Having concluded the list of qualifications for the elder with a reference to refuting error, Paul goes on to unmask the false teachers in the Cretan church. These opponents of Paul must have arisen soon after the churches were planted, but we cannot be certain exactly how this came about.
Heresy involves more than simply teaching an unorthodox doctrine. Just as the Christian message affects the whole life, heresy left unchecked penetrates deep into the community's and the individual's life and thought, leaving nothing undisturbed. But its subtle beginnings and secretive motives often make it undetectable until it has surfaced as a movement with increasing momentum. For this reason Paul identifies and unequivocally denounces the false teachers and their doctrine.
What kind of people would, in the name of Christianity, oppose the true faith? Paul's indictment of them, which is designed to expose and discredit them completely, begins by revealing some telltale clues of heresy.
Far from being innocent seekers of truth, verse 10 portrays false teachers as willful and culpable. Rebellious (see v. 6; 1 Tim 1:9) describes them as consciously defiant and in opposition to Paul's authority and work. Paul characterizes their activity as "idle" or "mere talk," a reference both to their meaningless speculation and discussions and to the pagan quality of their "knowledge" (1 Tim 1:6). But it is as deceivers (v. 10) that false teachers do their most dangerous work; they willfully lead others astray. Paul's language places them into the same category as the heretics in Ephesus, who, by misrepresenting God's law and causing others to break it, come under its condemnation (1 Tim 1:8-10).
The description those of the circumcision (v. 10) provides a clue to the identity of those troubling the Cretan churches. As the term's use elsewhere suggests, the troublemakers were Jewish converts (Acts 10:45; 11:2; Gal 2:7-9, 12). Earlier Paul opposed Jewish believers in Galatia who were teaching the need to return to the ceremonies of the law to achieve righteousness. While this is not the same group, nor precisely the same teaching (see below), we can at least see that the influences of Judaism on the church had not yet ceased.
Paul's description is too brief to make absolutely plain the meaning of ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach (v. 11). This may be a reference to the turning of whole house churches to the heresy, or possibly some part of their doctrine challenged traditional concepts concerning the household. To judge from 2:1-10, their teaching may have spawned a disregard for the accepted patterns of behavior in the various social relationships. Either way, the word whole here suggests that the influence of this doctrine was thorough. In Ephesus disruptions resulted from a misunderstanding of salvation and the times, and something similar may have been at work in Crete. These false teachers disrupted the unity of the church and endangered the church's reputation with those outside, who valued highly the traditional social structure.
False teachers can also be detected by their false motives. These "Christian" teachers in Crete were seeking to make a profit from their ministry. Such financial motives expose the false teacher's selfish desire to benefit more than the hearers from the "ministry" (compare 1 Tim 6:5-10).
The description Paul has thus far given has drawn out the obvious faults of the false teachers. When their attitudes, methods and motives are exposed, there can be no doubt that these people are evil. Paul puts the cap on this expose with his surprising quotation of Epimenides (v. 12). He calls this ancient religious teacher, from the sixth century B.C., one of their own [that is, the false teachers'] prophets. This first connection probably lies in their common profession, teaching religious fables, and in their common homeland, Crete. But how does Paul mean the citation to be understood? Cretans had acquired the name liars because of their claim that the tomb of Zeus was on Crete. Thus a reference to religious deceit is at the heart of the saying. These false teachers have fulfilled Epimenides' prophecy in their own generation by propagating a religious lie. The rest of the quotation, evil brutes, lazy gluttons, associates the false religious claim with uncontrolled, wanton behavior. Notice how closely Paul's description of the errorists corresponds to the three-part saying: they are deceivers (v. 10), rebels and disrupters (vv. 10-11), with minds set on money (v. 11). Clearly, in the case of these Cretan heretics, the ancient forecast held true. Today the religious lies propagated by cult leaders (those that draw attention away from the gospel) belong to the same category. Their purpose is to attract attention to the leader or the cult's ruling elite. Their result is self-gratifying behavior on the part of the leaders and ignorance on the part of naive followers.
