Titus: The First Consulting Pastor

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is perhaps the most well-known fictional character not only the history of English literature, but perhaps, in all of the world’s literature. In the first of the stories, A Study in Scarlet, Holmes is explaining to his new friend and flat mate, Dr. John Watson, exactly what he does for a living. “Well, I have a trade of my own. I suppose I am the only one in the world. I am a consulting detective.”  I’d like to borrow the term and apply it to pastoral ministry, instead of the idea of the traditional “Interim Pastor” I would like to propose the concept of the “Consulting Pastor.”  This is a person who works to solve problems in local churches who need help but lack the experience, practical knowledge or trained leaders to actually solve them.

While the overall Biblical mandate for pastors, elders, deacons, and church leaders is to “care for the flock” (1 Pet 5:1–4) and the exacting qualifications required to attain to those positions (1 Tim 3; Tit 1) has not changed; defining those roles within the larger realm of pastoral ministry has clearly evolved over the history of the church. Pastoral specialization, particularly among multi-staff churches, was essentially unknown prior to the early 20th Century.[1] Pastoral specialization, while foreign to the New Testament in terms of an exacting discussion, is still present in at least a nascent form as 1 Timothy 5:17 would indicate. In discussing the ideals of the Consulting Pastor we believe that there is a fascinating New Testament personality, which exemplifies the character and work, involved in this role.

Of the non-apostolic personalities in the early church, Titus stands out as one of the few individuals, relatively speaking, for whom there is a significant amount of information is presented. Although far from comprehensive, we know and can infer a good deal about him as a person and as a church leader and the ideal “template” for the Consulting Pastor.

Titus: An Overview of His Life from Scripture and Tradition

Titus was a Gentile by birth and apparently was saved under the Apostle Paul’s ministry (Gal 2:3; Tit 1:4).[2]   He quickly became an important associate of Paul and was utilized as an emissary to perhaps two of the most difficult ministry situations we see in Paul’s epistles: the near collapse of the Corinthian Church and the completion of the establishment of churches in Crete. One writer characterized Titus as “Paul’s strong right arm.”[3]

As the church began to grow it rapidly began to expand beyond its initially exclusive Jewish constituency. Beginning with the conversion of Cornelius and his household in Acts 10, and then continuing with the ministry of Paul, the inevitability that, “there would be more Gentile Christians than Jewish Christians in the world.”[4] Paul had forcefully declared his intentions for Gentile evangelism in Acts 18:6, “From now on I shall go to the Gentiles.” This was particularly troubling to the Jewish believers because of the pagan lifestyle the Gentiles were coming out of and the fear of a “weakening of the church’s moral standards.”[5] And, as Bruce notes, “the evidence of Paul’s letters shows that their misgivings were not unfounded.”[6]

In Acts 15 the issue comes to a head with a Jewish/Christian faction declaring that salvation for Gentiles was only possible if “you are circumcised according the custom of Moses” (Acts 15:1). Paul and Barnabus argued at length against this interpolation of Old Covenant practice and ritual into the New Covenant era. The result was that the church at Antioch decided that Paul and Barnabus (and others) should go to Jerusalem to consult with the apostles and elders and get instruction and direction as to how to proceed with this matter. It is at this juncture that in Galatians 2 we are introduced to Titus where he is named as being taken to this Jerusalem meeting by Paul and Barnabus.[7] This occurred in the fall of A. D. 49.[8]

In much the same manner that Branch Rickey, the general manager and president of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team, in 1947 hand picked Jackie Robinson to be the individual player that would break the color line in baseball[9]; so it seems clear that Paul carefully selected the Gentile convert Titus to be the test case in the Jerusalem Council. In Galatians 2:1 the phrase, συμπαραλαβὼν καὶ Τίτον· (“taking Titus also”) indicates a particular selection. As Fung notes, “The singular participle ‘taking’ suggests that his inclusion in the present party was due to the initiative of Paul, who wished to bring him along as a representative of Gentile Christians.”[10]

In the larger affair of the Jerusalem Council, Titus would be under intense scrutiny and pressure. Any waffling, misstep, misstatement, or slightest offense to the Jews at this council, would be disastrous to the cause of Jewish-Gentile integration in the church. The desire to encumber Gentiles with circumcision and other aspects of the Mosaic economy in order to secure salvation was not limited to a few in Antioch, but also was represented in Jerusalem itself (Acts 15:5). While Luke only gives narratives of the speeches of Peter and James at the council and only summary statements about the testimony of Paul and Barnabus,[11] it is clear that Titus passed the test, as Paul notes in Galatians 2:3, “not even Titus who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.”

Titus continued to be a close traveling companion with the Apostle Paul and was his personal envoy and mediator of last resort in the tense situation at the Corinthian Church (2 Cor 2:12–13; 7:2–8:6). Titus was also the individual that Paul appointed as the leader of a group of three delegates to carry out the collection from the gentile churches for the relief of the poverty–stricken Jewish believers in Jerusalem (2 Cor 8:6–9:1; 1 Cor 16:1–4). In the context of 2 Cor 8:18–22 it is noteworthy that only Titus is actually named despite the fact that the other two delegates are described as, “the brother whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches” (vs. 18); and “our brother, whom we have often tested and found diligent in many things” (vs. 22). The mention of Titus first in this discussion by Paul and the fact that he is the only one named, despite the impressive credentials of the others, indicates that “Titus was the preeminent member of Paul’s delegation.”[12]

After Paul’s release from his first Roman imprisonment, which Harnack refers to as a “certain fact of history,”[13] He makes a trip through Philippi (Phil 1:25) and then on to Asia Minor (Philem 22). After this it is thought that he made his planned trip to Spain (Rom 15:24, 28) and that it seems likely that Titus, as a Gentile, would have been his main assistant if this trip became a reality. As Paul’s ministry and life was nearing an end, he traveled with Titus to the large island of Crete to minister and plant churches in a very difficult locale. While Paul had on Crete previously (Acts 27:7–13) it is unlikely that any significant evangelistic activity was undertaken during the brief stay.[14] It is most reasonable to assume that this trip to Crete came after the travels to Spain.[15] Christianity, or at least the rudimentary details of the faith had, in all probability, already reached Crete prior to the ministry of Paul and Titus. Jews from Crete are listed among those who were present at the Pentecostal event in Jerusalem at the birth of the Church (Acts 2:11). However, the state of whatever church they did find there was apparently quite poor.

After ministering there for some short length of time, Paul apparently was compelled to leave Crete with the work still incomplete, a highly unusual event in the apostle’s ministry; but an exception he was willing to make because Titus was to remain to “set in order what remains” (Titus 1:5). In Titus 3:12, Paul tells Titus that he will be replaced in Crete with the coming of Artemis or Tychicus and that he should meet Paul in Nicopolis where he would be spending the winter. Strong tradition holds that Paul was arrested again in the area of Nicopolis, returned to Rome for his final trial, and ultimately his execution.[16]

In Titus 3:12 Paul requests Titus to join him back on the continent at Nicopolis, where he was wintering. As Smith notes:

It was in the winter of 66/67 that Paul spent in Nicopolis; and while it was a season of much needed repose, it would be no season of inactivity. ‘Wintering’ was a military phrase; and, like a wise general, he would prepare in winter quarters for the summer campaign.[17]

Certainly one of the important things Titus learned from Paul and one which the Consulting Pastor must learn early in his ministry how to evaluate a situation and plan a strategy. The endings of several Pauline epistles, often lightly passed over or even ignored by both commentators and preachers, contain lists of names and seeming personal information is a treasure of practical information of planning and execution of plans for ministry.[18] The ending of the Epistle to Titus; with details of Paul’s associates coming and going, from place to place, the need for provisioning, and the instructions for Titus himself, being one of the most striking examples of such details.

Titus apparently traveled to Nicopolis and was with Paul to strategize what would be his last concerted missionary effort. apostle-paul-fifth-missionary-journey-large-mapWhat had undoubtedly been viewed as a year of ministry before the next winter was cut short as Paul was arrested once again and taken to Rome, this time not under house arrest, but as the full prisoner in the worst of conditions. His judge, the now thoroughly insane Nero (who by this time himself only had a tenuous hold on the Imperial reigns), would have him executed, in probably one of his last official acts before he himself was deposed by the Praetorian, fled Rome, and committed suicide in April of 68.[19] Apparently, at some time prior to Paul’s arrest Titus had once again been dispatched on a difficult assignment.[20]

The last mention of Titus comes at the very end of Paul’s life in 2 Timothy 4:10–11. As Smith notes, unlike Demas, who is declared in 2 Tim 4:10 as having “deserted Paul,” Titus’ travels were undoubtedly done with Paul’s blessing or, more probably, at his direction.[21] Knight notes that grammatically the departure of Titus’ is not connected with “the earlier statement about desertion”[22] applied to Demas. Paul states that Titus had traveled to Dalmatia in the province of Illyricum (cf. 2 Tim 4:10; Rom 15:19) to do the same work there that he had done in Crete; that is, “following up on Paul’s missionary endeavors.”[23]

Located in the region of modern day Bosnia, Serbia, and Montenegro; Dalmatia, after Palestine, was perhaps the single most difficult region in the empire for the Romans to manage. The inhabitants of Dalmatia rebelled against Rome on several occasions and it was described by writers of the day as being “a haven for refugees and enemies of Rome.”[24] As the New Testament record of Titus ends, he is seen where he usually was, in the most formidable and challenging of situations for advancing the Gospel.

There is no reliable information regarding Titus after this, The Acts of Titus notwithstanding. The tradition is unanimous though in stating that sometime after Paul’s execution he returned to Crete, became the first bishop of the island, and unlike the fate of most of the early Christian leaders, apparently lived to an old age.[25] On the island of Crete, Titus is considered the “Patron Saint” and the sixth century Basilica Agios Titos (Church of Saint Titus) in Gortys, now an archaeological site, still has flowers and other decorations left regularly by Greek Orthodox Christians on the island and others who come to privately worship there.[26]

Titus: As a Model for the Biblical Consulting Pastor

Even thought the concept of an interim or Consulting Pastor is not addressed directly; Titus nonetheless serves as an ideal role model for such a position. The New Testament presents him as an individual of not only sterling character but also one who possessed a real pastoral heart, immense personal courage, and great skill. The Apostle Paul, as one writer noted, “sought out men for places not places for men,”[27] and Titus was a man for the difficult places.

