Who says Paul sinned on Crete?
People who say he started churches there, that’s who.
If you just turned to this article, you might be saying, “What?!”
I know. You didn’t say Paul sinned on Crete… And I sure don’t want you thinking Paul sinned on Crete, or anywhere else.
But you see, there are a lot of men who teach he did. They make him guilty of pastoral crimes in Crete’s cities, as detailed in his letter to Titus. This article defends him against these accusations.
But I’m also hoping to convince you of something else along the way – that Paul didn’t plant a single church on Crete, or oversee the planting of any churches there. If he did, as so many Bible teachers say he did, then he was guilty of ecclesiastical sin against both God and man.
Lastly, the many who make him responsible for pastoral crimes also make him the model church planter. It would be ironic if it wasn’t so immoral. If Paul participated in starting the churches on Crete, then he should be the last person anyone should emulate.
Due to a deeper commitment to present church practices than Scripture, many give Paul a bad rap. If I do my job and get Paul exonerated from his many accusers then we can move on to what’s really important: appointing elders “in every city” (Titus 1:5). Titus obeyed Paul. So should we.
Concerning the gospel on Crete there is one central fact. Cretan men became Christians on the Day of Pentecost (30 or 33 AD) and returned to their home island with the gospel (Acts 2:11). To assume they did not is to assume their faith in Christ proved unfruitful. But if they were all unfruitful in the gospel, why did Luke – who personally knew these people – include them as Pentecost’s fruit?
Such a failure reflects poorly on those assuming the Cretan converts were all unfruitful since it reflects a lack of understanding of Christ’s purposes on he day of Pentecost. If Crete’s original believers did not evangelize the island and start churches, then Christ Himself failed in His own purposes through them.
Rather than accept that conclusion we ought to accept that by the time Paul wrote the letter to Titus, thirty years of gospel activity on Crete had produced churches “in every city” (Titus 1:5). But, by this time most of the churches on Crete were being led by sinful, rebellious unbelievers (Titus 1:10-16).
Moving on then, how did Paul know the churches were in poor condition?
Most likely he learned about their spiritual condition two years earlier during his stopover on the island as he and Luke travelled to Rome (Acts 27:7–12). Though Paul was likely restricted from traveling about the island his mature traveling companion Luke was not, and could have easily traveled to numerous cities on Crete seeking out those saved at Pentecost thirty years earlier (Acts 2:11). Or, perhaps a number of them, along with other more recent Cretan believers, came to visit the eminent apostle in Fair Havens where he stayed a “considerable time” (Acts 27:7-9).
Either way, Paul would have formed a sober and apostolic judgment about Crete’s churches, a judgment he confirmed upon his release from prison in Rome several years later when he visited the island again (Titus 1:5). Evidently Paul believed the Crete situation was so important that he delayed his missionary travels westward to Spain to reform Crete’s many churches (Romans 15:24, 28).
Thus his letter to Titus is Paul’s rescue and protection plan for Crete’s Christians, as well as his complete and unilateral reform of all of Crete’s churches. Titus 1:5 stands today as the framework by which we Christians must merge our schismed churches. As expressed in the prior article, the likely number of churches on Crete by this time is between 100 and 300 on an island of between 35 and 100 cities, with a population of 300,000.These estimates are based on the following sources: I. Howard Marshall, The Pastoral Epistles (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1999) 152; David W. J. Gill, “A Saviour for the Cities of Crete: The Roman Background to the Epistle to Titus,” in The New Testament In Its First Century Setting: Essays On Context And Background In Honour Of B. W. Winter On His 65th Birthday, edited by P. J. Williams, Andrew D. Clark, Peter M. Head, and David Instone-Brewer, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2004), 223; R.F. Willetts, The Civilization of Ancient Crete, 30-31; Paula Perlman, “One Hundred-Citied Crete and the ‘Cretan POLITEIA,” Classical Philology, Vol. 87, No. 3 (Jul., 1992) 193; Barbara J. Hayden, Reports on the Vrokastro Area, Eastern Crete: The Settlement History of the Vrokastro Area and Related Studies (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2004) 206. Today, Crete’s population is slightly over 600,000.
