Studies in 1, 2 Timothy, Titus—Lesson 19 (Titus 1:1-5)
by Reta Halteman Finger
Before you settle down to reading Titus 1:1-5, let’s back up. Who is Titus? Although Acts 16:1-5 tells us how Timothy joined Paul’s mission in Lystra of Galatia, it is silent about Titus, another member of Paul’s team. Titus also must have lived in Galatia, for after 14 years of evangelism in that Roman province, Paul takes his uncircumcised Greek companion, Titus, along to the Jerusalem headquarters as an example of his proclamation to Gentiles (Gal. 2:1, 3).
Who is Titus?
Almost all other references to Titus are from 2 Corinthians. By reading both 1 and 2 Corinthians, we can piece together Paul’s long and convoluted history with the church in Corinth. (2 Corinthians is a composite of several letters, not necessarily in chronological order.) Paul, Timothy, and Titus had planted a number of house churches in Corinth in 50-51 CE. After they moved on to other missions, conflicts arose in these house churches. After at least one letter to the Corinthians, Paul sends Timothy to them “to remind you of my ways in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 4:17). Timothy apparently was unsuccessful, so Paul makes a short visit and writes two more letters without resolution. Finally, he blasts off an angry letter (2 Cor. 10-13), after which he sends Titus to clean up the mess.
Titus, the problem solver
In 2 Corinthians 2:12-13, Paul recounts his intense anxiety as he waits for news from “my brother Titus” while traveling through Troas and on to Macedonia in northern Greece. Then in 2 Corinthians 7:5-7 and 13-15 (part of a later letter), Paul writes of his great relief at finding Titus in Macedonia. Titus’s apparent success in practicing restorative justice by getting the believers to repent of their behavior was more than most church leaders can achieve in a lifetime!
Titus, the fund-raiser
In yet another letter comprising 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, Paul names Titus his “partner and co-worker” (8:23). In this case, Titus is the fund-raiser collecting money for the poor in Jerusalem from the churches their team has planted—as a thank you gift from Gentiles for their access to the gospel of Jesus (8:1-6, 16). Finally, in preparing for his third visit to Corinth, Paul reassures his churches that he is coming in love, and he uses Titus’s previous visit as an example of the trustworthy behavior he, Paul, also will exhibit (12:14-18).
Hierarchy or Equality?
Thus, Paul’s undisputed letters of Corinthians and Galatians portray Titus as a long-time companion of Paul—a brother, partner, and co-worker—and, as a fund-raiser who must carry bags of coins, utterly trustworthy. Although he did not write letters (that were preserved) and did not have Jewish credentials, Titus sounds like an equal to Paul.
A remaining mystery
One other text, 2 Timothy 4:10, also mentions Titus. Here, Paul asks Timothy to “come to me soon,” because his other co-workers are elsewhere. Titus has “gone to Dalmatia.” Considering that the letter to Titus situates him on the island of Crete, this remains a mystery. When we examine 2 Timothy, we may learn more.
Comparing Titus to the undisputed Pauline letters
Careful readers of the Pastoral Epistles will never know for certain if Paul wrote them. We can only search for clues and evaluate pros and cons. Below are my observations about authorship from Titus 1:1-5.
First, the recipient is “Titus, my loyal child in the faith” (1:4). But in the undisputed letters, Paul never calls Titus a “loyal child.” This sets up a chain-of-command, which is then continued in verse 5, where Titus is given authority to “appoint elders in every town,” who in turn will have authority over all other believers on Crete. House fellowships in various towns throughout the island cannot choose their own leaders but must submit to Titus, now the patriarch of the church in Crete. As we shall see later, these (male) elders in turn are expected to “silence” those the author opposes (1:10-11).
Second, “Paul’s” self-introduction in the salutation in 1:1-4 is the longest of the Pastorals, and longer than in any other letter attributed to Paul, except Romans, where he needed to clarify his theology and credentials to a church he had never visited. Why is such a long theological introduction needed for a former partner identified as “my brother Titus”(2 Cor. 2:13)?
Third, terms used in this introduction, such as “the faith,” “the truth,” “godliness,” and “savior,” mirror those used in 1 Timothy and are rarely or never used in the undisputed letters. “Godliness” is used seven times in 1 Timothy, and never in the undisputed Pauline letters. “Savior” occurs six times in Titus, three times in 1 Timothy, and only once (Philippians 3:20) in the undisputed letters. (“Savior” was a common term for a Roman emperor or general who “saved” Rome from enemies.) The word “faith” is used often throughout all the letters, but Paul uses the term to imply an active relationship of faithfulness to God, or the adjective, faithful. But In 1 Timothy and Titus, “the faith” now implies a set of head beliefs, as does “the truth.”
Fourth, note the glaring omission in this letter: a thanksgiving! In every undisputed letter, Paul always gives thanks for the recipients, no matter how much he will scold them later. Would not Paul have thanked Titus for his church-planting on Crete?
Fifth, we have no record Paul ever evangelized in Crete, let alone establishing a church “in every town” (1:5). From these observations, I have doubts that this letter came from the pen of Paul himself.
A preview of Lesson 20
Next time we will deal with three remaining issues from Titus 1:1-16. First, in 1:1, the writer calls himself a doulos, a slave (not a servant as in the NRSV). What is implied in that description? Second, what are the problems in the Cretan churches? Third, how shall we deal with the ethnic slur used in verse 12?
Questions for discussion or reflection
- Which questions from Lesson 18 were answered in this lesson?
- If you believe Paul himself wrote the letter to Titus, how do you deal with the issues raised above?
- If “the truth” is contained in the Titus letter, does it matter who wrote it? What truth in 1:1-5 spiritually connects with you?
Barr, David L. “Gentiles Who Ignore the Law: Corinthians.” New Testament Story: An Introduction. Fourth edition. Wadsworth Cengage Learning: Belmont, CA, 2009. Pp. 127-131.