TITUS 02 - Reconstructing the historical background

Introduction to Interpretation
  • In the first Titus unit we carefully read the letter of Titus and observed many things, names, places, time elements, repeated themes, contrasts, connectives and commands (Observation).
  • Now we will start with Interpretation, the second step of Inductive Bible study.
  • Interpretation means: What did this mean to the original hearers or readers? What did those who first got this letter understand when they read it?
  • In order to answer that question, quite a bit of “preparation” is needed, we need to reconstruct
    • the author and his situation
    • the readers and their situation
    • what gave rise to this letter
    • the historical background
  • We will ask and answer several Interpretation questions:

1   Interpretation Question: Who is the author?


  • Read Tit 1:1 again. Who is the author of this letter?


  • We learn from Tit 1:1 that the Apostle Paul is the author of the letter of Titus.
  • Notice that Paul follows the Greek letter writing style (common in New Testament time):
    • first the author gives his identity (Tit 1:1-3).
    • then he mentions his addressee (Tit 1:4)
    • then gives a blessing or prayer (Tit 1:4)
    • then the body of the letter (Tit 1:5-3:11)
    • and in the end practical instructions (Tit 3:12-14)
    • greetings (Tit 3:15)
    • and a final blessing (Tit 3:15).
  • Paul follows this format quite closely in all of his 13 letters.
  • To reconstruct Paul’s life and to understand his character better, it would be good to read all the passages in the New Testament which talk about Paul.
  • Since this requires reading all of Acts and many of Paul’s letters, it is too much for an introduction to the Inductive Method.
  • We will at this time limit ourselves to a basic time line of Paul’s life (as reconstructed from the New Testament and the Letters), which gives us the frame in which to place the letter to Philemon.
  • Here is a Timeline of Paul’s life:
34ADPaul’s conversionJerusalem to Damascus
34-?ADPaul in seclusion (?)Arabia, Tarsus
?-47ADPaul’s ministry with BarnabasAntioch in Syria
47-48AD1st missionary journeyCyprus, Galatia
49ADApostle’s CouncilJerusalem
50-52AD2nd missionary journeyGalatia, Macedonia, Greece, 1 ½ y Corinth
53-56AD3rd missionary journey2 ½ years Ephesus, Greece
57-59AD2 y imprisonmentCaesarea
59ADprisonerCaesarea > Rome
60-62AD2 y light imprisomentRome
62-64AD4th missionary journey?
64-67ADheavy imprisonment, deathRome

2   Interpretation Question: Who are the first readers of this letter? Who founded the churches?


  • Read Tit 1:4 again.
  • Think about the following questions:
    • Who is the addressee of this letter?
    • How does the author describe the addressee?
    • What does this description mean?


  • Paul addresses this letter to Titus, whom he calls “my loyal child in the faith”.
  • Paul is unmarried (1 Cor 9:5-6) and is not the physical father of Titus.
  • But he uses the metaphor “son” for Titus, probably meaning that Titus received the gospel through Paul and so became his ‘spiritual son’, possibly during Paul’s time in Antioch (Acts 11-13).
  • Calling Titus “son” implies a close relationship, many years of close friendship and co-work.
  • Being father and son is an irreversible relationship, it implies representation, conferred authority and name.
  • It implies a father’s pride and joy in his son.
  • “loyal” means years of proven faithfulness, love and trustworthiness.


  • Read Tit 1:5 carefully. It is a very important verse to understand the letter of Titus better.
  • Think about the following questions:
    • What does this sentence imply?
    • Who founded the churches in Crete?
    • Have these churches been founded just now or a few years back?
    • What is Paul telling Titus to do?
    • What does reading Tit 3:12 add to the picture?
    • Why does Paul write a letter to tell this to Titus? Would Paul not have said all that before he left? So then why is there a need to say it in written form?

