When studying New Testament letters, one of the most important concepts to grasp is the occasion of the letter. Why was the letter written?
A close reading of Titus points to two main purposes for the book:
- Paul claimed that he left Titus in Crete in order to “set right what was lacking” and so that Titus could “appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5). Then, after describing what these elders should be like, Paul claimed that these leaders were to be appointed because of the presence of troublemakers in the church at Crete (1:10) and because these false teachers needed to be silenced (1:11). So one of the main reasons for the book was to charge Titus to complete what had been left undone by establishing sound leaders for the church at Crete who would be able to stand against false teachers.
- Paul also wrote to charge Titus to stand firm for the faith in Crete. Paul wrote for the sake of the faith of God’s chosen people and for their knowledge of the truth (1:1). Titus was to “speak what accords with sound doctrine” (2:1). Paul spent the second half of the letter encouraging Titus to teach sound doctrine to the church at Crete. So not only did Paul call Titus to stand firm, but he reminded Titus of the kinds of things that he was to teach and remind the church at Crete.
How does the purpose of Titus help us interpret Titus 1:5-9?
- Titus 1:5-9, with its description of the character and role of elders, was to serve specifically as a guideline for Titus as he appointed elders for the church at Crete. The lists of qualifications for church leadership in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are very similar, but they are not identical. Paul seems to have crafted these lists specifically for each church. Taken together, these two lists demonstrate the kind of unimpeachable character that must characterize church leaders.
- Titus 1:5-9 helps demonstrate the connection between faithful church leaders and the rejection of false teachers. Faithful church leaders are necessary, in part at least to stand against false teachers and to protect the flock from these savage wolves.
Implications for understandings Titus 1:5-9
Paul left Titus in Crete to set in place what remained and to appoint elders in every town. The appointment of these leaders was necessary to silence rebellious people who were ruining families with their false teaching (and they were teaching for dishonest gain). Titus was to teach the church what was sound (2:1) and he was to serve as an example of godly living (2:7).
There is a big emphasis on Christian living in Titus. See 1:1 where the knowledge of the truth accords with godliness. See the closing on devoting themselves to good works in 3:14.
So a lack of leadership had lead to a lack of Christian living.