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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Titus 1

Verse 1


After the 65-word salutation (in the Greek), longer than that of any of the Pauline letters except Galatians and Romans[8] (Titus 1:1-4), Paul outlined the qualifications of elders whom Titus was commissioned to appoint in Crete (Titus 1:5-9), referred to the character of the false teachers operating there, and warned Titus concerning the unsavory reputation of the Cretan population (Titus 1:10-16).

Verse 2

in hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised before times eternal;

In hopes of eternal life ... This is the oldest promise ever recorded, having been given, "before the foundation of the world," "before times eternal," "before the world was," and "before times everlasting," as Paul variously described it. This promise was not made to men, though it pertains to them, but to Jesus Christ our Lord. The consequences of it reach far beyond all of the revolutions of time; it is glorious in its object, that being the eternal goodness and righteousness of its recipients; it is inviolable for God promised it; and it is conditional as this context shows. As Lenski noted, "The Greek has no word for eternal";[12] and as many have pointed out, the meaning is "before the ages began to roll along in their never-ending course."[13]

[12] R. C. H. Lenski, Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistles ... Titus (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1964), p. 892.

[13] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 341.

Verse 3

but in his own seasons manifested his word in the message, wherewith I was entrusted according to the commandment of God our Saviour;

Here the great truth shines that the promise of eternal life is "manifested," that is, made known, or made available to men "in the message," that is, the gospel of Jesus Christ as brought by the Lord himself and delivered unto mankind by his apostles. Thus eternal life is conditional, only those who are willing to hear and obey the message being eligible to receive it. Thus Hendriksen's deduction is correct, that, "Strictly speaking, it was not life everlasting that was revealed, but the word of God with respect to it."[14] However, Christ was manifested; and the life eternal is in him, Jesus himself being in fact "the life" (John 14:6), enabling the apostle John to refer to Jesus as "the Word of life.., which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled" (1 John 1:1). Therefore, in the sense of this passage, eternal life was indeed manifested. But for the myriads of men who have lived since the apostles, it is still "the word of God with respect to eternal life" that has been manifested to them.

In his own seasons ... There is a heavenly chronology according to which all of the plans of God are being effectively achieved (Acts 17:31).

God our Saviour ... It is appropriate to refer to God as the Saviour of men because all of the initial plan was his. Note also that Paul referred to Jesus as "our Saviour" in Titus 1:4, thus giving another testimony to the status of deity which Paul attributed to Jesus.

Verse 4

to Titus, my true child after a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour.

My true child ... This is usually understood as meaning that Paul had converted Titus, although, of course, no detail of this is given in the New Testament. Lipscomb also understood this as indicating Paul's conversion of Titus.[15]

After a common faith ... Hendriksen would make the "faith" here to be "used in the subjective sense";[16] but we believe that De Welt is correct in understanding it "as the objective quality of faith,"[17] that is, the Christian religion shared by the Christians of all ages.

[15] David Lipscomb, New Testament Commentaries, Titus (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1976), p. 263.

[16] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 343.

[17] Don DeWelt, Paul's Letters to Timothy and Titus (Joplin: College Press, 1961), p. 141.

Verse 5

For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that were wanting, and appoint elders in every city, as I gave thee charge;

I left thee in Crete ... Here is all that is known of Paul and Titus' efforts together in Crete; but it must be inferred that, after the first imprisonment, Paul was released and that he and his aides carried on extensive missionary work, perhaps even making that long projected journey to Spain that Paul mentioned in Romans. Certainly, he carried on work in Crete. Crete is the large island lying about equidistant from three continents and in the midst of the Mediterranean Sea. Paul had touched there briefly on the shipwreck journey, but at that time he was a prisoner en route to Rome.

Crete was the cradle of the ancient Minoan civilization, and there was said to have been a hundred cities on the island. The population was of mixed races, noted for their trickery, drunkenness and licentiousness. A temple of Bacchus was there, and the island was famed for its wines. Paul himself, in following verses, would discuss the evil character of many of the people. It was not an enviable assignment which Titus here received from the apostle. Still, there were many congregations of believers there, some, perhaps, dating from those citizens of Crete who on Pentecost had heard the good news in Jerusalem (Acts 2:11).

