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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New TestamentSchaff's NT Commentary

- Titus

by Philip Schaff




THE island anciently called Crete, in modern times (though never by its inhabitants) Candia, and by its Turkish masters Kiridi, stretches from east to west about 150 miles, as if to form a sheltering base for the Greek archipelago that lies to the north of it; but its breadth nowhere exceeds 35 miles. It is traversed by a mountain chain, whose chief peak, Mount Ida, attains the elevation of 7674 feet. The limestone rocks are everywhere hollowed into caverns, often of great extent, which were of old dedicated to idolatrous rites. Its present Greek population, estimated at 210,000 in 1867, poorly represents its former condition. With a salubrious climate, and a soil which even now, when the agriculture in use scarcely deserves the name, yields olive oil, wine, wheat, and the fruits of a temperate clime in fair abundance; it once sustained a dense population, and was reputed to contain a hundred towns ( Æneid, iii. 106). So early was its culture, that it was the seat of much of the primitive Greek mythology. It boasted the sepulchre of Zeus (still shown; see Pashley, Travels in Crete, i. 213). It produced Minos the legislator. It possessed the labyrinth which Dædalus built for the Minotaur. In short, it was the cradle and the home of many Greek legends; a stepping-stone, at least, by which they passed from the east to the mainland of Europe.

Its population consists of a maritime class in the ports along its northern coasts, of small farmers in the fertile valleys that run inland, and of stubborn mountaineers, half shepherd, half bandit, who occupy the central heights. Probably these three elements have not greatly varied throughout its history; but the modern inhabitants scarcely bear so bad a reputation as their predecessors in classic times. To cretize used to be another word for to lie. The island shared with Cilicia and Cappadocia a proverbial ill-name, as the ‘three worst C’s.’ Greed and licence combine with the ground quality of deceitfulness to compose a character in which we recognise in a high degree the worst type of the Greek people. [1] Specially to be noted is the large admixture of Jews to be found there in the time of the empire, and even earlier. (See 1Ma 15:23 ; 1Ma 10:67 .) Josephus refers to their presence in more than one passage ( Ant. xvii. 12, 1; Wars. ii. 7, 1), while even Tacitus appears to confound them with a native tribe of Greek origin (v. 2).

[1] Meursius has collected the evidence from classic authors.

Its modern history is mainly a record of resistance to the Turkish power. The Venetians, who held it for a while, left upon it marks of misgovernment; but their long and gallant defence of it against the Turks in the seventeenth century deserves to be remembered. Under Mohammedan rule, its Greek people have never ceased to be turbulent, and the recent revolt of 1878-79 recalls a still greater insurrection which nearly achieved success in 1866-68.



The Gospel may have been very early carried to the island by those Jewish settlers who were present at Pentecost (Acts 2:11); although during Paul’s brief stay at one of its ports when he sailed past it in the year 62 (Acts 27:7-13), no mention is made of resident Christians. Of any apostolic teaching there, we know nothing previous to the visit of Paul, which immediately preceded our Epistle (Titus 1:5). The Epistle itself implies that Paul found Christianity widely diffused. His own visit had not afforded time for the election of elders in all the town congregations (Titus 1:5). Nor can these have been congregations of very recent origin; for the writer assumes that no lack will be found of men suitable for this office, even of men whose families have been brought up in the Christian faith (Titus 1:6). Everything, therefore, indicates a church ‘old in actual date of existence, but quite in the infancy of arrangement and formal constitution’ (Alford). This want of a proper organization had obviously told unfavourably on the doctrine and morals of the Cretan Christians. Much debate has arisen, and many guesses have been ventured, as to the ‘heretics’ whom Paul desired to combat through the labours of Titus and the presbyters to be appointed. After the discussion which this subject has received in the present volume, in connection with the two Epistles to Timothy, it would be unreasonable to enter again upon it at length. The following points may be noted as fairly established: (1) The errors combated in this Epistle are substantially the same with those which appear from the Epistles to Timothy to have infested the Church of Ephesus, about the same date. (2) They were errors of a practical rather than of a doctrinal complexion, or at least such errors as led directly to immorality of life. (3) They originated mainly with men of Hebrew birth. (4) These teachers favoured celibacy, and laid much stress on the distinction between clean and unclean, in such external things as food and the like. (5) They involved the Church in useless and foolish disputes, and split it into parties about questions of no practical value. (6) Some of these errorists abused their influence to make money, and were themselves men of impure lives. On the whole, it seems probable (as Lightfoot concludes) that we have here, in contact and pernicious mixture with Christian teaching, views which stood midway between the old Essene type of Jewish asceticism and the developed Gnosticism of the next century.



