Titus 3:10-11 has a strong statement that is the basis of this discussion:

Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned (Titus 3:10-11).

In the church, we have seen instances arise where someone is "marked" and the church is told to "have nothing to do with" the person on the basis of some form of divisiveness. Much of this implementation has to do with the NIV translation of this passage:

Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned (Titus 3:10-11, NIV).

The objective of this study is to get to the bottom of this passage: What does it mean? What is Paul talking about, and to whom did it apply? What were these "factious" men doing that was so dangerous? And exactly what was Titus supposed to do with them?

And this brings us to a larger issue: Is "marking" biblical? What about "shunning?" What situations could call for this action, and what exactly is involved in this action? Let us examine these questions with a view towards understanding the terms that are being used, the context of the letter to Titus, and how these matters were dealt with in the apostolic church.

The Term "Factious"

The Greek term used in Titus 3:10 for "factious" is "hairetikos," used only here in the NT. It belongs to a word group including the term hairesis, used 9 times in the New Testament. In Acts, these refer to parties within the Jewish faith (Acts 5:17, 15:5, 26:5) and to describe Christianity as a party of the Jewish faith (Acts 24:5, 24:14, 28:22).

Yet the term "hairesis" is also used three times in the Epistles, and their usage sheds more light on the meaning of the term. The first is by Paul to the Corinthians:

For there must also be factions among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you (1 Corinthians 11:19).

This same Paul finds factions an act of the sinful nature in Galatians:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, ... (Galatians 5:19-20)

Lastly, Peter uses the term in his last letter:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves (2 Peter 2:1).

These terms are part of a word group that has its origins in the verbs "haireomai" (as in Philippians 1:22, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Hebrews 11:25) and "hairetizo" (Matthew 12:18), generally meaning to "choose" and carrying with it no pejorative sense.

Paul's use of the noun "hairesis" negatively in Galatians and positively in 2 Corinthians possibly suggests that there are "good divisions" and "bad divisions" in the church. Peter's use of the term shows that the term was used to describe the false teaching as well as the faction that resulted from it.

A citation from the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament on "hairesis" is instructive here:

In 2 Pet 2:1 it affects the church's very basis; a hairesis creates a new society alongside the ekklesia (church) and thus makes the ekklesia itself a hairesis and not the comprehensive people of God. This is unacceptable. (H. Schlier, volume I, p. 180-185, via Bromily p. 28)

Interestingly, the term "hairesis" is used nearly interchangeably with the term "schisma" in 1 Corinthians 11:18-19.

For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions (schisma) exist among you; and in part, I believe it. For there must also be factions (hairesis) among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you (1 Corinthians 11:18-19).

In an effort to better understand "hairesis," we might well consider examining "schisma." It is used to describe the tearing patch in the parable of the garments (Matthew 9:16, Mark 2:21). It is used to describe the division among the Jews over Jesus and his words (John 7:43, 9:16, 10:19). Paul then uses the term two other times in his first letter to the Corinthians:

Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment (1 Corinthians 1:10)
... that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25).

Thus, the division ("schisma") separates the church from the faction ("hairesis"). While not the same thing, divisions and factions go hand in hand.

Now back to the letter to Titus. What we have in view on Crete is some sinful form of faction. More than that cannot be known from the mere meaning of the term. We must consider the context to answer our questions.

The Context

Having seen what the term "hairetikos" meant from a New Testament perspective, let's consider whom Paul would have been referring to in the letter to Titus.

Paul makes references to some sort of opponent of the gospel several times in the letter. Let's examine these passages:

For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach, for the sake of sordid gain. One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." This testimony is true. For this cause reprove them severely that they may be sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed (Titus 1:10-16).
But shun foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law; for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned (Titus 3:9-11).

We should also remember that Paul had recently been on Crete with Titus (Titus 1:5) and most likely had personal knowledge of exactly what was going on there. Further, when we consider Paul's remarks about appointing elders (Titus 1:5ff), teaching sound doctrine (Titus 1:9, 2:1, 3:8) and salvation through grace and rebirth (Titus 2:11, 3:5), it allows us to build a profile of those whom Paul had in mind in Titus 3:10:

Characteristics of the teaching in question:

Characteristics of the individuals propagating these teachings:

These people were apparently faithful members of the church (hence their continuing involvement and the threat they possessed) and got caught up in Jewish controversies regarding the law to the point where they opposed or contradicted sound Christian doctrine. They appear to be in the process of gathering their own following based upon their distinctive teaching. In this "primary" sin, other character-related sins came to the surface. Paul's strong invective concerning these false teachers is notable.

In light of the known Judaizing threat in the early church, it may be attractive to consider that these people were probably involved in the activity of requiring circumcision as a condition of salvation. But the discussion does not mention this detail, and actually brings up the notion of "disputes about words" and the like that are not likely to be referring to the circumcision issue. While we don’t know exactly what these people in question were advocating, the requirement of circumcision for Gentile believers does not appear to be in view.

Titus' Directives

By examining Titus' directives in his ministry on Crete, it can shed light on the threat and impact of these false teachers. A short survey of the text shows what specific instructions he had been given:

  1. Appointment of elders to teach sound doctrine and refuse false teaching (Titus 1:5ff).
  2. Shunning foolish controversies (Titus 3:9).
  3. Active ministry to the proponents of these false doctrines (Titus 3:10).
  4. Rejection of the proponents of these teachings after multiple warnings (Titus 3:10).
What exactly is "Sound Doctrine?"

