True Doctrine Leads to Godliness (Titus)
Updated: Jun 21
The letters to Titus and Timothy do not exclude women from being church leaders. The message of Titus is that true doctrine leads to godliness. The author of Titus identifies himself as Paul, writing a personal letter to Titus, his son in the faith, whom Paul has put in charge of the church in Crete.
Today, the majority of scholars doubt that Paul actually wrote the letters to Timothy and Titus (1). These three letters are often grouped together and called pastoral letters because they are addressed to people with pastoral oversight of churches. Some aspects of the pastoral reflect Paul's authentic letters, while others do not. Scholars think the letter to Titus may have been written in the late first century or early second century (2). I write more on the authorship and dating of the pastoral letters here (3).
Regardless of the author, we respect the letters to Timothy and Titus as part of God's word in the canon of the Bible, keeping in mind that they may reflect the theology and thinking of the church in the 2nd century.
The writer says Paul is a bond-servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus, sent to strengthen the faith of God's chosen people and encourage them in the knowledge of the truth which leads to godliness.
The writer explains he left Titus in Crete to organize the believers and appoint elders in every town. It is important to look at the qualifications for an elder without a preconceived notion that elders must be men. This passage does not exclude women.
The qualification for an elder to be a husband of one wife does not mean that an elder must be married, nor that the elder cannot remarry with a second wife, and not that it must be a man. It means if married, the elder is faithful in marriage. In ancient Rome, widows who did not re-marry were called ‘univira’, which means, ‘wife of one man’(4).
The qualification of having obedient children does not mean the elder must have children. It simply means that if the elder has children, they are respectful.
The qualification to manage their house well does not exclude women. While the majority of households had a male in charge, a minority of households had a female in charge. In a married household, the woman usually managed the house and any servants. Households could be managed by a woman, one who was a widow or never married, who owned her own land or ran her own business (5). Women worked as midwives and wet nurses, shopkeepers, tailors, clothing makers, hairdressers, restaurant servers, farm workers, fishwives, barmaids, alewives who made brew in their homes, scribes, and dancers. Males and females had equal inheritance rights (6) under Roman law and could own land or a business and run their own financial affairs. While women had many informal freedoms, they were legally under the guardianship of a male family member. This was a legal requirement for an orderly society and not related to a woman's ability. Roman law acknowledged a woman's abilities and awarded women legal independence (7) and freedom of guardianship if they had three or more children. If the elder is a household manager, see that they are a good household manager: not overbearing, quick-tempered, drunk, violent, greedy, or cheating but hospitable, loving, self-controlled, and self-disciplined.
firmly hold to the true message
encourage others with sound doctrine
refute false teachers (Titus 1:1-9).
The author is very concerned about false teachers, who seem to be disrupting households and making money from false teachings. He quotes a saying warning that the people of Crete can be depraved, evil liars, and idle gluttons. Elders must silence these false teachers, rebuke bad behaviour and bring them back to the faith. Tell them to stop paying attention to myths or human laws. They claim to have knowledge, but their actions show that they do not. Lead them in the pursuit of knowledge of the truth, which leads to godly actions (Titus 1:10-16).
This chapter seems to criticize the legalistic Jews who are insisting that Gentiles follow Jewish laws. It also may be condemning gnostics, who claimed to have secret godly knowledge (maybe for sale at a price). It identifies the characteristics and traits of a person who would be a good Elder in the church and outlines their responsibilities.
Instead, tell them to start paying attention to your teachings and sound doctrine. Believers are to behave in such a way that will lead unbelievers to hold God's word in high regard and give the church a good reputation.
Teach male elders to be sober, self-controlled, worthy of respect, and sound in faith, love, and patience.
Teach female elders to live reverently, not drunkards or slanderers, self-controlled, and able to advise younger women.
Younger women should be loving with their husbands and children, not be idle but industrious, and be kind and respectful so that no one will slander God's word.
Younger men should also be self-controlled, following your example of doing good, showing integrity and respect, and speaking sensibly so that no one will slander them.
Servants should aim to please their masters and be respectful, honest, and reliable so that others are attracted to God our Saviour.
Women and men are both to be busy, showing good work. Those who were idle were more vulnerable to listening to false teachers. Being lazy sometimes led to stealing or swindling and would bring the Christian community into disrepute.