Under these circumstances, it is obvious why St. Paul should have attached much importance to the organizing of the Church by ordaining presbyters over each congregation. In this task he had been himself engaged during a brief visit just paid to the island. For some reason not preserved, he had been forced to leave the work incomplete. Titus, as his assistant, was left behind to finish it; and this letter was intended to counsel Titus as to (1) the qualifications of the presbyters; (2) the tone to be adopted towards the heretical teachers; and (3) the points to be insisted upon in his instructions to Church members generally. The date of this letter must be nearly the same as that of the letters to Timothy; for the three form a group strongly marked off from the other Pauline Epistles, and very closely related by thought and style to one another. They bear also on a later development of error than any other Pauline document, or than the address to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:0. Further, the evidence of Second Timothy compels us to place all three near the close of the apostle’s life. But any attempt to fix their dates more precisely must turn upon the disputed question of a second captivity suffered by St. Paul at Rome. On the whole, it seems to me impossible, without doing violence to the narrative in Acts, to find a place for this group of letters, and the labours and journeys to which they refer (especially this visit to Crete), previous to the apostle’s arrest at Jerusalem (Acts 21:27). The hypothesis of his liberation, and of an unrecorded period of missionary activity, followed by a second and final imprisonment at Rome, appears, therefore, to be the one demanded by the facts, if the genuineness of the Pastoral Epistles is to be maintained. On this theory, the date of our Epistle’s composition will fall about the year 65 or 66.



Of the apostle’s assistant to whom it is addressed, nothing else is known except from the allusions in Galatians 2:1-5 and 2 Corinthians 2:12-13; 2 Corinthians 7:5-16. From the first of these passages, it appears that Titus was a pure-blooded Gentile, whose conversion became a test case on the disputed question of circumcising Gentile converts. St Paul took him to Jerusalem, and there (as his difficult language is usually read) stood out against a proposal to subject him to the badge of Judaism, in order ‘that the truth of the Gospel might continue.’ Later, Titus became the bearer to Corinth of Paul’s First Epistle. His return with tidings of its effect upon that great church was anxiously awaited by the apostle at Troas; till, growing impatient, Paul pushed on to meet his messenger in Macedonia. The result was, that Titus was sent back to Corinth with the Second Epistle, and with instructions (in concert with two unnamed fellow - workers) to complete the collection in Greece for the Palestine Christians. The terms in which Paul refers to him, together with his success on this delicate commission, warrant us in viewing him as a skilful, energetic, and capable missionary a man who, by his energy and intelligence, was well adapted for the work to be done in Crete. For some undiscoverable reason, his name nowhere occurs in the Book of Acts; nor do we know more of him from Scripture, save that when Second Timothy was written, he was in Dalmatia (2 Timothy 4:10), not far from that city of Nicopolis where Paul expected to be rejoined by him when relieved from his Cretan duties (2 Timothy 3:15). Later local legends are untrustworthy: as that he became Bishop of Gortyna in Crete, and died there unmarried at the age of ninety-four. The Cathedral of Megalokastron used to cherish his head as a relic, and the Cretans, during their war of independence against Venice, invoked him as their patron saint. A blundering story, from a late and obscure author, speaks of his having baptized into the Christian faith the younger Pliny! He is said to be venerated as the apostle of Dalmatia.



Citations of this Epistle, as of the two to Timothy (with which it must stand or fall), go back to the second century; nor has its genuineness been ever questioned until some seventy years ago. The objections which, since that date, have been urged by a few German scholars, turn entirely on the supposed difficulty of finding a place for these Epistles among the recorded labours of St. Paul; on the late character of the errors here assailed; and on the peculiar expressions which are frequent in the style of these documents. Regarding the first point, see above, sect iii. Careful comparison with Paul’s earlier writings on the one hand, and with those of Peter, Jude, and John on the other, justifies the view that when our Epistle was composed, heresy was in transition, at a stage half way between the views of the first Judaizing Christians, who sought to combine the Mosaic law with the

Gospel of grace, and the gross unchristian or anti-christian attitude which it came to present at the close of the first century. The progress of its decline into Gnostic speculation and immorality would be imperfectly traced did we want the evidence afforded by these Pastoral Epistles. More difficult to explain are the peculiarities of language found in them. Each of them is characterized by quite a crowd of phrases and terms occurring in no earlier writing of the apostle. The lapse of a few years scarcely seems by itself to account for this phenomenon. The difference in the subjects treated of, and the fact that those letters are all addressed to confidential fellow-labourers, will count for something. On the whole, we know too little of the changes which may have come over the current phraseology of Christians in an age of rapid development, and too little in particular of the influences amid which St. Paul passed these later years of his ministry, to be able to affirm that such an alteration of style was impossible, or to permit this difficulty to shake the strong and concurrent external testimony to the genuineness of our Epistle.


In a spiritual society like the Christian Church, both the rites observed and the organization by which its affairs are administered ought to be of the most simple character consistent with efficiency. The earliest Christian Church which required to be constituted under permanent and regular officials was the Hebrew Church at Jerusalem; and there can be no question that its constitution was imitated from that of the synagogue. When we first catch a glimpse of a ruling order early in the year A.D. 44, these rulers already bear the title of ‘the presbyters’ or ‘elders’ (Acts 11:30).

