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New Testament: Titus

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Crete, Arne Nordmann  (2004)

The Apostle Paul addresses Titus as his "loyal child" in the faith that they share. While Paul is in an undisclosed location, he will be on his way to Nicopolis in Epirus (western Greece), and Titus is on Crete. Matters of the ordering of the church in Crete are taken up, and much of the letter is concerned about the creation of a Christian ethos, living a life under grace, and baptismal regeneration.

So What?

Passages in the Letter to Titus have an enduring importance in the liturgical life of the church. The most important are those concerning the qualities of a bishop and baptismal regeneration.

Where Do I Find It?

The Letter to Titus is the seventeenth book in the New Testament. Clustered with 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy (the other two "Pastoral Epistles"), it stands near the end of the "Pauline corpus," the collection of letters attributed to the Apostle Paul (the books of Romans through Philemon).

Who Wrote It?

According to the letter itself, it was written by the Apostle Paul to Titus on Crete, from which Paul has left. Yet, this letter is generally regarded as pseudonymous, written after the death of Paul by an anonymous writer who sought to impersonate Paul in a post-Pauline situation.

When Was It Written?

The Letter to Titus is widely considered to be pseudonymous, written after the death of the Apostle Paul. Since the letter has terminology that is found generally in certain Christian writings of the second century, it is considered to have been written late in the first century or even early in the second.

What's It About?

The Letter to Titus emphasizes the Christian community's ability to be a force for good in society and expresses concerns about leadership in the early church, assuming that good order, good teaching, good people, and good conduct will assist the promotion of the gospel.

How Do I Read It?

Read the letter as one written to impersonate Paul in a situation that the author faced in his own time and place. Seeking to represent Paul in order to give authority to what he has to say, the author calls upon readers (ostensibly Titus, but implicitly more than him) to imitate Paul in his fidelity to the gospel, even in trying circumstances. In order to do this letter justice, one should read it (as well as the other Pastoral Epistles) in light of the seven undisputed letters of Paul, where one finds quite different emphases and teachings.

AUTHOR: Arland J. Hultgren, Professor Emeritus and former Asher O. and Carrie Nasby Chair of New Testament

I. Opening (Titus 1:1-4)

In this, the longest opening of any of the three Pastoral Epistles (which include, along with Titus, also 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy), Paul addresses Titus as his "loyal child in the faith." TEST

II. Exhortation to Appoint Church Leaders in Crete (Titus 1:5-9)

As Paul's representative, Titus is to appoint elders (also translated as "presbyters") in every town in Crete, and the qualifications of a bishop are delineated.

III. Oppose False Teachers and Their Teaching (Titus 1:10-16)

The ordering of the church is important to combat false teachers, whose teaching and conduct are described very briefly.

IV. Exhortation to Foster a Christian Ethos (Titus 2:1-10)

Instructions are provided for the conduct of elderly men and women, young men (for whom Titus is to be a model), young women, and slaves.

V. Life under Grace (Titus 2:11-3:11)

The letter speaks of the transforming power of grace, baptismal regeneration, and how believers should be devoted to good works.

VI. Further Instructions to Titus (Titus 3:12-14)

Paul asks Titus to meet him at Nicopolis and gives him various other instructions.

VII. Greeting and Benediction (Titus 3:15)

Paul sends greetings from others who are with him, along with a greeting of his own. The letter closes with a benediction.

AUTHOR: Arland J. Hultgren, Professor Emeritus and former Asher O. and Carrie Nasby Chair of New Testament

According to information within the letter itself, Paul had been on the island of Crete but left Titus there to be in charge after his departure (1:5). We are not told where Paul is, but he hopes to meet Titus at Nicopolis prior to the next winter to come (3:12). During his time on Crete, Titus is to see that the churches there are staffed in such a way that each has an "elder" (or "presbyter") to carry on ministry, and he is to instruct people in their duties and roles as Christians. It is more probable, however, that Titus is a deutero-Pauline book, written pseudonymously sometime after the death of Paul. Further information from within the book shows that it presupposes a situation within the Pauline field of influence where Jewish regulations are being imposed upon its readers (1:10, 14). If it was actually addressed to a community on the island of Crete, it is rather odd that the writer would include the slander about Cretans and agree that it is true (1:12-13).

