Titus 1:12-13: Is Paul a little "racist" here?

Salvete, omnes!

In Titus 1:12-13, Paul, in quoting a Cretan poet, states that the people of Crete are “always liars”, along with accusing them of other sins, possibly equally as or similarly prominent.

Calling an entire culture/nation-state of people not just “liars” but “always liars” woulod, I thin, today be reprehensible to many people as “not PC”, and maybe een to many Catholics/Christians. How could Paul so generalize about an entire nation-state of people, about an entire culture? (I put the word “racist” in quotes because we are obviously not dealing necessarily with an issue of skin color, but, more one of national identity.)

If I were to say today, for example, that “blacks are always lazy”, I would be drummed out of town and worse! Then, is Paul’s statement any diferent? Are we allowed, then, to malign the reputation of an entire people in this way? Is such a thing perfectly biblical?

It does seem that Paul tries to soften the blow by quoting one of Crete’s own poets, born and raised there, who made the comments he cites, but one might argue that the poet himself may have been exaggerating, either for effect or for some other reason, or that even he might have had a warped view for whatevewr reason of the Cretan people.

Later, (v. 13), Paul not only has quoted this statement, but he even affirms it by saying that “this testimony is true”. How would he know? Has he lived his entire life there?

So, then, this being in an inspired text, are we to really believe that the Cretans were ALWAYS liars, without exception? What does this say as to how we are to understand other modern peoples, races, nations?

Please understand that I am not posting these questions to be intentionally hostile to either Paul or to Christianity/Catholicism. I am genuinely perplexed and even concerned about what Paul says here of an entire people.

However, I suppose that, if this is an inspired text, we should indeed believe that the Cretans, at least of Paul’s time, were indeed and truly ALWAYS liars?

Please, I would very much appreciate any help you could provide me with this issue.


And, yes, I am very aware of the reputation of the Cretans at this time as, in fact, liars in particular.

However, was it really so bad that they were literally "ALWAYS’ so?

Can we take what Paul says in any other way than the wholeo of Crete were literally and actually liars?


It would be a longer answer - that can be found in the various good Catholic Commentaries (Ignatius, Navarre, Catholic Commentary of Sacred Scripture…)

But no is the short answer.

With respect, I know I’m not the first one on here to be just a tad bit annoyed with the whole “buy this book” answer and nothing more.

Not all of us have a desire to go out and buy books all the time, especially when we only have one key question.

I would respectfully ask that those who would encourage book-buying would at least summarize what the book says on this topic. IMO, this forum is not simply for book recommendations, but to seek answers, directly from it, to various questions like this.

The Cretans are not a race but a nationality. The proper term would be,
is Paul being a bigot?

Also, if you notice, there is an english noun (or used to be) “cretan”.
The definition, in the old days was, something like:

one who is brutish and dishonest;

thus there may be an issue in translation;

Cretans may have been big liars back then;

who cares?

what is the difference?

I’m not even sure where Crete is:thumbsup:


Remember, you are viewing the writing of a man two thousand years ago from a 21st century perch. One of the things that one must always remember is that times and cultures were radically different then then now.

Reading the Bible in the context of when and under what conditions it was written is important. If one were to take things literally in light of today’s scholarship, one would believe that early writers, including Jesus himself, were in favor of slavery and other societal conditions we reject today. Paul has been accused of being anti woman, mysogynistic, against marriage and sexuality. Remember, Paul and some of the other writers believed that Jesus was coming back, IN THEIR LIFETIME (not shouting, just emphasizing :slight_smile: . I suggest you always read and look for interpretations with that understanding in mind

Good luck


Your premise is grossly flawed.
Pagans would indeed be lying to themselves.
Your comparison is grotesque and that’s why no one takes these out of context queries seriously.
You have a thing about criticizing and picking apart St. Paul.
Maybe actually read up on him. That’s an excellent idea.
Education is better than speculation, no?

I used to wonder about this too, but not too long ago it dawned on me that what he possibly meant when he said “this testimony is true”, is not that all Cretans are liars, etc., but that “It’s true! A Cretan poet actually said this!” That was the testimony that was true.

I thought of it this way and it made me laugh to think people had been interpreting it the former way, when he probably didn’t mean that at all. After all, why would someone so full of God’s Spirit say something like that? I don’t think he would. IMHO

Dear MysticMissMisty,

I believe Saint Paul was using a rhetorical device (exaggeration) to make a point.

He is fond of this. For example, in Romans 9, he wishes that he were accursed (“anathema”) if it could save some of his Jewish brethren who refuse to accept Christ - this does not mean that he is literally repudiating his salvation!

We moderns are too quick to cry racism, sexism, fascism, communism, and so forth when reading ancient texts, without understanding their context or literary form.

I once read a book on paradoxes and logic puzzles which pointed out that Paul’s quotation, if taken as universally as MysticMissMisty worries, leads to a classic paradox. If a Cretan asserts that all Cretans always lie … can he be telling the truth?

From the commentary of the 1941 Confraternity Bible:

"10-16: In enumerating the qualifications demanded of priests, and in the special urgency of establishing them in every city, St. Paul is making provision against the large number of teachers in Crete, who, like those at Ephesus, are empty talkers and disturbers that must be silenced.

  1. This hexameter is from the Minos of Epimenides, a Cretan poet who may have lived in the sixth century B.C. Here and in the verse following St. Paul speaks no longer of the false teachers themselves, but rather of the body of Christians who accepted their teaching. 14. The disturbers’ teaching has two elements: the one speculative and made up of Jewish fables; the other practical, containing precepts that forbid certain foods. 15. The reference is to food, with the distinction of clean and unclean under the Mosaic Law.