No other arrangement could have seemed so natural to Jews. From the moment when the related clans or septs which sprang from the twelve sons of Israel first appear in history, they are found organized under a council or senate of ‘elders.’ Like similar bodies of rulers under a parallel state of society in many lands, these derived their title from their age and experience, representing as they did the still more ancient patriarchal chieftainship. As this had been the earliest, so it proved to be the most enduring institution in the Hebrew state. It survived every revolution in Hebrew annals. All through the monarchy the ‘elders’ stood by the king’s side as of old, the natural representatives of ‘the congregation,’ that is, of the body of the people, hey survived the fall of the monarchy, a nd during the captivity became again the recognised heads of the exiles (cf. Jeremiah 29:1; Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 14:1, etc.). On the restoration, society reconstructed itself on the immemorial lines. The elders of each city are found acting with its ‘judges’ (Ezra 10:14), and the elders of the nation appear throughout the first book of Maccabees as a senate empowered to form alliances and decide questions of peace and war ( 1Ma 12:6 ; 1Ma 12:35 ; 1Ma 13:36 ; 1Ma 14:20 . See also 2MMalachi 1:10; 2Ma 4:44 ). When supreme power was ultimately gathered into the hands of the Sanhedrim, a large contingent to the membership of that composite council were just the old ‘elders of the people,’ or representative heads of the congregation.

Still more important for the origin of church polity was the development given to this presbyterial system in the synagogue. When the Hebrews began after the exile to meet for public worship in local congregations, and such congregations began to possess sacred edifices, an order of worship, and a governing body of their own, it was quite natural that the charge of each ‘synagogue,’ so called, should be entrusted to officials similar to those who from time immemorial had managed the civil affairs of the village or commune. At the head of each synagogue there came in this way to stand a council of presbyters presided over by one of themselves. In fact, this title of presbyter or elder is employed in the New Testament to describe Jewish far more often than Christian officers.

It is clear, therefore, how the first chiefs of the infant society of believers at Jerusalem were led to mould its government on a type to which they and their fathers had always been accustomed. The system sanctioned in its origin by resident apostles was carried everywhere by the first missionaries, and set up likewise among the churches of the Gentiles. On his first tour, Paul ordained ‘ciders’ at Derbe, at Lystra, at Iconium, and at Antioch. We find him at a later date addressing similar officials at Philippi and at Ephesus. James speaks of them as found among the scattered Hebrew Christians. Peter does the same thing, and calls himself by the title of ‘presbyter.’ So does St. John in both his minor Epistles. So far as we can now know anything of apostolic churches at all, we gather that a congregational council of presbyters was an institution everywhere established.

There can be no doubt that the primary function of the primitive eldership was that of superintendence. Some of them were likewise instructors or exhorters of the brethren, as appears from a well-known passage in First Timothy (1 Timothy 5:17); but that very text shows ‘ruling well’ to have been their essential or characteristic duty; and the numerous other passages where their functions are referred to bear out the same idea of ‘rule’ (cf. Hebrews 13:7; 1Th 5:12 ; 1 Peter 5:2; Acts 20:28). To express this characteristic function, it would appear that they early began to be described by Greek Christians as the overseers (‘bishops’) and pastors of the flock. Both words were familiar terms descriptive of such duties as these officers discharged. The former of the two especially came ere long to take its place as an official Greek title, alongside of the older title (borrowed from the Hebrews) of ‘presbyter’ or elder. That it was in this way the primitive order of church rulers came to acquire the name of ‘bishops,’ and that during the Apostolic Age bishop and presbyter described the same class of officials, may now be regarded as settled points. Scarcely any competent scholars who do not belong to an extreme school of churchmen dispute it. An old controversy, long and hotly waged, has thus been within the present generation of scholars laid to rest; and the only question which really remains in debate is, At what date and under what conditions this newer title of ‘bishop’ began to be exclusively reserved for the president of the presbytery. Bishop Lightfoot, who has done much to win genera! acceptance for the identity of the apostolic ‘bishop’ and ‘presbyter,’ maintains in his valuable supplement on ‘The Christian Ministry,’ appended to his Commentary on Philippians, that the development of the episcopate out of the presbytery took place in Asia Minor under the sanction of St. John somewhere between the year 70 and the year 100, and thence was gradually extended throughout the other churches of Gentile Christendom. This result cannot be said to be as yet established beyond dispute. Even if correct, it involves the abandonment of the old positions taken up by defenders of Episcopacy: (1) that bishops are the successors of the apostles; and (2) that diocesan Episcopacy is sanctioned by the New Testament. It reduces the plea for an order of ministers higher than the eldership to one of practical convenience only. The question whether such a concentration of church power in the hands of a single individual be or be not an improvement upon the primitive institution of a presbytery or council of elders with equal rights to rule, is clearly one of secondary consequence, which different bodies of Christians, placed under different circumstances, may be expected to answer in different ways.

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