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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

- Titus

by Editor - Joseph Exell




Extremely little is known of Titus, either as a man or as an evangelist. His name never occurs in the history of the Acts, which is somewhat strange, as we know, from the Epistle to the Galatians, that he was with Paul and Barnabas at Antioch, and accompanied them to Jerusalem when they went to have the dispute settled about circumcision (Galatians 2:1-3). We learn, from the brief notice given us of what took place on that occasion, that Paul sternly refused to have him circumcised, as some of the Jewish Christians wished, because he saw that in his case the principle of gospel liberty was at stake, and must, at whatever hazard, be vindicated. It therefore appears not only that Titus was a Gentile, but that he must also have been employed chiefly in ministering to the Gentiles, or to churches in which these formed the predominating element. He appears, at a later period, to have been with Paul and Timothy at Ephesus, doubtless sharing with these in the manifold labours attendant on the planting of the Church in that centre of idolatry and corruption. From Ephesus he was sent forth by Paul to Corinth, for the purpose of stimulating the brethren to get forward their contributions for the poor saints at Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8:6; 2 Corinthians 12:18). He rejoined the apostle in Macedonia, and cheered him with the report he brought, not only of the progress of the contributions, but also of the salutary effect produced by the First Epistle of Paul to the Church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 7:6-15). (P. Fairbairn, D. D.)

Titus a strong man

The love of apology, stimulating suggestion, and fatherly counsel manifested towards Timothy differs greatly from the manner of every reference to Titus, who evidently could take care of himself and be safely entrusted with intricate, difficult, and delicate negociations. St. Paul appears to have been more dependent upon Titus than Titus was upon Paul. He is described as the apostle’s “brother and companion and fellow labourer” (2 Corinthians 8:23); and if he were the bearer of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, and enforced the advice of the apostle upon the Church which had for the moment been thrown into violent confusion by “that wicked person,” he must have been a man of strong nerve and fine tact … Titus not only discharged his task with admirable … patience and success, but was ready, even eager, to go back to Corinth with the second letter, and to complete the delicate service which he had commenced a year before (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:6 with 12:18)

. Since he had begun, Paul desired him also to finish among the Corinthians the same grace or gift. The eager interest with which he responded to the appeal seemed like a Divine inspiration. “God,” says Paul, “put it into his heart.” A private letter addressed to Titus in the midst of these negociations would have possessed great interest; but we know nothing of his proceedings until many years have elapsed. (H. R. Reynolds, D. D.)

Biographical details

St. Paul’s first imprisonment is concluded, and his last trial impending. In the interval between the two, he and Titus were together in Crete (Titus 1:5). We see Titus remaining in the island when St. Paul left it, and receiving there a letter written to him by the apostle. From this letter we gather the following biographical details:--First we learn that he was originally converted through St. Paul’s instrumentality (Titus 1:4). Next we learn the various particulars of the responsible duties which he had to discharge in Crete. He is to complete what St. Paul had been obliged to leave unfinished (Titus 1:5), and he is to organise the Church throughout the island by appointing presbyters in every city. Instructions are given as to the suitable character of such presbyters (Titus 1:6-9); and we learn, further, that we have here the repetition of instructions furnished by word of mouth (Titus 1:5). Next, he is to control and bridle (Titus 1:11) the restless and mischievous Judaisers, and he is to be peremptory in so doing (Titus 1:13). Injunctions in the same spirit are reiterated (Titus 2:1; Titus 2:15; Titus 3:8). He is to urge the duties of a decorous and Christian life upon the women (Titus 2:3-5), some of whom (Titus 2:3) possibly had something of an official character. He is to be watchful over his own conduct (Titus 2:7); he is to impress upon the slaves the peculiar duties of their position (Titus 2:9-10); he is to check all social and political turbulence (Titus 3:1), also all wild theological speculations (Titus 3:9), and to exercise discipline on the heretical (Titus 3:10). When we consider all these particulars of his duties, we see not only the confidence reposed in him by the apostle, but the need there was of determination and strength of purpose, and therefore the probability that this was his character; and all this is enhanced if we bear in mind his isolated and unsupported position in Crete, and the lawless and immoral character of the Cretans themselves, as testified by their own writers (Titus 1:12-13). The notices which remain are more strictly personal. Titus is to look for the arrival in Crete of Artemas and Tychicus (Titus 3:12), and then he is to hasten to join St. Paul at Nicopolis, where the apostle is proposing to pass the winter. Zenas and Apollos are in Crete, or expected there; for Titus is to send them on their journey, and supply them with whatever they need for it (Titus 3:13). (Dean Howson.)

