Outline of contents


1:1–4 Greetings

This is a considerably longer greeting than in either 1 or 2 Timothy. It is in fact more theological. Only here does Paul specifically describe himself as servant of God, although he does elsewhere call himself ‘servant of Jesus Christ’. The more usual apostle of Jesus Christ is nevertheless added and then developed. Here Paul gives as the purpose of his apostleship a combination of faith and knowledge, in the sense of furthering both (2). His task was to proclaim the gospel and he recognized that both faith and understanding were the appropriate response. The knowledge needs further qualification, for only that which leads to a godly life is here in view. Further, both faith and knowledge have a future reference (hope of eternal life) as well as a present reality.

Why does Paul insert here the statement, who does not lie, in reference to God? Titus would surely have been in no doubt about this. His intention must be to underline the reliability of God’s promises. The further words before the beginning of time draw attention to the fact that those promises are gounded in God’s eternal purposes. Linked with this eternal view of God’s purposes is the appointed time of the bringing of his word to light, that is at the incarnation. The words here are reminiscent of the opening of John’s gospel. Paul can never get away from the importance of preaching (3) in spreading the news of God’s action, nor from the privilege he felt in being called to serve God in this way. The description of Titus as my true son in our common faith (4) suggests that he was a close associate of the apostle, although he is not mentioned in Acts. He is, however, mentioned in both 2 Corinthians and Galatians.

1:5–9 The appointment of church officers

The instructions given to Titus run parallel to those given to Timothy in 1 Tim. 3, but there are some significant variations, which arose from the different situation in which Titus was placed in Crete. His task was twofold—to straighten out what was left unfinished and to appoint elders (5). It is not clear what Paul had left incomplete, unless he means the appointment of elders. Paul gives no indication how many were to be appointed, but he had evidently already instructed Titus on this matter. He is more concerned about the qualifications required (6). What stands out is the need not only for moral blamelessness (mentioned twice) but for a stable home-life. Presumably if a person could not keep his own children in order, he would be regarded as inadequate for the leadership of the church. The word translated believe may carry the meaning of ‘faithful’ (av). It is surely unlikely that Paul meant to disqualify church leaders whose children have yet to profess faith.

The switch from elders in v 5 to an overseer in v 7 is important since there seems to be no essential difference between the two offices. The elder exercises the function of oversight. There is a mixture of wrong attitudes and wrong actions which would make a person ineligible for office (8–9). It is noticeable that Titus is not advised against the appointment of new converts as Timothy is at Ephesus, possibly because the community in Crete was established more recently. If v 7 gives the negative side, the positive is found in vs 8 and 9. The qualities mentioned are those which should be evident in a committed Christian. The emphasis on hospitality is worth noting since so much depended on it in the early church. V 9 makes clear how important a grasp of sound doctrine is for those who exercise leadership over others in the church. It is only possible to refute false teachers if the true doctrine has been well understood. In Paul’s view there should be no blurring of the issues.

1:10–16 How to deal with the false teachers

Again there are a few differences between this section and the passages in 1 and 2 Timothy dealing with the false teachers. There is here a clearer stress on the Jewishness of the teaching. The circumcision group and also Jewish myths are mentioned (14). Nevertheless, the most evident characteristics of the false teachers are the emptiness of their talk, the tendency to deceive, the ruinous results and the money motive (10–11). The position in Crete was aggravated by the character of the people, expressed in v 12 by one of their own poets, who is generally identified as Epimenides, a sixth-century bc philosopher.

In view of the difficult character of these people, Paul advises strong action. They must be silenced (11); they are to be rebuked sharply (13); and Titus is to pay no attention to them (14). Paul does not believe they are worth arguing with, but Titus should concentrate on rebuking them in order that they may become sound in the faith. This is a positive approach which is still of great value when dealing with those who deviate from the truth. V 15 furnishes a further comment to assist Titus, for those of corrupt minds will not recognize purity. Once the mind is corrupted the conscience swiftly follows suit. Paul realizes that false teachers are subtle in that they give every appearance of being religious (they claim to know God), but their actions give the lie to this (16). It may be thought that Paul speaks in a particularly derogatory way of them in the second part of v 16, but this shows his horror of those who lead others astray. The importance of a right understanding of Christian doctrine could not be more strongly stated.