findings and thoughts to consider

  • The churches have just recently been founded by Paul and Titus together.
  • The gospel has been preached and believed and churches have sprung up in several cities of Crete.
  • No church leadership has yet been appointed, which Paul usually does within a short time of founding a church (see Acts 14:23).
  • The fact that the Cretan churches have no own leadership yet means that they have just only been planted.
  • It seems that Paul has to leave quickly for some urgent reason (which we have no knowledge about).
  • Therefore he hands the responsibility to his faithful co-worker Titus, who is also most likely the co-founder of these churches.
  • Paul wants Titus to finish up what “remained to be done”, and – when Paul sends either Artemas or Tychicus to replace him (Tit 3: 12) – he wants Titus to re-join him in Nicopolis.
  • But why would Paul write these instructions in a letter rather than telling Titus directly before Paul left?
  • Surely Paul and communicated with Titus before leaving.
  • But why then is this letter needed? And who needs it?
  • Upon consideration it becomes clear that the letter is needed for the Cretan churches to know that Paul has handed over leadership to Titus.
  • This letter has the character not only of a letter with instructions but also a letter of authorization.
  • Paul wants the churches to know that he left Titus as his representative so that they support Titus in finishing up the work and in the task of appointing local church leadership.
  • The verse Tit 2:15 shows that such an authorization is needed: “reprove with all authority. Let no one look down on you”. Paul knew there would be opposition to Titus.
  • The letter to Titus is called a “pastoral letter”, meaning a letter to a pastor of a church.
  • Actually, the function of “pastor” as we know it today is not commonly seen in the New Testament (only Eph 4:11), but the term is still useful as it describes Paul’s letter to someone who looks after churches.
  • The letter of Titus therefore is addressed first to Titus, authorizing him, instructing him and encouraging him to teach, to oversee and to appoint local leadership.
  • But the letter is also indirectly addressed to the Cretan churches, to teach them, to encourage them and to challenge them to support Titus in his tasks.
  • When interpreting this letter always think about both these addressees:
    • 1 Why does Paul say this to Titus?
    • 2 Why does Paul say this to the Cretan churches?

3   Interpretation Question: Who is the addresseeTitus?

  • There are only some twenty verses in the New Testament that mention Titus, the co-worker of Paul.
  • We will look at them and reconstruct from them an approximate time line of Titus’ life.
  • Read the passages given below and the information given on the context of the verse.
  • Read Gal 2:1-3 and Acts 11:19-26.
  • Think about what you can learn about Titus, his life, his character, his attitude and personality from these verses?
findings and thoughts to consider
  • Titus is Greek, meaning he is not a Jew and not circumcised.
  • He may or may not have grown up with a knowledge of Jews and Jewish culture.
  • He probably becomes a believer through Paul.
  • He is discipled and taught by Barnabas and Paul.
  • It seems Titus becomes their co-worker quite early on.
  • Titus must have been faithful to be chosen as a companion to deliver the famine relief money to Jerusalem.
  • When in Jerusalem Titus meets the apostles.
  • He is not forced to be circumcised.
  • This story happens in 47 AD, the year of a famine mentioned also in Roman historical records.


  • Read 2 Cor 2:12-13 and 7:13-15.
  • A short context on these passages:
    • When Paul has a heart-rending conflict with the Corinthian church in 56 AD and doesn’t dare to visit them again, he sends Titus to try to solve the problem and re-establish good relations.
    • He anxiously waits for him in Troas, then in Macedonia.
    • When Titus brings good news about the Corinthians Paul is greatly relieved and comforted and sends another letter to the Corinthians by the hand of Titus (2 Corithians).
  • What you can learn about Titus, his life, his character, his attitude and personality from these verses?

thoughts to consider

  • For Titus to go visit the Corinthian church (a church he doesn’t know and who doesn’t know him) at a time of such great conflict shows great courage.
  • The chances for this to turn out negative are high, yet Titus is willing to try.
  • This shows his love and care for the distressed Paul.
  • The fact that Titus manages to go into a church at a time of great tensions and bring about a change in attitude toward Paul speaks also of Titus character and attitude:
    • He is trustworthy and easily considered trustworthy.
    • He is diplomatic, sensitive, has the same mind and heart as Paul but has a more easy-going personality.
    • He is not hot-tempered or easily offended, but good at relating.
    • He likely is a very good listener, showing concern, understanding and care.
    • He must also be wise, have good judgment and be an able counselor.


