Write up a list of well-known New Testament figures, and you probably won’t find Titus on it. He’s one of those figures who doesn’t play a huge part in the main story, mostly getting mentioned in the letter Paul wrote to him and a few times in Paul’s other letters. However, his letter from Paul gives us some valuable insights, both about the early church and about following Christ today.
Who Was Titus in the Bible?
Titus was one of at least two younger men that Paul discipled and described as his “son in the faith that we share” (Titus 1:4). The other man is Timothy, and the second letter to the Corinthians is addressed as from Paul and Timothy to the church in Corinth (2 Corinthians 1:1). Both Timothy and Titus served as Paul’s messengers and traveling companions, and they both went on to lead churches. Paul not only mentored them, but he also advised them in individual letters about their next steps.
Titus’ background is not explained, other than the fact he was Gentile and apparently never circumcised (Galatians 2:4). This is an interesting point, since Timothy was half-Greek, and not circumcised either. Still, Paul chose to circumcise Timothy to honor the Jews in an area that the two of them were ministering in (Acts 16:1-5). Paul repeatedly mentions in his letters that circumcision is not necessary under the new covenant, and even tells Titus to silence Christians who try to promote it (Titus 1:10-14). So, Paul’s choice to circumcise Timothy would suggest that he had a pragmatic side. He did not require his disciples to be circumcised, but if the situation called for working among Jews and it made things easier, he would concede to it. Whether Titus ever ministered to Jewish believers is not stated, and both he and Titus worked at churches in Gentile areas (Timothy in Ephesus, Titus in Crete, and Corinth and Dalmatia).
What Are Some Major Themes of the Book of Titus?
According to Titus 1:5, Paul had left Titus at Crete to appoint elders for the church there. Paul mentions that Titus must appoint elders “in each town,” which means there were multiple Christian groups (what we would think of as house churches), although they might collectively be referred to as the “church in Crete. As the letter goes on, it transitions through several subjects:
Character requirements for being an elder (Titus 1:1-9). According to Paul, elders must live blamelessly, to be good husbands with children who are also Christians, and to be both generous and hospitable. They must not only teach sound teaching but also oppose false teaching and show the mistakes being made.
Conduct for the congregants (Titus 2:1-10, 3:1-11). Paul exhorts older men to live lives worthy of respect, to have patience and love. Older women are encouraged to avoid slander or excessive drinking and must encourage younger women to be good wives and mothers. Young men are encouraged to live wisely (something that Titus, being a young man himself, must be careful to model to them). Slaves are exhorted to be trustworthy and obedient. The church as a whole is exhorted to submit to authorities and avoid fighting and “foolish discussions” (Titus 3:9).
The futility of heresy (Titus 1:10-16, 3:9-11). Paul highlights how some foolish people at the Cretan church fool others with “useless talk” (Titus 1:10) about circumcision, spiritual genealogies, and following Jewish laws that Christians don’t have to follow. Paul not only calls these people foolish, but he also warns Titus that they are “worthless for doing anything good” (Titus 1:15). However, this does not mean these people are beyond turning around. Paul advises Titus to handle these people by rebuking them “to make them strong in the faith” (Titus 1:13), and to give a first and second warning (Titus 3:10). If people still do not repent after the second warning, then Titus should “have nothing more to do with them” (Titus 3:10).
Freedom and glory in Christ (Titus 2:11-15, 3:3-8). Having described how the church should act, Paul gives the grace of God as the reason for them to behave this way. Christians were once slaves to their sins, but God saved them, and they have been taught to “turn away from godless living” (Titus 2:12). They place their trust not in whether they will be treated well in this life, but in the eternal promise of salvation. They place their hope not in things working out now, but in the day that Jesus will reveal himself to humanity.
What Happened to Titus in the Bible, after Paul Wrote to Him?
Galatians 2 mentions that Titus accompanied Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, apparently the trip mentioned in Acts 15 where they went to the Council at Jerusalem to debate whether Christians had to be circumcised. Since Titus was an uncircumcised Gentile (Galatians 2:3), his presence as Paul’s disciple cut to the heart of this discussion. Ultimately, this council determined that Christians did not need to be circumcised, but laid out some basic moral rules that Christians had to follow (Acts 15:22-30).
2 Corinthians 7 establishes that Titus was sent to the Corinthian church after Paul had sent them a stern letter (2 Corinthians 7:8-10) and to encourage them to embrace the “ministry of giving” (2 Corinthians 8:6). Titus was apparently received well, and Paul tried to meet with him at Troas for a report (2 Corinthians 2:13) but had to meet him at Macedonia instead (2 Corinthians 7:6). Titus may be the person who delivered the 2 Corinthians letter to the Corinthian church after he wrote it.
2 Timothy 4, which Paul wrote shortly before he died as his final message to Timothy, mentions that Titus had gone to the Roman province of Dalmatia (2 Timothy 4:10). What happened to Titus after that is not known, although according to some Catholic sources he founded a church there in the city of Salona and died in 65 A.D. The same sources describe Salona as where some of the first martyrs were killed and highlight the fact that Dalmatia would later be the birthplace of Diocletian, a Roman emperor known for persecuting Christianity. Assuming this information is correct, and given the fact that many early Christians were martyred (John was the only one of the apostles to die of old age), it’s possible that Titus died by martyrdom.
3 Important Lessons from Titus and the Book Addressed to Him
Sometimes shock-value is what’s necessary. When describing heretics, Paul references a quote about Cretans being liars, crazy animals, and lazy gluttons (Titus 1:12-13) to show how foolish these heretics are. This is essentially an ethnic joke, an example of Paul using slightly off-color humor. He does something similar in Galatians 5 when he talks about problems created by circumcisers and says, “I wish the people who are bothering you would castrate themselves” (Galatians 5:12). It’s certainly wrong to talk in a malicious way (1 Peter 2:1) and Paul warns elsewhere about avoiding filthy jokes (Ephesians 5:4). However, Paul wasn’t above making points in a risqué way if the situation called for it. Sometimes saying something shocking is what’s needed to get the point across.
Family is just as important as “ministry.” When Paul lists an elder’s qualifications, he highlights that they need to be not just good with content but also good husbands whose children have inherited their faith (Titus 1:6). On one level, this shows that elders need to have sound character, and family is often the best indicator of how a person really behaves. Church leaders may put on a good face at work, but their behavior at home and how their children respond to them speaks volumes. On another level, this shows that elders must be people who don’t just do God’s work in public, but also preach it at home. Our spouses and children are our first ministry and being a good Christian in public will not make up for neglecting that. The all-too-common phenomenon of pastor’s kids not following their parents’ faith and it’s becoming clear that their parents were emotionally absent proves this in a very sad way.
There is still room to turn around. Even though Paul spends a lot of time describing just how foolish heretics are, he holds out hope that they can change. He says that elders must show people who oppose sound teaching where they are wrong (Titus 1:9), describes the point of rebuking them as “to make them strong in the faith” (Titus 1:13), to give people creating disturbances two chances (Titus 2:10). It’s important to affirm the damage that heresy creates, but without writing people off as “unsalvageable” too quickly.
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G. Connor is a freelance writer and journalist, with a Bachelor of Science in Professional Writing from Taylor University. He has contributed over 600 articles to various publications, including interviews for Christian Communicator and book reviews for The Evangelical Church Library Association. Find out more about his work here.
This article is part of our People from the Bible Series featuring the most well-known historical names and figures from Scripture. We have compiled these articles to help you study those whom God chose to set before us as examples in His Word. May their lives and walks with God strengthen your faith and encourage your soul.