(Titus 1:12) Is this a self-defeating statement?

CLAIM: Paul writes, “One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons’” (Titus 1:12). Muslim apologists argue that this is a self-defeating statement. If all Cretans are always liars, then Epimenides (a Cretan) would also be a liar.[1] But, if this is the case, then this statement is false. One Muslim apologist argues:

“One of the interesting things is that Paul quote the Epimenides’ Paradox, specifying that the speaker himself was a Cretan. ‘Cretans are always liars…’ he then says that the man himself spoke the truth. But when the statement is spoken by a Cretan it is definitely not true. If it was true then at least once, a Cretan was not a liar, in which case the statement is false. The conclusion is the denial of the assumption, so the statement is not true. The writer Paul at least on this occasion, was without Divine Guidance for he did not discern the subtlety.”[2]

Did Paul commit a logical fallacy here?

RESPONSE: Paul seems to be aware of this dilemma, because he quickly adds, “This testimony is true” in the very next verse (v.13). This breaks the dilemma, because we have Paul (who is not a liar) affirming truth from falsehood. The problem with liars is not that they always state false propositions. For instance, Satan is a liar and father of lies (Jn. 8:44). However, he is able to state truth on occasion, when it serves his purposes. The problem with liars is that they are untrustworthy in what they say –not necessarily untrue.

Consider an example. A cheating husband might tell his spouse that he had to stay late at the office to work on a project after hours. While this might be true, the wife would still be justified in calling him a “liar,” when she finds out that he was sleeping with his secretary after hours, too. In other words, not everything a liar says is false; it just isn’t ever trustworthy. In this passage, Paul solves this problem by claiming that Epimenides statement was true.

The purpose of this verse was to demonstrate to this church that even Cretans admit that they are despicable people. Hiebert writes, “So notorious was the Cretan reputation for falsehood that the Greek word krētizō (“to Crete-ize”) meant ‘to lie.’”[3] Epimenides was a poet, prophet, and religious reformer. Since even he said that Cretans were despicable, this backs up Paul’s point.

For comments on Paul quoting a Pagan prophet, see comments on Jude 9.

[1] Stott writes, “Church fathers like Clement of Alexandria, Jerome, Chrysostom and Augustine all identified the author of this saying as the sixth-century BC Cretan teacher, Epimenides of Knossos, who was held in high honour by his compatriots as both a prophet and a miracle-worker.” Stott, John. Guard the truth: The message of 1 Timothy & Titus. The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1996. 181.

[2] M. S. M. Saifullah “Islamic Awareness: Was Paul Inspired?” 1999. http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Bible/Text/paul.html

[3] Hiebert, D. E. Titus. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 11: Ephesians through Philemon (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1981. 433.