Reject A Factious Man: Another Look at Marking
Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that
such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned (Titus 3:10-11).
In the church, we have seen instances arise where someone is "marked" and
the church is told to "have nothing to do with" the person on the basis
of some form of divisiveness. Much of this implementation has to do with
the NIV translation of this passage:
Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After
that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped
and sinful; he is self-condemned (Titus 3:10-11, NIV).
The objective of this study is to get to the bottom of this passage: What
does it mean? What is Paul talking about, and to whom did it apply? What
were these "factious" men doing that was so dangerous? And exactly what
was Titus supposed to do with them?
Titus 3:10-11 has a strong statement that is the basis of this discussion:
And this brings us to a larger issue: Is "marking" biblical? What about
"shunning?" What situations could call for this action, and what exactly
is involved in this action? Let us examine these questions with a view
towards understanding the terms that are being used, the context of the
letter to Titus, and how these matters were dealt with in the apostolic
The Term "Factious"
The Greek term used in Titus 3:10 for "factious" is "hairetikos," used
only here in the NT. It belongs to a word group including the term hairesis,
used 9 times in the New Testament. In Acts, these refer to parties within
the Jewish faith (Acts 5:17, 15:5, 26:5) and to describe Christianity as
a party of the Jewish faith (Acts 24:5, 24:14, 28:22).
Yet the term "hairesis" is also used three times in the Epistles, and
their usage sheds more light on the meaning of the term. The first is by
Paul to the Corinthians:
For there must also be factions among you, in order that those
who are approved may have become evident among you (1 Corinthians 11:19).
This same Paul finds factions an act of the sinful nature in Galatians
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity,
sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of
anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, Ö (Galatians 5:19-20)
Lastly, Peter uses the term in his last letter:
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will
also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive
even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon
themselves (2 Peter 2:1).
These terms are part of a word group that has its origins in the verbs
"haireomai" (as in Philippians 1:22, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Hebrews 11:25)
and "hairetizo" (Matthew 12:18), generally meaning to "choose" and carrying
with it no pejorative sense.
Paulís use of the noun "hairesis" negatively in Galatians and positively
in 2 Corinthians possibly suggests that there are "good divisions" and
"bad divisions" in the church. Peter's use of the term shows that the term
was used to describe the false teaching as well as the faction that resulted
A citation from the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament on "hairesis"
is instructive here:
In 2 Pet 2:1 it affects the church's very basis; a hairesis
creates a new society alongside the ekklesia (church) and thus makes the
ekklesia itself a hairesis and not the comprehensive people of God.
This is unacceptable. (H. Schlier, volume I, p. 180-185, via Bromily p.
Interestingly, the term "hairesis" is used nearly interchangeably with
the term "schisma" in 1 Corinthians 11:18-19.
For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear
that divisions (schisma) exist among you; and in part, I believe
it. For there must also be factions (hairesis) among you, in order
that those who are approved may have become evident among you (1 Corinthians
In an effort to better understand "hairesis," we might well consider examining
"schisma." It is used to describe the tearing patch in the parable of the
garments (Matthew 9:16, Mark 2:21). It is used to describe the division
among the Jews over Jesus and his words (John 7:43, 9:16, 10:19). Paul
then uses the term two other times in his first letter to the Corinthians:
Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you
be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment (1 Corinthians
Ö that there should be no division in the body, but that the
members should have the same care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25).
Thus, the division ("schisma") separates the church from the faction ("hairesis").
While not the same thing, divisions and factions go hand in hand.
Now back to the letter to Titus. What we have in view on Crete is some
sinful form of faction. More than that cannot be known from the mere meaning
of the term. We must consider the context to answer our questions.
Having seen what the term "hairetikos" meant from a New Testament perspective,
letís consider whom Paul would have been referring to in the letter to
Paul makes references to some sort of opponent of the gospel several
times in the letter. Letís examine these passages:
For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially
those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting
whole families, teaching things they should not teach, for the sake of
sordid gain. One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, "Cretans
are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." This testimony is true.
For this cause reprove them severely that they may be sound in the faith,
not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away
from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are
defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their
conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but by their deeds they
deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good
deed (Titus 1:10-16).
But shun foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes
about the Law; for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious
man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted
and is sinning, being self-condemned (Titus 3:9-11).
