See our discussion of authorship for the pastoral epistles in our introduction to 1 Timothy. In sum, though there is great dispute, we believe that the evidence is on the side of Pauline authorship, with the help of an amanuensis (perhaps Luke).
The date of Titus must be sometime after Paul’s release from his first Roman imprisonment (c. 61 CE) and, in all probability, shortly before his re-arrest and final imprisonment. Further, some time must be allowed for him to return to Asia Minor, evangelize with Titus on Crete, and perhaps winter in Nicopolis (Titus 3:12). Since, in our view, Paul died in the summer of 64, Titus should probably be dated no earlier than 63 CE.
a. When Paul was released from his first Roman imprisonment, he took Titus (and perhaps Timothy) with him to Crete to evangelize the island.
b. Paul left Titus on Crete (1:5) and went to Ephesus, where the apostle left Timothy en route to Macedonia.
c. Sometime later, probably from Philippi (for he had not yet reached Nicopolis [3:12]), he wrote to Titus.
Paul’s instructions to Titus when he left him were now articulated more fully in his letter. In 1:5 we see the purpose: “The reason I left you in Crete was to set in order the remaining matters and to appoint elders in every town, as I directed you” (NET). This instruction and authorization was against the backdrop of potentially divisive groups arising in the church (cf. 3:9-11), to which Paul was especially sensitive since he had probably just penned his first letter to Timothy.
Paul’s letter to Titus seems almost like a miniature of 1 Timothy. “Apart from the situation (1:1-4) and final greetings (3:12-15), only the two semicreedal passages in 2:11-14 and 3:3-7 present material that has no points of correspondence with 1 Timothy.”1 When Paul left Timothy in Ephesus, the situation was quite urgent, while this was not the case with Titus in Crete. Apparently, Paul would have written to Timothy first and, after some reflection on the same issues, write also to Titus. Hence, there is great similarity between these two epistles, though Titus lacks the sense of urgency found in 1 Timothy.2
Since Titus’ church on Crete was newly planted, the main concern of Paul was that the believers begin living an exemplary Christian life, so as to be an example of the grace of God to their pagan neighbors. The essence of Titus can be summed up thus in the twofold theme of (1) doing good works especially (2) for the sake of outsiders.3
Paul begins this short letter to an apostolic delegate with a salutation, noting especially God’s truthfulness and sovereignty (1:1-4). Then he introduces the purpose of his letter and the reason why he left Titus behind (1:5), viz., to straighten out unfinished business and to appoint elders (1:5).
The body of the letter will deal with these two issues in chiastic arrangement (appointment of elders in 1:6-9, setting things in order in 1:10–3:14). The relative lengths of these two sections ought not to be taken as an indication of their relative importance. Titus was to leave Crete soon (3:12), when other apostolic delegates arrived. But the elders had the task of continuing on in the ministry in Crete and could not come and go as they pleased (or as the apostle directed). Thus as much as this letter is directed to Titus, it was also very much for the elders of the church (as can be seen by the plural greeting in 3:15).
The first instructions, regarding the appointing of elders/overseers,4 is hardly more than a laundry list of ethical qualifications (1:6-8), followed by the condition of doctrinal fidelity (1:9). But as we saw in 1–2 Timothy, instruction without godliness not only would go unheeded; it also would bring reproach on the gospel.
Paul begins the second and main section of the letter (1:10–3:14) by a reminder that Judaizers and other false teachers would probably come and attempt to ruin the church (1:10-11), as they had been doing to believers in Ephesus. He begins his second section with this group because the last duty of elders to be mentioned was “correct those who speak against [healthy teaching]” (1:9, NET). Thus he sets the stage for the entire letter: this tome is for the elders’ ears, too.
The apostle then turns to the ethical instruction of the church (2:1-15). Paul again links godliness with doctrine (cf. 1:6-9), for he begins with the instructions “communicate the behavior that goes with sound teaching” (2:1, NET), but the thrust of his instruction is ethical standards for various groups (2:2-10). It is only at the end of these instructions that Paul relates them to doctrine: in 2:11-14 he reminds Titus of the Lord’s imminent return as a motivation to do good right now.
The last part of the body deals with doing good deeds (once again) as a witness to the believers’ pagan neighbors in Crete (3:1-14). They should respect the authorities (3:1-2)—especially because the grace of God has changed the condition of their hearts from disobedience to obedience (3:3-4). Paul takes the opportunity of this theme to remind his audience of their own regeneration experience, couching it in almost typically Pauline kerygmatic terms (3:5-7). Part of the way in which the Cretan believers could show that God had done something in their hearts was to major on the majors and avoid silly controversies (3:9-11). Another way was to provide for God’s people (3:12-14). This last directive is mentioned because Titus was to come to Paul in Nicopolis and there would be a “changing of the guard”—that is to say, Paul was sending either Artemas or Tychicus to Crete to take Titus’ place as apostolic delegate (3:12). It would be necessary for Paul to address the need for providing for church leaders while Titus was still with the Cretans so that he could enforce such before an unknown delegate came. The Cretans are further urged to show hospitality toward itinerant preachers (3:13), as well as take care of the ongoing needs of their own permanent leaders (3:14).5 By the believers taking care of their own leaders in this way, their witness before a watching world becomes quite powerful. Thus Paul begins and ends this last section on believers’ response to authorities.
The epistle concludes with a final greeting and short benediction (3:15).
I. Introduction (1:1-5)
A. Salutation (1:1-4)
B. Purpose of the Epistle: The Task of Titus (1:5)
II. Appointing Elders (1:6-9)
III. Setting Things in Order (1:10–3:14)
A. Concerning Judaizers and False Teachers (1:10-16)
B. Concerning Ethical Conduct in the Light of the Eschaton (2:1-15)
1. Introduction (2:1)
2. Ethical Instructions to Various Groups (2:1-10)
a. Older Men (2:2)
b. Older Women (2:3)
c. Younger Women (2:4-5)
d. Younger Men (2:6-8)
1) Encouragement of the Young Men (2:6)
2) Example for the Young Men (2:7-8)
e. Slaves (2:9-10)
3. Eschatological Hope for All Men (2:9-14)
4. Summary (2:15)
C. Concerning Good Deeds Before a Watching World (3:1-14)
1. Respect for Authority (3:1-2)
2. Response to the Savior (3:3-8)
a. Rehearsal of Regeneration (3:3-7)
b. Responsibility of Titus (3:8)
3. Rejection of Foolish Controversies (3:9-11)
4. Providing for God’s People (3:12-14)
a. Transition of Leadership in Crete (3:12)
b. Hospitality toward Itinerant Preachers (3:13)
c. Providing for the Elders in the Body of Christ (3:14)
IV. Final Greeting and Benediction (3:15)
1G. D. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (in New International Biblical Commentary), 10-11.
2For an interesting detailing of the urgent notes found in 1 Timothy but absent in Titus, cf. Fee, ibid., 11.
3See Fee, ibid., 11-12, for evidence and texts.
4The use of “elder” in 1:5 and “overseer” in 1:7 indicates their interchangeability.
5Although 3:14 could be taken in a more general way, both the context (3:12-13) and Paul’s normal practices regarding care for leaders (cf. 1 Tim 5:17-19) suggests that the provision here is restricted to the leaders.