From his lonely cell on the eve of his martyrdom, St. Paul penned his second letter to Timothy, and in that touching epistle we find the final reference to Titus, who is said to have gone into Dalmatia. There is no reason whatever for believing that Titus had deserted his father in the faith, or that in this journey he had done other than fulfil the wishes of the dying apostle. Titus left behind him in Crete a name and a sacred memory. The modern Candia claims the honour of his tomb. Two considerable churches were dedicated to him in the island, and he was regarded as its patron saint. After the conquest of Crete by Venice, the Venetians also claimed Titus, by the side of St. Mark, as their patron too. Pashley discovered a fountain, said to have been used by St. Paul for the baptism of his converts, and, amid other superstitious tributes to his memory, found that the apostle was credited with having driven the wild beasts from the island. (H. R. Reynolds, D. D.)

Titus shares with Timothy the glory of having given up everything in order to throw in his lot with St. Paul, and of being one of his most trusted and efficient helpers. What that meant the Epistles of St. Paul tell us--ceaseless toil and anxiety, much shame and reproach, and not a little peril to life itself. He also shares with Timothy the glory of being willing, when the cause required such sacrifice, to separate from the master to whom he had surrendered himself, and to work on by himself in isolation and difficulty. The latter was possibly the more trying sacrifice of the two. To give up all his earthly prospects and all She sweetness of home life, in order to work for the spread of the gospel side by side with St. Paul, was no doubt a sacrifice that must have cost those who made it a great deal. But it had its attractive side. Quite independently of the beauty and majesty of the cause itself, there was the delight of being associated with a leader so able, so sagacious, so invigorating, and so affectionate as the apostle who “became all things to all men that he might by all means save some.” Hard work became light, and difficulties became smooth, under the inspiriting sympathy of such a colleague. But it was quite another thing to have given up everything for the sake of such companionship and support, or at least in the full expectation of enjoying it, and then to have to undergo the hard work and confront the difficulties without it. The new dispensation in this respect repeats the old. Elisha leaves his home and his inheritance to follow Elijah, and then Elijah is taken from him. Timothy and Titus leave their homes and possessions to follow St. Paul, and then St. Paul sends them away from him. And to this arrangement they consented, Timothy (as we know) with tears, Titus (we may be sure) with much regret. And what it cost the loving apostle thus to part with them and to pain them we see from the tone of affectionate longing which pervades these letters. (A. Plummer, D. D.)


With regard to modern objections, it may be freely admitted that there is no room in St. Paul’s life, as given in the Acts, for the journey to Crete, and the winter at Nicopolis, required by the Epistle to Titus. But there is plenty of room for both of these outside the Acts--viz., between the first and second Roman imprisonments of the apostle. And, as we have already seen good reason for believing in the case of 1 Timothy, the condition of the Church indicated in this letter is such as was already in existence in St. Paul’s time; and the language used in treating of it resembles that of the apostle in a way which helps us to believe that we are reading his own words, and not those of a skilful imitator. For this imitator must have been a strange person; very skilful in some things, very eccentric in others. Why does he give St. Paul and Titus a work in Crete in which there is no mention in the Acts? Why does he make the apostle ask Titus to meet him in Nicopolis, a place never named in connection with St. Paul? Why bracket a well known person, like Apollos, with an utterly unknown person, such as Zenas? It is not easy to believe in this imitator. Yet another point of resemblance should be noted. Here, as in 1 Timothy, there is no careful arrangement of the material. The subjects are not put together in a studied order, as in a treatise with a distinct theological or controversial purpose. They follow one another in a natural manner, just as they occur to the writer. Persons with their hearts and heads full of things which they wish to say to a friend, do not sit down with an analysis before them to secure an orderly arrangement of what they wish to write. They start with one of the main topics, and then the treatment of this suggests something else; and they are not distressed if they repeat themselves, or if they have to return to a subject which has been touched upon before and then dropped. This is just the kind of writing which meets us once more in the letter to Titus. It is thoroughly natural. It is difficult to believe that a forger in the second century could have thrown himself with such simplicity into the attitude which the letter presupposes. (A. Plummer, D. D.)

