Introduction to Titus

18 July 2016


This short letter was written by the apostle Paul to Titus, his gospel co-worker. Titus is mentioned in Galatians 2.1-3, where we learn that he was Greek, and in 2 Corinthians 8.23, where Paul describes him as his ‘partner and fellow-worker’. Although we do not know for certain, it is quite possible that it was written in the mid-60s AD, much the same period as when 1 Timothy was written. Paul has completed a missionary journey through the island of Crete[1], and fledgling churches have been planted. He left Titus behind to help establish these churches, and in this letter Paul gives him instructions to help and guide him in this task.

In particular, Paul emphasises the inseparable link between the Christian gospel and Christian life. Although we do not know the specific details, we learn clearly from the letter that Titus faced a context where false teachers posed a huge threat to these church plants (see 1.10-16 and 3.9-11). A key barometer of false teaching was that it led to ungodliness; ‘they profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works’ (1.16). Paul repeatedly emphasises how, in clear contrast, sound Christian doctrine leads to godly living. In doing so, he gives us a concise summary of what a healthy church looks like, as Paul deals with healthy teaching, healthy correction, healthy pastors, and healthy Christian life at different ages and stages. The backdrop culture to these Christian communities in Crete was one of great immorality; this is explicitly stated in Paul’s letter (1.12), and we also know that Crete was a major centre of worship of the pagan god Dionysus (also known as Bacchus), the god of alcohol and revelry.

Some historical background to Crete

Crete was a key part of the ancient Minoan civilization, and also features heavily in numerous ancient Greek myths (as told by Homer and other ancient writers). For instance, the Palace of Knossos (in Crete) was, in ancient myths, the place where the ‘labyrinth’ was built, to hold the terrible monster Minotaur – which was eventually slain by the legendary king, Theseus. Icarus is another famous mythical character associated with Crete; he was held captive there by Crete’s king, Minos, and escaped by flying away with feathers made from wax by his master-craftsman father. However, he became overconfident and (very famously) flew too close to the sun, melting the wax and falling into the sea to drown.

Historically, Crete was conquered by Rome in 69 BC following the lengthy series of Mithridatic Wars, and became a Roman province, clumped together with Cyrenaica[2] (an area in the modern-day east coast of Libya).

‘Know and Live the Truth’

We’ve chosen ‘Know and Live the Truth’ for our series tagline, since Paul repeatedly emphasises the truth and ‘soundness’ of the gospel, in contrast to the ‘lies’ of false worship in Crete. Note that in his introduction to the letter he explicitly writes, ‘God, who does not lie’. As Christians we must know the truth. But furthermore, Christians are to live out this truth; this truth leads to godliness. As we read the letter we find a repeated emphasis on ‘good works’, as a natural and essential consequence of knowing the true gospel.

This is how the ESV Study Bible sums it up:

The theme of Titus is the inseparable link between faith and practice, belief and behaviour. This truth is the basis for its critique of false teaching as well as its instruction in Christian living and qualifications for church leaders.

Titus at TCC

At TCC we know and delight in the fact that ‘all Scripture is…useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be fully equipped for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3.16-17). This is the case whether or not we can initially see clear points of connection to our current context. With this series in Titus, however, a number of themes are particularly pertinent to us in central Gateshead:

  1. Our conviction that the gospel shapes all of life. We are a ‘gospel-centred church’; we will see how Paul makes this clear in showing how receiving the grace of God in the gospel leads inseparably to godly living. Rather than ‘moving on’ from the gospel, the grace of God in the gospel continues to ‘train’ us for ongoing godliness (see 2.11-14).
  2. The current phase in our church plant of discerning, developing, and ordaining pastors. You cannot have a healthy church without healthy pastors!
  3. Our wider cultural backdrop is not dissimilar to Crete; a combination of reckless self-indulgence (paganism) on the one hand with dangerous false teaching (fake gospels) on the other. And yet in the midst of this, by the grace and power of God, healthy gospel-centred churches are being planted!

We will preach through Titus in six parts. Why not read through the whole letter a couple of times as we begin the series? Note the words and phrases that seem to crop up a lot. What does Paul really want to get across? Why? Note the things that seem surprising or confusing to you. You can then refer back to these notes on Sundays and during community group gatherings over the next six weeks.

[1] We are not told about this journey in the book of Acts, although it is quite clear from this letter to Titus that he had made this journey. The book of Acts is not an exhaustive account of Paul’s journeys, nor does it claim to be.

[2] This region took its name from its capital, Cyrene, from which various New Testament characters are mentioned – see e.g., Mark 15.21, Acts 2.10, 11.20, 13.1.

This blog post was written by Dan Martin.