May 22, 2018

How Did the Galatians Know Who Titus Was?

 In Galatians 2:1,3, Paul says, “I went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking with me also Titus… But not even Titus, who was with me, being Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.” Despite some quibbles about the implications of “compelled” (ἠναγκάσθη), and whether or not Paul deliberately took Titus along to produce a “test case,” most interpreters agree that Titus’ non-circumcision is a winning point in Paul’s attempt to prove that circumcision is unnecessary for Gentile Christians.(1) The mention of Titus is evidence in support of Paul’s case. But how could Titus have been effective as evidence? Were the Galatian churches somehow able to verify that Titus was still in possession of his Gentile integrity? For that matter, why would the Galatians be expected to care about this “Titus” at all? Was “Titus” just a random name in a letter? Was Titus somehow famous already? Or had the Galatians recently met Titus themselves, in person?

 It seems no one has really asked this question, outright.(2) When commentators pause their discussion to identify Titus for modern students, they lift data points from elsewhere in Paul’s letters. This may detail who Titus was according to the New Testament, but obviously the Galatians didn’t have a New Testament yet. What did the Galatians know about Titus? Did they possess any additional knowledge that was not in Paul’s letter that would have allowed Paul to introduce Titus as, merely, “a greek”? Although this question might seem unanswerable, we can pit these two logical alternatives against one another. Should we read Galatians 2:1,3 entirely as though Paul is giving the Galatians new information? Or does this text make it seem Paul expects the Galatians to recognize Titus’ name? Does it merely relate that some random person whom they had never met was an uncircumcised Gentile who went with Paul to Jerusalem and happened to still have a foreskin? Or should we assume “Titus” must have been introduced to these Galatians “off the page,” judging by the lack of descriptive detail? Apart from “being Greek,” nothing in the text attempts to explain, identify, or introduce Titus to the Galatians, and although this rhetorical absence is equally true when Paul names other individuals in the epistle -- Barnabas, Peter, James, and John -- all of those individuals were undoubtedly famous as pillars of the mother church. In their cases, the lack of expositional detail implies familiarity. It seems unlikely that Titus would have been equally famous, among Gentile Greeks, if they didn’t already know he was Greek.

 This allows us to declare that Titus was not a local Galatian. The story Paul tells seems to imply Titus lived in Antioch with Paul. Beyond that, given that the Galatian letter was sent to multiple churches in multiple cities, how could a local Titus have been known to all of them, in the first place? The fact that travel was uncommon among the non-wealthy in ancient times, especially in places like Galatia, is well illustrated by Luke’s claim (in Acts 16:2) that Timothy was well spoken of by the christians in Lystra and Iconium, because Luke refrains from also naming Derbe and Antioch Pisidia (the two towns that were farther away; btw, if Acts is fictional this is a marvelous bit of verisimilitude, because the idea that one or more humble Galatians had gotten around to visit even one other Galatian city was impressive enough). Therefore, it’s highly unlikely a local Titus would have traveled around more than Luke’s Timothy did. Another conceivable option would be that Titus had traveled to Galatia earlier, such as when Paul and Barnabas planted the churches, but we have no particular reason to suppose this was the case, and this scenario also would not explain Paul pointing out to the Galatians that Titus was Greek, nor why Paul repeats emphatically that Titus “was with me” in Jerusalem.

 So, assuming Titus was not a Galatian, the question remains: how could the Galatians have known Titus, apart from the letter? Given the above reasoning so far, it seems the letter’s recipients must have met Titus in person, but they don’t know very much about him. Logically, this suggests the Galatians have only met Titus quite recently. Fortunately, a most likley scenario suggests itself when we think to ask a related question.

 Who physically delivered this letter from Paul to Galatia?