2, 1-10: Different Classes. Morality had suffered much because of these disorders. Titus is commanded to make Christian morality and true piety prevail. Certain special moral lessons are to be inculcated. 2. Here there is a question of elderly men not priests. 4. The false teachers are accused in 1, 11 of disturbing families. As at Ephesus, they urged women, even married, to the perfect life as they conceived it in pseudo-asceticism. The husband, the children, the care of the home were unimportant. 8. Those of the opposite camp may be pagans or Satan. It is not a question of false teachers who are rather responsible for these disorders (1 Tim. 5, 14; 3, 6 f).

2, 11 – 3, 7: Changed Life. The kind of life described briefly by St. Paul in the foregoing verses, and of which he now sums up the principal traits, is what he calls elsewhere “piety.” This and not the pseudo-asceticism of the false teachers represents the true Christian life, that the grace of God, manifesting itself in Jesus Christ, proposed to establish.

  1. This indifference to good works doubtless gained support for the movement combated by St. Paul. Yet it was attached to ascetical and mystical theories. 15. The Apostle fears that Titus himself does not show the desired vigor and does not assert his authority with sufficient emphasis. The impression is gathered that the Cretans, left to themselves a long time, have assumed the habit of independence and are little disposed to be guided even by a delegate of an Apostle. Christianity must have been introduced early into Crete, perhaps without the intervention of any notable person. There were Cretan Jews or Proselytes in the audience of St. Peter on Pentecost day (Acts 2, 11). [Commentary on this section is continued at the head of the next chapter.]"

Paul’s admonition continues into what we know as the second chapter, as the letter was not written in chapter and verse, but in one continuous narrative.

I agree with Romano Amerio. St. Paul is probably exaggerating here to catch people’s attention. It makes me think of the time Jesus said “If your right arm offends you, cut it off”.

FWIW, Crete is an island now part of Greece, but back then a separate nation.

I don’t think that SP’s use of an ethnic (not racial) cliché that was common at the time reflects poorly upon him. Look how rapidly the “rules” concerning racial and sexual language have changed since the 1900s!


Exactly, I too agree with Romano that Paul is exaggerating here. Jesus is using hyperbole to tell us to “cut off your right arm” to point out how serious sin is. None of the apostles were missing a right arm. Not every word is to be taken literally of course in scripture.


Maybe he was having a bad day. Committing may bad days to paper and having my words judged by people who know nothing about me or my circumstances is one of the reasons I won’t keep a journal.

I did not mean in any way to annoy you…(sorry).

By the time you wrote this - I was gone -indeed I left right after I posted. I had made a very quick answer (to at least note that he was not a racist) before I signed off the site. I did what I could do in that brief moment -for it would require a longer time to answer more - so I pointed you to those commentaries too for a person might already have them in their home (they are ones to have - at least one of them) and have forgotten to look at them. For I might for example be pondering a passage for a while before I remember my books. I see others have responded more at length - I do still recommend having at least one of those commentaries - indeed all three if one can.

A) he is **quoting **Epimenides, a Cretan poet of the sixth century B.C. The quotation is, “Cretans have always been liars, vicious beasts, and lazy gluttons.”

B) He does not say that “Cretans are always liars”. That is you MISREADING what Paul quoted. What the quote actually says is that Cretans have “always been”. I don’t know what that expression would be in Greek, but in English its idiomatic for “longstanding reputation of being this way”. The people of Crete did have such a reputation, as stated by their OWN people. Paul is acknowledging that.

C) Paul states the reputation is deserved. That is not “racism” (which it isn’t racism anyway because Crete is a nationality not a race). This is acknowledging a reputation. Such as New Yorkers being rude. While not every New Yorker is rude, enough people have this experience that it forms an impression in the collective mind. Enough people had experience with Crete that the word “cretan” entered the lexicon and is an actual WORD in our language to describe certain behaviors.

D) You seem to continue having trouble with concepts of “always” and “never”. Do you have trouble with social interactions in general? Nuances in speech? Like a neurotypical versus atypical situation?

E) Every question you ask is about how to interpret passages of the bible. It is not unreasonable to suggest that you get a bible commentary. You can get one on loan from a library if you don’t want to buy one.

St. Paul might well be a little racist by modern standards. But if so the problem is modern standards not St. Paul. Another interesting passage in Holy Scripture is where Jesus says to the Syrophenician Woman it is not right to cast the children’s bread to dogs.

The truth is there really are bad cultures. There really are cultures that promote dishonesty. It may not be the case that everyone in such a culture is fundamentally dishonest, but then again it may be. I don’t think it impossible that a culture would be completely degenerate. In fact one justification for the elimination of the Cannanites, if considered to literally mean their genocide, is that the culture was so debased that everyone afflicted by it must be eliminated because they would pollute anyone they came in contact with.

I wouldn’t say St. Paul is a racist because it may have been true that all Cretans are liars. In fact it most likely is true because man tends to lie just as he tends to every other sin. It could be said of any group. Some groups tend to certain evils more than others so it may have been particularly true of Cretans. Even if hyperbolic there easily could be some truth to the particular assignment of lying to Cretans.

I did not mean in any way to annoy you…(apologies :)…I suppose that would be annoying if one had that impression).

By the time you wrote this - I was gone -indeed I left right after I posted. I had made a very quick answer (to at least note that he was not a racist) before I signed off the site. I did what I could do in that brief moment -for it would require a longer time to answer more - so I pointed you to those commentaries too for a person might already have them in their home (they are ones to have - at least one of them) and have forgotten to look at them. For I might for example be pondering a passage for a while before I remember my books. I see others have responded more at length - I do still recommend having at least one of those commentaries - indeed all three if one can.

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