  • Read 2 Cor 8:16-17, 8:23 and 12:17-18.
  • These passages are still talking about that same conflict of Paul with the Corinthian church and Titus’ successful peace-bringing mission..
  • What else you can learn about Titus, his life, his character, his attitude and personality from these verses?

thoughts to consider

  • Titus probably starts engaging with the Corinthians mainly because of his care for Paul, and his care for the church in general.
  • But as he gets to know them he is eager for the Corinthians on his part.
  • Paul’s absolute trust in Titus’ conduct and character speaks volumes just how highly Paul regards Titus and how deeply he trusts him as his representative and more than that.


  • Read 2 Cor 8:6.
  • The churches of Macedonia and the church of Corinth are taking up a joint offering for the church in Jerusalem.
  • Titus is given the responsibility for the offering.
  • What else you can learn about Titus, his life, his character, his attitude and personality from these verses?

thoughts to consider

  • Titus is not only trusted by Paul as his representative and peace-maker, but also trusted by Paul and the Corinthians with a big money-collection.
  • He is a person of integrity, able to handle money and an important role with integrity.
  • In the context of the conflict that just happened the fact that he is trusted by the Corinthians to handle their money is even more telling.
  • It seems that it is these same qualities of Titus that make Paul call him “my loyal child in the faith” and which make him trust Titus with the newly planted churches in Crete in around 63-64 AD (Tit 1:1-5).
  • The task of appointing elders in Paul’s absence in churches that still need so much discipleship would definitely be difficult.
  • Again Titus has Paul’s absolute trust.


  • Read 2 Tim 4:10.
  • It is about the year 64 AD and Paul is imprisoned in Rome again, but this time at the time of the emperor Nero’s persecution.
  • What can you learn about Titus, his life, his character, his attitude and personality from these verses?

thoughts to consider

  • In this last letter Paul writes, his discouragement can be felt.
  • He is disappointed with how little local support he is getting (2 Tim 4:16), but also with co-workers who leave like Demas (2 Tim 4:9).
  • He feels the pressure of being quite alone: only Luke is with him (2 Tim 4:11) and he asks Timothy to come (2 Tim 4:9), well knowing that he will be executed soon (2 Tim 4:6-8).
  • Positive for Paul – though their absence is felt – are workers he has been able to send somewhere or who have gone to places on their own accord like Crescens, Tychicus and Titus.
  • Titus has gone to Dalmatia, and area North of Greece, East shore of Adriatic sea, where we have no record that Paul or anybody else reached before him.
  • This must have been a great comfort for Paul.
  • Now that he can’t go anywhere anymore, his disciples and co-workers go on.
  • The long years of discipleship, co-work, faithfulness and trust have created another excellent pioneer, who will go where Paul never set foot.

4    Interpretation Question: From where was the book written?

  • Paul seems to be in Greece at Nicopolis, or at least on the way there.
  • He decides to winter there, probably because the Mediterranean sea gets rough and dangerous in the winter months.
  • Nicopolis is a city on the west coast of Greece. It is not mentioned in Acts nor anywhere else in the New Testament.
  • It is good to remember that Acts only gives an overview of the apostles’ work and travel, and doesn’t cover everything.

5    Interpretation Question: Who carried the letter to Crete?


  • Read Tit 3:13. What can you learn from the passage?


  • Most likely the letter of Titus was carried by Zenas the lawyer and Apollos, therefore Paul’s mention of them and the instruction to assist them.

6   Interpretation Question: Historical background to the island of Crete

  • What was the historical background to the churches in Crete? Some points gleaned from encyclopedias and history books:


  • Crete is the southernmost and biggest island of Greece.
  • It is quite secluded from the rest of Greece, yet strategically located in the middle of the Mediterranean sea.
  • It was an important harbor both in regards to military and trade, and also as a mid-way point for sea travel (ships coming into its harbor to stock up on fresh water and food).
  • The island’s name is linked to Gen 10:4: Noah’s son Japheth fathers Javan, who father’s Kittim from which the coast land peoples come. The name Crete comes from ‘Kittim’.


