Last Monday we examined a quotation that the apostle Paul got from Epimenides, a poet from Crete. Epimenides didn’t exactly flatter the people of Crete in his words, as you’ll probably recall. Today, I’d like us to look at Paul’s reasons for quoting such a harsh indictment against the very people he wanted Titus to reach with the Gospel.
This explanation comes out of verses 13 and 14 of Titus 1, which I’ll quote in context.
10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 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. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. ~~Titus 1:10-16 (ESV)
Paul uses Epimenides’ condemnation of the Cretans to demonstrate the degenerate condition of the false teachers who had infiltrated the churches of Crete. But simply applying the invective to these teachers did little to instruct Titus in dealing with them. Therefore Paul elaborates on the saying.
Notice, as verse 13 opens, that Paul affirms the saying of Epimenides regarding the character of the Cretans. He wants Titus to appoint godly elders precisely because the Cretans exhibited such a corrupt character.
The false teachers among the Cretans were so invested in their sinful lifestyles that only sharp rebuke would penetrate their consciences. The Greek word here rendered “sharply” denotes severity, as if cutting them off. In other words, Paul did not want Titus to tolerate any part of their deviations from the truth.
Verse 13 goes on to reveal that Paul’s goal in sharply rebuking the Cretans was to restore them to sound faith. Barnes says, “That they may not allow the prevailing vices to corrupt their views of religion.”Believers Bible Commentary points out that rebuking the Cretans meant that there was actually hope for their repentance. What an encouraging thought!
But even if the false teachers themselves resisted correction, rebuking them would have an impact on the other Christians in Crete. I think of similar instructions Paul issued to Timothy as Timothy established the church at Ephesus:
As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. ~~1 Timothy 5:20 (ESV)
Verse 14 continues Paul’s thought by showing exactly how Titus should rebuke the false teachers. His mention of Jewish myths brings us back to verse 10, where Paul alludes to “those of the circumcision party.” Paul had no patience for false teachers who tried to make salvation contingent on human performance.
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown take the view that the Jewish myths, while at this point were merely diversions that didn’t advance godliness, opened the door to Gnosticism. The Judaizers in Crete evidently imposed religious rituals to augment Christ’s work on the cross, suggesting that it wasn’t sufficient. Colossians 2:23 cautions against turning to man-made rules and regulations that merely give an appearance of spirituality.
The Judaizers, by encouraging the Gentile Christians to observe Jewish customs, actually turned them away from the Gospel truth that Jesus met the demands of the Law through His death on the cross. Paul, as an apostle to the Gentiles, saw that such teachings would divert people from trusting Christ alone for salvation, thus nullifying the entire message of the Gospel.
At the same time, Paul appreciated true holiness. In denouncing the works based righteousness of the Judaizers, he in no way intended to support the self-indulgence of the Cretans in general. Paul wanted to see Titus lead the churches of Crete into true holiness, as we’ll see in coming weeks.