by Robert Brow  March 1999
Titus 1:5

Bill Dickson says he is "toying with the notion of a city-wide presbuterion, with authority over the various house-assemblies." I agree the grammar suggests that. But I think the problem of distance - walking across Rome or Corinth or Ephesus would have taken several hours- might make that difficult. So I prefer a model in which each synagogue congregation (of the one Church in that city and its countryside) has its own elders.

As a synagogue congregation grew it would need a presiding ruler of the synagogue congregation (which is how the Anglican-Episcopal system, and the post-Vatican 2 RC system, actually works) and/or a resident theologically trained rabbi. Interestingly enough Professor Greg Bloomquist functions as the resident rabbi in the St. Mark's congregation of the one Church in Ottawa.

Titus 1:6

Having faithful and obedient children (Titus 1:6) was easy in the ancient world. They had to attend their parents' place of worship and obey the rules or they got beaten mercilessly till they did. In our modern North American situation, where physical force is politically incorrect if not criminal, the only way to make children "faithful and obedient" is by the use of guilt, manipulation, and psychological pressure. My wife and I refused to do that, so two of our children adopted the anti-organized-church model that is very common in the younger generation.

Titus 1:12

When Mollie and I spent three weeks in Crete I often wondered what Christians in the local churches would think about Paul calling them -aei pseustai, kaka thyria, gasteres argai- inveterate liars, dangerous animals, gluttonous good for nothings (Titus 1:12). If I was asked about this I decided I would say that the Cretans had indeed been like that, as we all were in Northern Europeans countries before churches were established (1:5) and the Holy Spirit began to renew us (3:5).

Titus 3:5

In my search for alternative interpretative models the word -loutron- bath or washing (Titus 3:5) is a rare find. The sentence with minor variations is easy enough to translate -kata to autou eleos esosen ymas dia loutrou palingenesias kai anakainoseos pneumato agiou- in his great mercy he saved us through a washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit. We all agree that the saving is by grace alone -ouch ex ergon ton en dikaiosuny a epoiysamen ymeis- not the result of the works which result from a righteousness which we have achieved (3:5).

But what is the relationship between -loutron- and the Spirit? Here are four models that I encountered as a theological student.

1) A -loutron- washing in the name of the Trinity is instrumental in saving us by imparting the Spirit with the result that the person is thereby born again.. Without it the unbaptized go to hell or limbo. This is why at King's College Hospital, London, my wife who was a Baptist, was required to baptize babies in imminent danger of dying.

2) The -loutron- by immersion in water is a witness given to their faith by those who are already saved because they have believed and so been regenerated by the Spirit. This is why those who were given a -loutron- as babies were not baptized at all, and therefore need believers' baptism.

3) Regeneration is a -loutron- of the Spirit by the Word, and the outward ritual of water baptism is not needed for salvation.

4) The -loutron- of Christian baptism is a sign of God's New Covenant with us, just as a circumcision was a sign of the Old Covenant. That makes it appropriate for children, as was circumcision, with a view to subsequent faith. Life in a community of the Spirit and the appropriate fruit of the Spirit is the evidence that the person is indeed saved from hell and is among the elect for heaven.

There are many variations of these four models, and no doubt others I haven't encountered. For most Christians it makes no difference which of these models is given by way of explanation in their denomination. If they ask, they will be told that one of these models can be "proved' by the exegesis of three or four New Testament texts. But it seems to me it is not lexical exegesis that settles the question.

As a missionary for eleven years in India, and then in parish work in Canada, I was not comfortable with any of these four models. Eventually it was a text about Jesus' practice that suggested another model. -Iysous pleionas mathytas poiei kai baptizei y Ioannys- "Jesus is making more disciples and baptizing them than John." This suggested that both John the Baptist and Jesus used a -loutron- with water to enrol disciples to begin learning with them.

In India a guru would mark a person's forehead or give a flower as a sign that he was enrolled as -chela- a disciple. The person would remain with the guru for a while and keep coming back to learn more. So in my Anglican parish work I decided to try using -loutron- pouring with water in the name of the Trinity as the means of enrolling those who wanted to learn from Jesus by the Holy Spirit. This fitted the Great Commission nicely - mathyteusate panta ta ethny baptizontes autous eis to onoma tou patros kai tou uiou kaitou agiou pneumatos didaskontes autous trein panta osa eneteilamyn umin- "Go make disciples among all nations by baptizing people in the name of the Trinity and then teaching them all that Jesus had taught about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19).

That gave me a fifth interpretative model for Titus 3:5 and for my work as a parish priest in particular:

5) Jesus used -loutron- to enrol his disciples to begin learning in the school of the Holy Spirit. And in the great commission he commanded this to be done among all nations. After his death and resurrection his disciples went on enrolling people by loutron' to be taught in -ekklesia- a school of the Holy Spirit. With this model it is appropriate to baptize babies since the Holy Spirit has already begun teaching them by the love and prayers of their parents. Salvation then becomes a matter of heart direction like Abraham's faith (Romans 4), which may precede or follow teaching by the Spirit.

I am very comfortable with model 5. I therefore translate Titus 3:5 as "he saved us, not by works of -dikaiosune- righteousness which we have achieved but according to his mercy and grace by washing us -dia loutrou palingenesias- to give us a new birth into his church where we can be renewed by the -anakainoseos- renewing of the Holy Spirit." There is no proof of that by the exegesis of a few texts, but it seems to fit what God had in mind in Genesis 1:27, and the invitation in Revelation 22:20.

Philemon .....