Titus 1:15 - To the pure, all things are pure.
Can a Christian peruse pornographic material and remain pure in mind? Can a Christian watch videos filled with vile and violent content and not be defiled in thinking? Can a Christian read any kind of gross and obscene literature and escape deleterious thought patterns? Titus 1:15 says, "To the pure all things are pure." This text has been used by some Christians as a basis for answering "yes" to all of the questions above. They say that Christians with pure motives can remain undefiled no matter what they read or view. They contend that it's only people with impure minds and motives that are corrupted by such materials. But is this the meaning of Titus 1:15? Does this Scripture mean that mature Christians should be able to view pornographic portrayals of human bodies merely as a neutral form of "art"? Does it mean that godly believers do not have to worry about the corrupting influences of certain movies, videos, magazines or paperbacks? No! Titus 1:15 does not mean that Christians can watch or read anything they want because they are immunized. "To the pure, all things are pure," does not mean that pornography or trash is miraculously upgraded when viewed or read by "mature" Christians. This Scripture does not mean that Christians can naively dabble in these areas and walk away unscathed--even if such activity is for the supposed purpose of becoming a more informed witness to the unbeliever! Such incorrect interpretations of Titus 1:15 are usually nothing more than convoluted attempts to justify the sinful desires of our fallen human nature. These views break two of the most basic rules for interpreting Scripture. First, Scripture must always interpret Scripture and, second, Scripture must never be pulled out of its context. Ignoring these two principles has even led some Christians to use Titus 1:15 as a pretext for immoral actions! "To the pure all things are pure" cannot mean that Christians can read or view anything they want, because Scripture must interpret Scripture. The overwhelming thrust of Scripture, in both Old and New Testaments, is that believers should stay away from any possible corrupting influences. When the Children of Israel entered Canaan they were told not even to inquire into the practices of the pagan religions, lest they be tempted to follow such rites. (See Deuteronomy 12:30.) We know from archaeological evidence that the Canaanite religions involved all kinds of indecent and immoral acts and portrayals of these base rites. The Lord said that all of these things were to be destroyed. God did not want His people polluted by the idolatry and immorality of the land. Israel was not to "check it out"--even if it was just a matter of curiosity. They were to remain naively innocent. That is exactly the point of Romans 16:19 in the New Testament. "I want you to be wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil." We should become more knowledgeable about decent things and experts in doing good, but remain simple and guileless and intelligently ignorant of all that could corrupt our minds or lead us into temptation. In the same way that the people of Israel were not to touch the unclean pagan objects of ancient Babylon (Isaiah 52:11), so God's people today are not to "touch what is unclean" in our post-Christian culture (2 Corinthians 6:17). Hardly can we "take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5) if we are engaged in reading or watching things which have been written or performed to appeal to our fallen sinful natures. No wonder the Bible urges us to "flee the flesh" (2 Timothy 2:22), and to avoid whatever could "easily entangle us" (Hebrews 12:1)! In light of the Scriptures above (and many others as well), Titus 1:15 cannot mean that mature Christians can expose themselves to the profane and the pornographic and not be detrimentally affected. All things are definitely not pure--even to those whose minds have been purified in Christ. Because Scripture cannot contradict itself, "to the pure, all things are pure" cannot be used to support the idea that "pure" Christians are immune to the impure. Not only will Scripture never contradict itself, but every Scripture must be interpreted in light of its surrounding context. It is only when the text of Titus 1:15 is pulled out of its context that it can be used as a pretext for condoning evil. The apostle Paul wrote this text of Scripture to Titus, who was helping to shepherd the churches on the island of Crete. Certainly Paul's intention was not to tell Titus and the Christians of Crete that they could fill their minds with all kinds of garbage and not worry about any side effects. Christians who use Titus 1:15 as a proof text for immunity to trash completely ignore the context of this Scripture. Some Christians have interpreted Titus 1:15 as a kind of warning to believers. Their idea is that because Christians are "pure-minded" and not sophisticated as to the ways of the world, they tend to be naive as to the evil things in this world. To them all things seem pure but all things are not really pure, so believers had better be on their guard. Another interpretation held by some Christians is that "all things are