At the end of the epistle, Paul returns to the issue of false teachers and heresies. This is a major theme of Paul’s epistles, because it is a major problem that churches must face in every time and place. No sound Bible preacher will neglect this theme. No true shepherd will fail to protect the Lord’s sheep from wolves.
Church history is filled with the account of heretics who have caused great harm to the cause of Christ. Heretics founded the Roman Catholic Church. They invented prominent errors such as infant baptism, sacramentalism, the papacy, Mariolatry, purgatory, auricular confession, transubstantiation, the intercession of the saints, veneration of relics, the inquisition, monasticism, contemplative mysticism. Heretics have preached false christs and false gospels and false spirits. Heretics have established a thousand sects. They have twisted and perverted sound doctrine in countless ways.
And there are more heretics in the world today, in the last hours of the church age, than ever before. They must be dealt with; they cannot be ignored. And the only way to be protected from them and to be protect the churches from them is to deal with them exactly as the Holy Spirit instructs in this passage.
“Avoid” (Tit. 3:9)
- “Avoid” is the Greek periistemi, meaning “to keep away from” (Strong), “in the middle voice, ‘to turn oneself about’ for the purpose of avoiding something” (Vine). It is translated “shun” (2 Ti. 2:16).
- Separation from error is an essential Christian responsibility and action. It is a matter of spiritual protection. It is impossible to maintain the truth without exercising separation and discipline. False teachers must be dealt with and not ignored, and the scriptural way to deal with them is to put them out of the assemblies and to separate the believers from them.
- See the commentary on 2 Timothy 2:14-21 for an extensive, practical study on biblical separation.
“Foolish questions” (Tit. 3:9)
- The context defines a foolish question.
- A “foolish question” is a question that is asked insincerely by a false teacher with the goal of confusing people and leading them astray from sound doctrine. This is the context of Tit. 3:9-10. A heretic is someone who is self-willed and who has rejected sound doctrine in favor of his own opinions and perversions of the truth. He is not content with the plain teaching of Scripture. A foolish question is one which is used in an attempt to overthrow plain Bible teaching, such as questions about the Trinity or bodily resurrection or Biblical inspiration or the eternal suffering of the lake of fire or Christ’s substitutionary atonement. It is good and wise to ask sincere questions, but it is evil to entertain questions which deny clear Bible truth. If the Bible says Jesus is God, which it does, who are we to ask how it was possible for this to be? If the Bible says that God is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which it does, who are we to ask questions that confuse people’s thinking about this? If the Bible says unbelievers will suffer conscious eternal torment in fire, which it does, we must not entertain questions that cast doubt on this. If the Bible claims to be the infallible Word of God, which it does, who are we to question how that could be? If the Bible says that we are “justified by his blood,” which it repeatedly does, then it is foolish to ask questions about how this could be possible and whether it is really so. Our questions must be controlled by the Bible, not the Bible by our questions. See De. 29:29, “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
- A foolish question is a question that pertains to “genealogies.” Paul also mentions the “endless genealogies” of heretics in 1 Ti. 1:4. The gnostics delved into aeons. The Jewish philosopher Philo spiritualized biblical genealogies. “The Old Testament genealogies had an intelligent purpose till Christ came, for they located him. After that they were of no value, and when they were arbitrarily spiritualized they became vicious” (B.H. Carroll). Talmudic Jews spend an inordinate amount of time studying and arguing over genealogies. They often use this means to promote superiority and pride of heritage. Rabbi Shmuel Gorr dedicated his entire life to this and considered the pursuit of genealogical studies a mitzvah (a law of God). Another example of the abuse of genealogies are the Mormons, who use genealogies for their baptism of the dead. The believer does not trace his genealogy according to the flesh, for each believer must be personally born again by the Spirit of God (Joh. 1:12).
- A foolish question is a question which produces contentions (Tit. 3:9). 2 Timothy 2:23 says foolish questions “gender strifes.” When someone is not sincere but only wants to argue against the Word of God and to stir up strife and debate, the Christian is not to enter into such discussions because the fruit will only be strife and confusion.
- A foolish question is a question which pertains to “strivings about the law” (Tit. 3:9). This refers to false gospels. At the heart of every false gospel is the heresy that salvation depends in some way and to some degree upon man’s works. The law was given to lead men to the grace of Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:19-20; Gal. 3:24-25). It was not given to be the way of salvation. “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Ro. 3:19-20). And the law of Moses was not given to be a rule of life for the Christian. “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Ga. 3:24-25). The law of Moses was not given so that the Christian could obey it by God’s power and thereby perfect his salvation, which is the teaching of Seventh-day Adventism. (See Avoiding the Snare of Seventh-day Adventism, which is available from Way of Life Literature.) When men corrupt the gospel and seek to bring converts back under the bondage of the law in any form, they should not be allowed to teach their doctrine or to ask their foolish questions that confuse the believer’s mind. See also 1 Ti. 1:3-11. The Jews have made “strivings about the law” into a way of life. It is the way of the Talmud, which contains quotations from thousands of rabbis. They contradict one another, and their followers love to strive about the contradictions. “A few more years [after Paul wrote to Titus] and Jerusalem would be in Roman hands, and the temple would be a heap of blackened stones. Jews would retreat into the law as interpreted by the rabbis, and the Torah would take second place to the Talmud. The Jewish world would become more and more Jewish--increasingly narrow, ingrown, suspicious, protective, and isolated from the rest of the world. In time, the Talmud would become their home and their very life. Moreover, waves of persecution would fasten rabbinical bonds ever more tightly around embattled Jewish ghettos. Paul, a trained rabbi himself, was farsighted enough to see what was coming. He told Titus to steer clear of all Jewish wrangling and fighting over the law. ... No one knew better than Paul how worthless such squabbling was. After all, he had been a rabbi himself, and he was a former student of the renowned Gamaliel (Ac. 22:3), who was the grandson of the even more famous Hillel, who founded a popular school of thought among the Jews. Paul had once boasted about such things, but not anymore (Php. 3:1-11). Because love had replaced law, Christ had replaced creed, and New Testament truth had overshadowed Old Testament truth, why argue with Christ-rejecting Jews over their shibboleths?” (John Phillips).
