Those who hold to the view that the history of Titus fits within the Acts story would date it prior to AD 63. Those who hold to the second imprisonment theory date it somewhere between c. AD 64-67 depending on the date of Paul’s death. While Paul penned Titus for the specific purpose of summoning his colleague to meet him in Nicopolis (3:12), evidently he thought it necessary to provide some guidance around methods and procedures for governing the church at Crete over which Titus had been given responsibility. Titus was a very trusted colleague. He undertook several difficult assignments in Corinth as Paul’s representative, including both the collection (8:6) and the responsibility of dealing with the tense situation that arose between Paul and the Corinthians (7:6, 7, 13-15; 12:18). Titus’ responsibility in Crete is seen early in the letter. He was to “set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you.” (1:5)
Paul is concerned that qualified men be appointed to oversee and shepherd the churches in every city. These men must be above reproach, not womanizers, have believing children, not accused of living with reckless abandon or wild living, not guilty of autonomous behavior, that is refusing to be subject to authority, not stubborn and self-willed, not quick tempered ( as Herodian said, quick-tempered persons lose no time being angry, and so with those they ought not, over things they ought not, and far more than they ought), not one who drinks too much, not someone who simply wants to jump from one fight to another, not shamelessly greedy for money, but someone who is a friend or kind to strangers, a lover of good or compassionate, prudent-thoughtful-self controlled, pleasing to God, pious, having their impulses under control, having a strong attachment to the word of God. Moreover, an elder must be able to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict it. These are the men Paul is looking for to the lead the churches in Crete. The problem is that many men have gone out who desire to teach and lead the churches who do not meet these criteria. Paul is concerned that many rebellious men have gone out and that these men are upsetting entire houses.
Titus has three problems on his hand in Crete. First, he has the problem of identifying qualified leaders to lead the churches in every city. Second, he has the problem of these false teachers who have gone out to teach false doctrine with debased motives. Finally, he has the problem of Cretans immoral conduct. The Cretans have problems with deception, are characterized by Paul as being vicious (evil beasts), and lazy gluttons. After covering his objectives with Titus, Paul launches into some very practical instructions for Titus and the believers in the Cretan church. Paul issues instructions for older men, older women, younger women, young men, and slaves. He points to the gospel and what a trustworthy statement it is.
The passage in question seems to represent the pinnacle of Paul’s instructions to Timothy. Removing the factious men will go a long way to purifying the leadership pool, aid in helping Titus to purify the rest of the church through sound doctrine, and refute false teachings that some in Crete may have been prone to accept. The entire letter seems to build to this crescendo in 3:10. The immediate context can be seen to begin in 3:5 as Paul encourages Titus with the words, “These things are good and profitable for men.” (3:8) The Greek particle de appearing here is used to establish a strong contrasting conjunction between what has gone before with what is about to follow.
9 μωρὰς δὲ ζητήσεις καὶ γενεαλογίας καὶ ἔρεις καὶ μάχας νομικὰς περιΐστασο• εἰσὶν γὰρ ἀνωφελεῖς καὶ μάταιοι. 10 αἱρετικὸν ἄνθρωπον μετὰ μίαν καὶ δευτέραν νουθεσίαν παραιτοῦ, 11 εἰδὼς ὅτι ἐξέστραπται ὁ τοιοῦτος καὶ ἁμαρτάνει ὢν αὐτοκατάκριτος.
One may refer back to 1:10 to identify the religious orientation of these teachers. They are “those of the circumcision.” These are Jewish men who have gone out to spread false teaching in Crete and who, based on verse 9, love to engage in stupid (foolish) controversies, genealogies, strife, and disputes about the Law. These teachings are upsetting entire houses in the churches at Crete. It is in the context of appointing elders in every city that Paul prescribes a solution. Basically he instructs Titus to recognize leaders both positively and negatively. On the positive side, appoint elders in every city while at the same time rejecting these factious, self-appointed teachers after a couple of warnings.
Verse 9 is clearly a mandate from Paul to Titus to stay out of these silly discussions or debates, primarily because they are useless and unprofitable. The word controversies means questioning or speculations. Those of us who are prone to engage in these sorts of arguments would do well to reflect upon Paul’s words and practice a bit of self examination to determine if we are guilty of ignoring them from time to time ourselves. The word avoid here means, to place around, to go around so as to avoid; to step around, to stand aside, to turn oneself about; to avoid, to shun. Paul commands Titus to stay away from such engagements because they are both useless, and futile.
