The declaration “all Cretans are liars” is found in Titus 1:12. Crete is an island in the Mediterranean where Paul had preached and where many were converted to Christianity. In his letter to Titus, the apostle Paul told him that the reason he left him in Crete was to “straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1:5). New churches were being formed, and the appointment of godly leaders to oversee them was a priority for Paul.
Beginning in Titus 1:6, Paul details for Titus the qualifications for elders, one of which is the ability to “encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (verse 9). He goes on to say that in Crete there were many rebellious people and deceivers who must be silenced as they were teaching falsehood for financial gain (verses 10–11). At that point, Paul quotes a famous Cretan who wrote, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons” (verse 12). That writer was Epimenides of Gnossus, a seventh-century BC poet, prophet, and native Cretan who characterized his own people as liars.
Epimenides wasn’t the only one to describe Cretans in this way. Other ancient writers and philosophers concurred, and Paul’s assessment serves to confirm the Cretans’ character to be generally evil. The Roman poet Ovid referred to Crete as mendax Creta, or “lying Crete.” The Greeks used the verb cretize as a synonym for lie. All people are guilty of lying at one time or another, but not all are habitual liars, as it seems the ancient Cretans were. Lying seems to have been a governing vice among them. They were not only guilty of it in certain specific instances, but always. They were, in the vernacular of psychologists, compulsive liars, those who lie even when there is no external motive for the lie. Lying was their fallback behavior in all instances.
Lying is incompatible with a relationship with the God of Truth. This is why Paul tells Titus to “rebuke [the Cretans] sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13). No one whose life is characterized by lying can be grounded in the Christian faith or follow Jesus, who is Himself “the truth” (John 14:6). We worship God who “cannot lie” (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18). The Christian faith is built on the promises of a God whose promises are always fulfilled. He is a God of truth, and those who worship Him must worship in truth (John 4:24).
The Bible tells us that God hates lying (Proverbs 6:16–17), that liars will not escape punishment (Proverbs 19:5), and that their ultimate end is in the lake of fire (Revelation 21:8). Knowing this, Paul urged Titus to admonish the Cretans in the strictest way possible, in order to save their souls from hell.