Time and place of composition

It is not possible to determine whether this letter was written before or after the First to Timothy. But it was certainly written before the Second to Timothy. Therefore, while one has no sufficient reason for taking it before the one, one has excellent reason for taking it before the other. The precise year and the precise place in which it was written, we must be content to leave unsettled. It may be doubted whether either one or the other would throw much light on the contents of the letter. These are determined by what the apostle remembers and expects concerning affairs in Crete, and not by his own surroundings. (A. Plummer, D. D.) The striking resemblance of this Epistle to 1 Timothy justifies us in assigning it to the same year (say 67 A.D.). It may have been written in Asia Minor when the apostle was on his way to Nicopolis. (J. A. McClymont, B. D.)

Crete and the Cretan church

Crete is a large island in the Greek seas, with a range of high hills running through its entire length from east to west, from which fertile valleys open upon a continuous strip of flat shore round the coast line. On the north it possesses good natural harbours. In its palmly days these served as outlets for the abundant crops of wheat, wine, and oil which it then yielded to the industry of a dense population. Descended from an ancient Greek stock, its early inhabitants were employed partly as cultivators in the interior, partly as seamen on the coast. They were a somewhat rude, turbulent, and independent race, among whom the usual defects of the Greek character in its less cultured condition were very strongly marked. Of these defects, falsehood, both in the form of over-reaching and in that of treachery, has always been the foremost. To this vice there were joined, in St. Paul’s time, gross forms of licentiousness and a readiness to swift, insolent brawling such as has never been quite cured among the maritime Greeks of the Archipelago. (J. Oswald Dykes, D. D.)

There is no record of any visit of St. Paul to Crete, except in Acts 27:7. He may have gone there from Ephesus or Corinth during the period of his life embraced in the Acts; but it is far more probable that the visit referred to here took place after his first imprisonment at Rome. This island, although famous in the mythology of early Greece, had played no important part in its subsequent history. It had been added to the Roman Empire by Metellus (b.c. 67), and was united in one province with Cyrenaica, on the African coast. There are indications of considerable Jewish settlements on this island. Tacitus, indeed, mentions, among several traditions of the origin of the Jews, that they came from Crete; perhaps from a confusion between them and the Cherethites, or Cherethim, who are supposed to have been Philistine mercenaries. The Septuagint translates these names by Cretans in Ezekiel 25:15; Zephaniah 2:15, where, too, in verse 6, for “seacoast” it reads “Crete.” Jews in Gortyna, a city of Crete, are alluded to in 1Ma 15:23. Josephus mentions the Jews in Crete, in connection with Alexander, the pretended son of Herod; and Philo, in the reign of Caligula, speaks of Crete as being, like other islands of the Mediterranean, full of Jews. Cretes were among the devout Jews who were sojourning at Jerusalem at the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:11). When, or by whom, Christianity was planted on this island, is quite uncertain. It could hardly have been by St. Paul, unless we suppose some visit previous to his first imprisonment to which no allusion is made in the Aces. But in that case we shall rather expect to find some mention of “brethren” there, when the apostle touched at the Fair Havens on his way to Rome (Acts 27:8). The directions in this Epistle indicate an imperfectly organised Church, but one which had been in existence long enough to admit irregularities, and to be endangered by false teachers. (Bp. Jackson.)

