Chaos in Crete

Robert Wurtz II

One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. (Titus 1:12–16 ESV)

Whether it be Jewish myths or individuals own personal convictions, the Cretans were always practicing and teaching things that turned believers away from the truth. Undoubtedly, many of these myths and convictions made sense to people. That’s why they practiced them. The trouble arose when these things turned people away from the truth and will of God. 

Paul quotes one of the most shocking generalizations in print when he writes, “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’” This quote comes from a Cretan poet Epimenides and has come to be known as the Epimenides paradox. Was Epimenides lying when he made this statement (since he was a Cretan, too)? Paul says, No. This testimony is true. They are always liars, evil wild animals, and idle gluttons. This is quite a description of some very difficult people. 

Because they are frequently idle they have a lot of time on their hands to dream up all kinds of problems and solutions. An idle person is often a paranoid person. They worry about things that people who work “9-5” never think about. Their thoughts become dominated by impurity (or behavior related to impurity) until their mind and conscience become defiled. Pretty soon they don’t trust anyone. They obsess about imaginary problems until everything and everyone around them is affected. They put the worst possible construction on things and people — even if they have to twist the truth. What happens? They make excuses as to why the work should not be done. Like the widows in 1 Timothy, They learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.” (1 Timothy 5:13 ESV)

Some of the Cretan types are such good liars that they had nearly everyone around them duped. Paul addressed a group who feigned expertise by focusing on Jewish myths. People have always been vulnerable to novel teachings or historical information that rarely gets taught or preached on. These are the type of people who if you pulled out a Jewish prayer shawl (tallit) or phylacteries (tefillin) during a sermon, the listeners would consider you an expert and hang on your every word. Sad but true. Not that these things are bad, but they are too often used to feign expertise. This is the type of thing that the Cretans apparently did.

Paul’s remedy was strong, rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith. Our Greek word for sharply is apotomos and it means severely. Not to destroy the person, but to correct them for edification. A simple slap on the wrist will not faze these people. Their lying, evil, gluttony, and laziness must be dealt with sharply that they may be sound in the faith. 

Moreover, we have a more shocking revelation when we read, They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. Their words and their actions do not match. I’m reminded of the passage, “They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham.”

(John 8:39 NKJV) This is the key thing. Everything produces after its own kind. A child of God will emulate the personality of God — just like children of Abraham should have emulated him. In other words, they would have believed God. Being liars, they deceive themselves into believing that if they say something often enough and to the right people, then it will somehow become true. Not so. 

So we have people who profess to know God, but in works they deny him. Just like a person who claims to be a Christian and will not provide for his own family — these people were denying the faith by the sins of omission and commission. In fact, Paul pours on even more disturbing facts when he continues, “They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.” These people were apparently operating in the church! The final phrase “unfit for any good work” is from the Greek word adokimos and is generally translated as reprobate. These people professed to know God but were in a state of present reprobation. At the very least they were unfit for the ministry. 

Again, Paul writes to Titus that he is to confront these type of people and challenge their sinful habits. The first thing they probably should do is get a job or find some way to stay busy. A person may work at home. Very well. Are you busy being productive? People who are idle have too much time on their hands and they end up doing evil. For Crete, we might say that while the rest of the church was working 9-5 they were destroying it from within. All of their labors were destructive. Think about that. God called them “detestable and disobedient.” While they were professing God — this was His estimate of them. Detestable is a Greek word that is translated in the Greek Old Testament (LXX) as an abomination. That is a very severe estimation. We do well to confront this behavior even as Paul has commanded us. 

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