Today we return to our irregularly-scheduled trip through Titus, already in progress. Chapter 2 of Titus, much like 1 Timothy did with the offices of overseer and deacon, runs down the proper behaviors and character traits of the different sex and age groups in the church. He has instructions for older men, older women, younger men, and younger women. I noticed that the words “sensible” (2), “may encourage” (4), and “be sensible” (6, in this instance a single infinitive verb, literally “practice sensibleness”) all have the same Greek word as their root, σώφρων (sophron). I can’t help recalling Plato’s dialogue Meno, in which the titular Meno defines virtue as governance of the state for a man, governance of the household for a woman, and a different virtue for every category of human being, and Socrates takes him to task for not defining virtue but merely providing examples of different instances of it.
So here’s a letter from Paul to Titus. But who’s this guy? A search for his name throughout the entire Bible turns up some references from 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and even the final chapter of 2 Timothy, so he’s not a complete stranger to us, even if he’s a bit of a minor character in the New Testament. Whenever Paul mentions him, it’s in positive terms, comforting brethren, conducting himself respectfully and helpfully. Titus? Everyone loves Titus. He is an okay guy.
That said, let’s dig into Paul’s closing words to the Thessalonian church. I’ve found that how I react to different passages in the Bible tells me things about myself, both in general and where I am in my life at that particular reading. What resonates with me, what comforts me? What makes me uncomfortable, what makes me put up my fists inside? What do I have questions about? For me, reading the Bible is often an experience in being forced to get honest with myself before God.
The bulk of this chapter details the proper use of spiritual gifts, and its instructions are relatively uncontroversial. But near the end, just when you think we’re going to get through this one without any major issues, Paul drops this bomb on us: “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church” (14:34-35). Why’d you have to open up that can of worms, Paul? Come on!
I’m disappointed. Paul, introducing the topic of spiritual gifts in today’s passage, says, “You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the dumb idols” (2). At least, that’s how my dad’s NASB, the brown-covered one you see in all the photographs, puts it. And I say to myself, yeah! Idols are stupid idiots! You know Paul knows his Isaiah and his Psalms. But then I turn to the NASB on Bible Gateway, and it puts it as “mute idols.” And I check the Greek, and sure enough, the word indicates an inability to speak, not moronicity. The word literally means “voiceless.” Which is still in the spirit of those Old Testament critiques of idolatry; wood can’t speak, gold has no spirit. But man, I thought Paul was straight-up throwing some shade at idols’ intellectual capabilities.
So, yesterday I concluded by saying that Paul uses the word “judge” throughout 1 Corinthians 5. And I suppose that’s true, if by “throughout” I meant “once at the beginning of the chapter in verse three, and twice more in the final verses,” which is not “throughout” in any sense of the word. But today’s chapter continues talking about judgment, so it’s fair to say that this middle portion of his letter uses the word “judge” throughout. And since Paul is discussing judgment, we will too. All the Paul!
At the time when Paul wrote this letter, the Corinthian church had problems. We’ve seen their issues with factionalism and inflated egos, but in chapter five we see their issues with sexual immorality. We also see Paul drop the hammer.