Bible Commentaries
Titus 1

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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Verse 1

(1) Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ.—The titles here assumed by St. Paul in his introductory greeting are in some respects slightly different to any of his usual designations. In the other two so-called Pastoral Epistles addressed to Timothy, St. Paul simply styles himself “an Apostle of Jesus Christ.” Possibly, the longer and more formal title is here adopted because his relations were hardly ever of so intimate a character with Titus as with Timothy; the latter would seem to have held the position of St. Paul’s adopted son. (See Note below on Titus 1:4, “To Titus.”)

According to the faith of God’s elect.—The English version here entirely fails to give the meaning of the Greek preposition. The rendering should be, “for (the furtherance of) the faith,” or, in other words, “the object of my (Paul’s) apostleship was, that through my instrumentality the chosen of God should believe.” The whole question respecting these “elect,” or “chosen of God,” is surrounded with deep mystery; three or four guiding thoughts may, however, be safely laid down. (1) In the visible world such an apparently arbitrary election to special privileges, fortune, happiness. utterly irrespective, in the first instance, of individual merit, does exist. This is clear to all of us. (2) In grace we are distinctly told repeatedly that a similar election exists, and our own observation certainly coincides here with revelation. (3) Such election in no case seemingly affects our position here as free agents; surrounded with the most precious privileges, gifted with much knowledge, it is possible, as we, alas, too often see, deliberately to refuse the good and to choose the evil. (4) All such allusions to the “elect” as, for instance, the one here before us, are intended, not as a stumbling-block for the believer, but as a comfort for the faithful, struggling man of God, for it tells him how the Eternal “before the ages” had chosen him to be His servant.

And the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness.—More accurately rendered, and the full knowledge of the truth which is designed for godliness, or, which leadeth to godliness. Here the further purpose of St. Paul’s apostleship is specified. St. Paul was appointed an Apostle that through him the elect of God might believe and heed “the truth”—that truth, the knowledge of which produces as its fruit in the individual a holy, useful life.

Verse 2

(2) In hope of eternal life.—Better translated, resting on the hope of eternal life. The connection of the preceding clauses with these words has been well summed up: “The Apostle’s calling had for its object the faith of the elect and the knowledge of the truth; and the basis on which all this rested was the hope of eternal life.”

Which God, that cannot lie.—Possibly, this singular and strong expression was chosen with reference to the peculiar vice of the Cretans, over whose Church Titus was then presiding. (See Titus 1:12 : “One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars.”)

Promised before the world began.—More accurately rendered, from eternal ages. (See 2 Timothy 1:9.) The promise of eternal life was the result of a divine purpose fixed from eternity.

Verse 3

(3) But hath in due times.—Or better, but hath in his own seasons—that is, in the fitting seasons, those fixed by Him for the manifestation.

Manifested his word.—That is, His gospel. (See Romans 16:25.)

Through preaching.—Or, in the preaching. Paul does not shrink from calling his preaching the vehicle in which the Word or the gospel of God was to be publicly manifested, because he was conscious that he was divinely instructed in the secrets of the eternal counsels.

Which is committed unto me.—Literally, with which I was entrusted.

According to the commandment of God our Saviour.—The commandment came to St. Paul direct from God; we have several intimations of this. Amongst others, on the Damascus road, when the Lord appeared to him; in the Temple at Jerusalem; in the ship, during the memorable voyage which ended with shipwreck; in the visions mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:1-9. St. Paul dwells with emphasis on the thought that he was entrusted with the preaching of the gospel according to the commandment of God. The work was not undertaken by him, from any will or wish of his own. “God our Saviour” in this place, as in 1 Timothy 1:1, must be understood as “God the Father.” The First Person of the blessed Trinity fitly possesses the title of “our Saviour,” because through the death of His dear Son He redeemed us from death and made us heirs of eternal life. The Second Person of the Trinity is likewise a possessor of the title, because He shed His blood as the price of our redemption. The epithet of “Saviour”—the title just given to the Father, in the very next verse ascribed to the “Son”—is one of the many indications we possess of St. Paul’s belief that the Son was equal to the Father as touching His Godhead.