AUTHOR: Arland J. Hultgren, Professor Emeritus and former Asher O. and Carrie Nasby Chair of New Testament

The author of the letter

According to the letter itself, Paul wrote it to Titus on Crete (1:5), from which Paul has now left. Paul is at some undisclosed location, but he will eventually be on his way to Nicopolis (eastern Macedonia), where Titus is to meet him (3:12). It is much more likely, however, that this letter was written in Paul's name by an anonymous writer (making it a pseudonymous work) after the death of Paul. The author sought to impersonate Paul in a post-Pauline situation. Reasons cited for that view depend on an assessment of the Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus) as a group. The reasons are as follows: (1) the Pastorals do not appear as known Pauline letters in the earliest sources; (2) the Pastorals contain 901 different Greek words, but once the 52 proper nouns (names and places) are removed, there are 849 left; of the 849, some 306 (36%) do not appear within the seven undisputed letters of Paul; (3) the Pastorals assume and prescribe a church order with ecclesiastical offices (bishop, presbyter [=elder], and deacon) firmly in place, which is not evident in the undisputed letters of Paul; (4) the Pastorals contain teachings otherwise unknown in the undisputed letters of Paul (such as an emphasis on "piety" or "godliness," and "faith" understood as the Christian faith that is transmitted by tradition, not simple trust); and (5) the Pastorals cannot be fitted well into the chronology of what we know about Paul's career.

Bishop and elder (or presbyter)

Titus is told to appoint "elders" (or "presbyters") in every town on Crete (1:5). But then the writer goes on to speak already in 1:7 about the qualities and qualifications of a "bishop." This has led interpreters to wonder whether the office of bishop and elder were the same. According to some scholars, who point out that the bishop is spoken of in the singular and the elders in the plural, a bishop may have been an elder who had become the overseer (which is what the Greek word translated "bishop" means) of the community. As Titus appoints elders, therefore, he should bear in mind that any one of them might someday be the bishop, so the qualities and qualifications of the bishop are to be taken into consideration in the appointment of elders.


At 2:13 the writer says that "we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ." This is one of only two places in the New Testament where the term "God" is clearly applied to Jesus. The other is at John 20:28. (In addition, there is one other passage, Romans 9:5, which may or may not speak of Christ as God, depending on how one punctuates the Greek.) It should be emphasized that, although the divinity of Jesus is a major theme in Christian theology, it is not emphasized in the New Testament itself. There seems to be a reticence to speak of Christ as God. That is true even in the passages cited here. In both cases the term "God" appears to be more honorific (in expressions of praise) than ontological.

The Pastoral Epistles

These three books--1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus--share much in common in terms of language, style, and theological themes. Each is written to a pastor from a pastor. One cannot discuss the theology of any one of them in isolation from its two companion pieces. They share many theological themes.

Tables of duties

In this book, as in some others in the New Testament, there is a table of duties (or household code) concerning what is expected of elderly men and women, young men and women, and slaves (2:2-10). Such tables (or codes) reflect expectations of persons in the era in which they were written and may or may not be applicable in later times, especially the expectations of wives and slaves. These tables stand in the Scriptures of the Christian church, however, and every interpreter will assess their importance differently, which is inevitable.

AUTHOR: Arland J. Hultgren, Professor Emeritus and former Asher O. and Carrie Nasby Chair of New Testament


Four major christological titles appear in the Pastoral Epistles: "Christ," "Lord," "Savior," and "Mediator." The title "Son of God," used often in the seven undisputed letters of Paul, does not appear. There is an implicit affirmation of Christ's preexistence and incarnation (Titus 2:11; see also 1 Timothy 3:16; 2 Timothy 1:9-10); his true humanity is maintained (see 1 Timothy 2:5; 6:13; 2 Timothy 2:8); and his death is acknowledged (Titus 2:14; see also 1 Timothy 2:6; 2 Timothy 2:11). He has been exalted to heaven and reigns in the present era (see 1 Timothy 3:16; 2 Timothy 1:10; 2:12). Finally, he will appear at the end of time (see 1 Timothy 6:14; 2 Timothy 4:8), when he will judge both the living and the dead (see 2 Timothy 1:18; 4:1, 8).

Life in the world

Like 1 Timothy, the Letter to Titus looks out upon the world as the place in which the Christian is at home. In this letter there is a stress on having compassion for those in need (3:2, 8, 14) and extending courtesy toward all people (3:2), not just Christians.

Baptismal regeneration

At 3:5 the writer speaks of baptismal regeneration in one of the most eloquent passages on baptism in the New Testament. He speaks of baptism as a "washing" (in the translations of the KJV, RSV, and NIV, reflecting the Greek word loutron most accurately; but the NRSV has "water")--a "[washing] of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit." The verse is important for the Christian doctrine of baptism, and it is quoted in the section on Holy Baptism in the Small Catechism of Martin Luther.

AUTHOR: Arland J. Hultgren, Professor Emeritus and former Asher O. and Carrie Nasby Chair of New Testament