We approach the following verses from Titus carefully. There are a number of warning passages in the epistles concerning false teaches and the like. Here, in Titus 1, we have our Apostle, Paul, addressing the current dispensational age. One the grave concerns we should have for this age are those who handle the Word of God deceitfully, but we also must have concern for those who handle it carelessly. Many a Bible student has fallen into error merely because he becomes puffed up because of his supposed knowledge.
We try to assess as best we can and make the distinction noted above (understanding our own frailty and with the hope of rescuing those who have fallen under the voice of a false teacher) . Some are out for self-aggrandizement or to make merchandise of the saints, while others are woefully unenlightened and unlearned (in regard to the trusts of right division despite perhaps holding advanced degrees) and seek to put believers in bondage to their "system" (especially those who mishandle God's Law).
I was on my way to Macedonia, in order that you might command some not to teach extraneous doctrines, 4 nor to heed fables or interminable genealogies, which give rise to disputes rather than a dispensation of God in faith. 5 And the goal of the commandment is love from a pure heart and a clear conscience and unfeigned faith, 6 from which things some have deviated and have turned away to idle talk, 7 wanting to be teachers of the law, but understanding neither what they say nor things pertaining to what they assert. 8 And we know that the law is good, if a person uses it legitimately, 9 knowing this, that the law has not been instituted for a righteous person, but for the lawless and unruly, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the irreverent and profane, for those who commit parricide and matricide, for murderers, 10 for fornicators, homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and anything else there might be contrary to sound doctrine, 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.
-1 Timothy 1:3-11 (Far Above All)
Note how our apostle frames his warning concerning the teaching of "extraneous doctrines" [Gk: heterodidaskaléō, deviating from the truth] on the one hand and turning away to "idle talk" [Gk: mataiología, vain or empty] on the other. These are believers. These are those who call themselves teachers. Some deviate from the faith of Paul. They don't necessarily deviate from the truth of life through grace alone, but more likely, they deviate from Paul's gospel of the fullness of grace in the current age. They fail to recognize the Head and fail to recognize the current calling and hope.
We can say this with some confidence as these teachers in our passage are within Timothy's influence. Timothy and Paul would not bother commanding outside teachers or warning of outside teachers. These teachers "give rise to disputes" among believers. The truths of the Ephesian and Colossian epistles are comparatively simple to understand once tradition is discarded and context understood (most simply refuse to see the context). Yet many teachers bring complexity to scripture because they simply fail to "compare the things that differ" (Phil 1:10).
This is why Paul instructs us to do exactly that, "compare the things that differ," in Philippians 1. When we allow scripture to rightly divide itself, to interpret itself, we are safe from manmade traditions and confused contexts. When we read the address on the envelope, we won't get caught up in the complex practice of trying to piece together seemingly contradictory commands which do not even belong to us.
In our passage in 1 Timothy, Paul has a very harsh assessment concerning those who abuse (misuse) the Law in this current age ("understanding neither what they say nor things pertaining to what they assert."). He accuses them of ignorance of basic theology. Could Paul be more clear that, in this age, the Law is for the lawless? For those outside of Christ? Paul cares not if one holds a ThD or a D.Div if he fails to rightly divide. The Holy Spirit's verdict is "you don't understand what you're saying."
Note Paul's context for his assessment:
knowing this, that the law has not been instituted for a righteous person, but for the lawless and unruly, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the irreverent and profane, for those who commit parricide and matricide, for murderers, for fornicators, homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and anything else there might be contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.
Even in the age of the Law in Israel, it could not be obeyed in perfection (hence the sacrificial system). Peter tells us it was a harsh yoke for Israel. The obedient life, walking in the Tree of Life, and fulfilling the Law through love of God and love of others was never destructive. Trying to please God through an obedience (through a "knowledge of good and evil") which was according to the letter and not to the spirit, according to the flesh and not to the new nature, was too harsh for any honest person. I deluded man might believe he is faithful to all the Law, but he only proves his ignorance of the Law. The deluded have always believed they could fulfill the Law, but those with a heart towards God see how the Law can only condemn in the end.
In the current age, the Law takes its place in this Gentile dispensation. The Law is for our learning, but it is not a guide for the new nature. Gentiles never had the Law. Even in the age of the Law and the parallel Acts age, gentiles living among Israel were only required to obey the "necessary things" of Leviticus (cp. Acts 15, Acts 21). Today, even these are put aside as their is no Israel in the current age (even though she will soon rise again).