Verse 4

(4) To Titus.—We know comparatively little of Titus’ earlier career. In the Acts he, singularly enough, is never mentioned; for what knowledge of him we possess we are entirely dependent upon a few casual allusions to him in the Epistles. This presbyter, in charge of the Cretan Church, was a Greek, the son of Gentile parents, and uncircumcised. It has been suggested, but upon very slight grounds, that his family was resident at Antioch in Syria. He owed his conversion to Christianity to St. Paul, with whom ever after he seems to have been connected by ties of intimate friendship, though he was by no means the Apostle’s constant companion, as was Timothy, or Silas, or Luke. He was with St. Paul and Barnabas when they went up together to Jerusalem to plead for Gentile liberty but in no other of the journeys of St. Paul is he directly mentioned as one of the companions of the Apostle. Only during the Apostle’s long residence at Ephesus (nearly three years) Titus appears to have been, for at least part of the time, closely associated with St. Paul, and his confidant in his complicated relations with foreign churches. It is clear that during this long Ephesian residence he was drawn into close and intimate friendship with St. Paul, who then had opportunity of becoming acquainted with Titus’ varied powers and evident skill in administration and in dealing with men and women.

From the several casual notices in the Second Corinthian Epistle, we gather considerable insight into the character and powers of the Gentile convert. The Church of Corinth was perhaps the largest and most wealthy of all the churches founded by St. Paul. It was soon, however, rent asunder by party divisions, and was ever distracted and disturbed by moral disorders among its members. Yet, in spite of this, the great Greek congregation of believers was full of life and zeal and earnestness, ready evidently to make the greatest sacrifices for its Master’s cause. Delegated apparently by St. Paul to restore order and to introduce a severer discipline in this great and turbulent Christian centre—the example for good or for evil to so many smaller and less important churches—Titus seems to have fulfilled with rare tact, and with admirable prudence and wisdom, his difficult mission. Amongst other works, he apparently completed the collection St. Paul had set on foot in the various Gentile churches for the poor Jewish Christians at Jerusalem. His services, assisting materially to bring this famous work of charity to a successful issue, seem not to have been the least among his titles to St. Paul’s friendship and high esteem. The great importance and difficult nature of this collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem are little understood or thought of now. Three weighty points connected with it deserve mention, as Titus’ special task it probably was to complete and bring it to a successful issue. (1) It seems to have been the first public relief fund ever collected to help a foreign and a strange race—the first of a long line of gallant acts of self-sacrifice men have made for men for Christ’s sake; but when Titus, at St. Paul’s bidding, took charge of it, it was a thing unheard of in the Pagan world. Hence the many obstacles which appear to have cropped up so perpetually during the collection. (2) It was the right hand of fellowship offered by Gentile to Jew. It was the welding together, by an unprecedented act of kindness, of the two opposing and hostile elements of Christendom into one Church. (3) It was the silent yet eloquent protest of St. Paul and his school against the attempted communism of the Church of the very first days—that fatal misunderstanding of some of the Master’s words which had brought ruin and poverty on the Jerusalem Christians. Titus acted as St. Paul’s commissioner in the matter—which he evidently successfully completed. We know nothing of his work and employment from this period, A.D. 57, until the date of this Epistle, A.D. 65-66, early Christian history being silent respecting him. In these nine years of restless activity and burning zeal on the part of the Christian leaders, Titus, no doubt, did his part without falling short of his early promise; as we find him again, in the last years of his old master, occupying in the Christian community a post so high and responsible as that of chief presbyter of the churches of the wealthy and populous island of Crete.

Mine own son.—Alluding, no doubt, to the relation between them in religion. St. Paul converted Titus to the faith, and ever after Titus stood to St. Paul in the position of a son in the faith, without being to him what Timothy was for so long a time—his constant companion. Titus still evidently (see preceding Note) filled with St. Paul the position of one of his most trusty disciples, of one who knew the inmost thoughts of his master. The tone of the Epistle to Titus is somewhat different from St. Paul’s Letter to Timothy. There was evidently a greater intimacy between St. Paul and Timothy than between the Apostle and Titus.