Here in the last years of life, after decades of phenomenal ministry on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ, the apostle to the Gentiles displays in the text of inspired Scripture the most mature form of Pauline ecclesiology: merged churches under eldership in every city.
For three decades until Paul’s visit the Cretan churches had never known apostolic oversight. As a result of their ignorance they were overcome by the most prolific strategy Satan uses to spiritually kill churches — ungodly leadership. Crete’s leaders played right into the hands of the evil one who comes only to steal, kill, and destroy the churches of the Son of God. Paul’s strategy to defeat Satan’s strategy of ungodly leadership in churches was mandated merging under qualified elders.
There are those who assume Paul did things on Crete that are sinful but refuse to call him out on it. They ignore his alleged sins. This is the group that believes Paul helped start the churches on Crete.
And then there are those who say, “No way! Paul didn’t sin there.”
I’m with this group. I don’t believe Paul sinned on Crete because I don’t believe he started those churches. But folks like us are in the minority.
Let me plainly state the matter. If Paul started the churches on Crete in any way then he was sinning by leaving Titus to fix the problems he created, including bad leadership, bad teaching, and bad church structure.
In ministry we call it “cutting and running,” and it happens all the time. A pastor starts a church, or goes into one, and leaves after having created a whole bunch of unresolved problems for the next guy to fix. Or he leaves because he is protecting himself.
It is the heart of a man Jesus called a hired hand: “He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees” (John 10:12). The wolves are men who devour sheep, the exact kind of men Paul says lead Crete’s churches (Titus 1:10-16). And if Paul started or helped form those churches, guess who authorized these men to be the leaders? Yep, Paul himself (c.f. Acts14:23).
So anyone who claims Paul helped create the churches on Crete is also saying that Paul was responsible for their ungodly leadership when he left Titus on the island. They’re saying Paul left to Titus the fixing of problems created by Paul. Paul either appointed or allowed ungodly men to shepherd the churches he helped start. Either way, it is awful shepherding.
This is, however, an intolerable accusation. Paul is the great apostle all Christians are to emulate. If he is a just another sinning hired hand who create problems for others to fix, such as putting evil leaders in place, then he is unworthy of our love and admiration. He is instead worthy of our condemnation.
On the other hand, if he is not responsible for the situation of Crete’s churches but is applying apostolic wisdom in order to fix church problems others have created, then he is to be praised and his principles followed in every church claiming to be Christian. I hope it’s obvious by now which of these two positions I take.
It isn’t simply rhetoric that leads me to this position. It is the text itself. As this article hopes to show, the case for Paul the apostle is crystal clear, while the case for Paul the hired hand is non-existent. I hope you not only read the article, but after reading it, admire Paul even more than you already do.
Who to Believe?
The most common claim is that Crete’s believers were several months old in the Lord when Paul wrote the letter. Here’s a sampling from commentators supporting this idea:
“Paul himself or a colleague had begun setting up the churches
and organize their structure but had departed
before the task was completed”I. Howard Marshall, The Pastoral Epistles, 151.
“…the churches were so young that they would not have had
time to have multiplied into several house
churches in the larger cities…”John Kitchen, The Pastoral Epistles for Pastors, 488.
“there are already several groups of Christians.. in several cities…
St. Paul had begun to organize them and
had left Titus to finish his work….”Walter Lock, The Pastoral Epistles, 121.
“Titus has been left behind in Crete in order to organize churches
which have, it seems, been founded
in rapid missionary tour.”C.K. Barrett, The Pastoral Epistles, 9.
“Titus… presupposes a fairly recent, extensive, evangelistic effort
by Paul and his young colleague in Crete”J. N. D. Kelly, The Pastoral Epistles, 7.
