The Ministry and Character of Titus
Because references to Titus appear only in the Pauline epistles, it is from there we must draw his biography. Chronologically, Titus is first mentioned in Galatians 2:1-3 when he went with Paul to Jerusalem to help settle the question of Gentile conversion. He may have been a convert of Paul, for Paul calls him a “true son after the faith” (Titus 1:4). This is language Paul would only have used regarding someone he had personally led to Christ. The circumstances of his conversion are, however, unknown.
Titus was a Greek Gentile and Paul’s frequent companion. Paul refused to yield to the demand of the Judiazers to have Titus circumcised. As an uncircumcised Gentile believer, Titus validated Gentile freedom from the bondage of Judaism (Acts 15:19). We hear nothing further of Titus until Paul is at Ephesus on his third missionary journey.
Paul sent Titus to Corinth to enlist the help of the Corinthian saints concerning the collection for believers in Judea (I Cor. 16:1-4). Shortly after writing First Corinthians, Paul sent Titus back to Corinth to deal with church problems. After Paul left Ephesus, he expected to meet Titus at Troas. Not finding him there, and very anxious to hear news about Corinth, Paul hastened to Macedonia to meet him (II Cor. 2:13). Titus’ mission to Corinth was successful, for Titus gives Paul a positive report concerning the Corinthians. This news brought Paul joy and peace of mind (II Cor. 7:5-15).
Cheered by these developments, Paul wrote Second Corinthians. The subscription states Titus was Paul’s scribe for this letter. Titus then hand carried it to Corinth (II Cor. 8:16-17), not merely as a postman, but once again as Paul’s emissary. The deep bond formed between Titus and the Corinthians helped the fundraising efforts there for the destitute Judean believers (Rom. 15:25-26; II Cor. 8:6-7 & 16-24).
In the interval between Paul’s first and second Roman imprisonment, he and Titus visit Crete (Titus 1:5). Here Titus labored and later received his epistle from Paul. There is no evidence Titus became the “bishop” of Crete. His assignment there was temporary, for Paul directed him to let Artemas take his place in order that Titus could come to Nicopolis (Titus 3:12).
Titus was with Paul during his second Roman imprisonment, but did not stay for the trial, having departed on an evangelistic mission to Dalmatia (II Tim. 4:10). This is the final mention of Titus, for Second Timothy was Paul’s last epistle. Church tradition holds that Titus returned to Crete to preach and also ministered on neighboring islands. He died and was buried in Crete at the age of 94.
Paul’s association with Titus spans nearly fifteen years. During this period, every remark regarding Titus is favorable. Titus was the ideal pastor. He never took advantage of those entrusted to his care (II Cor. 12:18). He exemplified sincere devotion and pastoral concern throughout his entire ministerial career. Paul mentions the zeal of Titus as an example the Corinthians should follow (II Cor. 8:16-18). He is referred to as “a brother; a partner and fellow helper” (II Cor. 2:13 & 8:23). Titus brought joy and comfort to Paul (II Cor 7:6 &13) and he longed for his companionship (II Cor 7:13).
The Cretian Character
The backdrop for the book of Titus is a long and narrow island about sixty miles south of Greece. Crete is the largest of the Greek isles and the largest of all islands (after Cyprus) in the entire Eastern Mediterranean, encompassing 3,219 square miles. It is located at an almost equal distance from Asia, Europe and Africa.
Two millennia ago, Crete was a very different place than it is today. Paul quotes one of their own Cretian philosophers which characterized them as “liars, evil beasts, and slow bellies.” They were generally untrustworthy, lazy, greedy and fond of luxury and pleasure. They were known as “slow bellies” (gaster argos), an epicure that denotes idle gluttons with ravenous, insatiable appetites. The term “liars” (Titus 1:12) was so frequently applied to Cretians, the word “liar” (cretizein) came to mean “to play the part of a Cretian.” Thus, to be called a Cretian was to be called a liar. Secular historical records verify that in 200 BC the Cretians were involved in the grossest forms of immorality. There are numerous ancient testimonies regarding Cretians. Polybius, a Greek Historian (203-120 BC) said, “Cretians are the only men who feel no profit is ever disgraceful.” Cicero, the Roman orator, philosopher and statesman (106-43 BC) said, “Cretians consider highway robbery honorable.” Livy, a Roman historian (59 BC-17 AD) said, “Cretians always hope for money.” Plutarch, a Greek biographer, (AD 46-120) said, “Cretians are as devoted to riches as bees are to a honeycomb.”
