Paul’s letters to Titus and Philemon

When and where written

By W. Bunting

It is a striking fact that Titus is not mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles as accompanying Paul on any of his journeys. We learn from Gal.2:3 that Titus was a Greek, and that he was with Paul and Barnabas when they visited Jerusalem, and laid before those of repute the gospel preached among the Gentiles. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul mentions Titus no less than nine times, and in one instance refers to him as my fellow-worker” (2 Cor.8:23).

It would seem that Paul had recently visited Crete and left Titus there with the charge that he should “set in order the things that were wanting, and appoint elders in every city” (Tit.1:5). To assist Titus, the qualifications of the elders or overseers are clearly set out.

It has been suggested that the letter was sent from Ephesus just before the apostle set out for Nicopolis, where he intended to winter, and Titus was asked to join him there (Tit.3:12).

When the apostle Paul completed the letter to the Colossians, and was about to send it by the hand of Tychicus, he wrote a remarkable letter to a wealthy citizen of Colossae, Philemon by name, about a runaway slave. How grateful we are that this personal letter has a place in the canon of Scripture. It reveals some aspects of the apostle’s character which may not have been apparent to us other­wise. It has been said that it is the letter of a Christian gentleman, kindly, courteous, tactful, not too proud to beg a favour, and yet maintaining the dignity of his position as an ambassador of Christ. The recipient could not resist its appeal.

We are not at present dealing with the subject matter of the letter, but considering when and where it was written. Epaphras, who was from Colossae, must have spent much time with the apostle in the prison-house discussing the well-being of the church in that city and the individual saints who comprised it. The names of Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus would often be mentioned, and then the remarkable case of Onesimus, who had probably robbed his master Philemon, and later found his way to Rome itself.

The letter to Philemon was the sequel. The apostle writes as “Paul the aged, and now a prisoner also of Christ Jesus”. The story of the runaway slave is told simply, and with telling effect. While Tychicus delivered the apostle’s letter to the elders at Colossae, Onesimus made his way over ground he knew so well to the home of his master Philemon, and handed over the letter addressed to him. As master and slave confronted one another, it must have been a touching scene, and we leave them, thankful on our part that the letter which brought them together again has an honoured place in the New Testament.


By John Miller

Paul writes of himself as a bondservant of Jesus Christ, in Rom.1:1, of himself and Timothy as bondservants of Christ Jesus in Phil.1:1, and here of himself as a bondservant of God. All angels, save those who are fallen, and all redeemed men, are bondservants of God (Rev.19:10). Paul was also an apostle (one who is sent) of Jesus Christ. He was an apostle “according to the faith of God’s elect.” Is this “faith” or “the Faith”? We think that it is the former. There is no definite article before “faith”. Even though persons are elect before the foundation of the world, they must exercise faith in the message that Paul was chosen to bring to them, for salvation is through faith. To this end Paul said that he endured all things for the elect’s sake, that they might obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory (2 Tim.2:10). Paul the herald of the divine message must reach the elect, some of whom were in prison and some free, for they must hear and believe the gospel in order to be saved. “Belief cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of (God or) Christ” (Rom.10:17). “And the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness:” Paul joins two things together here, faith and the knowledge of the truth. This he does again in 1 Tim.2:4, where he says that it is God’s will that “all men should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth.” These two statements cover the apostle’s work among men: (1) faith and salvation, (2) the knowledge of the truth. The truth known and acted upon by believers results in godliness of life. Paul, as we have seen, was an apostle according to (1) the faith of God’s elect, and (2) the knowledge of the truth. Then he says that it was “in hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised before times eternal.” “In” here is in the Greek epi – “upon”; of this one has said, “The condition under which the apostolic mission rests.” How useless would have been Paul’s apostleship, if it was not in the fulfilment of a promise of One who cannot lie, who promised eternal life to all believers before times eternal, namely, from eternity! Though the words “the hope of eternal life” in Tit.1:2 and Tit.3:7 are alike, yet the connexion in which they are found is different, and consequently their meaning is different. The promise of eternal life, which is the same as “His word,” was manifested in the message or proclamation with which Paul was intrusted. This message was to be manifested in His, or its, own seasons. All this was according to the commandment of God our Saviour. Here is stretched out before us the promise of eternal life before times eternal and the fulfilment of the promise in time in the message of the word of God which is received by faith on the part of God’s elect.

Paul calls Titus his true (genuine) child after a common faith; he described Timothy also as his true child in faith (1 Tim.1:2). “In faith” and “a common faith” mean the same kind of faith, not “the Faith.” It is faith common to all believers. Paul’s salutation is, grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour. God is our Saviour in verse 3.

