Epi­menides Para­dox : Was Paul Inspired”?


In a study of log­ic, there is some­thing which we call unde­cid­able propo­si­tions” or mean­ing­less sen­tences”, which are state­ments that can­not be deter­mined because there is no con­tex­tu­al false. One of the clas­sic exam­ples cit­ed is the Epiminedes’ para­dox. Saul Krip­ke says :

Ever since Pilate asked, What is truth?” (John XVIII, 38), the sub­se­quent search for a cor­rect answer has been inhib­it­ed by anoth­er prob­lem, which, as is well known, also aris­es in a New Tes­ta­ment con­text. If, as the author of the Epis­tle to Titus sup­pos­es (Titus I, 12), a Cre­tan prophet, even a prophet of their own,” assert­ed that the Cre­tans are always liars,” and if this tes­ti­mo­ny is true” of all oth­er Cre­tan utter­ances, then it seems that the Cre­tan prophet’s words are true if and only if they are false. And any treat­ment of the con­cept of truth must some­how cir­cum­vent this para­dox.Saul Krip­ke, Out­line of a The­o­ry of Truth”, Jour­nal of Phi­los­o­phy, Vol. 72, 1975, p. 690

Epi­menides was Cre­tan and he said that Cre­tans always lie”. Now, was that state­ment true or false ? If he was a Cre­tan and he says that they always lie, is he then lying ? If he is not lying then he is telling the truth and there­fore Cre­tans do not always lie. We can see that since the asser­tion can­not be true and it can­not be false, the state­ment turns back on itself. It is like stat­ing What I am telling you right now is a lie”, would you believe that or oth­er­wise ? This state­ment thus has no true con­tent. It can­not be true at the same time it is false. If it is true then it is always false. If it is false, it is also true.

Paul Cre­ates The Paradox

Well, in the New Tes­ta­ment, the writer is Paul and he is talk­ing about the Cre­tans in 1 Titus, as follows :

A prophet from their own peo­ple said of them Cretens are always liars, wicked brutes, lazy glut­tons.” This tes­ti­mo­ny is true. For this rea­son cor­rect them stern­ly, that they may be sound in faith instead of pay­ing atten­tion to Jew­ish fables and to com­mand­ments of peo­ple who turn their backs on the truth. (Titus 1:12 – 14)

Notice that Paul says that one of their own men — a prophet — said that Cre­tans are always liars” and he says that what this man say is true. It is a small mis­take, but the point is that it is a human mis­take. It can­not be a true state­ment at the same time that it is a false state­ment. Thus, how can Chris­tians claim that the writ­ers of the New Tes­ta­ment — in this case, Paul — had inspi­ra­tion” from God ?

Not­ed British logi­cian Pro­fes­sor Thomas Fowler, who was in the 1800s, the Pro­fes­sor of Log­ic in Oxford and Fel­low of Lin­coln Col­lege, to sum up the prob­lem cre­at­ed in Titus 1:12 that must nec­es­sar­i­ly fal­si­fy the inerran­tist and the fundamentalist.

    Epimenides Paradox: Was Paul "Inspired"? 1

Epi­menides the Cre­tan says, that all the Cre­tans are liars,’ but Epi­menides is him­self a Cre­tan ; there­fore he is him­self a liar. But if he be a liar, what he says is untrue, and con­se­quent­ly the Cre­tans are vera­cious ; but Epi­menides is a Cre­tan, and there­fore what he says is true ; say­ing the Cre­tans are liars, Epi­menides is him­self a liar, and what he says is untrue. Thus we may go on alter­nate­ly prov­ing that Epi­menides and the Cre­tans are truth­ful and untruth­ful.“Fowler, T., The Ele­ments of Deduc­tive Log­ic : Designed Main­ly for the Use of Junior Stu­dents in the Uni­ver­si­ties (Oxford : Claren­don Press, 1875), p. 171