The false teaches

The heretics (Titus 1:9)belong especially to Judaism (Titus 1:10). While boasting of their special knowledge of God, they lead a godless life (Titus 1:16), condemned by their own conscience (Titus 3:11). What they bring forward are Jewish myths (Titus 1:14), genealogies, points of controversy about the law (Titus 3:9), and mere commands of men (Titus 1:14). They are idle babblers (Titus 1:10), who, with their shameful doctrine (Titus 1:11), seduce hearts (Titus 1:10), cause divisions in the Church (Titus 3:10), and draw whole families into destruction (Titus 1:11); and all this--for the sake of shameful gain (Titus 1:11). (J. E. Huther, Th. D.)

They made much of the law of Moses. Not of its moral elements, however; nor even of its religious ritual; nor of its observance as a means of attaining to righteousness. What they appear to have chiefly insisted upon was the distinction it drew between what was ceremonially “clean” and “unclean” in food, and the like external matters--portions of Mosaic legislation which many, even among the Hebrews, had come to regard as its least important or permanent features. On such points, they added new Rabbinical prohibitions to those of the original law. They had even introduced doctrines foreign to the whole spirit of Hebrew thought and history. For example, they discouraged marriage and extolled celibacy, as well as denied a literal resurrection of the body. It is clear, therefore, that the root idea which underlay their speculations and practical rules was the same belief in the essential evil of matter which for some years had been operating injuriously (as we see from the letter to Colosse)

upon the churches of Asia Minor, and which, after St. Paul’s decease, was destined to blossom into the vast and many-headed heresy of Gnosticism. The legitimate offspring of all speculations of this complexion, which assign moral evil as a property to matter, not to the spirit, is, first, a false asceticism, and, at the next remove, immoral indulgence. To this last, even, it had already come with certain of the Jewish teachers at Crete. They were worming their way into Christian families, undermining authority in the household, and seeking by all means to win proselytes to their views, for the purpose of enriching themselves; and, under a garb of self-denial, they indemnified themselves for ascetic restraint by flagitious laxity. Such are the charges brought against them by St. Paul. It was, therefore, no abstract error which had to be combated. A “gangrene” of immorality, as the natural product of fanciful speculations which were dangerous as well as false, was laying waste the Church, demoralising the behaviour of professed believers, and endangering the very existence of a healthy Christianity in the island. The evil was by no means peculiar to Crete, although it had there acquired unusual development. It was destined to overrun all churches. It was the same evil the foresight of which, in its finished form, darkened the last days of Paul, and which is dealt with by the pens of St. Peter and St. Jude. All the more interesting does it become to note how the great missionary dealt with it in the present case. No sooner was he on the spot, than he felt the need for a prompt and drastic remedy. The mischief had gained too firm a footing to be readily expelled. It found support in the low morals of the Cretan population. Before it could be counteracted, it would therefore require courage, plain speaking, a vigorous enforcement of discipline, and, above all, a faithful exhibition of gospel truth in its essential connection with sound morality. (J. Oswald Dykes, D. D.)


After a somewhat elaborate preface, Paul reminds Titus that he had left him behind in Crete for the purpose of ordaining presbyters in the churches there. The qualities are named which the presbyter ought to possess, and Paul points out the upholding of the pure gospel as the most important requisite of all, that the presbyter may be able to withstand the continually growing influence of the heretics. The mention of the heretics in Crete gives the apostle an opportunity of quoting a saying of Epimenides, which describes the character of the Cretans, while at the same time he sketches the heretics, with their arbitrary commands and their hypocritical life, and vindicates against them the principle of life in the gospel (Titus 1:5-16). Then follow rules of conduct for the various members of the Church, for old and young, men and women, together with an exhortation to Titus to show a good example in work and doctrine, and especially to call upon the slaves to be faithful to their masters. These exhortations are supported by pointing to the moral character of God’s grace (Titus 2:1-15). Then follows the injunction that Titus is to urge the Christians to obedience towards the higher powers, and to a peaceful behaviour towards all men. The latter point is enforced by pointing to the undeserved grace of God which has been bestowed on Christians (Titus 3:1-7). To this are added warnings against heresy, and directions how Titus is to deal with a heretic (Titus 3:8-11). The Epistle closes with an injunction to come to the apostle at Nicopolis, some commissions, greetings, and the benediction. (J. E. Huther, Th. D.).

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