Titus 3:4-5

In my studies, I have recently gone back and studied how salvation is offered by God and is conditional upon man receiving the free gift through obedience.  I have studied this through the years and have always walked away enriched with a better understanding of harmonizing scripture.  It clearly teaches that we are not saved by any one thing alone.  I greatly appreciate Brother Ben F. Vick, Jr.  He is the preacher for the Shelbyville Road Church of Christ in Indianapolis, IN. He also teaches some for us here at the Northwest Florida School of Biblical Studies.  In a recent discussion, he brought my attention to an article written by F.L. Paisley in the Gospel Advocate.  It appeared in the issue dated December 16, 1954, on pages 991-992.  I am missing that year in my personal library, so I went into the NWFSBS library and got it off the shelf.  After reading it multiple times, I thought, “what an amazing article!”  Brother Paisley simply explains a text that is so often misrepresented by those in denominationalism and, unfortunately, within the church.  I share this with you in hopes that it can help strengthen your understanding of God’s word as it has mine.
-Guyton E. Montgomery

Correctly Reading Titus 3:4-5

F.L. Paisley

The following article originally appeared in the Gospel Advocate December 16, 1954 Pages 991-992

We might become so interested in proving a certain doctrine we like, or in disproving one we do not like that we unwittingly read into a passage what it does not actually say, or omit from it what it does not actually say, or omit from it what it does say, and at the same time not change the wording of the passage one whit.  Denominational preachers have become so sure that a sinner cannot do anything by means of which God will save him that they have thus misread Titus 3:4, 5 and its context.  It is our purpose in this short essay to give the correct reading of this passage.  We shall not have to change the arrangements of its words the least, though our comments might invert some of them. 
            Of course, the way a passage is punctuated has very much to do with its meaning.  An incorrect punctuation can be as fatal to a correct understanding of a simple sentence as the changing of its wording.  To say, “John hit the ball; with his hand he put on his hat” is to state just what John actually did.  To say, “John hit the ball with his hand; he put on his hat” is to use exactly the same words in the same order, but to say something entirely different. 
            We readily realize that punctuation markings in the Bible are not there by inspiration, but according to the information, moods or prejudices of the translators, or publishers.  With this fact in mind let us read the verses as they are in our Common Version – the King James translation:
            “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” (We always prefer the word Spirit in lieu of the old obsolete word “Ghost.”)
            The way this verse is usually read, and always made to mean, is as I now invert the sentences: “God saved us, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy.”  Most certainly we would not deny the truth of this statement – it is in perfect keeping with the general voice of Scripture, but that is not what Paul said in these verses.  The negative and affirmative clause, “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy.” Does not modify the verb “saved,” to describe the means of God’s saving us.  It modifies the verb “appeared,” to affirm that nothing man did could bring to him God’s love and kindness.  Those attributes of God were bestowed upon man “according to his mercy” while man was yet a sinner.  “After that” coming of mercy “he saved us,” he says it was “by the washing of regeneration” – a washing which is divinely assigned to the scheme of regeneration.
            The two verses under consideration compose a complex declarative sentence, if we might get right down to some simple facts in the case.  The two simple sentences in this complex one are, “the kindness and love of God appeared” and “he saved us.”  Now let us read and punctuate the verses according to the analysis made above, and it becomes much clearer than as usually misread.  “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared – not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy – he saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit. “
            Thus without inverting a single clause or phrase we have a much more natural reading, a much more simple, declarative sentence.  The simple sentence is, “he saved us.”  The time is affirmed, “after the kindness and love of God appeared.”  The how the love appeared was “according to his mercy.”  The how he saved us was “by the washing of regeneration.”
            A sinner can neither do nor be anything as a cause of his salvation, or as a cause of God’s loving him.  That salvation is caused by nothing less or more than the love and mercy of God as expressed in the person and death of Jesus Christ.  That love so expressed by him affirms his right to require any kind of “washing” divine wisdom may say.  To the very man who penned these verses Ananias had been sent by the Lord and said, “And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Ac. 22:16).
            Before this incident, the Lord had appeared to Saul (subsequently called Paul), not to save him but to call him into the apostleship and to tell him where and from whom he could learn what to do to be saved.  Seeing the lord, Saul cried out in terror, “What shall I do, Lord?”  Jesus told him to go into the city, whither he had started, and “there it shall be told thee what thou must do.” (Acts 9:6)  The record does not indicate that Saul was told there to do anything except as quoted in Acts 22:16.  When so told he had already believed in the Christ and repented of his whole career.  Only the “washing of regeneration” remained for him “to do.”
            The “washing” in baptism, in which we have “our bodies washed in pure water” (Hb. 10:22), water unmixed with ceremonial cleansings, cannot be included in the “works of righteousness which we have done,” for the simple reason that all works of righteousness are deeds that are right of and within themselves.  Baptism could never come into that class because it has never been “right” of itself.  It is right only because it is divinely commanded.  Gods commandments have always been God’s righteousness (Psalm 119:172), and not man’s righteousness who does them. 
            My friend, your soul is in the balance.  Do not trifle with God’s mercy.  Do not cavil about his truth.  Do not let human prejudice against divine commands, or in favor of kinship religion, rob you of your inescapable obligation to obey the gospel of Christ.  “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32).  But the truth cannot make free while it is not obeyed.  Be sure that you obey it.  “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth.” (1 Pet. 1:22).  To reject it is to reject all the mercy by which God saves.
            Titus 3:4, 5 correctly read affirms the very thing necessary for our salvation which is usually denied as having any part in it.

Below are images from the original copy that are from the NWFSBS library.