Epimenides' Paradox: A Logical Discrepancy in Titus 1:12?
Paul was a well-educated man. He was trained by the highly respected Jewish teacher, Gamaliel (Acts 22:3; 5:34), and was knowledgeable not only in Jewish Scripture and literature, but also in classical Greek literature. While lecturing a group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in Acts 17:22-34, Paul, in verse 28, quoted from Epimenides’ Cretica (“For in him we live and move and have our being”) and Aratus’ Phaenomena (“For we are also his offspring”), using these two pagan poets to make a point. In 1 Corinthians 15:33, Paul quoted from Menander’s comedy Thais (“Evil company corrupts good habits”). However, when Paul spoke to Titus concerning his mission on the island of Crete, some critics have suggested that the apostle committed a logical fallacy by quoting the Cretan poet Epimenides: “One of them, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true” (Titus 1:12-13a).
This is a form of the logical paradox commonly known as Epimenides’ Paradox: “A Cretan said, ‘All Cretans are liars.’ ” If, as Paul affirms, this statement is true, then the statement is false because a Cretan, who is a liar, made it. These affirmations—that the statement is true and the statement is false—contradict each other and violate the Law of Non-Contradiction, because a statement cannot be both true and false at the same time. The Islamic apologist M.S.M. Saifullah stated concerning Titus 1:12, “The writer Paul at least on this occasion, was without Divine Guidance for he did not discern the subtlety” (Saifullah, 1999). What is a Christian’s response to this attack upon the infallibility of the inspired Word?
The first step in understanding this alleged contradiction is to realize that Epimenides was a poet. Poets, playwrights, and other writers sometimes use a literary technique known as hyperbole, which is a deliberate exaggeration used to make a point. To say that “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons,” is to say that the Cretan society as a whole was immoral and decadent, not necessarily that every single individual in that society was a liar, evil beast, or lazy glutton. When viewed in the light of hyperbole, there is no logical paradox found in Titus 1:12. Epimenides had made a hyperbolic statement regarding the conduct of the people of Crete, and Paul was agreeing with him in order to point out to Titus the difficulty facing the Cretan elders. Paul was not affirming a contradiction, but following a common literary convention. Once again, our Bible shines through as an inerrant book that allowed the authors’ writing styles to remain intact while maintaining the integrity of the inspired Word.
Saifullah, M. S. M. (1999), “Epimenides’ Paradox: Was Paul Inspired?,” Islamic Awareness [On-line], URL: http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Bible/Text/paul.html.