For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
(Titus 2:11-15 ESV)
Titus 2:11 is one of those verses where how we translate it makes all the difference in the world in terms of how we believe about certain things. Those of you who have no interest in language and shades of meaning will be bored to death in the next few moments, but hang in there. Here are the component parts of the sentence:
Grace is the Greek word “charis,” which literally means “that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness: grace of speech.” Most Christians today were taught a very narrow view that “grace” means merely “unmerited favor,” and has to do with salvation exclusively. But it seems clear, when taken in context, that narrow view is not Paul’s intent.
Bringing salvation. The word is “soterios,” which always means only one thing: salvation of the soul. However, this verse is an example of only 5 times in the Bible where the (feminine) noun appears in the neutral form as an adjective. The strong implication is that the appearance of salvation refers more to the Savior than to salvation in general.
Appeared. This is the fun word in the sentence. It is the world “ephiphaino,” meaning “to show to or shed light on,” literally, “to make visible.” When everything becomes clear to you, you say you’ve just had an epiphany. That is this Greek word.
All men. Here are two dicey little words which determine the precise meaning of the whole passage. In Greek, “panta anthropois,” meaning “all people” (as opposed to males only). In fact, the phrase never means males only.
How we put these words together can mean totally different things. One set of translators favors this reading, as exemplified by the English Standard Version: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.” The clear implication is toward a universalist view: Joy, sweetness, pleasure are found in the person of Jesus, the Savior, because he saved all humankind (ie: no one goes to Hell, regardless of their deeds or beliefs).
The other view is best seen in Young’s Literal Translation, “For the saving grace of God was manifested to all men.” Here, the “epiphany” is available to all. Jesus has been plainly seen by all humankind, but there is no implication that all people have apprehended what was seen. This places the Incarnation squarely before us, as obviously as the Babe in the manger, and yet it doesn’t make any judgment as to whether any or all of us understands what we’ve just seen. Noah Webster’s Bible of 1833 (yeah, the dictionary guy) goes just a little further with this thought, “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men.”
Are you still awake? If you are, then you’re probably asking, “Then how DO we decide how to translate this passage?” The answer is that we always look at Jesus and begin there. Did he teach a doctrine of universal salvation?
Jesus said, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:41-43 ESV) Luke 16:19-31 has Jesus telling us the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus, in which the Rich Man has wound up in the burning fire of torment. And, just to give a positive spin, in Matthew 11:28, Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Clearly, Jesus meant us to understand that it is only in coming to him that salvation and rest for the soul are to be found. And yes, there is a place of eternal torment, whatever that means. And no, not all will receive the gift of grace. So we’re going to have to favor Young’s Literal Translation here: “For the saving grace of God was manifested to all men.” Though I’d love to hear from any of you Greek scholars out there who think this kind of exeget… (yawn…) …ical work makes a great devotional time with the Lord.