We should also remember that Paul had recently been on Crete with Titus
(Titus 1:5) and most likely had personal knowledge of exactly what was
going on there. Further, when we consider Paulís remarks about appointing
elders (Titus 1:5ff), teaching sound doctrine (Titus 1:9, 2:1, 3:8) and
salvation through grace and rebirth (Titus 2:11, 3:5), it allows us to
build a profile of those whom Paul had in mind in Titus 3:10:
These people were apparently faithful members of the church (hence their
continuing involvement and the threat they possessed) and got caught up
in Jewish controversies regarding the law to the point where they opposed
or contradicted sound Christian doctrine. They appear to be in the process
of gathering their own following based upon their distinctive teaching.
In this "primary" sin, other character-related sins came to the surface.
Paul's strong invective concerning these false teachers is notable.
Characteristics of the teaching in question:
Things in opposition to "sound doctrine," especially in light of formerly
having been exposed to it and subsequently rejecting it.
Especially of Jewish background, teaching Jewish myths and focusing on
controversies regarding the Law.
Encouraging some form of a carnal lifestyle as opposed to a spiritual lifestyle.
Characteristics of the individuals propagating these teachings:
Pursuing financial gain from this teaching.
Eager to say "something bad" about the leaders, presumably for their own
advantage (Titus 2:8).
Empty talkers, deceivers.
Profess to know God, but by their deeds deny Him.
Rebellious, impure, defiled, unbelieving, perverted, sinning, self-condemned;
minds and consciences corrupt; detestable, disobedient, worthless for any
In light of the known Judaizing threat in the early church, it may be
attractive to consider that these people were probably involved in the
activity of requiring circumcision as a condition of salvation. But the
discussion does not mention this detail, and actually brings up the notion
of "disputes about words" and the like that are not likely to be referring
to the circumcision issue. While we donít know exactly what these people
in question were advocating, the requirement of circumcision for Gentile
believers does not appear to be in view.
By examining Titus' directives in his ministry on Crete, it can shed
light on the threat and impact of these false teachers. A short survey
of the text shows what specific instructions he had been given:
Excursus: What exactly is "Sound Doctrine?"
Appointment of elders to teach sound doctrine and refuse false teaching
Shunning foolish controversies (Titus 3:9).
Active ministry to the proponents of these false doctrines (Titus 3:10).
Rejection of the proponents of these teachings after multiple warnings
Paul uses this term eight times in his writings: 1 Timothy 1:10,
1 Timothy 6:3, 2 Timothy 1:13, 4:3, as well as to Titus in 1:9, 1:13, 2:1,
2:2. The key term here is the Greek "hugiaino", which normally carries
with the the connotation of good health, as in Luke 5:31, 7:10, 15:27,
3 John 1:2.
The term seems best defined in the sense of "sound doctrine" in 2
Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me,
in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 1:13).
"Sound doctrine" in this sense has to do with the preaching of the gospel
as it was preached by Paul.
Those whose teaching does not conform to "sound doctrine" are to
be rebuked so that their teaching might become sound.:
For this cause reprove them severely that they may be sound in
the faith (Titus 1:13).
The text of 1 Timothy 6:3 might well apply to those under discussion
in Titus as well, it uses the same language and descriptions of the problem
If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with
sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming
to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid
interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which
arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction
between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that
godliness is a means of gain (1 Timothy 6:3-5).
Also of interest is Paulís admonition to Timothy about "foolish controversies:"
Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence
of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless, and leads to the ruin
of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman
who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.
But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness,
and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and
Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection
has already taken place, and thus they upset the faith of some (2 Timothy
But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce
quarrels. And the Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind
to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting
those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading
to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape
from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his
will (2 Timothy 2:23-26).
So, this "sound doctrine" to which the false teaching under consideration
is contrasted, seems to directly relate to the words of Jesus and the apostolic
proclamation of the gospel, especially in its relationship to the Law.
Apparently both Timothy and Titus and the mature men suitable for the eldership
would be able to utilize the known words of Jesus and the apostolic message--
the "sound doctrine"-- and use them to refute or render insignificant these
controversies that were being fanned into flame.
Addressing, Counseling and Avoiding
Whatever the exact nature of this false teaching, it does appear to
have been given consideration by the apostles and the church but found
wanting based upon the plain teaching of the words of Jesus and basic instruction
in the faith. (Consider 2 Corinthians 10:4ff, where opposing doctrines
are addressed and taken down.) As such, these issues became "non-issues"
and their proponents were to move on.
