Sometimes you’ve just got to laugh at the ways people use God’s Word to advance unbiblical ideas. I thought I’d heard all the Scriptures people employ in efforts to shame those who call out false teachers and/or expose erroneous doctrine, but someone recently broadsided me with a passage I generally use to support calling out enemies of the truth. Look at the passage that she hurled at me:
9 But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. ~~Titus 3:9-11 (ESV)
The application, of course, was that I am warped and self-condemned because I warn against teachers and teachings that compromise the Gospel. By warning against Beth Moore, Rick Warren, Holy Yoga, the Roman Catholic Church, etc, I am engaging in foolish controversies and stirring up division.
But am I?
Let’s review the Bible Study I wrote on this very passage back in 2017, shall we? Hopefully we’ll remember the historical context behind this passage and thus better understand Paul’s actual point.
Paul gave Timothy similar, more detailed, instruction in 1 Timothy 1:3-7, explicitly specifying that Timothy “charge certain persons” not to teach doctrine that differed from the teaching of the apostles. This parallel passage sheds light on Titus 3:9-11, so allow me to quote it here:
3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. 5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. (ESV)
As with the 1 Timothy 1:3-7 passage, the Titus 3:9-11 passage aims squarely at teachers who deviate from sound doctrine. So let’s examine Titus 3:9-11 more carefully.
Firstly, Bible commentators Jamieson, Fausset and Brown explain that the genealogies mentioned in verse 9 weren’t simply looking up family trees. Rather, they involved systems that ultimately led to Gnosticism. Regarding this particular verse, The Complete WordStudy Dictionary explains: “These Jews were turning the entire historical substance into mere myth. The genealogies were not treated primarily as historical documents but instead were subjected to a highly symbolic interpretive scheme. Names, dates and places supposedly contained hidden meanings which became the basis for esoteric doctrines.”
To Paul’s remark that such controversies are unprofitable and worthless, John MacArthur comments that “Proclaiming the truth, not arguing error, is the biblical way to evangelize.” Errors, such as those infiltrating the churches under Titus’ care, are best refuted by sound doctrine.
Moving to verse 10, we learn that the person who causes division is, according to Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, one who chooses to follow his or her own way rather than than submitting to Biblical teaching. The Greek word means “to choose,” and it developed into the word “heretic.” The idea is that heretics choose their lies over God’s truth. In writing this command to avoid heretics, Paul definitely addresses the false teachers who disrupted the churches in Crete.
He issued a similar command in Romans 16:17, where he stated that divisive people oppose apostolic doctrine. Those who question things in a church that deviate from sound doctrine often get branded as being divisive, but Scripture makes it clear that true heretics divide themselves from God’s Word.
Paul tells Titus to give heretics a first and second warning (compare with Matthew 18:15-17). Barnes points out that these two warnings provide the offender with opportunity to explain his or her actions and to repent. Continued violation beyond that point demonstrates the person’s commitment to rebellion. Therefore, that person must be separated from the church.
Paul concludes in verse 11 with an explanation of why divisive people should be avoided. To put it bluntly, heretics who disregard warnings prove themselves to be warped. Vincent’s Word Studies defines the word here translated as warped to mean “turned inside out.” It communicates a sense of perversion. As a result, they live in a constant state of sin.
Furthermore, heretics condemn themselves by rejecting correction and sound doctrine. Whereas those whom God saves are justified by grace, false teachers condemn themselves by preaching salvation by works and/or by other deviations from Biblical teaching. The Lord Himself, in John 3:18, made it clear that failure to believe in Him puts a person under condemnation.
Applying Titus 3:9-11 people who call out false teachers and/or expose erroneous doctrine demonstrates a lack of Scriptural knowledge. In one sense, using this passage to silence people who stand against doctrinal error is laughable. But in another sense, it’s very sad.