The letter to the Titus
Who is the Author?
The letter to Titus immediately mentions Paul as the author of this pastoral epistle:
“Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness, in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago, but at the proper time manifested, even His word, in the proclamation with which I was entrusted according to the commandment of God our Savior, To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior”.Titus 1:1-4
Muratorian fragment (170 AD)
So while there are uses of Titus early on and throughout the church father era, the Muratorian Canon was also written. This document dating to the late second century gives us Paul’s stamp of the letters he has written according to early church tradition. We see here it affirms Paul’s authorship: “As for the Epistles of (40-1) Paul, they themselves make clear to those desiring to understand, which ones [they are], from what place, or for what reason they were sent. (42) First of all, to the Corinthians, prohibiting their heretical schisms; (43) next, to the Galatians, against circumcision; (44-6) then to the Romans he wrote at length, explaining the order (or, plan) of the Scriptures, and also that Christ is their principle (or, main theme). It is necessary (47) for us to discuss these one by one, since the blessed (48) apostle Paul himself, following the example of his predecessor (49-50) John, writes by name to only seven churches in the following sequence: To the Corinthians (51) first, to the Ephesians second, to the Philippians third, (52) to the Colossians fourth, to the Galatians fifth, (53) to the Thessalonians sixth, to the Romans (54-5) seventh. It is true that he writes once more to the Corinthians and to the Thessalonians for the sake of admonition, (56-7) yet it is clearly recognizable that there is one Church spread throughout the whole extent of the earth. For John also in the (58) Apocalypse, though he writes to seven churches, (59-60) nevertheless speaks to all. [Paul also wrote] out of affection and love one to Philemon, one to Titus, and two to Timothy; and these are held sacred (62-3) in the esteem of the Church…”
There are quite a few opinions here from scholars, see an in-depth critique and response by Textual Critic Daniel Wallace.
The internal evidence is where the real issue of authenticity lay. Basically, there are three problems for authenticity: (1) historical, (2) theological, and (3) linguistic.
In sum, although the evidence against the authenticity of the pastorals is as strong as any evidence against the authenticity of any NT book (apart from 2 Peter), it still cannot overthrow the traditional view. The traditional view, however, must be modified by the substantial linguistic evidence against authenticity: Recent scholarship has revived the theory that Paul used an amanuensis, or secretaries, in writing his letters,
Possibly Luke for the pastorals (e.g. Rom 16:22).
George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1992), 48.
William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, vol. 46, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2000), cxxix.
This was a common practice in ancient letter writing, even for the biblical writers.
Richards, E. Randolph. Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection. Downers Grove, IL; Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press; Apollos, 2004.; Harry Y. Gamble, “Amanuensis,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 172.
For more on the fine details read this in-depth article. Paul being the author is something we can remain confident in.
Manuscript evidence for Paul’s authorship
Interestingly, in P46 (the oldest Manuscript of the Pauline corpus, dated 200 AD), only the pastoral epistles are missing, there were originally five leaves at the end of the codex. It has been estimated that the pastorals would have taken ten leaves. Since codices were bound before being written in, it is possible that the scribe simply found himself in the embarrassing situation of having run out of room for the three pastoral epistles (which the scribe, with good reason, treated as a unit, hence leaving all of them out). And even if the scribe were unaware of the pastorals’ existence, this could be accounted for on two bases: 1. these letters were the only Pauline letters sent to apostolic delegates (and would thus probably have minimal circulation); and/or 2. By the end of the second century the pastoral epistles are firmly fixed in every Christian canon in every part of the empire and are never doubted by anyone until the nineteenth century.
G. D. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (in New International Biblical Commentary), 23.
A. S. Hunt, Catalogue of the Greek Papyri in the John Rylands Library I, Literatury Texts (Manchester 1911), pp. 10-11”.
The manuscript is the earliest manuscript eyewitness to the original text with an early date of 200-225AD. It is written on two sides: Titus 1:11-15 on the front and Titus 2:3-8 which tells us this was written on an early codex (as it’s double sided). The text readable here on what is says. Considering the average deterioration rate of a Papyri manuscript to be within a few hundred years, this manuscript is very impressive in it’s preservation and clear on its structure being that of Titus 1 & 2.