In discussing pastoral leadership Thom Rainer discusses six levesl of leadership from the first seven chapters of the Book of Acts. The highest level and the one his research found the fewest of he called “The Legacy Leader”[28] from Acts 6–7. Rainer called this highest level of leadership a “Legacy Leader” because,

These leaders, such as the Twelve mentioned in Acts 6:1–7, are quick to give ministry to others and let them take the credit for their work. Indeed, they desire to deflect recognition to others. They are quick to praise others and equally quick to accept responsibility for anything that may go wrong.[29]

While Rainer is speaking mainly about regular pastors in local churches, the idea fits the model of the Consulting Pastor more singularly than even the senior pastor. The Consulting Pastor’s main duty is to help the local church with whom he is working solve problems or focus their direction so that there can be the possibility of a legacy in the future.

This role also requires a singular dedication to this model in that the Consulting Pastor is unlikely to be around to see a church achieve “breakout” or even significant advance. In most instances he will probably be forgotten as the church grows under the ministry of the new pastor.[30] The now proverbial expression of John the Baptist in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease,” is well applied to the Consulting Pastor in relation to the new full-time pastor.

The Consulting Pastor, like Titus, will always be going from one place to the next; not as an evangelist, but an itinerant pastor dealing with different situations, different issues, and different personalities; seeking to guide struggling churches through their difficulties and setting the stage for a new pastor to come; with the goal of beginning a long, biblically thriving, ministry. The successful Consulting Pastor in many ways will be the “legacy leader” who never experiences the fruit of that legacy in his own span of ministry. Like Titus, the Consulting Pastor will have a legacy spread around a number of assemblies.

The Book of Titus itself acts as something of a “check list” for the Consulting Pastor. As will be demonstrated, the local churches in Crete were in something of a state of arrested development; and from their halting beginning sometime after Pentecost (ca., AD 33) to the arrival of Paul and Titus (ca. AD 66), they had not advanced to even a rudimentary status as individual churches. A brief outline of Titus, with the work of a Consulting Pastor in mind, presents a thorough checklist of what he will encounter in one form or another in virtually every church he will minister in.


A.   The Commission of the Consulting Pastor: “Setting in Order” 1:1–5a

B.   The First Priority: Godly Leadership 1:5b–9

1.The Biblical Requirements 1:6–8
2.The Reason for Godly Leaders 1:9

C.   The Consulting Pastor’s Check List

1.Identifying Internal Issues 1:10–16

a.Description of Disruptive People 1:10, 12–16
b.  with Disruptive People 1:11

2.Intra-Church Relations: Demographics and Economics 2:1–10

a.The Role of Older Men and Women 2:1–5
b.The Role of Younger Women and Men 2:6–8
c.The Role of Christians in the Work Place 2:9–10

3.Investigating the Church’s Focus: Is It on Christ and His Return? 2:11–15

4.Inter-Church Relations 3:1–7

a.The Church and Local Government 3:1–2
b.The Church and Community of Unbelievers 3:3–7

5.Instruction for the Church 3:8–11

a.Focus on Things that are Profitable 3:8
b.Reject Things that are Unprofitable 3:9–11

6.Intervention by the Church 3:12–15

a.Outward Focus on Missionary Endeavors 3:12–13
b.Outward Focus on Good Works 3:14–15


In many respects this outline and check list follows even the order of priority in helping a church reach a point where they can consider calling a pastor. A church cannot move forward on any project or goal of substance unless Biblically qualified and competent leadership is in place. D. A. Carson notes on the point of leadership as well that:

So what we must recognize, both from 1 Timothy 3 and from 1 Corinthians 4, is that the demands of Christian leadership, in the first instance, do not set a Christian apart into exclusive and elitist categories where certain new rules and privileges obtain. Rather, Christian leadership demands a focus on the kinds of characteristics and virtues that ought to be present in Christians everywhere. That is precisely what makes it possible for Christian leaders to serve as models, as well as teachers, in the church of God.[31]

It is only when that leadership is functioning in a Biblical manner can the process of dealing with internal problems can begin. Dealing with divisive people, of whatever sort or motive, is the role of leadership. Very often in local churches it is the lack of decisive leadership in the initial stages of problematic issues that either allow, or actually cause, those issues to spiral out of control; very often claiming the pastor along the way. It is particularly vital that the leadership is skilled in handling the Word of God so that they can both “exhort” and “refute” (Titus 1:9).

In his excellent work, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine, Thiselton interacts with Carl Jung and Clifford Brown making the following observation:

In his study of Jung’s Hermeneutics of Doctrine, Clifford Brown identifies connections between habitus, stability, and integration of the human person. Jung, Brown argues, developed and retained a regard for Christian doctrine as offering an “enduring stability” that served “the need of safeguarding and nourishing a consciousness which was still young, fragile, and which remained in constant danger of disintegration [italics by Thiselton]. Jung perceives the role of habit, trainings habituation, and stable regularity as integrating and shaping character, will, and desires as a coherent, well-ordered healthy whole. The allusion to “sound doctrine” (AV/RJV) or “sound teaching” (NRSV, REB, NJB) in 1 Timothy 1:10 (Greek ὑγιαινούσῃ διδασκαλίᾳ hugiainousa didaskalia) uses an adjective cognate with the verb ὑγιαινw (hugiano), to be in good health Mounce comments, “an elder must be able to teach healthy teaching” (Titus 1:5; cf. 1 Tim. 5:17).[32]

What the Consulting Pastor has to be able to do in his work is bring the local church leadership to a point where they are healthy, so that they can in turn impart right doctrine to their assembly that will bring health to the whole body. The goal of the Consulting Pastor is to strive to bring that “enduring stability” to the assembly. It remains largely true that a local church will not rise above the level of its leadership.

Once issues of leadership and immediate problems are under control the Consulting Pastor can begin to examine and evaluate the intra-church functioning. Are all of the different demographic groups within the church working in harmony? What is the current focus of the church? Is it on Christ, His Kingdom, and His purposes? As our research will demonstrate, a large percentage of churches do not have an agreed upon and published philosophy of ministry. After assisting in establishing solid leadership the most important assistance a Consulting Pastor can provide is assisting a church develop a Biblically coherent philosophy of ministry for the church. These issues need to be addressed before a church should consider looking for a new pastor.

A local church will hardly be “perfect” before a new pastor comes; but a successful work by a Consulting Pastor can make the entrance of a new pastor more smooth and allow him to begin focusing on the depth of ministry. Pastors who go into a new church and unnecessarily rush into major changes within their first year of ministry often find that they will not have a second year at that church. Speaking of his book, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church, Dever states:

I fear that some may read this book and may immediately go into their churches impatient for radical change. But with a little wisdom, patience, prayer, careful instruction, and love we might be surprised how far we can get with our churches. The story of the persistent tortoise and the hurrying hare becomes a parable for pastors.[34]

In the same vein when a new pastor is forced to deal with major issues to which he may not have been even aware of before coming in his first year, he often will not see a second year.

The Consulting Pastor can help to create a smooth transition for a new pastor and ensure that he enters the new ministry fully informed and prepared. This may be the most effective means to stem or even reverse the growing trend of short-term pastorates in many churches.


Titus in Crete: Focusing the Local Church for the Future

As detailed previously, Paul and Titus had traveled to the island of Crete, apparently planted some churches and worked with some that perhaps already existed. However, Paul was compelled to leave before the work had been brought to the level of maturity and stability that Paul was accustomed to. Paul left Titus behind to complete the work of preparing the churches to move forward on their own.

Like Corinth, Crete was a melting pot for religion. Crete is the largest of the Mediterranean islands, a little more than 400 miles east to west and 60 miles from north to south at the widest point. Crete has a long history, and for many centuries a prosperous one, dating back to the pre-classical era.[35] However, by the New Testament era the glories of the former Minoan Civilization (ca. 2500–1400 BC) were a long distant memories. The residents of the island had remained fiercely independent and it was a haven and recruiting ground for mercenary soldiers and pirates.[36] In an effort to eliminate the pirate threat in the Mediterranean, Crete had been conquered and occupied by Rome in 67 BC.[37] By the time of the New Testament it was administered as a province along with Cyrene on the northern coast of Africa, with the governor being stationed in the city of Gortyne on Crete (Creta et Cyrenae).[38]   Along with the rather large and politically powerful Jewish population on the island,[39] virtually every religion in the Mediterranean basin had some presence in Crete. Even the ancient religion of the Egyptians apparently had some adherents in Crete. The only two sarcophagi, decorated with all the Egyptian gods, have ever been discovered outside of Egypt, with one of those being unearthed in Crete.[40]

saint-paul-and-titus-holding-creteWith these prevailing conditions, ruling Crete required a strong hand and the empire normally had strong governors with a history of successful military campaigns. Although Caesar Augustus had established it as a Senatorial Province, nonetheless the successful military commander, Publius Sulpicius Quirinius, the Syrian governor mentioned in Luke 2:2, was also Procurator of Crete for a time. Quirinius was apparently something of an “Imperial Troubleshooter” for the empire and in his career held several difficult posts which he handled with significant success.[41] Regarding his leadership in Crete, it was Quirinius’ first posting as a Praetor and “this was not ordinarily an important appointment, but in this case it appears that there was serious trouble in the area.”[42] Quirinius effectively brought the Pax Romanica to the island, eliminating the operations and threat of the Mediterranean pirates.

As was previously noted, it is not entirely clear when Christianity was introduced to Crete. There were Jews from Crete at Peter’s sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:11) and it is most likely that the faith, in perhaps a rudimentary or imprecise form, was taken back to the island at that time.[43] In their classic work on the life of Paul, Conybeare and Howson state:

It can scarcely be supposed that the Christian Church of Crete was first founded during this visit of St. Paul; on the contrary, many indications in the Epistle of Titus show that there had already lasted for a considerable time. But they were troubled by false teachers, and probably had never yet been properly organized, having originated, perhaps in the private efforts of individual Christians, who would have been supplied with a centre of operations and nucleus of Churches by the numerous colonies of Jews established in the island.[44]

Paul was on Crete for a brief time during his voyage to Rome (Acts 27:7–9), but certainly there was no opportunity at this juncture for Paul to do any evangelistic work. There is no other record or mention of an organized Christian mission or evangelism effort coming to the island prior to the arrival of Paul and Titus. It is most likely that Christianity was introduced by the pilgrims returning from Pentecost, but because of the isolation of the island the growth of the faith had been slow and obviously prone to fall into different types of errors.

