A Commentary by John Stott
Titus 2: 1-15. Doctrine and duty in the home.
Being the rational people we are as human beings, since God has made us in his own image, we need to know not only how we ought to behave as Christians, but also why. We certainly need instructions about the kind of people we ought to be; but we also need incentives. So what is Christian behaviour? And what are its grounds? These questions belong to one another, and Titus 2 is an outstanding example of this double theme.
From the activities of the false teachers Paul turns to Titus’ responsibilities as a true teacher. In fact, the opening words of the chapter, which the NIV fails to translate, are *sy de*, ‘but as for you’, emphasising Titus’ distinctive role in contrast to them. These words occur five times in the Pastoral Letters (Tit.2:1; 1 Tim.6:11; 2 Tim.3:10, 14;4:5) and express the familiar call to the people of God to be different, to stand out from the prevailing culture.
In this case Titus is to behave in a way that is entirely unlike the false teachers. They professed to know God but denied him by their actions (1:16). They failed to practise what they preached. In Titus, however, there was to be no dichotomy in his teaching between belief and behaviour, ‘But as for you’, Paul writes, *you must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine* (1). This compressed phrase indicates that two strands are to be interwoven in Titus’ teaching. On the one hand there is ‘the sound doctrine’, the definite article once again implying that an identifiable body of teaching is in mind. On the other hand, there are ‘the things which fit it’, namely the ethical duties which the sound doctrine demands.
The word ‘sound’ translates *hygiainouses*, the present participle of the verb *hygiaino*, ‘to be healthy’. The cognate adjective *hygies* (which recalls our ‘hygiene’) also means ‘healthy’ or ‘fit’. It is often used in the Gospels of people who, having been healed of some physical defect or disability, are now ‘whole’, with all their organs and faculties functioning normally. For example, the adjective occurs in this sense of the woman who suffered from internal bleeding, the invalid at the pool of Bethesda, and the congenital cripple outside the temple in Jerusalem, after they had been healed (Mk.5:34; Jn.5:9; Acts 4:10).
In the Pastorals, however, the adjective is applied several times to Christian doctrine (E.g. 1 Tim.1:10; 6:3; 2 Tim.1:13; 4:3; Tit.1:9; 2:1, 8), which is ‘healthy’ or ‘wholesome’ in contrast to the ‘sick’ teaching of the deceivers (*noson*; 1 Tim.6:4; cf. 2 Tim.2:17). Further, Christian doctrine is healthy in the same way as the human body is healthy. For Christian doctrine resembles the human body. It is a coordinated system consisting of different parts which relate to one another and together constitute a harmonious whole. If therefore our theology is maimed (with bits missing) or diseased (with bits distorted), it is not ‘sound’ or ‘healthy’. What Paul means by ‘the sound doctrine’ is what he elsewhere called ‘the whole purpose of God’ (Acts 20:27, REB), the fullness of divine revelation.
In addition to ‘the sound doctrine’, Titus is to teach ‘the things which fit it’, or are ‘in accord with’ it, that is, the practical duties which arise from it. For there is an indissoluble connection between Christian doctrine and Christian duty, between theology and ethics. Moreover, Paul immediately does what he has told Titus to do. First he outlines some detailed ethical instructions which Titus is to pass on to different groups in the Cretan churches (2-10), and secondly he unfolds the sound doctrines which undergird these duties, in particular the two comings of Christ (11-14).
Titus is not unique in having been given this double ministry. Still today Christian pastors and teachers are called first to teach both doctrine and ethics; secondly to teach them in relation to each other and show how they ‘fit’; and thirdly to relate duty to doctrine, not in general principles only but in detailed application.
This is what Paul goes on to tell Titus to do. He is not to be content with abstractions or generalizations. Instead, he is to lay down some concrete and particular duties. Paul mentions six categories of people according to age, sex and occupation, much as he has done in 1 Timothy 5:1-2, and selects for each category a few appropriate qualities. Many commentators refer to what follows as ‘house tables’ or ‘domestic codes’, because they parallel the rules for family groups which occurred in secular ethics. But Pauline teaching is far from a slavish imitation of them. He adapts them to his own purpose and christianizes them. Yet he does focus on Christian relationships in the home. Moreover, as with candidates for the pastorate (1:6ff.), so with these household groupings, the emphasis is on self-control (verses 2, 4, 5, 6, 12).
Tomorrow: Titus: 2:1-10. The ethical duties.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Titus. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.