II. THE INFLUENCE OF GNOSTICISM
A. Jewish Myths— the Seed of Gnostic Mythologies
Verse 14 says, “Not paying attention to Jewish myths.” The Greek word for myths is rendered myths here and in 1 Timothy 1:4, tales in 1 Timothy 4:7, and fables in 2 Timothy 4:4. It refers to words, speeches, and conversations concerning such things as rumors, reports, stories, and fictions. It may include Jewish stories of miracles or rabbinical fabrications. These myths were the profane and old-womanish tales. The Jewish myths mentioned here may have been the seed of the Gnostic mythologies.
B. Commandments of Men Who Turn Away from the Truth
In verse 14 Paul also mentions “commandments of men who turn away from the truth.” According to the following verse, these commandments of the heretics must have been precepts concerning abstinence from meats and other things ordained by God for man’s use (see 1 Tim. 4:3; Col. 2:20-22). These were the commandments of the earlier Gnostics, not the ascetics, who adopted their theosophy from Jewish sources, probably some derivation from the Mosaic law.
The men Paul refers to in this verse are probably those of the circumcision (v. 10). These men turn away from the truth. The truth here and the faith in the preceding verse prove that those who were dealt with here were not unbelievers. There were some in the church who had turned away from the truth concerning God’s economy. Most of them might have been Jewish Christians who still held their Jewish myths and traditions and thereby became a great disturbance to the church. They had to be stopped by the word of the truth according to the faith so that the order of the church might be maintained under the established eldership.
In verse 15 Paul continues, “All things are pure to the pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience have been defiled.” The statement, “All things are pure to the pure,” must have been a Christian maxim. The apostle quoted it to refute the commandments of men (v. 14), that is, the precepts of abstinence, which forbade certain actions and the eating of certain foods (1 Tim. 4:3-5; Rom. 14:20).
Paul says that to those who are defiled, or polluted, and unbelieving nothing is pure, but both their mind and conscience are defiled. The mind is the leading part of the soul, and the conscience is the main part of our spirit. If our mind is polluted, our soul is spontaneously polluted; and if our conscience is defiled, our spirit is unavoidably defiled. This is all due to unbelief. Our faith purifies us (Acts 15:9).
In verse 16 Paul goes on to say, “They profess to know God, but by their works they deny Him, being abominable and disobedient, and as to every good work disapproved.” The Greek word rendered disapproved can also be translated reprobate, worthless, disqualified. It means unable to stand the test.
C. The Apostle’s Charge
Paul’s charge to Titus is simply not to pay attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men (v. 14).
Just as the elders in the churches in Crete were to watch out for the influence of Judaism and Gnosticism and not permit different teachings to creep into the church life, we also need to watch out for isms today, such as Catholicism and denominationalism. We should also be watchful concerning the hypocrisy and the superficial and superstitious tales circulated among many Christians. If these things are brought into the Lord’s recovery, they will cause trouble. The pure church life is built only upon the healthy teaching of the apostles. This is the reason Paul says that elders must hold to the faithful word which is according to the teaching, so that they may be able to exhort by healthy teaching. The teaching in verse 9 refers to that of the apostles (Acts 2:42), which eventually became the New Testament. The apostles’ teaching was the healthy teaching. The churches were established according to the apostles’ teaching and followed their teaching. Furthermore, the order of the church was maintained by the faithful word given according to this teaching. At the beginning of the church life, when the believers spoke about the teaching, everyone realized that this meant the teaching of the apostles. In Jerusalem those who received the Lord Jesus and were added to the church continued in the teaching and fellowship of the apostles.
(Life-Study of 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon, Chapter 22, by Witness Lee)