Paul uses this term eight times in his writings: 1 Timothy 1:10, 1 Timothy 6:3, 2 Timothy 1:13, 4:3, as well as to Titus in 1:9, 1:13, 2:1, 2:2. The key term here is the Greek "hugiaino", which normally carries with the the connotation of good health, as in Luke 5:31, 7:10, 15:27, 3 John 1:2.

The term seems best defined in the sense of "sound doctrine" in 2 Timothy 1:13:

Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 1:13).

"Sound doctrine" in this sense has to do with the preaching of the gospel as it was preached by Paul. Those whose teaching does not conform to "sound doctrine" are to be rebuked so that their teaching might become sound.:

For this cause reprove them severely that they may be sound in the faith (Titus 1:13).

The text of 1 Timothy 6:3 might well apply to those under discussion in Titus as well, it uses the same language and descriptions of the problem at hand:

If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain (1 Timothy 6:3-5).

Also of interest is Paul’s admonition to Timothy about "foolish controversies:"

Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless, and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and thus they upset the faith of some (2 Timothy 2:14-18).

But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. And the Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will (2 Timothy 2:23-26).

So, this "sound doctrine" to which the false teaching under consideration is contrasted, seems to directly relate to the words of Jesus and the apostolic proclamation of the gospel, especially in its relationship to the Law. Apparently both Timothy and Titus and the mature men suitable for the eldership would be able to utilize the known words of Jesus and the apostolic message-- the "sound doctrine"-- and use them to refute or render insignificant these controversies that were being fanned into flame.

Addressing, Counseling and Avoiding

Whatever the exact nature of this false teaching, it does appear to have been given consideration by the apostles and the church but found wanting based upon the plain teaching of the words of Jesus and basic instruction in the faith. (Consider 2 Corinthians 10:4ff, where opposing doctrines are addressed and taken down.) As such, these issues became "non-issues" and their proponents were to move on.

Since these teachings have been examined and refuted, Titus is not to involve himself further in their discussion but to move on to areas of useful ministry. When Paul told Timothy to "avoid worldly and empty chatter" (1 Timothy 2:16) he used the same term ("periistemi") as in Titus 3:9, telling Titus to "shun foolish controversies." The issue here is not the possibility of corruption of doctrine or character of Timothy or Titus, but one of stewardship of energy and time.

Yet, individual proponents of these teachings are to be warned (Titus 3:10). The Greek term here is "nouthesia," part of a family of words giving the idea of sober and caring instruction or counsel from mature Christians or leaders (see also 1 Corinthians 11:10, Ephesians 6:4 for the noun and Acts 20:31, Romans 15:14, 1 Corinthians 4:14, Colossians 1:28, 3:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 5:14, 2 Thessalonians 3:15 for the verb) and a definite area of ministry for Christian ministers.

Those who would not heed the counsel are to be refused. The Greek term here is "paraiteomai," also translated as "request" (Mark 15:16), "beg" (Hebrews 12:19), "excuse" (Luke 14:18-19), "refuse" (Acts 25:11, 1 Timothy 5:11, 2 Timothy 2:23, Hebrews 12:25) and "have nothing to do with" (in regards to false teachings) (1 Timothy 4:7). The meaning here in Titus is basically, "say no."

Interestingly, the response to the false teachings and the false teachers is essentially the same: Once the matter has been addressed, don't waste your time with the teachings or their proponents.

So let us summarize what is going on in Titus 3:9-11:

In regards to the rest of the church, these false teachings are "silenced" from their damaging effects by the presentation of sound doctrine (Titus 1:9-11), not by the church not hearing what these people have to say (which has already happened anyway).

A Broader Perspective: How Did the Early Church Handle "Factious Men?"

A key question in understanding a passage such as this is determining how the early church would have put this standard into practice. So we should consider the question: Are there examples where factious people, defined according to the criteria above, were in fact addressed with this approach: patiently instructed and/or counseled and then rejected? If so, what other elements characterize these events?

Unfortunately, the New Testament writers didn't write to answer my questions! So we will have to be content to examine the New Testament with an eye for items that relate to the response of the church to false teachers. Hopefully, from these items we will find enough data to answer the questions we pose.

Summary of the Early Church and "Shunning"

Let us identify the characteristics of the early church's practice of dealing with false teachers:


Having examined this passage in Titus and the balance of the New Testament on dealing with false teachers, how does it relate to the church today?

First, for the church to consider any action along the lines of Titus 3:10-11, false teaching on matters of salvation have to be involved. Differences in minor points (that is, not matters of salvation) or on matters of opinion is not in view in Titus 3:10-11. How differences on items such as these should be addressed is beyond the scope of this study, but is well worthy of another study.

Second, questionable teachings should be examined in light of the gospel and proven false. Such findings should be explicitly communicated to the church at large in sufficient detail and not avoided. The objective is not the mere labeling of a teaching as false, but also a clearer understanding of the truth that silences the false teaching.

Last, the proponents of false teachings need to counseled with patience and wisdom concerning these teachings; if they persist in these teachings they should be identified as false teachers and cast out of the church.

All scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB), unless otherwise noted.