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Introduction to The Letter to Titus

Thoughts on the Pastoral Epistles1

Paul’s epistles to Timothy and Titus (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) have generally been called the “Pastoral Epistles.” They were originally regarded as mere personal letters and were classified with Philemon, but because of their strong bearing on the life of the church, they gained the name the “Pastoral Epistles.” Though addressed to individuals, these books are not limited to personal and private communications, but are somewhat official in character. Paul addressed them to Timothy and Titus to guide them in matters concerning the pastoral care of the church, which is the household of God (cf. 1 Tim. 3:14-15; 4:6-15 with 2 Tim. 2:2).

The term, “pastoral,” is an 18th century designation that has stuck down through the years,2 and though not entirely accurate, it is a somewhat appropriate description of these three letters. Further, due to the large portion of these epistles that deal with church order and discipline, the term “pastoral” is accurate. These epistles deal with church polity, policies, and practice, all of which are concerns vital to the health of the church. However, the term pastoral is inaccurate in the sense that Timothy and Titus were not pastors in the present-day sense of the term. So what were they?

First, these men were official representatives of the apostle Paul whom he dispatched to various churches at Ephesus and Crete. Once there, they functioned in an official capacity to deal with special situations and meet special needs. During the interim from the time of the apostles to the transition to elders and deacons, these men were sent by Paul as his apostolic representatives to repel and deal with certain conditions and people who were threatening to hurt the work and ministries of these churches.

Second, Timothy and Titus undoubtedly possessed the gifts needed for pastoral ministry and while there was an element of pastoral care in what they did, they were not elders or pastors who are given by the Lord to various churches for long-term ministries (1 Pet. 5:1f). Rather, as official delegates of Paul, they were sent to assist churches in establishing their ministries pastorally-speaking (cf. Tit. 1:5f).

All in all, in their content, these books are pastoral in nature and give directions for the care, conduct, order, ministry, and administration of assemblies of believers. This is true whether they deal with personal matters or the corporate ministry of the church. In summary, then, these books were designed by God to aid us in our pastoral responsibilities and in the organic development and guidance needed for the ministry of local churches.

In this regard there is an important observation that might be made. Of Paul’s thirteen letters, these were the very last books he wrote. What is so significant about that? Since these books deal with church order, ministry, and organization, why were they not first? If you or I were doing this (especially today) we would probably first work to get the organization in good administrative order and then worry about the doctrine. So here are some suggestions to think about:

Suggestion 1. Of course, organization and order is important. The church is a spiritual body, an organism. Each believer is a member with special functions and tasks to carry out, but the primary need so essential to functioning as God has designed the church is right theology (teaching) and understanding of the Word, along with its personal application for Christ-like living. This provides us with the spiritual and moral foundation and motivation on which we base our methods, strategy, and administration. So, while our methods will often vary, they must never contradict the moral or spiritual principles of the Word of God which are in accord with godliness (see Tit. 1:1).

Giving, for instance, is a corporate and individual responsibility, but our giving and the collection of money must be done so that it does not violate biblical principles such as giving voluntarily rather than by methods that employ coercion or manipulation.

Suggestion 2. Organization, or better, the organic and unified growth of a church must be based on (1) right teaching—on teaching that is based on rightly handling the Word, i.e., God’s objective truth and (2) on the selection and function of those people who are qualified and spiritually right with God. When we try to run an organization based on tradition or background, we end up with an organization that is not only not biblical, but which will lack the spiritual fervor and capacity to function as God intends.

These books, then, deal with matters of church order or ecclesiology not hitherto addressed, but before God gave the church directions for church organization (or order as specific as those we find in the pastorals) He gave us Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. Is this because organization is unimportant? No! It is because organization and administration are not primary. They are secondary. Further, it is because sound teaching and spirituality are what ultimately produce ministries that are effective according to God’s standards and that manifest the spirit and character of Christ in ministry and outreach.

Suggestion 3. Closely related to this is another concept. Some areas of ecclesiology are more difficult to determine than others. As a result, students of the Word have debated certain issues for years like the exact form of government or how we should select and appoint men to leadership. Is this selection to be carried out by the board of elders, by the congregation, or by both working together?

