This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology. You can visit my web pages here, but note that they are not kept up-to-date.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The illusive Titus and the anonymous brothers

W.M.Ramsay described Titus as "the most enigmatic figure in early Christian history", and with good reason. He first appears in Gal 2:1-3 as a subordinate of Paul during his Jerusalem visit of A.D. 48/49. He then disappears from view, being absent from the Thessalonian letters, 2 Cor 1:19, Philippians, and 1 Corinthians. But he mysteriously reappears in A.D. 55/56 in 2 Cor 2:12-13; 7:6, 13-15; 8:6, 16-17, 23; 12:18 in connection with visits to Corinth to organize the collection. He then disappears again. All this is surprising.
  • Why the 7 year absence?
  • When Titus is sent back to Corinth Paul stresses his close relationship to both the Corinthians and himself (2 Cor 8:23). It is his relationship of trust that he has established with both parties that makes him the ideal choice of envoy. But what about Titus's 'first' visit to Corinth? On the usual assumption about Titus's identity, he succeeded in reconciling the Corinthians to Paul after visits by both Paul and Timothy had failed. If we suppose that Titus was already a trusted co-worker of both Paul and the Corinthians, it becomes hard to explain his absence from 1 Corinthians, 2 Cor 1:19, and 1 Thess. If, on the other hand, we suppose that he had no prior relationship to the Corinthians, and had not worked closely with Paul since 48/49, it is hard to explain why Paul chose him as an envoy and how he was able to succeed where Paul and Timothy had failed.
  • In 2 Cor 8:23 Paul describes Titus as his partner. This would be a strange claim to make if Titus had recently rejoined Paul’s team after an absence of several years and was expected to leave before the end of the travel season. 2 Cor 8:23 seems to imply an extensive association between Titus and Paul, which is hard to reconcile with the absence of Titus from Romans, 1 Corinthians, etc..
  • Paul sent Titus back to Corinth (2 Cor 8:6, 16-17) to organize the collection, so it is a little strange that his name does not appear in Romans 16:21-23, which was written a few months later from Corinth. I have argued here that Paul sent greetings from all his prominent co-workers who were in Corinth at that time.
The strange absence of the name "Titus" from texts such as 1 Corinthians, Romans, and Acts raises the possibility that he is known in those texts by a different name. In my next post I hope to start to build the case that his other name was "Timothy".

But the theory that "Titus" was known by another name, is persuasive only if there is a plausible reason why Paul would switch to using the name "Titus" when he does. I will now argue that Paul called him "Titus" in 2 Corinthians to hide his identity from those who might have stolen or confiscated the collection.

It is a remarkable fact that Paul no-where names anyone who helped with the collection. Indeed, in 2 Cor 8:18-24 Paul mentions two collection helpers and leaves them strangely anonymous. It is very surprising that Paul should not name the men, whom he praises so highly. No parallel example has ever been proposed. Furthermore, we also must reckon with the anonymity of the brother of 2 Cor 12:18. As Thrall (p854) points out, Paul gives this man no description that might substitute for a name, and he was certainly known to the Corinthians. Why are the three brothers not named? The explanation becomes apparent when we realize that there was a risk that the collection would be stolen by bandits or intercepted by Jews or Roman authorities. I have argued in detail here that the Jews did indeed have the collection outlawed and that Paul delivered it anyway. For the protection of the collection it was necessary to prevent the identities of the helpers from becoming public knowledge. It is a mistake to think that 2 Corinthians would be heard or read only by Paul's trusted friends. Outsiders could be present when the letter was read (1 Cor 14:23) and there was a danger of "false brothers" (2 Cor 11:26), and the letter was to be circulated throughout Achaia (2 Cor 1:1). The anonymity of all three brothers therefore served to conceal their identity from outsiders. I am surprised that this has not been proposed before.

Since the name "Titus" appears in 2 Corinthians only in connection with his two missions to Corinth to organize he collection, his identity is concealed (from outsiders) by the use of that name. I suggest that Paul calls him "Titus" here precisely because he was not known publicly by that name.


  1. I’m very fascinated be the hypothesis that Timothy and Titus is the same person. But as you are well aware it’s a serious problem that Paul shifts between Timothy and Titus in 2 Cor. And for several reasons I’m not sure if your explanation here is satisfying.
    I think it’s a problem if Paul is using Titus instead of Timotheus because he wants to conceal the identity. And the reason why it’ a problem is that, he doesn’t use the name Titus in Gal to conceal anything. But as I said, I really like this hypothesis. My own explanation for the shift would be that it has something to do with the mentioning of Silvanus and therefore it’s the same phenomenon in the prescript.

  2. Paul's reason for using "Titus" in Galatians is probably different from his reason for using "Titus" in 2 Corinthians. When Titus-Timothy visited Galatia Paul was not with him, and he may simply have introduced himself, modestly, as "Titus".

    In 2 Cor 1:1 and 2 Cor 1:19 Paul is appealing to Titus-Timothy's authority, so it makes sense that he should call him "Timothy" in those places. Elsewhere in the letter Paul is trying to endear the Corinthians to Titus-Timothy, so the more intimate name "Titus" is appropriate. And, as I say above, the name affords him a degree of anonymity.

  3. Titus is the Demon of God's legion. The Righteous Pinisher. For Titus wields his sword in the name of the lord.