Paul then makes it clear how Titus is to relate to those men who are schismatic in their behavior. It is clear that this schismatic behavior is identified in the previous verse. The men who are engaging in these foolish controversies, genealogies, strife, and disputes regarding the law are engaging in schismatic behavior. They are upsetting whole families. It is of the highest import that we understand exactly what a schismatic is not only so that we may address the issue according to Scripture, but so that we may avoid false charges against those with whom we may have doctrinal differences that are not essential to the Christian faith.
“The adjective airetico" (a NT hapax) is used here of one who has chosen to follow the false teachings and practices described in v. 9 over against the apostle, Titus, and others in the Christian community who embrace the true teaching and its good deeds.” [Knight III, George W. NIGTC: The Pastoral Epistles, 354.]
“To shun foolishness is only part of the answer (v 9). The person spreading foolishness should be confronted, and if there is no repentance, then that person should be avoided.” [Mounce, William D. WBC: Pastoral Epistles, 454.]
“The αἱρετικός*** is a person who holds sectarian opinions and promotes them in the church, thereby causing dissension in the congregation. The reference is to the kind of person described in Rom 16:17. Cf. Holtzmann, 502: ‘Within Christianity a heresy is, as the etymology indicates, a form of thinking according to an egotistical choice and inclination, associated with a tendency to separation and party spirit.’ Thus the elements of holding doctrines at variance from those of the congregation and of causing divisions over them are both present (Lock, 157).” [Marshall, I. H., & Towner, P. H. (2004). A critical and exegetical commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (337). London; New York: T&T Clark International.] Calvin writes,
“for, by the term “heretic” he describes not only those who cherish and defend an erroneous or perverse doctrine, but in general all who do not yield assent to the sound doctrine which he laid down a little before.” [Calvin, John. Commentary on Titus, 341]
Yet Calvin stresses due care in this regard, saying,
“But we must exercise moderation, so as not instantly to declare every man to be a “heretic” who does not agree with our opinion.” [Ibid, 342]
“While Paul stood squarely against false teaching (1:13; 2:15), his use of the term “divisive” indicates the destructive nature of those promoting error among believers (cf. 1:11). [Lea, T. D., & Griffin, H. P. (2001). Vol. 34: 1, 2 Timothy, Titus (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (328). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.]
“As Fee points out, “unfortunately, all too often in the church the ‘orthodox,’ in ferreting out ‘heretics’ (i.e. people who hold different views from mine), have become the divisive ones!” (211) The believer must differentiate between personal preferences and the essentials of the faith and ministry.” [Mounce, BWC: Pastoral Epistles, 455.]
By all accounts this schismatic man is engaging in the behavior condemned by Paul in v. 9. The heretic, in this context, is someone who is causing division within the church. Before you run out and begin to pronounce everyone a heretic, due care must be given to the particulars. First, what makes a heretic divisive is not simply his disagreement with Paul and Titus. It is the nature of his disagreement with them. Barnabas disagreed with Paul and he was not pronounced a heretic. Their disagreement was so sharp that they ceased working together. And yet Barnabas was never pronounced a heretic. Mere disagreement does not equal schismatic behavior. We should take care not to engage in malicious and slanderous practices by pronouncing those who have mere disagreements with us to be heretics or divisive. After all, Paul says in 3:2 that we are to malign no one. This word is the same word that is translated “blaspheme” and it means to speak about someone in a disrespectful way that demeans and denigrates them. It means to ‘hurt’ the reputation or smite with reports or words. To speak against someone in such a way as to harm or injure his or her reputation. As believers, we are commanded not to engage in such treatment of the world and certainly of one another. Hence, it follows, that great caution should be exercised before pronouncing someone as divisive, schismatic, or a heretic. It should be noted that in order for slander to be true, the behavior has to be false. In other words, a heretic cannot charge others with slander if he is guilty of divisive teachings. It is only when his teachings do not meet the standard that one runs the risk of malicious slander. This is a subtle, but very important point.