Grace, mercy, and peace . . .—Many of the older authorities omit “mercy.” (See Notes on 1 Timothy 1:2.)

Our Saviour.—This expression is a rare one. We find it only in these Pastoral Letters. (See Note above on St. Paul’s using it also of the “Father.”)

Verse 5

(5) For this cause left I thee in Crete.—The “cause” is discussed below. Crete—over whose Christian population Titus had been placed by St. Paul—was a well-known large and populous island in the Mediterranean. It lies geographically further south than any of the European islands, and, roughly speaking, almost at an equal distance from each of the three Old World continents—Europe, Asia, Africa. We identify it with the Caphtor of the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 2:23; Jeremiah 47:4; Amos 9:7). In modern times it is known by us as Candia. Very early it was the scene of an advanced civilisation. In the Odyssey it is mentioned as possessing ninety cities; in the Iliad as many as one hundred. Metellus added it, B.C. 69, to the Roman dominion. In the days of Augustus it was united into one province with Cyrene. It abounded with Jews of wealth and influence; this we learn from the testimony of Philo and of Josephus. It probably received the gospel from some of those of “Crete” who we are expressly told were present when the Spirit was poured on the Apostles on the first Pentecost after the Resurrection (Acts 2:11). The apparently flourishing state of Christianity on the island at this time was in great measure, no doubt, owing to the residence and labours among them of the Apostle St. Paul, whose work appears to have been mainly directed to preaching the gospel and to increasing the number of the converts, which, from the wording of Titus 1:5, was evidently very great, elders (presbyters) being required in every city.

The task of organising the Church had been left for a season. We are ignorant of the circumstance which summoned the old Apostle from the scene of what seems to have been most successful labours. He left behind him one of the ablest of his disciples, Titus—a tried and well-known Christian leader of the second half of the first century—to organise the church life and to regulate the teaching of the powerful and numerous Christian community of Crete.
The Epistle addressed to Titus contains the formal credentials of his high office, stamping all his acts with the great name and authority of St. Paul; hence the careful and elaborate phraseology of the first four verses. Though addressed to one, they would have to be referred to and read often among the elders (presbyters) and deacons in the various churches. St. Paul wrote the Letter, we are told, when on his way to Nicopolis to winter; we believe, soon after his arrival there he was arrested and sent to Rome to die. The date of this Letter, then, would be A.D. 65 or 66, and was probably written from some place in Asia Minor—perhaps Ephesus.

That thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting.—These words explain the “cause” of Titus’ appointment in Crete. The “things that are wanting” were what St. Paul meant, no doubt, to have done himself, but was prevented by being hurried away—for him the end was nigh at hand. These “things” were want of church officials, lack of church government, want of cohesion between the churches of the island—in a word, there was plenty of Christian life, but no Christian organisation as yet in Crete. It was rather a number of Christian brotherhoods than one.

And ordain elders in every city.—The number of presbyters in each town or city is not specified, but is left to Titus’ judgment. We know that in some churches there were certainly several of these presbyters (see Acts 14:23; Acts 15:22). The words “in every city” point to the wide extension of Christianity at that early period in Crete.

As I had appointed thee.—Or better, as I gave thee directions. These presbyters were to be most carefully selected, according to the special instructions Titus must remember St. Paul giving him in this important matter on some previous occasion. The more urgent of these qualifications for the presbyteral rank the Apostle now repeats for Titus’ guidance.

Verse 6

(6) If any be blameless.—The candidate for the holy office must have naught laid to his charge; he must be of such a character that no one could bring a reasonable accusation against him. Blameless must be his life, spotless his name. As it has been well said, “the office of presbyter must never be allowed to cover or condone damaged reputations.”

The husband of one wife.—See Notes on 1 Timothy 3:2.

