Epimenides was a classical philosopher and poet from Crete. He wrote once that “all Cretans are liars,” a line that Paul quotes in Titus 1:12. The paradox is that Epimenides himself was a Cretan. If all Cretans are liars, then Epimenides is also a liar. If Epiminedes is a liar, then the statement that “all Cretans are liars” must be a lie, which would mean all Cretans tell the truth, which means Epimenides tells the truth, which means the statement “all Cretans are liars” is both true and false.
The “Epimenides Paradox” has become the basis for a whole series of logical puzzles called “liars’ paradoxes.” It’s a fun little game to play with pure logic, and several people have come up with logical solutions for the paradox, but it has little to do with the intent either Epimenides or Paul had when making the original statement.
When Epimenides wrote “all Cretans are liars,” he was using a literary technique called hyperbole, or over-exaggeration, in order to make a point about Cretan society. He was saying Cretan society is characteristically dishonest. It would be like a Chinese writer saying “the Chinese are atheists.” Obviously not all Chinese people throughout the world are atheists, but, generally speaking, modern Chinese society promotes atheism.
Paul was a highly educated man. He was trained as a Pharisee and knew the Jewish Scriptures and history, and he was also apparently trained in Greek philosophy and thought. In his epistle to Titus, Paul writes, “One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: ‘Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons’” (Titus 1:12). Here, Paul quotes Epimenides. He is not trying to point out a paradox. He is affirming the same point about Cretan society that Epimenides made, namely, there are certain sins that Cretans must learn to overcome.
Paul continued by saying, “This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth” (Titus 1:13–14). The citizens of Crete were known for lying, evil actions and laziness. Paul said believers in Crete were to live according to godly principles that included avoiding mythology and human traditions that denied the teachings of Christ.
The next chapter of Titus continues with instructions regarding various groups of people in the church at Crete. Paul addresses older men (Titus 2:2), older and younger women (verses 3–5), younger men (verses 6–8), and even slaves who were Christians (verses 9–10). Titus was commanded, “These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you” (Titus 2:15). Titus lived amid liars, in a place where falsehood was woven into the fabric of society. He was to fight against those lies and instruct the believers in Crete according to God’s truth.