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Commentary on Timothy, Titus, Philemon
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Titus 3:8-9

8. This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.

8. fidelis sermo est et de his volo to confirmare ut curent bonis operibus praeesse qui credunt Deo haec sunt bona et utilia hominibus

9. But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.

9. Stultas autem quaestiones et genealogias et contentiones et pugnas legis devita sunt enim inutiles et vanae

8 A faithful saying He employs this mode of expression, when he wishes to make a solemn assertion as we have seen in both of the Epistles to Timothy. (1 Timothy 1:15; 3:1; 2 Timothy 2:11.) And therefore he immediately adds: —

I wish thee to affirm these things 263263     “Meaning, ‘and I would have you constantly insist on these truths; so that those who have believed in God may maintain good works.’ The cause of the obscurity, and consequent diversity of interpretation, arose from the Apostle not having here shewn how it should be, that the doctrine of salvation by grace should produce holiness of life. But he has done it in another kindred passage, namely, Ephesians 2:9,10, where, after having at large treated on the subject of salvation by grace, (as here,) adding that it is not of works, lest any man should boast, he subjoins, αὐτοῦ γάρ ἐσμεν, κ.τ.λ. where the γὰρ refers to a clause omitted, q. d. (Yet works must be done,) for, etc. Hence it would seem that καλῶν ἔργων here must have the same sense as ἔργοις ἀγαθοῖς there; and consequently it must not be limited, with many eminent commentators, to works of benevolence, still less to the business of our avocation, but be extended to good works of every kind.” — Bloomfield. Διαβεβαιοῦσθαι under a passive termination, has an active signification, and means “to affirm anything strongly.” Titus is therefore enjoined to disregard other matters, and to teach those which are certain and undoubted — to press them on the attention of their hearers — to dwell upon them — while others talk idly about things of little importance. Hence also, we conclude that a bishop must not make any assertions at random, but must assert those things only which he has ascertained to be true. “Affirm these things,” says he, “because they are true and worthy of credit.” But we are reminded, on the other hand, that it is the duty and office of a bishop to affirm strongly, and maintain boldly, those things which are believed on good grounds, and which edify godliness.

That they who have believed God may be careful to excel in good works, (or, to extol good works, or, to assign to them the highest rank.) He includes all the instructions which he formerly gave concerning the duty of every person, and the desire of leading a religious and holy life; as if he contrasted the fear of God, and well-regulated conduct, with idle speculations. He wishes the people to be instructed in such a manner that “they who have believed God,” may be solicitous, above all things, about good works.

But, as the verb προΐστασθαι is used in various senses by Greek authors, this passage also gives scope for various interpretations. Chrysostom: explains it to mean, that they should endeavor to relieve their neighbors by giving alms. Προΐστασθαι does sometimes mean “to give assistance;” but in that case the syntax would require us to understand that the “good works” should be aided, which would be a harsh construction. The meaning conveyed by the French word avancer, “to go forward,” would be more appropriate. What if we should say, — “Let them strive as those who have the pre-eminence?” That is also one meaning of the word. Or, perhaps, some one will prefer what I have enclosed in brackets: “Let them be careful to assign the highest rank to good works.” And certainly it would not be unsuitable that Paul should enjoin that those things should prevail in the life of believers, because they are usually disregarded by others.

Whatever may be the ambiguity of the expression, the meaning of Paul is sufficiently clear, that the design of Christian doctrine is, that believers should exercise themselves in good works. 264264     “The original word προΐστασθαι has a beauty and an energy, which, I believe, it is impossible for our language to preserve by any literal translation. It implies, that a believer should not only be exercised in, but eminent for, all good works; should shew others the way, and outstrip them in the honorable race; be both a pattern and a patron of universal godliness.” — Hervey. Thus he wishes them to give to it their study and application; and, when the Apostle says, φροντίζωσι (“let them be careful,”) he appears to allude elegantly to the useless contemplations of those who speculate without advantage, and without regard to active life.

Yet he is not so careful about good works as to despise the root — that is, faith — while he is gathering the fruits. He takes account of both parts, and, as is highly proper, assigns the first rank to faith; for he enjoins those “who believed in God” to be zealous of “good works;” by which he means that faith must go before in such a manner that good works may follow.

For these things are honorable I refer this to the doctrine rather than to the works, in this sense: “It is excellent and useful that men be thus instructed; and, therefore, those things which he formerly exhorted Titus to be zealous in affirming are the same things that are good and useful to men.” We might translate τὰ καλά either “good,” or “beautiful,” or “honorable;” but, in my opinion, it would be best to translate it “excellent.” He states indirectly that all other things that are taught are of no value, because they yield no profit or advantage; as, on the contrary, that which contributes to salvation is worthy of praise.

9 But avoid foolish questions There is no necessity for debating long about the exposition of this passage. He contrasts “questions” with sound and certain doctrine. Although it is necessary to seek, in order to find, yet there is a limit to seeking, that you may understand what is useful to be known, and, next, that you may adhere firmly to the truth, when it has been known. Those who inquire curiously into everything, and are never at rest, may be truly called Questionarians. In short, what the schools of the Sorbonne account worthy of the highest praise — is here condemned by Paul; for the whole theology of the Papists is nothing else than a labyrinth of questions. He calls them foolish; not that, at first sight, they appear to be such, (for, on the contrary, they often deceive by a vain parade of wisdom,) but because they contribute nothing to godliness.

When he adds genealogies, he mentions one class of “foolish questions;” for instance, when curious men, forgetting to gather fruit from the sacred histories, seize on the lineage of races, and trifles of that nature, with which they weary themselves without advantage. Of that folly we spoke towards the beginning of the First Epistle to Timothy. 265265     See p. 23.

He properly adds contentions; because in “questions” the prevailing spirit is ambition; and, therefore, it is impossible but that they shall immediately break forth into “contention” and quarrels; for there every one wishes to be the conqueror. This is accompanied by hardihood in affirming about things that are uncertain, which unavoidably leads to debates.

And fightings about the law He gives this disdainful appellation to those debates which were raised by the Jews under the pretence of the law; not that the law of itself produces them, but because the Jews, pretending to defend the law, disturbed the peace of the Church by their absurd controversies about the observation of ceremonies, about the distinction of the kinds of food and things of that nature.

For they are unprofitable and unnecessary In doctrine, therefore, we should always have regard to usefulness, so that everything that does not contribute to godliness shall be held in no estimation. And yet those sophists, in babbling about things of no value, undoubtedly boasted of them as highly worthy and useful to be known; but Paul does not acknowledge them to possess any usefulness, unless they tend to the increase of faith and to a holy life.


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