As Kelly notes, the, “church in Crete is evidently in a pretty disorganized state.”[45] Titus had been left in Crete to “set in order what remains” [NASB] or perhaps better, to “put right anything that was defective” [NEB] (1:5). Knight notes the full implication of this phrase as he states:

Literally ἵνα τὰ λείποντα ἐπιδιορθώσῃ καὶ καταστήσῃς means “that you might set right the things lacking.” TEV has perhaps best captured the phrase in an English idiom with “put in order that things that still needed doing.” That this is the proper sense is verified by the next clause, which indicates one thing that needed to be done.[46]

The translation varies because the key word, ἐπιδιορθώσῃ (1st aor subj mid of ) occurs only here in the New Testament and is not widely attested in the secular literature of the day. The idea is to “set right or correct in addition (to what has already been corrected);”[47] that is, Paul and Titus had begun to correct some of the significant deficiencies in the Cretan assemblies, but much more effort was required to bring the task to completion; and Paul, unable to remain in Crete, delegated this significant task to Titus.

The structure of the epistle to Titus is interesting in several regards as it relates to his task. As Lenski notes, outside the Book of Romans, “the greeting of this little letter to Titus is longer than those used in Paul’s other epistles.”[48] Certainly the letter and its instructions were not primarily for the benefit of Titus; he had traveled and ministered with and on behalf of Paul for too many years to imagine anything contained in this epistle was new or unique information. As Mounce notes, “the epistle is not so much for Titus as it is for the church.”[49] Marshall echoes this position stating,

Titus has the fullest salutation of the three pastorals. As typical in the Pauline letters, this section sets the tone and introduces the concerns that the letter will later address. Its formality and fullness of content suggest that it is meant not only for Titus but also for the church for which he is responsible.[50]

The letter forms what might be called an “apostolic commission” given to Titus. The churches in Crete needed to know that Titus was acting with apostolic authority in his organizational and instructional endeavors on the island. Even as Quirinius had governed the civil affairs of the island with the authority of the Empire behind him; Titus was “setting in order” the spiritual matters of the church as an apostolic legate with the full force that such an office implied behind him. As Mitchell demonstrates, this type of activity as an “envoy” is well attested in the New Testament era with these individuals having, “the significant power and authority to speak for those who sent them in accordance with their instructions.”[51] Also, as Stirewalt notes, “Paul created letters eminently suitable for the needs of the young Gentile churches. There was a need for order and organization amid the disorder accompanying the revolution, the turning of the world upside down.”[52]

The word used by Paul, katasthses is normally translated “ordain” or “appoint” in the English versions. It also carries the idea of “arrange” or to “give orders for.” Paul used the same word in First Corinthians, “and thus I direct in all the churches” (7:17); “and the remaining matters I will arrange when I come” (11:34); and “as I directed the churches in Galatia” (16:1). As Delling notes this prerogative to arrange, appoint, or ordain, “is obviously part of the apostolic office.”[53] Paul was granting to Titus the authority to act on his behalf in the matter of appointing qualified leadership. The idea of “elder leadership” was one thoroughly familiar to the Jewish and even non-jewish culture of the Ancient Near East. As Keener notes:

In the Old Testament, cities were ruled and judged by their “elders,” those with the greatest wisdom and experience in the community. By the New Testament period, prominent older men in the synagogues were called “elders.” Paul followed the convenient, conventional forms of synagogue leadership in his culture rather than instituting entirely foreign leadership structures. “In every city” meant that the different house churches in each city would have their own leaders. Much like old Greece, Crete has long been known for intercity rivalry.[54]

The major change that Paul did introduce was the qualifications for elders. Age and experience, while important, were not the single most important qualities. Paul, instructed Titus that those chosen must be men of Biblical character and ability.

This is a singular function of the church in the Apostolic age when the newness of the faith required “appointment” of qualified leaders. Titus’ responsibility was certainly more than bidding “him to preside as a moderator, at the elections [of elders]” as Calvin suggests.[55] The epistolary introduction makes this clear to the independent minded Cretans. “An emissary’s presence [in this case Titus] and presentation gave opportunity for free exchange concerning the sender’s intent and the recipient’s response.”[56] Marshall again notes that, “the phrase [“common faith” in 1:4] may then be pressed to indicate the full agreement in doctrine between Paul and Titus, and so to authenticate Titus to the church and indicate that he is to receive the same respect and obedience as Paul.”[57] It also serves the purpose of assuring Titus regarding “his position in the eyes of Paul.”[58]

Clearly the key thing that the church in Crete was missing from its immediate post–Pentecostal inception was biblically qualified leadership. As Oden notes, “a church lacking duly constituted leaders would be defective,”[59] and defective at the most foundational and fundamental level. It is a significant question as to whether a simple assembly of believers, lacking qualified Biblical leadership, actually constitutes a legitimate New Testament Church.

In contrast to Paul’s instruction to Timothy who was ministering in Ephesus (1 Tim 5:17–20), Titus is not dealing with the issue of correcting an existing set of elders; but rather, creating a cadre of leadership from the bottom up.[60] Perhaps because of the brevity of Paul’s stay, beyond whatever evangelistic work that had been accomplished, he and Titus were only able to complete little more than an assessment of the situation and develop an overall plan for Titus to subsequently carry out.[61] Paul makes that clear with the first imperative in his instructions to Titus. As Beyer notes, to have Biblically qualified leadership in place is “the way to ensure the continued life of the churches once the missionaries had gone.”[62] As Wiersbe also states:

One reason Paul had left Titus on the island of Crete was that he might organize the local assemblies and “set in order” the things that were lacking. That phrase is a medical term it was applied to the setting of a crooked limb. Titus was not the spiritual dictator of the land, but he was Paul’s official apostolic representative with authority to the work. It had been Paul’s policy to ordain elders in the churches he had established (Acts 14:23), but he had not been able to stay in Crete long enough to accomplish this task.[63]

The key issue for appropriate church leadership was to guard the church, as Paul would state, from false doctrine. As Zahn states, “he considered the chief hindrance to the vigorous growth and good order of the life of the Church to be certain persons who persist in teaching doctrine which is unprofitable, unsound, and positively harmful.”[64] Titus had to deal with internal distractions from those whose teachers were having a decidedly harmful effect on the life of the church. Proper leadership in a local church is a necessity, “for the sake of order.”[65] As opposed to the instruction Paul gives to Timothy about the requirements for elders (1 Tim 3), there is a subtle but important difference to be noted.

Church polity often comes down to whether the main leadership board of a local church will be comprised of “elders” or “deacons.” The only real distinction between elders and deacons is found in 1 Tim 3:2 in the last phrase where elders are to be “able to teach.” This is an unusual word (only used again in 2 Tim 2:24). The idea is more than a person who can teach, practically anyone can teach something at some level; it is rather someone who is actually good at it. This distinction is the key difference between the two lists. In Titus not only is the word not used, there is no reference to teaching at all. In Titus 1:9elders only need to be able to “exhort” and “refute.” They aren’t called particularly to teach, but rather to “hold fast” the word, which is in accordance with “the teaching.” Most likely this refers to the teaching of Paul while on the island as well as the expansion on those themes by Titus. In this case elders aren’t expected to do “original” teaching so much as to be able to discern the difference between true and false.

The question is why the difference? If the key issue for elders is to be able to teach, why isn’t that required in the qualifications Paul gives to Titus? The answer is to be discovered in the other difference between the two lists: their preambles. In 1 Tim 3:1 Paul notes that if a person “aspires to the office of overseer” he seeks to do a good thing. However, in Titus 1:6 Titus isn’t looking for people who “aspire” or volunteers at all, he is to “appoint” elders.

The difference here is not a question of polity[3], but rather a difference in the depth of the candidate pool. In writing to Timothy, Paul is dealing with the well-established church in Ephesus, a large metropolitan center. The church at Ephesus was well on its way to being the flagship church of not only Asia Minor but really all of Christendom at the time. The Ephesian church had been the center of Paul’s operations for nearly three years. Not only Timothy was working there, but strong church tradition states that the Apostle John would later make Ephesus his base. In his list of elder requirements for Timothy he could require skillful teaching as a requirement because they were able to provide such men. mirabello_agios-nikolaos_560For Titus, the pool was not only shallow in many ways it was a mirage. Crete was the home of pirates and mercenaries. It was a populated by those Paul called “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (1:10). While Christians had likely been on the island since shortly after Pentecost, there was still only a church that still had to be “set in order” (1:5). Paul could hardly require skillful teachers in his qualification list to Titus, since beyond him they likely didn’t exist.

It appears that the primary source of turmoil in the church was the interposing Old Testament law in some degree on the Cretan churches. However, this teaching seems to be distinctly different than that of the Judaizers who had plagued Paul’s ministry on the European continent. Sumney agrees with this position as he states, “Our investigation of the opponents of Titus indicates that Jewish Christians have raised questions about observing at least some of the purity laws of the Mosaic Code.”[67] He also notes, this was likely not part of the larger problem of the Judaizers who hindered Paul’s earlier ministry, but rather “a local Cretan phenomena.”[68]

The disruption being caused by the false teachers that Paul notes in 1:10, οἵτινες ὅλους οἴκους ἀνατρέπουσιν (“upsetting whole families,” or perhaps better, “subverting whole households”), was not only an important issue within the church, but it was vital that this activity be stopped before it affected the outside world’s view and reaction to the church. As Keener notes one of the main complaints against Christians was that this new religion, “subverted traditional family values.”[69] The family unit was vitally important within Roman society and was viewed as the stabilizing foundation. “Households were defined in terms of hierarchy and dependence (e.g. slaves to masters or clients to patrons) rather than strictly in terms of blood relationship.[70] The false teachers, in “subverting whole households” were doing double damage to the church; causing disruption within the assembly and bringing suspicion onto the assembly from without.

In his instruction Paul gives detailed instructions as to how these “households” are to function within the church (2:1–10) and how the church is to then relate to the whole of society (3:1–11). The Consulting Pastor, when working to strengthen the leadership of a local church must always remember this double task. Disruption in the assembly will invariably bring examination from the surrounding culture which will impede the mission of the church in the world.

While the New Testament does not give us an exact indication as to the success of Titus in this “setting in order” effort; church history indicates that he was largely successful and laid a foundation for the subsequent work of either Artemas or Tychicus (Tit 3:12). The indication of the ongoing reverence of Titus on the island of Crete is also a significant testimony as to his efforts. While his ministry on Crete detailed in Titus probably lasted for no more than 12–18 months; the legacy of his work continued for many generations.