Paul left Tim.in Ephesus, and Titus in Crete. Each was given his charge as to the need existing in the churches in those places. The work of Titus was to set in order things that were wanting, and the lack of recognised elders to care for and rule in the flock must have been outstanding amongst the things that were wanting in the churches in Crete. Some have postulated that, since we have today no apostles to appoint elders, as in Acts 14:21-23, and no apostles’ delegates, as Timothy and Titus, we can have no men recognised as elders now. Surely the work of feeding and shepherding the flock of God still exists, as in the time of the apostles, and there is the need for men being recognised who are fitted to do this. Also, what use would there be today for such portions of the word of God as 1 Tim.3:1-7 and Tit.1:6-9? None at all! There is no hidden satanic poison in the words “elder” and “overseer” that we should need to avoid their use, and substitute some other word coined by men in modern times to describe elders and overseers, the shepherds of the flock. We definitely believe that the Scriptures teach the recognition and appointment of elders to care for the flock, and that such elders form an elderhood or presbytery. These are addressed collectively in a much wider sphere than the elders of an individual church. See in proof of this 1 Pet.5:1-11, where the elders of the churches of God in five provinces in Asia (1 Pet.1:1), which formed a spiritual house (of God) and a holy and royal priesthood (1 Pet.2:3-5,9,10) are addressed as a whole “The elders therefore among you I exhort…tend the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight.”

Here again is a picture, as in 1 Tim.3:1-7, of the character and conduct of an elder or overseer. Having already, in 1 Tim.3, remarked on “the husband of one wife,” I suggest that this should be read. An elder must be blameless, one against whom no charge can be laid. He has to have but one wife. If he has believing children, they are not to be loose in behaviour or morals or unruly, that is, insubordinate. The overseer, as God’s steward in His house, must be free from any charge. He must not be self-willed or headstrong, not soon angry or passionate when his views and judgements are not accepted. He is not to be given to wine, and consequently not a brawler, not a striker, not greedy of base gain: so much for the negative side of his life. As to the positive, he is to be hospitable, that is, a lover of strangers, a lover of good, sober-minded, of sound mind, that is, discreet or self-restrained, just and holy (pious), temperate; holding to, or fast clinging to, or not letting go, the faithful word, which is according to the teaching which he had been taught. In consequence of his holding to what he had been taught, he would be able to exhort or encourage others in the sound and healthful doctrine, and also to convict or refute the gainsayers, such as question or contradict.

Whilst we shall be for ever indebted to men of Jewish race, such as the apostles and others, for the work they did at the beginning of this dispensation, and for the New Testament Scriptures which they left behind, we cannot fail to see in the New Testament how much the work of God suffered, both from Jews (they of the circumcision) who were in the churches of God, and also from Jews outside, who persecuted Paul and his fellow-workers continually. Here in these verses they of the circumcision are seen, with others, at their deadly, damaging work. They were insubordinate, men who would not be subject to authority, vain talkers and deceivers; a trio of badness which would ruin any community. Paul said that their mouths must be stopped. Though their mouths could not well be stopped in private, their mouths must be stopped in public by a public statement that such men were not allowed to speak. They were to be silenced in all gatherings of God’s people. What serious work is indicated in the fact that they overthrow whole houses by teaching things that are not befitting, that is, that they teach what they ought not to teach, and they do it for the sake of base gain!


The natural state of the Cretans was low; so much so, that their avarice, ferocity, fraud and begging, were proverbial, of which several ancient writers have written. Epimenides, a Cretan, and a prophet of their own, described them in the words quoted by Paul. Their ferocity is expressed in the words, “evil wild beasts,” one of the lowest descriptions given of men. It is God’s description of the coming antichrist, “the wild beast.” Of their fraud, they were said to be always liars, and of their avarice and begging, they were lazy gluttons. One could hardly imagine a more demoralized people; and the miracle was that the gospel was received by many of them, and that there were churches of God in every city in Crete. There was ever the fear that they would slip back to their former manner of life, and Titus was told to reprove them sharply or severely, that they may be sound, or healthy, in the faith. Also, that they were not to give heed to Jewish fables and the commandments of men who were turning from the truth, such as those of the circumcision of verse 10.

