Titus 2:11 in Context

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people (Ἐπεφάνη γὰρ ἡ χάρις τοῦ θεοῦ σωτήριος πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις)” (Tit 2:11). This text is a favorite of Arminians and pseudo-Reformed men like Donald G. Bloesch, who asserts, “The Calvinist position, especially as transmitted through Reformed orthodoxy, stands in palpable conflict with the New Testament witness.1 Titus 2:11 assures us that ‘the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men.’”2

I don’t think a contextually sensitive reading of this passage will support such a naïve statement. While the context may not decisively rule out the interpretation Bloesch takes, several factors point in the direction of the following interpretation and demonstrate the gross misrepresentation of Bloesch’s statement.

Preceding Context

First notice the presence of the word “for” (γὰρ) at the beginning of the verse. Why is it there? Clearly it is pointing us back to the immediately preceding context. This isn’t some systematic theological proof text thrown into the letter in isolation. It’s a supporting statement for the argument developed in the preceding paragraph and continuing at least to the end of the chapter. Let’s take a look at it.

In 2:1 Paul establishes a contrast (Σὺ δὲ)3 between the “insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party” (1:10), who are “upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach” (1:11), and Titus, who is to “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (2:1). He is to teach

  1. older men “to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness” (2:2);
  2. older women “to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine,” but “to teach what is good, and so train the young women” (2:3–4);
  3. younger women4 “to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands” (2:4–5);
  4. younger men “to be self-controlled” (2:6);
  5. slaves “to be submissive to their own masters in everything,” and “to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (2:9–10).
  6. elders (Perhaps we could even include here a sixth category of instruction to leaders in the church to “teach what accords with sound doctrine ” (2:1), and to “show [themselves] in all respects to be a model of good works, and in [their] teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.”)

Notice now the connection with 2:11ff. Paul commands Titus to instruct all these different groups of people to live this way, for the saving grace of God has appeared to all of them, and it teaches them to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives, as they wait for Jesus to come from heaven, who died to make them His own pure and fruitful people. Then verse 15 recaps verse 1: “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” So the whole chapter has a single message: instructing all groups of believing people on how they are to live and how they can live as they ought (i.e., God’s saving grace that has appeared to all groups of people of which the church is composed).

It’s also worth highlighting at this point that the function of “saving” or “salvation” in 2:11 seems to have more than conversion in view. Rather, it targets progressive sanctification, or perhaps it is being used to focus on God’s saving work from conversion to glorification. In either case, the emphasis on the progressive, life-transforming aspect of salvation is in the fore, which 2:12ff make clear, as does chapter 3.

Following Context

Another indication that this is the proper interpretation comes from a couple points at the beginning of chapter 3.

  1. Paul recaps chapter 2 with a statement to remind them to be submissive and obedient, etc. The “them” no doubt refers to all the groups that he has previously mentioned, the people to whom the grace of God has appeared. Part of that instruction includes this statement: “to show perfect courtesy toward all people (πρὸς πάντας ἀνθρώπους).” It is doubtful that Paul intends this instruction to lay an obligation on everyone in the church to search out and show courtesy to ever single individual alive on the planet. The idea is clearly not “all people without exception,” but “all people without distinction,” all those with whom you come in contact, which roughly equates all kinds or groups of people regardless of class, race, gender, etc. This supports the reading of “all people” (πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις) offered above.
  2. A second consideration comes in 3:4ff, where Paul further explicates the meaning of “appeared” (ἐπεφάνη), the exact word used in 2:11. Paul says that God saved them when the goodness and loving kindness of God appeared, so that the appearing is necessarily accompanied by or entails the saving. The implications that this has for understanding 2:11 are clear. The “all people” (πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις) must necessarily refer to the saved, so that the meaning is “all groups or categories of people within the church.”

Conclusion

So rather than being some statement about God’s desire or intent to save all people without exception or an affirmation of an Arminian prevenient grace, Paul’s argument, then, is that all people within the church regardless of age, gender, status, etc. are to pursue their sanctification with diligence because God’s saving grace has come to all of us, and it teaches us to deny ungodliness and pursue to live godly lives as we wait for Jesus, who died to make us His own holy and fruit-bearing people.

Update: See my follow-up post: Titus 2:11 in Calvin.

Footnotes

  1. In this discussion we need to bear in mind that Calvin’s position and that of later Calvinism are not identical. See Clifford, Atonement and Justification, pp. 69–110.
  2. Donald G. Bloesch, Jesus Christ: Savior & Lord (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1997), 168.
  3. Both δὲ and Σὺ suggest a contrast—δὲ for obvious reasons and Σὺ as an emphatic pronoun.
  4. This is the one break in the parallelism where Titus himself is not to instruct the younger women directly, but is to instruct the older women on how they ought to instruct the younger women. Though not significant for the exegesis of v. 11, this is an important distinction that should not be overlooked. It is especially insightful w.r.t. a young elder’s role in relationship to young women in the church.

