There are also many rebellious people, idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision; they must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for sordid gain what it is not right to teach. It was one of them, their very own prophet, who said, ‘Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons.’ That testimony is true. For this reason rebuke them sharply, so that they may become sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths or to commandments of those who reject the truth. To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure. Their very minds and consciences are corrupted. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their actions. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.
I find it reassuring that the majority of Biblical scholars attribute Titus to the second generation of Epistles. In other words they believe it was not written by Paul but by one of his followers or a sympathetic commentator on his heritage, several years after the apostle’s death. The careful diplomatic work which Titus carried out on Paul’s behalf with the church in Corinth described so tactfully by him elsewhere (Galatians 7.5-16 and 8.16-24) is completely contradicted in this passage – unless we have here the equivalent of an internal, personal communication from Paul to Titus that was never intended to be made public.
As the Church struggles to establish some order and stability in a society where all sorts of beliefs get mixed together, the letter to Titus lays down the line and creates an all-purpose attack on any false teaching which may come along. It is polemical, generalised and, frankly, quite nasty, drawing on the Cretan philosopher Epimenides’ views from 600 BCE. Christians today would never write such things in letters, e-mails or on social media, would we?
It is understandable that the leader of a community would seek to bolster stability and continuity at a time of flux and insecurity. This fledgling religious movement was vulnerable to different interpretations of its core beliefs, and it was vital to establish some clear irrefutable doctrines. Unfortunately in the process the emphasis tended to be on maintaining the institution through proper behaviour rather than encouraging people to explore the meaning for themselves of the truth of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Christians today would never fall into that pit, would we?
God of grace and truth, when we perceive threats to our beliefs bless us with stillness, and the ability to pause. Give us patience and fortitude to choose words and actions that are powerful and persuasive so that people will turn to the Way because it offers life. Amen
The Rev’d Fiona Thomas, Secretary for Education & Learning and member of Christ Church, Bellingham