A Commentary by John Stott
Titus: 1: 12-14a. c). Their character.
This mention of ‘sordid gain’ (REB) leads Paul to enlarge on their character, or rather to draw attention to their reputation: *Even one of their own prophets has said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons’* (12). Church fathers like Clement of Alexandria, Jerome, Chrysostom and Augustine all identified the author of this saying as the sixth-century BC Cretan teacher, Epimenides of Knossos, who was held in high honour by his compatriots as both a prophet and a miracle-worker. His threefold estimate of the Cretan character was decidedly unflattering, but there seems to have been some confirmation of it. As for their name for mendacity, the Greeks coined both the verb *kretizo* for to ‘lie’ or ‘cheat’, and the noun *kretismos* for a falsehood. As for being *evil beasts* or ‘dangerous animals’ (JB), Epimenides himself went further and joked that the absence of wild beasts on the island was supplied by its human inhabitants. As for *lazy gluttons*, combining greed and sloth, their avarice was proverbial, so that Polybius could say: ‘Greed and avarice are so native to the soil in Crete, that they are the only people in the world among whom no stigma attaches to any sort of gain whatever’. Simpsom thinks that Paul was writing ‘with a twinkle in his eye’ because he had the Cretans ‘on the horns of a dilemma’. If they endorsed their prophet’s statement, they condemned themselves; if they repudiated it, they made him the liar he said they were!
*This testimony is true*, Paul added (13a), thus acknowledging that ‘all truth is of God’, whatever its source. But did Paul really accept this generalization about the Cretans character? The Christian conscience is very uncomfortable with ethnic stereotypes of this kind. We need, then, to remind ourselves that Paul believed in the power of the gospel to change people (Cf.Rom.1:16; 1 Cor.6:11); that some Cretans received the transforming Holy Spirit in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:11); and that the elders Titus was to appoint (5-9) were themselves Cretans, who were certainly not liars, but teachers of the truth. It seems then that Paul was applying Epimenides’ dictum to the false teachers, and their dupes, not to all Cretans indiscriminately.
Titus’ responsibility *vis-a-vis* these errorists was to *rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in faith (13b) and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth* (14). We note the positive purpose of all truly Christian rebuke. Paul’s aim was not to humiliate the Cretans for being gullible, but to rescue them from error in order to establish them in the truth.
|Tomorrow: Titus 1: 14b-16. d). Their errors.|
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Titus. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.