“Paul had presumably visited Crete and left
Titus there to carry on the work.”Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles, 196.
“What is clear from the nature of the instructions is that
the Cretan churches are still in
the fairly early going.”Philip Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 678.
“From what follows, one can surmise that the two were successful
in evangelizing various cities on the island but did not
have time to return and strengthen the believers…”George Knight, The Pastoral Epistles, 287-288.
On the other hand, some writers believe Paul was dealing with churches that had been in existence for a long time:
“…the Cretan churches… had evidently been in existence for
some time when Paul visited Crete.”D. Edmond Hiebert, Titus, in Expositors Bible Commentary. 11:423.
“There were Christian churches in several cities on Crete by the time
the letter was written to Titus… In Acts 2:11 Luke mentions Jewish
pilgrims from Crete who visited Jerusalem on the occasion of
the Feast of Pentecost in A.D. 30. If this is indeed the case,
the gospel could have been brought to Crete by these
new believers as early as A.D. 30.”Eckhard Schnabel, Paul the Missionary, 121.
“…Paul went to Crete and found a struggling church that had
perhaps originated when the converted Cretans
returned home from Pentecost (Acts 2:11).”William Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 386.
So who is right, most commentators who believe Paul is responsible for Crete’s churches, or those who don’t? The call is pretty easy, I think. See if you don’t agree.
Paul the Tempter?
If you believe Paul helped in starting the churches on Crete, or even just believe that the churches on Crete were young, how do you explain this?
Paul’s standard for elders was “not a recent convert” (1 Tim. 3:6). Yet here he is in Titus 1:5, telling Titus to appoint elders. If you believe the churches are young then you must believe the Christians there are recent converts. Yet, isn’t the command, “not a recent convert” a standard that is ultimately from Jesus Christ, not Paul?
Paul told Timothy in Ephesus not to appoint such men since recent converts will “become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:6). Would Paul forbid tempting young converts to conceit in Ephesus, but command that they be allowed to fall into the condemnation of the devil on Crete? That in itself is sinful. Would Paul give one set of divine standards to Timothy and a lesser set to Titus?
I doubt that is how you do ministry, adjusting God’s commands to suit your situation. It’s sad to read the commentators who justify appointing new converts as elders on Crete because they believe its permissible in newer churches.
According to the young church view, Paul would also be asking Titus to violate his conscience since he too would be violating God’s standard in 1 Tim. 3:6. Further, Paul would have violated His Lord from whom all elder qualifications come. These ecclesiastical crimes would render Paul unfit to be an apostle.
So I’d like to offer a defense for Paul.
To the contrary: Paul’s words in Titus 1:6–9 show that he did not want new converts in eldership on Crete, but only the most mature men. I’ll just give one example. An elder must be able to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict (Tit. 1:9). No man can become a Christian out of a pagan culture like Crete’s and obtain the skill and knowledge necessary to be a Titus 1:9 man without many years of sober study and hard trials.
Therefore, a proper reconstruction of the age of Crete’s churches accepts that each city must have had a plurality of aged and mature men in the faith who could match the elder qualifications so Titus appoint them. In turn, this required that at least one church in every city on Crete had significantly mature Christian men in it before Paul and Titus got there. Thus, by the time of the letter to Titus, Crete then was a thoroughly evangelized island.
The Impossible Claim
The claim that Crete’s churches were planted by Paul in the months and years just prior to writing the letter to Titus is also troubling because it portrays Paul the Christian leader in the worst possible light. Would he allow for so many false teachers to exist in the churches he planted in the recent past (Titus 1:10)? Would he care so little for Christ’s own sheep that he would knowingly allow these false teachers to be paid by the new converts he had just led to faith in Christ (Titus 1:11)? Allowing new Christians to be taught by false teachers in even one church is practically criminal. The implicit claim that Paul did this in “many” of his recently planted churches is staggeringly evil (Titus 1:10). It blind-sides the apostle with an accusation of gross pastoral malpractice.
