| John Rylands Papyrus P32, dated at around ad.200. It's at the John Rylands Library, Manchester. It contains fragments of Paul's epistle to Titus; one of the earliest surviving instances of this letter. On the recto side it contains parts of Titus 1.11-15, and on the verso, Titus 2.3-8. (click on the image to turn over the fragment). P32 was a page of a book.
images: Center for the Study of NT MSS.
We know nothing of a journey by Paul to Crete, nor of the founding of a church there, but by the time this letter was written there was clearly a settled Christian community on the island. The letter is addressed to Titus, whom we know from other letters and from Acts to have been one of Paul's principal assistants, and to have been entrusted with missions of some delicacy. Here, although he still seems to be regarded as surprisingly young and inexperienced, he is in charge of the church in Crete, and the letter, though addressed to him, is clearly intended for the church as a whole. For the most part, its tone is not personal but formal and authoritative.
This formality is stressed at the outset by the long parenthesis which interrupts the normal structure of the greeting, From Paul ... to Titus (1-4) (see above on Romans 1.1), and which rehearses the qualifications of the writer to give authoritative instructions to the church. It is not clear from the Greek
whether the writer means that an apostle is specially marked (1) by his commission to preach (so the main text in NEB), or that his apostleship is discharged in bringing these distinctive notes of the Christian faith to others (so the alternative rendering); in either event, God's purpose, promised long ages ago (2) (an idea developed in Ephesians, see above on Eph. 1.4) is fulfilled in the proclamation which was entrusted to the apostle (3), by virtue of which the apostle now has authority to give instruction to the church.
True-born son (4) was a favourite expression of Paul's for his converts; see above on 1 Corinthians 4.15.
The historical situation we are to imagine is that Paul, after preaching the gospel in Crete and making a number of converts, left to Titus the task of organizing the young church and appointing its leaders. The tests (5) which he then prescribed are repeated here, presumably to serve as a guide in all future appointments. The qualities desired in candidates for office are very similar to those listed in 1 Timothy 3 and are of a general character: this is the sort of man that anyone who holds responsibility of any kind in the church ought to be. The only difficulty in the paragraph is that at the outset it is concerned with the appointment of elders, but two verses later is speaking of a bishop (6). Do both these names denote the same office? This supposition would make good sense of the present passage, but would raise difficulties elsewhere. In 1 Timothy, for instance, the bishop is treated quite separately from the elders; and in the subsequent order of the church the bishop and the elders (presbyters) were clearly differentiated. It is possible that the confusion arises from the phrase institute elders (5). On the face of it, one would expect this to mean, institute men to the office of "eldership". But it could also mean, institute "elders"—i.e. responsible men, who were usually among the older members of the church—to certain offices in the church, and in particular to the office of bishop.
There are all too many ... (10) Just as in Ephesus one of the main responsibilities of the leader of the church was to protect his congregation from the influence of teachers who wove elaborate speculative systems out of a combination of Old Testament and Christian materials (see above on 1 Timothy 1.4), so in Crete Titus is warned against a similar danger, that of his people lending their ears to Jewish myths and commandments of merely human origin (14). Here, Jewish myths clearly cannot mean any part of the Old Testament, for no Christian would ever have thought of the Old Testament as anything but a divinely inspired book. The phrase must be an allusion to fanciful interpretations of the Old Testament such as we find in later Jewish literature or in the systems of the so-called "gnostic" thinkers of the following century. As for commandments of merely human origin (14), these were probably rules of asceticism and ritual purity devised by these thinkers for themselves—rules which the Christians could disregard on exactly the same grounds as they disregarded orthodox Jewish ordinances: to them, all things are pure (15) (as Paul had said in Romans 14.20, perhaps appealing to a word of Christ, Mark 7.15), whereas if once the mind is tainted alike in reason and conscience, no ascetic rules of any kind have the slightest value.
To this extent (and also because they do it all for sordid gain (11), compare 1 Timothy 6.5) the trouble-makers in Crete are very similar to those described in 1 Timothy. But there are two respects in which they are unlike the heretics in Ephesus. First, they are Jewish converts (10)—that is to say, having been converted from Judaism, they are now presumably dissatisfied with Christianity, and propose to construct their own more ambitious religious philosophy; and secondly, they are Cretans—and Cretans are proverbially liars! The proverb in question (12) was originally a line of verse attributed to Epimenides, a philosopher of the sixth century B.C. He is here called a prophet, doubtless because it was felt he had rightly predicted the national character which the Cretans would still have some centuries later. Certainly the Cretans generally had a bad reputation, and the writer assumes that this is another reason why t lie Cretan church is in trouble.