pure" to "pure" Christians because godly believers always look at the pure side of things. Sex, for example, can be greatly misused and perverted, but the pure-minded Christian always sees sex as a wonderful and pure gift from God to be used with all purity as God intended. While these two interpretations are certainly in line with biblical teaching, they don't come naturally from the context surrounding Titus 1:15. The verses surrounding Titus 1:15 refer to the false teachers on Crete who taught that you became defiled if you ate certain foods or if you ate when you were ceremonially unclean. These false teachers were "those of the circumcision" (v16), that is, the unbelieving Judaizers of the first century. These false teachers included certain ascetic rules about eating and drinking in their "commandments" (v14). They advocated the Old Testament dietary laws and the additions and traditions of the Judaizers as a means of becoming spiritual and holy. Their sole emphasis was on external rule-keeping for purity, with no recognition of the absolute need for an internal change of heart. They totally disregarded the words of Christ who said, "Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man unclean; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him unclean" (Matthew 15:17-20). In the parallel passage in Mark 7:19 we read that Jesus "declared all foods clean." The Lord Jesus also told the Pharisees that when there was evidence of an internal change of heart, "then all things are clean for you" (Luke 11:41). The "pure," then, are all who believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, who have had an internal change of heart through the work of God at conversion. All Christians are essentially "pure" because we are all partakers of divine life. (See 1 Peter 1:4.) Although we still have our sinful human natures, the new spiritual life we possess is "pure." Because of our new life in Christ, the Old Testament dietary laws about certain "unclean" foods do not apply to us today. These ceremonial regulations were all set aside with the coming of Christ. Obviously any man-made ascetic rules about foods or any stipulations about ritualistic washings connected with eating have nothing to do with the Christian life. Christians are free to eat beef or pork or fish or any food on any day of the week with washed or unwashed hands because "all things are pure." It goes without saying that we want to be careful about what we eat and how we eat for reasons of health and hygiene and even Christian liberty. But there is no food or drink that is impure in itself for the Christian. "For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the Word of God and prayer" (1 Timothy 4:4-5). The second half of Titus 1:15 and verse 16 deal with the unbeliever. "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." The unbelievers are called "defiled" because they have not had the internal change of heart that comes at the time of conversion. They are not pure because they are not "new creatures in Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:17). Thus "both their mind and their conscience are defiled" from God's perspective because they are not "born anew" (John 3:3). To these unbelievers, "nothing is pure." The observance of ascetic rules and ritualistic ceremonies won't help a bit to purify an unbeliever. Their problem is not external but internal. Until the internal change takes place at conversion, the unbeliever cannot please God. Rule-keeping and ritualistic ceremonies do not make points with God. In fact, verse 16 indicates that the deeds of unbelievers prove that they do not know God. If they really knew the Lord they would stop their slander of God--teaching that following rules and rituals can make you holy and acceptable with God. To take such a position, then and now, is to be "detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed." (v16). To the humanistic way of looking at life, such a view is incredibly narrow and bigoted. However, it is not what we think but what the Word of God says that ultimately makes the difference! In summary, we have come to understand that "to the pure, all things are pure" was written in the context of eating certain foods, not watching certain videos or reading certain magazines! Titus 1:15 does not mean that trash is somehow upgraded when handled by Christians or that Christians somehow become immune to the effects of the junk they read or view. While the expression, "garbage in, garbage out" is not a verse in the Bible, it is certainly true of the human mind as well as computers. Christians at every level of growth need to be extremely careful of what they program into their minds through reading and viewing. Our study of Titus 1:15 has also taught us two very important principles to be used in proper biblical interpretation. One principle is that individual verses in the Bible must always be interpreted in light of the historical context in which they were written and in reference to the literary context of the surrounding verses. The other principle is that the interpretation of any individual verse of Scripture will not contradict the rest of Scripture because Scripture must interpret Scripture.