Having faithful children.—Better, believing children. In searching out these presbyters, whose charge would involve so many and such responsible duties, Titus must look for men of ripe age. There were even grave objections to the appointment of the comparatively young to this office. We have seen how anxious St. Paul was for Timothy, his well-known and trusted friend, on account of his want of years. Timothy must have been at least approaching forty years of age when St. Paul warned him so earnestly of his behaviour and his life, “Let no man despise thy youth.” These presiding Cretan elders should be married men, with children already, so to speak, grown up.

These requirements evidently show that Christianity had been established in Crete for a very considerable period. We must remember some thirty-three years had passed since that memorable Pentecost feast of Jerusalem, when “Cretes” were among the hearers of those marvellous utterances of the Spirit. Besides the children of the candidates for the presbyter’s office being professing Christians, they must also be free from all suspicion of profligacy.

Not accused of riot.—More accurately rendered, dissoluteness. The Greek word here rendered “riot” implies a self-indulgent or even a reckless expenditure. Such careless selfishness well-nigh always ends in profligacy. In the case of men whose duties included the superintendence of the Church’s funds, it was imperatively necessary that their homes and families should be free from all suspicion of anything like that reckless waste or extravagance which in so many cases imperceptibly passes into dissoluteness and profligacy.

Or unruly.—That is, disobedient to their parents. If the presbyter was incapable of teaching his own children obedience and order, what hope was there that his influence would be of any value with his flock? All these early instructions to the master-builders whose task it was to lay the early storeys of the Christian Temple are very decisive as to the state of St. Paul’s mind; and we must not forget whence St. Paul directly drew his wisdom. The Apostles of the Lord never seem to have thought of the Christian priesthood of the future developing into a caste or order. Anything more diametrically opposed to the mediæval notion of church government than the Pastoral Epistles can hardly be imagined. The writer of the Epistles to Timothy and to Titus never dreamed of building up a priestly order with views, thoughts, hopes, and joys differing from those of the ordinary worker of the world. St. Paul’s presbyters were to be chosen, among other qualities, for the white and blameless lives of their families. The presbyter’s home in Crete and Ephesus must supply a fair pattern for the many other Christian homes in that luxurious, dissolute age in which Titus lived.

Verse 7

(7) For a bishop must be blameless.—There is no doubt that the “bishop” here must be identified with the presbyter of Titus 1:6. In the Pastoral Epistles written between A.D. 63-67 these terms are clearly applied indifferently to the same person. The title presbyter refers to the gravity and dignity of the office; the title bishop suggests rather the duties which belong to an elder of the church. On the question of bishops, and their position in the early Church, see Note on 1 Timothy 3:1, where the grounds for assuming that the episcopal order was formally introduced into church government before the end of this century, and during the lifetime of St. John, are discussed. The Christian bishop, within a quarter of a century after the death of St. Paul, assumed many of the functions and generally discharged the duties of government which were exercised by the Apostles during their lifetime. The presbyter—then writes St. Paul—seeing he is appointed an overseer or bishop (the use of the latter term bishop in the ecclesiastical sense is, however, premature), as God’s steward, as a responsible administrator of the House, that is, of the Church of the Living God, ought indeed be blameless.

Not selfwilled.—He should not be one of those self-loving men who seeks to gratify his own personal ends in the first place, and in consequence is usually regardless of others.

Not soon angry.—Not soon provoked, or not irascible. He should not be one ever ready with an angry, hasty word, remembering always his Master, “who when He was reviled, reviled not again.”

Not given to wine.—While the presbyter is not to be chosen on account of any stern austerities or rigid asceticism he may have practised, he must be known as one “temperate,” moderate, self-denying.

No striker.—Not a brawler. No man of God—above all things, no one holding office in the church—should ever, even under sore provocation, so far forget himself as to raise his hand against his fellow.

Not given to filthy lucre.—The presbyter of the House of God must be above all dreaming of mean and paltry gains. He who is to administer the alms devoted to God must surely do it with clean hands. There is, too, another and a deeper meaning in the words. The presbyter whose mind is at all devoted to the amassing of gold is too preoccupied to be able to fix his thoughts upon those high things of God committed to his charge, among which one of his most important duties is to instruct the flock.

