Fasten your seatbelts, ladies. Today we’ll finish Chapter 1 of Titus, so we’ll go a bit longer than we usually do. Verses 15 and 16 are really rich, though, so I want to take time to go over them carefully. Let’s begin by reading them in their immediate context.
10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. ~~Titus 1:10-16 (ESV)
In verses 15 and 16, Paul continues his description of the false teachers in Crete by elaborating on their corrupt personalities. He begins by affirming that all created things are intrinsically pure. Remember that many of the false teachers in Crete tried to impose Old Testament Jewish law on the Gentile converts, and therefore most likely would have taught that certain food were unclean.
Paul argues that God created all things pure. As a result, those who have been purified through the blood of Christ Jesus regard everything as pure. Such people feel perfect liberty to enjoy whatever the Lord places before them. 1 Timothy 4:1-5 expands on this point by saying that “doctrines of demons” lead false teachers to demand abstinence from certain foods and from marriage.
Barnes wisely cautions against using this verse as a license for sin, arguing that it primarily refers to food. He reminds us of Paul’s injunction in Colossians 2:16 not to let anyone judge us in regard to rituals.
Paul goes on to explain that nothing is pure to them because their very minds and consciences are defiled. To those defiled by the sin of false doctrine, everything is corrupted by their pride and self-indulgence. Their supposed devotion to God’s Law actually covers up their internal wickedness. Therefore, nothing is pure for them; they pollute everything by their evil natures.
Moving to verse 16, we see exactly why Paul declares false teachers to be impure, False teachers, though claiming to know the Lord, have a false testimony. In fact, as false teachers they often claim to have special revelation from God. But Paul insists that they actually deny Him by their works of self-indulgence (see verses 10-12) and their works of teaching legalistic salvation. Their conduct exposes them as false converts.
Paul makes a play on words by calling them detestable, since they teach Old Testament regulations of foods that were detestable under ceremonial law. Essentially, the Lord regards false teachers, rather than mere foods, detestable.
Furthermore, these false teachers were disobedient to God in both their sinful lifestyles and their spreading of perverse doctrine. Their disobedience made them unfit for any good work. In other words, worthless.
Barnes reminds us that the disobedient lifestyles of the Cretans, coupled with the false teachers trying to add Mosaic law to the Gospel, motivated Paul’s concern that Titus appoint men of godly character to serve as elders. As we proceed to Chapter 2 next week, we’ll see Paul’s strategy of dealing with the problems in Crete.