2:1–10 Instructions for various groups

2:1–3 About older people

Here Paul again uses the figure of sound or healthy doctrine (cf. 1:9). This is in contrast to the ‘diseased’ teaching of the false teachers. The word translated in accord with draws attention to the fitness of the teaching, suggesting that the false teaching was out of line in this respect. Paul then proceeds to give examples of what he means by fitting teaching. It is essentially practical. Older men must show by their lives that their behaviour agrees with their doctrine (2). This involves behaviour which will earn the respect of others. But to this idea Paul adds the need for being sound in faith, love and endurance, a combination which occurs elsewhere in the Pastorals and in other Pauline letters (cf.1 Thes. 1:3). In giving advice about older women Paul concentrates on the need for a serious attitude of mind (3).

The prohibition of slander and excess of wine reflects the contemporary situation in Crete. The fact that Paul uses a word (addicted to much wine) which suggests bondage to excess of wine suggests the problem was more acute among the women of Crete than in the corresponding situation in Ephesus (cf.1 Tim. 3:8, 11), where a milder expression is used. On a positive note, older women are to be good teachers in the home.

2:4–8 About younger people

Paul sees it as the task of older women to instruct the younger women. This clearly needs tact to avoid the impression of interference. The instruction focuses on love to husbands and children. This cannot be taken for granted, especially in our modern age when the divorce rate is rapidly rising and when the care of children so often comes second to careers. The qualities required in younger women are those appropriate to the domestic scene, where self-control, purity and kindness are of such great value in a Christian home (5). As elsewhere Paul assumes that the Christian wife should be submissive to her husband. The whole subject is dominated by religious motive, to avoid any affront to the word of God. In a fuller discussion of the husband-wife relationship (Eph. 5:22–33, see commentary) Paul sets the wife’s submission in the context of the husband’s sacrificial love. Then, and now, the ideal relationship involves self-giving of each to the other. Where submission or sacrificial love are abandoned or compromised marriages suffer or collapse completely.

When dealing with young men, after urging self-control (a requirement for any age) Paul places most emphasis on the example of Titus (7). As a minister of the gospel, great responsibility rests on him to show integrity and seriousness, especially in the manner of speech. Again there is a strong religious motive, i.e. that others may not have cause to speak ill of Christians.

2:9–10 About slaves

Paul dealt with the subject of slavery in 1 Tim. 6, and what he says here is similar. The word translated to be subject to is stronger than the word ‘obey’ and reflects the social setup of the time. Christian slaves have an added responsibility, that is to try to please and not to be argumentative with their masters. The fact that the slaves are urged not to steal suggests that they were particularly open to this temptation. Paul sees the possibility for slaves to commend the gospel by their attitude, a possibility which is of course equally applicable to every Christian. The Greek word translated make attractive is used of the setting of jewellery to display it in the most attractive way.

2:11–3:8 The doctrinal background for Christian living

2:11–15 Grace as a teacher

It is characteristic of Paul to switch to a theological note when dealing with behaviour, since doctrinal considerations are never far away in his discussions. Here he uses the term the grace of God to sum up all God’s actions on our behalf. In a concise statement Paul draws attention both to the incarnation and to the atonement and links them to the second coming. The appearing of salvation points to the first coming of Jesus, but in what sense must to all men be taken? Does Paul mean that everyone is saved? If the appearing is regarded as a historic fact, it is certainly true that the coming of Jesus has had a universal significance. The probable meaning is that God in his grace has made possible the offer of salvation to all people. But the scope of God’s grace is not the main thrust, which is that Christian behaviour issues from the grace of God. Hence the force of v 12. The restraint of ungodliness is a major purpose of God’s grace. Indeed it is impossible to live in a self-controlled manner apart from God’s grace. Self-control cannot be achieved merely from self-effort. This at once distinguishes Christian ethics from Stoicism which exalted self-determination.