Titus in Corinth: Resolving Present Church Conflict for the Future Growth

The city of Corinth, as one writer notes, “was at once the New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas of the ancient world.”[71] Like Ephesus, the Corinthian church was typical of Paul’s evangelistic strategy of establishing churches in the large important cities and allowing Christianity to spread from there.[72]

There can be no doubt that the early missionaries were influenced by the strategic importance of certain towns and areas, and made these their first goal in the wider context of preaching the gospel to the whole world.[73] Corinth was such a city. It was a central metropolis with an important harbor and important commercial trade routes passing through it. The original Greek city had fallen into ruin and abandonment after being largely destroyed by the Roman general Leucius Mummius in 146 BC; Mummius destroyed the city after they had abused the Roman ambassador who was on a mission to there.[74] The actual destruction of the city was effective, but not total, as Horrell and Adams note:

Ancient testimony that the city was utterly destroyed by Mummius and lay in a state of complete abandonment until its reestablishment has often been taken at face value by scholars, but the archaeological data show that the destruction was far from total; many building survived fairly intact. There is also archaeological evidence pointing to the inhabitation of Corinth from 146–44 BCE Moreover, Cicero, in the only extant account by someone with firsthand knowledge of Corinth during this period, indicates that when he visited the city in his youth, about 79–77 BCE, people were living among the ruins. But clearly there was no formal political life in Corinth between its destruction and refounding.[75]

However, after a century of relative desolation, in 44 BC the new Roman leader, Julius Caesar, recognizing the strategic importance of the Greek Isthmus, had the city rebuilt and re–inhabited with Roman citizens from around the emerging empire, as a Roman colony.[76] As Murphy-O’Connor notes, “there were in fact two Corinths, one Greek and the other Roman, each with its distinctive institutions and ethos.”[77]

The population of the Roman Corinth of the New Testament era was “mobile (sailors, businessmen, government officials, et al.) and was therefore cut off from the inhibitions of a settled society.”[78] By the time of the Paul’s ministry there, the city was effectively less than 100 years old. The result of Julius’ initiative and the importance that the emerging Roman Empire placed on the Corinthian Isthmus; both commercially and militarily (demonstrated by continued favor and building) was such that Corinth, as Strabo in his Geography demonstrates, had, within a very short time, once again become a cosmopolitan center of wealth, power, and privilege.[79]

In both of its incarnations; the older Greek Corinth and the Roman Corinth of the New Testament era, the city was notorious for vice. The city’s nature as a seaport and transportation hub, the overall prosperity, and often unwholesome religious pluralism, all led to an overall ethical and physical immorality in the city. So imbedded was the attachment to this pluralism that there remains evidence that the polytheistic and pagan cultic centers remained a vital part of the city’s life well into the sixth century.[80] “Polytheism survived [in Corinth] for several centuries despite the removal of economic support, illegalization, and strong pressure from the Christians.”[81]

This was particularly evident in the older Greek manifestation of the city where the name Corinth was verbified by Aristophanes (ca. 450–385 B.C.) into korinqiazw (“to act like a Corinthian, that is, to commit fornication”).[82] Plato used the term Korinqian korhn (“Corinthian girl”) in reference to a prostitute.[83]   As Fee notes though, “this aspect of Corinthian life, however, has tended to be overplayed by most NT scholars.”[84] “Sexual sin undoubtedly was in abundance; but it would have been of the same kind that one would expect in any seaport where money flowed freely and women and men were available.”[85] Strabo’s assertion of 3,000 temple prostitutes in the city, as Fee notes, is “almost certainly too high,” and more likely reflects the older Greek temples, not the Roman.[86] In comparison to other major cities of the New Testament Roman world, especially when one examines the sexually explicit graffiti in Pompeii and other sites, Corinth at the time of Paul and Titus’ ministry was probably no more notorious than other large metropolitan cities. However, Corinth, or as it was originally known before 146 BC, “The City of Aphrodite,” had a wide and ongoing reputation as a “centre for sexual promiscuity.”[87]

Although sexual indiscretion and deviation was certainly an aspect of the overall problem in the church of Corinth (e.g. 1 Cor 5:1–2) and remains in large measure central in some popular preaching; it was in reality the divisions created by the “cult of personality” that was of paramount concern to Paul. In 1 Corinthians 1:12 Paul details that the church was divided into at least four groups: “I am of Paul, I of Apollos, I of Cephas, and I of Christ.”. However, as Fee notes, it was not so much that four groups existed, or that the supposed figure heads of those groups were being extolled or elevated as such; but rather, that there were three groups, “decidedly over against Paul at the same time.”[88] These groups, operating within the cultural milieu of the city instead of the virtues inherent within the Christian life, were more concerned about their own “cults of personality” rather than truth. As Seneca (who was well acquainted with Cornith) noted, regarding the typical orator of that era, “Cupit enim se approbare, non causam” (“Your aim is to win approval for yourself rather than for the case”).[89]

This issue was the most serious in terms of Paul’s concern for the church. It was not an ego-driven desire to be recognized or revered by the church; but rather, he understood that it was vital that for the long term health of the church that his apostolic authority was acknowledged and recognized. While Paul’s earlier letter (First Corinthians, carried by Timothy) apparently had some effect in controlling these factious tendencies, word soon reached Paul that the situation remained unstable and was being further exacerbated by the introduction of a Judaizing influence by some claiming to be “apostles.”[90] This group was, as Schnabel states, a faction “who casts doubts on Paul’s apostolic authority and proclamation and who influence people by emphasizing miracles, states of ecstasy, visions and electrifying rhetoric.”[91]

This situation led Paul to make a personal trip back to Corinth to confront the situation personally. Instead of exercising his apostolic authority directly,[93] he instead withdrew to allow the Corinthians time to consider and repent. As Allen notes, “the Apostle recognized that he possessed a power upon which he could fall back in case of necessity,” but it was a power that he used “sparingly.”[94]

The situation in Corinth was critical and clearly the most severe internal challenge Paul faced in any of the churches recorded in the New Testament or even hinted at in history. If the opposition to Paul’s authority and the subsequent heretical teaching that this opposition spawned was allowed to continue; because of the central location of Corinth and its position as a hub of commerce and communication; along with the transitory nature of its population, the entire region could soon be adversely affected, particularly the westward expansion of Christianity.

The severity of the affair is demonstrated by one of the most forceful warnings we see anywhere in the New Testament, 2 Cor 13:2. The full implication of Paul’s statement,  “when I come again I will not spare anyone,” is often overlooked by commentators.[95] Despite being translated “if” in many English versions, the word here carries no room for doubt as to Paul’s intentions; “when I come” or “since I am now coming,” conveys the factual force and intent of the phrase more correctly.[96] Paul warns of the severest possible consequences to the false apostles continued rebellion. Regarding “to spare”, as Rogers and Rogers note, “it primarily means to spare in battle, not to kill when the opportunity to do so exists”[97] (cf. 1 Pet 2:4). Interestingly, Paul does not supply a direct object to feisomai allowing the readers to “supply it and thus he makes them conscious of the fact that they cannot ignore flagrant sin in their midst.”[98] If the Corinthian church and their leadership, which had repented once after the ministry of Timothy and was now reported as doing the same after the work of Titus, again wavered and allowed false brethren to publicly oppose Paul (and the truth), he would not again stay his hand and the harshest of penalty would be visited upon them.

When Paul had been confronted by these false apostles he had both the means (apostolic authority and power) and the opportunity to pronounce definitive judgment (cf. Acts 13:11). But, at that time he chose to stay his hand and exercise patience (cf. 2 Cor 1:13), even though he suffered personal attacks and humiliation in the process. Paul’s opponents took this as weakness on his part and as evidence of their own superiority (2 Cor 10:7–18).

However, for the integrity of the Gospel and the ultimate health of the Corinthian assembly, that patience had a limit which would soon be reached. This was a church situation that Timothy was apparently not well suited to tackle (cf. 1 Tim 1:5; 4:12, 14; 5:23). Instead, he sent the “severe letter” by the hand of his trusted ally, Titus, with the hopes of repentance and reconciliation. It is not known whether or not Titus had any previous contact with the Corinthian church, but clearly his reputation as Paul’s “strong right arm”[99] had preceded him. Paul notes that they received Titus with “fear and trembling” (2 Cor 7:15). Barnett suggests that “the letter—whose impact may have been intensified by the ministry of the bearer, Titus (v. 15)—has produced a dramatic and instant effect.”[100] It may well be that Titus’ physical presence and speech were more than impressive and it was eminently clear to all the parties within the Corinthian church that he and Paul were entirely of one mind in the matter of these false apostles.[101]

As Plummer noted Titus was sent, “to deal with the difficulty and reduce the rebellious person to submission.”[102] However, as previously detailed, Titus was in reality being sent on a “life and death” mission. “It appears that until the arrival of Titus and the ‘Severe Letter’ the Corinthians had not understood how serious the matter was from Paul’s perspective.”[103] The message of this letter was clearly pointed and left no room to doubt what Paul expected from the Corinthian church in regard to the individuals whom had resisted him. It caused him “anguish of heart” and “many tears” (2 Cor 2:4). He was grieved in his heart that the situation had now reached the point of no return. Paul reflects on the criticism of his opponents in Corinth who claimed, “his letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive, and his speech contemptible” (2 Cor 10:10). It was a cause for the highest concern in Paul that the leadership of the church in Corinth had allowed this type of dissention to grow and had stood idly by when these false teachers publicly opposed Paul.

While Paul’s final visit is not recorded in Scripture it seems clear that Titus’ mission and ministry were successful. The rebellion against Paul was quashed and those erring brothers were brought to repentance or they fled the field. In the preparation of Titus for this mission Paul states that he had engaged in “boasting before Titus” about the true nature of the Corinthian believers (2 Cor 7:14). For all of the sorrow and distress the situation had caused Paul, he was certain of the essential godliness of the assembly there. This description of Paul’s instructions to Titus seem to indicate that Titus needed some convincing, that he himself, was not so assured that the situation would not require a “heavy hand.” As Paul’s companion and “trouble shooter” he was certainly privy to the totality of the situation and how much his mentor had suffered because of it. Paul spoke frankly that he rejoiced that he had “not been put to shame” in his confidence exhibited to Titus (7:14). The joy (and perhaps surprise) of Titus as to the repentance of the offenders and the now firm stand of the church leadership against the offenders was a great source of joy to Paul (7:13).

Reconciliation in church disputes is one of the leading issues for the Consulting Pastor. After the issues of leadership, the most destructive cancers within a local assembly are always those of factions, disputes and personality conflicts.


Summary and Conclusion

180px-titusIn Titus we see an individual who was not interested in building an empire for himself, he never stayed anywhere long enough for that.   While the Consulting Pastor may simply be called upon for advice about proper direction in buildings, programs or strategic planning; more often than not there is some level of crisis involved. The character and skill-set qualities of Titus served him well in the service of the Apostle Paul and the local churches.

