The New Testament Epistle to Titus was written, according to 1:1, by Paul. Since 1 Timothy and Titus do not reflect, as a background, any imprisonment at all and since 2 Timothy implies a more serious imprisonment than is reflected by the prison epistles written earlier, many evangelical scholars believe that Paul suffered two imprisonments. The first and less serious is described in Acts 28. Paul may then have been released, during which time, among other things, he revisited Crete and began a church there, leaving Titus in charge. Had Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, added to his book later, he undoubtedly would have described this release and second imprisonment. Since we have nothing describing this period in Paul's life, we have no way of knowing the place from which he sent this letter to Titus or the exact time when it was penned.
The purpose of Paul's writing to Titus, as stated in 1:5, was to give him practical directions for setting in order the things remaining unfinished for the church on the island of Crete. For this reason, it may seem surprising to find as much theological teaching in this brief epistle as there is. Many of the major theological terms are found within this short epistle, terms like election ( 1:1 ), salvation ( 2:11 ), faith and believing ( 1:1 ; 2:2 ; 3:8 ), the grace of God ( 2:11 ; 3:7 ), redemption ( 2:14 ), regeneration ( 3:5 ), and justification ( 3:7 ).
Bibliology. tit 1:2 is a verse often used in defense of the inerrancy of God's Word, the Bible. In it, Paul refers to God as the One "who cannot lie, " as One who is free from deceit and is totally truthful and trustworthy. Not only will he not lie, but he cannot do so. Hence, his words must be true and dependable. Also, because the Scriptures are God's Word, Paul writes that young men are to live so as not to bring dishonor and reproach upon that Word ( 2:5 ). Of course, Paul's implication is that all Christians are to conduct their lives to reflect favorably upon the Word of God, by whose standards they are to be living. Anthropology. Humankind's original condition, without Christ and salvation, is very carefully described in 3:3. Paul writes, concerning our unsaved state, that "we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated, hateful and hating one another." Paul implies that when we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, we then become free from the bondage of sin so that we can serve God and righteousness by holy living.
Christology. Paul's epistle to Titus contains one of the strongest statements in all of Scripture regarding the divinity of Jesus Christ. There is no question that Paul believed Jesus to be a co-equal and consubstantial member of the divine Trinity. In 2:13, Paul calls Christ Jesus "Our great God and Savior, " after which he proceeds to briefly mention his substitutionary atonement for our sins. Jesus was the One who "gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good" (v. 14). Again, the need of the unsaved for redemption or freedom from all of the lawless deeds that they performed in their unsaved state appears. This concept of redemption has as its background the need of ancient slaves for freedom from one master (sin) to become bondservants of another master (righteousness through Jesus Christ). Paul in this manner briefly, but clearly, states both who he believed Christ to be and what Christ has provided for those who would accept it by faith.
Soteriology. Of all the biblical doctrines, for some unknown reason, Paul seems to treat the doctrine of salvation most thoroughly in his Epistle to Titus. The universal aim of Christ's atonement is stated in 2:11, where Paul writes that "the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men." In keeping with the facts that God is not willing that any should perish ( 1 Peter 3:19 ) and that hell was prepared for the devil and his angels only ( Matt 24:31 ), Paul stresses the universal scope of the atonement Christ provided. The agent of salvation, in accord with the other pastoral epistles, is said to be "God our Savior" three times ( 1:3 ; 2:10 ; 3:4 ) and "Jesus Christ our Savior" two times ( 2:13 ; 3:6 ). The entire Godhead, and especially the second Person of the Trinity, were and are directly involved in the salvation of humankind according to Paul.
The instrument by which this salvation was provided was Christ's vicarious death on the cross. Jesus Christ "gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good" ( 2:14 ). The motivation for God's provision of this salvation is clearly said to be his mercy ( 3:5 ) and, a little later, his grace or unmerited favor extended to humankind ( 3:7 ). Paul makes it crystal clear that salvation is not based on righteous works that we ourselves have done ( 3:5 ). The occasion of God's saving us is quite clearly our faith in the work that God our Savior did for us ( 3:8 ).
The goals of our salvation according to Paul in Titus are twofold. One is that believers may exhibit their faith by their own good works. This is said in a number of ways. Those who profess to know God must not deny that acquaintance by detestable deeds of disobedience ( 1:16 ). As Christians, we must deny ungodliness and worldly passions and live sensible, righteous, and godly lives ( 2:12 ). As God's special possessions, we are to be "eager to do what is good" ( 2:14 ). Christians are to be "subject to rulers and authorities, obedient, ready to do whatever is good" ( 3:1 ). Continuing this theme of good works, Paul encourages Titus to speak confidently "so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to what is good" ( 3:8 ). On the negative side, Christians are to "avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law" ( 3:9 ). Finally, all Christians are to learn "to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives" ( 3:14 ). As Paul stresses in the practical sections of his other epistles, there is to be a balance in the Christian's life between saving faith and good works, salvation and sanctification. The other goal of salvation seen in Titus is that we Christians may have the hope of eternal life ( 1:2 ; 2:7 ).
Ecclesiology. It would appear from Paul's teaching to Titus that the positions of elder ( 1:5 ) and bishop or overseer ( 1:7 ) were one and the same office in the early days of the church. The former term apparently emphasized the dignity of the office, while the latter stressed the function or duty connected with the position. It is important to note also that Paul commands Titus "to appoint" elders in every city ( 1:5 ). Apparently in the early church, it was necessary to do things in more episcopal than congregational fashion, although hints of both forms of church government can be found in the New Testament. Paul lists for Titus those qualities that should characterize men appointed to the position of elder-bishop ( 1:5-9 ).
Eschatology. Three times in Titus Paul refers to the hope of the Christian. Twice he calls it "the hope of eternal life" ( 1:2 ; 3:7 ). In 3:7, he adds the idea that we have been made heirs according to that hope. While other New Testament verses stress the present possession of eternal life by the Christian, Paul emphasizes the future consummation of that eternal life with the return of Jesus Christ in glory and power. Along with living proper lives in this present age, Paul gives additional instructions to Christians to continue looking for "the blessed hope the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Christ Jesus" ( 2:13 ). It is significant that the hope of the church is the revelation of Jesus Christ, when he will return to this earth in power and glory to reign; and it is for this return that the church of Jesus Christ is to continue waiting.
Wesley L. Gerig
Bibliography. H. A. Homer, Pastoral Epistles; R. C. Lenski, Interpretation of Colossians, Thessalonians, First and Second Timothy, Titus, Philemon; W. Lock, International Critical Commentary: Pastoral Epistles.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Titus, Theology of'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".