Some Chris­tians have tak­en the posi­tion that a strict­ly log­i­cal approach to Epi­menides’ state­ment can result in it not being a para­dox after all. If it is not a para­dox, one may argue that Paul’s call­ing it true” was a sub­tle bit of mock­ery with tremen­dous fore­sight regard­ing lat­er devel­op­ments in log­ic. If that is the case, then maybe Paul’s state­ment actu­al­ly was inspired. For exam­ple, while dis­cussing Paul’s com­ments in the epis­tle to Titus, one Chris­t­ian the­o­log­i­cal peri­od­i­cal con­cedes that one of the very great­est of Chris­t­ian thinkers enters the log­ic books wear­ing a dunce’s cap“Mary Dou­glas and Edmund F. Per­ry, Anthro­pol­o­gy and Com­par­a­tive Reli­gion”, The­ol­o­gy Today, Vol. 41, 1985, p. 421 but then argues that Chris­tians can find recourse in the fact that the state­ment might not be para­dox­i­cal. To back up this claim, the arti­cle calls to wit­ness Quine, one of the great­est logi­cians that ever lived, thus it is impor­tant that we con­sid­er what Quine wrote :

There is the ancient para­dox of Epi­menides the Cre­tan, who said that all Cre­tans were liars. If he spoke the truth, he was a liar. It seems that this para­dox may have reached the ears of St. Paul and that he missed the point of it. He warned, in his epis­tle to Titus : One of them­selves, even a prophet of their own, said The Cre­tans are always liars.” Actu­al­ly the para­dox of Epi­menides is untidy ; there are loop­holes. Per­haps some Cre­tans were liars, notably Epi­menides, and oth­ers were not ; per­haps Epi­menides was a liar who occa­sion­al­ly told the truth ; either way it turns out that the con­tra­dic­tion van­ish­es.Wilard Van Orman Quine, The Ways of Para­dox and Oth­er Essays (Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1997), p. 6

The ques­tion that aris­es now is how Quine was able to fig­ure out that maybe oth­er Cre­tans were liars or maybe Epi­menides some­times told the truth. Epi­menides is clear­ly say­ing that Cre­tans are always liars. Every time a Cre­tan speaks, he is lying, so how could the state­ment ever allow for a Cre­tan (be it Epi­menides or some oth­er Cre­tan) to speak the truth ? The rea­son­ing is genius, and goes as fol­lows : the obvi­ous assump­tion behind the belief that the state­ment is para­dox­i­cal is that if all Cre­tans lie, then Epi­menides is lying, so if his state­ment is true, it is false. In that sense it seems like any oth­er pseudomenon. From here, if we con­sid­er the state­ment false, we are no longer forced into the kind of para­dox­i­cal vicious cir­cle that a true pseudomenon (like this sen­tence is false”) push­es us into. Com­ment­ing on a sim­i­lar line of argu­men­ta­tion, Schoen­berg writes the following :

We may feel intu­itive­ly that the argu­ment is para­dox­i­cal ; yet, from a for­mal log­ic point of view, it does not real­ly have the look of a para­dox. It looks sim­ply like reduc­tio ad absur­dum proof of the fal­si­ty of All Cre­tans are liars.‘Judith Schoen­berg, Belief and Inten­tion in the Epi­menides, Philosos­phy and Phe­nom­e­no­log­i­cal Research, Vol. 30, 1968, p. 270

Thus, as Quine not­ed, it is not incon­sis­tent to assume that some oth­er Cre­tan does not always lie, or that some oth­er state­ment by Epi­menides was true. Pri­or explains this quite well :

