Church organization is not the primary reason Paul wrote 1 Timothy and Titus. The occasion for both of these letters is the threat of false teachers in the churches in Ephesus and Crete (Titus 1:10-16; 3:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:3-7). The selection of new leadership was a way for Timothy and Titus to ensure that the churches maintain unity and receive healthy teaching. The situation was more urgent in Ephesus because the false teachers were a part of the leadership. In Crete the church was young and did not have elders to protect the flock from false teachers. Paul’s solution was to appoint leaders in the local churches who would care for the flock and protect it from false teaching. Apparently, the job of selecting leadership would require more time than Paul had for this work, so he left Timothy and Titus in charge of completing this task. He also understood that the condition of the church in Ephesus might require a return visit there as soon as possible: “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household” (1 Timothy 3:14-15). It is likely that Paul had already told Timothy and Titus what was needed, but the letters were intended to remind them of his instructions and provide proof to the churches of his intentions. Both letters demonstrate the crucial role that elders play in maintaining healthy teaching in the church. The elders were to be a local and permanent presence in the churches that would provide leadership when inspired apostles and evangelists were no longer available.
Many of the issues before the churches in Crete and Ephesus involved a syncretism of both Jewish and pagan ideas. Syncretism is the combining or fusing of the religious ideas of the day with Christianity. If left alone, these foreign elements would corrupt the message of the gospel. Evangelists like Titus and Timothy were to counter the influence of these false teachings: “You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). The word translated “sound” means healthy. Doctrine that is not sound is unhealthy or diseased. If a doctrine is false it is poisonous and harmful to a person’s relationship with God. Some want to limit sound doctrine to a core gospel message or a minimum set of convictions. These core doctrines usually center around individual faith in the saving work of Christ on the cross, but is this all that healthy doctrine includes? Were Timothy, Titus, and the new elders only to be concerned about faith in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross? To say that sound doctrine has nothing to do with other doctrinal issues is to overlook the doctrinal context of these letters. The false doctrine discussed in Titus and 1 Timothy did not represent a deviation from belief in Christ but a deviation from “the faith” or message that was preached by Paul (Galatians 1:23). The false teachers are described as wandering away from the message of the gospel (1 Timothy 1:6; 6:21). Peter warns about false teachers and those who would twist the Scriptures (2 Peter 2:1; 3:16) and Jude encourages Christians to contend for the faith (Jude 3).
Regardless of whether they were from a Jewish or pagan background, new converts in the first century often had the tendency to add the religious experiences of their past to their new faith. In Paul’s letter to Titus, he describes the false teachers who are to be opposed: “For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain” (Titus 1:10-11). It seems that traditions about individuals’ origins had fueled great speculation in the church and were leading the church away from the message of the gospel. These teachers would tell myths or fanciful stories about characters and events in the Old Testament (1:14; cf. 1 Timothy 1:4; 4:7). The word myth comes from muthos and refers to a tale or fable and can be translated “cleverly invented stories” (2 Peter 1:16). Many preachers today also tell fanciful stories and their audiences seem to enjoy it. The story-telling preachers in Ephesus and Crete were doing something that was harmful to the church. Their teaching was diseased and unhealthy because their stories were useless and false.
J B Myers