 If Titus was Paul’s letter carrier to the Galatians then several questions above could begin to answer each other. First of all, this would clearly explain the non-identifying description in Galatians 2:1,3. Second, if the letter’s recipients have only just met Titus, shortly before gathering to hear Titus read Paul’s letter out loud, then what might otherwise seem like random name dropping becomes a strategic cue for valuable live exposition. Third, this also makes more sense of the phrase, “Titus, who was with me,” which formerly should have seemed an obvious redundancy, but which now plays dramatically as Paul’s commendation of Titus’ specific authority to verify his contentions about the conference in Jerusalem. By delivering this letter as a witness to some of its contents, Titus could first read the epistle aloud and then add his own input, answering questions, meeting challenges, explaining the controversy. In this scenario, Titus would be serving as Paul’s “envoy” in the same capacity that we know Titus will play for Paul in Corinth, a few years after Galatians, filling the same essential role we know others took on when carrying Paul’s epistles.(3) More particularly, in Galatia, Titus could potentially allow the Galatian brothers (without their wives and sisters, naturally) to inspect and to verify that Paul’s “test case” was indeed proven. Finally, if Galatians 2:1-10 does indeed refer to the conference of Acts 15 (as I think the general and critical consensus quite rightly affirms),(4) then Titus was a witness to the Jerusalem conference which produced Jerusalem’s letter to Paul’s gentile churches, and so Titus could have carried a copy of Jerusalem’s letter as well; there would be no need for Paul’s letter to mention the other if Titus was carrying them both.(5) At any rate, positing the presence of Titus in Galatia offers a new counterpoint to the standard objection (of those in the minority view mentioned earlier) that Paul should have mentioned Jerusalem’s letter in his own letter, if the timing were as such. There could have been lots of reasons why Paul preferred to let Titus relate that news separately.

 In conclusion, this hypothesis should provide a satisfying answer to the question at top. If Titus was physically present as Paul’s “test case” in Jerusalem, and if Paul wanted Titus to provide “evidence” in his epistle to the Galatians, it seems most likely Paul would send Titus to be physically present in Galatia as well. The reason Paul names Titus so prominently in Galatians without identifying him -- we should imagine -- is because Paul wrote that letter with the strategic expectation that Titus would be the messenger delivering it to Galatia, in person.

 The Galatians knew who Titus was because he was there with them, reading that letter.


 By the way, I also think Titus took Luke along with him, from Antioch, and they went on to plant the church at Troas while waiting for Paul to follow up in Galatia and then join them (they expected) at the famous city of “Troy” (Cf. Acts 16:8,10; 2.Cor. 2:12-13).

 But that is an argument for some other day...


 (1) Martin Luther, A Commentary on St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (Philadelphia: John Highlands, 1891), 94-98; J. B. Lightfoot, The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), 102-105; William M. Ramsay, Historical Commentary on Galatians (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1997), 56-60; Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979), 84, 88-9; F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 107-8, 111-12; Ben Witherington III, Grace in Galatia (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 128, 134-5; Ronald Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 86, 90-93; James D. G. Dunn, The Epistle to the Galatians (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2006), 88-91, 94-6. 

 (2) In rare cases, commentators who suppose Galatians 2:1-10 refers to the relief trip of Acts 11 (the minority view) have suggested that Paul’s claim in 2:3 is specifically meant to refute previous gossip. That is, maybe Galatia had heard about Titus from the Judaizers. E.g. Bruce, Epistle, 111-2. In other words, Titus was “inspected” in Jerusalem during the relief trip, and there were conflicting reports about whether he had been circumcised. This seems a risky strategy On the alternative view (Galatians 2 = Acts 15) however, the Judaizers went into Galatia after the crisis in Antioch, approximately during Titus’ visit to Jerusalem, so they could not have heard about Titus yet. 

 (3) E.g., Tychicus in Colossae and Phoebe in Rome; on the role of the envoy, see E. Randolph Richards, Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 202-9. Cf. Bruce, Epistle, 107, Dunn, Galatians, 90. 

 (4) Dunn, Galatians, 88. 

 (5) This modifies a similar suggestion which appeared in a work of historical fiction, by Gene Edwards, The Silas Diary (Wheaton, Ill: Tyndale House, 1998), 209-223, imagining that Paul himself would have been shrewd to have carried the Jerusalem letter as additional support, but to save it until some time later, when following up with the Galatians in person. For a scholarly view of the imaginative reconstruction in Edwards’ First Century Diaries, see Richards, Writing, 20ff. On the point itself, I must personally suppose Titus’ simultaneous delivery to be far more likely because his possession of the Jerusalem letter would be a powerful advantage, and someone in that position could easily have anticipated that they might need just such an advantage.
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