How the “elders” of Crete 𝘥𝘪𝘥 behave.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 July

Titus 1.10-16.

Epimenides of Cnossos was a shepherd, living on Crete. He claimed one day he wandered into a cave that had been dedicated to Zeus, took a nap, and woke up 57 years later with the gift of prophecy. Meh; I figure he was just an old guy who decided to finally publish his youthful poetry. Next to none of it has survived to our present day, but in Paul and Titus’s time it was pretty famous. Paul even quotes a line from his ode to Zeus, called the Cretica:

…having built you [Zeus] a tomb, holy one, great one.
Cretans always lie, the evil beasts. Lazy stomachs.
But you aren’t dead! For you live, and live forever!
For in you we live, move, and have our being.

Yep, Paul also quoted it in Acts 17.28. Epimenides meant Zeus, but Paul repurposed it to mean the LORD. It more accurately describes the LORD anyway.

I don’t know whether the Cretica prejudiced Paul against the people of Crete when he finally met them in person. Acts doesn’t tell of him spending a lot of time there; at most a week, ’cause his ship was anchored there due to foul weather. Ac 27.7-13 Maybe he visited again at another time. In any case he encountered many people among the Christians who were just awful, and the very last thing he wanted Titus to do was put such people in positions of authority. It’d ruin the church.

Titus 1.10-16 KWL
10 For many people do refuse to submit to others.
They’re all talk, and misleading.
Particularly those of the circumcision faction.
11 It’s necessary to muzzle them—
whatever teachings knock down whole houses,
which they ought not teach,
but do to gain an immoral advantage.
12 A certain one of their own—a prophet!—says,
“Cretans always lie, the evil beasts. Lazy stomachs.”
13 This witness is true.
For this reason rebuke them quickly,
so they might have a healthy faith,
14 paying no attention to Jewish myths,
and human commands which turn away from truth.
15 Everything is ritually clean to clean people.
To contaminated people, and unbelievers,
nothing is clean—
instead it contaminated them, the mind, and the conscience.
16 They claim they know God,
and their works deny it—
being disgusting and disobedient,
and worthless in every good work.

Don’t mince words Paul; how d’you really feel about Cretans?

The circumcision faction.

Paul refers to τῆς περιτομῆς/tis peritomís, “the circumcision.” Some commentators are gonna claim this means, and only means, Jews. Of course I’m gonna disagree, ’cause all the first Christians were Jews, and not all of them behaved this way, Paul in particular. What this refers to is the circumcision faction—those Christians who grew up Pharisee.

See, whenever Pharisees made converts, the very first thing they did to the men was circumcise ’em. That nasty foreskin had to go! And these Pharisees firmly believed Christian converts had to do the very same thing: If you’re converting from all your icky pagan gods to the One True God, you gotta follow his command to circumcise all your males. Right? It’s in the bible!

Genesis 17.10-14 KJV
10 This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. 11 And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. 12 And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. 13 He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.

I mean there’s way more in the bible about mandatory circumcision, than about men laying down with other men. It was a big, big deal to the Pharisee Christians, and Paul spent most of Galatians telling them their obsession with foreskins had made them lose their way and mangle the gospel. But these guys were everywhere. In Crete too.

And again: They weren’t necessarily Jews. Gentiles who’d fallen for the Pharisees’ arguments, and went through the pre-anesthetic process of having someone saw their foreskin off, had a lot invested in thinking this circumcision requirement was mandatory. They’d undergone it; you’re darn right they’d expect you to undergo it. Otherwise what was that all about? They went through all that agony for nothing? Hell no.

For these guys, Christianity was functionally Pharisaism plus Jesus. All the traditions of Pharisee rabbis, plus anything Jesus said to correct these guys… but since the rabbis had collectively accumulated way more teachings than Jesus, stands to reason Pharisee Christians spent way more time quoting their rabbis than our Lord. Including all the downright weird stuff the rabbis taught. All the fanfiction found in the pseudepigrapha about Adam’s first wife Lilith, or Enoch becoming an angel, or Noah keeping track of which jubilee they were in, or Ezra reconstructing the bible through heavenly dictation. And of course all the genealogies where Pharisees were trying to prove they had authority because they were descended from biblical celebrities. It got nuts.

