03 June 2024

Put a stop to argumentative Christians.

Titus 3.8-11.

Paul’s letter to Titus is full of advice on how to deal with Christians behaving badly, although recently I’ve heard a preacher using the pastoral epistles to attack pagans behaving badly. That’s not why it was written. My guess is he really wanted to criticize pagans, and wrongly thought these scriptures might help him do it. Problem is, these letters were written to correct us, to keep us on the straight and narrow… and now the people of his church—if they never double-check their pastor to make sure he was right, and let’s be honest; many don’t!—are gonna ignore the apostles’ corrections, think these verses are about pagans not them, and continue being jerks.

Because that’s precisely why Paul wrote the letters! The people of Titus and Timothy’s churches, same as the people of many Christian churches, were being self-righteous jerks, and their pastors needed to shut that bad behavior down. Still do! Too many pastors either lack the spine to do it, or the wisdom to know how to steer people lovingly—they try to discipline their churches with threats and bluntness, and that just drives people away, to attend other churches where the pastors never, ever correct ’em.

And one of the most common pestilences we see in Christian churches, is what we see in today’s passage. It’s about argumentative Christians. Argumentativeness is a work of the flesh, but so many of us justify our fighting and debating and “apologetics” by claiming, “I’m standing up for the truth. I’m doing it for Jesus!” Yeah, no we’re not. We’re indulging our lust for battle, which you can see by all the other carnal, bad fruit which emerges from these fights: Anger, harsh words, hurt feelings, unforgiveness, grudges, vengeance. Even full church splits.

That’s why Paul instructed Titus to nip ’em in the bud.

Titus 3.8-11 KWL
8A true teaching—
and I’d like you to regularly insist on these things
so those who trusted God
might thoughtfully practice good works.
These things are good and helpful for people.
9Moronic lessons and good heritage,
friction, and fights over the Law:
Step away, for they’re wasteful and meaningless.
10After the first and second rebukes,
shut down a heretic person,
11knowing such a person was uprooted
and sins, condemning one’s self.

I have several Greek New Testaments, which I look at when I’m translating bible; including ancient copies of the NT like the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Alexandrinus. (The Codex Vaticanus doesn’t include Titus.) The ancient copies don’t have punctuation, but some of ’em do have paragraphs, and verse 8 is the beginning of a new paragraph in the Alexandrinus. But Desiderius Erasmus and Robert Estienne, editors of the Textus Receptus (which did use the Alexandrinus text as a reference, and was later used to translate the King James) came up with their own paragraphs. Which is why some bibles either make verse 8 part of the previous paragraph, or make verses 1–11 into one big paragraph. Grammatically, verse 8 can be its very own paragraph. But I’ll just go with the ancient Christians on this one: The previous passages were “a true teaching” (KJV “faithful saying”), but heads up: There are also false teachings.

Moronic lessons.

First, Paul brings up μωρὰς ζητήσεις/morás zitíseis. The KJV calls this “foolish questions,” and the ESV and NIV “foolish controversies.” Μωρός/morós is where we get our word “moron,” so I kinda translated it literally. As for “lessons” it’s obviously not literal, but it is the correct interpretation: I derived it from historical context.

See, ζήτησις/zítisis literally means “seeking, inquiry, questioning, debate.” But properly, it refers to the kind of questions you’d see teachers ask their students when they’re teaching a lesson in a Socratic-style classroom. It’s exactly the sort of classroom Pharisees wanted their rabbis to have, where their kids would develop critical thinking skills because their teachers would pick apart their answers. (It’s why the boy Jesus, in temple, was asking questions: He was picking apart the teachers’ answers. Like a rabbi. Yes, a 12-year-old rabbi. Hey, he’s a prodigy.)

So if the teachers ask the questions, not the students, Paul is not talking about new believers asking dumb questions. Newbies are always gonna have dumb questions. Because they don’t know these are dumb questions; they’re new! “Wait, Samson and Delilah come from the bible?” Yes, they come from the bible; they’re not just myths. “Wait, Jesus tells us to go the extra mile?” Yes he does; it’s not just a popular saying; he coined it. Newbies are always gonna say things which make the rest of us facepalm. Hopefully they grow out of it, and grow in wisdom. But sometimes they don’t, and you know exactly which people I mean.