Paul describes the false teaching in verse 14 with two terms. The first, Jewish myths, is similar to the "myths and genealogies" mentioned in 1 Timothy 1:4. Together with the reference to genealogies in 3:9, the term probably indicates a peculiar use of the Old Testament (see 1 Tim 1:4 and notes). Verse 15 implies that they were preoccupied with ritual purity, which suggests that the false doctrine had some affinity with the teaching about foods and defilement in Colosse (Col 2:16-23) and Ephesus (1 Tim 4:3). Verse 16 may reflect a claim on their part to special knowledge: they claim to know God. However, Paul's language is too general to allow us to be sure of this, and it is better to understand the statement in Jewish terms as a claim to be zealous and exacting in their approach to "the faith."
The second term in verse 14 describes the false teaching as "commands of men." This is a technical term, which goes back to Isaiah 29:13, for teaching of human origin that is added to God's revelation (the NIV somewhat obscures this nuance). Jesus picked it up in his denunciation of Jewish regulations about clean and unclean things (Mt 15:9; Mk 7:7). And Paul describes the ascetic practices in Colosse with this term (Col 2:22). Ironically, adherence to such regulations, which to the false teachers indicated holiness, was actually an indication of how far they had strayed from the truth (of the Christian message; v. 14).
Paul operated on the basis of Jesus' principle "Nothing outside a man can make him `unclean' by going into him. . . . What comes out of a man makes him `unclean' " (Mk 7:15, 20). This Paul translates in verse 15: To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who . . . do not believe, nothing is pure (compare Rom 14:14). Purity that counts comes only through faith in Christ. The heretics' obsession with external purity grew out of unbelief and rejection of the gospel. In their false teaching they cut themselves off from the One who could cleanse them. Their rejection of the truth (v. 14) signaled the corruption of their minds (v. 15). The mind, the organ of rational discernment, plays an important role in accepting the truth (1 Tim 6:5; 2 Tim 3:8). These teachers' obsessive behavior and evil motives signaled equally the corruption of their consciences, for it is by the conscience that faith and knowledge issue in behavior (see on 1 Tim 1:5; 4:2).
Ultimately, as Paul explains in verse 16, the condition of these opponents was paradoxical. Their profession to know God was contradicted by their outward behavior. The excoriating description that closes the passage heightens this paradox: (1) they are detestable, though they strive to avoid "detestable" things; (2) they are disobedient, though they strive to be exactingly obedient; and (3) they are unable to bear any spiritual fruit (good deed), though they claim to know God. One thing is clear from Paul's denunciation of the false teachers: they present a danger to the church and to themselves, a danger that cannot be ignored but must be confronted.
As we have seen, confronting false teaching is a task that falls to the leadership of the church. Titus and the leaders he selected were to handle this matter in Crete.
The gravity of the situation is reflected in the two commands that Paul gives. First, Titus is to "silence" (literally, "stop the mouths") of the heretics (v. 11). This must mean to "take the wind out of their sails," or to take away the momentum they had established, by publicly correcting their false doctrines with the approved teaching of the apostle. Second, he is to rebuke [correct, reprove] them sharply (v. 13). The graphic adverb used only here and in 2 Corinthians 13:10 implies the use of force that is backed up by authority. Confronting false teaching calls for decisive, firm correction, for the church's ministry and the spiritual health of believers are at stake.
But the goal of correction is not simply to protect the gospel. Correction also seeks (so that—v. 13) to restore the erring one to spiritual health (1 Tim 1:20; 2 Tim 2:22). Paul employs the verbal form of the term used elsewhere to describe the gospel as "health-producing" (v. 9; 1 Tim 1:10; 6:3) to convey this thought. This health comes only from acceptance of the faith. Turned around, as they were, these lying and perverse heretics could still be brought to repentance through confrontation with the true faith.