Since there is such a divergence of opinion does this mean we should give up on matters of church government? Of course not. We should carefully study these issues and seek biblical answers so we might come to conclusions based on our study of the facts of Scripture. But the point is, regardless of the type of church government (within certain limits, of course), if God’s Word is being consistently and accurately proclaimed with prayerful dependence on the Lord, and if the people take it to heart, a church will be alive, in vital touch with Christ, and effective in ministry for the Lord.

The Author

The Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles was not questioned in the early church and any arguments against their authenticity have come from the past century and a half. The various arguments against Paul as the author of these epistles is based entirely on internal and theoretical grounds. Ryrie has an excellent summary of the arguments against Pauline authorship with refutation. He writes:

Some have questioned whether Paul himself wrote these letters on the grounds that (1) Paul’s travels described in the pastorals do not fit anywhere into the historical account of the book of Acts, (2) the church organization described in them is that of the second century, and (3) the vocabulary and style are significantly different from that of the other Pauline letters. Those who hold to the Pauline authorship reply: (1) there is no compelling reason to believe that Acts contains the complete history of the life of Paul. Since his death is not recorded in Acts, he was apparently released from his first imprisonment in Rome, traveled over the empire for several years (perhaps even to Spain), was rearrested, imprisoned a second time in Rome, and martyred under Nero; (2) nothing in the church organization reflected in the pastorals requires a later date (see Acts 14:23; Phil. 1:1); and (3) the question of authorship cannot be decided solely on the basis of vocabulary without considering how subject matter affects a writer’s choice of words. Vocabulary used to describe church organization, for instance, would be expected to be different from that used to teach the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. There is no argument against Pauline authorship that does not have a reasonable answer. And, of course, the letters themselves claim to have been written by Paul.3

Recipient

This epistle is addressed to Titus, and though he is never mentioned in Acts and though we know very little about him, the references to him in Paul’s epistles (13 times) make it clear he was one of Paul’s closest and most trusted fellow-workers in the gospel. When Paul left Antioch for Jerusalem to discuss the gospel of grace (Acts 15:1f) with the leaders there, he took Titus (a Gentile) with him (Gal 2:1-3) as an example of one accepted by grace without circumcision. This fact was used to vindicate Paul’s stand on this issue (Gal 2:3-5). It also appears Titus worked with Paul at Ephesus during the third missionary journey. From there the apostle sent him to Corinth where he helped that church with its work and with the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem (see 2 Cor. 2:12-13; 7:5-6; 8:6).

Date (A.D. 62-67)

A overview of the events pertinent to this epistle will help give some idea of a probable date for Titus, though the exact time is unknown. First, Paul was released from his house arrest in Rome (where we find him at the end of Acts). Perhaps because Paul was a Roman citizen and they could not prove the charges, his accusers did not choose to press charges against him before Caesar (see Acts 24-25; 28:30). In essence, then, their case was lost by default and Paul was freed. The apostle then visited Ephesus, where he left Timothy to supervise the church, and went on to Macedonia. From Macedonia (northern Greece), he wrote 1 Timothy (1 Tim. 1:3). He then visited Crete and left Titus to minister among the churches they had planted there. Then, either from Macedonia or Nicopolis, he wrote Titus instructing him to put in order the remaining matters in the churches of Crete. Following this, Paul went to Nicopolis in Achaia (southern Greece, Titus 3:12). Then, either from Macedonia or Nicopolis, Paul wrote the epistle to encourage Titus and instruct him. Afterwards, he visited Troas (2 Tim. 4:13) where he was then arrested, taken to Rome, imprisoned, and finally beheaded. It was from Rome, during this second imprisonment in the dungeon that he wrote 2 Timothy. These events took place from about A.D. 62-67.

Theme and Purpose

Several purposes are seen in this epistle. Paul wrote:

    1. To instruct Titus about what he should do to correct the matters that were lacking in order to properly establish the churches in Crete.

