Monday, November 5, 2007

St. Paul and the lying Cretan

I couldn't leave this subject until I pointed out one interesting fact. The Liar's Paradox (Epimenides the Cretan says, "All Cretans are liars") is a very ancient paradox. Epimenides himself lived in the 6th Century BCE, although whether or not he actually said the sentence is, of course, unknown. In any case the phrase was famous enough that St. Paul knew about it, and wrote about it in one of his letters that made it into the New Testament.

In the Book of Titus, Paul writes a letter to his fellow missionary, TItus, who is working to strengthen Christian congregations that Paul and Titus had recently established on the island of Crete. In Chapter One, verse 5, Paul writes to Titus, "I left you behind in Crete for this reason, that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you." Paul then describes the attributes of a qualified elder, and then warns Titus against the people on the island who would not make good leaders of the church saying that there are many of them and that, after all (in verse 12) "It was one of them, their very own prophet, who said, ‘Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons.’"

Paul seems to take Epimenides' quote at face value, and fails to see the paradox in a man calling himself a liar. On the other hand, Paul does assume that there are many honest people available in Crete who would be good church leaders, so perhaps Paul is following the same logic I did. Cretans, like every other race of people, can be liars or honest. Epimenides happened to be one of the lying Cretans. Titus should do his work carefully and find an honest one.

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