1 & 2 Timothy and Titus present themes that are relevant to the church in finding its place in society. Sometimes called Pastoral Epistles, these three individual letters were written to leaders of young, growing congregations in the context of Roman society. The first major theme, God Our Savior, contrasts faith in God with Roman imperial religion. Whereas the Roman Emperor was called savior the messages to Timothy and Titus directly say God and Jesus Christ is savior. Whereas the Emperor bestowed benefits upon the people (charis) God’s grace is bestowed upon the church through Jesus Christ. Whereas the emperor appeared (epiphaneia) to the people so also Christ appears the first and second time. And whereas godliness (eusebeia) meant showing respect for the Roman and Greek gods, so godliness is the way Christians live by the truth of the gospel. Living under the lordship of Christ today means the church cannot allow nationalism and its elevation of statesmen as divine to rise above its loyalty to God.
A second theme is the church as the household of God. Instead of describing the church as the body of Christ, these three letters pick up household terminology common in Roman culture. But they give household life new meaning. The Household of God is where God dwells, just as God dwells in the temple. Household behavior of leaders, men, women and slaves was modified to be consistent with faith in Christ, but not taken so far that the church lost its relevance in the first century world. In mission work today in a variety of cultural settings church leaders can find help from the Pastoral Epistles in contextualizing the gospel by accepting cultural practices that line up with Christian faith and rejecting other practices that do not conform to Christ.
A third theme is the character and work of the pastor. Paul writes to Timothy so that you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God (1 Tim 3:15). Titus is to choose leaders (elders, bishop) who are blameless. Pastors lead by who they are, by their own spiritual maturity. In 2 Timothy Paul encourages Timothy to carry out his ministry fully, to proclaim the message of the gospel, and to willingly suffer for the gospel. This message is relevant for church leaders today, both to those who are discouraged in their work and to others who may not be giving enough attention to their own spiritual life.
A fourth theme is suffering. Paul encourages Timothy to join him in suffering for the gospel (2 Tim 1:8) because this suffering is tied to the suffering of Christ. In like manner, Anabaptists view the suffering church as tied to the suffering Christ. In a post-modern world the church and its leaders have been pushed out of the center to the margins of society. In addition to this social rejection, some church leaders experience martyrdom.
Date, Setting and Author
1 & 2 Timothy are individual letters addressed to Timothy, who was leader of the church at Ephesus. Titus is an individual letter written to Titus, leader of the young church in Crete.
Authorship and date for these letters is disputed. No one knows for sure who wrote them. Some scholars assign to them Pauline authorship and say they were written at the end of the apostle Paul’s ministry (AD 64-67). Other scholars say they were written pseudonymously in the early second century when the monarchial bishop began to arise in the church. Many scholars now place them in the post-Pauline period of the church between the apostle’s death and the beginning of the second century. A closer analysis suggests much of the content of these individual letters came from Paul with differences in vocabulary and syntax attributed to different secretaries. Of the three letters 2 Timothy is more personal and Pauline in tone. 1 Timothy and Titus seem to combine Pauline and non-Pauline themes that fit best into a period between A.D. 65 and 85. 1 Timothy contains a greater influence of Luke, who was likely Paul’s secretary. In tone Titus falls between the other two letters. While we do not know for sure who is author of these three letters, much of the content came from the mind of Paul through Luke, or one of Paul’s associates. Luke bridges the gap between the historical Paul and the Pauline legacy. Thus, the letters speak from within the trajectory of Paul’s apostolic tradition.
The letter to Titus comes from Paul while traveling to Macedonia. The letter assumes a previous mission to the island of Crete. Titus is to put in order what needs to be done to establish several young Christian congregations. Like 1 Timothy, Titus must rebuke opponents and put in place elders who will teach sound, healthy doctrine and show Christian integrity. In addition, two major confessional passages address salvation in Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit (2:11-14; 3:4-7). These confessional statements are Pauline in character but worded to fit the Cretan context. Some of these congregations were small house churches predominately Jewish in origin who were open to anti-Pauline teachers. Other house churches were more Hellenistic and thus more susceptible to Cretan pagan culture. Titus must deal with opposition that is influenced by dishonesty and those who promote endless controversies.
