Paul writes to Titus, “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:8).
Sounds important. We better be careful here. So what exactly are “these things?”
William D. Mounce (2000) argues:
τούτων, “these things,” refers back at least to the creed in vv 5-7, but there is little in those verses that warrants the use of the strong διαβεβαιοῦσθαι, “to insist emphatically.” It is the Cretans’ poor behavior that is cuasing the problems. τούτων, “these things,” therefore includes all of chap. 3 with the demands it places on lifestyle, specifically the qualities enumerated in vv 1-2 and perhaps recalling ταῦτα, “these things,” in 2:15. (p. 452)
But I find Mounce’s reading severely problematic. I am convinced “these things” refers primarily to the gospel creed and not to the imperatives for right living he has just shared in vv 1-2. I believe this reading is correct for a four reasons.
First, to say “there is little” in vv 5-7 to warrant such strong language is astounding, for Paul has just restated the Gospel. The Gospel is enough to warrant the use of διαβεβαιοῦσθαι. There is no need to pile up additional meanings to “these things” so it can bear the rhetorical force of “insist emphatically.”
Second, “The saying,” which is closely linked to “these things,” typically refers to Pauline indicatives or concepts, not imperatives (1 Tim 1:15; 3:1, 4:9). Thus, the linking of “the saying” and “these things” suggests a reference to the creed of vv 5-7.
Third, if Mounce is correct, then Paul is essentially saying, “insist on these things (doctrine: vv 5-7 and good works: vv 1-2) so that people will devote themselves to good works.” This creates an awkward and unlikely redundancy in Paul’s thinking.
Fourth, Mounce himself suggests the second occurrence of “these things” in verse 8 does not refer to good works but to the earlier “these things.” This reading makes little sense because it trips into the same redundancy I mentioned above. However, it would make perfect sense that “these things” does not refer to “good works” if the earlier “these things” refers to the creed of vv 5-7.
Mounce takes the discussion in the wrong direction because he anchors gospel doctrine and gospel duty inside yet another imperative. This is no insignificant matter. Mounce makes Paul say, “Insist on the gospel and good works.” But this interpretation undermines Paul’s main point, namely, that gospel duty flows naturally out of gospel doctrine. This point is the exact opposite of the false teachers in Crete.
In contrast, the false teachers had neither right living nor right doctrine and the two were linked. Because they had false doctrine, they had sinful living. Their sinful behavior was the telltale sign that their teaching was in fact false (Titus 1:16).
If “these things” refers to the creed in vv 5-7, then Titus 3:8 comes as the corresponding remedy. Contra the false teachers, Titus should insist on right teaching (Gospel doctrine) and from that will flower transformation and right living, the very thing false teaching can never produce.
To be fair, Mounce does recognize this theological point. He writes, “[A]n understanding of the full plan of salvation leads believers necessarily into a daily living out of their commitment to the Lord. To separate the two is nonsensical.” I simply think his interpretation of “these things” does not fit the flow of Paul’s thought.
But of course, I’m certainly no expert and could be quite wrong. What do you think?
Mounce, W. D. (2000). Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 46, Pastoral Epistles. Thomas Nelson Inc.