CAN YOU EXPLAIN TITUS 1:12?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Could you explain Titus 1:12? “One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, the Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.” Friend, it would be a pleasure!
An island in the Mediterranean Sea, Crete lies south of the Aegean Sea and southwest of Turkey. The Apostle Paul visited it briefly in Acts 27:7-12, en route to Rome. He also evidently stayed there temporarily after the Book of Acts ended, as Titus 1:5 indicates: “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee….” He left Titus, a young preacher (likely older than Timothy), to continue the grace ministry on the island. Now, some time has passed, and Paul writes to Titus to instruct him further. As with every local assembly even today, there are problems among the Christians of Crete. To some extent, they are believing and teaching false doctrine. Moreover, there is widespread misbehavior. With background established, we proceed to expounding the verse.
EPIMENIDES, THE “PROPHET” OF CRETE
When Paul refers to “one of themselves, even a prophet of their own,” he is not talking about an Old Testament prophet or even a New Testament prophet. Epimenides was a pagan Greek poet and philosopher who lived in the sixth century B.C. He himself was from Crete—the city of Knossos, to be exact. The Greeks held him in high regard.
Epimenides, in his work “Cretica” (second line), wrote of the Cretians’ lifestyle back during the time before the Gospel of Grace had even gone to these Gentiles. Several hundred years later, the Cretians still have a reputation for gross misconduct. Epimenides’ words are now proverbial, a common saying. The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul, in the A.D. first century, declares it to be substantiated! It is not a baseless charge, mere gossip, a false accusation. No, the news of the Cretians is true… 500 years after Epimenides first commented on it! Moreover, it describes some Christians living on Crete, those who have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ! Hence, Paul orders Titus to sternly fuss or scold them: “One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, the Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith;….” Read all the Book of Titus.
“THE CRETIANS ARE ALWAY LIARS”
This is not “always” (eternally, without end) but “alway” (all the way, completely, entirely). Epimenides, in his writing, accused the Cretians of repeating what he thought was a lie—the Greek king of the gods, Zeus, was dead and buried on Crete. The philosopher was outraged, since he considered Zeus immortal! Paul’s argument does not so much concern this “lie” per se, but simply highlights one of the Cretians identified them as being dishonest. The Holy Spirit through Paul agrees they are deceitful about various issues… including false teaching and false teachers (see verses 9-16)!
“THE CRETIANS ARE… EVIL BEASTS”
“Evil” is self-explanatory. Obviously, “beasts” is to be understood as “bestial, savage, wild, ferocious, cruel, brute.” These are not literal animals but rather people who behave like animals. Scripture repeatedly uses this term for the Antichrist (Revelation 11:7; Revelation 13:1-4,12,14-15,17-18; Revelation 14:9,11; Revelation 15:2; Revelation 16:2,10,13; Revelation 17:3,7-8,11-13,16,17; Revelation 19:19-20; Revelation 20:4,10).
“THE CRETIANS ARE… SLOW BELLIES”
“Slow”—elsewhere translated in the King James Bible as “idle” (Matthew 12:36; Matthew 20:3,6; 1 Timothy 5:13) and “barren” (2 Peter 1:8) in the King James Bible—is defined as “sluggish to move or work.” They habitually sit or lie around. To wit, they are lazy.
If someone is intelligent, we say he or she is a “brain.” It is as if the person’s body consists of nothing but a brain. Similarly, when the Cretians are called “bellies,” it is like their whole body is a stomach! Gluttony, overindulgence with food, has consumed them. Greediness is their reputation. Overall, they lounge about and eat everything they can!
SUPPLEMENTAL: ACTS 17 AND EPIMENIDES
When preaching God’s Word to the ignorant, pagan, idolatrous philosophers of Athens in Acts chapter 17 (verses 16-34), the Apostle Paul said, in part: “ That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:  For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.”
“For in him we live, and move, and have our being” is actually another quote from Epimenides (“Cretica,” same work alluded to Titus 1:12, but this is from the fourth line whereas Titus quotes the second line). Evidently, Paul was conversant in Epimenides’ writings. It is okay for us to read non-biblical books—provided the King James Bible is our final authority. Paul wisely appealed to something with which the pagans of Athens were familiar and accepted. As for the phrase, “For we are also his offspring,” he took that from the Cilician Stoic philosopher Aratus (315–245 B.C.), his poem on astronomy titled “Phaenomena.” Likewise, we should read and familiarize ourselves with pertinent literature when dealing with people from world religions, denominations, cults, sects, and so on. “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him” (Proverbs 18:13).