The instructions in Titus 2 tell believers to behave in such a way that no one will criticize God's word. Limiting women's roles can make unbelievers revile God's word. At that time, if a wife rebelled against the Greco-Roman household patriarchy, it may have brought shame to the church's reputation. In Paul's authentic letters, he advises the wives to follow cultural norms but reinvents them or overturns them for those 'in Christ', telling husbands to likewise yield to their wives, and give them the same care and respect that they give their own body. Telling wives to submit is not punitive when all believers submit to one another. This seems to be a later letter that redacts or rebels against Paul's radical overturning of the hierarchy.
The Bible does not say that women's primary domain is at home and men's is in the public sphere. Women of the Bible have a number of roles, both public and private. In Proverbs 31: 10-31, a woman is honoured for her noble character, carefully purchasing supplies, providing food for her family, clothes her family well, producing and selling linen garments, supplying merchants with belts and clothing, purchasing fields, planting a vineyard, and trading merchandise profitably. She is generous to the poor, strong and respected, wise and teaches others. She oversees the care of her house and is praised in public.
Other women of the Bible were leaders (Miriam), protectors (Zipporah, Abigail, Rahab), a judge and military leaders (Deborah), advocates for change (daughters of Zelophehad), Royal Advisor (Huldah, Esther), prophets (Huldah, Anna, Philip's daughters), tradespeople (the daughters of Shallum), artisans (Priscilla, Lydia), apostles (Junia), teachers (Priscilla, Lois, Eunice) and church leaders (Nympha, Apphia), patrons and deacon (Phoebe), patrons & disciples (Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susannah). Theologian Marg Mowczko has listed over 25 roles that biblical women perform here (8)While we honour motherhood, the Bible authorizes women to be far more than mothers.
"In ancient Israel, women had been midwives, healers, teachers, farmers, cloth-makers, prophets, judges, political and military leaders. If Jesus reigned, would men in authority still abuse their power?" - Mara, Chapter 10 of Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold
My novel, Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold, recalls women of the Bible who were leaders at home and in the synagogue and community. It shows women as faithful and devoted disciples, patrons, and apostles. It sets an example for women and men today to be free to follow God's call for their lives.
The letter to Titus continues to explain that God has brought salvation to all people (2:11). It is surprising that it does not say God brought salvation to all who believe or to all the elect or to all the chosen. It means that God has made salvation available to all people through Christ, and God has enabled people to respond to God's grace.
God's grace teaches us to live sensible, ethical, and godly lives. Jesus changes our heart's desires, making us free of lawless behaviour and eager to do good work. Conduct yourself so that others respect you and your teaching. Here, we learn that salvation is shown by our good work and by how we conduct ourselves. These are the fruits of faith (2:12-14).
The writer instructs Titus (2:15) to:
talk about these things, teach the true message
encourage others with sound doctrine
refute or correct false teachers (Titus 1:1-9).
These activities show others that Titus is an elder with complete authority. This does not mean bragging about being the leader in charge with complete authority, or telling others they are not allowed to disrespect you. When a church leader has good conduct and is a good example, they earn the respect of others, and others will want to imitate the leader's good behaviour.
Titus 3 The writer tells all believers to submit to rulers and authorities and be ready to do good work, with no slandering or quarrelling. Be kind and courteous to others, remembering how we too were slaves to human pleasures, envy and spite until God appeared.
'We are saved not because of our good works, but because of God's mercy, washing us with the Holy Spirit, poured out on us through Jesus Christ so that men and women are treated as righteous and we become equal heirs to eternal life with God.'
That is certainly a true saying. Insist on it so that believers can be good examples and models to help others (3:1-8).
Stay away from foolish debates, genealogies, and those who teach we have to keep the law of Moses. Warn those who cause arguments not to cause trouble, and if they continue, then don't associate with them. Their actions will show they are wrong (3:9-11).
Believers will not have empty or purposeless lives if they use their lives for doing good and helping those in need (3:12-15).
This letter does not prohibit women from being elders or church leaders. Male and female elders are to be sober, self-controlled and able to advise the next generation. Women and men are to be industrious, not idle. Both women and men of the Bible work at home and in the community. Titus encourages believers to hold to the true teaching, encourage one another, and correct one another. False teaching will be shown by its negative, hurtful results. Believers need to show their faith through their good works and righteous lives, being loving and kind. Behaving in such a way improves the reputation of the church in the world and attracts people to God's word.
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