The apostle Paul had many important people in his life. Barnabas was his early supporter and a co-worker on his first missionary journey. Timothy was an important student who helped him plant various churches. But what do we know about his friend Titus?
What Does the Book of Titus Tell Us?
Titus is mentioned in four books of the New Testament, primarily the book of Titus.
The book of Titus is written by Paul, calling Titus “my true son in the common faith” (Titus 1:4). Over the book’s three chapters, Paul advises Titus on how to “put in order what was left unfinished” (Titus 1:5) in Crete. Titus must set up elders in each town, men who fit particular qualifications (Titus 1:5-9). Paul establishes that the qualifications are especially important to ensure the elders teach sound doctrine and handle the many people rebelling and giving poor teaching in Crete (1:10-16).
Along with describing what to look for in an elder, Paul tells Titus what to teach specific groups of Christians. Paul outlines proper behavior for older men and older women (Titus 2:1-5), for younger men (Titus 2:6-8), and slaves (Titus 2:9-10). Paul reminds Titus that he is the leader and should not fear using his authority (Titus 2:15).
In the final chapter, Paul gives Titus instructions about what to teach everyone: to follow and respect the authorities (Titus 3:1-2), remember they are saved and not guided by sin anymore (Titus 3:3-8), and shouldn’t get into pointless debates (Titus 3:9-10). Paul ends by giving Titus some instructions about their associates: to treat Zenas the lawyer and Apollos well when they leave (Titus 3:13) and to come to see Paul in Nicopolis once Artemas or Tychicus arrive (Titus 3:12).
Overall, the image that Paul gives of Titus is someone he trusts enough to complete the tasks he started. Paul planted the church in Crete, and Titus ensured it had the leadership to survive. Paul also indicates that he trusted Titus to ensure other believers like Zenas and Apollos were taken care of. If the book of Acts shows Paul as a man with a wide ministry—planting churches in different countries, never in one place too long—then the book of Titus shows his “son in the common faith” as someone with a smaller but equally important ministry.
Where Else Does the Bible Mention Titus?
The other three New Testament books that mention Titus give hints at his background and show he was more than just a Christian leader in Crete.
Titus also features prominently in Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth. He mentions that he recently visited Troas to share the gospel, but didn’t feel at peace because “my brother Titus” wasn’t there (Corinthians 2:12). As a result, Paul kept traveling and went on to Macedonia. Later in his letter, Paul describes how the church in Macedonia started a collection. He and some associates asked Titus to visit Corinth to collect any offerings they could give (2 Corinthians 8:5-7). Paul goes on to say Titus has “the same concern I have for you” (2 Corinthians 8:16) and welcomed the idea of visiting Corinth (2 Corinthians 8:17). Furthermore, churches picked Titus to travel with Paul to collect offerings (2 Corinthians 8:19). Paul urges the Corinthians to give generously, for Titus “ is my partner and co-worker among you”(2 Corinthians 8:23). His final reference to Titus visiting the church on Paul’s behalf in the past (2 Corinthians 12:18) and being refreshed by them (2 Corinthians 7:13-16) show Titus has a history of going where Paul sent him. Titus doesn’t just work in Crete. He goes to other churches that Paul founded or advised.
In Galatians 2:1-3, Paul mentions Titus traveling with him and Barnabas to Jerusalem, that Titus was Greek and “not compelled to be circumcised.” Paul gives these details as part of an argument that Jewish Christians must stop looking down on uncircumcised Gentiles. He argues that Christians—whether they are circumcised Jews like Paul or uncircumcised Gentiles like Titus—are justified by their faith in Christ, not by following Judaism’s laws (Galatians 2:15-16).
In 2 Timothy 4:10, written while Paul was imprisoned in Rome, he mentions Titus as one of several people who have left him. Paul describes one of these people, Demas, as having deserted him in favor of the world (2 Timothy 4:10) but doesn’t say that about Titus or Crescens. He says that Crescens has gone to Thessalonica, Titus to Dalmatia. Given Titus’ history of going where Paul sent him (staying in Crete, going to Corinth), this may suggest Paul sent Titus on a mission to Dalmatia or that Titus had ministry work in that area. Either way, there’s no indication of a break in their relationship. Paul’s main concern is asking Timothy to come with Mark because without Titus or Crescens, Paul has only Luke with him in Rome (2 Timothy 4:11).