In this passage Paul connects the present with the past and future. The present task is seen in v 12—the demand for godly living in this age. But in v 13 the focus falls on the future. The blessed hope and the glorious appearing are clearly not yet, although they have a specific impact on the present. Paul shows a nice balance between Christians’ glorious future expectations and their present responsibilities. The expectation of the return of Christ is basic to Paul’s doctrine about the future. It is significant here that Paul speaks of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, for the linking of God and Jesus Christ in the same expression suggests that Paul is convinced of the deity of Jesus, a thought which is in harmony with the most probable understanding of Rom. 9:5. Some separate God from and Saviour, but this is not the obvious meaning of the Greek text. Another possibility is to take ‘Jesus Christ’ as an explanation of the ‘glory’, in which case God and Jesus would not be so clearly identified. But it is more natural to link ‘Saviour’ with Jesus in view of the subsequent statement.

In v 14 Paul looks to the past, to the historic act of redemption which forms the basis of the Christian position. He comes to this when reflecting on what Christ has already done for us. In 1 Tim. 2:6 Paul mentioned that Christ gave himself as a ‘ransom’, and here he follows up a similar idea, using the verb derived from the noun. Redemption is a favourite theme of the apostle. It conveys the idea of deliverance from slavery, in this case summed up as all wickedness. Paul sees the work of Christ as doing something for us which we could not do for ourselves. Deliverance is from sin in the fullest sense. But for Paul deliverance is double-sided; not only from sin but to a life of purity. The metaphor of cleansing is another favourite device of Paul for explaining the work of Christ. The Christian is a cleansed person (see Eph. 5:25–26). The idea of the people of God as a very special possession for Jesus Christ is vividly brought out here. For a similar expression cf. Ex.19:5. The Christian objective to do what is good is strongly motivated by the thought that it is essentially because we belong to Jesus Christ in a special way.

V 15 is a kind of conclusion to the practical instructions, although Paul has not yet finished with his theological reflections, for he comes back to them in ch. 3. Titus is reminded of the need to exercise authority in order to back up the teaching. The authority is based on the apostolic teaching and should enable Titus to resist attempts by others to despise him.

3:1–2 Christians in the community

Presumably Titus had already instructed the people about their responsibilities towards the state authorities, for he is instructed to remind them. But perhaps the Cretans had tended to forget that subjection to the authorities was expected from Christians. Paul recognizes that political disobedience, except on matters of conscience, would bring the gospel into disrepute. The thrust of v 2 is that behaviour should commend the gospel. The outsider should receive an impression of good law-abiding citizenship. Note especially the qualities of consideration and humility, which are not usually to the fore in social relationships.

3:3–8 The gospel contrasted with paganism

Frequently in Paul’s letters he contrasts what Christians were before their conversion with their new potential in Christ. V 3 draws attention to the past. The list of vices which are here enumerated as typical of pre-Christian experience may seem somewhat exaggerated. But there is evidence of these weaknesses in the pre-conversion experience of all Christians and traces still remain thereafter. Foolishness points to a lack of spiritual understanding; disobedience and deception are seen in human beings’ relationship to God, and the whole life-setting is summed up as slavery to passions and pleasures. It is important to recognize the naturalness of this pre-Christian lifestyle in order to see more vividly the change that Christianity brings. The climax is reached in the multiplication of hate, which serves as a foil against which the love of God is described.