It is impossible to ascertain exactly when or how the Gospel message first reached Crete. However, the island was most likely first exposed to Christianity after the Spirit-filled Cretians returned after the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:11). It is clear Paul was there at some point with Titus, for Paul states he left Titus in Crete. There may have been a number of churches established in Cretian cities because Titus is instructed to ordain elders “in every city” (Titus 1:5).
Summation of the Epistle
The occasion of the letter is clear, for Titus received specific instructions. He is tasked with setting the Cretian churches in order. The entire epistle is occupied with proper attitudes and duties regarding ministry.
The Epistle to Titus can be considered a compact code of conduct. This brief doctrinal treatise was written for several reasons:
1. to personally exhort and encourage Titus
2. to challenge a disorganized and lethargic church
3. to encourage Titus to exercise his rightful authority on Crete
4. to state the qualifications of elders
5. to show how to deal with false teachers
6. to provide instructions to different genders, classes, and age groups
The first chapter gives instructions regarding the protection of sound doctrine. The remaining two chapters show how good doctrine produces good character.
Titus can be outlined as follows:
Duties and Qualifications of Elders: 1:5-9
Benefits of Sound Doctrine: 1:10-16
Instructions to Various Age Groups: 2:1-6
The Exemplary Character of Titus: 2:7-8
Instructions to Servants: 2:9-10
God’s Grace as a Didactic Power: 2:11-15
Christian Civic Obligations: 3:1-2
Christ and Regeneration: 3:3-8
Avoidance of Doctrinal Strife: 3:9-11
Final Instructions and Benediction: 3:12-15
The basic premise of the letter is a plea to adhere to sound doctrine. From Paul’s correspondence and interactions with Titus, we see the infinite care Paul exercised in working with young co-workers in establishing the evangelistic and pastoral priorities of the early church.
Titus proved himself to be empathetic and tactful in difficult situations, both in Corinth and in Crete. He developed skills in handing people and their problems. This capable and efficient disciple is mentioned in connection with missional endeavors in Jerusalem, Rome, Antioch, Troas, Dalmatia, Nicopolis, Corinth, Macedonia, Crete, Philippi and Ephesus. Paul’s references to Titus combine to paint a portrait of a young, compassionate, loyal, trustworthy, and valued co-worker.
Utilizing Biblical resources and this article, respond to the following questions:
1. Who accompanied Titus to Jerusalem to discuss the controversial subject of Gentile conversions (Gal. 2)?
Why were Gentiles not immediately accepted as potential converts to Christianity?
Using Biblical resources, elaborate on this “hot topic” of the early Church.
2. How does Paul refer to Titus in 1:4? Discuss the importance of mentoring young Believers.
3. Why did Paul refuse to allow Titus to be circumcised, yet felt it necessary to have Timothy circumcised?
How were these two cases different (Gal.2:1-5 & Acts 15 and 16:1-3)?
4. Why did Paul hasten to Macedonia (II Cor. 2:13)?
5. In what specific way did Titus help the Judean Believers (Rom. 15:25-26; I Cor. 6:1-4 & II Cor. 8:6-24)?
6. When Titus visited Paul in prison, what assignment cut his visit short (II Timothy 4:10)?
7. List some attributes of Titus found in II Corinthians chapters 2, 7, 8 and 12.
8. Using Biblical resources, describe the prevailing attitude and morality of the Cretian culture in Paul’s day.
9. What is the basic theme of Paul’s letter to Titus?
10. Scan the book of Titus and list examples of the pragmatic ministerial advice Paul gives to this young pastor.