If we treat the Cre­tan’s asser­tion as true, and so assume that noth­ing true is ever assert­ed by a Cre­tan, it fol­lows imme­di­ate­ly that the Cre­tan’s asser­tion is false. If, how­ev­er, we treat it as false, there is no way of deduc­ing from this assump­tion that it is true. We can, there­fore, con­sis­tent­ly sup­pose it to be false, and this is all we can con­sis­tent­ly sup­pose. But to sup­pose it false (con­sid­er­ing what the asser­tion actu­al­ly is) is to sup­pose that some­thing assert­ed by a Cre­tan is true ; and this of course can only be some oth­er asser­tion than the one men­tioned.A. N. Pri­or, Epi­menides the Cre­tan”, Jour­nal of Sym­bol­ic Log­ic, Vol. 23, 1958, p. 261

A para­dox­i­cal state­ment has no dis­cern­able truth val­ue, but the state­ment by Epi­menides can be seen as hav­ing a truth val­ue (i.e. it is false), and if that is the case we can rein­ter­pret the state­ment as not being para­dox­i­cal. How­ev­er, estab­lish­ing a truth val­ue for the state­ment does not escape the prob­lem with Paul’s claim since the say­ing of Epi­menides is false. As Pri­or not­ed above, we can­not con­sid­er the state­ment true (as Paul did). If sophis­ti­cat­ed analy­sis deter­mines after all that this state­ment by Epi­menides is not para­dox­i­cal, and thus has a truth val­ue, the only con­sis­tent sup­po­si­tion we can make is that it is false.


In the end, the fol­low­ing sev­en-point syl­lo­gism com­pletes our argument :

  • Paul claims a Cre­tan uttered a cer­tain proposition. 
  • The propo­si­tion is not true. 
  • Paul claims the propo­si­tion is true. 
  • Paul’s claim is an error. 
  • Paul’s writ­ings are errant rather than inerrant. 
  • Errant scrip­ture is not inspired scrip­ture, as held on by Muslims. 
  • There­fore, Paul was not inspired.

Hence, whether the state­ment is mean­ing­less or false, the basic argu­ment which we have raised still stands. The con­clu­sion of the sev­en point syl­lo­gism giv­en above still rings true : Paul was not inspired.

And only God knows best ! Epimenides Paradox: Was Paul "Inspired"? 2

A fur­ther dis­cus­sion of the syl­lo­gism made here was elab­o­rat­ed in Epi­menides Para­dox Revis­it­ed.Endmark

Cite this arti­cle as : Mohd Elfie Nieshaem Juferi, Epi­menides Para­dox : Was Paul Inspired”?,” in Bis­mi­ka Allahu­ma, Octo­ber 7, 2005, last accessed May 27, 2024, https://​bis​mikaal​lahu​ma​.org/​b​i​b​l​e​/​e​p​i​m​e​n​i​d​e​s​-​p​a​r​a​d​o​x​-​w​a​s​-​p​a​u​l​-​i​n​s​p​i​r​ed/


  1. (Just a note here, I am not a christian) 

    I think you need to be care­ful about such an argu­ment because you are actu­al­ly argu­ing from your own per­spec­tive (that is, not chris­t­ian) and mak­ing a com­ment about Paul, rather than whether or not it would be truth FOR Paul. 

    Super­fi­cial­ly it looks as if Paul does­n’t see the para­dox of some­one stat­ing a con­tra­dic­to­ry idea. How­ev­er, let us remem­ber Paul actu­al­ly refers to the per­son as a Prophet.

    The ques­tion then becomes, what dis­tin­guish­es a Cre­tan Prophet from a reg­u­lar Cre­tan ? Triv­ial­ly its obvi­ous that the answer is the per­son com­mu­ni­cates prophecy.

    So then we can inquire fur­ther, does the idea of prophe­cy cir­cum­vent the Para­dox from Paul’s point of view ?

    The most rea­son­able way to out­line our ques­tion fur­ther is to refine it a lit­tle and make it more spe­cif­ic : does the utter­ance from the prophe­cy come from the per­son or does the per­son receive the prophe­cy that they relate to oth­ers ? If it is the for­mer, and Paul believed that the per­son had pow­ers of truth in his own right, then the para­dox stands. If, how­ev­er, Paul believed that the per­son had prophe­cies and truths revealed by god, then the para­dox does not stand.

