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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

"God, Who Does Not Lie": Reading the Epistle to Titus I would like to continue to post on Scripture, at least as much as my limitations allow. The following comes from Fr Raymond F. Collins’ article in a recent Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses, “The Theology of the Epistle to Titus,” which focuses on the epistle’s understanding of God. This God, we are told in the salutation (1:1-4) “does not lie” and is both “our Savior” and “Father.” Our author might be more mysterious, for Fr Collins, like most scholars, believes that the epistle to Titus is pseudonymous. As for the recipient, Titus, we have already encountered him as an uncircumcised Gentile convert at the Jerusalem meeting (Gal 2:1-3), carrying St Paul’s letter written “with many tears” from Ephesus to Corinth (2 Cor 2:4), and sent to Corinth once more to gather the collection for Jerusalem (2 Cor 8). Here, Titus has apparently been “left in Crete” (1:5) to appoint presbyters. Perhaps, though, the setting is yet another feature of the epistle’s pseudepigraphal character. The Cretans, as the epistle takes care to remind us, were famously called “liars, vicious beasts, and lazy gluttons” by Epimenides in the sixth century BC, and would be likely deviators from orthodoxy in need of instruction in “the knowledge of the truth” (1:12,1). It is God, the Father and Savior who does not lie, whose identity is most important. St Paul is a “servant of God” (doulos theou), just as the Septuagint described such figures as Moses and David, and, as other letters have also told us, he is also an “apostle of Jesus Christ,” sent for the faith of God’s “chosen ones” (eklektôn theou) and their “knowledge of the truth.” The God who has chosen a people for his own, sends Paul for their sake, and, as Paul has already told us, God will acquit them from every charge on the last day (Rom 8:33). In particular, Paul is sent for their “knowledge of the truth that is in accordance with godliness (eusebeian).” This knowledge is more than a set of facts; it must lead to a “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). Fr Collins tells us that the important term “godliness” corresponds to the Latin pietas, and “The religious response of pietas calls forth corresponding behavior, patterns of life that are consistent with being God’s chosen ones.” We must, we will see, “live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age” (2:12). St Paul, the “servant of God” and “apostle of Jesus Christ,” then confesses that he writes “in the hope of eternal life that God, who does not lie, promised before time began” (1:2). We will later be reminded that God acted to save us “through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life” (3:5-6). The God who sent Paul for his “chosen ones” has promised eternal life “before time began,” and he acts from eternity to eternity, most decisively in Jesus Christ, without any possibility of mistake or deceit. Our ground for hope in eternal life is pietas. Elsewhere in the Pastoral Epistles, we learn that godliness is “valuable in every respect, since it holds a promise of life both for the present and for the future” (1 Tim 4:8). This life is life in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 1:1), and, as Fr Collins writes, “It is participation in the life of Christ, both in the present era of salvation and in the eschaton, when it will be realized to the full” in eternal life. God, the Father and Savior who never lies, has acted most decisively for his “chosen ones” in Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a “true word” (pistou logou) (1:9) to which the bishop must hold fast, keeping to the chain stretching from Paul to Titus to himself. The credibility of Christianity depends on the pietas manifested by Christians in response to this "word," from the hospitality of the bishop to the good faith of the slave who acts “so as to adorn the doctrine of God our savior in every way” (2:9). St Paul himself has been sent to preach this “true word,” because he “was entrusted by the command of God our savior” (1:3). Both verbs are technical terms suggesting formality and subsequent authority; Fr Collins writes, “The image is that of an imperial court in which the supreme benefactor, the Savior, confers a mission on one of his slaves.” We learn more about the “supreme benefactor,” God, our Father and Savior, in the creedal fragment in chapter 3 (3:4-7), which is tellingly followed by the line, “This saying is trustworthy.” We learn about the kindness and generous love (philanthrôpia) and mercy of God the Savior, descriptions that, Fr Collins says, are “both attitudinal and concrete,” having been made “manifest in the appearance of Jesus Christ.” Intriguingly, philanthrôpia is probably meant to reflect the Hebrew notion of hesed (usually translated in the Greek bible as eleos), and, so, as Talmida has reminded us, it also then carries the meaning of “the devotion and faithfulness and loyalty and duty/responsibility/promise of the covenant.” This God, faithful to his covenantal relationship, acted to save us through the Holy Spirit poured out through Jesus Christ. “The graphic imagery,” Fr Collins says, “is that of a torrential downpour in which the gift of the Spirit is given to God’s people in power and lavish abundance.” This manifests itself in us as a changed life, distinguished by pietas. We have been no less than "reborn" in baptism through the Holy Spirit sent by God the Savior through Jesus Christ, who consequently also merits the epithet “Savior.” Fr Collins says that “the sure saying of 3:4-7 stands on the threshold of early Christian trinitarian theology.” Another section of the Epistle to Titus has been identified as a baptismal confessional formula (2:11-14), and it tells us exactly where we are. We live between two epiphanies. “For the grace of God has appeared, saving all” and we still “await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of the great God and of our savior Jesus Christ.” Just as we were told that the creedal fragment in chapter 3 was “trustworthy,” we are here told to “Say these things.” We trust because the philanthrôpia of the God who never lies has already been manifest in the Savior Jesus Christ, through the commissioning of his servant Paul to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that God's “chosen ones” might recognize pietas and hope for eternal life, and when we ourselves were reborn and renewed in baptism through the gift of the Spirit. God acts from eternity to eternity. We might not know exactly who wrote this epistle, but we know the God who never lies, Father and Savior, and we know that our “blessed hope” will come to pass. I hope that this was at least somewhat useful. Comments are always welcome.

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