers spent their time on their fine-spun problems. The Jewish Rabbis spent their time building up imaginary and deifying genealogies for the characters of the Old Testament. The Jewish scribes spent endless hours discussing what could and could not be done on the Sabbath, and what was and was not unclean. It has been said that there is a danger that a man may think himself religious because he discusses religious questions. There is a kind of discussion group which argues simply for the sake of arguing. There is a kind of group which will argue for hours about theological questions. It is much easier to discuss theological questions than it is to be kind and considerate and helpful at home, or efficient and diligent and honest at work. There is no virtue in sitting discussing deep theological questions when the simple tasks of the Christian life are waiting to be done. It is indeed true that such discussion can be nothing other than an evasion of Christian duties.
Paul was quite certain that the real task of the Christian lay in Christian action. That is by no means to say that there is no place for Christian discussion; but it is to say that the discussion which does not end in action is very largely wasted time.191
Obviously there is a place and need for biblical inquiry and discussion regarding the truth and the meaning of Scripture, but if the goal is proving one’s point in an attempt to win an argument or to prove one’s scholarship or protect one’s scholarship before one’s peers rather than Christ-like living, then we have missed the point and goal of the Bible. The apostle addressed this in 1 Timothy 1.
1:3 As I urged you when I was leaving for Macedonia, stay on in Ephesus to instruct certain people not to spread false teachings, 1:4 nor to occupy themselves with myths and interminable genealogies. These promote useless speculations rather than God’s redemptive plan that operates by faith. 1:5 But the aim of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. 1:6 Some have strayed from these and turned away to empty discussion. 1:7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not understand what they are saying or the things they insist on so confidently (1 Tim. 1:3-7).
3:10 Reject a divisive person after one or two warnings. 3:11 You know that such a person is twisted by sin and is conscious of it himself.
As with the serpent in Genesis 3, Satan always has his messengers that he uses to perpetuate his lies. They may appear as angels of light or messengers of righteousness, but they are always up to no good (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Eve was deceived because she accepted the serpent’s message even though what she was told contradicted God’s original message. Perhaps she thought he was there to update them on how to interpret the previous revelation from God. The point is simple, however. Not only must we avoid the wrong kind of theological discussions that benefit no one (Tit. 3:9), we must not cater to the false teachers or those who do not abide by the text of Scripture or seek to go beyond the message of the Bible in those things the Bible addresses. By God’s sovereign authority, God placed Adam and Eve in charge of the new creation and its creatures (see Gen. 1:26-28), not Satan who disguised himself behind the serpent (see Heb. 2:6-9). Because of this authority, one word of rejection from them could have sent Satan on his way, but because they listened to his lies and failed to rebuke him, they died spiritually, began to die physically, and came under Satan's authority and power as the new ruler of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2 Cor. 4:4; Heb. 2:14). Thus, in an abbreviated fashion, Paul gives directions for handling false teachers and those who are caught up with them in their teaching.
Paul’s instruction for dealing with the false teachers and those attracted to such teaching consists of identifying their character and conduct and then the manner in which they are to be dealt with. They are to be dealt with on an individual and case-by-case basis.
First, they are identified as divisive. “Divisive” is airetikos, a causative adjective from airesis, which means “a sect, party, school” (Acts 5:17; 15:5), “a dissention, faction” (1 Cor. 11:19; Gal. 5:20), or “an opinion, dogma, heresy” as with “destructive opinions or heresies” (2 Pet. 2:1). Thus, airetikos means “factious, causing divisions, heretical.”192 “In Christianity it seems to have been used technically from the very first, and denotes the ‘adherent of a heresy.’”193
In complete contrast to its use in cl. Gk. (where it means able to choose), hairetikos is used in biblical Gk. for the adherents of a hairesis, a heretic. In Tit. 3:10 we see the church’s procedure for disciplining heretics, following Matt. 18:15 ff. and 2 Jn. 10.194
Second, Paul gives the responsibility which is two-fold. This may be an abbreviated form and reference to Matthew 18:15-17 and Luke 17:3.195 They are to be “warned” at least twice. “Warnings” is nouthesia, “admonition, warning, instruction.” Something of the focus of this word may be found in Paul’s instruction to the Thessalonians. One of the shepherding and caring functions of the leaders mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 5:12 is that of admonishing the flock. “Admonish” is noutheteo, the verb form of nouthesia. It means “to admonish, warn, instruct,” but literally it means “to put into the mind.” It might be used of general instruction, but it was often used where there were wrong tendencies that needed correcting as with these false teachers at Crete. It involves a moral appeal to the will, but an appeal aimed at bringing spiritual understanding through biblical instruction and the convicting power of the Spirit. There is a vital difference between biblical admonition from mere protest or reprimand and an admonition that is based on biblical instruction with the goal of correction through spiritual understanding and conviction. While the former is little more than verbal disapproval, the latter works toward reclamation and restoration. A classic illustration of this is Eli the priest. First Samuel 2:24 records Eli’s rebuke or verbal disapproval of the behavior of his degenerate sons, but in 3:13 God rebuked Eli because of his failure to admonish his sons. Interestingly, the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew text) uses the imperfect of noutheteo. The imperfect points to a habitual pattern of failure in Eli’s leadership of his sons. He protested and reprimanded, but failed to truly admonish them.
