Titus (letter to a coworker), Philemon (letter to a slave-master)

Introduction: Titus is the last of the “pastoral epistles”, letters addressed to Paul’s co-workers and discussing church organization.  Although attributed to Paul, almost all scholars agree they are forgeries written after Paul’s death.  Philemon is an authentic letter from Paul addressed to Philemon, a slave-master, whose slave has sought out Paul after escaping.  Paul returns the slave to his master with this letter.

Titus: To Titus, my local child in the faith, grace and peace from God the Father and Jesus our Savior.  I left you in Crete to handle the remaining church matters.  Appoint elders in every town–they must be blameless, hospitable, a lover of goodness, and married only once.  There are many rebellious people, idle talkers, and deceivers, especially among the Jews.  They must be silenced–rebuke them sharply, so that they no longer pay attention to Jewish myths or irrelevant commandments.  You should teach what is consistent with sound doctrine.  Older men should be temperate, serious, and sound in faith.  Older women should be reverent; younger women should love their husbands, love their children, and be submissive to their husbands.  Younger men must be self-controlled and have integrity.  Slaves must submit to their masters and never talk back.  The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions while we wait for the coming of Christ.

Remind everyone to be subject to authorities, to avoid quarreling, and to be gentle.  We were once foolish and disobedient, but the loving kindness of God appeared and saved us according to his mercy, through our rebirth in the Holy Spirit.  Having been saved by Christ and his grace, we now have the hope of eternal life.  Insist on these things; avoid stupid controversies and genealogies, and separate yourselves from such people.  Do your best to visit me at Nicopolis, where I am spending the winter; let people devote themselves to good works in order to meet urgent needs.

Philemon: To Philemon, our deal friend and co-worker: I remember you in my prayers because of your love for the believers and faith toward Jesus.  I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment.  I am sending him back to you.  I wanted to keep him to help me, but I’d rather not do that without your consent.  Have him back as more than a slave, but as a beloved brother.  If he has owes you anything, I will repay it.  One more thing: prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be free and visit you soon.

Commentary:

  • In Titus, just like in 1/2 Timothy, pseudo-Paul is strongly in favor of the Roman patriarchal household and wants to structure the church along those lines.  Hence, women should be submissive to their husbands (2:5) and slaves must be submissive to their masters (2:9).  There is no corresponding obligation on husbands or slave masters to treat their subordinates well.
  • Pseudo-Paul, talking about the Cretans, quotes “their very own prophet” as saying “Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons.”  This prophet is Epimenides of Knossos, alive c. 600 BC, who allegedly gained the gift of prophecy after falling asleep in a cave sacred to Zeus for 57 years.  Epimenides is Cretan himself, leading to a paradox.
  • In Philemon, Paul asks Philemon to treat his runaway slave well, but never disapproves of slavery or asks Philemon to free the slave.  Instead, he returns the slave to his owner.
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