The nature of the divisiveness had little to do with opinion. The heretics in Crete were men who were causing division by refusing to submit to the authority of apostolic teaching. This can also be seen in the qualifications listed for elders in chapter one. Recall that the elder must also not be a self-willed kind of man. These teachers are certainly demonstrating that they are both rebellious and self-willed. They are refusing to submit to apostolic teaching. So one should recognize that rejection even of certain ideas that a local elder board may hold does not make one divisive. Congregants have the right to disagree with elders teachings so long as those teachings are not essential to Christian doctrine. Calvin says as much when commenting on this text,
“There are some matters on which Christians may differ from each other, without being divided into sects. Paul himself commands that they shall not be so divided, when he bids them keep their harmony unbroken, and wait for the revelation of God. (Philip. Iii. 16)
Hence one has to recognize that when the criteria are met, division in the body that leads people away from the truth of Scripture, upsetting entire families is a serious matter and should be treated seriously. Had the church been faithful in this regard, no doubt we would not see the thousands of sects that currently prevail in the Christian community. A schismatic is not one who has a disagreement with a local pastor, elder board, or even local church. For the pastor, the elder board, and the local church may be the party that has abandoned apostolic teaching. Or it may be that the local body has adopted views that are not essential to Christian doctrine. A schismatic is one who rebels against God by rejecting apostolic authority and doctrine and engages in teaching false doctrine and collecting others to set up his own sect. None of us agree entirely on everything we believe. Church leaders are in place to protect the flock from false doctrine that brings harm to them. They are not in place to stop the mouths of everyone they disagree with. Such behavior is abusive and uncharitable and takes us back to the dark ages.
How then is the factious man to be managed? Paul provides unambiguous instructions, μετὰ μίαν καὶ δευτέραν νουθεσίαν παραιτοῦ. The schismatic man is to be given two attempts to correct him. The word means, admonition or warning. It is the attempt to cause a person to correct his wrong by warning or counsel. [Rogers & Rogers, The New Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, 511]
Calvin writes, “He does not mean any “admonition” whatever, or that of a private individual, but an “admonition” given by a minister, with the public authority of the Church.” [Calvin, Commentary on Titus, 342]
There can be no question regarding the nature of the sin involved and no ambiguities regarding the nature of the admonition that is taking place. When a person’s soul is at stake, there is no room for obscurity. Love demands clarity about the offense, clarity in the instructions, clarity about the goals, and finally, clarity regarding the consequences.
“The two admonitions are obviously intended to turn such a person from his or her error, as in 2 Thess. 3:15; 2 Tim. 2:25-26, and are a pastoral attempt to reclaim.” [Knight, The Pastoral Epistles, 355]
παραιτοῦ is the Greek word used here for reject. It means to purposely keep away from, to have nothing to do with. Here we see that the strategy of social ostracism is to be deployed. This harkens back to Matthew 18:15-18. If your brother sins go to him and after several attempts, if he remains obstinate, he is to be put out of the fellowship and viewed as a target of evangelism. The man who refuses to submit to apostolic teaching is to be rejected from the Christian community. Notice that it is not the man who has mere disagreements with us as if our doctrine were somehow authoritative. The man is deliberately and knowingly refusing to obey the apostolic teaching. Such a position is clearly indicative of one’s spiritual condition. This alone does not indicate that the person’s faith is disingenuous, but it does require that such a question be raised and that their behavior be monitored until it can be determined if God will grant them repentance or if they are of those who have gone out from us because they were never really of us. However, as far as the Christian community is concerned, they cannot be allowed to partake of the public table of fellowship which is limited to genuine believers. Paul says in verse 11 that such a person is perverted, sinning, and is self-condemned. That is to say that such a person is condemned as a result of his own actions.
The issue in Titus 3:10 unambiguously concerns false teachers who are spreading false doctrine throughout Crete. The remedies for this are to appoint godly elders in every city, instruct and warn those who are guilty of this behavior no less than twice, and purge them from the Christian fellowship if they refuse to submit to apostolic teaching. The division is doctrinal and is of central importance to the Christian faith. Separation over non-essentials and pronouncing people to be heretics over minor differences is to be avoided by all who desire to live according to Christian charity. The Corinthian church had several issues with division, and they were rebuked by Paul for their carnal behavior. However, Paul stopped short of pronouncing any of them a heretic and urging the community to excommunicate them. On the flip side, when a person has been found to be teaching things fundamentally contrary to apostolic teaching, the instructions are unambiguous. We do not have the authority to permit people in the churches to instruct believers contrary to the apostolic teaching.