Verse 8

(8) But a lover of hospitality.—It has been suggested that this hospitality would be especially shown in the early centuries of Christianity, when Christians travelling from one place to another were received kindly and forwarded on their journey by their brethren; but the direction of St. Paul has that broader signification, so beautifully worded in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where we are told not to be forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares (Hebrews 13:2).

A lover of good men.—Although this rendering is possible, still it is better to understand the Greek word here as alluding to a virtue differing from the “hospitality” just mentioned. “A lover of good” or benevolence generally; the appellation points here to that large heart which finds room for sympathy with all that is good and noble and generous.

Sober.—Better rendered, self-restrained. In this expressive word (sophrona) mastery of self is especially implied—that self-command which wisely regulates pleasures and passions.

Just.—Or, righteous. The man who is just (dikaios) is one who tries strictly to perform his duties towards men—the duties which integrity and justice seem imperatively to ask from him in his relations with his neighbour.

Holy.—The man who is holy studies to be true and faithful in his relations to God, which duties with us largely consist in keeping pure our bodies, the temple of the Holy Spirit. While the “just” man struggles after uprightness before men, the “holy” man aims at a holy purity before God.

Temperate.—This virtue is not to be understood in the usual and more limited sense which has been already specified in “not given to wine” of the preceding verse, but signifies the being temperate—moderate in all things. The model presbyter, the ruler of a congregation of Christians, not only must be able to control his tongue, his eyes, his hands, but must show a just and wise moderation even in pressing things which of themselves are excellent. To do his Master’s work efficiently, he must be able at all times to command himself—to perform that most difficult of all tasks, the tempering zeal with discretion.

Verse 9

(9) Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught.—More literally, according to the teaching; but the English version gives the sense clearly and exactly. The elder must, St. Paul says, hold fast the faithful word or saying; or, in other words, must steadily adhere to that Christian doctrine taught by St. Paul and his brother Apostles. So St. Paul pressed on Timothy, the chief presbyter of Ephesus, “to hold the pattern of sound words which thou heardest from me” (2 Timothy 1:13); and again, “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned, and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them” (2 Timothy 3:14). Here “the faithful saying,” that formulary so common in the Epistles to Timothy and to Titus, and which we have generally explained as including the great Christian watchwords of the faith, echoes probably of sayings of Christ, taken up and expanded by His chosen servants, and then adopted in the various churches and woven into the tapestry of the earliest liturgies—now, possibly, after a form like the “comfortable words” of our Communion Service, now into a creed, now into a hymn, but in one shape or other thoroughly well known and loved in the different congregations—here the faithful word or saying seems to include all the faithful sayings, and denotes generally the teaching of St. Paul and the Apostles.

To exhort and to convince the gainsayers.—Two special purposes are specified for which the “sound doctrine” which the elder will acquire by steadfast application may be used. The first, with the sound, healthy teaching—sound, healthy, practical, compared with that sickly, morbid, and unpractical teaching of those gainsayers of whom he is going to speak—he is to exhort the adversaries; secondly, with the same true words he is to confute their arguments. Chrysostom well remarks “that he who knows not how to contend with adversaries, and is not able to demolish their arguments, is far from the teacher’s chair.”

Verse 10

(10) For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers.—Nominally in the congregations of Christians, but in reality refusing all obedience, acting for themselves, factious, insubordinate. Titus would, alas, discover many such; these often would be found to be possessed of the gift of fluent and deceptive speech, and would deceive many. Professor Reynolds characterises such restless, uneasy spirits as loquacious, restless talkers, “who must say something, and who have broken the peace of many a home and shattered the prosperity of many a church; the multitude of teachers who have nothing true to say is the curse of the kingdom of God.”

Specially they of the circumcision.—Here St. Paul points out to Titus where he must look for the origin of this hostility. These unhappy men evidently did not belong to the stern and rigid Jewish party who hated with a bitter hate all the followers of the Nazarene, but were of the number of those sleepless opponents of St. Paul and his school—the Judaising Christians.