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8 Responses to Titus 2:11 in Context

  1. Brian April 30, 2007 at 3:36 pm #

    Phil,

    I have a few questions about your post.

    First, an agreement. I agree with you that Titus 2:11 isn’t a slam dunk general atonement text (In my paper I relegated it to an appendix and listed it as a “possible” general atonement passage).

    The questions. Why the strong language? “A favorite of Arminians and pseudo-Reformed men” a “naive statement.” And one that is not “contextually sensitive.” And why choose Donald Bloesch as your interlocutor. Many evangelicals are would have a negative feel toward Bloesch (perhaps feeling he is not only pseudo-Reformed but also pseudo-evangelical). And why Titus 2:11? Why not choose a more central text for general atonement?

    (In asking these questions, I understand there are probably some good answers for some of them. Perhaps you were reading Bloesch and his comments on Titus 2:11 sparked the post.)

    In response to your contextual and exegetical thoughts, I’m happy to concede your interpretation is possible. I’m not sure your interpretation is demanded by the evidence. If general atonement is true (humor me for a moment :o), I don’t see a problem with all men referring, even in this context, to all without exception. The all without exception would include all the classes mentioned previously and the people in view would narrow to those to whom this salvation was applied in the following verses. (It’s no problem to say God provided salvation for all without exception with the intent that he would sanctify us who are believers).

    That said, perhaps you’re right on the exegesis. I find your arguments plausible. Even so, I’d prefer not being called “naive” or being lumped in with Arminians and the pseudo-Reformed.

    Thanks,

    Brian

  2. Phil Gons April 30, 2007 at 7:46 pm #

    Glad things are clearer now. Sorry for the confusion! :(

    Phil

  3. Phil Gons April 30, 2007 at 5:23 pm #

    Thanks for the note, Brian.

    About the strong language—I didn’t think it was all that strong. In my experience it has been a favorite text of Arminians. The “naïve statement” comment was in reference to the Bloesch’s quote (“The Calvinist position, especially as transmitted through Reformed orthodoxy, stands in palpable conflict with the New Testament witness.”), which doesn’t even hint at the fact that Calvinists have an exegetically sound reading of this text. (Naïve is actually a rather mild term for that statement.) My naïve comment was not directed at the “Arminian” interpretation of the text, but at Bloesch’s statement.

    As to why I chose Titus 2:11 and Bloesch—I was reading Titus in my devotions and came across the Bloesch statement while looking through my recent purchase of the Christian Foundations Collection from Logos. As to why I didn’t pick a different atonement text—well, my intent wasn’t even to address the atonement issue at all, which I don’t think I did. My intent was to comment on a text that I happened to have recently read—the Bloesch statement simply adding fuel to the fire.

    I’m not sure my interpretation is demanded by the context either. That’s why I said, “While the context may not decisively rule out this [the “Arminian”] interpretation, several factors point in the direction of the following interpretation.”

    So I was not calling anyone naïve (including you), but only Bloesch’s statement. Nor was I trying to lump everyone who holds the “Arminian” interpretation together in some sort belittling guilt by association. However, I can’t really help that your interpretation of the text is the same as theirs.

    So I think that “Arminian” interpretation is possible, but certainly not necessary and, in my view, very unlikely (in light of the context and the normal function of πᾶς).

    Hope this helps clarify a little.

    Phil

  4. Brian April 30, 2007 at 7:43 pm #

    Phil,

    I re-read your post in light of your clarification and see where I had misread you. Thanks for the clarifications and pardon my naiveté for thinking you’d lump all general atonement proponents together with Arminians and the pseudo-Reformed. :)

    Brian

  5. E Settle December 9, 2007 at 4:48 pm #

    Dear Brian,

    Do you have a layman’s explanation of Titus 2:11? It seems difficult to sort out as to which one is correct—the Arminians view or the Calvinists.

    Ellen

  6. Robert April 25, 2008 at 4:44 pm #

    Phil,
    Nicely done. No smoke and mirrors here.

    I’ve gone through passages in this fashion, (2nd Peter 3:9 just yesterday) with a friend who is decidedly Arminian, and he completely dismissed my argument.

    Basically his comment to me was; “I just think that God would not doom a people to Hell” . . . and things like that.

    When I tried to explain that not only is he “caricaturing” what I was saying about scripture, but that if he’s going to provide meaningful dialog, then he has to do better than just “assertions” and must get farther into the text itself . . . he declined.

    I have yet to meet an Arminian who is willing to actually dig into any text like you have . . . in fact, they say that it’s “forcing the text to say something you want it to” and that ALL MEANS ALL!

    Thanks for a good post….
    bob

  7. Phil Gons May 7, 2008 at 9:35 pm #

    Thanks for the note, Bob. I’m glad you found the post helpful. FWIW, I know some Arminians who strive to do good exegetical work and derive their theology from the Scripture.

  8. Robert November 10, 2008 at 4:54 pm #

    Phil,
    You are right…the Arminians who do derive their theology from scripture and strive to do it justice are the ones who have Logos Bible software!

    bob

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