In this age, the Law is seen through "the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which [PAUL has] been instructed." That is the revelation given to Paul alone (Eph 3) and revealed Post-Acts in the Book of Ephesians. We've looked at that truth many times. This truth frames the books of this age while Paul was "in these chains FOR YOU GENTILES" (Post Acts) as opposed to being "in bondage for the HOPE OF ISRAEL" (Acts Age).
When we see Paul's calling and his message for Gentiles in this age, it is easy to see how the application of the Law to believers and other deviations to Paul's message have led to strife among believers. It is not hard to see why Paul is so harsh in his assessment in his instructions to Timothy regarding these teachers.
This is also the context for Paul's warnings and instructions to Titus.
Titus 1:10 For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision:
This would be Jewish believers. In the Acts age some ("certain of the Pharisees") tried to impose the Law upon Gentile believers. It was wrong even in that age, how much more is it to be considered anathema in the current age? These teachers are deceivers. We can understand that doctrine to be deceptive by design or merely by result. Many are deceived themselves. And the biggest deception is the denial of Paul's unique ministry.
Titus 1:11 Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake.
Such powerful words from the Apostle of Love. These teachers MUST (deî, need to be) be STOPPED (epistomízō, bridled, reduced to silence). The Far Above All translation reads, "who need to be silenced." Paul does not mince words. No mollycoddling here. Tolerance has a place among believers in many ways (we again look to Paul's Love chapter, 1 Cor 13), but it has no place when addressing false teaching.
Titus 1:12 One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.
A.T Robertson says of the Cretans, "The Cretans had a bad reputation on this line, partly due to their claim to having the tomb of Zeus." Titus 1:5 reveals that Paul had purposefully left Titus in Crete ("The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished..."). Is it cruel of Paul to then to refer to a general summation of Cretan culture? In our modern world we actively shun what we would call a "stereotype," but we cannot deny cultural influences and societal norms. Believers are subjected to cultural influences daily. We should note the possible cultural norms that have infiltrated our thinking and habits.
These cultural and societal distinctions are very well understood by men. We have been conditioned to reject our own common sense and recognizable truths in the modern age.
Some distinctions are simple: we would not walk down the streets of certain parts of New York City the same way we'd walk down the streets of Tokyo. In our verse, Paul is referencing what is common in the culture has reflected itself in the false teachers Titus would encounter. We must "walk circumspectly" in the culture in which we find ourselves.
Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
Many in Crete loved Paul and Titus. Paul loved them so much, the thought of them being led astray into bondage angered him. His statement is not a statement on the inherent evil in simply being a Cretan, but the inherent evils in Cretan culture. In my time in the Southern USA, I have, on occasion, put some on edge because of my ethnicity and accent. I am OK with this as long as I am given the chance to show I am not what they think. Paul asks the same of those in Crete.
Titus 1:13 This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith;
Paul is not calling for all Cretans to be rebuked, but rather those who have not come out from the influence of the prevailing culture; those who, perhaps unwittingly, reflect pagan Cretan culture in their faith lives. He especially refers to rebuking those who have brought in with their deceit false teachings and a denial of the gospel entrusted to Paul for this age.
More evidence that this passage refers to believers, only believers can be "sound in the faith."
Titus 1:14 Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.
The frame here has Judaizers on one side and those who have rejected Paul's gospel on the other. The RSV translates the verse, "instead of giving heed to Jewish myths or to commands of men who reject the truth." The word "myths" gives us the sense of some kind of derived truth that the teachers had taken from elsewhere. In this case, the adjective "Jewish" points us back to the dishonest and deceived teachers of the Law. A core myth about the Law is that it concerns all men of all ages and is somehow required on one's hope of resurrection life.
We recall that the Law has been misused in this age (then as now). It has been wantonly misapplied to Gentiles and to those who have a calling "in the far above the heavens" [Ephesians]. The Law is earthly. Its purpose today is to reveal to men the insanity of trying to reach perfection "in the far above the heavens" by that which is earthly and that which only condemns them.
The Law is earthly. The Law is holy and good, yet is can only condemn men in the flesh. And, as noted, it pertains to an earthly kingdom promised to a specific people for a specific purpose ("Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites").
Titus 1:15 Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.