Elders in every city ... This actually means a plurality of elders in every church in each city of Crete, indicating the extensive spread of the gospel there at the time of Paul's letter. It is a misunderstanding of this injunction to make Paul's meaning to be that "at least one elder" should be appointed in every church.

Verse 6

if any man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having children that believe, who are not accused of riot or unruly.

This list of the qualifications of elders is substantially the same as that given to Timothy (1 Timothy 3:1ff); and that list with the comments should be noted in connection with what is written here.

Blameless ... means "above reproach," and is an inclusive term that appears to blanket the whole list of checkpoints enumerated.

Husband of one wife ... There can be no doubt that heads of families were alone considered suitable material from among whom the appointment of elders was to be made, as indicated by the entire context. The historical church sinned in the development of a government by celibate priests. This qualification does not allow an elder to be polygamous, nor to be divorced and remarried except upon Scriptural grounds.

Having children that believe ... Despite the fact that this is usually interpreted to mean "children that are baptized believers," that is not what the passage says. Of course, it could mean that, because Paul frequently used "believing" as a synecdoche embracing all of the primary steps of obedience to the gospel; but there is no certainty that he did so here. The opinion of Zerr is worthy of consideration:

My conclusion is that "faithful children" in Titus 1:6 is equivalent to controlled children in 1 Timothy 3:4,12, where the same point is under consideration, and hence that they are to believe in and be faithful to their father, regardless of whether they are members of the church or not, or even that they are old enough to be members.[18]

Who are not accused of riot or unruly ... This states the qualifications negatively, riotous, unruly and disobedient children in any man's family being enough to disqualify him.

Verse 7

For the bishop must be blameless, as God's steward; not self-willed, not soon angry, no brawler, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre;

The bishop ... Paul's use of the singular noun here has given rise to all kinds of speculations; but Paul never intended to imply by this that only one bishop was needed for the oversight of a church or churches. The meaning here is "any bishop." As Hendriksen said, "The hierarchical idea of several `priests' and their `parishes' being outranked and governed by the bishop and his `diocese' is foreign to the Pastorals."[19] A comparison will show that exactly the same qualifications are given for a bishop as are given for an elder, Paul, in fact, using the terms interchangeably. The seven words in the New Testament which are applied to this office are: bishop, overseer, presbyter, elder, pastor, shepherd and steward, the latter being found only in this verse.

As God's steward ... The term "steward" in English derives from an old Anglo-Saxon word, stig-ward or `keeper of the pigs, or sty.' Of course, this was a key position of very great authority and importance in the feudal culture. Survival of the lord and his serfs depended upon honest and faithful management of the principal meat supply. Just so, a faithful administration of the Lord's congregations is required.

Not self-willed ... This has to be one of the most important qualifications enumerated, despite the fact of so little attention being paid to it; once a self-willed, opinionated elder is appointed, then his prejudices, his opinions, his judgments and his vision become the automatic boundaries of the church's progress.

Not soon angry, no brawler, no striker ... All of these are negative qualifications related to the essential self-control and sober judgment of men capable of serving as elders. The word `striker' at the time of the publication of the King James Bible, whence it made its way into our version, referred to a person who went around thumping other people on the head with a quarterstaff. It has no reference to labor disputes.

Not greedy of filthy lucre ... This means `dirty money,' that is, money acquired through questionable or dishonest means; but more than that is meant. Any man whose chief end in life is the acquisition of wealth, or whose affections are primarily set upon the things of this life, or who has any inordinate love of material possessions - any such person should not be named as an elder of the Lord's church.

Verse 8

but given to hospitality, a lover of good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled;

"The absence here of any unusual or exceptional qualities shows again the realistic approach of the apostle."[20] Upright, honest, clean family men are those to be sought out and appointed. However, the words "just and holy" indicate that they must also be God-fearing, righteous, and deeply devoted to holy religion. Any "nice fellow" is not necessarily elder material.

