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33. “An Heretick” (Titus 3:10)

We come next to Paul’s warning to Titus, the elder of the ecclesia (or ecclesias) on the island of Crete:

“Avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject (paraiteomia); knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself” (Tit. 3:9-11).

The word paraiteomia has also been translated “avoid” (2 Tim. 2:23) and “refuse” (1 Tim. 4:7; 5:11); it points to the clear duty of rejecting or excommunicating a “heretic”. However, the provision of a first and second admonition must not be forgotten, and this points the way to a comparison with the similar order of admonition in Matthew 18:15-17 (see Chapter 9). The disfellowship, if such is finally deemed necessary, must be done in the spirit of meekness, and at every step the brethren so acting must endeavor in love to reclaim the offender. Such matters must be handled locally, and not be allowed to unsettle ecclesias elsewhere.

“There is need for a faithful rather than a harsh observance of this apostolic counsel today. The most serious consideration should be given to the question of whether a brother’s nonconformity is of such a nature as to justify the grave decision of exclusion. Each elder should ask himself the question, in all cases, not ‘Do we traditionally disfellowship for this divergence?’ but ‘Can I, as a responsible elder and shepherd, give full satisfaction to my Lord at his judgment seat, that I do well to exclude this brother?’ “ (J.B. Norris, The First Century Ecclesia, p. 55).
Furthermore, it must be noted that those brethren or ecclesias that fail to excommunicate “heretics” are not to be equated with the “heretics” themselves. (Such a notion is based solely, but erroneously, on 2 John 10,11.) They may be disobedient to the apostolic injunction, but this shortcoming does not of itself constitute them guilty of the same or as serious offence as their erring brother. These words of Paul do not sanction the judging and disfellowshiping of large numbers at a distance — for how then could the “admonitions” be properly administered? In fact, no Bible passage sanctions division from a nominally sound ecclesia because of its supposed failure fully to discipline an offender.

The seventeenth-century translators have made a rather unfortunate choice of words here. “Heretick” is a quite interesting and complex word, but subject to misinterpretation. Transliterated from the Greek, it is hairesis, or “heresy”. The word denotes a “choice”, or that which is chosen; hence, an opinion. Secondarily, it means a “sect” or division — a party formed, either as a subgroup of a main body, or in extreme cases entirely independent (W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary, Vol. 2, p. 217, and Vol. 3, p. 335). It is not even implied that the distinctive character of the “sect” is a doctrine at all (Speaker’s Commentary, New Testament, Vol. 3, p. 817). The Sadducees and the Pharisees were called “sects” or “heresies” (Acts 5:17; 26:5), as were the “Christians” before their break from Judaism was complete (Acts 24:5,14; 28:22). The Greek word has no inherent suggestion of an error, only of party spirit tending toward division. It was only in post-apostolic times that “heresy” acquired the invariable meaning of doctrinal divergence; the term was so applied to all deviations from the Roman Catholic apostasy during the fourth century and beyond (Imperial Bible Dictionary, Vol. 3, p. 86; International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Vol. 3, p. 1377).

A “heretick”, therefore, would signify an “opinionated person” (W.R. Mitchell, “The Epistle of Titus”, The Dawn Ecclesial Magazine, Vol. 18, No. 12 — Dec. 1957 — p. 274), a separatist, a causer of schism or division, for whatever reason. Paul says that a heretic is “self-condemned” (Tit. 3:11), apparently because of the position of separation in which he has placed himself. Thus the ecclesia’s rejection of him is more or less an official acknowledgement of the “status quo”.

The main accompanying idea in the other passages where hairesis occurs is of some sort of division:

All this agrees well with the context of Paul’s letter to Titus. Therein he more than once characterizes the Cretans in general as liars, lazy gluttons, and envious (1:12; 3:3), men naturally given to controversies, dissensions, and quarrels (3:9) — in short, men who are always combative, never satisfied, potential sectarians, troublemakers, or “heretics”. It is an extraordinary irony that those brethren who feel they are most scrupulous at resisting “heretics” (i.e. teachers of false doctrines?) through their policy of absolute separation are themselves guilty of b

eing “heretics” (schismatics) in the Biblical sense.

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