One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth.Titus 1:12-14
At one point in my sermon last Lord’s Day, I made a mistake. I said something to the effect that being a Cretin is someone you wouldn’t want to be, based on Titus 1. While this may be true, I confused the words Cretin and Cretan. There is a difference. A good friend (very kindly) pointed out the difference to me. (Thank you, sir!) Since I learned something, it seemed to me like a good opportunity to teach something. So, here you go:
Historically, “Cretan” not only referred to someone from Crete, but it was also used to describe someone of horrible morals. One historian, writing around 200 BC, said, “Now it would be impossible to find, except in some rare instances, personal conduct more treacherous or a public policy more unjust than in Crete.” Paul, in his letter to Titus, quotes a Cretan poet named Epimenides who comments rather harshly about his own people. He said, “All Cretans are liars.” Paul uses this statement to underscore the urgency and importance of Titus being in Crete to set things in order and appoint elders in every city. Crete needed (needs) the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The word Cretin, however, originally referred to a group of people who lived in the Swiss town of Sion, in the canton of Valais. These people, we now know, had congenital thyroid deficiencies resulting in physical deformities and learning difficulties. The other people of the area referred to them as Cretins. Rather than the insult the word has come to mean today, it the word originated from nothing less than the Latin word, Christianus, which means, “Christian.” Why did they use the word Christian? Likely, it is because the townsfolk of Sion were acknowledging that these simple people were not animals. They used a word that meant “Christian” in order to differentiate “human being” from “brute beast.” The people of Sion understood that the people stricken with the malady were human beings. Therefore, they called them a word that means Christian. I should add that the Cretins were tremendously respected and revered by the folk in Valais. One record states, “‘The Valaisians call them cretins, and consider them to be protecting angels sent by heaven.’ They are never criminal but of pleasant, simple disposition. ‘One should nearly wish to be a Cretin.’” (from a letter written in 1710)
Isn’t it striking how sin and hate (and sinful and hateful people) can take a word and make it mean something completely different than what it originally meant? Sin and hate abound in our fallen estate. All this seems to underscore the importance and urgency of Paul’s sending Titus to Crete. The darkness of evil and hatred are rampant in this estate of sin and misery. As it was and is in Crete, so it is now wherever you are. It is for this reason that God sends forth his church into darkness. We are the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). Being grounded in Jesus, who is the Truth, we lift up the majesty, mercy, and love of the Savior. We unashamedly proclaim and live out the gospel of Christ, knowing that “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5) May the Light of the world be pleased to shine on you and in you, just as He shined for you.
Soli Deo Gloria