If Paul had planted these churches in the past few months then he more than allowed them. He was responsible for placing these false teachers in them whereby they could gain the trust of the new and undiscerning babes in Christ. This makes him guilty of placing unqualified men in leadership in his churches. As a result, he is justly smeared with the shame and guilt of these men’s sins, according to his own standards he wrote in 1 Timothy 5:22:
Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.
So if you believe Paul had a part in the forming of the churches on Crete then please admit that you implicate him in massive sin and cover-up in Crete. He sinned directly in allowing such men to lead in Christ Jesus’ church, he sinned by breaking his own commands in Scripture, and he sinned by leaving Titus to fix the problems he created. And please, for the sake of your own salvation of those who hear you, don’t ever preach Paul’s epistles again. By doing so you proclaim to all who hear you that this alleged hypocrite is not only your spiritual example, but you are making him other’s example as well.
For these reasons it is most unwise to claim that Crete’s churches were new or young. The letter to Titus never once claims Paul started the churches or that Paul ever preached there. Instead, Paul’s letters bear ample witness to his ministerial wisdom, courage, and initiative to confront wolves and protect Christ’s sheep.
The notion that Paul planted such dangerous churches lays many serious charges of guilt at his feet that, if correct, would render him unfit to serve in any church. No, this must be rejected. Are we to believe that Paul consistently violated the very requirements to which he bound Titus — of placing only qualified men in leadership (Titus 1:6–9)? Whatever else Paul’s enemies might say of him, laying such a charge at his feet, as some do, is surely one of the vilest acts against him.
Further, the idea that Crete’s churches were young at the time of Paul’s writing to Titus is also logistically dubious. How could so many churches — at least one in every Cretan city — be planted in the prior months?“The distributive kata polin, meaning “in every city” occurs otherwise in Acts only in Acts 15:21; 20:23 (cf. 15:36).” Jerome Quinn, The Letter to Titus, 78. That would mean planting one or more churches a week! A year or two earlier he identified himself to Philemon as “Paul, the aged” (Philm. 9). Furthermore, Paul’s travel chronologies don’t allow for a heroic three to six month stint of church planting activity on Crete if indeed he made it to “the limit” of Spain after his Roman imprisonment, as one very ancient document from church history claims (1 Clement 5:6).
If Crete’s churches were new, we are also required to imagine the worst about those Cretans saved on Pentecost (Acts 2:11). Did they go back to Crete only to lose their faith or to do absolutely nothing for the gospel in the thirty years prior to The Titus Mandate? Those who claim Crete’s churches were new are almost uniformly silent about Crete’s first believers. Yet their faith, which supernaturally began at Pentecost, is hardly an irrelevant matter. The most reasonable explanation is that those Cretans saved on Pentecost brought the gospel back to Crete, started churches, and expanded church ministries throughout the island long before Paul ever arrived. Why else would Luke mention Cretans being saved on the day of Pentecost?
Immature Churches but Mature Elders?
Along the same track it’s common to find people claiming that Paul’s mandate to appoint elders was a temporary fix for Crete’s young and immature churches. They believe the churches of Crete only needed a quick-fix called “eldership” to tide them over until a stronger form of church governance could be implemented. Once the churches matured, according to this argument, they could advance past eldership and evolve to look like our present day churches and denominations.
Episcopal writers claim that the churches of Crete eventually matured into Episcopalian style churches led by bishops. The same is claimed by authors in varying degrees from Presbyterian and Baptist backgrounds as well. All imply that after Titus appointed elders the churches of Crete eventually matured into the same style of church governance as their own.This may be seen to varying degrees in Marshall, Epistles of John, 181, 516, 520–21;, Kelly, Pastoral Epistles, 7; Hendriksen, Pastoral Epistles, 345; Archibald Boyd, Episcopacy and Presbytery (London: R. B. Seeley and W. Burnside, 1841) 105–6; Knight, Pastoral Epistles, 175, 288; 344; Park Hays Miller, Why I am a Presbyterian (New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1956) 74; Kent, Pastoral Epistles, 212; Kitchen, Pastoral Epistles, 488.