    BECAUSE the chris­t­ian prophet is under­stood to be a mouth-piece in which god projects his words onto — like a ven­tril­o­quist dum­my there is no para­dox. At least not here. Imag­ine the state­ment being like : The ven­tril­o­quist spoke from the mouth of the Cre­tan and said all Cre­tans are liars’ the para­dox sim­ply does­n’t arise because it is the ven­tril­o­quist, not the Cre­tan, who is mak­ing the statement.

    This is com­plete­ly inkeep­ing with chris­tian­i­ty ideas back to the start, and indeed what he says — It is the argu­ment that humans become so cor­rupt that truth (god) could not abide with them, and they are redeemed in Jesus. Pauls com­ments then make more sense — it is tes­ti­mo­ny because it is from god, not the cretan,

    Hence Pauls com­ment about the tes­ti­mo­ny being true — (To him) it is in-keep­ing with the word of god, and the solu­tion is to embar­rase or force them (not rea­son or per­suade them with proof) to con­form (to the mes­sage of god) as the nature of man (Them­selves) is cor­rupt, of which (in this pas­sage) Cre­tans are a par­tic­u­lar­ly base-example.


    there is an argu­ment against Chris­tian­i­ty here that you can get if you think of Paul has reflect­ing the inver­sion of the para­dox. That is, a Cre­tan uttered all Cre­tans are absolute­ly truth­ful’. It is a kind of infi­nite, impen­e­tra­ble bull­shit loop that admits noth­ing else. 

    The state­ment is pro­claimed to be true because the pro­claimer pro­claims him­self to be mak­ing a true state­ment which pro­claims him­self to be mak­ing a true state­ment which.…” It can not be rea­soned from or too as it is base­less and cyclical.

    So Paul, if he is guilty of any­thing is the appli­ca­tion of the inverse cre­tan (or prophet) argu­ment. Which, of course, is the tra­di­tion­al method of Chris­tians avoid­ing the sad defi­cien­cy at the heart of their own reasoning.

    A prophet stat­ed what is prophe­cy is true’.”

    and that is chris­t­ian faith. But i doubt that it is only chris­t­ian faith that has this embed­ded in it ;-)

  2. In surf­ing the web I peri­od­i­cal­ly hap­pen upon those try­ing to dis­cred­it the Apos­tle Paul (and by exten­sion Chris­tian­i­ty) via the claim his state­ments in Titus 1:12, 13 illus­trate his error, naiveté or lack of divine inspi­ra­tion. I have also come to regard those mak­ing such claims to be too clever by half as well as in error themselves.

    Stud­ies have shown that about a third of three-year-olds will know­ing­ly make false state­ments. By four years of age or slight­ly old­er, 80% of chil­dren will have done the same and, by the age six, 95% of chil­dren will have know­ing­ly made false state­ments. Why ?

    Chil­dren become cog­nizant of the fact that oth­er people’s beliefs, knowl­edge and feel­ings are sep­a­rate from their own. They can under­stand the con­cept of a false belief about real­i­ty and learn quick­ly that false belief can be used to accrue ben­e­fit in their favor by manip­u­lat­ing oth­ers. As cog­ni­tive sophis­ti­ca­tion devel­ops, chil­dren are able to main­tain their lies for far longer and will go so far as to even change their very behav­ior to make the false­hood appear plau­si­ble. Lying peaks around the ages of four to six. At this age, chil­dren will lie indis­crim­i­nate­ly. They devise strate­gies and test var­i­ous lies, remem­ber­ing when they’ll work and when they won’t. By tri­al and error, they soon come to the real­iza­tion that one can­not always get away with a lie and will, in large part, grad­u­al­ly mod­i­fy their behav­ior accord­ing by lim­it­ing lies to sit­u­a­tions in which they will appear plausible.

