Today, when we receive a letter, email, or text, we understand the meaning largely because we share a cultural context with the sender. The same, of course, was true for ancient letters such as the one written to Titus. Titus certainly knew the identity of these false teachers, and even though today we’re not sure exactly who the false teachers were, we can still gain wisdom from the severe warning against them.
These opponents of the faith had some connection with Judaizers, those who taught that all Christians—including Gentiles—had to follow the Mosaic Law to please God. They were “of the circumcision group” (v. 10) and adhered to “Jewish myths” and “merely human commands” (v. 14). Their Jewish ethnicity was not the problem, but their false teaching was. They engaged in “meaningless talk and deception” (v. 10) and taught things “they ought not to teach” (v. 11). These opponents “reject the truth” (v. 14) and did so “for the sake of dishonest gain” (v. 11). As a result, they were “disrupting whole households” (v. 11), a reference not to personal families, but “households” of the church itself. These false teachers were jeopardizing the stability of faithful churches across Crete. Moreover, their teaching was self-damaging. Although they claimed to know God, “both their minds and consciences” were corrupted. (v. 15). False teaching led to false living, “unfit for doing anything good” (v. 16).
But Paul did not simply want to point out their error. He advised Titus, first, to “silence” them (v. 11), a strong word meaning “to muzzle.” Their teaching must be stopped. Second, Titus must “rebuke them sharply” (v. 13), but not just to score points. The purpose of the rebuke was “so that they will be sound in the faith” (v. 14). Severe correction was needed for severe restoration.