In the “epistle” text for the Daily Office Lectionary (see below) today I am brought head to head with discord among God’s people.
First, there is substantial modern disagreement about whether this is in fact by Paul. Most New Testament scholars using historico-critical methods read this as being a late letter written a generation or two after Paul’s death and written in Paul’s name. They base their conclusion on the type of language and the content of the letter. Conservative Christian scholars, concerned that the veracity of God is impugned if there are pseudopigrapraphical writings in it, assert the tradition of Pauline authorship and point out that it was never questioned in ancient times.
Second, the letter itself describes an antagonistic situation which the author sees as unacceptable. The letter assumes that its recipient, Titus, is on the island of Crete. There one might find “many rebellious people, idle talkers and deceivers” within the Christian community. Many are Jewish Christians “of the circumcision party”, probably similar to the ones who opposed Paul and were described in his Letter to the Galatians. The author also quotes the famous line that, “All Cretans are liars!” (which is a paradox if a Cretan themselves says it).
This is why the author sets standards for the Overseer, the Bishop. Popularity is not sufficient, and any number of circumstances might disqualify someone. One normally does not make rules for something unless there is a problem, and so I suspect that somewhere on Crete, sometime between 80 and 150 AD, there was a candidate for the episcopate who was liable to blame, married more than once, with rebellious, pagan children, arrogant, quick-tempered, violent, greedy, and an alcoholic. It might have seemed difficult to remove the person until this old letter from Paul showed up. Hmmmm.
I do not like dissension and discord, but I’ve rarely been anywhere where it has not existed. We can see this as simply as the reality of a broken, fallen world. Christians bring this brokenness into the church, and we should not be surprised by it. We will disagree, and we will disagree about things that matter. Sometimes discipline is required when clergy and laity cross a line; actions have consequences. My hope and prayer is that those who are involved in such disagreements will be guided by the Holy Spirit to know where those lines are, and work to figure out how we live together in the tension of diversity and disagreement.
Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that is in accordance with godliness, in the hope of eternal life that God, who never lies, promised before the ages began— in due time he revealed his word through the proclamation with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Saviour,
To Titus, my loyal child in the faith we share:
Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour.
I left you behind in Crete for this reason, that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you: someone who is blameless, married only once, whose children are believers, not accused of debauchery and not rebellious. For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain; but he must be hospitable, a lover of goodness, prudent, upright, devout, and self-controlled. He must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it.
There are also many rebellious people, idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision; they must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for sordid gain what it is not right to teach. It was one of them, their very own prophet, who said,
‘Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons.’
That testimony is true. For this reason rebuke them sharply, so that they may become sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths or to commandments of those who reject the truth. To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure. Their very minds and consciences are corrupted. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their actions. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.