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Titus 1:12 Even one of their own prophets has said, "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons." 13 This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith

How should I understand this verse?

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The notion of "racism" in the modern sense is completely anachronistic here, modern racism dates to the colonial days, past 1492. Roman hierarchies were based on class, and did not have a racial component, the empire included plenty of diversity: Semitic, Southern European, and North African folks, all equal. The barbarians were the Northern Europeans, who resisted occupation, and perhaps some Asians, but I don't see any ancient racism (I might be wrong). This stuff should be called cultural ethnic stereotyping within the accepted races. Not justifying the sentiment, but the title is wrong. –  Ron Maimon Sep 5 '12 at 6:10

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Good question. As fresh as the pop of a new bag of chips.

If we looked at only Titus 1:2, certainly Paul would be seen as a racist according to our modern definition. Admittedly though, our modern view pretty well calls anyone living before the 1900s as a racist, but for now let’s just accept our modern notion as the best to use. Under this notion, if Paul was not a racists or anti-Semitic for comments like these and others, and Jesus was not a racist for keeping most of his healings and teaching among only the Jews to which he was called to, then at least, at a minimum, Paul was still. ‘racial profiling’, using our modern term.

The problem with this observation is that just as we might become tempted with accusing Paul of some kind of even mild form of racism, the rest of scripture and the facts of history, pull as quickly back into the reverse direction like a large elastic band. The argument against Paul (and indeed against the writings of all theologians before the 1900s) quickly weakens into fragility, since Paul, in our modern superficial terms, was a kind of leader of the anti-racists religious movement of his times. The fact that Paul, as specifically called to preach to Gentiles, with the message that foreigners were no longer to be excluded from Israel’s true religion, and that Christ had broken down the wall of hostility by his death, was the opposite of the racism which was deeply imbedded into that society (Eph 2:14). The Jews at that time were especially disgusted with ‘all things Gentile’ and needed to wash themselves to clean away the impurity of even the most harmless possible contact with the heathen. For example, Alfred Ederseim the Jewish historian, in recounting the eighteen agreed ‘tradition of the Elders’ recently made between the competing schools of Hillel and Shammai just before the time of Christ, essentially was followed by ‘a period of developing traditionalism, and hatred of all that was Gentile.’ In summary about ‘washing’ away the filth of the Gentile, Edersheim says:

those eighteen decrees, intended to separate the Jew from all contact with Gentiles. Any contact with a heathen, even the touch of his dress, might involve such defilement, that on coming from the market the orthodox Jew would have to immerse. ('The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah', by Alfred Edersheim, Page 630)

From a man raised in that atmosphere, to give his life up for filthy and unclean Gentiles, is a remarkable testament to how the gospel dispels all forms of ‘–isms.’ Of course this should not by any means imply that the racism and hatred of the Gentiles against the Jews, was not ten times worse!

The truth is, Paul’s sacrifice of his life for spreading the gospel to foreigners, while speaking equally ‘bad’ about his own race, clears him of any charge of true racism. In the end Paul groups all races, classes, and sexes together on equal grounds:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (NIV Galatians 3:28)

As far as understanding the verse Paul is just quoting a famous Cretan to point out an obvious national quality of the those living on the island of Crete. He did so to bring light onto the nature of some of those Cretans who were 'disrupting whole households'. Everyone probably knew that these people were 'generally this way'. This reference to the Cretans seems to indicate not just Greeks but Jews living on the island also, as he says 'especially those of the circumcision group' in verse 10. He probably quotes a Cretan as a more polite way of drawing attention to their well known regional sins, then just saying it himself. I suppose this further clears him from racism.

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I usually wait for more answers. But I don't think it can get any better than this. Nice one. –  Monika Michael Aug 27 '12 at 15:47
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Mike, I appreciate your response I am having trouble connecting the dots within it. If I understand correctly, you start well with addressing contemporary culture, but then you talk about where Paul came from. I don't see the logical connection in your bold section - how his sacrifice clears him of accusations of racism. Then, finally, you briefly mention the Cretan poet. I was wondering if you could flesh out these logical connections, perhaps cutting some things that may be extraneous, and then focus a bit more on the poet, and the immediate context of the verse. –  swasheck Aug 28 '12 at 14:49

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