In other words, eldership as polity for churches was little more than a temporary stopping place along the way to a more mature and robust way of doing church. Sort of like Paul’s ship stopping at Crete on the way to Rome. But these writers can’t all be correct. It’s asking a lot from us to believe that Crete’s churches became Episcopal, Presbyterian, or Baptist, and that all of this happened after Titus appointed a plurality of elders – a governance decidedly different than that of those making the claim. It begs the question. After all, those who make these claims all come from the governance styles they say that Crete’s churches became.
Unfortunately, church history doesn’t help us too much here. According to Eusebius Paul appointed Titus to be the archbishop of Crete. Yet, that can’t be right since Paul told him to leave Crete for other ministry on the mainland and replaced him with other men to continue the work of appointing elders (Titus 3:12). We simply don’t know what happened to Crete’s churches in early history.
But the implication that eldership was a quick-fix for immature churches ignores a critical factor: there isn’t any form of church government that requires greater Christian maturity than that demanded in the elder qualifications of Titus 1:6–9. So if eldership is only for recently planted churches, and these churches upon maturing are to become bishop-led, representational, or congregational, then why are the requirements and qualifications for eldership more mature and restrictive than all these other forms of church government?
Three More Arguments (from Silence)
There are three more reasons some claim Crete’s churches were young when Paul wrote the letter to Titus. But all are arguments from silence because they make claims by what is not found in the letter.
First, it has been noticed that there are no instructions in Titus on how to remove sinning elders. From this observation has come the conclusion that Crete’s churches were so young they didn’t have problem leaders yet. It’s a line of reasoning that assumes what it hopes to prove – that Paul had just started Crete’s churches but hadn’t got around to appointing elders in them.
But this argument ignores key evidence in Titus — that Crete’s churches had sinning leaders whom Paul described extensively in Titus 1:10–16. They were so entrenched and so dangerous they formed the raison d’état for appointing elders in the first place. This argument further neglects Paul’s step–by–step instructions on how to remove sinning leaders in Titus 3:10–11. He purposely did not call these sinning leaders “elders,” because they weren’t. The instructions on how to remove sinning elders, coupled with Paul’s denunciation of Crete’s present leaders, greatly supports the case that these churches were not planted by Paul.
Second, it is claimed that the churches of Crete were young and new because there is no mention of deacons in the letter as there is in 1 Timothy 3:8–13.Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 386. But there was no need to mention deacons in Crete’s churches. The churches on Crete needed elders, and since they are God’s stewards (Titus 1:7), they must be appointed first and they, the elders, would later oversee the appointing of deacons.
Third, it has been claimed that elders were sometimes appointed within several months after initial evangelism, such as in the churches of Galatia in Acts 14:23. However, the elders appointed in those churches were likely men who were quite mature in godliness, having experienced regeneration and maturation in righteousness years before through the synagogue ministry, as Moses and the prophets were read in them. Their challenge was not growth in grace but understanding Christian doctrine, in which they obviously had become strong (Titus 1:9).
Thus, the arguments used to support the claim that Crete’s churches were new and young in the faith are all based on silence. In other words, they are based on what is not found in the letter, not what is found in the letter.
What Is Found in the Letter
The contents of the book of Titus provide ample evidence of established churches on Crete prior to the letter being written. For example, Titus wasn’t commanded by Paul to do evangelism and plant churches on Crete, which is exactly what we would expect if Paul wanted him to continue doing what they had been doing for months. Instead, Titus was told to “appoint elders in every town,” a command that assumes churches in existence prior to the writing of the letter.
This isn’t to say that Titus didn’t share the gospel with people on Crete, but only to show that he was not on the island doing an evangelistic ministry, as would be necessitated if Crete was a new area for the gospel. Nor does the letter even hint that Paul did any ministry whatsoever on Crete for “the text never says that Paul preached throughout Crete.”Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 386.