But what happens when there is no response to the warnings? Then, they are to be rejected. “Reject” is the present imperative of paraiteomai, “to reject, avoid.” In other words, the recalcitrant or rebellious and disobedient person is to be treated as an outsider as the Lord advised in Matthew 18:17. The ultimate goal is that such treatment will bring the person to his senses and to repentance and restoration, but there is nevertheless a note of finality in the reason given in verse 11.
Third, in verse 11 the apostle gives the reason for the above action. This is found in the character and conduct of such a factious person. The NET Bible has: “You know that such a person is twisted by sin and is conscious of it himself.”
But literally, as pointed out in the translators’ notes of the NET Bible, the text reads, “knowing that such a person is twisted (perverted) and is sinning, being self-condemned.” “Knowing” is an adverbial participle that points us to the reason or cause for turning away from the factious individual, but the words “such a person” focuses our attention on the issue of character and behavior. “Such a person” represents the adjective toioutos. This adjective lays stress on the degree and quality as described by the context. It means “such as this, of such a kind” whether a thing or a person. A person such as this who is impervious to loving and biblical admonition reveals serious spiritual problems.
First, such a person is “twisted.” “Twisted” is the perfect passive of ekstrepho. Literally this verb means “to turn inside out” and then metaphorically “to change entirely, pervert.”196 In the passive as here, “to be perverted,” points to an unmentioned agent or cause, but something has had a negative impact on the person’s life. The perfect tense points to a condition that has been reached with results that continue. It stresses the present state of affairs.
Then, the translation of the NET Bible, “by sinning,” suggests that the cause of the perversion is a continual life of sinning, whatever that might be. But since the text literally says “and is sinning,” the sinning could just as well be the product of the perversion, especially when the root problem is a mind that has been twisted by false doctrine which is futile to change one’s life and this is ultimately the issue here. Regardless, the character (“perverted,” a state that has been reached) and the conduct (“is sinning,” a process that continues) point us to the reasons for rejecting such a person.
Literally, the Greek text ends “being self-condemned.” The translation of the NET Bible “and is conscious of it himself,” seems to understand the Greek term here to refer to a self-condemnation in the sense that the twisted person is aware of his true spiritual state. In other words, he knows that in his persistent refusal to abandon his heretical views he is wrong and stands condemned by his own better judgment. However, the Greek term, autokatakritos, “self-condemnation,” may also be understood to mean that the twisted teachers are condemned by their own behavior (see 1:16).
Paul’s closing words consist of three instructions (vss. 12-14) followed by a mutual greeting and a closing benediction (vs. 15), but as in all his epistles, these closing remarks demonstrate a couple of vital characteristics in the life and ministry of Paul. First, they show he was a team player who recognized the importance and function of the other members of the body of Christ. God had not made him a one-man team regardless of his office as an apostle or his special gifts and the direct revelation that he had received from God. Further, these final words demonstrate his warmth, compassion, and loving care for others. Finally, we also see his penchant for teaching by the way he used simple needs as an opportunity to communicate truth in practical ways. He used needs of Zenas and Apollos as an opportunity to remind the Cretans (and us) of the responsibility we all have to engage in good works.