Therefore the issue Paul brings up here, is a Christian who’s attempting to teach other Christians. Might be people who were mistakenly designated elders because they were old, but most definitely were they not wise, not fruitful, and kinda fearful. I used to know a fearful older gentleman who turned every single one of his Sunday school classes into dire warnings about the End Times, and warnings about various people he thought might be the Beast. He’s exactly who Paul was writing about: The conspiracy-theorist types who wanna dig through their bibles, play connect-the-dots, and find new things to be afraid of. Not grow in Christ and in good fruit.

A moron is an old medical term for someone with low intelligence, or who was developmentally disabled. Of course once people learned it, they used it as a derogatory term, which is why doctors don’t use it anymore; it’s considered cruel to call people that. But I’m not calling people that. I use it to describe the dumber “bible studies” Christians will do, which are either book studies which never crack a bible; or jump away from bible to the conspiracies the teachers think they’ve uncovered, or the controversies they’re raging about. They claim they’re putting Christians on alert about all the evil in the world, all the dark forces which threaten to take away our freedoms and wealth. But really they’re just about making people as afraid as they are. And for some of ’em, it’s really so they can profit from it—so they can get people to listen to them, pay them to speak at their churches, buy their books and videos, and maybe buy their food buckets.

“Moronic lessons” kinda describes all the other things Paul lists next.

Good heritage.

The word Paul uses here is γενεαλογίας/yenealoghías, which most bibles translate “genealogies”—then leave us to wonder what in the world is wrong with a genealogy. Heck, Jesus has two of ’em! The bible has many genealogies listed within its pages; the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles is all genealogy.

“Genealogy” has to do with a first-century fad found among Pharisees and Christians; one people quit practicing because of Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus telling ’em to cut it out. Stopped so completely, other ancient Christians couldn’t tell you what they were doing. So Christians have been guessing. My translation is based on one of those guesses; I think it’s a good one. But you might disagree.

One of the more popular theories is that ancient Christians used to compare genealogical charts with one another, and brag about the ancestors they had. “Oh so you’re descended from Nehemiah? Well I’m descended from Moses. Top that.” So the people of Titus and Timothy’s church would have silly debates about who was descended from whom, and why this made them better; as if God can’t raise up rocks descended from those guys, like John the baptist pointed out.

Here’s why I think that theory is hogwash: The ancient Christians of Titus and Timothy’s churches were from everywhere. There were Jews of course, but there were also a lot of gentiles, and gentiles aren’t descended from Israel, and most of their ancestors aren’t to be found in bible. (Noah is, and Adam and Eve; but everybody’s descended from them.) Gentiles couldn’t play the “My ancestor was a more important guy in the bible” game, and would find it irrelevant and dumb. Which it is. Still is; I don’t care how many presidents or kings you’re descended from. The more important thing is what have you done?

A similar one—one which makes far more sense, I think—is people who were talking about their spiritual ancestry. Who led ’em to Jesus?—and whom was that person converted by?—and can we see a string of mentors and disciples stretching back to the Twelve, and therefore Jesus himself? We see some of that behavior elsewhere in the New Testament: People making a big thing about which apostle they felt mentored them, whether it be Paul, Apollos, or Simon Peter… or Christ Jesus himself. 1Co 1.12 People trying to find some kind of unbroken line of apostolic succession which connected them to the very first Christians.

And yes, we still have that happening today too. The Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholics are fond of saying their bishops are the disciples of other bishops, who were disciples of yet other bishops, and so on all the way back to Peter and the Twelve. So if you follow their bishops, you’re part of that unbroken line; that genealogical chart of faith. You’re part of that rich tradition, that great heritage. Feel proud!

Me, I take issue with people who like to feel proud of the work of other people. That’s nice and all, but again: What have you done? You might have the greatest forebears, but you might be a rotten human being, and you someday gotta answer to Jesus for what you did or didn’t do. Pointing to ancestors and heroes isn’t gonna save you.

