Q&A: Epimenides' Paradox - Titus 1:12-13

Epimenides' Paradox - Titus 1:12-13


Did Paul commit a logical fallacy by his statement in Titus 1:12-13?


Titus 1:12-13 One of Crete's own prophets has said it: "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons." This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith.

In Titus 1:12-13 Paul appears to violate the law of non-contradiction. This law basically states that a statement cannot be true and false at the same time. Did Paul violate this law by quoting a saying that says: (1) all Cretans are always liars but (2) this Cretan is telling the truth? If someone is always lying how could he could ever tell the truth?

Scripture is true!

First, this is Scripture and does not contradict the truth as it is the truth (Psa. 119:89; 142; 144; John 17:17; 2 Tim. 3:16). Paul was trained under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3; 5:34) and not only received training in the Jewish scriptures but also in classical Greek literature. Paul even refers to some of it in Scripture (Acts 17:22-34, 28; 1 Cor. 15:33). While all Greek literature is certainly not true, in the context Paul used it, it was. So, Paul understood what he was saying, and the Holy Spirit would not have allowed him to contradict himself.

Second, when we study Scripture, it is important to figure out what the original audience would have understood. Titus would have known that Epimenides was a poet and that it was common for poets (and others) to use different literary techniques. The Bible contains a variety of literary genres (history, narrative, law, poetry, wisdom, parable, prophecy, apocalyptic). To understand something in context, the genre must be properly identified. A parable should not be treated as history, nor should poetry be treated as apocalyptic literature.

So, what is the genre of our text?

The genre employed in our text is hyperbole. Hyperbole is simply a deliberate exaggeration to make a specific point.

Other Examples of Hyperbole:

"...each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss" (Judg. 20:16), meaning they were very accurate.

"If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away... And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away" Matt. 5:29-30). Jesus is not advocating self-mutilation. It is not the eyes or hands that cause lust, but the heart and mind. The meaning here is that one must not only avoid the act of adultery (hand), but also those things that would lead to a lustful attitude (eye).

"You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel" (Matt. 23:24). Meaning? Some pay close attention to little things but neglect the important things.

"Look how the whole world has gone after him!" (John 12:19. This didn't mean literally that the whole world at that time followed Christ, but that very large crowds in Israel did. (See Is Strong's Concordance a good Bible dictionary?)

So, what was Paul's point(s)?

To cretanize was to lie proverbially. Paul was saying to Titus that the Cretan society as a whole was known as "liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons," but not necessarily that every single individual in that society ALWAYS lied. Paul had previously qualified the context by saying, "For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers ... [who] must be silenced (vv.10-11). Note that Paul refers to "many," not "each and every." Then he goes on to say that Cretans even agree using hyperbolic exaggeration: "One of Crete's own prophets has said it: 'Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons' ... "Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith" (vv. 12-13). He says these "many" must be silenced as they are "detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good" (vs. 16).

We see an antidote working throughout the letter. Rather than being liars, the Cretans should be godly (Tit. 1:2; cf. Num. 23:19); rather than being evil brutes, they should be upright (2:7; 14; 3:1-2, 8, 14); and rather than being lazy gluttons,they should be self-controlled (Tit. 1:8; 2:2, 5, 6, 12).

There are no logical fallacies found in Titus - or any other place in Scripture.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).