When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there.
In this first note, Titus is directed to meet Paul at Nicopolis where he had decided to spend the winter, but not before either Artemas or Tychicus had arrived, apparently as a replacement. This is the only mention of Artemas in the New Testament, but we can assume that he was another of Paul’s trusted assistants as was Tychicus. Tychicus, who was from the province of Asia (Acts 20:4), had accompanied the apostle on previous missionary endeavors and had been sent by Paul to Ephesus and to Colossae (Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7). At another time he was apparently sent to Ephesus as a replacement for Timothy (2 Tim. 4:12-13). Paul described Tychicus as “my dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord” (Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7).
As to Nicopolis, we might wonder why the apostle chose to spend the winter in this town. With the apostle’s ever present commitment to minister the gospel, Towner is undoubtedly right with his assessment of the circumstances.
… Nicopolis was a busy port town on the western coast of Greece. It was actually known for its harsh winters; many travelers from all parts would have been forced to spend the winter there, so that Paul could continue ministry despite the impossibility of travel…197
Make every effort to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; make sure they have what they need.
Zenas and Apollos, probably the bearers of this letter, were not only to be received by Titus and the Cretans, but outfitted for the continuation of their journey. “Make every effort” is spoudaios, an adverb that may mean “with haste” or “with special urgency” (see Phil. 2:28 and 2 Tim. 4:9, 21). From the idea of haste came the meaning, “zealous effort” in the sense of “diligently, earnestly, zealously.” It expresses the idea of zealous concern and commitment. “Help … on their way” is propempo, “accompany, escort” and then “help on one’s journey” with food, funds, and whatever necessary provisions might be needed including companionship if also needed.
Zenas is not mentioned elsewhere so we do not know exactly what is meant by the designation, “the lawyer.” As Kent points out, “It is not known whether the designation ‘lawyer’ marks Zenas as a converted Roman jurist or an ex-rabbi (teacher of Mosaic Law),…”198 By contrast, Apollos is the well-known preacher mentioned numerous times in Acts and 1 Corinthians (see Acts 18:24, 27; 19:1; 1 Cor. 1:12; 3:4-6, 22; 16:12).
Here is another way that our people can learn to engage in good works to meet pressing needs and so not be unfruitful.
As mentioned, the presence of Zenas and Apollos and the needs for their journey and ministry provided an excellent illustration and occasion for the Cretans to engage in good works. Thus, the apostle reminds them of this privilege. The Greek text simply says, “and our people must learn to engage in good works,” but the NET Bible’s translation, “here is another way…,” is right contextually by connecting this admonition to the previous needs. “Must learn” is a third person imperative, but as some translations do, it should not be translated simply as “let our people learn.” Rather, it expresses that which is a must, an imperative for believers. “Learn” is manthano, “to learn through instruction” or “to learn by experience.” Regardless of the means (instruction or experience), the basic meaning is “to direct one’s mind toward something.”199 Since the object to be learned here is a fruitful life in good deeds, the thrust seems to be on using the varied opportunities and experiences of life, as illustrated in verse 15, to develop a commitment and skill in doing good.
The apostle had previously mentioned good works, but now he gives added definition to this with the words “to meet pressing needs.” “Pressing” is anankaios, “necessary.” It expresses some situation of need as determined by the context. One of the goals is naturally reaching out to help others, but another, as stressed here by Paul, is that God’s people may never be found unfruitful. We have been saved by His grace, but He has created us for good works as the loving expression of His love and as demonstrations of the power of the gospel.
Everyone with me greets you. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all.
The apostle closes with final greetings from all of his associates again showing his team spirit. Though they are left unnamed, Zenas and Apollos would surely identify them. Then, Titus is to greet “those who love us in the faith,” undoubtedly a reference to the whole church of believers who loved and respected Paul and his team. “In the faith” is literally, “in faith,” which because of the absence of the article may mean “faithfully.”
He closes with, “grace be with you all,” which expresses not only his affection, but his desire for all believers since grace is so vital to our experience and walk with the Savior. Grace is not only the source of our salvation, but the basis of our sanctification, fruitfulness, and reward.
188 Walter Bauer, Wilbur F. Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1979), electronic media.
190 Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, editors, The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in One Volume (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985), electronic media.