Such an omission is hard to justify if either Paul or Titus had just planted these churches. As well, the letter details the kinds of entrenched problems that afflict churches with many years of experience under their belts but who have been under inconsistent, incomplete, or false teaching. Most of the letter is correction of past wrong behaviors, not instruction for those brand new in the faith.
That in itself is most telling. Believers are usually corrected only when clear instruction has been disobeyed. Paul’s words of reproof throughout the letter imply that the believers had not obeyed true doctrine that they had learned in the past (Titus 3:1). As Titus 1:5 explains, the believers on Crete were sick and in need of Paul’s apostolic rescue.
Then there is the issue of “believing” or “faithful” children. Before Paul left Crete he stipulated that an elder’s children were to be “believers” (Titus 1:6, or “faithful”). This qualification requires there be men who have lived in each town who had some years of godly maturing behind them, and had raised at least some of their children in the faith.
Honestly, much more could be said here, but it’s time for this article to move on. If you would like to interact more with arguments for Crete’s established churches, please read Paul’s Reformation on Crete and Sorry To Be Defending Schism on Crete, But…
Why it Matters: “In Every City”
The phrase “in every city” in Titus 1:5 tends to be glossed over. We all tend to read it a little too quickly and assume that Paul meant to say, “in every church.” That is, he wanted Titus appointing elders “in every church.” In other words, we all tend to believe that Paul wanted Titus to appoint some of each church’s male members into leadership. We miss the merging aspect of Titus 1:5.
Most commentators who believe the churches on Crete were established in part by Paul assume Titus 1:5 is actually Paul telling Titus to hold elections in each church to see who would become the elders. Here’s just one example:
“From what follows, one can surmise that the two (Paul and Titus) were successful in evangelizing various cities on the island but did not have time to return and strengthen the believers by setting the churches in order and seeing that elders were elected.”Knight, Pastoral Epistles, 287-288.
However, if this is correct, then why is there no mention of elections in the epistle? Further, Titus is emphatically commanded to do all the appointing.Titus 1:5 ends, “ὡς ἐγώ σοι διεταξάµην” (“as I you commanded”) and the verb “καταστήσῃς” (“appoint”) is 2nd person singular, and thus refers to Titus alone. If Paul wanted Titus to appoint those actually appointed by other’s election in every church, why didn’t he just say that?
Let’s deal with the issue of voting again because it’s a common assumption. Commentaries from all types of church backgrounds stress the elections. The best known Lutheran commentator writes, “Paul speaks of placing them [elders] in office, having them elected by the congregations and then ordaining them.”R.C. Lenski, Commentary on the New Testament, 9:896. So too the Baptist writer, Homer Kent, The Pastoral Epistles, 212.
But let’s be up front. Not only is Titus 1:5 silent on elections, frankly, voting was about the worst thing Titus could have perpetrated on Crete’s Christians. Their churches were already being led by “many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers” (Titus 1:10). Who would have been elected by popular vote but these very same leaders the people already followed and trusted? They would have said among themselves, “Titus? Who is he?”
And it isn’t just popularity that wins elections. Money plays a part, and Titus 1:11 notes that these ungodly leaders made money from their followers in church. Would they just walk away from their income because Titus wanted them to? We already know these are rebellious men (Titus 1:10). Would they give up both their rebellion and income to help Titus appoint other men in their churches? Other godly men? It really isn’t hard to figure out who would have been voted into leadership in each church — the same popular false leaders who were there in the first place. They would have done everything in their power to make the vote go their way.
And here we go again. If Paul wanted the churches to vote he would have incurred yet more sin. First, in allowing churches to choose for themselves the same sinful leaders they previously had. Bad move. Second, by allowing each congregation to choose sinning leaders, he would have been partly responsible for each church “partaking in a man’s sins” – the principle behind 1 Tim. 5:22.