- A foolish question is a question that is “unprofitable and vain” (Tit. 3:9). Every question should be tested by this wise standard: Is it profitable? If it is not profitable unto life and godliness, then it is vain. “Vain” is the Greek “mataios,” which is “empty, profitless” (Strong), “void of result” (Vine), “worthless, ineffective” (Mounce). Since heresies are unprofitable and vain, the only right reason for delving into them is to critique them and to protect the flock from them..
“A man that is a heretic” (Tit. 3:10-11)
- The word “heretic” is used only in this one place in Scripture, but the term “heresy” is used four more times (Ac. 24:14; 1 Co. 11:19; Ga. 5:20; 2 Pe. 2:1). This word is used in two different ways in the N.T. (1) A religious sect or party (Ac. 5:17; 15:5; 24:14; 28:22). (2) False teachers and doctrinal error (Tit. 3:9-11; 2 Pe. 2:1). The terms “heretic” and “heresy” refer to a willful choosing of error. The Greek hairetikos, translated “heresy” in Tit. 3:10, is from hairtezo, which is translated “chosen” in Mt. 12:18. “The word ‘heresy’ originally meant ‘a choice,’ then an opinion that is the product of choice or of the will, instead of being drawn from the Divine Word. It refers to a man-made opinion. Hence the term was given as a name for departures from orthodox teaching which carried in them a breach of church unity” (G.P. Fisher, History of Christ Doctrine).
- Biblical heresies come in two categories. First, there are “damnable heresies” (2 Pe. 2:1), which are heresies that bring eternal judgment. In this verse, Peter gives an example of a damnable heresy: “denying the Lord that bought them.” Any false teaching about the Person of Jesus Christ or His substitutionary atonement brings damnation because this is a false christ and a false gospel. But heresies are not limited to fundamental errors. Damnable heresies include denying that Jesus is the Christ, denying His virgin birth, His incarnation as fully God and fully man, His eternal Sonship, His sinless character (e.g., the heresy that Jesus partook of fallen human nature), His miracles, His substitutionary atonement, and His bodily resurrection. In 2 Corinthians 11:4, Paul lists three major categories of damnable doctrines: false christs, false gospels, and false spirits. But heresies are not limited to fundamental errors. In 1 Corinthians 11:19, hairesis is used for error pertaining to the practice of the Lord’s Supper. A true brother in Christ can “walk disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received” (2 Th. 3:6-15).
- A heretic has a heart problem, not an ignorance problem. Heresy is a work of the flesh (Ga. 5:20). An individual can be sincerely ignorant of sound doctrine, but the evidence that he is not a heretic will be clear when he responds to the sound teaching of God’s Word and rejects error. A heretic will not receive the truth. The late Pastor Gary Prisk said that when he was a new Christian he saw a book with the title Is Jesus God? and he thought to himself, “No, of course not; God is God.” His thinking was wrong, but that was because he was a young believer and ignorant of sound doctrine. As soon as he was taught the truth of Christ’s deity from the Bible, he rejected his false view.
“after the first and second admonition”
- “Admonition” is the Greek nouthesia, meaning “calling attention to, mild rebuke or warning” (Strong), “training by reproof or remonstrance” (Vine).
- The heretic is to be admonished two times. An effort is to be made to reclaim the heretic from his error. It is possible that he is not truly a heretic and that he will turn from his error. “Just as a builder uses a plumb line and a level to determine whether a wall is true, the elders of the church must bring the straightedge of God’s Word to bear upon the heretical opinions and techniques of a brother who is wrapped in his own perverse, divisive ideas” (John Phillips).
- The heretic is to be admonished only two times. We are not told to become embroiled in endless efforts to restore him or to win him to the truth. When it is obvious that a person is set in his false ways and his objective is only to proselytize others into his false beliefs, he must be rejected and put out of the assembly. “Further efforts would not be a good stewardship of his time and energies and would give the offender an undeserved sense of importance” (Frank Gaebelein).
- This is the Greek parateomai which elsewhere is translated “refuse” (1 Ti. 4:7), “avoid” (2 Ti. 2:23).
- When it is clear that an individual is a heretic, he or she must be rejected. There must be no equivocation, no hesitation. The health of the church is at stake. To reject means to reject the heretic as a true teacher of God’s Word, to refuse to accept his teaching, to disallow him from teaching the Lord’s people, to renounce him, to identify him as a heretic, to retract his ordination, to put him out of the assembly, to warn God’s people to avoid him.
“Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.”
- The heretic must be dealt with “roughly” by the instruction of this passage because there is something wrong in his heart. He is self-condemned because of his willful sin. “Subverted” is from the Greek ekstrepho, which means to be twisted or turned inside out or warped. Something has perverted the person’s heart so that he is not willing to hear the truth. He loves error. He is motivated for some sinful, selfish reason to pursue error and to try to lead others astray. “Such a one is subverted or perverted--a metaphor from a building so ruined as to render it difficult if not impossible to repair and raise it up again. Real heretics have seldom been recovered to the true faith: not so much defect of judgment, as perverseness of the will, being in the case, through pride, or ambition, or self-willedness, or covetousness, or such like corruption, which therefore must be taken heed of” (Matthew Henry).
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