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The Teachings of Paul, Part 7

Shortly after writing the letter to Timothy, Paul wrote this one to Titus, and it too was sent for a very specific purpose, at a point in history, concerning a specific location. Paul cuts right to the chase in stating that purpose: for Titus to appoint elders in each city. Right away we recognize the word “elders” and remember that it can mean either older people or the spiritually mature who guard a congregation. In this case, we know it means the latter because they are appointed, which could not be true concerning the aged.

The word translated as to appoint or ordain is kathistemi. There was no ceremony or official function involved in this appointment; it was simply a matter of recognizing the spiritually mature in such a way as to let the people know who met the standard, and thus who they could trust for both correct doctrine and models of exemplary Christian living. And in the detailed list of criteria Paul specifies, he begins with that familiar phrase that means “a faithful spouse”, that is, the character of one who is faithful and morally pure. We also see another reference to good parenting, along with many other excellent qualities. We have gone over the implications of such requirements before, but the important thing is that they are indeed requirements for being a guardian. Yet Christianity has treated them more like mild suggestions or showed utter contempt for them in practice.

The main problem there in Crete seems to have been similar to that of Ephesus, focusing on legalism and immorality, as well as general laziness and irresponsibility. Paul singles out those from “the circumcision”, meaning legalists bent on forcing all Christians to adhere to Jewish law, and he accuses such teachers of being motivated by greed. Note once again how harsh Paul is on such people inside the ekklesia; he does not give them an inch. Then in vs. 16 he repeats his common theme of actions having to match words.

The first eight verses of chapter two form a chiasm (see the chapter on Genesis) as follows:

Which meaning should we understand about the word presbuteros (male and female forms) in this passage? Is it really about the elderly? Remember the purpose and theme of the letter, which is to appoint elders. Paul would not have completely changed the subject this soon, especially in such a short letter. No, these are the appointees of chapter one. But what of the word for “young”? It is neos which, like presbuteros, has two possible meanings depending on context: young or new. Since we know that these are the appointed elders, and since Paul is matching the neos to the presbuteros, then the ones they are to train must be new, not simply young. In other words, the appointed elders are to train the new believers. And in keeping with societal taboos, it is appropriate for the male elders to teach the new male believers, and female elders to teach the new female believers.

Note that most of the detail is for the female elders, which is the focal point of the chiasm. From what Paul says here we can deduce that female elders had a bigger job cut out for them. The women of Crete were neglecting their homes and were clueless about raising children. Unlike the men of their society, they were not trained in any moral disciplines and so had no role models of honorable women to follow. Since Titus, being a man, could not provide a complete role model, he was to appoint women as elders who could. And in addition to that which the men were to teach, the women had to teach basic domestic skills and acceptable behavior. You might say the women of Crete needed a course in Remedial Home Economics.

Incredibly, the usual interpretation of this passage is that old women were only allowed to teach young women, while ignoring the fact that this would also mean old men were only allowed to teach young men. If the latter is wrong then so is the former; male supremacism cannot have it both ways. Neither does this passage mean that women are only to learn domestic skills, as if women of all cultures and times need the ekklesia to teach them these things. And again, we note that these women are to hupotasso their husbands— and also to love them (although the word here is philandros as opposed to agape).

But we need to examine one more thing before moving on. Verse 3 is translated as that the female elders are to behave in a “reverent” manner. (One must stop and ask, what about the men? Are they not to live in a reverent manner as well?) But the Greek phrase here is katastemati hieroprepeis and shares the same root as the word kathistemi in ch. 1, meaning to appoint. The two words together mean to behave in a manner in keeping with a sacred appointment. This is additional support for taking the words presbuteros and neos to mean appointed elders and new believers. So these female elders were definitely the appointees of chapter one and not merely older women.

Starting in vs. 9 we see familiar instructions concerning slaves (doulos) and masters (despotes), and that the slaves are to hupotasso their masters. And as always, they are to behave in a manner consistent with that required of all believers. Chapter three begins with an instruction for all the people to hupotasso their arche and exousia, which reinforces our understanding of the Greek words for authority. And it is clear from context that this is all in reference to secular law, not the ekklesia.

After more familiar general instructions, Paul tells Titus that a divisive person is to be expelled after two warnings. We must remember that division is not just a matter of quarrels about various topics, but also about the worldly notion of hierarchy that divides “clergy” and “laity”, male and female, Jew and Gentile. Can we just ignore Paul’s teachings on this, simply because of how long this has been going on? Would we also allow a thief to continue stealing if they had been at it for a certain length of time? Then what is stopping us from expelling those who carve up the Body of Christ? We have the authority and mandate of scripture, as well as the duty and responsibility, to put this into practice. And if anyone refuses to obey this scripture, let them also stop abusing scripture and turning it into a weapon of conquest over other believers. If they don’t intend to obey scripture, then let them keep their hands off of it.

The last of the doctrinal letters is the second one Paul wrote to Timothy. It is a much more personal letter, written as the final instruction from a seasoned teacher to his prized pupil and good friend. Timothy is instructed to keep repeating what he has learned and to guard against distractions. But we need to clear up another instance of male supremacism in chapter two. Vs. 2 says to pass on these teachings to faithful people. The word for males is not there; it is the generic word meaning people.

In 2:17 Paul names names again, and he explicitly states that these men have departed from the truth and so must have had it at one time. That is, they are deliberate false teachers in the assembly and they must be exposed and expelled. But notice the content of the false teaching in this case: they were filling people with fear that they had missed the resurrection of the last days. In a slight twist on this theme, today there are many who teach that there will be no literal last days, no Rapture, no wedding feast, no return of the King. And what is the result of this sort of teaching? Paul says that it subverts the faith of some. This is a very serious falsehood.

Then in vs. 24 we see another verse that, ironically, is used as a club to beat those who confront error and name false teachers. What Paul is saying in vs. 24-26 is that a true servant does not make a habit of fighting and dividing (something many preachers today need to grasp), not that all believers are to be completely gagged such that they can never utter a negative word for any reason. We have seen through Paul’s own example that error in the Body must be forcefully opposed, but also that the deceived, the victims, the ignorant, the humble, are to be treated with gentleness and compassion. Paul even describes the people in this case as having been snared by the devil, so we know he is not talking about those who knowingly subvert the truth, like the men he named earlier.

Chapter three, as many have observed, is like reading today’s news. But in vs. 6 Paul uses another expression mistaken to paint women as silly and gullible. As we have seen before, this is just another idiom. This particular one refers to people who are easy prey for any smooth talker that comes along. And it is likely that the people in vs. 7 are the not the prey but the predators, especially since the surrounding verses all focus on the teachers.

Verse 2 of chapter four states a point made earlier, that there are times to rebuke, and that this has to be done while people might still listen. But as we know all too well, many today have indeed plugged their ears and shut their eyes to the truth, and they are turning to myths in great numbers, even in “the church”. In following verses Paul will again name names, and in vs. 14 he even wishes revenge from God upon one of them.

Paul also speaks of reward, which we know refers to an earned wage and not salvation. His reward will come in heaven because he did not accept compensation on earth, a lesson for those who demand salaries. And he adds that this reward will also be for all who long for the return of Jesus. There are many today who want Him to wait, or not to come at all, because their hearts are set on this life.

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