Thursday, January 5, 2012

Grace, the Gospel, and Role Expectations in Titus 2

One of the erroneous assertions made about biblical prescriptions for gender roles, workplace roles, and age-related roles is the appeal to grace and the gospel as the rationale for abandoning these distinctions. The line of argumentation begins with the presumption, without scriptural foundation, that role differences are inherently enslaving and negative (rather than merely that sinful people often work sinful things through roles). It then proceeds to evaluate the gospel as entailing the obliteration of these negative roles and the liberation of those enslaved by them. And so, whether the roles be attributed to the ancient culture in which God chose to bring forth the Bible or to the prior domain of the Old Testament, gender roles, age roles, and occupational roles become "the Rules" that Grace has set aside.

And then there's Titus 2. It's a remarkably pristine piece of text, with no textual difficulties appearing at all in the apparatus. There's really no question what this chapter says, and there's no question that this entire chapter fits together as a unified pericope.

An inclusio marks the boundaries of the pericope here, bracketed by injunctions to Titus to speak clearly and forcefully in the churches, transmitting these Pauline directives:

Σὺ δὲ λάλει ἃ πρέπει τῇ ὑγιαινούσῃ διδασκαλίᾳ….

….Ταῦτα λάλει καὶ παρακάλει καὶ ἕλεγχε μετὰ πάσης ἐπιταγῆς· μηδείς σου περιφρονείτω.

In English (NASB)

But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine….

….These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

Besides the inclusio, another indication that all of chapter 2 belongs together rhetorically is the presence of the particle γὰρ ("for") in the first sentence of the second paragraph (2:11). The word γὰρ is generally one of the earlier particles that students of the Greek language learn. It occurs regularly throughout the New Testament. It is rhetorically important. According to the Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon, this particle simply "[introduces] the reason or cause for what precedes." Thus, in persuasive texts that frequently present lines of reasoning for things (like New Testament epistles), the word γὰρ was a handy tool for the authors and is an important key marker for the task of interpretation.

The function of this word in Titus 2 is no mystery: The second paragraph (2:11-15) provides the "reason or cause for" the first paragraph (2:1-10).

And so, we're thankful that, in this case, Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton (c1150-1228), when assigning the New Testament into chapters, listened carefully to the Holy Spirit and got Titus 2 precisely right. These two paragraphs clearly belong together in this pericope.

So, these paragraphs say something together. But what do they say?

The first paragraph consists entirely of what many must regard as a set of stern, inflexible prescriptions of biblical roles according to gender, age, and economic condition. Older men must put aside any youthful problems they had with alcoholic beverages, undignified behavior, foolishness, or fickleness and instead become temperate, dignified, sensible, and sound in faith, love, and perseverance. Older women, similarly, are to put aside their problems with alcoholic beverages, gossip, and irreverence, positioning themselves as the teachers of younger women. Those younger women, by the way, are assigned to the love of husband and children, work at home, and subjection to their husbands, among other things. Younger men simply receive the command to be sensible. Slaves are to be subject to their masters. It says something about the spread of Christianity mostly among the poor that there was no need in Crete for instructions to masters.

Along the way, several reasons appear in the first paragraph to justify the need for believers to adhere closely to these roles. Younger women must remain within these biblical boundaries of behavior "so that the word of God will not be dishonored." (2:5) Titus receives a set of instructions for his own behavior (and he, I presume, was one who belonged in the category of "younger men" although he was, by office and calling, an "elder" in the church), "so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us." (2:8) In both of these cases, some argument can be made that there is room for these behavioral norms to have been conditioned by culture, although neither one really makes a good case for that as the only way to understand the passage.

The statement to Titus in 2:8 clearly has in mind the church's reputation among outside opponents. Opponents would be able to revile the church and the gospel if Titus, as the church's key missionary-leader, were, say, an example of bad deeds rather than an example of good deeds, as Paul instructed. The opinion of opponents was definitely in mind, and yet so was the matter of biblical truth. The important fact here is that the opponents, if they were to criticize Titus for bad deeds that he had wrought, would have been right! If the cultural-conditioning of this passage were the dominant factor in interpretation, one would have to conclude that, in some hypothetical culture in which the opponents valued bad deeds and criticized good deeds, Titus would have been commanded to be an example in bad deeds in order to protect the reputation of the church. Of course, that would be preposterous. The intent here is not to chase the culture wherever it goes, but to deny the culture any VALID reason to demean Christians and dishonor Christ's church.

The statement about younger women in 2:5 dishonoring the word of God when they are not workers at home who love their children and love and subject themselves to their husbands and are sensible, pure, and kind, actually uses the word "blaspheme." It is a passive construction (βλασφημῆται) that does not clearly state whether Christian women who do not live in this way are themselves, by their own behavior, blaspheming the word of God, or whether they are simply causing other people (Those who see their behavior and are scandalized by it? Their children and husbands who suffer on account of their refusal to abide by these biblical roles?) to blaspheme the word of God. And so, if this verse is considered all alone without the benefit of context, it might be equally possible that the key concern of this passage is that contrary behavior by Christian women is inherently wrong, or that there is simply a fear that other people will react wrongly to contrary behavior. In simpler words, one can, if he ignores the context, legitimately ask whether it is God or other people who are offended by young women who don't act according to these role expectations.

There is also in this first paragraph a promise to slaves that their honesty and fidelity in service will "adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect."