Paul was a writer/composer
Here church fathers make reference to Paul passing on commands or writing letters (with or without a scribe, likely with a scribe for all of them?). It is an additional factor for all Paul’s epistles that he was known as someone who wrote, taught truth and passed on commands, given an authority the first disciples did not possess. See two references below to this.
Ignatius wrote to the Romans ca. 105-107 AD: “I may be found a sacrifice to God. I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles of Jesus Christ, but I am the very least [of believers]: they were free,”
Polycarp in his letter to the Philippians ca. 115 AD: “For neither I, nor any other such one, can come up to the wisdom of the blessed and glorified Paul. He, when among you, accurately and steadfastly taught the word of truth in the presence of those who were then alive. And when absent from you, he wrote you a letter,”
Peter endorses Paul’s writings
If 2 Peter is written in the first century (though sceptical scholars have been known to attribute it to someone in the second century) this passage would bear the mark that Peter endorses Paul writing letters also
“Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”2 Peter 3:15-17
Audience & purpose
The doctrine of the incarnation in the letter to Titus grounds its message of producing right living through the careful attention to theological truth. The churches on Crete were just as susceptible to false teachers as any other church, so Paul directed Titus to establish a group of faithful elders to oversee the doctrinal purity and good conduct of the believers on Crete. Paul exhorted Titus to “speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1), a clear direction that this should be the young pastor’s primary role.
However, Paul also understood that when a body of believers embraces sound doctrine, the result is changed and purified lives that produce “good deeds” (mentioned in Titus 2:7, 14; 3:8, 14). God’s grace is the motivation for all good deeds. Paul gave instructions to Titus about the roles of specific groups of people—older men, older women, young women, young men, and slaves—as well as general instructions to all believers about their conduct. Right living was essential because Christ “gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed,” saving us “by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 2:14; 3:5).
Scholars who believe Paul wrote Titus date its composition from the circumstance that it was written after Paul’s visit to Crete (Titus 1:5). That visit could not be the one referred to in the Acts of the Apostles 27:7,
There is limited biographical information in the book that can be used to discern its date. Titus was a gentile companion of Paul even before his first missionary journey (Gal 2:3). Paul is not in prison (Titus 3:17) when this letter is written, and he is planning to spend the winter in Nicopolis (Greece). Paul is already acquainted with Apollos (Titus 3:13), and he has left Titus in Crete (Titus 1:5) to lead the church there.
Since most of these details center around Greece or Greek contacts, the most likely date for this epistle would be toward the end of Paul’s third missionary journey, after he had spent considerable time in Greece. His plan to spend the winter in Nicopolis would fit well with Paul’s plan to return to Jerusalem from Greece in the spring. So it is possible a likely date for letter to Titus would be in the fall of 57 A.D., in the year before Paul’s return to Jerusalem and arrest.
What was the acceptance rate of Titus as canonical by those early and later witnesses of the text? Marcion is the first figure to alert us to the presence of Titus in his early second century canon. He rejects the book however as he does with all the pastoral epistles as some of the text is irreconcilable. Marcion infact throws out all of the pastoral Epistles. Irenaeus onwards we have a continuous chain of acceptance without question. Why was it not used by Polycarp or Ignatius? Perhaps they simply didn’t need it for the letters they wrote that we have preserved.
See this table for a list on who recognised each book as canonical (key(s) below)
It does not mention every Church Father who used the New Testament books, this is just a survey of some of the most known
- Ig = Ignatius
- Po = Polycarp
- M = Marcion
- Va = Valentinus
- JM = Justin Martyr
- IR = Irenaeus
- C = Clement of Alexandria
- T = Tertullian
- MC = Muratorian Canon
- O = Origen
- E = Eusebius
- CS = Codex Sinaiticus
- A = Athanasius
- D = Didymus the Blind
- P = Peshitta (Bible of the Syrian church)
- V = Latin vulgate
taken from ntcanon.org/table.shtml
Jesus, nor the apostles, nor Polycarp, Clement or Irenaeus left much for us to work with in terms of a formal “ok so here’s the rules of determination”. But what they did do is inform us that they had an informative way of knowing what was truth and what was not. And the truth had to have a connection to eyewitnesses.
