Here is our final guest post from Richard Fellows, based on his article in an international journal of biblical studies: “Paul, Timothy, Jerusalem and the Confusion in Galatia” Biblica 99.4 (2018) 544-566.
He has some bold and controversial claims. Check them out! He’ll be happy to respond to your comments.
The identity of Titus and the historicity of Acts
This is the last of three guest posts on the background of Galatians. In the earlier two posts I (Richard Fellows) argued that some activists had convinced Galatian Christians 1) that Paul himself believed in the need for circumcision, and 2) that it was only to please the Jerusalem apostles that Paul continued to speak against circumcision. In this post we will explore the identity of Titus and the events that created this confusion that Galatians was written to correct.
Titus has been described as the most enigmatic character in the New Testament. In the undisputed letters the name “Titus” appears at Gal 2:1,3 and 2 Cor 2:13; 7:6,13,14; 8:6,16,23; 12:18,18, yet it is strangely absent from Acts. This raises the possibility that Titus appears in Acts under another name, and Timothy is the only real candidate. Several considerations confirm this Titus=Timothy equation.
- In 1 Corinthians (4:17; 16:10) Timothy is sent to Corinth. In 2 Corinthians Timothy is with Paul again (1:1), but only Titus has returned from Corinth with news of how 1 Corinthians was received. The proofs of this are detailed and are given in my 2001 JSNT paper.
- Paul writes that he had sent a certain brother to accompany Titus (2 Cor 12:16-18) and that his shows that he had not intended to defraud the Corinthians. Evidently this brother was trusted by the Corinthians in money matters. This matches Acts 19:22, where Timothy travels with Erastus, who was a treasurer in Corinth (Rom 16:23).
- Titus carries 2 Corinthians to Corinth and it is likely that he will accompany the Corinthians’ collection to Judea. We should therefore expect him to send greetings in Rom 16:21-23, which was written from Corinth shortly before the collection was delivered. “Lucius” of Rom 16:21 cannot be Titus because both names are Latin praenomina. The others in Rom 16:21-23 were converted too late to be Titus. Timothy is the only possibility.
- The name “Timothy” is somewhat similar phonetically to “Titus” and this increases the probability of identity (compare Paul-Saul, Silas-Silvanus, Jesus-Justus etc.). “Timothy” means “honoring God” and could have been given as a new name to Titus.
- The name “Titus” is a Latin praenomen (first name) and was therefore almost certainly held by a Roman citizen who also had a nomen and cognomen. The cognomen would be used to confer honor, and the praenomen was used among family and close friends. Titus, whoever he was, is referred to by his praenomen, rather than by his cognomen, in 2 Corinthians after 1:19, presumably because Paul and his co-sender did not want to “lord it over” the Corinthians (1:24). If Titus remained uncircumcised (Gal 2:1-5), Paul would be mentioning him as an example for the Galatians to follow and we would expect Paul to use his cognomen. Paul calls Titus by his praenomen, and his suggests that Titus was circumcised by the time of writing. So, both Titus and Timothy (Acts 16:1-3) were probably circumcised, and in connection to Galatia. Surely this is no coincidence. Let us now look in more detail at these passages.
2:1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2:2 I went up in response to a revelation. Then I laid before them (though only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain. 2:3 But even Titus, who was with me being Greek, was not compelled to be circumcised. 2:4 But because of false believers secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us— 2:5 we did not submit to them even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you.
Acts 16:1-4 describes events in Galatia after Paul’s visit to Jerusalem:
16:1 Paul went on also to Derbe and to Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek. 16:2 He was well spoken of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium. 16:3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and had him circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 16:4 As they went from town to town, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem.
Tertullian, believed that Gal 2:4-5 referred to the circumcision of Timothy. Connections between these passages were spotted more recently by William Walker, who suggested that the author of Acts read Gal 2:1-5 and rewrote the episode, transferring it to Timothy.
Timothy had a Jewish mother and a Greek father. This tells us –
- He may have been from Antioch, for Josephus writes that the Jews of Antioch “were constantly attracting to their religious ceremonies multitudes of Greeks, and these they had in some measure incorporated with themselves” (BJ 7.45).
- He was uncircumcised because his father was a Greek (see Shaye Cohen’s “Was Timothy Jewish?”).
- He was able to pass himself off as a full Jew, for the Talmud shows that sons of Jewish mothers sometimes kept quiet about their Greek fathers when outside their home towns (and were sometimes encouraged to do so) (b. Yev 45a-b).
A man’s status as circumcised or uncircumcised was discovered by making inquiries about his father (see Cohen’s ‘“Those Who Say They Are Jews and Are Not”: How Do You Know a Jew in Antiquity When You See One?’). Acts 16:3 implies that Timothy would not have needed to be circumcised if the Jews had not learned that his father was a Greek. Galatians tells us how they found out.
Paul writes in Gal 2:3 that Titus was a Greek while he was with him, with the possible implication that Titus passed himself off as a Jew at other times. Gal 2:2 stresses that it was a private meeting and 2:4 says that the false brothers had secretly intruded and spied. We need not imagine the false brothers peaking under Titus’s toga to discover his uncircumcised state. They likely just overheard mention of Titus’s Greek father. It seems that the false brothers let it be know in Galatia that Titus-Timothy’s father was a Greek. Paul then circumcised Titus-Timothy, giving the impression that Paul had yielded the principle, which he denies (Gal 2:5). The broken grammar of Gal 2:4-5 can now be explained. At the beginning of verse 4 an ellipsis can be filled with the words “I circumcised him”. These words are the elephant in the room. It is not just that Paul cannot bring himself to say these words. He also wants the Galatians to KNOW that he cannot bring himself to say these words. Thus, the broken grammar serves Paul’s purposes. We can see now that Gal 2:3-5, while puzzling and ambiguous to commentators for centuries, would have been clear for the believers in Galatia, where Titus-Timothy was circumcised.
After circumcising Timothy, Paul delivers the decisions of the Jerusalem apostles (that circumcision was not required) (Acts 16:4). People interpreted Paul’s circumcision of Titus-Timothy to mean that he now recognised the need for circumcision, and they supposed that he delivered the decisions of the Jerusalem apostles only out of loyalty to them. Galatians was written to respond to this misunderstanding.
There are some important implications of the new view of Galatians:
- We have seen that Acts 16:1-4 explains Gal 2:1-5 and the rest of the letter nicely. Also, it was the activists, not Acts, who misrepresented the position of the Jerusalem apostles. Paul’s silence about the decree is now understandable and its historicity need not be doubted. In short, the supposed unreliability of Acts needs to be reconsidered in light of the new view of Galatians.
- We can no longer cast Paul as an uncompromising extremist opponent of circumcision. This will be of interest to the “Paul within Judaism” crowd.
- Paul and the Jerusalem apostles were in agreement on Gentile inclusion.
- The identification of Titus as Timothy confirms that the Pastoral Epistles were fakes (see 2 Tim 4:10).
I give a big thank you to Bart for hosting these posts, which provide unsettling challenges to both conservative and sceptical scholarship in our polarized field. Thank you also to those who have contributed comments. The conversation can continue.