Since these teachings have been examined and refuted, Titus is not to
involve himself further in their discussion but to move on to areas of
useful ministry. When Paul told Timothy to "avoid worldly and empty chatter"
(1 Timothy 2:16) he used the same term ("periistemi") as in Titus 3:9,
telling Titus to "shun foolish controversies." The issue here is not
the possibility of corruption of doctrine or character of Timothy or Titus,
but one of stewardship of energy and time.
Yet, individual proponents of these teachings are to be warned (Titus
3:10). The Greek term here is "nouthesia," part of a family of words giving
the idea of sober and caring instruction or counsel from mature Christians
or leaders (see also 1 Corinthians 11:10, Ephesians 6:4 for the noun and
Acts 20:31, Romans 15:14, 1 Corinthians 4:14, Colossians 1:28, 3:16, 1
Thessalonians 5:12, 5:14, 2 Thessalonians 3:15 for the verb) and a definite
area of ministry for Christian ministers.
Those who would not heed the counsel are to be refused. The Greek term
here is "paraiteomai," also translated as "request" (Mark 15:16), "beg"
(Hebrews 12:19), "excuse" (Luke 14:18-19), "refuse" (Acts 25:11, 1 Timothy
5:11, 2 Timothy 2:23, Hebrews 12:25) and "have nothing to do with" (in
regards to false teachings) (1 Timothy 4:7). The meaning here in Titus
is basically, "say no."
Interestingly, the response to the false teachings and the false teachers
is essentially the same: Once the matter has been addressed, don't waste
your time with the teachings or their proponents.
So let us summarize what is going on in Titus 3:9-11:
In regards to the rest of the church, these false teachings are "silenced"
from their damaging effects by the presentation of sound doctrine (Titus
1:9-11), not by the church not hearing what these people have to say (which
has already happened anyway).
There are false teachers teaching some aspect of the Law in contradiction
to the core of the gospel in the words of Jesus and the apostolic proclamation.
This deviation in teaching is serious enough to compromise the salvation
of the hearers, it is NOT a matter of opinion on some disputable matter.
In addition to their false teachings, these individuals advancing this
false teaching are exceedingly corrupt.
As a matter of ministry necessity, Titus is to make attempts to patiently
teach and counsel these people, in the hope of leading them to repentance.
If attempts at reproof, patient instruction and counsel fail to change
the individuals' doctrine, especially in cases where other moral failings
are present, Titus is instructed to not waste his time further discussing
A Broader Perspective: How Did the Early Church Handle "Factious
A key question in understanding a passage such as this is determining
how the early church would have put this standard into practice. So we
should consider the question: Are there examples where factious people,
defined according to the criteria above, were in fact addressed with this
approach: patiently instructed and/or counseled and then rejected? If so,
what other elements characterize these events?
Unfortunately, the New Testament writers didn't write to answer my questions!
So we will have to be content to examine the New Testament with an eye
for items that relate to the response of the church to false teachers.
Hopefully, from these items we will find enough data to answer the questions
Summary of the Early Church and "Shunning"
Acts: The first "false teachers" in Acts were those in Antioch who taught
circumcision as a requirement of salvation to the Gentile believers (Acts
15:1ff). This issue was discussed and considered in the light of Scripture,
and the idea and its proponents were rebuffed. A letter was sent out to
the churches repudiating the false teachers and clarifying the teaching
for the church, and the matter was considered closed.
Acts: Apollos could have potentially been considered a false teacher, but
in fact was more unaware than deliberately teaching falsehood and departing
from the truth. Aquila and Priscilla privately discussed his teaching compared
to the apostolic pattern, and Apollos changed his doctrine accordingly
Acts: The elders of the church from Ephesus were warned about threats to
the church on two fronts: "savage wolves come in among them (the eldership)
and not spare the flock," and from among themselves some would "speak perverse
things to draw disciples after themselves" (Acts 20:29-30). But Paul sees
these as future possibilities and not things that had already taken place.
Romans: Paul warned the church to "keep an eye on" those causing divisions
from teaching contrary to the gospel they already had heard (Romans 16:17ff).
(The Greek term "skopeo" used here is also used in Luke 11:35, 2 Corinthians
4:18, Galatians 6:1, Philippians 2:4, 3:17.)
Corinthians: Paul saw much evidence of division in Corinth, yet it was
mostly political or moral in its nature and not a matter of false teaching.
