A Commentary by John Stott

Titus: 1:1-4.  2). Paul addresses Titus.

‘Titus is the most enigmatic figure in early church history,’ wrote Sir William Ramsay, and went on to guess that his omission from Acts is best explained if he was Luke’s relative, even his brother. We know that he was Greek by birth (Gal.2:3) and that he became one of Paul’s converts. In consequence, Paul could address his letter *To Titus, my true son* or ‘my genuine child’ *in our common faith* (4a), that is, ‘common…to you a Gentile as much as to me a Jew’, indeed ‘common to all Christians’, being *the faith of God’s elect* (1).

The first reference to Titus in the New Testament occurs in connection with the controversy over whether Gentile converts needed to be circumcised as well as baptized. The Judaizers were evidently bringing pressure to bear on Paul to circumcise Titus, whom he and Barnabas had brought with them to Jerusalem (Gal.2:1). A little later Paul did circumcise Timothy, as a concession to the demands of the mission (Acts 16:1ff.). But the case with Titus was different. It was a question now of principle, not policy, since ‘the truth of the gospel’ was at stake. In consequence, ‘we did not give in to them for a moment’ (Gal.2:5), he wrote, and Titus was ‘not…compelled to be circumcised’. (Gal.2:3).

After this it is likely that Titus accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys. He came into prominence in relation to the Corinthian church, so that in our 2 Corinthians he is mentioned nine times by name, always with affection and confidence. Paul entrusted him with a letter to the Corinthians, which seems to have been neither our 1 Corinthians nor our 2 Corinthians, but rather what scholars usually refer to as ‘the severe letter’, in which the apostle rebuked the Corinthians for rejecting his authority.

Having sent the letter with Titus, Paul waited on tenterhooks for news of its reception. He went to Troas to evangelize, and found there an open door. But he could not take advantage of it because he ‘had no peace of mind’. As Titus had not come back he left for Macedonia (2 Cor.2:12ff.). There he still had no rest (2 Cor.7:5), until to his immense relief Titus arrived from Corinth. Thus God comforted him, he wrote. ‘by the coming of Titus’, not just by the pleasure of renewed fellowship with him, but also by the good news he brought of the Corinthians’ change of heart, their sorrow over their previous disloyalty, and their rekindled love for Paul (2 Cor.7:6-7). Titus too had been made happy and refreshed. Indeed, everything Paul had said to the Corinthians about Titus, and to Titus about the Corinthians, had come true. For Titus, who had not in any way exploited them (2 Cor.12:18), loved them all on account of their obedience to the apostle and their respectful reception of him ‘with fear and trembling’ (2 Cor.7:13ff.). It was in response to all these events that our 2 Corinthians came to be written.

Then the apostle entrusted Titus with a second diplomatic mission in Corinth. This time it related to the collection which Paul was organizing among the Greek churches for the benefit of the poorer churches in Judea. Titus had already begun this work on his previous visit. Now, as he takes 2 Corinthians with him, Paul urges him to complete the task (2 Cor.8:6). For God had ‘put into the heart of Titus the same concern’ that Paul had for them, so that Titus had welcomed the opportunity to return to Corinth. He was coming to them, Paul wrote, ‘with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative’ (2 Cor. 8:16-17). Paul commended Titus to them as his ‘partner and fellow-worker’, and urged them to receive him and his companions with love (2 Cor. 8:23-24).

Later, after Paul’s presumed release from house arrest in Rome, where Acts takes leave of him, he resumed his missionary travels. It must have been in the course of these that he left Titus in Crete (and Timothy in Ephesus), with instructions to complete what had been left incomplete, and in particular to appoint qualified elders in every town, to combat the false teachers (Tit.1:5ff.), to teach the practical realities of Christian behaviour (chapter 2), and to remind God’s people of their wider social responsibilities (3:1ff.). Then towards the end of his letter the apostle summoned Titus to join him in Nicopolis for the winter, near the Adriatic coast, once Artemas or Tychicus had arrived in Crete to replace him (3:11). It may have been from Nicopolis, or later from Rome, that Titus went (on a mission?) further north along the Adriatic to the coastal area of Dalmatia (2 Tim.4:10).

There the New Testament loses sight of Titus, and later tradition is unreliable. But Eusebius wrote (c. AD 325) that Titus returned to Crete to become its first bishop, and that he died there in a ripe old age.

3). Paul wishes Titus grace from God.

Having introduced himself and Titus and mentioned their ‘common faith’ (4a), Paul now alludes to the God who has united them. He sends Titus his customary, Christianized form of the conventional Greek and Hebrew greeting: *Grace* (the unmerited, unsolicited favour of God) *and peace* (the reconciliation with God and with the people of God, which only grace can effect). They come *from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour* (4b). It is noteworthy that in verse 3 Paul alludes to *God our Saviour* and in verse 4 to *Christ Jesus our Saviour*. A.T.Hanson, who enjoys poking fun at the supposed pseudonymous author of the Pastorals, declares that ‘this indiscriminate use of *soter* (“saviour”) undoubtedly implies a rather muddled soteriology’ on his part. But on the contrary, although the Father and the Son have different saving roles, both are engaged in the work of salvation and both together constitute the single source from which grace and peace flow forth. There is no muddle here.

Tomorrow: Titus 1:5-16. Doctrine and duty in the church.


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.