When Sharp Rebuke Is Proper

“Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth” (vv. 13–14).

- Titus 1:12–14

A fundamental plank of the Christian faith is that all truth is God’s truth.

Obviously, the truths of Scripture find their origin in our Creator, but so do the truths of philosophy, the natural sciences, and so on, whether or not the person making the discovery follows the one, true God.

Due to this reality, the apostles are willing to quote non-biblical authorities when these authorities speak the truth. Paul in Titus 1:12 quotes Epimenides of Crete, a philosopher who lived around 500 BC. His point in citing this pagan is to show Titus and the Cretan churches that the teachers from the “circumcision party” (v. 10) embraced the brutish ways of Crete instead of the new life created by the Spirit in those who believe. Cretans were so famous for being deceivers and con artists that a slang arose in the Greek language — the verb krētizō (“to play the Cretan”) — to denote pathological lying. The piracy, homosexuality, and war-mongering on Crete led philosophers to remark that some of the wildest animals in all the world lived in Crete’s cities. Like devout Jews in the first-century, the “circumcision party” on Crete would have prided itself on not being like these profane Gentiles, but Paul says that their falsehoods made them no different than the surrounding pagans.

Verse 14 gives us further clues as to the kind of errors that were spreading like wildfire. Commentators agree that the “Jewish myths” to which Paul refers were probably legends told about biblical figures to justify the ascetic practices of the false teachers. Therefore, the false teaching on first-century Crete was evidently similar to the errors Timothy faced in Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3–4; 4:1–3).

In any case, church elders are to rebuke false teachers so that they might return to the truth (Titus 1:13). Yet, as Matthew Henry writes, elders must consider the personality of the one being rebuked when making correction. “There must in reproving be a distinguishing between sins and sins; some are more gross and heinous in their nature: and between sinners and sinners; some are of a more tender and tractable temperament, apter to be influenced by gentleness; others are more hardy and stubborn, and need more cutting language.”

Coram Deo

The church must be on guard against the culture transforming it, for it is distinct from culture and must remain so. People should be able to see in our love for one another something they have never seen before, not attitudes and actions that conform to the worst of the society around us. As we read Scripture and hear the Word of God preached, may we seek to fulfill the challenge to be Christlike both in His church and in the world.

Passages for Further Study

Ezra 10:1–17
Hosea 4
Romans 2
Jude 22–23

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.