For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.2 Peter 1:16
2“So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus— from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrectionActs 1:21-22
One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out. (This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account. He speaks the truth so that you also may continue to believe.)John 19:34-35
“God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this.Acts 2:32
You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. And we are witnesses of this fact!Acts 3:15
We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.”Acts 5:32
“And we apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross,but God raised him to life on the third day. Then God allowed him to appear, not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be his witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.”Acts 10:39-43
[Paul] With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it.Romans 9:1
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.1 Corinthians 15:3-9
And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you:1 Peter 5:1
Caius the church father in 200AD writes how they knew of two fake letters circulating in Paul’s name.
“There are also in circulation one to the Laodiceans, and another to the Alexandrians, forged under the name of Paul, and addressed against the heresy of Marcion; and there are also several others which cannot be received into the Catholic Church, for it is not suitable for gall to be mingled with honey”.Caius, Church leader
How did they work this out? How did they know what was the divinely inspired word of God? We can thank Eusebius for beginning to help us clear up this territory. In his Ecclesiastical History, he mentions his four categories of books with descriptions as to why some were accepted, disputed, rejected and seen as heretical from his survey of the church fathers history going back and into the apostolic age. This is the structure we will take when we assess the books of the New Testament and this includes investigating the books the church rejected.
So these summarised standards are these:
- Apostolicity. Was it written by an Apostle or one of their colleagues?
- Orthodoxy. Was the teaching orthodox? Consistent with Old Testament and the Christian worldview?
- Catholicity. Not the Catholic Church (that doesn’t exist for a few hundred years yet!)… This meaning widely agreed upon
- Relevance. Was it relevant to the church? Or does it seem completely detached from what we already have in the canon? (I.e. everything Gnostic)
- Inspiration. Did it have the ring of truth, the life changing power within?
We see in 2 Peter 3:15-17 accredit the works of Paul as scriptures, and Peter, being the lead apostle, can testify to apostolicity. Elsewhere in Paul’s letters, Paul has called himself inline with the apostles (Romans 1:1 for example) and several times in 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 we see Paul associate himself with the Apostles as those to whom the risen Jesus appeared to. So Paul is an apostle and in Galatians 2:6 the Apostles Peter and James reviewed what Paul was preaching and added nothing to his message, meaning what he was preaching was inline with them.
We have no early opposition to the authorship of Titus, nor any early documents to say this document was not written by Paul or is heretical (The closest is a known heretic denying it’s use but we know Marcion’s motives). So we stand by Paul being the author and fulfilling the apostolic criteria based on the best historical data we have pointing in his direction.
As stated on the exchange in the beginning of Galatians 2, Paul got his message verified by the apostles. Paul also has a consistent message in Titus doctrinally with what Jesus looking mainly at rightful living through theological truth. This truth was what Jesus espoused, Paul, in his letter to Titus is advising on those Titus is with do so.
There has been no challenge by the early church fathers to Titus, There is a strong church agreement on from Ignatius all the way through the church fathers (Even Peter as we’ve discussed affirms Paul’s writings as scripture).
This would be highly relevant in Christian circles and especially for figures like Titus and us today where Paul is fixed on reinforcing the incarnation, right living, advising on faithful leaders (like the apostles were in Acts). This would be terribly important as churches were beginning to form, false teaching was always on the horizon from opportunists and this is something that still happens today.
Paul is called by God (Acts 9), claims in many of his letters to be sent as an Apostle for Christ Jesus (Romans 1 for example). He has the mandate also of the Apostles (Galatians 1:17 – 2:6; 2 Peter 3:15-17) and is considered by the church Canonical, with it being in all the Christian lists of New Testament books. They could additionally as with all New Testament books recognise the ring of truth within that shows the readers of the text that it is inspired. Titus falls into this bracket. Paul claims in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that all scripture is God breathed (and elsewhere we argue for Paul’s authorship of that letter) and Paul, also being the author of this letter is sharing God’s instruction as God’s messenger to us (Acts 9:15). So if Paul is the author, then authority and inspiration to which Paul is given on behalf of God is one we should follow. Simply put, If Paul is the author, it is an inspired work.