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The Liar Paradox (Titus 1)

Here’s a question for you: when someone who is a liar says all people are liars, is he telling the truth? This has been called the “liar paradox,” and it is raised by a statement in Titus 1:12–13, where Paul writes: “One of their very own prophets said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true.” So, then, there is one exception to Cretans always being liars: when they say of themselves that they are always liars, that statement, at least, is true! This is the solution to the puzzle of “liar paradox.”

In Titus’s case, of course, this sad statement highlights the difficulty of his assignment: to bring the truth of the gospel to an island that is not known for its virtue, just as first-century Rome, or Corinth, were known for their decadence and immorality. (In fact, “to Corinthianize” meant to practice prostitution, and “Corinthian girl” was the name for a prostitute.) It was hard for the gospel to make inroads in such depraved cultures; and even if some were converted, where was one to find leadership material among those converts?

What all of this brings into sharper focus, of course, is the transforming power of Christ and of his Spirit and of the gospel. As Paul writes later in Titus, “He [Jesus Christ] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a special people, eager to do good works” (2:14). And again, “But when the goodness and love for man appeared from God our Savior, he saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4–5).

Can a Cretan tell the truth? Well, according to one of their own, the answer is “no.” But the same can be said about all of us in our unregenerate state: “To the pure, everything is pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; in fact, both their mind and conscience are defiled. They … are … detestable, disobedient, and disqualified for any good work” (Titus 1:15–16). I thank God that he still reaches down into the depths of depravity and saves wretched sinners such as me and then transforms them to serve him.


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