As in the other pastoral letters, the defence to be presented against these subversive influences is not (as it might have been in an earlier letter of Paul) a pugnacious counter attack or even a careful restatement of Christian beliefs, but simply that sound hold on Christian essentials which is once again called sane belief ... wholesome doctrine (1.13, 2.1) (both sane and wholesome are translations of the same Greek word, which is characteristic of the pastoral letters, see above on 1 Timothy 1.10). And, since this wholesome doctrine (1-10) is as much ethical as theoretical, the writer goes on to give a picture of the Christian way of life as it is to be lived out by different groups within the Christian community. This kind of systematic presentation of Christian duties is familiar from other New Testament letters (see above on Colossians 3.18) and occurs frequently in early Christian literature. In Ephesians and Colossians, however, the groups singled out are those represented in a domestic household—husbands, wives, children and slaves. Here, the groups are those to be found in the congregation as a whole—the older men, the older women, the younger men and the slaves. As so often, the qualities demanded of them (as of the church's leaders in 1 Timothy) are those which were expected of respectable people anywhere in the Greco-
2 Roman world. Only occasional touches, such as the faith, love and endurance (2) of the older men, betray a specifically Christian insight.
Yet even if these moral ideals were nothing out of the ordinary, there was something quite new about Christian motives. In Paul's earlier letters this new factor was called simply the Spirit; here, it is the grace of God (11) which has dawned upon the world. There, the Spirit was described as working directly upon a man, assuming control, as it were, of his conduct, and bringing forth a "harvest" of qualities to which, unaided, men could hardly aspire. Here, the metaphor is less dramatic, and perhaps appropriate to a more gradual evolution of the Christian character. The grace of God is thought of as something by which we are disciplined (12). The word was a basic one in the Greek theory of education, according to which education was a process by which the naturally unruly body and mind were trained and disciplined until they functioned according to their true potentiality. This discipline was of course imparted by tutors—and the psychological effect of the grace of God is here seen as fulfilling precisely the tutor's function, providing a constant stimulus to endeavour, and training mind and body in habits of temperance, honesty, and godliness. A further motive is suggested by the phrase, the present age, which always implies, in both Jewish and early Christian literature, that the present order is temporary, and will be succeeded by that more perfect age promised long ago by God. Christians now had their own vision of this future age, and expected it to dawn very soon, and its imminence was frequently invoked as a spur to calm, sober and vigilant conduct. It would be the moment when the splendour of our great God and Saviour Christ Jesus will appear (13)
Remind them to be submissive to the government and the authorities (1). This was the normal Christian attitude: see above on Romans 13.1.
These are words you may trust (8). Each time this phrase occurs in the Pastorals, it seems to point to a quotation or article of belief well known to the church. Here, the passage referred to must be the paragraph which 1 immediately precedes. On more than one occasion (see, for instance, the first chapter of Romans, or Colossians 3.5-7) Paul used what may seem almost excessively sombre colours to portray the state of mankind before its redemption through Christ; and the same vivid contrast seems very soon to have entered the ordinary vocabulary of the early church. The contrast serves to throw into high relief the kindness and generosity of God our Saviour (4) (words which were more often used of human benefactors than of God, and which may be another instance of the church coming under the influence of the language of a cosmopolitan society). Inspired only by his own mercy (not for any good deeds of our own (5)), God had overlooked the years of unregeneracy, and the moment when this act of mercy became effective for the individual believer was the moment of baptism, the water of rebirth. The idea of "rebirth", whether of the individual or of the whole universe, to a better kind of existence, was quite a common one. When the Christians adopted it, they made it more specific by relating it to the water of baptism and to the Spirit which made the rite effective.
It was Christ's command that those who sinned in a moral sense should be treated with great patience (Matthew 18.15-17 is the severest passage on the subject). But if a man, after two warnings, showed himself still a heretic, then this was no ordinary sin: the man was one of the predicted and inevitable signs of the last times, an instrument in the hands of the devil. Therefore only one course was possible—have done with him. (10)
On Paul's intention to spend the winter at Nicopolis (12), see the introduction to 1 Timothy (p. 661). Artemas and Zenas are not otherwise known; Tychicus appears in 2 Timothy 4.12; Apollos (13) may well be the famous preacher of Acts 18.24. The letter was evidently to serve as a letter of recommendation for two travelling Christians, who may have been its bearers.