  • Around 1500 BC (about the time of Moses) Crete was the center of a strong Kingdom (the Minoan Kingdom), which established supremacy over the sea.
  • See right an ancient Cretan painting of a renowned bull sport.
  • This culture is wiped out in a moment by a volcanic eruption on the nearby island of Santorini.
  • The Philistines that pressure Israel for centuries (remember the story of Goliath, around 1100 BC, originally came from Crete and were a sea-faring nation.
  • Later Crete was part of the Greek empire of Alexander.
  • By 140 BC there is evidence of Jews living on the island.
  • By New Testament times Greece – and with it Crete – is ruled by the Romans.


  • Paul quotes a poet who says that the “Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes and lazy gluttons” (Tit 1:12). This quote is from the poet Epimenides, who lived in Knossos, the center of Crete in around 600 BC and the poet Callimachus’ hymn to Zeus.
  • Lying was such a part of Cretan culture that one of the words for “lying” in the Greek language is actually is derived from the word “Crete”: the sentence “I lie” in Greek is “cretizo”.
  • The Cretans, as all Greeks, worshiped many gods, but Crete especially revered Zeus, the chief god.
  • According to Greek mythology Crete is the birthplace of Zeus.
  • Zeus is the god of sky, lighting, thunder, law, order, justice (Zeus depiction to the right).
  • He is married to the goddess Hera, but is also famous for his many sexual exploits among goddesses and human women, with whom he fathers a total of fourteen divine children.
  • To cover up his many affairs, he lies notoriously.
  • With the Cretans revering such gods it is no surprise that the Cretan culture was known for lying, for alcohol and for sexual sin, an issue further cemented by Crete’s naval power and ports – in any country port cities are famous for prostitution.
  • The new believers forming the Cretan churches were saved out of exactly this sort of background and not surprisingly, they didn’t shed all their bad habits at once.
  • The churches are therefore plagued by these issues and Paul and Titus have their hands full in addressing these things.

7    Interpretation Question: When was the church founded?

  • Paul is mentioned only once in Acts to be going to Crete (Acts 27:8-15) around 59 AD.
  • But since he was a prisoner of Rome then, and because his ship was trying to get to Rome quickly before the winter storms, there really was no time to plant any churches.
  • Also Paul’s instruction to Titus about wintering at Nicopolis (Tit 3:12) doesn’t fit at all.
  • When would this time spent in Crete and the following winter in Nicopolis fit into the time line of Paul’s life?
  • Actually is doesn’t fit any were in the record we have in Acts:
    • On his second missionary journey Paul spends one and a half year in Corinth around 50-52 AD (see Acts 18:2-18). In this time in Corinth a church planting trip to Crete is theoretically possible, but the wintering in Nicopolis doesn’t fit well.
    • On his third missionary journey Paul spends two and a half years at Ephesus around 53-56 AD (see Acts 19:1-20:1). Again a church planting trip to Crete is thinkable, but again the wintering in Nicopolis doesn’t fit well.
    • Acts ends its record on Paul’s life with his light imprisonment in Rome in 60-62 AD (Acts 28:30-31).
    • Some verses in other letters of Paul (Php 2:24, Phm 22) as well as church tradition seems to indicate, that Paul is released from prison and travels East to strengthen the churches. So possibly his church planting trip to Crete happened then (63-64 AD).
    • Around 64 AD Paul is in Rome again. This time he is arrested and eventually executed in a wide-scale persecution of Christians by emperor Nero.
    • It is therefore not possible to give an exact date for the writing of the letter of Titus, though we can confidently say it fits into the time frame from 50-64 AD.


  • We have now gained an idea about our author Paul, our primary addressee Titus and about the secondary readers, the churches of Crete.
  • We have tried to fit it into Paul’s Life’s timeline and have thought about the situation of the local churches.
  • We will next look at the big themes in the letter of Titus: How does Paul instruct his co-worker Titus and what is his teaching to the Cretan churches > see “Titus 03 – Interpreting & applying the main themes“.