by J. Randal Matheny, editor
Before modern scientific man began his studies of sociology and anthropology, observers had already noted specific characteristics of different people groups.
One of the famous ancient poets wrote about his own people. Twice quoted in the New Testament, Epimenides spoke harshly of his own Cretan people. As the erudite Paul seeks to encourage Titus to point Christians and congregations to right living and engagement in God’s mission, he quotes Epimenides, which the ISV puts into verse:
“Liars ever, men of Crete,
savage brutes that live to eat.”
As creative as the translation may be, it doesn’t quite seem to pick up on the adjective “lazy:”
“Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (NET).
This detail about idleness would appear to be important, given Paul’s emphasis in this letter on the need to be involved in good works.
Paul opens his letter speaking of faith and knowledge of the truth, “which accords with godliness” (ESV) or, as the NIV puts it, “that leads to godliness.” Godliness here (eusebeia) refers to piety, religious devotion, the “fulfillment of obligations and resultant acceptability to God” (Richards 315). An important component of piety, is “upright action” (Fiore 196), or as Louw and Nida’s lexicon describes it, “behavior reflecting correct religious beliefs and attitudes.”
Fiore says of the Cretan character, “This brutishness of thought and action threaten to undermine true piety and religion” (205), thus connecting verses 1 and 12.
It may be that piety in 1:1 and the good works in 3:14 form something of a frame (inclusio) for the book. If so, it points up that a major theme of the letter is for the Cretans to quit being couch potatoes and start carrying their share of the load.
In the context of 3:14, Paul has instructed Titus “to make sure [Zenas and Apollos] have what they need” as they carry out their tasks in the gospel mission. Perhaps with their needs in mind, he broadens the appeal in his final exhortation: “Here is another way that our people can learn to engage in good works to meet pressing needs and so not be unfruitful” (NET).
With so many needs for God’s mission, the gospel forbids idleness, laziness and passivity. With faith and knowledge of the gospel as a base, Christians must fulfill their spiritual obligations and rally to the cause of the kingdom.
The letter to Titus, then, challenges the something-for-nothing, loyalty-to-the-highest-bidder culture in which Paul’s co-laborer worked. It reminded him that the faith is at cross-purposes with the reining cultural values.
Paul’s letter still needs to be heard today.
Next: Paul’s language of piety and good works in his letter to Titus.
Fiore, Benjamin. The Pastoral Epistles: First Timothy, Second Timothy, Titus. Liturgical Press, 2007.
Richards, Lawrence O. Expository Dictionary of Bible Words. Zondervan, 1985.
by J. Randal Matheny, editor