Had Paul or Titus allowed even one ungodly man to be elected into church leadership then they would have created a greater spiritual danger than previously existed. After being elected these ungodly men would have possessed both Paul’s and Titus’ seal of approval on their ministries. Once elected, how do you remove such men? Elections ordaining unsaved leaders meant Paul’s commendation to ministry and condemnation by word on the same men (Titus 1:16).
What’s more, if Crete’s elders were chosen by vote then Titus sinned by violating Titus 1:5. He would have passed off the responsibility given to him and him alone to those who voted. By submitting to the election choices of others, Titus would have directly disobeyed Paul’s words in Titus 1:5: “appoint elders, as I directed you.”The word “you” at the end of Titus 1:5 is placed apposite the word “I” for emphasis: “as I you directed.”
Those who read voting into Titus 1:5 alter Titus’ role from appointing elders himself, as is emphatic in the Greek text of Titus 1:5, to simply ratifying the leadership choices of others. But what could Titus have done when a congregation elected a man who was disqualified per Titus 1:6–9? If his role was to appoint men elected by others how then could he have acted with “all authority” (Titus 2:15)? How could he have kept elected but unqualified men out of eldership but by going against the congregation? In reality, if Titus had allowed Crete’s future elders to be elected he would have sinned against the word of God, the apostle Paul, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the congregation.
Which brings us back to Paul’s actual words, in every city. These three words translate a Greek phrase that means, well, “every city.” Not “some cities,” or “just those cities where churches exist.” To cross check this for yourself look at Acts 15:36 where Luke uses the exact same phrase in every city but further focuses on only some cities: “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”
The words in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord specify only some cities. But in Titus 1:5 in every city is the English translation of a Greek prepositional phrase that obligates Titus to distribute a plurality of elders in each city on Crete. Paul’s words presuppose a church exists in every city on Crete, not just some of Crete’s cities.
Paul didn’t want elders in every church, though. Many of the churches on Crete were dens of iniquity and there were no men in them mature enough to be elders. Paul wanted Titus to merge the churches into one church in every city, thereby removing all the unqualified leaders and making one church in each city ruled by a plurality of qualified elders. This alone does justice to Paul’s phrase, in every city and the presence of ungodly leaders everywhere in Crete’s churches. Titus could not do that through congregational votes since that would have furthered sin.
Although many writers feel that Crete’s churches were planted by Paul and Paul’s associate Titus, the reasons for accepting that are not merely unlikely, they are spiritually impossible. Such reasons leave Paul accused of great sin, accusations that are built on silence, negligence, and suppressing the words of Titus 1:5.
It is far simpler to accept the biblical history of Acts. Paul and Luke spent “considerable time” on Crete just prior to Paul’s first Roman imprisonment. There they got to know the spiritual condition of Crete’s converts from Pentecost and the church milieu of Crete. Paul then planned the reformation of Crete’s churches while in a Roman prison. Upon release he and Titus visited the island where Paul explained the merging ministry to Titus and then left him, writing a letter to guide both him and the churches (Acts 2:11, 27:5–12, Titus 1:5, Titus 3:15).
Without this reconstruction there is no explanation for Luke’s mention of Cretans in the Pentecost account. If they had been faithless with the gospel on their homeland island, why would he have mentioned them as part of Pentecost’s fruit in Acts 2:11? Instead, Luke personally knew their faith and fruitfulness since he had a lengthy visit in Crete alongside Paul described in Acts 27:7–8. His mention of them in Acts 2:11 is his assurance to his readers that he knew them to be very much alive in the Lord.
One last point. Those who assume Paul helped plant the churches on Crete prior to leaving Titus ignore something else, Paul’s love for those he ministers to. In Titus, Paul doesn’t greet or even mention any Cretan believers personally. This is a troubling omission if Paul had just “fathered” these dear and vulnerable people to Christ in the past few months and is contrary to his consistent practice in his letters. Besides, nowhere does Paul ever reference himself doing any preaching or teaching on Crete. That is a notable omission for an apostle.
