English translations of this word in Titus 1:9 range from encourage (NIV, NLT, CSB, GNT) to some form of the word exhort (NASB, KJV, NKJV, NET) to give instruction (ESV). So what exactly is Paul saying that church leaders should do with sound doctrine? The term παρακαλέω can have a range of possible meanings:
- “to ask to come and be present where the speaker is”
- “to urge strongly, appeal to, urge, exhort, encourage”
- “to make a strong request for something, request, implore, entreat”
- “to instill someone with courage or cheer, comfort, encourage, cheer up”
- “treat someone in an inviting or congenial manner” 1
The word at times in the New Testament has the meaning of encourage as in comfort or cheer up. In Matthew 5:4, Jesus said, “blessed are the ones who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The word can also be used of a strong request, as in when the legion of demons in Mark 5:10-12 begged Jesus not to send them out of the country, but to send them into the pigs. παρακαλέω can also refer to an invitation, as in when the Ethiopian eunuch invited Philip to come and sit with him in the chariot (Acts 8:31). It can also refer to a strong appeal as in when Paul appealed to the Romans to present themselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1).
But in Titus 1:9, the word is closely connected to teaching, so we need to examine the uses of this term in the New Testament that most closely parallel Titus 1:9. In Acts 2:40-41, at the end of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, Peter exhorted his hearers with the gospel, appealing to them to be saved, and 3,000 were added to the number that day. In Acts 11:23, Barnabas exhorted the church in Antioch to remain faithful to the Lord, and in Acts 14:22, Paul encouraged the disciples in Lystra, Iconium and Antioch to continue in the faith in spite of tribulations. And in Acts 15:32, the word is paired with another word translated “strengthened” as Judas and Silas encouraged and strengthened believers in Antioch.
To move to some of Paul’s uses of this word, in 1 Thessalonians 2:12, Paul’s encouragement to the Thessalonians included an appeal to walk in a manner worthy of God, to be encouraged in the faith in the face of persecutions (3:2-3), and to build one another up (5:11). In 2 Thessalonians 3:12, Paul’s encouragement included the command for people to work quietly and to earn their own living. In 1 Timothy 6:2, Paul told Timothy to “teach and encourage these things.” In this passage we see a close connection between this encouragement or exhortation and teaching (see also 2 Timothy 4:2). In Titus 2:15, these same two words are paired again (exhort and rebuke), but there Paul tells Titus exhort and rebuke with “all authority.”
So while Paul does use the word παρακαλέω in a variety of ways, when paired with the idea of teaching, Paul’s use of the word indicates that the intent of this encouragement or exhortation is to strengthen people in their faith and to encourage them to live in a godly manner based on that sound teaching. This exhortation includes the positive teaching of the truth for the purpose of encouraging people to trust in God and to live in accordance with His truth, or to live in a manner worthy of God.