This mission in Crete was to help bring to health a church that had never been properly rooted in proper theology, practice or had established the Biblical pattern for godly leadership. The mission in Cornith was to confront and put down a long-simmering rebellion against sound doctrine and apostolic teaching. In both cases Titus was used to “set things in order” but then move on so that a long term pastor and elders could effectively continue and build a ministry legacy in those places.



[1] There is some debate as to when specialized youth pastors began to become normal parts of church staffs with most sources indicating after World War II. Prior to the time churches, regardless of size would have, at most, one assistant pastor and perhaps a choir director. For example, at the height of the ministry of Charles Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, his brother James Spurgeon was brought in as an assistant pastor; which meant that the largest Baptist church in the world (if not the largest Protestant church) had only two full time pastors. Charles Spurgeon also had a personal “secretary” (which in that era was more like a “chief of staff”). Prior to the specialization of pastoral staffs, deacons and elders were typically much more hands on leaders of different ministries in the typical local church.

[2] According to one of the more obscure of the apocryphal works, The Acts of Titus, Titus was a Cretan by birth and highly placed in both local and Roman society. He is depicted in this work to be the brother–in–law of the Roman Proconsul of Crete. This proconsul reportedly dispatched Titus to Judea when he had heard of the stories concerning Jesus, to investigate and bring back a report. This text, purportedly written by Zenas the Lawyer (cf. Tit 3:13), is clearly hagiographical in nature, but does give some indication as to the esteem in which Titus was held in Crete and undoubtedly has some underlying basis in fact in some places. It is beyond the scope of this work to delve more deeply into this otherwise fascinating piece of literature and it’s relation to the factual evidence in the Book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament. For further see: Richard I. Pervo, “The ‘Acts of Titus’: A Preliminary Translation with an Introduction, Notes, and Appendices,” Society of Biblical Literature Seminar Papers (1996), 455–82. And also, M. R. James, “The Acts of Titus and The Acts of Paul.” Journal of Theological Studies 6 (1905), 549–56.

[3] John Gillman. “Titus,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary. David Noel Freedman, ed. (San Francisco, CA: Doubleday Publishing) 6:581.

[4] F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts (revised) NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1988) 289.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] For the purposes of this work we are assuming that the Galatians 2 passage is connected to the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 and not Acts 10–11; accepting what is commonly known as the “Northern Galatia Theory” as having the greatest weight of evidence and most coherence in terms of chronology and harmonization. It is beyond the scope of this work to detail all of the issues and arguments related to this question. For further details see the discussions and extensive bibliographies in Ronald Y. K. Fung. The Epistle to the Galatians. NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1988), 1–32; F. F. Bruce, “Galatian Problems 2: North or South Galatians?” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, 52 (1970–71), 243–66; and G. W. Hansen, “Letter to the Galatians,” in the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, Daniel G. Reid, eds., (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 323–34.   On this question Meyer notes,

The opinion, therefore, that the journey of Gal. ii. 1 is identical with that mentioned in Acts xi., must be rejected; and we must, on the other hand, assume that in point of fact those expositors have arrived at the correct conclusion who consider it the same as which, according to Acts xv., was undertaken by Paul and Barnabus to the apostolic conference.

Henrich August Wilhelm Meyer. Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistle to the Galatians. (Winona Lake, IN: Alpha Greek Library, 1979), 46–47.

[8] Harold W. Hoehner, “History and Chronology of the New Testament,” in Foundations for Biblical Interpretation. David S. Dockery, Kenneth A. Mathews and Robvert B. Sloan (eds). (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman, 1994), 485. See also Hoehner’s, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1977); and Chronology of the Apostolic Age. Unpublished Th.D. Dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1965.

[9] Harvey Frommer. Rickey and Robinson: The Men Who Broke Baseball’s Color Barrier. (New York: Collier Books, 1982).

[10] Fung. Galatians, 86. See also Cleon L. Rogers Jr. and Cleon L. Rogers III. The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1998), 423. “The word is applied to a private companion or minister who is not sent forth on the mission of an envoy, but is taken by the envoy on their authority.”

[11] Interestingly, Titus is never mentioned by name in the narrative of Acts. There is a good deal of speculation as to why, with most commentators leaning towards the idea that Titus was the brother or otherwise closely related to Luke himself; and is supposed that as Luke never mentions himself by name he also omits the name of his relative. See William M. Ramsey, St Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1906), xxxviii; 380. Also, A. Souter, “A Suggested Relationship Between Titus and Luke.” The Expository Times 18 (1906–07), 285.

[12] Paul Barnett. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. NICNT. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1997), 420.

[13] Adolf von Harnack. Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur bis Eusebius. (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1958), 2:240n.

[14] Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin Jr. 1, 2 Timothy; Titus. The New American Commentary. (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992), 274.

[15] Hoehner, “History and Chronology,” 482–83.

[16] We prefer Hoehner’s chronological reconstruction as being the most coherent and most cognizant of all the Biblical data. The last few years of Paul’s ministry flow as follows: The Book of Titus written: summer 66; Paul winters in Nicopolis: winter 66/67; Paul in Macedonia and Greece, spring-fall 67; Paul arrested and taken to Rome, fall 67; Second Timothy written, fall 67; Paul executed, early spring 68. Hoehner, “History and Chronology,” 486. See also David Smith. The Life and Letters of Saint Paul (New York: Harper Brothers, n.d.), 622.

[17] Smith, Life and Letters, 622.

[18] Remarkably, even the otherwise excellent commentary of R. Kent Hughes and Bryan Chapell, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: To Guard the Deposit (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000), completely skips over this section at the end of Titus without a single comment.

[19] Miriam T. Griffin, “Nero,” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary. David Noel Freedman, ed. (New York: Doubleday Publishers, 1992), 4:1078.

[20] Smith, Life and Letters, 624,

[21] See W. J. Conybeare and J. S. Howson. The Life and Epistles of St. Paul. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1889), 2:467. Also, William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, WBC 46 (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 590.

[22] George W. Knight III. The Pastoral Epistles, NIGTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1992),465.

[23] Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 590. Also James L. Kelso. An Archaeologist Follows the Apostle Paul (Waco, TX: Word Publishing, 1970), 110.

[24] Jerry A. Pattengale. “Dalmatia,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 2:5. For a detailed discussion of the geographic region and history in relation to the ministry of Paul and Titus, see: Eckhart J. Schnabel, Early Christian Mission: Paul and the Early Church (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 1446–47.

[25] Pervo, “The Acts of Titus,” 465.

[26] The Bascilica is built upon the ruins of a church that date to the 2nd Century, making it one of the oldest known places in the world used exclusively for Christian worship outside of Israel.

[27] Herbert S. Seekings. The Men of the Pauline Circle (London: Charles H. Kelly, 1914), 68.

[28] Thom Rainer. Breakout Churches (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 2005), 44.

[29] Ibid. Note, in this quotation Rainer mistakenly refers here to “The Twelve” instead of “The Seven” as Acts 6:1–7 indicates.

[30] In all of the churches we have been the interim or consultant, we have only been invited back to one of them for an anniversary or similar type of celebration.

[31] Carson, D. A. The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 95-96.

[32] Anthony C. Thiselton, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2007), 92 (Italics in original)

[34] Mark Dever. 9 Marks of a Healthy Church, New Expanded Edition (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 246–47.

[35] Daniela Dueck, Hugh Lindsay and Sarah Pothecary, eds. Strabho’s Cultural Geography: The Making of the Kolossourgia. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 125.

[36] Pfeiffer, Charles F. (ed). The Biblical World: A Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1966), 389.

[37] F. J. Foakes Jackson and Kirsopp Lake. The Beginnings of Christianity: The Acts of the Apostles, Part 1 (London: Macmillan and Co., 1942), 178.

[38] Hubert Cancik and Helmuth Schneider (eds). Brill’s New Pauly: Encyclopedia of the Ancient World (Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2003), 3:938.

[40] John Ferguson. The Religions of the Roman Empire (Ithaca, NY: Cornel University Press, 1970), 16.

[41] William Ramsey. The Bearing of Recent Discoveries on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1958), 278–79.

[42] D. S. Potter, “Quirinius,” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, David Noel Freedman, ed. (San Francisco: Doubleday, 1992), 5:589.

[43] It is also likely that multiple Jews returning to Crete from Pentecost brought slightly conflicting versions of Christianity to the island also leading to a retardation of growth and development of a functional church.

[44] W. J. Conybeare and J. S. Howson. The Life and Epistles of St. Paul (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1889), 2:460.

[45] J. N. D. Kelly. The Pastoral Epistles. Black’s New Testament Commentary (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, 1998), 230.

[46] Knight, Pastoral Epistles, 288.

[47]Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt and F. Wilbue Gingrich. A Greek–English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd Ed (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 292.

[48] R. C. H. Lenski. The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus, and to Philemon (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1963), 888.

[49] William D. Mounce. Pastoral Epistles. Word Biblical Commentary Vol 46 (Nashville, TN: Nelson Reference and Electronic, 2000), 457.

[50] I. Howard Marshall. The Pastoral Epistles, ICC (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1999), 111.

[51] Margaret M. Mitchell, “New Testament Envoys in the Context of Greco-Roman Diplomatic and Epistolary Conventions: The Example of Timothy and Titus.” Journal of Biblical Literature, 111, No. 4 (1992), 649.

[52] Stirewalt, M. Luther Jr. Paul the Letter Writer. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 2003), 116.

[53]Gerhard Delling, “diata,ssow” in TDNT, 8:35.

[54] Craig S. Keener. The IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 635.

[55] John Calvin. Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles. (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1854), 290.

[56] Stirewalt, Paul the Letter Writer, 116.

[57] Marshall, Pastoral Epistles, 133.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Thomas C. Oden. First and Second Timothy and Titus. Interpretation. (Nashville, TN: John Knox Press, 1983), 145.

[60] James W. Aageson. Paul, The Pastoral Epistles and the Early Church. Library of Pauline Studies. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, 2008), 52. See also Benjamin Fiore, The Pastoral Epistles. Sacra Pagina. (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2007), 197.

[61] John Albert Bengel. New Testament Word Studies. Charlton T. Lewis and Marvin R. Vincent (trans) (1864; reprint Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1971), 2:559.

[62] Hermann W. Beyer, “epi,kopoj,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Gerhard Kittel, ed.; Geoffrey W. Bromiley, trans. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1964), II–617.

[63] Warren W. Wiersbe. The Bible Exposition Commentary. New Testament. (Colorado Spring, CO: Victor Books, 2001), 2:261.

[64] Theodor Zahn. Introduction to the New Testament, Three Volumes (Minneapolis, MN: Klock and Klock, 1977), 2:45.

[65] Gunther Bornkamm, “pre,sbuj” in TDNT, 6:666.

[67] Jerry L. Sumney. ‘Servants of Satan’, ‘False Brothers’ and Other Opponents of Paul. Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series #188. (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 301.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Keener, Bible Background Commentary, 637.

[70] Ibid.

[71] Gordon D. Fee. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. NICNT. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1987), 3.

[72] Michael Green. Evangelism in the Early Church. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1970), 259. See also Roland Allen. Missionary Methods: Saint Paul’s Or Ours? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1962).

[73] Ibid, 260.

[74] Strabo Geography 8.6..23. Loeb Classical Library, 199.

[75] David G. Horrell and Edward Adams, “The Scholarly Quest for Paul’s Church at Corinth: A Critical Survey,” in Christianity at Corinth: The Quest for the Pauline Church. Edward Adams and David G. Horrell (eds). (Nashville, TN: Westminster/John Know Press, 2004), 3.

[76] Barnet, Second Corinthians, 1.

[77] Jerome Murphy–O’Connor. St. Paul’s Corinth: Texts and Archaeology. (Collegeville, MN: A Michael Glazer Book, The Liturgical Press, 1983), 127.

[78] Charles F. Pfeiffer and Howard F. Vos. The Wycliffe Historical Geography of Bible Lands. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1967), 481.

[79] Strabo, Geography 8.6.23. Loeb Classical Library, 203.

[80] Richard M. Rothaus. Corinth: The First City of Greece, An Urban History of Late Antique Cult and Religion. Religions in the Graeco-Roman World, No. 139. (Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2000), 139.

[81] Ibid.

[82] Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott. A Greek English Lexicon. (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1968), 981. Also Aristophanes, frag. 354.

[83] Plato, Rep. 404d.

[84] Fee, First Corinthians, 3.

[85] Ibid.

[86] Ibid.

[87] Horrell and Adams, “Scholarly Quest.” 7.

[88] Ibid, 49, (emphasis in the original).

[89] Lucius Annaeus Seneca. Controversiae 9.1 (preface). The Loeb Classical Library, 211. This is particularly interesting in light of the fact that Gallio, mentioned as the “Proconsul of Achaia” (Acts 18:12) and had Corinth as his administrative seat, was the brother of Seneca.

[90] Barnett, Second Corinthians, 33. See his excellent discussion of the personalities and issues of these “false apostles,” 33–40.

[91] Eckhard J. Schnabel. Early Christian Mission: Paul and the Early Church (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 964.e˙gw» me÷n ei˙mi Pau/lou, e˙gw» de« ΔApollw◊, e˙gw» de« Khfa◊, e˙gw» de« Cristouv.

[93] The exercise of apostolic authority against false teachers was not something to be trifled over (c.f. Acts 13:11). Those who sought to deceive a local church under the care of an apostle could easily face the ultimate discipline (e.g. Acts 5:1–11). Even in his advanced age, the Apostle John made it clear that his apostolic authority would be more than adequate against those sought to oppose his teaching (3 John 10). Even with the apparent success of Titus’ mission to Corinth, Paul made it clear that he had reached the end of his patience with the false teachers there, should they again seek to oppose him (2 Cor 13:2). Paul’s withdrawal was not a sign of defeat or weakness on his part; but rather an exercise of grace and long suffering. But as the “severe letter” apparently made clear, those qualities should not be viewed as having an unlimited duration in this situation.

[94] Allen, Missionary Methods, 112.

[95] Mainly by those who deny the unity of the epistle and view this section to be a portion of the “severe letter” that was “cobbled” together with the third letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

[96] R. V. G. Tasker. The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (London: , 1958),

[97] Roger and Rogers, Linguistic Key, 419.

[98] Simon J. Kistemaker. Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, NTC (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997), 446.

[99] Gillman. “Titus,” 6:581.

[100] Barnett, Second Corinthians, 374. See also: Margaret E. Thrall. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, ICC (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994), 1:500.

[101] This is perhaps the contrast Paul is making in 2 Cor 10:10 about his reception in the “sorrowful visit.” But it is clear that Paul’s detractors did not comprehend that Paul’s method of handling their rebellion and sin was for their benefit.

[102] Alfred Plummer. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark Publishers, 1999), xiv. “Person” as used by Plummer is likely incorrect, the opposition to Paul was likely more than a single individual. While the named factious groups from First Corinthians had been quelled previously, the situation in Second Corinthians makes is clear that it was not totally eradicated.

[103] Barnett, Second Corinthians, 379.

A Christmas Shopping Guide for Books for Your Favorite Pastor or Seminary Student

The following are actually two posts that I wrote for another site, ParkingSpace23.com. But I thought I’d add them here for anyone for may not have seen that site.  Keep in mind they are two posts written a year apart and I haven’t done much to smooth them out. I hope they might be helpful.



For the last 25 years, a few weeks before Christmas I begin to get questions from friends, relatives, and parishioners asking for my opinion on Christmas gifts for the pastor or seminary student in their lives, especially as it relates to books. Since I’m a professional librarian and have trained pastors, I apparently seem like a good person to ask.

With slight variations they run something like this, “I want to do something special and I’m think about getting them [fill in with this or that large set of books], do you think they’ll like that?”

These good folks are always well intentioned, but most of the time they know next to nothing about either the books or authors or even the subject matter. I recall one acquaintance who received a couple of large sets which he didn’t have the shelf space for, but he needed to “display” them to make the gift giver feel good, so a large number of much more useful material had to be stacked under his desk. I recall another student coming to me once in despair. He had received a large and expensive set of books, which his wife, parents, and sisters pooled their resources to buy. Since the set was largely useless he asked me, “What do I do?” It’s possibly still displayed on a prominent shelf.

Booksellers, who naturally exist to make money, will often have displays of large sets of books with a “Christmas Special” that amounts to something like 75% off of retail. One set that I’m looking at right now on the other computer screen is listed for $89.99 off of a retail price (at least what they list) of $700 or a sale price 87% off. That sounds like a great price (which is a tolerable price as you’ll see below) but it is also exceptionally misleading since no one would pay full retail for that or any other set.

So, as a public service as Christmas nears (and planning ahead for graduation time when these same questions will come up again), let me offer some advice on the purchase of large sets of books. What follows is in no particular order. By the way, if I offend anyone or disparage your favorite author, I apologize now. However, I’m always reminded of Charles Spurgeon in his Commenting and Commentaries, where he often made rather biting remarks about certain works. On a commentary on Daniel by Henry More, he remarked, “If a man had no more than More, he would certainly long for more.” My comments below occasionally will follow that vein, so you have been warned.

Expositions of Holy Scripture (various publishers, most recently Hendrickson) by Alexander Maclaren.

Alexander Maclaren was a contemporary of Charles Spurgeon (although they apparently didn’t care for each others company) and pastored the famous Union Chapel in Manchester, England for 45 years. He represented the well-educated, wealthy, upper middle and upper class wing of the Baptist Union. Early on he rejected biblical inerrancy and opted for an evolutionary scheme of creation, although he rarely mentioned either. His conduct during the Downgrade Controversy, where he was appointed along with some others to meet with Spurgeon in an effort to quell the controversy can only be described as disinterested at best and disingenuous at worst.

His expositions are rather banal and you can almost hear an affected “stained glass voice” as you read. While rejecting inerrancy, Maclaren’s expositions are remainly broadly evangelical and he will generally land within traditional Baptist interpretations of the texts relevant to ecclesiology. However, he will often frustrate the reader by seemingly never dealing with an important text or taking a clear position. Beyond that, the set will take up way too much space, unless you can acquire it for free, take a pass.

Expositor’s Bible Commentary (new edition), Zondervan Publishers.

This new edition has been generally well received. Several of the weakest entries in the original series, such as Kalland on Deuteronomy and Mare on Corinthians, were thankfully replaced. However, the original first volume, which contained a set of introductory essays, most of which were exceptionally helpful, was not included in the new edition. Personally, I thought this was a singular mistake and weakened the overall new edition but it was dropped nonetheless.

For a set of commentaries it is now rather uniformly of high quality, excellent in places and no less than good in others (the spectrum of quality in the original series was much wider in a negative direction). If you can find a set for $250 you won’t be overpaying for it. If you can find the original volume one to add to the present whomever you choose to gift should be appreciative.

Commentary on the Old Testament (recently published by Hendrickson) by Keil and Delitzsch.

I see this set currently listed at an 86% discount, which is about 13% too little. This was a valuable set when it was first produced over 120 years ago and it was a staple for many pastors for a long time. Despite the unevenness of work in its day it was a valuable set; however, its day has long since passed. The only real value for this set now has is to look pretty on the shelf.

Actually the “set” was never designed to be a set and the publisher rebinding individual volumes as sets over the years has made it one of the more difficult sets to use in an academic setting (the page numbers were never redone, so any given volume may have the same page number in two or three locations). It has long since been superseded for the student by works current in research and is too dense and cumbersome for the busy pastor. The tidbit here and there that is still edible in this set isn’t worth the space in the pantry. Avoid at any price.

Pillar New Testament Commentary, edited by D. A. Carson (Eerdmans Publishing).

This series didn’t begin life as a series. Eerdmans published Leon Morris on the Gospel of John at the very end of the line of individual commentaries being published. Essentially all commentaries are now part of a series rather than a “stand alone” work. There are exceptions to that rule, but it is now exceptionally rare. What Eerdmans did was repackage Morris’ work into a new series: The Pillar New Testament Commentary series. Edited by D. A. Carson and now at 16 volumes, it is one of the most valuable commentary sets currently in production. The problem with series is that they often take a long time to produce (for example the Word Biblical Commentary still is incomplete after nearly 40 years) and they are of uneven quality. This series is due to be completed very shortly and Carson has kept the quality at a uniformly high level. While it retails for nearly $800, I’ve seen the set available for about half that. If you want to make an investment that will last for many years, this is a good place to put your money.

The Pulpit Commentary and The Biblical Illustrator (various publishers).

I have placed these two venerable sets together to dispose of them at the same time. There was a time when the only books a pastor in a small rural church might have were these. It would be rather impressive as at about 60 volumes total they took up the better part of an entire bookshelf (over the years I’ve seen many sets inscribed to a new pastor). They were designed for the pastor possessing what Spurgeon used to call “slender apparatus,” and I guess they were better than nothing at all. But today they aren’t, the material is dated, the illustrations are trite and even offensive in places. They are valueless when commenting on the original languages and are from an era when everyone still used the King James Bible.

