Reading Titus

In our “Bible book of the month” reading plan, we are reading the book of Titus in September.  As we begin reading the book this morning, perhaps some background might be helpful.

Who was Titus?

Titus a protegé of the apostle Paul and was installed by Paul as something like an interim pastor over the island of Crete (he was replaced, at least temporarily, though probably permanently, by either Artemas or Tychicus, 3:12). The island contained several cities, including Fair Haven, where Paul was briefly before being shipwrecked (Acts 27:8-12).

Where is Crete?

The island of Crete is in the Mediterranean Sea, directly south of the Aegean Sea, slightly southeast of Greece, and halfway between Israel and Italy.  The Island is about 160 miles long (west to east) and between seven and 35 miles wide (north to south).  Though it has four mountain ranges, the eastern half contains fertile plains that provide summer pastures for livestock.

What was Crete like?

One writer provides this brief summary of Crete:

During classical times Crete was largely a recruiting area for mercenary soldiers, particularly archers. Numerous Jews lived there in the 2nd cent. B.C. In 141 B.C. Simon Maccabeus interceded with the consul Lucius for the protection of the Jews of Gortyna. Conquered by the Romans in 68–66 B.C. it was joined with Cyrene as a province. Gortyna is the only Rom. city that has been excavated. Numerous large public buildings have been uncovered as well as the ruins of the church of Agios Titos.

Jews from Crete were present at the feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:11). Paul sailed on a grain ship along the southern coast on the way from Lycia to Rome. The ship anchored at Fair Havens just E of Cape Matala then sailed to the harbor of Phoenix and the protection of the island of Clauda. It is not known who founded the churches on Crete. Paul implied that he did so when he stated that he left Titus on Crete to correct the churches and appoint elders in every town (Titus 1:5).

The Cretans were proverbially depraved. Paul quoted the poet Epimenides c. 600 B.C., “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12), an opinion shared by many of the ancients. [Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible]

What is the message of the book of Titus?

Titus is the only book of Paul’s 13 epistles that does not use any of words from the “gospel” word group (e.g., gospel, evangelize, evangelistic). However, the gospel is still a dominant theme in the book (e.g., 2:11-14 is probably the key section in the book) and in fact the theme might be stated as being “living the gospel,” or “gospel implications,” or perhaps best, “God’s truth transforms” since this book repeatedly stresses the importance of living lives that have been transformed by the gospel. Further, like the other two pastoral epistles (1 & 2 Timothy), Titus also stresses defending and upholding and keeping the truth and doctrine, which must be understood to include the gospel.

What is the overview of the book, and how does it compare with the letters to Timothy?

D. Edmond Hiebert offers a good, general description of the contents of this book:

While covering the same general ground as 1 Timothy, Titus is briefer and more compact. It is less personal than 1 Timothy and more official. The epistle contains less than seven hundred words in the Greek, yet, what words they are! Of it Luther said, “This is a short Epistle, but a model of Christian doctrine, in which is included, in masterly fashion, all that is necessary for a Christian to know and live by.”

In I Timothy the emphasis is more on sound doctrine, while in Titus the stress falls on worthy conduct. This is due to the different circumstances at Ephesus and Crete. Conditions in Crete caused Paul to stress godliness as befitting sound teaching and to insist that believers “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things” (2:10). Such godly behavior not only adorns the Gospel but safeguards it against being blasphemed (2:5). “This Epistle pre-eminently teaches us what effects the grace of God must show in our whole life.”

The epistle is characterized by classic summaries of Christian doctrine. The salutation of the epistle is loaded with doctrinal truth and for fullness is surpassed only by the opening sentence in Romans. The classic New Testament passage on the grace of God is found in 2:11-14. Its majestic sweep carries us from Christ’s first advent to His final return in glory. It presents God’s grace in its past, present, and future aspects. It pictures the Christian life both negatively and positively (v. 12). “Only the inspired wisdom of the greatest of the Apostles,” says Farrar, “could have traced so divine a summary with so unfaltering a hand.” And in chapter three (4-7) we are given “another concentrated summary of Pauline doctrine unparalleled for beauty and completeness.” [Hiebert, An Introduction to the Pauline Epistles, pp. 346-7.]

A summary of Titus:

  • Author: Paul
  • Date: approximately 64-65 A.D.
  • Recipient: Titus, whom Paul had left as pastor on the island of Crete after previously leaving Timothy in Ephesus. Sometime after leaving Titus there Paul wrote this letter as an encouragement about Titus’ role as a pastor. It completes his trilogy of letters dealing specifically with pastoral ministry.
  • Theme: God’s truth transforms.
  • Key verses: 2:11-14
  • Key chapter: 2

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