And produced no fruit. What’s the point of any of this? To reveal the love of God, grow fruit of the Spirit, and do good works in love for our neighbors? Or a constant religious one-upsmanship, in which you show off how much arcane Pharisee trivia you know, and explain why you don’t have to follow Jesus’s commands because 60 years ago some obscure Pharisee rabbi came up with a really good loophole? To be fair, Christians today commit all the very same misbehaviors, and we certainly can’t blame Pharisaism for it; we invented all our very own Christianist rationales. But it just goes to show how times may change, but human nature doesn’t. If you really don’t care to follow Jesus, any excuse will do.

“Nothing is clean.”

When Paul tells Titus about teachings which “knock down whole houses,” Tt 1.11 I’m not entirely sure this is a metaphor. You realize there are commands in the bible about knocking down a house if you find some contaminant (probably toxic mold) in the walls.

Leviticus 14.43-45 KJV
43 And if the plague come again, and break out in the house, after that he hath taken away the stones, and after he hath scraped the house, and after it is plaistered; 44 then the priest shall come and look, and, behold, if the plague be spread in the house, it is a fretting leprosy in the house: it is unclean. 45 And he shall break down the house, the stones of it, and the timber thereof, and all the morter of the house; and he shall carry them forth out of the city into an unclean place.

I wouldn’t at all be surprised if certain Pharisees were finding various oddly-colored spots in Cretan houses. Islands have a really different climate than Israel, so any number of things could’ve been growing there… but an ignorant Israeli would’ve told them, “Oh no; this should not be growing here; this house needs to come down. It’s in the bible. And I’m a Levite, so I count as a priest, so you have to obey me.” Yeah, I might be wrong and Paul is speaking metaphorically, but like I said, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he wasn’t. And rebuilding your house, same as now, isn’t cheap!

But all these rules and commands—and no grace—were about gaining “an immoral advantage” over one another. Tt 1.11 It’s about spiritual authorities showing off how mighty they are; how much they can get other Christians to obey them. How high they can make ’em jump. It’s evil, and needs to be quickly rebuked. Tt 1.13 Some translations like the KJV say sharply rebuked, which is a literal interpretation of ἀποτόμως/apotómos, “like a cut,” but in the days before stainless steel blades, when knives weren’t all that sharp, you cut things quickly—and quickness is the vital idea in the word. Not cutting. The cure to gracelessness is not more gracelessness.

Another fixation you’ll find among Pharisees is ritual cleanliness, which the bible only mandates for temple worship, but Pharisees insisted you had to be ritually clean for synagogue worship as well. Thing is, because Christians are the temple of the Holy Spirit, technically we’re always ritually clean. So those cleanliness rules? Not mandatory. (Not that this means you should ever stop bathing or washing your hands! But not for religious reasons.)

Because Pharisees wanted to always be ready for worship, they bathed a lot. Because anything and everything might make you unclean. If a ritually unclean person touched something—say, a gentile who didn’t care about their cleanliness rules—it was unclean, and touching it made you unclean. Pretty much nothing was clean! But like Paul told Titus, this attitude says way more about the person who has it. It reveals an uneasiness and fear about the world—and about the power of a God who made this scary, scary world. Either he has no actual power to combat evil, or he wants things to be evil, just to keep us on our toes. In other words, either he’s weak and ineffective… or actually kinda evil.

Hence these guys “claim they know God, and their works deny it.” Tt 1.16 Bad fruit corrupts any good works we might do, and makes ’em nothing. 1Co 13.1-3

We Christians still have to quickly reject such teachings, lest they keep spreading. They’re still everywhere.