Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ

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"He who tells a lie is not sensible of how great a task he undertakes; for he must be forced to invent twenty more to maintain that one."
—Alexander Pope


Paul's 'Politically Incorrect' Advice to Titus (Part One)

We all know that words can wound, but lately, we seem to have become too sensitive in this politically correct world of ours. For instance, a while back, The Global Language Monitor ( ran the following items:

  • The Professional Association of Teachers in the United Kingdom recently considered a proposal to replace any notion of failure with the phrase "deferred success" in order to bolster students' self-esteem. Should a student not pass a test, it would not be a failure, only "deferred success."
  • The Department of Parliamentary Services in Canberra, Australia, issued a general warning to its security staff banning the use of the word "mate" in dealings with both members of Parliament and the public. An Australian writer wondered what was next, "banning ‘no worries' so as not to offend the worried, or banning ‘Down Under' so as not to offend those of us who live in the ‘Up Over'?"

Many of us have heard of the participation trophies that are now issued in youth sports. These days, Most Valuable Player or Most Improved Player trophies are no longer awarded, since that would mean that others were not Most Valuable or Most Improved. Now everyone just receives a "Participation Trophy." Isn't that special?

It is not only the youth we do not want to offend. Back in 2005, when terrorists bombed the London subway, the BBC used the term "misguided criminals" when referring to the terrorists. How sad it is when we bend over backwards to make sure we do not insult murderers!

Examples of stupidity like this abound. ("Stupid" is probably not a good word either. "Intellectually challenged" may be better.) In a misguided attempt not to offend anyone in any way, we end up in doublespeak or cloudy meanings. Ignorant becomes "factually unencumbered." Lazy is now "motivationally dispossessed." Gangs are now "youth groups." This one probably takes the cake: History is now "herstory," which attempts to take men out of history. Sadly, running a Google search for "herstory" returns nearly a half-million results! It is all so ludicrous because when Herodotus wrote The Histories in the fifth century BC, the word simply meant "an inquiry." It has never had anything to do with gender!

One day, pondering the silliness of all this, I happened to be reading the book of Titus. In this epistle, the apostle Paul uses some decidedly politically incorrect language. He had left Titus, a gentile convert, on the island of Crete to work with the churches there. We will pick up the story in Titus 1:5:

For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you. . . . For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain. One of them, a prophet of their own, said "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith. . . . (Titus 1:10-13)

Paul sure laid it on the line, did he not? Of course, we have to remember that this was a letter to an individual, Titus, meaning that this was private correspondence—but it could not have been all that private because it has survived almost 2,000 years! Yet, knowing what we do of the apostle Paul, it is doubtful that Paul would have pulled his punches much had he given this directly to the Cretans in a sermon. Perhaps he would have used more tact, but he would have certainly delivered his stinging message without apology. That is all political correctness should be: a sensitivity to people's feelings while not compromising one's beliefs. Paul is instructing Titus that the members of his congregation will be some tough folk to teach. To "set in order the things that are lacking," a certain amount of bluntness would be needed.

Paul commands in Titus 3:2 "to speak evil of no one," yet he says some seemingly harsh things about the Cretans. Is this a contradiction? How can we balance his words with this instruction? First, the Greek word translated as "evil" is blasphemeo (Strong's #987). Its relationship to the English "blaspheme" is easily seen, and that is indeed what it means, "to blaspheme," "to be profane, foul, abusive, and coarse." Was what Paul said any of these?

Second, it seems that the Cretans had quite a reputation as an immoral people. The "prophet" that Paul quotes in Titus 1:12 was Epimenides, a Cretan writer who died in 538 BC. In a poem of his, well known in the ancient world, he writes that his countrymen are "always liars, evil beasts and idle bellies [gluttons]." From this comes the Epimenides Paradox: Epimenides said that all Cretans were liars, and Epimenides was a Cretan. If all Cretans are liars, then is his statement true or false? An interesting exercise, to be sure. Nevertheless, in the ancient world, "to act like a Cretan" meant "to lie."

The Roman historian, Titus Livius (better known as Livy), speaks of Cretan "avarice." The Greek historian, Polybius, writes of their "ferocity and fraud" and "their mendacity"—which I would call second-century BC political correctness. "Ferocity and fraud" and "mendacity" simply means that Polybius thought that Cretans were fierce, lying cheats. Another Greek historian, Diodorus Siculus, writes that the Cretans tend to "riotous insubordination." In Halley's Bible Handbook, Henry Halley comments that they were "bold sailors and great bowmen with loose morals."

This is what Titus is up against and why Paul is so blunt in his assessment of the situation. Paul was not speaking evil of them; he was being truthful. He in no way blasphemed them. When he quotes the writings of Epimenides, calling the Cretans "lazy" and "liars," he could have softened his rhetoric to "motivationally dispossessed" and "accuracy challenged," but would that have served Titus as well? Or us?

Paul's instructions to Titus are still very relevant today. We have been called out of a world not unlike that of ancient Crete, and we are in daily contact with similar immoral and ungodly people whose actions and attitudes can infect us if we let down our guard. Following the same advice Paul gave Titus can help us maintain our vigilance and "set in order the things that are lacking."

Next time, we will look into the lists of instruction Paul left for the Cretan church and for those of us in God's church down through the ages.



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Further Reading

Next in this series

Paul's 'Politically Incorrect' Advice to Titus (Part Two)