    2. To give Titus personal authorization in view of the opposition and dissenters Titus was facing (see 2:15; 3:1-15).

    3. To give instruction concerning this opposition, to warn about false teachers, and give instructions concerning faith and conduct (1:5, 10-11; 2:1-8, 15; 3:1-11).

    4. To express his plans to join Titus again in Nicopolis for the winter (3:12). Whether this meeting ever occurred, we do not know. Tradition has it that Titus later returned to Crete and there lived out the rest of his life.

The theme is to show how the grace of God that has appeared to us in the saving life and death of Christ instructs us to deny ungodliness and to live righteously and soberly as a people full of good works that are in keeping with the doctrine of God (1:1; 2:10–3:9).

Important issues discussed in the letter include qualifications for elders (1:5-9), instructions to various age groups (2:1-8), relationship to government (3:1-2), the relation of regeneration to human works and to the Spirit (3:5), and the role of grace in promoting good works among God’s people (Titus 2:11-3:8).

Key Words

In this short epistle, the concept of “good deeds” occurs some six times (1:16; 27, 14; 3:5, 8, 14). Two other key words are “grace” (1:4; 2:11; 3:7, 15) and “faith” (1:1, 4, 13; 2:10, 13, and 3:15). Good deeds, however, are not to be the product of human ingenuity or legalistic religion, but the work of God’s grace through faith in the power of God as manifested in Christ, the Savior.

Key Verses

1:5. 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.

2:11-13. For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. 2:12 It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 2:13 as we wait for the happy fulfillment of our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

3:3-7. For we too were once foolish, disobedient, misled, enslaved to various passions and desires, spending our lives in evil and envy, hateful and hating one another. 3:4 But “when the kindness of God our Savior appeared and his love for mankind, 3:5 He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 3:6 whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. 3:7 And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life.”

Key Chapters

Though each chapter has great importance, chapter 2 probably stands out as the key chapter for two reasons. First of all, Titus 2 has one of the strongest and clearest statements of the deity of Christ (2:13). Second, it is a key chapter because of its emphasis on relationships within the body of Christ, the church (2:1-10) and how a proper understanding and focus on both Christ’s first and second coming (the blessed hope) should impact the life of the church for godly living.

Christ as Seen in Titus

The apostle Paul consistently shows us how good works or the conduct of the Christian is vitally connected with the person and work of Christ, past, present, and future. Even in this very short, concise epistle both the deity (2:13) and redemptive work of the Savior (2:12) are vital elements and stand to the theme of good works like root to fruit. Christ is first personified as the grace of God that brings salvation, but whose very appearing instructs us to a life of godliness (vs. 11). Then, He is emphatically described as “our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (2:13-14).

The phrase “our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” is one of the christologically significant texts affected by the Granville Sharp rule. According to this rule, in the article-noun-kaiv-noun construction the second noun refers to the same person described by the first noun when (1) neither is impersonal; (2) neither is plural; (3) neither is a proper name.4

Then again in 3:4-7, the redemption that comes to us through Christ Jesus is again the point of focus and the foundation for transformed living (cf. 3:1-3 and vs. 8f).

Outline

    1. Introductory Greetings to Titus (1:1-4)

    2. Instructions Concerning Elders in the Church (1:5-9)

    3. Instructions Concerning False Teachers in the Church (1:10-16)

    4. Instructions Concerning Various Groups in the Church (2:1-15)

    5. Instructions Concerning the Duties of Believers in the World (3:1-11)

    6. Final Instructions and Greetings (3:12-15)


1 Much of this introductory material, with some modification and additions, is taken from my study entitled, Concise New Testament Survey, The Biblical Studies Foundation, electronic media, www.Bible.org.

2 Henry Clarence Thiessen, Introduction to the New Testament (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1943), 253.

3 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, Expanded Edition (Moody Press, Chicago, 1995), 1916.

4 From the footnote in the NET Bible, BSF web site CD, electronic media. For more discussion see Wallace, Exegetical Syntax, 270-78, esp. 276.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines