Shepherds Without Blemish

In his instruction to the missionary (or apostolic delegate) to the island of Crete, Paul informed Titus to appoint elders in every city. The foremost quality for these leaders is that they be “blameless” (Paul uses two different words for “blameless in 1 Tim. and Titus; cf. the same word applied to deacons in 1 Tim. 3.10 and synonym “above reproach” in 1 Tim. 3.2, 5.7, and 6.14; and yet another synonym, “of good reputation” in Onosander’s The General, ca. AD 45. This last work describes of what makes a good Roman general; several of the terms used by Paul occur there).

What then does “blamelessness” mean in the context of church leadership? A sketch of context of the letter to Titus provides the background for why Paul sought this particular quality in an elder.

A. The Literary Context of the Letter to Titus.*
Paul states his purpose for writing the letter in 1.5, where the he (re)assigns Titus two tasks: (1) to set unfinished things in order and (2) to appoint leaders in every city. The rest of the first chapter elaborates on the second of these tasks. In 1.6-9, Paul enumerates the qualities needed for leadership in Crete. The last quality in v. 9, “to refute those who contradict,” prepares the reader for Paul’s assessment of Cretan society.

The populace of Crete lacked moral character, which the apostle supports by quoting Epimenides, a Cretan poet, who lived in the sixth century BC. Additionally Titus must deal with “those of the circumcision” (see Acts 10:45 and 11:2; cf. also Col. 10, 11),” a Jewish element, exploiting the church by “ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach,” and making a profit in the process (v. 12). The severity of the situation in Crete should not be minimized; it is the seriousness of the situation in Crete that called this letter into being, and forms the backdrop for understanding the qualities required of elders.

In chapter two, the apostle expands on the first of the two tasks (“to straighten out what was left unfinished”) mentioned in 1.5. In 2.1 Paul encourages Titus to teach “what is in accord with healthy teaching.” What “healthy teaching” (a better translation of the traditional “sound doctrine”) entails follows. In 2.2, Titus is to teach the older men, in v. 3, the older women, who themselves are to teach the younger women (vv. 4, 5). Why is Titus not to teach the younger women? The text gives no direct reason, but if homes are being disrupted and the reputation of the Christian community is at stake, the suggestion is appropriate. In this way, Titus will model “blamelessness.”

Titus is to teach the young men (vv. 6ff.) and slaves (vv. 9, 10). The ethical behavior sought for each group finds its biblical foundation in the appearance of God in Christ (vv. 11-14). The single goal of these ethical demands are strategically placed in the “so that” clauses of vv. 5, 8, and 10:

v. 5 … so that no one will malign the word of God.
v. 8 … so that those who oppose may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.
v. 10 … so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive (NIV).

The common denominator here is that these ethical instructions are to have a profound effect on those outside the church—it has to do with, what we call today, public relations and image. Again this backdrop shapes Paul’s understanding of “blameless.”

Before explaining the relationship between the church and Cretan society, Paul reminds Titus (v. 15) of what he has already stated in 2.1, though ending with a surprising exhortation, “Do not let anyone despise you.” Again, this is a clue into the Titus’ situation: Paul anticipates opposition for Titus as he does for elders (see Tit. 1.9).

In 3.1 and 2 Paul continues his ethical exhortation, but the focus now shifts from relationships within the household and church to relationship of the church to society. In 3.3-8, almost as a reminder that Titus must continue to have compassion on Cretan society, Paul recalls that they too were once outside of fellowship with God, but now God had changed this when he save them, implying that he could do the same for depraved Cretans. The apostle finally returns to the problems described in 1.10-16, telling Titus to avoid such things (3.9-11). Final greetings fill 3.12-15, but in v. 14 we see that the apostle could not dislodge from his mind the gravity of the moral problems in Crete.

B. The Meaning and Use of “Blameless”
This brief overview invites a couple of observations regarding the word “blameless” and its function in Titus. The ethical state of the inhabitants of Crete is the opposite for what Paul is looking for in leaders for the church. This may suggest to Titus that finding good leaders may be difficult in that mission field—but also critical.

The word itself comes from the Hellenistic legal arena. It does not occur in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the OT current in the first century, (outside of 3 Macc. 5.20) and does not therefore reflect the sacrificial language of the OT regarding animals that were to be without blemish, though the thought is similar. It literally means “un-accused” and “indicates one whose character and conduct has not been called into question, or one who is free from accusation.” (Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership, 2nd ed. [Littleton, CO: Lewis and Roth, 1988], 171. Währisch offers, “The other adjectives used in this context indicate that the meaning is beyond reproach, in the ordinary sense of common respectability. Thus in addition to qualifications of a spiritual nature, ordinary standards of decency are made into a preconditions of office in the church, for the sake of the church’s good name in the world.” (Colin Brown, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 3 [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978], s.v. article by H. Währisch).

In Titus, “blameless” occurs at the top of the list of qualifications or qualities Paul required in church leaders and seems to be the premier quality explained by those that follow in the list. V. 7 offers a theological rationale: the elder serves as God’s steward, God’s household manager. As such, he, and the other elders, represents God. They serve as God’s ambassadors to the church and the world (see v. 9).

C. Implications for Leadership Today
“Blameless”-ness is closely related to integrity. J. Robert Clinton defines integrity as “that uncompromising adherence to a code of moral, artistic, and other values that reveals itself in sincerity, honesty, and candor and avoids deception and artificiality.” (J. Robert Clinton, The Making of a Leader: Recognizing the Lessons and Stages of Leadership Development [Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1988], 58.) However, integrity is an internal quality while “blameless” has an external quality about it. It is what others think of an elder. There can be no charge brought against him, not just in his “public” life, but in his private as well. It is concern with not just what the church sees, but what the world sees. “Blameless” gets its force vis-à-vis the world—they cannot bring a charge against God’s household manager!

* The material in this section is adapted from my article, “Titus 2.5—Must Women Stay at Home?” in Carroll D. Osburn, Essays on Women in Earliest Christianity, Vol. 1 (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1993), 367-77.


Husband of One Wife

What is the meaning of “husband of one wife” in 1 Tim. 3:2?

“Husband of one wife” is the KJV and ASV rendering of the Greek phrase mias gunaikos andra, literally “man of one woman.” (You may have heard some say that literally, it is “one-woman man,” woodenly following Greek word order, “woman” is in the genitive case, which means it should be translated “of (one) woman,” thus “man of one woman”).

Besides 1 Tim. 3:2, the phrase occurs in Tit. 1:6 and 1 Tim. 3:12 applied to deacons. The reverse “woman of one man” shows up as a quality required of a “true” widow (1 Tim. 5:9). From this survey, we know that Paul saw “husband of one wife” as a fitting quality for elders and deacons, and that the reverse “wife of one husband “could apply to widows. Therefore, one’s mate could have died and the qualification still be satisfied.

The commentaries offer the following four options:

(1) Elders must be married. This, however, goes against that when reversed (“wife of one husband”), it can describe a widow.

(2) It prohibits polygamy. Though polygamy is wrong, this was probably not the intent of the quality. Besides, polygamy was rare in Graeco-Roman society and when the reversed quality is applied to widows this interpretation fails completely.

(3) It prohibits second marriages. This understanding has more going for it. It works with widows as well. There is even inscriptional evidence praising women married only once who remained faithful to that marriage after the death of their partners (See Gordon D Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, New International Biblical Commentary [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1984], 80). This view would prohibit marriage after the death of one’s spouse (and, remarriage after divorce).

Though defensible, this interpretation ignores what happens when applied to widows. For example, if a woman’s husband dies while she is young and she marries again (per Paul’s instructions in I Tim. 5:14), and then her second husbands dies, she cannot qualify, despite her need, to be a “true” widow, thus, a rightful recipient of support from the church. So in following the apostle’s recommendation while young (to get married again), she has disqualified herself when old. I don’t think this was what Paul was setting up.

(4) It enjoins marital fidelity to his wife. What this view demands is that an elder lead an exemplary married life, i.e., that he is faithful to his one wife “in a culture in which marital infidelity was common and at times assumed” (Fee, ibid.).

Though #3 and #4 are possible, I lean in the direction of #4 as best in line with what the apostle had in mind. Paul’s concern in the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) is to set in place good leadership to protect the church from false teachers, who were disrupting the Christian household by scorning marriage (1 Timothy 4:3; 3:4-5, Tit. 1:11, et. al.).

Give to God!

Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s
and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.

Mark 12.17

THIS IS THE ANSWER Jesus gave the religious leaders and politicians who attempted to trap him into admitting that Jews should pay tribute to Caesar. Believers today tend to understand Jesus’ answers to be, “Of course, good Christians pay their taxes.” However, that understanding cannot come from this story.

First, if Jesus had answered clearly and unambiguously—that Jews should pay taxes to Caesar—then his adversaries could have revealed Jesus as the false Messiah they believed him to be. Since no true King of Israel would concede that tribute should be paid a pagan overlord like Caesar.

Secondly, if Jesus had answered clearly and unambiguously that Jews should not pay taxes to Caesar, then his adversaries could have handed him over to Rome as a subversive and be done with him.

So what did Jesus’ response mean? How was it an answer that eluded both of these trap doors?

By reviewing the image on the coinage, Jesus underscored the religious leaders and politicians’ hypocrisy in using “Caesar’s” money in the first place. Though the Jews strongly detested images of any kind as in keeping with the Ten Commandments not to make graven images, they had, in this case, capitulated. They had to admit how dependent they really were on Rome; and consequently—if they thought more deeply about it, how little they actually trusted God. “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19.15) was truer than any of them would have admitted.

What amazed the people is not that Jesus said believers should pay their taxes without actually saying believers should pay their taxes; but that Jesus had been able to bypassed totally the either/or mentality of his opponents (as well as most Christian interpreters today).

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s
and to God what is God’s.”

Using the common poetic device of parallelism Jesus crafted a conundrum (a riddle designed to tease and puzzle one into a deeper levels of understanding). Thus when we read this saying along the lines of “Pay your taxes and don’t forget your tithes” we greatly miss the point; most of us give Caesar more money than we do the church anyway.

The wonder of the statement is that once we give God his due, what is left for Caesar? Nothing! This was the beauty of the statement! It rested in the eye of the beholder! One inclined to trust Caesar would hear it one way; while those inclined to trust God would hear it another.

He who has an ear to hear!

An Insensitive Word

It all started with an insensitive comment from a supposed Christian. Let me tell you how the famous Scopes Trial, better known by de Camp’s title, The Great Monkey Trial, came to the quiet community of Dayton, Tennessee.(1) Most people know of this famous trial today and its memory lives on through the movie Inherit the Wind (1960) starring Spencer Tracy and Gene Kelly.

In 1925, the opponents squared off. At the prosecuting table sat the folksy William Jenning Bryan, a three-time presidential loser, whom the Christian Fundamentalists enlisted to defend the cause of Christianity against the onslaught of evolutionary theory. At the table of the defendant, waited Clarence Darrow, famous trial lawyer and skeptic, supported by the American Civil Liberties Union. Finally, to complete the cast of characters, the irreligious H. L. Mencken, reporter for the Baltimore Sun, who, in this event, gave the first nationally radio broadcasted trial. Mencken had little love for religious people and once said, “Heave an egg out of a Pullman [train car] window and you will hit a fundamentalist almost anywhere in the United States today.”(2)

Near the end of the fight, Bryan made his crucial error: he accepted Darrow’s challenge to take the stand as an expert on the Bible. Within minutes the defense attorney had him, and, for many, Christianity was to sustain a debilitating loss.

The following dialogue actually occurred at this trial:

DARROW: When was that flood?
BRYAN: I would not attempt to fix the date. The date is fixed as suggested this morning …

DARROW: What do you think that the Bible itself says? Don’t you know how it was arrived at?
BRYAN: I never made a calculation.
DARROW: A calculation from what?
BRYAN: I could not say.
DARROW: From the generations of man?
BRYAN: I would not want to say that.
DARROW: What do you think?
BRYAN: I do not think about things I don’t think about.
DARROW: Do you think about things you do think about?
BRYAN: Well, sometimes.(3)

Before Bryan left Dayton, Tennessee, he died. The symbolism of Christianity’s defeat was complete. However, what set this course of events in motion? How did this famous court case get started. Surprisingly, it was not John T. Scopes teaching evolution in school.