Verse 11

(11)Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses.—The translation should run here, seeing they subvert, &c. There was, indeed, grave cause why these men should be put to silence; the mischief they were doing in Crete to the Christian cause was incalculable. It was no longer individuals that their poisonous teaching affected, but they were undermining the faith of whole families. For an example how Titus and his presbyters were to stop the mouths of these teachers of what was false, compare Matthew 22:34-46, where the Lord, by His wise, powerful, yet gentle words, first put the Sadducees to silence, and then so answered the Pharisees that “neither durst any man from that day forth ask Him any more questions.”

Teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.—Here St. Paul goes to the root of the evil, when he shows what was the end and aim of these “teachers” life. It was a mean and sordid ambition, after all—merely base gain. When this is the main object of a religious teacher’s life, his teaching naturally accommodates itself to men’s tastes. He forgets the Divine Giver of his commission, and in his thirst for the popularity which brings with it gold, his true work, as the faithful watchman of the house of Israel, is forgotten and ignored.

Verse 12

(12) One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said.—St. Paul had spoken (Titus 1:10-11) in the severest terms of certain influential members of the Cretan Church; he had even alluded to their disastrous teaching ruining whole families, evidently implying that he had perceived among the Cretans a readiness to welcome a teaching which countenanced a laxer moral tone, the invariable result of perverted doctrine; and now he supports his own condemning words by a reference to a well-known Cretan poet—to one who, according to tradition, was even honoured by them as a god. The verse quoted is an hexameter, written by the famous Epimenides, of Gnossus, in Crete. He flourished some 600 years B.C., and is said to have lived to the strange age of 150 years or more. He appears to have deserved the title of prophet in its fullest sense—Plato speaking of him as a “divine man,” and Cicero coupling him with the Erythæan Sibyl. The first three words were well known, and even used by Callimachus in his hymn to Zeus, “Cretans always liars.” St. Paul’s knowledge of the poem where the verse occurs is one of the several instances which we meet with in his writings indicating his familiarity with profane literature. The quotation, occurring as it does in the midst of an inspired writing, was the occasion of Calvin’s wise, brave words, which style those who decline to avail themselves of the learning and research of profane writers as superstitious. Nothing wise and learned, he says, should be rejected, even though it proceed “ab impiis.”

The Cretians are alway liars.—This terrible estimate of the national Cretan character is amply borne out by the testimony of many profane writers, such as Callimachus, Plato, Polybius, Ovid, &c. The very word “to Cretize” (kretizein), or to play the part of a Cretan, was invented as a word synonymous with “to deceive,” “to utter a lie;” just as corinthiazein. “to play the part of a Corinthian,” signified to commit a still darker moral offence. Some writers suggest that this despicable vice of lying was received as a bequest from the early Phœnician colonists.

Evil beasts.—These words refer to their wild, fierce nature, their ferocity, their love of cruelty.

Slow bellies.—Rather, idle bellies. These terms paint with sharp accuracy another of the evil characteristics of the Cretan peoples—their dull gluttony, their slothful sensuality. The words are used especially of those who, by indulging their bodily appetites, become corpulent and indolent.

Verse 13

(13) This witness is true.—St. Paul emphatically here endorses the very severe judgment which their own great prophet-poet had written on the national Cretan character. He (St. Paul) had lived long enough in their midst to be able to bear his grave testimony to the truth of Epimenides’ words. He had witnessed the sad havoc in Christian life which their evil national propensities had caused.

Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.—Some render, wherefore confute, that is to say, set them right, sharply (apotomôs). The substantive apotomia, translated in the English version “severity,” is used in the passage about the “wild olive tree” (Romans 11:22). As a surgeon’s knife cuts away the diseased and mortifying flesh, so must the words and discipline of Titus, the Apostle’s representative in Crete, sharply rebuke, and, if need be, punish the sinning members of the congregation. Not merely the false teachers—the deceivers—are referred to here, but also the deceived, those whole households mentioned in Titus 1:11; and the object of this severity in words and acts was that the lapsed, the doctrinally and morally sick, among the Cretan Christians, should be restored to health again; and the sound state of faith and practice would, St. Paul proceeded to show, consist in “the rejection of Jewish fables and the commandments of these men.”

