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?
How should I understand this verse?
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:
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:
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.
Actually, it shows that Paul was very good at logic.
Anthony Thiselton tackles this question in his article "The Logical Role of the Liar Paradox in Titus 1:12,13: A Dissent From the Commentaries in the Light of Philosophical and Logical Analysis", Biblical Interpretation 2.2 (1994): 207–223.
Thiselton acknowledges that the commentaries uniformly take this statement at face value, much as the form of OP's question implies: "to describe a state of affairs about the character of Cretans" (p. 208). Thiselton argues positively that:
Thiselton argues that the writer deliberately introduces the paradox -- placing the claim about lying Cretans on the lips of a Cretan -- to serve the ends of the context, viz. that a renewed lifestyle brings truthful speech in "Christian communication", and that "idle talkers" are to be avoided.
(Both block quotes from published abstract.) Thiselton offers a comprehensive survey of the commentaries, a deep engagement with classical soures on the "logical paradox", and offers an account of how the "mistaken" reading arose (via clumsy patristic commentary). He even suggests that the brief, "This testimony is true" (v. 13) shows signs of a sense of humour -- or at least self-concious irony.
The writer (Thiselton does not refer to the author of Titus as "Paul" in this article) is thus to be absolved of crass tactlessness and/or dim-witted foolishness. There is here, rather, a deft and deliberate commendation to the church leaders addressed in their pastoral context.
Actually it shows that Paul was not very good at logic.
Paul is referring to a particular quasi-historical Cretan and a poem he once wrote to illustrate a logical fallacy.
If the sentence is false, it is not-false, and therefore true. If it is true, then it is therefore false and ... you get the picture.
Paul seems to have completely missed the point. If Epimenides says Cretans always lie, and Epimenides is to be taken at his word (as Paul suggests), then obviously that statement is itself a lie, and Cretans do not always lie.