Titus 1 – Everyone Loves Epimenides, He Is a Terrific Liar

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Today’s PassageTitus 1

So here’s a letter from Paul to Titus. But who’s this guy? A search for his name throughout the entire Bible turns up some references from 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and even the final chapter of 2 Timothy, so he’s not a complete stranger to us, even if he’s a bit of a minor character in the New Testament. Whenever Paul mentions him, it’s in positive terms, comforting brethren, conducting himself respectfully and helpfully. Titus? Everyone loves Titus. He is an okay guy.

Titus, like Timothy, has worked closely with Paul and…ugh, am I going to have to use the phrase “done life together?” I guess so. They’ve done life together. Paul calls him “my true child in a common faith” (4). Paul may have remained single all his life, but he still had kids. Guys like Timothy and Titus were his spiritual progeny.

And as soon as he’s finished the standard greetings, Paul gets straight to business. He’s given Titus a task: “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you” (5). He details the qualifications for elders and overseers in a segment similar to 1 Timothy 3. However, rather than spend several paragraphs on the specifications, he quickly moves on to the reason for strict and careful selection of church leaders: “For there are many rebellious men…teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain” (10-11). People are looking for the prestige and benefit of high position without the discipline it takes to do the job well. They’re pursuing authority in order to be served, not to serve.

But then the letter gets a little weird. Quoting one of the better-known paradoxes of literature, Paul reports, “One of themselves, a [Cretan] prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons'” (12), then adds his own commentary, “This testimony is true” (13). The Cretan poet Epimenides originally asserted the fundamental unreliability of Cretans, and his line reminds me of Jack Sparrow’s quip in Pirates of the Caribbean: “Me, I’m dishonest, and a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest.” Of course, it’s not literally true that you can count on every word out of a Cretan’s mouth to be utterly false; the poet is indulging in hyperbole, and I think it’s with tongue in cheek that Paul gives his stamp of approval to the line. But it’s still a weird moment.

And then there’s purity and defilement. The Torah is very much concerned with the practice of purity, and Paul notes that many of the unruly men causing trouble in the church are “of the circumcision” (10), overzealous Jews. He discourages “paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men” (14), then opens a discussion of contamination with the line “To the pure, all things are pure” (15). And what does he mean by that? When it’s evident that not all things are pure, that there are all sorts of things you can do in this world to drag your moral integrity through the mud, I’m hard-pressed to put a finger on what he means. The best I can manage is to suppose that by “things,” he means actual tangible things: food, drink, physical objects. A Greek man needn’t worry that his foreskin separates him from God. His purity comes from having been cleansed and forgiven by Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, and thus the material world in itself is clean to him.

Still, though. Kinda weird.

 

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