So, just in the first paragraph, we see that adhering to these roles prevents blasphemy against the word of God, denies opponents any legitimate criticisms to hurl against churches, and attractively accessorizes (in the fashion sense) good Christian doctrine. All of these reasons appear as asides in this first paragraph spelling out the role expectations of these early Christians, and that before we even reach the paragraph written to give the major reason for the prescription of these roles for Christian believers!

When we get to verse 11 and reach that second paragraph, we discover that the major reason for adhering to these role expectations is neither the culture nor the Law, but grace and the gospel. As we saw above, the particle γὰρ clearly, indisputably, establishes the role of this second paragraph as a delineation of the major reason for the teachings of the preceding paragraph. Indeed, it functions as the thematic rationale for the majority of the third chapter of this letter as well, which resumes the theme of submission to authority and adherence to biblical role expectations, expanding it to discuss some aspects of the role of members in the congregation.

And what does this second paragraph say? What is the reason for older men, older women, younger women, younger men, slaves and (in other places in the New Testament) masters to adhere strictly to expectations bound up to their respective roles?

Ἐπεφάνη φὰρ ἡ χάρις τοῦ θεοῦ σωτήριος πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις παιδεύσα ἡμας, ἵνα ἀρνησἀμενοι τὴν ἀσέβειαν καὶ τὰς κοσμικὰς ἐπιθυμἰας σωφρὀνως καὶ δικαίως καὶ εὐσεβῶς ζήσωμεν ἐν τῷ νῦν αἰῶνι, προσδεχὀμενοι τὴν μακαρίαν ἐλπίδα καὶ ἐπιφάνειαν τῆς δόξης τοῦ μεγάλου θεοῦ καὶ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ,…

In English (NASB)

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus,…

So, there you go. According to the New Testament in Titus 2, why should older men, older women, younger women, and younger men live according to these role expectations? Because of the appearing of the grace of God and because of the gospel of salvation that it brings.

Titus 2 is really a remarkable passage to teach us about what the New Testament means when it speaks of the grace of God. We hear a lot about grace these days. It's awfully easy to reduce the New Testament doctrine of grace down to one's own political or anthropological theory or theological presuppositions. But here are a few of the things that God teaches us about His grace in Titus 2:

  1. God's salvation-bringing grace has appeared and has come to all men.
  2. Grace has very much to do with prescribing rules of behavior for people and for empowering them to live according to those standards. Indeed, to preach instructing people to deny ungodliness in their behavior, to deny worldly desires in their behavior, and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in their behavior is, according to Titus 2, at least a part of what it means to preach the salvation-bringing grace of God.
  3. Christ's purpose of grace on the cross was not only to redeem me from Hell or from Satan, but to redeem us from every lawless deed in our behavior.
  4. Additionally, Christ's purpose was our purification, not merely ceremonially, but in the reform of our behavior.
  5. Christ purposed through grace to own us…to possess us, and to make us people whose internal nature and outward behavior were fitting for those who would be possessed by Christ.
  6. It is the purpose of Christ in grace and the consequence of grace that we should possess a zeal about good deeds in our behavior.

And so, to live within these roles is an example, in Titus 2, of the good behavior that was the very design of the grace of God envisioned by Christ in His giving of Himself on the cross.

Of course, all of this will pose very little obstacle for a great many of the egalitarians in the world, for a great many of them do not believe that Paul wrote Titus (and wouldn't even feel all that constrained by it if he did). And yet, for inerrantists, the complementarian implications of Titus 2 would seem difficult to escape. Certainly, even if one were to argue that times have changed and the church ought to change with them, it would be absurd to deduce that the New Testament teaches that the gospel abolishes role expectations according to gender, age, or station in life when, in Titus 2, the New Testament clearly and forcefully required at least one group of people to toe the line of gender and age distinctions explicitly because of grace and the gospel.

In discussions of gender roles, 1 Timothy 2:11-15 gets a lot of attention, and rightfully so. Nevertheless, we ought to save some attention for Titus 2:11-15 in the discussion, as well.


volfan007 said...


Excellent. Good stuff, Bro. I wish you could preach this at the SBC.


Bart Barber said...

My congregation just wishes I could preach.

R. L. Vaughn said...

I enjoyed reading this post.

"...all of this will pose very little obstacle for a great many of the egalitarians in the world, for a great many of them do not believe that Paul wrote Titus (and wouldn't even feel all that constrained by it if he did). And yet, for inerrantists, the complementarian implications of Titus 2 would seem difficult to escape...

I was struck by how close this was to something I read yesterday, and just how true it is. In a book introduction Douglas Wilson wrote about how liberals may often actually get an interpretation right -- in the sense of "yea, that's what it says." But then they go away with a “Wasn’t that quaint? ho, ho, ho” and no qualms about doing or not doing what it says. Inerrantists, on the other hand, have “to live with what [they] claim the Bible says.” Oh, that we would take it seriously and “live with it.” (The other options are to "fudge" our interpretation until it gets comfortable, or just be disobedient.)

Thanks for your thoughts.

Bart Barber said...

Thanks, Bro. Vaughn,

It really does change the nature of these conversations when the inerrancy of scripture is presumed. As you have rightly pointed out, we inerrantists have our own ways of skirting the authority of scripture! So none of us are without fault. But it does make a difference in these conversations what one believes about the nature of the Bible.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Amen. It definitely does. At least the inerrantist has the possibility of getting to the right place and then obeying because he or she thinks it is authoritative.