Recently, one of our regular correspondents wrote in and pointed me to a page authored by one "M S M Saifullah" on the "Islamic Awareness" Web pages. It contained a discussion of what this author said was called the "Epimenides Paradox." We'll begin by citing these verses as the author did:
Even one of their own Prophets has said, "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons." This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth. (Titus 1:12-14)
The writer goes on to say:
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. (The other one being 1 Corinthians 7:25).
From here the writer goes on (rightly) to reject this use of Epimenides as explicable by "fuzzy logic". We also note that they have failed to recognize that 1 Cor. 7:25 refers to the recorded words of Jesus rather than divine inspiration. But the question remains: Is the Titus verse evidence against divine inspiration?
Quite simply, no. What our writer has failed to do is recognize the point of the "paradox". Yes, Epimenides himself was a Cretan, and was regarded as one of "their" prophets (by Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero). But neither Epimenides, nor Paul, intended these words absolutely. The words were written in a fully proverbial sense.
What was the point of the words, as once written by Epimenides? The data is not clear, but there seems to be a consensus that it was related to Cretan claims that their island hosted the tomb of Zeus. This was a claim well known of the Cretans (noted by Lucian, among others); the tendency to tell this "tall tale" (and perhaps others like it?) was so characteristic of the natives of this island that the Greeks had a word, kretizein, which referred to the practice of lying or cheating. (The city of Corinth was "honored" in a similarly dubious way, as we might recall.)
Now by no means did Epimenides mean these words absolutely. And yet, no one, not even Epimenides, would have denied that the sentiment expressed was indeed "true," for it represented a recognized characteristic of the Cretans at that time. But it is doubtful that one was to understand that ALL Cretans were liars, etc. This is an example of a proverb, a non-absolute truth. (See our essay on this subject.)
At the same time, then, it is obvious that Paul did not use these words any differently. He was, after all, writing to Cretans like Titus. And yet, because the opponents referred to in this letter fulfilled Epimenides's description so well (cf. 1:10-11), he was well justified in citing and using (with not a little bit of ironic sarcasm) the quote by Epimenides and citing as "true" in the very same sense.
We therefore conclude that our writer is in error and that this verse offers no argument against divine inspiration. One simply needs to understand the nature and purpose of proverbial sayings in their social context.
For more on this, check this link.