Why Did Paul Call Titus His Son?
Paul does refer to Titus as a brother in 2 Corinthians, but he opens the book of Titus by referring to him as his son in the common faith. These two terms communicate two important realities. As a fellow Christian and as one of Paul’s ministry partners, Titus was Paul’s brother. As a Christian that Paul advised and who followed Paul’s instructions, he was Paul’s son. In other words, Titus appears to be a disciple of Paul.
The term disciple, of course, refers to Jesus’ twelve disciples who followed him for approximately three years. Easton’s Bible Dictionary uses the four Gospels’ descriptions to define a disciple of Jesus as someone who “(1) believes his doctrine, (2) rests on his sacrifice, (3) imbibes his spirit, and (4) imitates his example.”
While the 12 men closest to Jesus knew him in a way that no one else did, we can all be disciples of Jesus by following him and pursuing spiritual growth. The way Jesus taught his disciples, and the way they went on to teach others, teaches us something else: teachers can disciple students to become more Christlike. Depending on the setting, this kind of discipleship can take different forms. Writers like _ have noted that Jesus discipled 12 people at once in group settings, which creates a precedent for group discipleship.
However, Jesus had a particularly close relationship with three disciples—Peter, James, and John. So, we also see a model for individual discipleship—a leader spending time with one or two disciples that he mentors. Peter went on to disciple at least one person, John Mark (who wrote his gospel from Peter’s recollections). Based on Paul’s letters to Titus, we can conclude that he discipled Titus. He treated Titus like a son, someone he mentored and advised as his spiritual father figure.
How Does Titus Compare to Timothy?
Titus was not the only person that Paul discipled. Paul similarly opens his first letter to Timothy by calling him “my own true son in the faith.” While some scholars have argued that Titus is a nickname for Timothy, the fact that Paul explicitly mentions Titus not feeling a need to be circumcised but that he circumcised Timothy (Acts 16) makes this unlikely. It seems more accurate to say that Timothy and Titus were both younger believers who knew Paul, studied under him, and operated as junior partners in his ministry.
Looking at Paul’s letters to Titus and Timothy, we see some similarities. Like Titus, Paul encourages Timothy to fight against poor teachings (1 Timothy 1:3-11). Paul gives Timothy instructions for the churches that Timothy is in charge of, for both elders and deacons (1 Timothy 3). Paul also advises Timothy on what to teach particular groups, like older men and older women (1 Timothy 5).
If there’s a difference between how Paul mentored Timothy and Titus, it seems to be that Timothy was closer (following Paul on his missionary journeys) and perhaps reached different audiences. Both Timothy and Titus had Greek heritage, but Timothy was half-Jewish (Acts 16). The fact that Paul, a Jew who had been a Pharisee, poured himself into two Gentile students, demonstrates he truly believed “in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile” (Galatians 3:28).
Discipleship Lessons from Titus
While Paul’s letter to Titus is short, it provides some important lessons about discipleship.
1. A disciple-maker leads the disciple to maturity. By the time Paul entrusted Titus to develop the church in Crete, Titus had become a mature believer who could teach others. A disciple may always get advice from his mentor, and not all disciples are called to lead churches. Still, an important test of discipleship is whether the disciple matures and can pass on their lessons.
2. A disciple-maker enables the disciple to follow Christ. Paul gave Titus advice about leading the church in Crete, but his letter repeatedly pointed Titus to remember his identity as someone saved by Christ. Discipleship is not about relying on someone’s personality. Discipleship is about learning to become more like Christ.
3. A disciple-maker allows the disciple to lead. Paul advised Titus from afar about how to lead but didn’t go to Crete and hold Titus’s hand. Once Titus had become a mature leader, they stayed in contact, yet Paul trusted Titus to be apart from him. Discipleship relationships may have different phases. It may happen over long or short distances. Eventually, disciples must step out of the mentor’s shadow.
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Photo Credit: Getty Images/jodie777
G. Connor Salter is a writer and editor, with a Bachelor of Science in Professional Writing from Taylor University. In 2020, he won First Prize for Best Feature Story in a regional contest by the Colorado Press Association Network. He has contributed over 1,000 articles to various publications, including interviews for Christian Communicator and book reviews for The Evangelical Church Library Association. Find out more about his work here.
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