Given to hospitality ... For special comment on the subject of hospitality, see my Commentary on Hebrews, pp. 342-344. Hospitality in the New Testament sense does not mean merely entertaining one's friends, but far more.

Verse 9

holding to the faithful word which is according to the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in the sound doctrine, and to convict the gainsayers.

As DeWelt noted, "This has been taken by many to be a commentary on 1 Timothy 3:2, in which Paul states that the elder must be `apt to teach'";[21] and that view would appear to be correct. The primary duty of elders, namely, that of watching over and protecting the flock of God, requires that they be students of the holy Scriptures, having a broad knowledge of what is and what is not sound doctrine.

That he may be able to convict the gainsayers ... This shows why an elder must be apt to teach and must possess an accurate and extensive knowledge of the holy truth revealed in the Scriptures. A moment later, Paul will give further information regarding the particular gainsayers he had in view here; but, apart from that, there are evil and seductive teachers in all generations who exercise their subversive talents for private gain, doing much damage to the faith of many. Such men must be prevented from achieving their evil purpose; and an eldership not having sufficient ability in the Scriptures is unequal to such a task.

Verse 10

For there are many unruly men, vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision,

The persons in view here are not the hierarchical Jews of the secular state of Israel who also were vigorous opponents of Christianity, but the company of Jews who had indeed accepted Christ as the Messiah, having been baptized into the faith, and who, through inadequate understanding of Christianity, were attempting to bind the forms and ceremonies of Judaism upon Christians. This seems to have been especially true of that large group of Pharisees who had accepted Christ (Acts 15:5). Their teaching was totally wrong, and their motives were far from holy; because they evidently hoped to enlist Christians as keepers of Jewish rites out of regard to the fees that would be collected. They were unruly, insubordinate, vain, empty-headed deceivers, there being no grounds whatever upon which the true church could accommodate their behavior.

Verse 11

whose mouths must be stopped; men who overthrow whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake.

Whose mouths must be stopped ... Here is ample authority for the elders of the church to exercise decisive control over the teaching from their pulpits, or even privately. The widespread notion that congregations should democratically hear any kind of teaching that comes along is incorrect. Purity of a church demands that the fountain from which it drinks must be pure. Elders have both the right and the duty to silence unsound, subversive and inaccurate teaching. Hervey tells us that one of the meanings of the Greek term from which "stopped" is rendered "means to silence, and is applied to wind instruments."[22] It is as if Paul had told the elders to "shut off the hot air."

The urgent necessity of stopping such teachers appears in the extent of the damage they were doing.

Verse 12

One of themselves, a prophet of their own said, Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, idle gluttons.

Paul here quoted a Cretan poet, Epimenides, who lived approximately 600 B.C.; and it is rather astonishing that Paul referred to him as "a prophet." It should be noted, however, that Paul did not say he was a prophet "of the Lord," but "a prophet of their own," that, of course, being strictly accurate. Dummelow thought Paul called him a prophet because "his witness was still true in Paul's day."[23] Lenski also agreed with this, stating that "Their still being liars in Paul's time made the old Cretan's line as sound as a prophecy."[24] It cannot be denied that the ancients accepted him as a prophet, as attested by Cicero, Apuleius and Plato. "They reckoned him a prophet, a predictor of the future."[25] "It was the same Epimenides, according to Laertius, who advised the Athenians to `sacrifice to the appropriate god,' and which led to that altar `to an unknown god,' (Acts 17:23)."[26]

Cretans are always liars ... History reveals that this was not an untrue judgment. In antiquity, "the noun Cretism was a synonym for `lie'; and the verb to Cretize meant to tell lies."[27]

Perhaps the most famous of the Cretan lies was that the tomb of Zeus was located on their island![28]

Evil beasts, idle gluttons ... By these terms Paul described men who were given over completely to sensuality, idleness and gluttony, being depraved and having no thought of spirituality, morality or righteousness.

[23] J. R..Dummelow, op. cit., p. 1007.

[24] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 903.

[25] Newport J. D. White, Expositor's Greek New Testament, Vol. IV (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 189.