Let's look at the anchor word, "unbelieving." This is the Greek word, ápistos. It carries the idea of being "unfaithful" or "incredulous." In context, these are teachers who are unfaithful to Paul's gospel (the gospel entrusted to him). Their teaching is "defiled" (miaínō, stained, impure, mixed with error). A teacher may teach that life is a free gift by grace through Christ and mix that truth with all sorts of laws, commands, and complications. In this context, they may teach the way to life by faith while they also deny the hope of this age (heavenly, not earthly). They defile the truth of a hope of being where Christ sits in the far above the heavens by imposing the laws of the earthly Kingdom on that hope, etc.
Those who understand Paul's gospel of this age can detect that which will defile it. Those who reject Paul's calling (Paul writes later that all in Asia had abandoned him) and Paul's gospel of the dispensation (economy) of the Mystery are in danger of piling on error upon error. Slavery to that which is earthly will not appear as slavery, but as religious pride. It can be a very dark and depressing road and has led to the ruin of the faith of many. Some even abandon the foundation of the finished work of the Savior through the confusion caused by fables and defilement of the message of the age.
A true servant puts his efforts towards the work assigned to him by his Master. Doing any other work, no matter how well done, no matter the volume of work, is of little interest to the Master.
Titus 1:16 They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.
Titus 1:16 They profess to know God, but by their works they deny it, being abominable and disobedient, and unqualified for any good work. (Far Above All)
Remember, the context includes teachers who teach the Law. The "works" which "deny him" includes works of another age. Even in the Acts Age epistle of Hebrews (written to that people), Paul is clear that the blood sacrifice is complete in Christ. There remained no longer a need to picture the truth that has been fulfilled. Animal sacrifices were in the Law, yet that obedience became disobedience to even the Hebrew believer. A biblical command became a wicked, Christ-denying heresy.
In the Acts Age, Paul also addressed Gentiles who sought to "obey" the Law.
Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised [in the Law for Israelites, to whom pertain the covenants, Romans 9] that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You [Gentiles] who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
How much worse is it in this age of Paul's gospel revealed in Ephesians for those who seek to put believers into bondage to the Law? The strong language in 1 Timothy and Titus reflect the seriousness of the errors of such teachers. As Paul's anger is kindled towards the teachers, his heart is pricked for those subject to their errors.
I added the Far Above All translation (faraboveall.com) for v.16 because it nicely sums up Paul's thoughts in the words, "and unqualified for any good work." These are unprofitable servants of God. Teachers who, despite any degrees or accolades or experience, are "unqualified" simply by rejecting Paul's revelation for this age. To be more precise, failing to see Paul's revelation for this age.
A teacher may accurately teach the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. He may rightly offer reconciliation to God based on that finished work and God's free offer of life by grace alone through faith alone (and we praise God for such preaching). But that same teacher may also guide his listeners into error concerning their calling, resulting in both teacher and listener losing reward and missing out on unfathomable riches/blessings in the age to come.
I conclude with a warning from Paul's final epistle, 2 Timothy. Remember, the context is a contrast among believers:
But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
These will be "castaways," those who are "unqualified." We might recoil at these words for believers, but Paul warms himself in 1 Corinthians.
"But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified [a castaway].
These are unprofitable servants. These are rebellious sons and daughters. Note that they "creep into households" to spread their corruption. We get the idea of teachers again. It is much easier for a false teacher with a title and a degree to get into the homes of believers than some seller of a false god.
Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles [rightly divides], the word of truth. -2 Tim 3:15
This is a command to the individual to do the work of Bible Study. God will honor the honest seeker. Truths may come slowly as we are but men, but the Lord will bless the journey. Along the way, we must avoid those who come in the name of the Lord who fail to make distinctions where God makes distinctions. we must "test the things that differ." We may fellowship with those who are His, but we must be careful to check their words against the calling of the current age.Remember, Paul's warning in Philippians 3 concerning "the enemies of the cross of Christ." These are believers. They are not "enemies of Christ," but of doctrines that will lead to separation and suffering ("the cross of Christ"). Paul weeps for these believers who have their mind on earthly things. Philippians is a book concerning rewards and loss for believers.
Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction [Gk: apṓleia, Strong's: ruin or loss], whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things.
There is a study in there on its own, but suffice to note: Paul wouldn't have need for believers to point out the ways of unbelievers. Paul wouldn't weep over their errors. Some believers will suffer loss. They seek an earthly kingdom and practice its dictates and ordinances, so they will lose out on unsearchable riches above. They "mind earthly things."
We close with this from Colossians 2:
So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival [feats days] or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God. Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.
What may seem like a doctrine of God because it is found in scripture may become a doctrine of men once it is ripped from its context and yoked upon those to whom it was never given.