Purity of mind is the result of the acting out by believers of healthful teaching. The word of God like pure water has a cleansing effect in the heart where it flows. Pure minds see pure things, but corrupt minds things that are corrupt. Two people may approach the city, the one with eyes and heart full of lust, to seek the dens of sin and the haunts of vice, the other with holy aspirations, to seek the companionship and homes of the godly. The bee flies over the field seeking the flower with its scent and honey. The blow-fly seeks the stench of the corrupting carcase. We ever seek out what we are ourselves, the pure, the things that are pure, but to the polluted saint and unbelieving sinner nothing is pure, because their minds and consciences are polluted. Profession and practice should agree. We should eschew what is implied in the words, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau” (Gen.27:22). What profit is there in professing before men that we know God and deny Him by our works? The one cancels out the other. Works such as being abominable, disobedient, and to every good work worthless, reveal a desperate plight in the conduct of any believer.

How frequently Paul writes of healthy words and teaching! There cannot be a healthy spiritual life apart from health-giving instruction. Old men are to be temperate or sober; grave, that is, venerable or serious, not hilarious; discreet or of sound mind. They are to be sound or healthy in faith (not in the Faith here, though it is sound in the Faith in Tit.1:13), and in their love and patience.

Old women, like old men, were to be “in deportment as becomes sacred ones.” They were not to be slanderers. Slanderer here is the feminine of Gk. diabolos, devil. They were not to be given to much wine, but to be teachers of what is good, right or beautiful in conduct. The object was to school, admonish, counsel, rebuke, the young women in the holy arts of domestic life; to love their husbands and their children; to be sober-minded or discreet; to be chaste, pure, modest; to be keepers at home, that is, “diligent in homework”; to be kind or good; to be subject to their own husbands, such is a woman’s place in relation to her husband as assigned to her by God. The object of all this is, that the word of God be not blasphemed or evil spoken of.

The younger men were to be exhorted to be soberminded or discreet. One is reminded of what is said of David while a youth, and shortly after he slew Goliath: “he behaved himself wisely”; “he behaved himself wisely in all his ways”; “he behaved himself very wisely”; and he “behaved himself more wisely than all the servants of Saul” (1 Sam.18:5,14,15,30). Titus was also to show himself a pattern in all good works. He was to be a model of the doctrine he taught. What Titus was in his behaviour he was to enjoin upon others. He was to manifest uncorruptness in teaching, in gravity, in sound or healthy speech, which could not be condemned. The object of this good behaviour, both in Titus and his hearers, was that those of the contrary part could say no evil thing of those in the churches in Crete.

Paul frequently gives instruction to slaves or bondservants, as in Eph.6:5-8; Col.3:22-25; 1 Tim.6:2: Here again he returns to the subject. Christian slaves were to be in subjection to their masters and to be well-pleasing to them in all things. They were not to be contradictory when their masters spoke to them. They were not to embezzle or steal their masters’ goods, but to show good fidelity, being trustworthy. In this way, before their masters and others, the doctrine they held, the doctrine of God our Saviour, would be adorned and beautified in their eyes. The excellence of the doctrine would be seen in the changed behaviour of those who were once liars, evil wild beasts, lazy gluttons (Tit.1:12).

Appeared (Gk. epiphaino – to shine upon, give light to): the epiphany of grace is before the epiphany of glory (verse 13). The first is through the incarnation, atonement and resurrection of the Lord; the second is at His coming again. There is no original word for “bringing.” Salvation (Gk. soterios) is an adjective and is part of the subject “the grace of God.” Dr. Young in his version renders the verse, “For the saving grace of God was manifested to all men.” Alford also says that soterios is part of the subject. The gospel is like sunshine, the former shines to bring eternal health to the soul, the latter to give health to the body. Foolish people may hide themselves from both and die, both in soul and body.

The saving grace of God becomes the teacher of such as are saved by grace. It teaches us to deny, renounce, disown, ungodliness (we were once ungodly, Rom.5:6, persons in a fearful state, yet it was for such Christ died), and worldly lusts (see 1 Pet.4:2), and to live soberly, discreetly (behaviour in regard to ourselves), righteously (in regard to our neighbours) and godly (in regard to God’s requirements) in this present age; looking for what God’s grace teaches us to expect, even God’s glory. This will be ours when the blessed hope will be realized in the coming again of the Lord, who has promised to return, at which time He will appear in glory to His own. This is not to be read as though the passage means two things, (1) the coming of the Lord, as Son of God, for His own, and (2) His coming, as Son of Man, with His saints. If it read the blessed Hope and the appearing of the glory, then there would be two things indicated, but there is no definite article before “appearing,” hence only the Lord’s coming to the air is in view. Note how the Deity of the Lord is clearly indicated in verse 13: Jesus Christ is our great God and Saviour. The AV/KJV is not correct here; it indicates two Persons, the Father and the Son.