An exception would be his admonition: "But actually, I wrote to you not
to associate with any so-called brother if he should be an immoral person,
or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler--not
even to eat with such a one (1 Corinthians 5:11)."
Galatians: Paul saw that the Galatians had been infiltrated by those seeking
to make circumcision a salvation issue for the Gentiles. Paul mentions
a particular but unnamed individual in Galatians 5:10 as being responsible
for this confusion, and Paul warns that his judgment was pending for preaching
a different gospel (ref. Galatians 1:6ff).
Philippians: The Phlippians were warned of false teachers, quite possibly
itinerant preachers, advancing circumcision (Philippians 3:2ff).
1 Thessalonians: The Thessalonians were told to examine the prophetic utterances
carefully, holding to the good and abstaining from the evil (1 Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians: Paul addressed the appearance of fraudulent impersonation
of him (2 Thessalonians 2:2), and simply encourages continued adherence
to what had been taught (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
2 Thessalonians: Paul commands them (2 Thessalonians 3:6) to "keep aloof
from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition
which you received from us." This is in relation to those who were not
working but freeloading from other brothers. In this case, the admonition
was amplified: "And if anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter,
take special note of that man and do not associate with him, so that he
may be put to shame. And yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish
him as a brother (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15)." This direction to "not associate"
appears to be directed at not allowing such a person to continue to mooch
off the church.
1, 2 Timothy: Paul instructs Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:3 to tell certain men
not to teach false doctrines. In 1:19-20 he identifies Hymanaeus and Alexander
as two who have rejected the faith. In 2 Timothy 2:16-18 he identifies
Hymanaeus and Philetus as two who have strayed from the truth with false
teaching. In 2 Timothy 3:5 he again warns to have nothing to do with people
such as those "having a form of godliness but denying its power."
1, 2 Peter- Peter recognized that false teachers would introduce grave
false teachings in the church in 2 Peter 2:1, yet he even regards them
in the present tense in 2:13ff. Future or present, he promises that condemnation
awaits them, and identifies them by various traits.
1, 2, 3 John: John urges his readers to "test the spirits" (1 Jn 4:ff)
and watch out for deceivers who deny the human nature of Jesus (2 Jn 1:8).
He plans to "call attention to" the unjust, bad-intentioned and self-willed
Diotrophes, who rejected apostolic emissaries (1:10).
Jude: Jude warned about false teachers coming into the church (1:4), causing
divisions (1:19). He urged his readers to adhere to the reliable message
of the gospel to which they had already been exposed (1:3).
Revelation: Jesus chastised some of the churches for having false teachers
among them (2:14, 2:20), and praised one church that dealt aggressively
with false teachers (2:2, 2:6). The understanding is that the church should
dismiss false teachers from their presence.
Let us identify the characteristics of the early church's practice
of dealing with false teachers:
In most (if not all) cases, false teachers already had their influence
in the churches, whether they were itinerant preachers or members of the
local or regional church. They were insiders and not outsiders, hence
the potential for influence.
New teachings were typically evaluated in light of the gospel. When found
to contradict or oppose the gospel, the teaching would be discussed publicly
in comparison to the gospel.
Those who continued in believing or advancing false teachings were to be
counseled and instructed with gentleness and patience.
Those who continued in these false teachings after persistent instruction
would be publicly "called attention to" as false teachers and would be
cast out of the church.
Having examined this passage in Titus and the balance of the New Testament
on dealing with false teachers, how does it relate to the church today?
First, for the church to consider any action along the lines of Titus
3:10-11, false teaching on matters of salvation have to be involved. Differences
in minor points (that is, not matters of salvation) or on matters of opinion
is not in view in Titus 3:10-11. How differences on items such as these
should be addressed is beyond the scope of this study, but is well worthy
of another study.
Second, questionable teachings should be examined in light of the gospel
and proven false. Such findings should be explicitly communicated to the
at large in sufficient detail and not avoided. The objective is not the
mere labeling of a teaching as false, but also a clearer understanding
of the truth that silences the false teaching.
Last, the proponents of false teachings need to counseled with patience
and wisdom concerning these teachings; if they persist in these teachings
they should be identified as false teachers and cast out of the church.
Copyright © 1999 John Engler. All rights reserved.
All scripture quotations are from the New American Standard
Bible (NASB), unless otherwise noted.