Lesson 6 of 6
In Progress

Bible in the World – Titus

Luther’s Use of Titus 3:5-8

In his Small Catechism of 1529, Martin Luther cites the book of Titus to explain the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. In his answer to the question, “How can water do such great things?” Luther calls baptism a “bath of new birth in the Holy Spirit,” and then cites Titus 3:5b-8. These verses are among the clearest statements in the New Testament about the free gift of God’s grace and the role of baptism in manifesting the gift of God’s Spirit and a new life for the one baptized. 

Cretans Are Always Liars” (Titus 1:12)

In chapter 1, the author insults everyone who is a native of Crete, the very island on which Titus is ministering. The quotation in Titus 1:12 comes from the philosopher Epimenides of Knossos, who lived in the sixth century B.C.E. Since Epimenides was himself a native of Crete, his observation has come to be known as the Epimendides paradox: can the word of a Cretan (Epimenides) be trusted when that Cretan is saying, “Cretans are always liars”? 

The saying may have been widely known in the first century C.E. either as the result of its use as a philosophical puzzle or because it telegraphs a widely known and repeated stereotype. In either case, the author could not have believed it and still counseled Titus to find local Christians—Cretans all—to lead the churches. As it is used here, the saying is a rhetorical flourish added to limit the influence of local Jewish Christians who are arguing that gentiles must become Jewish in order to join the community of those who confess Jesus as the Messiah and God’s Son. 

The Household Code (Titus 2:2-10)

Household Codes, or Tables of Duties, are common in Greco-Roman philosophy and occur in a few places in the New Testament. In addition to these verses in Titus, instructions to various groups within a household also appear in 1 Timothy 5:1-6:2, 1 Peter 3:1-7, and Ephesians 5:21-33. The chart below indicates for whom advice is given in each of these.

Titus1 Timothy1 PeterEphesians
Older men
Older women
Young women
Younger men
Slaves
Widows
Elders
Slaves
Wives
Husbands
Wives
Husbands
Children
Fathers
Slaves
Masters

All these codes commend the Greco-Roman household structure to believers in Christ. Such a household is built in the shape of a pyramid, at the top of which sits an older, free male, known as the pater familias in Latin, or “father of the family.” Different degrees of influence are assigned to other members based on sex (male is better), age (older is better), and freedom (to have always been free is best, after which comes formerly enslaved people and then those currently enslaved). 

Together with 1 Corinthians 7, in which Paul urges people, including enslaved people, to “remain in the condition in which you were called,” the household codes have been used to justify continued Christian involvement in the trafficking and enslavement of humans throughout history, including in North American Christianity before the Civil War. 

The household codes also inscribe patriarchal gender roles on Christian partners and have been used–and continue to be used in some Christian communities–as justification for counseling women and children at risk of harm or death to submit to the authority of a husband or other older male abuser. They are implicated in a view of the family that can say without humor or irony, “Father knows best.” 

As a scriptural counterpoint to the household codes, readers of the New Testament may look to Galatians 3:27-28 as well as to Philemon, in which Paul subverts elements of the Greco-Roman household structure by referring to Onesimus, an enslaved person, as a brother to Philemon, who is the head of a household. Moreover, the interaction of Jesus in the gospels with women, enslaved people, and children consistently enacts a more egalitarian ethic of community than that represented in the household codes.