This verse again emphasizes the Deity of the Lord. Jehovah in a past dispensation redeemed Israel, so that they should be to Him a peculiar treasure. He said, “If ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me from among all peoples: for all the earth is Mine: and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Ex.19:5,6). Similarly today, but on a higher plane, the Lord gave Himself for us, not merely to redeem us from past sins, but from present lawlessness, that is, from doing our own will and being a law unto ourselves, and to purify unto Himself a peculiar (that is, excellent) people. The character and conduct of this people is to be, “zealous of good works.” To many saved folk the thought of God having a people is not in their thoughts. To many, evangelism fills entirely their thoughts and time, but God’s will is that He should have a peculiar people, a subject people under the authority of the Lord, who is our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

In these instructions already given we have Paul authorizing Titus by the words of an inspired epistle to speak, exhort and reprove the disciples who were in the churches of God in Crete. In the carrying out of the apostle’s commands no man was to despise him.

Subjection is one of the basic truths of the Scriptures, subjection to rulers and authorities (Rom.13:1), subjection of younger elders to older elders in the flock of God (1 Pet.5:5), of wives to husbands (Col.3:18; Tit.2:5; 1 Pet.3:1), servants to masters (Tit.2:9; 1 Pet.2:18), to those that help in the work and labour (1 Cor.16:16), to one another (Eph.5:21). Also the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets; God has not taken the control of man out of his own hand (1 Cor.14:32). In contrast, “The mind of the flesh … is not subject to the law of God,” and it is evident in these days that it is not subject to any other law, save the law of sin and death (Rom.8:2); the lawless are increasing like locusts in the earth, devouring peace with an insatiable appetite. Believers are also to be obedient, save in such a matter as where the will of God and of men clash (Acts 4:16-21). They are also to be ready towards every good work, to speak evil of no one, not to be quarrelsome, to be gentle or mild, and to show meekness to all. These are all excellent Christian virtues.

Who are the “we also”? It seems to me that there is here a contrast between “we” and “them” of verse 1: “Put them in mind,” that is the Cretans. The Cretans were always liars (Tit.1:12), their state before conversion. Then Paul gives us an insight into the state of the Jews, that is, those who are described as “we also.” The Cretans, a pagan people, were degraded in their habits, but the Jews were really no better, for beneath a cloke of religion was a totally corrupted society. The Jews were without intelligence, disobedient (ever rebelling against God’s law and that of the Romans), led astray, and serving various lusts and pleasures. As to their social life, that also was in rags; the Jews were living in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. The conduct of each was hateful to others and consequently they hated each other. An external religion is but a mask, a guise to cover the natural wickedness of the human heart.

God is our Saviour; He is the Source whence salvation comes. Jesus Christ is our Saviour; He is the One by whom salvation was wrought. Kindness means first of all utility, usefulness. To give a millionaire a shilling would be no kindness, but it would be to a hungry beggar. To give a man a suit of clothes who has twenty suits would be no kindness, but it would be to a man clothed in rags. How well suited to the need of those whose righteousness is as filthy rags is the kindness of God! God’s kindness is born of His love toward men (Gk. philanthropia, philanthropy, only twice used in the New Testament, in Acts 28:2, of the kindness of the pagans in Melita to Paul, and here of God’s love toward mankind). God’s philanthropy was manifested in the incarnation, atonement and resurrection of the Lord. This reaches us not through any good quality in ourselves or our works, for there is none that doeth good (Rom.3:10-12). It is according to His mercy He saved us. We have been saved through or by means of the washing or laver of regeneration [Laver, Gk. loutron, is a noun here, not a verb; it is a laver or bath, though the use of the bath is implied, and may legitimately be rendered bathing or washing in a bath, whereby the whole person and not a part is washed or bathed. Note the distinction the Lord makes, in Jn 13:10, between the washing of the feet in a basin and being bathed all over. “He that is bathed (in a Gk. loutron, laver) needeth not save to wash (in a Gk. nipter, basin) his feet, but is clean every whit”]. Regeneration (Gk. paliggenesia) literally means, being born again, and is equivalent to “born again” (Gk. gennao anothen) in Jn 3:3,7: The laver of regeneration is the word of God, through which, when received by faith, through the message of the gospel in the power of the Spirit, the sinner is born again or regenerated (see Jn 3:3,7; 1:12,13; 1 Pet.1:23; 1 Jn 5:1), and is made clean every whit (Jn 13:10; Jn 15:3; Heb.10:22; Eph.5:26), and in that state of purity he remains for ever, though his feet need to be washed, which means that the word of God needs to be applied to his ways and walk. Palingenesia is found again only once in the New Testament, in Matt.19:28, where it is used in a different sense, not in connexion with the regeneration of the individual soul, but in the regeneratin of human society at the coming of the Son of Man to earth, when a fountain shall be opened for sin and uncleanness (Zech.13:1). “Renewing of the Holy Spirit”: renewing (Gk. anakainosis, found only here and in Rom.12:2, but see cognate verbs in 2 Cor.4:16; Col.3:10; Heb.6:6) describes the complete renewal of the individual by the Holy Spirit. These two statements regarding regeneration and renewing are complementary, and describe the operation of the word and Spirit of God on the soul, as spoken of by the Lord to Nicodemus, when He said, “Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5). This act of God in grace is, Paul says, “poured out upon us richly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” Having been justified by grace (Rom.3:24), we have become heirs (of God and joint-heirs with Christ – Rom.8: 17) according to the hope of eternal life. This is not the hope of having eternal life sometime in the future, but the hope that springs from and belongs to eternal life, in which state we were saved (Rom.8:16,17,24,25), in which hope we rejoice that one day we shall enter upon the inheritance of the saints in light, for which God has made us meet (Col.1:12,13).