In the theological statement in vs 4–7 Paul brings out what the kindness and love of God have done to counteract the increasing hatred of the natural world. The primary focus of God’s love is on the coming and mission of Christ, but in this context the stress is on the Christian’s experience of that love. In speaking of God as our Saviour, Paul may be contrasting God with the emperor, who in the contemporary world was sometimes given the title Saviour. But in the light of 2:11–14 it is more likely that his mind is throughout on Christian salvation. In v 5 Paul roots salvation in the mercy of God and not in human effort (righteousness here stands for that which is achieved through the works of the law), consistent with his teaching elsewhere (especially in Romans).

There is much debate about the expression through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (5). This combination of terms presents the twofold aspect of Christian salvation. Regeneration is the entry into a new life and renewal is the effecting of the new life itself. The first can be understood as relating to conversion and the second to the bestowal of the Holy Spirit. There is much to be said for understanding rebirth here in the sense in which it is found in the teaching of Jesus (Jn.3:5). There has been a difference of opinion over the interpretation of the washing, since not all see this as a reference to conversion. It could refer solely to baptism, in which case both terms could refer to what is effected at baptism by the Holy Spirit. Or it could be taken as referring metaphorically to spiritual cleansing.

V 6 is clearly an allusion to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. As Paul reflects on his own experience and that of his associates (note the words on us) he is struck by the generosity of the gift. The Spirit is never given in a stinting manner. This verse highlights the threefold activity of God, Jesus Christ our Saviour and the Holy Spirit.

Paul concludes this brief theological statement by a reference to justification. It is typical of Paul to stress that justification is through grace, for this is a favourite theme of his. This refers essentially to our new standing with God and points to our future. It is another of Paul’s themes to draw attention to our inheritance, and here he concentrates on eternal life. He calls this a hope, in the sense of something which is certain.

This section ends with the formula about the trustworthy saying (8), which must relate to the theological statement just considered. But this is followed by a direct request to Titus to stress these things, which is best taken as referring to the whole of what Paul has written in the letter. He is most anxious to achieve a practical result—a careful devotion to doing what is good. The implication is that a sound theological basis is indispensable for right actions. There is some ambiguity about the meaning of these things at the end of v 8. If they are the same things as in the earlier part of the verse they would refer to the essential truths of the gospel. But if they are meant to contrast with the unprofitableness of the false teaching they may be the good deeds of the believers. Since the stress in v 9 is on foolish controversies, it would seem the former view is most likely.

3:9–11 More warnings

There is an echo here of the warning given in 1:10. Paul cannot close without a further warning. Since he stresses the unprofitableness and uselessness of the false teaching, it is likely that he sees it as a contrast to the positive teaching he has just given. He tells Titus, as he has told Timothy, to avoid wasting time on such useless arguments. But he draws a distinction between the teaching and the people involved. Every pastor must be concerned about people, especially those who are causing trouble in the community, and these must be warned. But Paul considers a double warning to be sufficient. Those intent on divisive activity are seldom likely to respond beyond this. Such a person, in Paul’s view, is bound to have a warped mind.

3:12–15 Concluding remarks

Clearly Artemas or Tychicus was to replace Titus in Crete. Paul mentions his intention of wintering at Nicopolis, which is generally thought to be a city on the west coast of Greece. No reason is given for the choice of such an out of the way place. Zenas is not mentioned elsewhere in the NT. Apollos is known from Acts and 1 Corinthians as an associate of the apostle. Evidently in some way Titus must have been in a position to give these two men some material assistance in their travelling. Paul then addresses the Cretan Christians generally and stresses again the value of good works. It is not clear whose daily necessities are in mind. It is possible that cases of need are meant, in which instance the call is to works of charity. This would make sense of the last part of the verse (not living unproductive lives). The concluding greetings are very general and the concluding grace unusually brief.

Donald Guthrie

av Authorized (King James) version

cf. compare

NT New Testament

The late Donald Guthrie, B.D., M.Th, Ph.D., formerly Vice-Principal, London Bible College, UK.


Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible commentary : 21st century edition. Rev. ed. of: The new Bible commentary. 3rd ed. / edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970. (4th ed.) (Tit 1.1). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.