On Titus 1:15 and the translation ‘unto the pure all things are pure’, and what that passage really means and refers to

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Many bible-versions have in Titus 1:15 such wordings as “unto the pure all things are pure”. That translation might cause a casual reader to misunderstand that passage, especially if verse 15 is read without its context.

Someone might think that the apostle Paul meant that if one just is “inwardly pure”, then it does not matter what one’s “outer actions” are and that one can do whatever one wants. But, anyone who studies all of the New Testament, can easily see that Jesus and his apostles, including Paul, taught that the disciples were to live holy and righteous lives.

Some writers have suggested that Paul was perhaps talking about “foods”, in regard to the Old Covenant’s rules about “clean” and “unclean” meats. But, the context does not mention foods. The preceding verses show that the subject was elders. Paul was giving Titus instructions in regard to who could be elected as elders, and who not.

Titus 1:5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you might set in order what remains, and establish elders [a] in each town, as I told you 6 – if any be blameless, the husband of one wife, with faithful children, not accused of profligacy or loose living. 7 Because, an elder [b] must be above reproach as God’s steward, not arrogant, not choleric, not addicted to wine, not a brawler, not seeking shameful gain 8 but generous, benevolent, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, 9 holding to the faithful word taught so that he may be able to both encourage with sound teaching as well as refute those who teach differently. 10 For, there are many confusing and vain talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, 11 whose mouths must be closed, men who ruin whole families, teaching for the sake of shameful gain things that should not be taught. 12 One of them, a “prophet” of their own, has said, “Cretans are always liars, savage beasts, not willing to work.” 13 There is truth in that statement. Because of this, admonish them with severity, so that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not turning their minds to Jewish fables and precepts of men who turn away from the truth. (BPT)

a Verse 5, “elders” – the Greek text has presbuterous.

b Verse 7, “elder” – as verse 5 shows, Paul was talking about elders, Greek presbuterous. The Greek text of verse 7 shows that he used even the word episkopon of those elders. Clarification: In New Testament Greek, all of the words diakonos, episkopos and presbuteros are at times used of elders. The article rea012.htm has more on this; see also the article rea022.htm.

The above-quoted verses 5–14 are the context which verses 15 and 16 belong to. The subject is the matter of electing elders.

Regarding Titus 1:15 and 16 and their translation and meaning.

In the first part of verse 15, the Greek text has panta kathara tois katharois, “all pure the pure”. The Greek wording does not contain any clarifying prepositions but has only those four words. It is the same in the Latin text of Jerome’s 405 Vulgate version – omnia munda mundis, “all pure the pure”. But, in the 1395 English Wycliffe translation four words were added, “thingis”, “ben” [“are”], “to” and “men”, producing the wording “alle thingis ben clene to clene men” (“all things are clean to clean men”). That has then been in various forms copied to numerous later bible-versions. But, is “unto the pure all is pure” a correct wording, or could it be that “with the pure, all is pure” is a more fitting translation? Let us consider this matter.

Again, the apostle Paul was not talking about the Old Covenant’s rules about “clean” and “unclean” meats. He was giving Titus instructions in regard to who could be elected as elders, and who not. That was the subject when he warned about persons of a certain kind. Read all of verses 5 to 16 below, and also the notes which follow them.

Titus 1:5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you might set in order what remains, and establish elders in each town, as I told you 6 – if any be blameless, the husband of one wife, with faithful children, not accused of profligacy or loose living. 7 Because, an elder must be above reproach as God’s steward, not arrogant, not choleric, not addicted to wine, not a brawler, not seeking shameful gain 8 but generous, benevolent, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, 9 holding to the faithful word taught so that he may be able to both encourage with sound teaching as well as refute those who teach differently. 10 For, there are many confusing and vain talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, 11 whose mouths must be closed, men who ruin whole families, teaching for the sake of shameful gain things that should not be taught. 12 One of them, a “prophet” of their own, has said, “Cretans are always liars, savage beasts, not willing to work.” 13 There is truth in that statement. Because of this, admonish them with severity, so that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not turning their minds to Jewish fables and precepts of men who turn away from the truth. 15 With the pure, all is pure, but with the defiled and unreliable ones nothing is pure and even their mind and conscience are defiled. 16 They claim to know God but by their works they deny him, being detestable and obstinate and found worthless for anything good. (BPT)

Paul’s point was that only reliable persons who were not after money but had pure motives and an undefiled conscience, could be elected as elders. “With the pure, all is pure”, while “with the defiled and unreliable ones nothing is pure and even their mind and conscience are defiled”.

A note regarding the in verse 15 mentioned conscience and defilement: There are many kinds of dogmas regarding that subject, but the facts are that if a person has a strong and pure conscience, it will keep that person away from wrongdoing. If a person’s conscience is defiled, such as through lust for money (shameful gain, see verses 7 and 11), then it is weakened and cannot keep that person away from wrong things. That is what the mention of defiled conscience refers to, in verse 15.

Again, verses 5–14 show that Paul was giving Titus instructions in regard to what kind of persons were fit for election as elders, and who were not. Verses 15 and 16 refer to two groups:

A note: Titus 1:5–16 is easier to understand if one knows that among the saints, elders were not paid. Many bible-versions contain wordings which make it seem that they perhaps were paid, but those who study all of the New Testament with care, will find that that is not true, especially if one looks at what the Greek NT text says. For more on this, look under the heading “Money” on the page rkw431.htm. The article rma012.htm sorts out the matter of “tithes” and “offerings”.

Summary.

Again, the context of Titus 1:15 is that the apostle Paul was giving instructions to Titus, in regard to what kind of persons could be elected as elders.

In that connection, he warned about persons whose minds and consciences were defiled by their love of money – persons who “for the sake of shameful gain teach things that should not be taught”, Titus 1:11.

Titus 1:15, “With the pure, all is pure, but with the defiled and unreliable ones nothing is pure and even their mind and conscience are defiled.”

See also the “recommended reading” section, below.

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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters.

An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → rsa092.htm

On the King James version. The story behind king James’ bible, including the men who were involved in producing it. → rsa032.htm

On what the Bible says about elders and their role in the saints’ fellowships. → rea012.htm

How did the saints of the New Testament choose their elders? Also, were those elders “ordained”, and did they function as “priests” of some kind? → rea022.htm

On Acts 20:35 and its meaning. The apostle Paul reminded the elders from Ephesus that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and he told them to follow his own example in that regard. → rma023.htm

What is the truth about tithing, the concept of giving “tithes” to a church? Also, what about “offerings”? → rma012.htm

Some notes on 1 Corinthians 9:14–18. The apostle Paul made a special point of the fact that he had not lived at the cost of others and that he was not about to do that either. → rma052.htm

For more on the matter of money in connection with religion, look under the heading “Money” on the page rkw431.htm.

On 1 Corinthians 8:1–12 and 10:14–32 and their translation and meaning. Did the apostle Paul mean that the saints could eat and drink things that were dedicated to idols? → rha023.htm

Easy keys to deeper understanding of the Scriptures. → rga021.htm

How to study the Bible in a deeper way. → rsa010.htm

Some notes on computer bibles, bible study software. → rsa022.htm

What does the word “doctrine” really mean and refer to? Likewise, what is the meaning of the terms “dogma”, “creed” and “tenet”? → rsa082.htm


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