The “faithful saying” here is what Paul has been writing about, salvation, regeneration, and so forth. Such things were to be affirmed confidently. The present object of this is, that those so graced of God as to be saved, regenerated, renewed, justified, and to enjoy for ever a glorious inheritance, should maintain good works consistent with the grace they have received. Good works wrought by Christian people are both good and profitable to men. But what could be more inconsistent than that the heirs of heaven should be moving heavenward wrangling about what they have in the flesh, such as the Judaizers were doing, continually rhyming off their genealogies, as though to be children of sinners was to be compared with being children of God? The Lord said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh,” and flesh it remains with all its sin and troubles. But many Jewish believers never seemed to enter into the meaning of the Lord’s words and the teaching of the apostles, and were a continual menace to peace and a hindrance to the progress of the Lord’s work. Such questionings and genealogies and legal contentions begat strifes and fightings and were unprofitable and vain.

A heretical man is a self-chooser, a party man who by his practice and doctrine would make a sect, “a self-chosen and divergent form of religious belief and practice.” He is sectarian in out-look and intent, “one who creates a faction.” It can be seen how dangerous such a person would be to the Fellowship. He is to be given a first and second admonition publicly before the church, and if he is obdurate, he is to be refused or rejected by the church; they are to decline fellowship with him, not simply to close his mouth, as in chapter 1:11: See 1 Tim.5:11, where we have the same word. The younger widows were to be refused enrolment as widows to be supported by the church. See also 1 Tim.4:7; 2 Tim.2:23; Heb.12:25 for the same word. The heretical man is perverted (Gk. ekstrepho, from ek, out of, and strepho, to twist or turn round). It means “to turn inside out,” “to change for the worse,” “to become corrupt.” Such a one sinneth, is living in sin; it is his habit. He condemns himself.

Artemas is not elsewhere mentioned, but Tychicus is mentioned several times. Paul hoped to send either of these brethren to Crete to relieve Titus, whom Paul wished to come to him to Nicopolis (supposed to be Nicopolis in Thrace) where Paul had decided to winter. Zenas and Apollos had been in Crete, and Titus was exhorted to send them on their journey diligently and to see that nothing be lacking to them for the journey. The epistle was evidently written when Paul was at liberty, between his first and second imprisonment. It may have been written from Macedonia about the time of the writing of 1 Timothy.

It is profitable here to note the importance of the word “also.” Titus was to set forward Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their journey diligently, and that nothing be wanting to them, and the saints also were to maintain good works for necessary uses. Why does Paul say this after he has spoken about the journey of these two servants of the Lord? It seems to me that if the saints did not give of their substance, then there would be meagre supplies for the Lord’s servants on their journey. Saints were to give, and Titus was to see that the Lord’s servants’ needs were met.

Those who were with Paul at the time of his writing, who are not mentioned by name, saluted Titus, and Titus was to salute those who loved (Gk. phileo) Paul and his co-workers in faith. Some translators think, though there is no definite article before faith, that it is implied in the grammatical construction, and that it should read, “Salute them that love us in (the) Faith.” Paul closes with his usual salutation in all his epistles – “Grace be with you all.”

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