The letter from Paul to Titus was written around 63 AD before Paul’s final imprisonment. These are specific instructions on how Titus should set up the community of believers on the island of Crete, the converts Paul had made earlier.
Paul begins with a reference to himself as a lowly slave of God, whose job is to be an Ambassador. In spite of his credentials and honored commission, he is not boastful or high-minded. Our hope is in eternal life through Jesus, who in his mercy chose Paul as one through whom this Gospel would be spread. Like Timothy, Titus is also called a “child” by Paul.
He had left Titus in Crete to “appoint Elders in every city”. Notice that there was to be more than one Elder (spiritually mature, tested and found faithful and qualified) per city. Some people might claim that each of those Elders ran an individual Congregation, but the context doesn’t give us that. In the first century there was only one Congregation per town, though they met in various homes. It’s probable that each small group had an Elder, but it’s also just as likely that there was more than one per group. At any rate, there is no firm backing for the traditional concept of the “head Pastor” as a kind of CEO or president.
Paul gives a brief list of qualifications for Elders. Again, as explained in the comments elsewhere,1 these lists do not specify that only males can be Elders, or that they must be married and have children. The point is that they are upstanding members of society and the community of believers. Notice that they were to be gentle and encouraging to some, while also being able to refute any who contradict sound instruction. This is a principle Paul has discussed in other letters, that of being a good shepherd. The good shepherd is gentle to the sheep but harsh to the wolves.
Note that Paul equates the Guardian (episkopon) with the Elder (presbuterous); he makes no distinction between them. Elder thus refers to the quality of the person but Guardian refers also to the person’s duties, and for that Paul uses a term that essentially means a manager or steward for God. Just as he has stipulated the spiritual qualifications of these people, he now adds a description of their responsibilities: to know the true teachings in order to expose the false. So these people had to not only be of the highest quality in how they lived, but also be so well-versed in the truth that they could be trusted to confront and expose falsehood. Of course, this means the person must be able and willing to confront others.
Another important thing to note is that these are appointments. Age is not something that anyone can be appointed to. So here we have a clear precedent for two possible meanings of presbuterous, the other being a simple reference to the aged. But the context of this whole short letter is that of appointment, and thus not about the elderly.
Servants (diakonos) are not mentioned in this letter at all. One would expect to see them mentioned here if Paul is laying down the framework of an organization, with Guardians on top and Deacons below them, and the common people on the bottom. What the people of Crete needed was not an institution but protection and nurturing while they were immature and in training.
After berating the Cretans, Paul turns to the example Titus must give to them. He is pointedly charged not only with setting an example of holiness in a debauched society, but also with teaching the believers the basics of the faith and making sure they learn the lesson well. He is told to contain and oppose any who dispute the truths of the faith, especially the Jews who were pushing circumcision for the sake of profit. Paul even quotes a local proverb about how bad the Cretans’ reputation was, as being an incentive for Titus to expose them decisively. This is a common theme in Paul’s letters, to stand and oppose falsehood, not to sweep it under the rug as is practiced today. And as a popular saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.” All the “God talk” in the world cannot cover up a life of sin forever.
Paul repeats the qualifications for Elders, both male and female. The Greek word here is the very same root word as in chapter one: “presbyters” were to be appointed in every town. So when many translations use “older men” and “older women” here, they are ignoring the overall context. These are the appointees of chapter one, not all elderly people. Similarly, the Greek word typically rendered “young” is one from which we get the prefix “neo” meaning “new”, not necessarily “young”. So Paul is saying that male and female Elders are to train new believers in appropriate doctrine and behavior.
This section is written as a chiasm2 as follows:
Titus, like all appointed Elders, is to live out these instructions, to be an example and not just a teacher in word alone. He is to live up to the highest standard so that critics (in this case it seems to be a particular individual) will be exposed as false accusers. This is the “wrapper” in which the instructions he is to give to others is contained.
Male Elders are to aspire to Titus’ example in every way, with an emphasis on wisdom. But the most detail is given to female Elders. In addition to the qualities they must share with the males (“the same goes for” or “likewise”), these women had the added task of raising the social behavioral bar for the women of Crete, who were not used to such things in their society. The women needed extra training in wisdom, in raising children, in mastering their homes, and in being supportive of their husbands. As discussed in detail in the commentary under 1 Tim. 2:1–10 (General instructions about prayer), this is being said about the women of Crete because they were lacking in this area, not because men are not to be taught to support their wives.
Women in Crete were being irresponsible, neglecting their homes, husbands, and children. Paul will tolerate none of that in the community of believers. Titus is to see to it that the female Elders train the female new believers in what it means to be a Christian woman. Their standards are not to be lowered, either because of their being women or simply being Cretans. The stakes are high because there must be a sharp distinction between the hedonistic culture and the ways of God. Note Paul’s play on words between “old” and “new” here; the women who are the opposite of Elders must be novices. Elders were charged with training the new believers, and such training for the women of Crete needed to include the social skills taken for granted by polite society in other places, since they had no proper role models otherwise.
When Paul addresses his instructions to female Elders, he even specifies that they are to act in accordance with the dignity of this appointment. The Greek word here shares the same root as in chapter 1 where Paul commands Titus to “appoint Elders”; the only difference is that the earlier reference is a verb (command) while this one is a noun. So the female Elders must, like Titus, be examples to the women they train.
Paul now adds instructions similar to those he’s given elsewhere concerning slaves and masters. Of course all believers are to turn their backs on evil and live holy lives, as well as to wait for the expected, glorious, sudden return of Jesus. But there is certainly good reason to emphasize to slaves that they too must live up to the same standards and not give the faith a bad name.
Titus is to teach all this with confidence and strength, not being intimidated or failing to confront false teachers. He is to remind the people of their duty to be good citizens, to keep away from slander, and to be as peaceful as possible. Though we may have been the opposite of all that while unbelievers, we have received God’s kindness and mercy through his “bathing us in the rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit”. Our good deeds had nothing to do with our cleansing, but only faith resulting in receiving the Spirit.
Believers should be living examples of all good behavior. We must not indulge in endless unresolvable debates or legalism. Anyone who does so is to be warned twice, and then expelled from the group if they still won’t listen.
Paul will send replacements to relieve Titus soon, and then Titus is to come back to visit Paul if possible. And he is to send out two men with provisions, as one of the examples he is to set for the people. Those who give up everything to spread the Gospel must not be sent out empty-handed.
Paul does not name individuals here, but only gives a general farewell.