Titus: Chapter One - A Beginning

"All politics are local." Tip O'Neill
"All writing is local." Eugene Peterson
"All spiritual warfare is local." Me (with many others having said if first)

Tip O'Neill, of course, realized that politics were also national and global. Eugene Peterson realizes that writing exists on and for many levels. And we all know that spiritual warfare is cosmic. But it all begins with a beginning and there is something intrinsic to personal and local needs that define the tactics and strategy of spiritual warfare. Last week we looked at Jeremiah 1:10 and the apostolic and prophetic mandate to "root out, pull down, destroy, throw down, build, and to plant." This process was given Jeremiah after the Lord said he was "set over the nations and the kingdoms." In the book of Titus we see the apostle, Paul, set his spiritual son, Titus, over the nation of Crete. He says in 1:5 "For this reason I left you in Crete that you should set in order the things that are lacking and appoint elders in every city as I have commanded you..."

Though Paul has "left Titus in Crete" there is actually no historical evidence that Paul was ever in Crete with Titus. He may have been. He may not have been. Actually, there is little known about Titus at all and it is interesting that this book is called "Titus" -- thus making it one of the "pastoral epistles" -- and not "Cretans."

Imagine that. A "Book of Cretans." That thought certainly puts a new spin on things, doesn't it?

Back to Titus. What we do know about him is that he was of Greek origin and uncircumcised. These two factors are very important for this particular assignment. Some say he was a natural brother to Luke. He was certainly a spiritual older brother to Timothy.

Lets look at Chapter One closely.

Verse One - Paul refers to himself as a "bondservant of God." This marks an instant distinction in the approach of his correspondence because he usually referred to himself as a "bondservant of Christ." The book of Titus bears certain similarities to Paul's discourse and actions on Mars Hill in Acts 17 (and in other ways, it is radically different.) I believe here, metaphorically, he was trying to draw the pagans and converted Jews to the campfire. It is less intimidating for people to discuss God than it is for them to discuss Jesus Christ.
He then sets out his theme as truth with corresponding action.

Verse Two - "...in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began." Even in this introduction Paul continues to pull down strongholds and reestablish foundations. Crete had been under Greek influence for centuries. Before that, Crete, under King Minos, had actually influenced Greece and may have been the forebear of Greek culture. A strong Greek belief was that there was no eternal life for mortals. Immorality was only for the gods.
".... which God, who cannot lie..." Another pulling down and reestablishing. We will look at this in more detail when we deal with the poem of Epimenides.
"promised before time." Or as God said to Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you." God has a promised plan. Chaos and Chance, which had their roles in Greek culture, are not a part of God's plan.

Verse Three - "..but has in due time manifested His word through preaching, which was committed to me..." Paul, having established himself as a bondservant of God and an apostle of Christ in verse one, now reconfirms his position as a prophet and teacher.

Verse Four - "To Titus, a true son in our common faith." Having established his God-given authority, Paul now delegates that authority to Titus and establishes that authority in "grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our savior." He now cleverly ties God and Jesus together and establishes all relationship in "grace, mercy and peace" from their union.

Thus, the stage is set.

Remembering that all politics, writing, and spiritual warfare first of all are local, or at least, begin locally -- see Acts 1:8 -- we must understand the island nation of Crete to even begin to understand the book of Titus.

At 156 miles long and seven to thirty-five miles wide, Crete is the largest of the "Grecian" islands and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. It served then as a stepping stone by sea between Greece and Africa and between Asia Minor and Africa. It's history is so mythical that some believe it is the site of ancient Atlantis. One thing for sure, it was at one time a veritable garden of civilization and religions, rites, and myths. Some believe Egyptians first populated the island and brought their religions to its shores, but little is known before King Minos and the Minoan Age which flourished up until about 1400 B.C. when it was destroyed as a result of the eruption of the Santorini volcano on the island of Thera 70 miles to the north. The population is believed to have been destroyed by the combination of a tsunami and ash. (Man, that must have been a mess!)

The island was later repopulated first by Dorian and Spartan Greeks, then by Philistine Greeks from Palestine. At some point, sea-faring Jews settled there, too. As a society and culture, Crete never again reached the blossom it had obtained during the Minoan Age. In fact, being the way-station that it was, its seaports became known as harbors for pirates and mercenaries and its main motivation was not art and religion, but greed.

The religious expressions changed with each cultural transition, but the roots of the island worship run deep in bull (fertility) worship, namely the Minotaur, which was half-man and half-animal (created through bestiality) and Goddess cults. Ancient Crete goddesses included a goddess of war and priestesses of snake cults. The 'labyr,' which is a double-bladed axe and the root for the word labyrinth, was a sacred symbol to the Minoan Age and was wielded by women. The priestesses, incidently, performed their rites, including dancing beneath trees, bare-breasted. Another common religious rite, said to be practiced by both men and women was "bull vaulting," a sport or rite where young people leaped over a bull. This may have been a sport as Olympic-style games originated in Crete, not in Greece, or it may have been a religious rite, as some myths claim it represented virgins being fed to the Minotaur. In any case, some trace this influence to the bullfights and the running of the bulls in Spain, and those of us in the American West know of bullfighters, better known as "rodeo clowns," who have made their reputations by leaping over rodeo bulls. The Minotaur, in legend, was eventually slain in his labyrinth by a Greek prince.

All of this brings us to verse 5 where Paul says he has left Titus in Crete to set the church in order and appoint elders in every city.Think about this for today. In most churches elders are not appointed, they are elected. The church does not have apostolic oversight. Instead, it is patterned after the business model of the world. It has a CEO, a board of directors, and a voting membership.

What is the criteria today in many churches for being an elder?

No. 1 - Having a pulse.
No. 2 - Appearing to have some business sense.
No. 3 - Appearing to be "religious."

The standards for being an elder are found three places in the Bible: Here in Titus, in 1 Timothy 3 and 1 Peter 5. While they are generally very similar they are not exactly the same.

Let me offer you this: the standards that Paul gives Titus for the choosing of elders is antithetical to the territorial spirits that had governed the island's culture and atmosphere for centuries. And, by send Titus, he is literally saying "in your face, you religious spirits!"

Crete was an island of fables, myths, sordid rites, and superstitions and populated with lazy mercenaries who believed gain was good no matter how it was obtained. It had a "bless me club" mentality which they could argue they had to have to counteract the Spartan culture of Greece. It also had a long tradition of passive Greek philosophy, meaning "let's get together and talk about the idea of God rather than actually going out and doing something for Him."

So, in building and planting, Paul makes it clear in verses 5-9, that the person he wants must be the husband of one mate and not be a quick-tempered drunk lusting for money. On top of not being those negatives, the elder also had to have the virtue of holding fast to doctrine to the amount that he or she knew. (I say "she" because there is an argument to be made here that these elders were not necessarily all men.)

Having laid that foundation of expectation, Paul then gets tough. The main problem, he points out, is "idle talkers" who are subverting whole households with impure doctrine that is only out after their money. And guess what? Most of these guys are born-again circumcised Jews. Again, who better to confront these "Judaizers" than the uncircumcised Titus.

"One of them," Paul writes in verse 12, referring to the culture, "a prophet of their own, said: 'Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.' This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply." Paul here quotes the semi-mythical Manoan poet/philosopher/exorcist Epimenides.

He says "one of them" even though Epimenides has been dead for 600 years! So, we see that it is still necessary to do some "rooting out" in the Cretan culture.

Epimenides! This is where things really get interesting. We will pick up with him in Part 2.

John L. Moore