[26] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 353.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

Verse 13

This testimony is true. For which cause reprove them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith,

It was not implied by the apostle that there were no exceptions, because the very existence of congregations of Christians on the island demonstrated that a remnant of the population were striving for better things; and yet they were in danger of being seduced and won back to the old ways, hence the need to reprove and rebuke behavior unbecoming to the name of Christ.

Sound in the faith ... means, objectively, soundness in the Christian religion, this being an important witness that the faith which saves is not merely a subjective trust/faith; for it is founded in a behavior and life-style compatible with the teachings of the Master. No person is "sound in the faith" who is not doing, or who is making no effort to do, the will of Christ.

Before leaving Paul's testimony regarding Epimenides, it is interesting to note that "This affords Scriptural authority for believing that in some small degree the ancient Gentile nations had their own prophets."[29]

Verse 14

not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men who turn away from the truth.

Again, the Jewish connection of the false teachers should be noted. The problem did not derive from a late first century gnosticism, but from militant Judaism, a militancy that totally disappeared following the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, this making the date of this letter prior to that event. Extensive reference to the teaching and devices of these evil men may be found in the Galatian letter and in practically all of the Pauline writings, their purpose being to subvert Christianity by amalgamating it with Judaism, and not a true Judaism at all, but having an inordinate stress upon the Pharisaical doodlings which were condemned by Jesus. Paul here used some of the very words of Christ who said to the Pharisees, "In vain do ye worship me, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9). See fuller comment on this under that verse in my Commentary on Matthew. See also in Colossians 2:21,22. For all who would worship God correctly, there must be a sharp distinction between what God has commanded and authorized in the sacred scriptures, and the ceremonies, innovations and traditions that are purely human in their origin. The population of Crete had a predominantly Jewish element; and by Paul's appeal to Epimenides, it is clear that these wicked teachers had combined the unrighteous characteristics of the Cretans with their own Pharisaical legalisms.

Verse 15

To the pure all things are pure: but to them that are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.

To the pure all things are pure ... As Stibbs well said, "Things here does not refer to things which are morally wrong,"[30] but to objects. Unwashed pots (not ceremonially washed), non-kosher food, graves, and other things considered cermonially unclean are the type of things in view here. Gould stressed the misuse of such a passage as this:

Someone utters a vile, indecent, vulgar or profane story or remark; and another more sensitive soul expresses disapproval; whereupon still another justifies it by saying, "To the pure all things are pure."[31]

Of course, Paul was not speaking of speech, behavior or conduct, but of things. Lenski also found in this a reference to 1 Timothy 4:4,5, where Paul stated that "every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, etc."[32]

Their mind and their conscience are defiled ... Chrysostom said with reference to this that, "When the soul is unclean, it thinks all things are unclean."[33] Such defiled persons are quick to see in the innocent actions of others cause for censure or blame.

[30] Ibid.

[31] J. Glenn Gould, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. IX (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1969), p. 673.

[32] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 906.

[33] Chrysostom as quoted by White, op. cit., p. 190.

Verse 16

They profess that they know God; but by their works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.

Profess that they know God ... "This is an allusion to the Jewish pride of religious privilege ... alone sufficient to prove that the heretics here are not the Gnostics of the second century."[34]

"This is all spoken of men claiming to be servants of God."[35] They were therefore apostate Christians, the word "reprobate" here means "being put to the test for the purpose of being approved, but failing to meet the requirements, being disapproved."[36] De Welt also pointed out that the word was used of "the testing of coins for genuineness."[37]

Those who allege that Paul taught any kind of justification by "faith only" should ponder this passage. No wonder men like McGiffert affirm that this is contrary to "Pauline doctrine" (see introduction to Titus). To be sure this is contrary to that which so many in our times allege to be Pauline doctrine, but this is the true Pauline teaching. It is in full consonance with the teachings of the Master who said, "Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46).

[34] Newport J. D. White, op. cit., p. 190.

[35] David Lipscomb, op. cit., p. 270.

[36] Kenneth S. Wuest, op. cit., p. 189.

[37] Don DeWelt, op. cit., p. 152.

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Titus 1". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.