If Crete’s churches were filled with his recent converts but he didn’t greet any of the people, his letter granting Titus authority to rule over them could hardly be considered the action of a caring shepherd. To them his letter would read more like a dispatch from an aloof bureaucrat who didn’t love his people. It would communicate as clearly as Paul’s leaving without saying ‘good-bye’ that he was forever wiping the dust of Crete’s Christians from his apostolic feet. Unthinkable.
The Titus 1:5 command to “appoint elders in every city,” was authoritative church reformation by apostolic decree and teaching. If you had been in one of Crete’s many churches you would have experienced it. Only in obeying Paul’s way could your church have been merged in order that it become strong and well-structured with godly leaders who would protect the sheep and enforce the great lessons of apostolic reform found in the rest of this inspired letter.
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|1.||↑||These estimates are based on the following sources: I. Howard Marshall, The Pastoral Epistles (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1999) 152; David W. J. Gill, “A Saviour for the Cities of Crete: The Roman Background to the Epistle to Titus,” in The New Testament In Its First Century Setting: Essays On Context And Background In Honour Of B. W. Winter On His 65th Birthday, edited by P. J. Williams, Andrew D. Clark, Peter M. Head, and David Instone-Brewer, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2004), 223; R.F. Willetts, The Civilization of Ancient Crete, 30-31; Paula Perlman, “One Hundred-Citied Crete and the ‘Cretan POLITEIA,” Classical Philology, Vol. 87, No. 3 (Jul., 1992) 193; Barbara J. Hayden, Reports on the Vrokastro Area, Eastern Crete: The Settlement History of the Vrokastro Area and Related Studies (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2004) 206.|
|2.||↑||I. Howard Marshall, The Pastoral Epistles, 151.|
|3.||↑||John Kitchen, The Pastoral Epistles for Pastors, 488.|
|4.||↑||Walter Lock, The Pastoral Epistles, 121.|
|5.||↑||C.K. Barrett, The Pastoral Epistles, 9.|
|6.||↑||J. N. D. Kelly, The Pastoral Epistles, 7.|
|7.||↑||Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles, 196.|
|8.||↑||Philip Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 678.|
|9.||↑||George Knight, The Pastoral Epistles, 287-288.|
|10.||↑||D. Edmond Hiebert, Titus, in Expositors Bible Commentary. 11:423.|
|11.||↑||Eckhard Schnabel, Paul the Missionary, 121.|
|12.||↑||William Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 386.|
|13.||↑||“The distributive kata polin, meaning “in every city” occurs otherwise in Acts only in Acts 15:21; 20:23 (cf. 15:36).” Jerome Quinn, The Letter to Titus, 78.|
|14.||↑||This may be seen to varying degrees in Marshall, Epistles of John, 181, 516, 520–21;, Kelly, Pastoral Epistles, 7; Hendriksen, Pastoral Epistles, 345; Archibald Boyd, Episcopacy and Presbytery (London: R. B. Seeley and W. Burnside, 1841) 105–6; Knight, Pastoral Epistles, 175, 288; 344; Park Hays Miller, Why I am a Presbyterian (New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1956) 74; Kent, Pastoral Epistles, 212; Kitchen, Pastoral Epistles, 488.|
|15.||↑||Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 386.|
|16.||↑||Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 386.|
|17.||↑||Knight, Pastoral Epistles, 287-288.|
|18.||↑||Titus 1:5 ends, “ὡς ἐγώ σοι διεταξάµην” (“as I you commanded”) and the verb “καταστήσῃς” (“appoint”) is 2nd person singular, and thus refers to Titus alone.|
|19.||↑||R.C. Lenski, Commentary on the New Testament, 9:896. So too the Baptist writer, Homer Kent, The Pastoral Epistles, 212.|
|20.||↑||The word “you” at the end of Titus 1:5 is placed apposite the word “I” for emphasis: “as I you directed.”|