I’ve seen these sets available practically for free at local Goodwill Stores; so don’t buy them new, even at an 83% discount. If you have them and need to create shelf space, they make excellent kindling for a warm winter fire.

The Dictionary of New Testament Theology, edited by Gerhard Kittel (Eerdmans Publishing).

This ten-volume set has been a high-end lexical resource since it first appeared in English in the 1970’s. It is a massive collection of essays on individual words and word groups in the Greek New Testament. It remains valuable for the student or teacher; although I would question its utility for the busy pastor. But I have a couple of warnings about purchasing this set. If you want to buy this I strongly recommend finding an older printing that has real dust jackets and stitched binding. The newer printings (last 10 years or so) are not stitched, they are glued and the bindings simply will not last. I’ve seen them crack and split after a couple of years. You might pay more than the current sale of $90, but you can still find them for about $120 and they will last a lifetime.

There is something you also need to know about the content. This was originally a German language work and the main editor, Gerhard Kittel, was a thoroughgoing Nazi (shortly after the war he died while in allied custody awaiting trial for war crimes). Kittel was not the only contributor of this ilk in this set and the anti-Semitism comes through pretty clearly in places, although more subtly elsewhere. It’s not that they were trying to hide anything, they probably couldn’t conceive any other kind of thinking. As such, in my view, there are places where it is an unreliable guide although crafted in careful scholarly language. It’s still an important set and still useful for the scholar, but the unaware pastor or student can be mislead in places. Handle with caution.

Word Pictures in the New Testament by A. T. Robertson (B&H Books)

Robertson, who taught Greek at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for many years left two main works, his Historical Grammar and his six volume Word Pictures. Designed as less of a commentary and more of an extended word study through key words in a verse-by-verse setting. It can be helpful in places but he often falls into “word study fallacies” by making the etymology of a particular word carry more weight than they can possibly bear. It’s a nice set that is useful in places and doesn’t take up too much space, but they can be found for a much better price than retail, generally as owners who discovered they really didn’t need the set sell them.

The Renaissance New Testament by Randolph O. Yeager (Pelican Publishing).

I only include this set because someone recently asked me about it, which led me to think that possibly some misguided publisher has brought it back, although I hope not. This set took poor Mr. Yeager nearly his entire adult life to complete, so he gets an “A” for effort and perseverance; however, as Carson points out it is a “monument to misplaced energy.” The set takes up considerable space to no possible benefit to the owner. It’s based entirely on the King James Version, the comments are either entirely self-evident or entirely misguided. He apparently had some facility in New Testament Greek, but I’m always hard pressed to see how it helped him. Don’t even let someone give this set to you.

The Daily Bible Study by William Barclay (Westminster-John Knox Press)

I would have thought that by now most people would understand that William Barclay’s commentaries have been thoroughly discredited. However, I’m often still surprised that people buy and pastors still quote this amazingly bad series. Barclay had a fascinating way of explaining manners and customs and historical information about the New Testament. He was writing purely for the layman and as a result he never used footnotes or referred to sources that could be verified. Not only are most of his explanations about manners, customs, and history wrong, in the process he denies essentially every significant Christian doctrine. Unfortunately, many pastors, especially in the 1960-80 era often quoted Barclay to illustrate their own sermons and in so doing legitimized Barclay in the minds of their listeners in the process.

The set remains immensely popular and Barclay’s son has recently updated it. Nothing in the updates fixes any of the terrible theology and unsubstantiated references that supposedly make the Bible clear to the average layman. This is a set that pastors should be paid not to use.

New International Commentary on the Old Testament and New International Commentary on the New Testament (Eerdmans Publishing).

These series have been ongoing since the late 1950’s and the New Testament series will soon be getting its fourth editor (Ned Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, and Gordon Fee) since Dr. Fee recently had to retire because of his health. If someone really wants to do something nice for a present either of these sets are worthwhile. They have been updating them regularly (some of the earlier parts of the series have been replaced, such as John Murray on Romans was replaced by Douglas Moo). The sets are expensive, it will usually take at least $300 per set on sale, but they have and will stand the test of time. F. F. Bruce’s Acts, while significantly dated, is widely regarded as the model for a modern biblical commentary. The scholarship, research, and writing standards for the both series have remained high. If you have to make a choice, I prefer the New Testament series slightly over the Old Testament, but only by a small margin.

Commentary on Romans (12 Volumes) by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Banner of Truth Publishing)

I’m sure I will get into trouble here with many readers, but $300 for this set is way too much. While it will look nice on the shelf and certainly help with your bona fides for any young restless reformed groupie that visits your office, I found this set to be ponderously unhelpful. I’m rather convinced that anything that could be said in 100 words Lloyd-Jones could say in 1,000. Of course, these began life as sermons, not as an intentional commentary.

As a dispensationalist I naturally think his comments on Romans 9-11 are entirely misguided. He creates useful outlines and makes good pastoral observations, but his utility in Greek is dubious. As Carson states, “Lloyd-Jones is probably not the model most preachers should imitate.” That being said, while he is wordy, he’s readably wordy and there is value in his comments. However, for a commentary you can get John Murray’s two volumes on Romans and have a thorough commentary on the text with the same theology explained much more clearly and without the spatial commitment of an entire shelf.

The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, by John MacArthur (Moody Press).

Now, if you’ve recovered from my comments on Lloyd-Jones, we’ll move on. This set is unquestionably a singular achievement and it’s single-handedly kept Moody Press afloat for many years (it’s the only series they print that remains profitable with strong sales). It can generally be found as a set new for about $400 and it’s worth that investment and the new dust jackets are much more attractive than the plain hardbacks were. That being said, the series is a cross between sermonic material and commentary and that’s not always good. In the editing some of the sermonic quality is lost and they were never supplemented adequately enough to create a solidly pure commentary. Over the years his theology shifted as well and as a result there are internal inconsistencies within the series.

The focus of the series also shifted very early and Moody allocated more pages to each volume. The set would be greatly strengthened if the first two entries Hebrews and Galatians, were replaced with new editions, but there seems to be no plan for that. For the Sunday school teacher, the Bible study leader, the young pastor, or who Carson calls, “the well-read layperson,” this series has a high value. Buying it as a set is also the best bet, as you’ll save about 50%

New Testament Commentary by William Hendriksen and Simon Kistemaker (Baker Books)

Hendriksen completed eight of the commentaries and after his death Kistemaker finished the New Testament. This set is useful, thoroughly committed to inerrancy, and often has helpful pastoral comments. The tone of the series is staunchly Covenantal-Reformed, often tediously so. Hendriksen’s contributions tend to be much more wordy and dogmatic and he rarely interacts with opposing viewpoints. Kistemaker is a little easier reading, but he also doesn’t give much time to other possible interpretations.

The set is often available for under $200 but honestly there is a reason that its popularity has declined (as a set it was even out of print for a time). A few of Kistemaker’s contributions are still valuable, but personally I’d buy these individually. Hendriksen’s volumes (especially the gospels) are dated and pedantic. The Pillar series is a far better use of your money and shelf space.

The New International Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Eerdmans Publishing).

This is the more technical version of the NICNT series. It is a commentary on the Greek text, not the English and therein lies my warning. The set is not inexpensive (about $350 on sale) but you need to be sure the person receiving this is really a good Greek student. For pastors who got B’s and C’s in Greek during seminary and haven’t kept up on the language this set will may be more of a frustration than a help. The authors do no explain the basics of the language; they rather assume a superior working knowledge of New Testament Greek on the part of the reader. Some of the volumes can be exceptionally technical in places and are probably more suited to the advanced student working on his doctorate than the busy pastor.

That being said, it is a superior set of high quality and thorough scholarship. If the person you have in mind to give this too is good with Greek, they should rejoice to receive this set.

The Bible Exposition Commentary, by Warren W. Wiersbe (David C. Cook)

When I have finished preparing a sermon and I’m giving it one last check the place I always go to it Wiersbe. The longtime pastor at Moody Church and then the radio teacher for Back to the Bible, is by far my favorite preacher and author. Checking his comments will almost always reveal a new way of looking at a text, an emphasis for preaching or teaching, as well as useful and timeless illustrations. A compilation of his famous “Be” series of individual commentaries, the five volumes are generally available new for around $50 and will be the best $50 you will ever spend.

Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible, by John Calvin (most recently published by Hendickson)

This classic set reprints the Calvin Translation Society editions in the Victorian era. They will repay the reader in most areas. Calvin did the commentaries toward the end of his life and they often represent his more mature thought. The careful reader will see that the comments are occasionally at odds with The Institutes, but that is to be expected. Here I will repeat a warning that I gave earlier. If you want a set that will last, look for the Baker Books edition from the 1980’s. The volumes are stitched and the binding will last a lifetime. The current Hendrickson set is cheaply bound and glued, not stitched. You might get a new set for $100, but spending $200–250 on the older edition is a wise decision (and they will actually open and lay flat on the desk). There are, of course, some quirks in the way Calvin did some of the books (his chronological presentation of Samuel, Kings & Chronicles) and his synoptic presentation of the gospels. Also, he didn’t do a commentary on Revelation. Calvin can be loquacious at times and his comments make arcane references to the current events of his day; but the Translation Society editor’s are often helpful with footnotes.

Word Biblical Commentary (now published by Thomas Nelson and distributed by Zondevan)

In the publishing world there has been a recent consolidation and News Corp (owned by the Murdoch’s who also own Fox) how have owned Zondervan Publishing for nearly 20 years now owns Word and Thomas Nelson (along with Harper-Row). In their acquisitions and rearrangement of each imprint it appears that Zondervan will ultimately take control of handling the Word Biblical Commentary (Word had been changed to the “W Group” and then sold to Thomas Nelson and now they all belong to the Murdoch empire).

I can make this one really simple; don’t buy this as a set. First of all it takes nearly an entire shelving unit for the whole thing, but beyond that it’s probably the most uneven series that has even been produced. Some of them are excellent and some of them are simply awful. There seemed to be no unifying editorial control and certainly no unifying theological point of view. It’s a mix of just about everything and there are a few of the authors I would be hard pressed to even call evangelical. The good individual commentaries can be bought individually without cluttering up an office with books whose only usefulness is tossing in with the Pulpit Commentary and Biblical Illustrator.


There are any number of other sets I could mention, and perhaps I’ll add some other thoughts around graduation time. I would mention that if you are looking to buy a gift of books for your pastor or student and you don’t know what to get or if something is worthwhile, ask around. Send me an email if you like. You might see the set of commentaries by Matthew Poole, very nicely bound, very pretty, and reasonably well priced, but you would be buying something destined to never be used.