The third theory about “genealogies,” which isn’t so popular, is this idea people were inventing weird gnostic teachings based on the genealogies in the bible. If every word in the bible is inspired, the argument was, “And that includes all those names in the genealogical charts!”—and people would try to play connect-the-dots with all the names, and try to find “insights” which are really just rubbish. It sounds exactly like something gnostics would do, so it wouldn’t surprise me. But I haven’t found any historical proof they were doing this back then. So that’s out.

That’s why I figure it’s the second thing. People were taking pride in their spiritual heritage, instead of doing the good works God planned for us. Ep 2.10 Just as moronic as the lessons Paul wanted ’em to stop.

Friction and fights over the Law.

Friction (Greek ἔρεις/éreis, “quarrels”) is a synonym of fights (μάχας/máhas, “battles”), and these particular disputes were about the Law.

Christians love to speculate what about the Law the Christians of Crete were fighting over. Most of us assume they were the very same fights Pharisees had: How exactly to interpret the commands. But certain lawless Christians love to claim they were fighting over whether or not to even follow the Law, and of course they vote for not following the Law, and are entirely sure Paul takes their side. Thing is—and you can see it in the text yourself—Paul doesn’t say what about the Law they were fighting over.

Because that’s not the issue. It doesn’t matter. The problem is the Cretans were fighting. Maybe they were fighting about legalism; maybe they were fighting about loopholes; maybe one of ’em had some weird interpretation of the Law which nobody else agreed with; doesn’t matter. Blessed are the peacemakers, but the Cretans weren’t seeking peace; they wanted to be right.

Paul’s instructions for all the moronic behavior: “Step away, for they’re wasteful and meaningless.” None of this stuff encourages Christians to follow Jesus and grow good fruit. It’s bad fruit. It implies none of them were following Jesus; that fruitless leadership had taken over and were just creating religious nutjobs like themselves.

Paul actually calls such a nutjob an αἱρετικὸν/eretikón, “heretic.” Yep, heretic. They’ve gone so far outside the norms of orthodox Christian belief and behavior, you gotta wonder if they’re even Christian. He tells Titus to rebuke ’em once or twice, but if they can’t listen to Titus’s correction, he’s to παραιτοῦ/paretú, which can mean anything from “you ask [them] to be excused” to “you reject [them].”

Obviously how paretú oughta be interpreted, depends on how gracious the Christian interpreter is. Historically Christians have used this passage as their proof text to say, “Drive the heretics out!” But a gracious Christian should know the goal must always be to get heretics to see the error of their ways and repent, and that’s a lot less likely to happen when they’re entirely driven away. Certainly heretics should not be allowed to teach Christians, especially newbies; certainly they ought not be in leadership. But can they still be part of our churches while they’re getting purged of their bad ideas? Sure.

But even if you let ’em be part of our churches, remember:

Titus 3.11 KWL
…knowing such a person was uprooted
and sins, condemning one’s self.

They’re wrong for reasons, and those reasons usually have to do with unrepentant sin. They’re embracing an argumentative lifestyle because they don’t love their neighbors; they hate their neighbors. They don’t forgive their neighbors; they wanna punish their neighbors. They don’t trust Jesus to sort out the world; they wanna put earthly power in their own hands, or in the hands of their favorite politicians, and smite their political enemies. They don’t wanna be the servant of all; they want honor and privilege and titles and worship. Watch out for these people. Don’t put ’em in leadership. Don’t vote for them!

Lemme end on a more positive note by bouncing back to verse 8.

Titus 3.8 KWL
A true teaching—
and I’d like you to regularly insist on these things
so those who trusted God
might thoughtfully practice good works.
These things are good and helpful for people.

“These things” are God’s unmerited favor, poured out on the Cretans while they were yet pagan sinners, granting them the Holy Spirit and making them his heirs of the age to come. Since that’s what we are now in Christ, we oughta thoughtfully practice good works. Not thoughtlessly agitate and fearmonger and quarrel and nitpick. Spread some of God’s grace around.