Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Titus: a Book Report

The following is from a work-in-progress called "The Bible: a Book Report" in which I read each book of the Bible, summarize it in my own words, and occasionally give some commentary.  I will also include artwork by famous artists.

Paul’s letter to his friend Titus is the third and final of the so-called “Pastoral Letters” because it concerns itself with proper church organization, leadership, belief, and practice.  As with the other two pastorals (1 and 2 Timothy), scholars today generally doubt that it was written by Paul, mainly for literary and theological reasons.  The letter is relatively short and seems mainly interested in two issues: qualifications of church leaders (elders and bishops), and a criticism of false teachings.

First, qualifications of leaders.  In chapter 1, the author gives a list of qualities that elders and bishops must have.  Mainly, these qualities relate to a good moral character, but one in particular caught my eye: An elder must be “married only once.”  Today, in the Roman catholic church, leaders must be single and celibate.  But it was not this way in the New Testament.  In Titus and elsewhere, church leaders could marry.  The requirement that church leaders be celibate didn’t come about until the Middle Ages.

Catholic clergy are not allowed to marry.  This is called Clerical Celibacy.

The letter to Titus also concerns itself with criticizing false beliefs and practices.  Rather than engaging in reasoned argument, however, the author engages in some ad hominem attacks and name-calling.  As elsewhere in the New Testament, the author is particularly hard on Jews, whom he calls “rebelious people, idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision: they must be silenced.”  Elsewhere, the writer urges Titus (and the church) to pay no attention to “Jewish myths or to commandments of those who reject the truth.”  It is unclear exactly which specific beliefs the author is condemning, but he may be referring to Rabinnic midrash (commentary on the Torah).

Jewish Midrash (commentary on Torah)

The writer also includes an ethnic slur against people from the island of Crete: “Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons.”  It is almost refreshing to realize that the writers of the New Testament were not above name-calling and personal attacks.  It shows that these books were indeed written by flawed humans.

As in 1 and 2 Timothy, the writer of Titus is concerned with maintaining fairly status quo social and household structures.  Wives are instructed to be “good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands.”  Slaves are instructed “to be submissive to their masters.”  And the church as a whole is instructed “to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient.”  This vision of the church is not radical.  It is domesticated and tame.  Throughout the letter, the writer urges Christians to good works and self-control.  In other words, to be good Roman citizens.

In my reports on 1 and 2 Timothy, I was frustrated because the author seemed to spend more time talking trash on ideological opponents than explaining correct belief.  The writer of Titus certainly does his share of trash-talking, but near the end we find some verses that sound like official doctrine: “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth (baptism) and renewal by the Holy Spirit.  This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  The saying is true.”  Though it requires some elaboration, this short statement seems to be a fairly cogent explanation of “the gospel.”

Baptism was a part of Christian practice from a very early date (unlike Clerical Celibacy) .

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