Verse 14

(14) Not giving heed to Jewish fables.—Such as we now find embodied in the Talmud. (See Note on 1 Timothy 1:4.) The oral law and traditional interpretations and glosses had, to a great measure, obscured the original simple text. The Israelite of the time of St. Paul, trained in the stricter Jewish schools, was taught that the way to win the approval of the Most High was through the observance of countless ceremonies and the practice of an elaborate ritual.

And commandments of men.—The nature of these commandments we gather from the words of the next (the 15th) verse. They seem to have been on the subject of abstinence from meats and from other things created by God for the use and enjoyment of man. The directions of St. Paul here are, in spirit, in exact accordance with the Lord’s teaching at Jerusalem, related in Matthew 15:1-9. St. Paul’s dread of this kind of asceticism and of the peculiar school of teaching, then so popular among the Jews, which enjoined an elaborate system of ritual and observance, which pronounced meritorious in the sight of the Eternal the practice of rites and ceremonies minute and trifling, was grounded upon a fear—too often, alas, verified—lest with the observance of the ritual, and the careful practice of the ceremonies and rites, the moral law should be lost sight of. With this school a holy life consisted rather in observing carefully a ritual, than in living justly, nobly, generously.

Verse 15

(15) Unto the pure all things are pure.—The spirit of this famous saying of St. Paul, occurring almost in the same language in the Roman Letter (Romans 14:20), was the groundwork of much of the Gentile Apostle’s teaching. The words of the Lord Jesus above referred to (Matthew 15:2; Matthew 15:11) contain the same grand truth. “All things” include much besides mere food—in a word, include all acts connected with every-day life which in themselves are neither right nor wrong, neither good nor evil, but which derive their colouring of good or evil solely from the doer of the act. Bengel well sums this up in his “omnia externa eis, qui intus sunt mundi, munda sunt.”

But unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure.—Here, as so often in these Pastoral Epistles, the last utterance, so to speak, of that grand life of St. Paul’s, purity and sound doctrine are inseparable. Here “the defiled,” “the polluted,” we are told, are the unbelieving; and to these, the Apostle says, nothing is pure. Yet there is nothing in God’s creation impure or evil—the evil and impurity are in the mind and heart of men; these may, and often do, defile and make impure the choicest gifts of God’s creation. One word is still left to be said on the teaching of this memorable verse. Who are the pure to whom all things are pure? Only those in this world who have sought cleansing by faith in the precious blood of Christ.

But even their mind and conscience is defiled.—Here St. Paul defines exactly the sphere over which the moral defilement of these hapless ones, who belong to the Christian company, alas, only in name, extends—the mind and conscience. The first of these—the mind—is the willing as well as the thinking part of man, as it has been well defined the human spirit (pneuma) in one of its aspects, not simply quatenus cogitat et intelligit, but also quatenus vult. Defilement of this mind (nous) means that the thoughts, wishes, purposes, activities, are all stained and debased. The second of these—the conscience (suneidçsis)—is the moral consciousness within, that which is ever bringing up the memory of the past, with its omissions and commissions, its errors, its cruel, heartless unkindness, its selfish disregard of others. When this is defiled, then this last safeguard of the soul is broken down. The man and woman of the defiled conscience is self-satisfied, hard, impenitent to the last.

Verse 16

(16) They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him.—These bitter foes to the truth, Titus must remember, will present themselves under the guise of friends. They will rank themselves in the Christian company openly, with their lips confessing God, but in their way of life, in their acts, practically denying the very things they were so careful to affirm with their lips; in other words, taking back, withdrawing, the solemn declaration of faith they had been making.

Being abominable.—This is the only place where this strong expression is used in the New Testament. It signifies that the life and actions of these men, who professed to be His servants, had made them hateful in the sight of God.

And disobedient.—Rebellious and opposed to all law and order would Titus find them.

And unto every good work reprobate.—As a consequence of their hypocritical, selfish, defiled life, these men, when any good and noble work had to be done, were simply useless, worthless; and to teachers of this kind were many of the Cretan believers content to go for instruction in Christian doctrine and practice.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Titus 1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.