Paul’s Letter to Titus: A Discussion Guide

This study guide is designed especially for group discussion, but would be profitable for individuals as well. If you are a group leader, there are some answers suggested, but most are open-ended and could have a range of responses. A number of the questions are designed to encourage assessment skills—like appraising our group’s strengths and weakness concerning sound doctrine and consistent action in response to sound doctrine.  I encourage you not to skip the initial interpretive and background section so that the discussion stays anchored in the text.

Getting the Big Picture and Background

Read the letter all the way through with the group, noting the major emphases and themes (avoid the details until later).

Who was Titus?

  • The letter itself gives little biographical information other than 1:5, which is more about his task than his character. For more on Titus in the rest of the NT, see 2 Cor. 2:13; 7:6, 13, 14; 8:6, 16, 13; 12:18; Gal. 2:1, 3; 2 Tim. 4:10.
  • What do these references tell us about Titus and his relationship to Paul?

Reconstruct the historical situation

Re-read 1:5; 1:10-16; 3:12 for the background information and implications and summarize the situation Titus is in.

The places mentioned in Titus 1:5 and 3:12 do not fit into the Acts framework of Paul’s travels and suggest that he  was released from his imprisonment some time after Acts 28 (around 60 AD). The letter known as Titus was apparently written between Paul’s first imprisonment in Acts 28 (and further detailed in Philippians 1:12-26) and his second described in 2nd Timothy.

  • In what ways is our situation similar to Titus’?
  • In what ways is our situation different?

Finding the Heart of the Letter

Before reading on and considering my answer, what would you say is the main thesis of Paul’s letter to Titus? Try to summarize it in a sentence.

Notice in 1:1 when Paul describes the purpose of his apostleship as being for “the knowledge which is according to godliness,”  which the NIV translates as “the knowledge that leads to godliness.” This seems to summarize Paul’s concerns for Titus, that he speak “sound doctrine” (1:9, 2:1, 2) and that he urges believers to engage in “good deeds” (3:8, 3:14).  Notice that 2:7 (“in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine and dignified”) also captures these dual goals.

What is sound doctrine?

Do a word study of “sound”  if you have the tools. If not,  see the footnote below, taken from Kittel’s Theological Dictionary.[1] How does the word study shape your understanding of what sound doctrine is?

In Titus 1:9, Paul says an overseer must “hold fast the faithful word which is accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict.”

  • What kind of standards does this suggest for the knowledge level of Christian leaders? Should the lay worker be far behind? What happens when Christians take the easy road of biblical ignorance? Are there perils? What about the rewards of learning?
  • What would you say are the important theological topics that a worker should master and be able to communicate about? Compile a list and why each area is essential.
  • What are some of the important falsehoods circulating in our culture that we should be able to refute?
  • Do you think sound doctrine is properly valued in our church? What would be some  warning signs that sound doctrine is undervalued? Are we discerning as a church about false doctrine? What are the most common and dangerous forms of false doctrine that Christians are falling for today?
  • How has your progress been in these areas over the last six months? What are your theological goals for the next six months? Have your standards been as rigorous as those set for Titus?
  • It is important not only to teach what the Bible teaches, but to emphasize what the Bible emphasizes.  What does sound doctrine emphasize according to the letter to Titus?
    • See 2:11, 3:7 and compare your ideas with 2 Tim 2:11-14
    • What are some of the effects of teaching biblically accurate material, but failing to emphasize what the Bible emphasizes? Give some example of mis-emphasis.

The letter to Titus includes two doctrinal sections (2:11-14; 3:3-7) that are both followed by calls for Titus lead the church to practical action consistent with that doctrine (2:15; 3:8, 14).

  • Do we just talk about grace or do we act on it? Notice how Paul in Titus weds “the grace of God appearing” and “engaging in good deeds.” What is the relationship between grace and good deeds?
  • How are good deeds “good and profitable” (3:8)? Do people generally believe that?
  • Are we “zealous” or “eager” (2:14) for good deeds? What are indictors of a highly motivated group?
  • If we lack motivation, how could our zeal be increased?

How is Titus to see to it that knowledge leads to godliness among his people? What is a leader’s job?

  • See  (2:1, 8, 15; 3:8; “speak”) and “exhort” (1:9); “urge” (2:6) “remind” (3:1)
  • “Nothing a pastor does matters more than the way he or she uses words.”—Eugene Peterson
  • Agree? Do you place this much importance on your words? Do you consciously try to motivate people to “engage in good deeds?”  See Hebrews 10:24, 25 on this.

sophroneo [healthy, sound]

  1. Secular Greek.
    1. Meaning. The group has the sense of “healthy” and then more generally “rational,” “intelligent,” “reliable,” and “whole.” Health implies a proper balance of the whole and on some views is maintained by a balance of such forces as the moist, dry, cold, hot, bitter, and sweet.
  2. The LXX.
    1. hygiaéŒnoµ occurs 41 times in the LXX. Health is a divine gift, a part of life, and denotes human well-being.
    2. hygieµs occurs ten times in the LXX and denotes healthy or safe (Is. 38:21; Josh. 10:21). The Hellenistic evaluation of health emerges in Sir. 30:14. Physicians and apothecaries work through divinely given means (38:1ff.).
  3. The NT.
    1. The NT does not especially value health. Yet Jesus as the victor over sin and suffering restores health by his word (Mk. 5:34; Mt. 12:13; Jn. 5:9; Lk. 5:31). Making the whole man healthy (Jn. 7:23), he liberates for a new life that embraces the body. He transmits the power to heal, or to make whole, to the apostles (Acts 4:10).
    2. 3 Jn. 2 uses a Hellenistic epistolary greeting.
    3. In 1 Tim. 1:10; 6:3; Tit. 2:8 we find the idea of “sound” teaching or words. The reference is to true teaching, not to teaching that makes whole. This teaching, validated by the apostles, is concerned, not with speculation, but with true, rational, and proper life in the world. Being “sound in faith” (Tit. 1:13) goes hand in hand with being temperate, serious, and sensible (2:2)