It all started when the manager for Cumberland Coal and Iron Company, George Washington Rappleyea, though a native New Yorker and except for Scopes the only evolutionist in town, attended the funeral after a worker lost his six-year-old son in a car-train accident. Here he heard the child’s mother moan, “Oh, if I only knew he was with Jesus! If I only knew that!” To this, Rappleyea heard the preacher reply, “I’ll not lie to you even to bring you peace. The ways of the Lord are His. You know and everybody here knows that this boy had never been baptized. He never confessed Christ. There can be no doubt but that at this moment, he is in the flames of Hell.”

Rappleyea—though not generally hostile towards religion, became incensed at the minister’s coldness—brought the ACLU’s offer to underwrite a test case against Tennessee’s anti-evolution law to the attention of other local people.

Now as Paul Harvey would say, you have the rest of the story.


1 L. Sprague de Camp, The Great Monkey Trial (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1968).
2 Marion Elizabeth Rodgers, Mencken: The American Iconoclast (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 293.
3 The Most Famous Court Trial: State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes: Complete Stenographic Report (New York, 1971 [Cincinnati, 1925), 287, as cited in George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evagelicalism, 1870-1925 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), 187.

The Present Distress: Who Wrote This?

Does this quote sound familiar to what we are experiencing in the US markets? Guess who wrote it?

“In a system of production, where the entire continuity of the reproduction process rests upon credit, a crisis must obviously occur — a tremendous rush for means of payment — when credit suddenly ceases and only cash payments have validity. At first glance, therefore, the whole crisis seems to be merely a credit and money crisis. And in fact it is only a question of the convertibility of bills of exchange into money. But the majority of these bills represent actual sales and purchases, whose extension far beyond the needs of society is, after all, the basis of the whole crisis. At the same time, an enormous quantity of these bills of exchange represents plain swindle, which now reaches the light of day and collapses; furthermore, unsuccessful speculation with the capital of other people; finally, commodity-capital which has depreciated or is completely unsaleable, or returns that can never more be realised again. The entire artificial system of forced expansion of the reproduction process cannot, of course, be remedied by having some bank, like the Bank of England, give to all the swindlers the deficient capital by means of its paper and having it buy up all the depreciated commodities at their old nominal values. Incidentally, everything here appears distorted, since in this paper world, the real price and its real basis appear nowhere, but only bullion, metal coin, notes, bills of exchange, securities. Particularly in centres where the entire money business of the country is concentrated, like London, does this distortion become apparent; the entire process becomes incomprehensible; it is less so in centres of production.”

What Does It Means to be Missional?

The simplest way to begin is to begin. So here I go. The word “missional” has come into vogue in an attempt to speak meaningfully about the church’s place in North American culture. This has two basic challenges. First, the church has been encrusted, if not lost, in Christendom. And, second, the church is deeply North American in its instincts and values. No doubt we will have a chance to unpack these in other posts.

So what do we mean by being “missional”? My working definition begins with God. God has always been on a mission. That mission involved calling a distinct people, to be different from the culture around them, to live God’s life in the world and thus participate in his mission in calling others into the mission of God. One last item I find necessary to say is that God calls people not for their sake alone but for the sake of the world. To live God’s life is to be spent for the good of others.

What would you add?

On Being a Disciple of Jesus

Often we describe being a disciple of Jesus in terms of what “Christendom” has taught us about what it means be a good Christian. Show up for church. Read our Bibles. Say our prayers. Etc. Occasionally we get deeper, seeking to do what Jesus did (remember WWJD bracelets). So we move out a bit more to do a kind deed for those who don’t have what we do. And all of these we should perhaps do, but it seems to me that being a disciple of Jesus is more than just what we do but what we are (or, at least, hope to become).

The path to becoming a “real” disciple of Jesus is to focus on those things which Jesus was passionate about. If you begin this quest, you will be surprised to discover that most of what we take as the trapping of being a good Christian concerned Jesus little. What did, in fact, concern Jesus? For one, Jesus was passionate about the kingdom of God. Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God with urgency and with a sense that everything else would make sense if you get this one concept right: Seek first his kingdom…

So take a few moments, and make a list of what you believe Jesus was passionate about. How would your life change if you were passionate about the same things?