Titus is one of the Pastoral Epistles, which is an eighteenth-century term for the books of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus because they are letters from the Apostle Paul to his fellow pastors. Here are three important things to keep in mind as you read this letter.
1. Titus is about the truth that leads to godliness.
At the beginning of his letter to Titus, Paul says that he is “an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness” (Titus 1:1). The stress on truth and godliness continues throughout the letter: these things must always go together.
When it comes to describing the sort of people Titus is to appoint as elders in the churches on Crete, Paul is very clear that they must be “above reproach” and that they must “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught” (Titus 1:6–9). Conversely, the false teachers that Titus has to wrestle with “profess to know God, but they deny him by their works”—which shows they are wrong in both lip and life, in their teaching as well as their behavior (Titus 1:16).
To counter this, Titus is to “teach what accords with sound doctrine,” since the same grace of God, which offers salvation to all, also teaches us to “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions” (Titus 2:1, 11–12). If we miss that connection between truth and godliness, we have missed the main point of this letter.
2. Paul calls Jesus “God.”
In chapter 2, Paul says that Christians are “to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12–13). What we might easily miss is the reference here to Jesus as “our great God.”
We know that Jesus is God, of course, from elsewhere in the Bible. His words and actions, His fulfillment of prophecy, and the way the New Testament speaks about Him prove that this is so. It is a central tenet of the Nicene Creed that Jesus is “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.” But there aren’t many places in the New Testament where it is stated as baldly as it is in Titus 2. Can you think of the others? John 1:1 is an obvious example: “the Word was God.” And Paul also speaks in Romans 9:5 of “the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever.”
The context for this tremendous identification is that we are waiting for the glory of our God and Savior Jesus Christ to appear when He returns. This is our great hope. Note that Paul brings this up at the same time as he reminds us that the God and Savior who will appear is the same One who “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people” (Titus 2:14). That is, his identification of Jesus as God is in service of the melodic line of this letter—his call to remember the truth that leads to godliness.
3. Paul tells us how to handle heretics.
Titus is told to “avoid foolish controversies” with the false teachers in Crete because “they are unprofitable and worthless” (Titus 3:9–10). He does need to be able to refute their arguments and silence them when he can, even rebuking them sharply if need be (Titus 1:9, 11, 13). But there comes a time when those who have been upsetting whole families and disrupting households with their teaching need to be recognized as divisive and dealt with decisively.
The word Paul uses for a “divisive person” in Titus 3:10 is hairetikos, from which we eventually get our word heretic. Heretic has a somewhat different meaning in modern English than that original word in ancient Greek. In Titus, it does not necessarily mean someone who preaches a specific heresy or false doctrine, but someone who starts or encourages factions, though possibly they do this by means of heterodox teaching as well as pointless speculations.
It is important to note that in Titus 3, the divisive person is given a warning and not just dismissed at once. Just as in Jude 22–23, an attempt should be made to have mercy and snatch people from the fire, warning them as brothers before treating them otherwise (see also 2 Thess. 3:15). Classic definitions of heresy include the idea that a person should only be classified as a divisive heretic, and therefore avoided, if they persist in their false teaching after prayerful instruction and time for repentance (a repentance also hoped for in 2 Tim. 2:25–26).
The underlying assumption here is that the unity of the church is threatened by divisive people teaching unsound (meaning unhealthy) doctrine. That is why, out of a right concern for church unity, we should “have nothing to do” with such people. It is they who cause the problems and should be avoided (see Jude 19; Rom. 16:17).
In his commentary on Titus 3, Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) says that “if a person were to maintain that God is not triune and one, or that fornication is not a sin, he would be a heretic.” These two examples of heresy nicely sum up the emphasis of Paul’s letter, showing how theology and ethics, truth and godliness, both go together.
This article is part of the Every Book of the Bible: 3 Things to Know collection.