Form and Rhetoric
1 & 2 Timothy and Titus are separate letters written to individuals. In a similar way, Paul wrote to Philemon. They are not written to churches, as are the other Pauline epistles.
Titus, like 1 Timothy, represents deliberate, paraenetic rhetoric, exhorting a certain form of behavior. As such it is a call to action. Though its tone is less urgent than 1 Timothy, in content Titus is closer to 1 Timothy than to 2 Timothy. In Titus Paul gives instruction to choose good leaders for the church. In addition, Paul gives ethical exhortation to bring about change in the lives of the Cretan church members. On one hand, all Cretan church members are to live in such a way that persons outside the church in pagan Crete cannot accuse these early Christian communities of being a subversive movement with the Roman Empire. At the same time Cretan Christians are to live in such a way that pagan Cretans are won to the Lord by the church’s evangelistic witness. Second-person imperatives rarely appear in Titus.
Summary and Comment
The letter to Titus is addressed to a leader of several young congregations on the island of Crete. Titus to set in order what has not yet been accomplished, namely, appointing elders for each of these congregations. A theology of God, Christ, salvation, and hope of eternal life, seen in two confessional statements (2:11-14; 3:4-7), undergirds the practical teachings in this epistle.
The letter opens with a salutation in 1:1-4. Paul speaks of himself as a servant of Jesus Christ who writes for the sake of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth in hope of eternal life that God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and has now revealed this word through Paul’s proclamation by command of God our Savior.
In 1:5-9 Titus is instructed to appoint elders in each town in Crete who are upright in moral character and gifted to lead the church. Persons chosen must be blameless. Their duties include having a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it. The social and moral context in which these elders are to serve in Crete is people whose minds and consciences are corrupt (1:10-16), who profess they know God but deny him by their actions (1:15,16).
In chapter 2:1-15 Titus is to teach that which is consistent with sound (healthy) doctrine. Here Paul lays out how this sound doctrine is applied to household behavior. He talks about Christian behavior of older men, older women, younger women, younger men, and slaves. This instruction on household behavior is related to the gospel with several “so that” clauses. So that the word of God may not be discredited (v. 5), then any opponent will be put to shame having nothing evil to say of us (v. 8), and so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our savior (v. 10). Thereupon Paul gives a confessional statement on the grace of God manifested in our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good works (2:13,14).
In chapter 3:1-2, Titus is to remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities and speak evil of no one. This is followed by a second confessional statement in 3:3-7, which calls attention to the sinfulness of humanity and what happened when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared. Here he speaks of God saving us by his mercy and not our works of righteousness. This mercy was expressed in our rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit that God poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. Being justified by this grace we become heirs of hope of eternal life.
In 3:8-11 Titus is not to get caught up in endless controversies and arguments, which were characteristic of the Cretan people. Titus 3:10, 11 says After a first and second admonition have nothing more to do with anyone who causes divisions, since you know that such a person is perverted and sinful, being self-condemned. The letter concludes in 3:12-15 with personal instructions regarding some of Paul’s co-workers and a final grace be with all of you.
The letters to Timothy and Titus combine the historic gospel of Christ to the practical mission of the church in Ephesus and Crete. Their larger theology includes God as Savior over against Roman imperial religion, the integrity of Christian leaders over against the unhealthy teaching and conduct of opponents, the church as household of God over against household behavior in the Greco-Roman world, and the work of pastoral leaders in the church. The quality and integrity of pastoral leaders is rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ, modeled by the apostle Paul, and applied to Timothy in Ephesus and Titus in Crete.
Recommended Essays in the Commentary
Christology in the Letters to Timothy and Titus
Contextualizing the Gospel
Names for God and the Imperial Cult
Portrait of the Pastor
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- Fee, Gordon D., 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus. New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1988.
- Marshall, I. Howard. The Pastoral Epistles. The International Critical Commentary. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1999.
- Mounce, William D., Pastoral Epistles. Word Biblical Commentary Volume 46. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000.
- Quinn, Jerome D. and William C. Wacker, The First and Second Letters to Timothy. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Erdmans Publishing Company, 2000.
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- Witherington III, Ben. A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John. Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, Volume 1. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006.
- Zehr, Paul M., 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus. Believers Church Bible Commentary. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2010.
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|—Paul M. Zehr|