A Commentary by John Stott
Titus 1: 14b-16. d). Their errors.
In these final verses of chapter 1 Paul exposes the fundamental errors of the false teachers and their disciples.
First, they pay attention to ‘commands of men’ (14b, RSV). The NIV unaccountably omits the crucial words ‘of men’. But the NEB indicates their importance by translating the phrase ‘commands of merely human origin’. We can hardly fail to detect an echo of God’s word to Jerusalem: ‘their teachings are but rules taught by men’. (Is. 29:13 mg. LXX). Jesus himself quoted this verse in his debate with the Pharisees, accusing them of letting go ‘the commands of God’ in order to hold on to ‘the traditions of men’ (Mk.7:7-8). Paul also quoted it of the Colossians (Col.2:22) as well as the Cretans. The first and most basic error is to follow the commands of human beings *who reject the truth* of God, that is, to forsake divine revelation for human opinions.
Secondly, they have a false understanding of purity. Like the Pharisees, they prize external and ritual purity above the true purity which is internal and moral (Mk.7:15). It is not only that inward and spiritual purity is paramount (‘Blessed are the pure in heart’; Mt.5:8). But once we have been made clean inwardly, Jesus said, ‘Everything will be clean for you.’ (Lk.11:41). Just so, Paul writes here: *To the pure all things are pure* (15a), including of course the Creator’s good gifts of marriage and food (1 Tim.4:1ff.; Mk.7:19; Rom.14:20). *But to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds (what they believe) and their consciences (what they feel able to do) are corrupted* (15b).
Thirdly, *they claim to know God*, boasting of their *gnosis, but by their actions they deny him* (16a). That is, there is a fundamental dichotomy between what they say and what they are, between their words and their deeds. Usually professions and denials are opposites, which exclude one another. We cannot profess what we deny, or deny what we profess. At least, to do so is the essence of hypocrisy, because then we profess God in word and deny him in deed. This is ritual without reality, form without power (2 Tim.3:5), claims without character, faith without works.
These three phenomena regarding the false teachers and their disciples provide us with three valid tests to apply to any and every system. We have to ask three questions about it. First, is its *origin* divine or human, revelation or tradition? Secondly, is its *essence* inward or outward, spiritual or ritual? Thirdly, is its *result* a transformed life or a merely formal creed? True religion is divine in its origin, spiritual is its essence and moral in its effect.
Tomorrow: Titus. 1:14b-16. d). Their errors (continued).
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.