Monday, July 27, 2015

Religious Myths – Titus 1:12-14

One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." This testimony is true. For this cause reprove them severely that they may be sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth. (NASB)

True or False?

Paul expands on a very interesting paradox as he quotes Epimenides from the 6th century BC. Paul takes one line from a hymn to Zeus.

They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one
The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!
But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever,
For in thee we live and move and have our being.
— Epimenides, Cretica

Apparently, the Cretans built a tomb for Zeus and declared that he was dead, which is what prompted Epimenides to call them all liars, as he believed that Zeus was immortal. However, since Epimenides was also a Cretan and if it is true that all Cretans were liars, then he too was a liar, which means that his statement was false. That is the paradox. Paul takes it one step farther and says that what Epimenides said about Cretans is true. Logically this can’t stand so there must be some other reason that Paul affirms the truth of Cretans being liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons. Perhaps, he was pointing out how ridiculous were the teachers who were disturbing people with Jewish myths and turning them away from the truth. Relating the worship of Zeus with a tomb for Zeus is in contrast to the fact that Jesus’ tomb is empty. He is alive forever and it is only through Jesus that we have eternal life, our being and not through Zeus.

Do not lie to one another, seeing that  you have put off  the old self with its practices and  have put on  the new self,  which is being renewed in knowledge  after the image of  its creator.  (Col 3:9-10 ESV)

Paul’s command to the Colossians to stop lying and be renewed in the knowledge of our Creator is a good backdrop for understanding why he would single out the Cretans who were obviously lying about the way of salvation. It is possible that these Cretans were dispersed Jews or Jewish converts who were in Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost and became believers (Acts 2:11). However, without proper teaching they still relied on the Jewish customs for their salvation rather than Jesus. This isn’t uncommon even today. Some people hear about being saved by Jesus but never grow in their faith. Instead of studying the Bible and understanding it, they rely on human teachers and become prey for cults who talk about Jesus but insist that they have to belong to their church and perform according to their standards to be saved.

Jewish Myths

From the time when the last book of the Old Testament was written and the arrival of Jesus, many books were written. Some have seen these as of divine origin and believe them to be as authoritative as Scripture. Some of these are included in the Apocrypha. It is quite likely that Paul was referring to some of these writing when he denounced Jewish myths. The original meaning of apocrypha is “things hidden.” The writings and interpretation of them was theoretically understood only by an inner circle. Many of these writings had the character of being what we now call apocalyptic which relates to their predictive nature. They predicted the coming of the Messiah and the end of all things with the God’s kingdom reigning.[1] These stories fed the excitement that Jesus generated but they were not biblical. Many Jew continued to look for a Messiah because these mystical books led them astray and even continue to do so today through such things esoteric teaching as Kabbalah.

Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. (2 Cor 4:2-3 NIV)

Since many of these Jewish myths were esoteric, it required a person in the know to explain them to people. This made it easy for false prophets to deceive and proclaim another gospel. In contrast, when Paul preached the Gospel, he was careful not to distort the Word of God and add other sources. Today, the Gospel is the truth, it is printed, it is readily available for anyone to read, and has been translated into many languages. There are no codes in the Bible that only a select few are able to understand. However, we still must recognize that until God opens a person’s heart to understand and accept the Gospel, it is still veiled to them (2 Cor 4:3).

If you look up Jewish Mythology on the internet, you will most likely be led to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_mythology. There you will find that whoever wrote this article classified all of the Old Testament under the category of mythology. While there are some accurate references, it leads a reader to believe that God was more or less invented by the prophets in opposition to other Near Eastern religions. Creation and the flood are in particularly expressed as myths. Christianity and Islam are said to have inherited these myths. Why do you think that this is the case? Why do people who want to distort or deny God and Christianity always single out creation and often the flood?

Modern Myths

For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. (2 Peter 3:5-7 NKJV)

Peter remarked that scoffers would come in the last days denying Jesus’ return because everything is continuing as it has in the past (2 Peter 3:3-4). Note that he says they willfully forget. They know the truth but they don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to acknowledge that God created everything and that he judged the world with a flood. The reason they don’t want to accept this is that it means they can reject the conclusion that God will again judge the world and ungodly people. Turning aside from the biblical account of creation is not based on scientific evidence but on a desire to rationalize ungodly behavior and accountability to God. Consider the following quote from Richard Lewontin, Professor of Zoology at Harvard University:

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.[2]

Materialism as used in this quote is not the desire to acquire more and more things, although that is one definition. The Encarta Dictionary defines materialism as “the philosophical theory that physical matter is the only reality and that psychological states such as emotions, reason, thought, and desire will eventually be explained as physical functions.” Based on this philosophy, God is eliminated from any explanation of existence and replaced by evolution. He is eliminated from any moral decisions that a person may make because even thinking is only a result of natural, chemical reactions inside a mass of protoplasm called a brain. Natural selection has randomly allowed the human race to acquire the structure of a brain that has determined that murder is wrong along with other moral constraints. As our brains continue to evolve, outmoded morality is eliminated and new morality that will enable those with the best (according to nature) morality to reproduce and flourish while those without that new moral code will slowly become extinct. Under this philosophy, the outmoded morality that has suppressed homosexuality is disappearing and homosexuality will be universally accepted. Tell me how that will help mankind to flourish.

The house of the wicked will be destroyed, But the tent of the upright will flourish. There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death. (Prov 14:11-12 NASU)

However, when we add God to the equation, the outcome is significantly different. Man’s thinking process may lead him to believe something is right but if it doesn’t agree with God’s way, it only results in death. The scoffers that Peter talks about and those that Paul describes are wicked according to God’s Word. Just the opposite of the materialistic philosophy happens when God is considered. Those who flourish are not determined by the random chemical processes in nature. They flourish because they are in a right standing with God and His laws. This is the message that God has been delivering from the beginning of creation.
While we may see the wicked prosper for a short time and righteous people killed, we must remember that this life is not all there is. Our ultimate home is not of this world and the number of the righteous who will attain to heaven’s glory will be more than we can comprehend (Rev 7:9). The end of the wicked is death, but it is not oblivion as the materialistic myth proposes. It is eternal punishment (Rev 20:14-15). There is only one reason that we will be among those who will worship God forever and not punished.

For you [Jesus] were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. And you have caused them to become a Kingdom of priests for our God. And they will reign on the earth. (NLT Rev 5:9b-10)

The way to turn us from myths is to tell the truth about Jesus and the need to accept His life-giving death on the cross for our sins. We need to repent of our sins, including following myths, and obey Him. Live for eternity with God and not the materialistic now (it does not promise a future after death anyway).


[1] International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, electronic database, s.v. “Apocrypha,” ed. James Orr (Seattle: Biblesoft, 2006).
[2] Richard C. Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” The New York Review of Books, January 9, 1977, accessed July 23, 2015, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1997/jan/09/billions-and-billions-of-demons/.

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