Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Epistle of Titus in conjunction with this article.
Welcome to our next-to-last installment of our monthly studies of Timothy and Titus. While we have spent what is arguably a lengthy time within these epistles, we have, as it is said, “only scratched the surface.” Timothy and Titus are filled with tremendous instructions from a powerful apostle to a couple of powerful ministers. While each evangelist labored in different locations and served different churches, they were men called to not only serve their churches but also to be relevant to those early believers. Within the second chapter, we can see several practical areas on which the evangelist Titus was to focus. Yet, perhaps the greatest relevancy the evangelist could have was to present what the King James translates as “sound doctrine” and it is this that our Elder, Virgil Wininger, wants us to consider.
The Audience to Teach
After reading and reading and reading again chapter two of Titus, this writer is becoming almost numb. My numbness comes because the entire second chapter1 revolves around teaching: the ones who receive the teachings of Titus, and the things that Titus is to teach. From the first verse to chapter two’s last verse, the core of Paul’s dialog involves the passing of information from instructor to student, but perhaps better stated as: evangelist to disciple.
Another reason for this writer’s growing numbness involves the dynamic of the audience that receives the teachings. We accept that young people, school age (kinder through university) are learners. We expect them to learn, almost demand that they learn, but there comes a difficulty with the remaining three audiences that Paul includes: older men, older women and slaves/servants.2 While in the time period of the letter, it is possible that slaves could be young people of school age, that demographic can be argued has been previously addressed. So this leaves us with the adults, as learners.
With children, demands can be readily placed on them to learn, but this demand is not so easy with the adult audience. With adults, we have learned. We have knowledge. We have experience. We have a lot to offer. Knowing this, it seems that each adult expects to be respected as contributing discussion to the class dynamic and experience. While this certainly has a ring of truth, this places the evangelist, in this case Titus, in a precarious predicament. However, this is counterbalanced by Paul’s statement of “speak, exhort and rebuke with all authority.”3
Paul did not spend time in an extended narrative reflecting on the audiences’ personal experiences or their contributive abilities. Neither did he spend time referring to teaching methods or learning abilities. He simply tells Titus what to do. Except for the older women instructing the younger women,4 it seems how Titus went about his task would be determined by Titus himself directly influenced by the situation he faced. From general knowledge, we know that the setting for learning has changed since Titus. But we also know that Titus was to offer teachings that stayed in line with “sound doctrine” and this should not change with time. Knowing this, perhaps “sound doctrine” is the item that should receive our greatest attention.
The Sound Doctrine to Teach
In the first verse of chapter two, the King James Version has given us the English words: speak, sound, and doctrine as the translation of the underlying Greek words. While these words are a worthy study itself, our lesson is quickly drawing to a close. With that in mind, this writer would like to offer up six translations that offer an insight into this first verse of chapter two:
But speake thou the thynges which become wholsome doctrine.5 [spelling original to Early-Modern-English]
But speak thou the things that belong to wholesome doctrine.6
And thou–be speaking what doth become the sound teaching;7
Now you must tell them the sort of character which should spring from sound teaching.8
But you, explain what kind of behavior goes along with sound teaching.9
Your job is to speak out on the things that make for solid doctrine.10
The reason all of these translations were cited is to demonstrate that this one verse carries nuances that are not easily conveyed through the English language. Is speaking, explaining? Yes. Is speaking a job? Yes. Does that explanative job require the evangelist to tell the audience things that might challenge assumptions and pre-learning? Yes. Are all assumptions and pre-learning sound doctrine? No. As proof, it is my hope that the reader will refer to the “unruly and vain talkers and deceivers”11 of chapter one. They were not only to be rebuked12 but their teachings had also infiltrated the minds of disciples.13 It was the responsibility of Titus to help correct these unsound teachings.
Why was it important for Titus to correct the unsound teachings? Again, we can identify why from chapter one. The unruly and vain talkers and deceivers threatened families with the things “they ought not [to teach]” and worse yet, they taught so as to be profiteering.14 Additionally, these unsound teachers acted like they knew God but denied him in their teachings and actions, and worse yet, made good teachings and actions be rejected and esteemed as worthless.15
Unfortunately, unsound teachings continue to infiltrate the minds and hearts of Christians and the body of the church today. While it is unnerving to think that either of us (the writer, or the reader) could have been affected by an unsound teaching, it is possible. Not everything that we have been taught is unsound, in fact some may have never been taught unsound things at all. Either way, we have been given the blessings of the Scriptures, one question remains: are we letting them guide us into a more full understanding of God and helping us to have a healthy doctrine befitting discipleship?
As we bring our thoughts to a close, let us consider some thoughts from our Elder, Virgil Wininger: Paul is telling Titus that he (and by extension the leaders of the modern church) is responsible for teaching sound doctrine. One thing that helps maintain healthy teaching is to keep our understanding of Scripture in its context. Consider this thought from another author,
“Indeed, context is so crucial to interpretation [biblical understanding] that it is no exaggeration whatsoever to say that if you alter the context of a word or sentence or paragraph, you also alter the content of that text. Sometimes the effect is relatively minimal, but often it can be very significant.” [Italics in original]16
As we encourage one another to love and good works,17 let us be aware that sound doctrine is our goal because with sound teachings comes healthy souls and with healthy souls comes a healthy family, and with sound families comes a healthy church. May the LORD bless all of us as we seek his counsel and instruction.
1. “Chapter Two Involves Teaching.” It is also likely that Titus 3.1-11, along with chapter two are in response and to be contrasted against the “unruly and vain talkers and deceivers” found in Titus one verse ten, which itself is an argument by Paul for having qualified church leaders.
2. “Slaves / Servants.” Titus 2.9, NASB.
3. “Speak, exhort, and rebuke with all authority.” Titus 2.15, KJV.
4. “Older women to teach the younger women.” Titus 2.3-5, NASB.
5. Titus 2.1, Bishops, 1568, Bible Translation and Date from e-Sword 7.9.8.
6. Titus 2.1, James Murdock NT, 1851, Bible Translation and Date from e-Sword 7.9.8.
7. Titus 2.1, Young’s Literal Translation, 1862, 1898, Bible Translation and Date from e-Sword 7.9.8.
8. Titus 2.1, J.B. Phillips NT, 1958, Bible Translation from e-Sword 7.9.8, Date from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phillips_New_Testament_in_Modern_English. August 19, 2009.
9. Titus 2.1, Complete Jewish Bible, 2002, Bible Translation and Date from e-Sword 7.9.8.
10. Titus 2.1, The Message, 2002, Bible Translation and Date from e-Sword 7.9.8.
11. “Unruly and vain talkers and deceivers.” Titus 1.10, KJV.
12. “Unsound teachers to be rebuked.” Titus 1.13, cf. 1.10, KJV.
13. “Infiltrated the minds of the disciples.” Titus 1.11, cf. 1.10, KJV.
14. “Teaching things ought not to teach, and profiteering.” Titus 1.11, cf. 1.10, KJV.
15. “Make good teachings and actions be rejected and esteemed as worthless.” Titus 1.16, cf. 1.10, KJV.
16. Gorman, Michael J., Elements of Biblical Exegesis: A Basic Guide for Students and Ministers, page 66.
17. “Encourage one another to love and good works.” Hebrews 10.24, KJV.