2016 Update

Last year I posted here some recommendations for commentaries and other book sets people might want to buy for that pastor or seminary student in their life. It was in no particular order and it wasn’t exhaustive.

Two things happened again this year: people started sending me notes asking about this or that book as a gift and I also received my shipment of books from the Evangelical Publishing Association. I’m a judge in the Bible and Reference section for their annual Gold Medallion Awards (and I have been for about 15 years). Questions and these new additions to commentary series stimulated me to create some additions to last years sampling.

My same disclaimers apply as last year. I apologize in advance if I am critical of your favorite author, but when I look at the work of Spurgeon and more recently D. A. Carson, I realize that I’m in good company utilizing some of the sharper facets of humor and critique. Also, these are in no particular order.

I haven’t mentioned a few series because one must be mindful that commentary series often die young (e.g. The Eerdmans Critical Commentary series or the now officially aborted Clarendon Bible series). But here you go:

Preaching the Word Commentary Series. Edited by R. Kent Hughes this series began as Hughes’ sermons put into commentary form (similar to The MacArthur series). It proved to be successful and to fill out the series more quickly Hughes became the editor and other authors were added. They are brief, uniformly helpful, and much more pastoral in tone. bookstoreAnd, they are engagingly written. The key with this set is, despite, the title, they aren’t really commentaries; they are in fact synopses of how to “preach the word” and in this sense Hughes didn’t try to make his sermons something they weren’t. They are more useful to examine against what your completed sermon looks like than to see the technical details of the text. I’m not sure I would rush out and buy the whole set, although Hughes’ contributions are always worthwhile. The newest volume (1 Corinthians by Steven Ulm) covers the key features of the book without bogging down in this or that section of the epistle.

The Kregel Exegetical Commentary Series. The most important contribution to date is clearly Allen Ross’ three volumes on the Psalms, perhaps the best effort in the Psalms in recent decades. The series is solidly evangelical, really exegetical, and premillennial, although not forcing it where the text doesn’t. The only question with this series is whether Kregel can pick up the pace a bit in terms of production. So far only Old Testament volumes have been produced.

Craig Keener’s mammoth four volumes: Book of Acts: An Exegetical Commentary is now thankfully complete. All four are available at about a 50% discount and if Acts interests you and you have hefty book shelves then you might want to invest the $140 they will cost. Personally I wonder if this set is a “commentary” or perhaps better classified as an encyclopedia on the Book of Acts. It is in the tradition of von Harnack and while Keener is an excellent writer; I hesitate to call him concise, but in his own way he is, but I wonder how many pastors will require 5000 pages on Acts. But, the busy pastor may better appreciate F. F. Bruce in the NICNT supplemented by Darrell Bock in the BENTC.

A few words about Zondervan Publishing (one of the branches of News Corp’s growing influence in religious publishing). After finishing the complete revision of the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Zondervan currently has several disparate commentary series in process, including taking over the Word Biblical Commentary series when Mr. Murdoch added Thomas Nelson to his empire. At first glance they seem to have something for everyone, closer examination however, make me wonder. Their new The Story of God Commentary series is an interesting new study. Edited by Tremper Longman III (admittedly not one of my favorite editors or commentators) is an examination of the storyline of each book. It deals more with overview and narrative than detail and in that it is a welcome addition. The series will not please more conservative readers (In Genesis Longman rejects a young earth position and waffles around Mosaic authorship) but as a commentary examining larger portions of text, it is a good source to sort of pull your mind out of the lexical and grammatical minutiae. Zondervan is clearly serious as all the authors have been assigned. An old friend and TMS grad, Tim Gombis is scheduled to do The Gospel of Mark. The Story of God series seems to be a good balance to the NIV Application Commentary Series and the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary Series. By the way, while the NIVAC is very good in places, like the Word Biblical Commentary, it’s terribly uneven and not something you want to fill your shelves with. There seems to be a tendency with some publishers to simply add the word “exegetical” to the title and include some Greek and Hebrew fonts, add words like aorist infinitive participle and attempt to make people thing something new (or useful) has actually been created, I’m afraid the ZEC too often falls into this category. This series does continue a trend with Zondervan’s editorial desires it seems, dealing with “preachable lengths” of text. So far the nuggets here and there haven’t inclined me to want to buy any of them individually and certainly not clutter up a shelf with them. There is way too much wasted space in the text. Including the entire Greek text and then the individual author’s translation (along the lines of the Anchor Bible) is just tedious and offers almost no real value to the reader.

One set I would avoid is the Reformed Expository Commentary Series from P&R. It is thoroughly reformed even when the text isn’t and in places reads like an exposition of the proof texts of the Westminster Confession rather than the text of Scripture. The occasional useful morsel will probably be found elsewhere and in a more palatable form. The comments are often too brief or too pedantic to be helpful and naturally from my perspective utterly worthless in the prophetic books unless you agree with Calvin that the prophets must be referring to the church in their utterances. The same can be said of the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary. Built on the assumption that Christ is in every passage of the Bible, the comments are too idiosyncratic and often in the process of “finding Christ” in every passage the authors don’t find the actual meaning of the passage. Another set that I would avoid is the Preach the Text Commentary series from Baker. Each publisher seemingly has to have an entry into every commentary sub-genre but so far the offerings in this series haven’t been impressive, it seems to be more of an effort to balance out the uncritically liberal Paideia series.

By the same token I would not simply avoid some of the Sacra Pagina volumes because they are by Catholic scholars; for instance, Collins on First Corinthians is excellent. Another entry from Westminster/John Knox is the New Testament for Everyone series by N. T. Wright (which incorporates his older Paul for Everyone). Before you reject Wright immediately for his New Perspective leanings, remember he is a first rate biblical scholar (in my opinion his work on the resurrection is unsurpassed). He is a clear and engaging writer with both style and has the chops to back that style up. There are things to learn from Wright and as a commentary series it can be had reasonably priced and doesn’t take up a lot of space.

Not long ago I had a panicked call from a young pastor, whose parents, as a surprise but without much knowledge in the field, bought him the entire Yale Anchor Bible series. This series has been around since the 1960’s when it was published by Doubleday and simply known as the Anchor Bible. It is part “new translation” and part commentary. One of the advantages is that it includes the Apocrypha and useful commentaries covering those are few and far between. Yale University Press bought the rights to the series (which also includes a set of reference books) and this set isn’t inexpensive. The whole series takes an entire shelf unit and he was worried that people who came into his office would think he had become a liberal. I advised him that it was more important to honor his parent’s elaborate gift than to worry about what other people thought. It’s a set of uneven quality, but mostly liberal to extremely liberal (Carson politely calls the series “ecumenical”). Some of the more conservative works in the series (Albright and Mann Matthew on for instance) were also the worst written and the least exegetical. However, the Catholic Raymond Brown’s volumes on John are immensely helpful. However, if someone is thinking about spending the $1000 or so it takes to buy the entire set, seriously consider placing your money in a more useful investment.

It was sad to read about the passing of Dr. Thomas Oden in the last couple of weeks. He was the driving force behind the the paleo-Christian movement and especially the IVP Ancient Christian Commentary series (which expanded into other areas). The idea behind the series was unique and in some cases exceptionally well carried out. But while it is a pretty shelf set I’m not convinced having them all is a worthwhile use of space or money. One thing is that since they are little more than snippets of various Fathers on different passages, the actual context of the original writing is lost and sometimes the thrust of the commentary isn’t exactly the same as what the particular church father as trying to say.

If someone wants to spend money on you, if you don’t own the IVP Dictionaries for the Old and New Testament, they should be a first choice. The are subtitled a “Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship” and that is a true statement. While some of the conclusions will make you scratch your head, they are clear, well written, and have good bibliographies. IVP tends to use a rather narrow club of contributors, but they are all highly respected scholars, certainly not always conservative but well written and thorough.

One word of update. Since the recent scandals of plagiarism are still fresh, it’s worth noting that a couple of the series’ I mentioned last year were affected. Peter T. O’Brien’s volumes in the Pillar and NIGTC have been removed and apparently the inventories destroyed (this has had the effect of making them scarce and driving up their prices in the used market, I’ve seen some of his works going for over $200). What we can say about O’Brien and others is that as far as I can tell they weren’t making things up, as in fiction, they were just not properly attributing phrases, sentences, and paragraphs to who actually wrote them. The net effect is not error in the text as much as making the authors appear more clever than they actually are. Personally, I think they are all disqualified from being properly cited in an academic setting, but they are still good compendiums of information. But, buy the same token I would also never quote them in a sermon.

The steam in the creation of new commentary series seems to be running out a bit and theology seems to be taking the lead with publishers again (just as new works in reference have scaled back from a peak several years ago when commentary series began to take over). I expect the recent kerfuffle on the Trinity will lead to some new library1books, although after all the sessions at ETS I remain convinced the whole affair was much ado about nothing. By means of prediction I do think the field of theologies will expand. Millard Erickson and Wayne Grudem have dominated the field some time now and I expect updated full systematics from some other perspectives (an updated work along the lines of Chafer would be welcomed). Beginning the trend is the release of the new edition of The New Dictionary of Theology: Systematic and Historical (IVP, 2016). This new edition is a significant update and expansion of the original. The much-anticipated Biblical Doctrine, edited by Mayhue and MacArthur is currently schedule for release at the end of January, but may not ship until March.

But certainly don’t forget reference works! I will close with this: one of the best reference works you can get for NT backgrounds is either The Cambridge Dictionary of Classical Civilization or The Classical Tradition from Harvard Press. It’s always amazing to me how few pastors learn or know much about the Classical era of which the NT writers are often (especially Paul) and then after the NT era, the church fathers) dependent.

To answer one last question I always get, what about Logos, Accordance, Bible Works, and the like. Here are my thoughts in a nutshell. Computer programs are wonderful in helping you do things faster and more efficiently; like technical exegetical work, concordance searches, and the like. Even the tagging features to connect verses to books and journal articles can be helpful. But, as a reading tool, here’s what you need to remember. Virtually every study done shows that people read up to 40% slower on a computer screen, tablet, or any other electronic device as opposed to paper books. If space and travel is an issue, by all means e-Books are a great idea. But in terms of pure reading, these programs don’t fulfill my “faster and effective” criteria. If I am asked to rank the major programs, as I often am, here it is: Accordance is first, by far and away, it’s not even a close discussion. Second place: Bible Works a solid workmanlike program that will handle all your language and exegetical needs. Third place goes to Logos, which essentially began life as a book reading program, and that remains it best feature. In my opinion its exegetical and lexical capabilities are a distant third (and possibly fourth) behind the other two.

I hope this helps, perhaps next year we’ll do this again.