    As chil­dren grow old­er the rea­sons for lying become more com­plex. Avoid­ing pun­ish­ment is still a pri­ma­ry cat­a­lyst for lying, but lying also becomes a way to increase a child’s pow­er and sense of con­trol. Manip­u­lat­ing friends with teas­ing, brag­ging to assert sta­tus and learn­ing that par­ents can be fooled are all exam­ples. Many chil­dren will lie to their peers as a cop­ing mech­a­nism, as a way to vent frus­tra­tion or get attention.

    On the basis of empir­i­cal stud­ies then, I’d have to con­clude the idea that any­one can reach adult­hood with­out hav­ing ever know­ing­ly made a false state­ment is unten­able. There’s no need to take my word for it, how­ev­er, as plen­ty of experts will attest to this.

    Julian Keenan, a Mont­clair State Uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor and direc­tor of the university’s Cog­ni­tive Neu­roimag­ing Lab­o­ra­to­ry, has been research­ing the world of decep­tion for 10 years and believes every­one know­ing­ly makes false state­ments. Keenan states the aver­age per­son know­ing­ly makes at least one false state­ment per day.

    Uni­ver­si­ty of Mass­a­chu­setts psy­chol­o­gist Robert Feld­man has con­duct­ed exper­i­ments in which two strangers are placed in a room togeth­er and video­taped while engag­ing in con­ver­sa­tion. In sub­se­quent inter­views, Feld­man had the indi­vid­u­als watch the video­tape and iden­ti­fy any state­ments they made that were not entire­ly accu­rate. Inter­est­ing­ly, sub­jects that ini­tial­ly com­ment­ed that their state­ments were entire­ly accu­rate were gen­uine­ly sur­prised to dis­cov­er that they had in fact know­ing­ly made inac­cu­rate state­ments. The inac­cu­ra­cies ranged from pre­tend­ing to like some­one actu­al­ly dis­liked to false­ly claim­ing to be the star of a rock band. Ulti­mate­ly, the study — pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Basic and Applied Psy­chol­o­gy” – found that 60% of peo­ple had know­ing­ly made false state­ments at least once dur­ing the 10-minute con­ver­sa­tion, mak­ing an aver­age of 2.92 inac­cu­rate state­ments. Just as pro­fes­sor Keenan had deter­mined in his stud­ies, Feld­man dis­cov­ered that men tend­ed to make false state­ments in order to make them­selves look bet­ter while women were more like­ly to make false state­ments in order to make oth­ers feel better.

    As it’s a near cer­tain­ty that each and every one of us has at one time or anoth­er (most like­ly dur­ing child­hood) know­ing­ly made a false state­ment and that know­ing­ly mak­ing a false state­ment is defined as lying, we have all lied. More­over, as we have all lied, we are all — by def­i­n­i­tion — liars. Although we may lat­er come to regret, con­fess and ask for­give­ness for hav­ing told a lie, telling a lie is a unique tem­po­ral event that can­not be undone – once a false state­ment has been know­ing­ly made, it can­not be tak­en back as it becomes the intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty of the past. As a lie can nev­er be tak­en back, we will always be liars even if we nev­er tell anoth­er lie. As an unfor­tu­nate result, all of us (not just the inhab­i­tants of Crete) are always liars.

    There­fore, when Paul in quot­ing a Cre­tan wrote The Cre­tans are always liars” and but­tressed the claim by fur­ther stat­ing This wit­ness is true,” he was pre­cise­ly cor­rect irre­spec­tive of who made the state­ment and its obvi­ous he ful­ly thought the mat­ter through by virtue of his seem­ing­ly iron­ic insis­tence the state­ment was true when many would think it a para­dox­i­cal state­ment. Although all of us will always be liars by virtue of know­ing­ly mak­ing at least one false state­ment in the past, this can­not by any means be tak­en to mean that every state­ment we will ever make will be a known false­hood. This is why it’s pos­si­ble for a Cre­tan to accu­rate­ly state that Cre­tans are always liars.

  3. I remem­ber com­ing across this state­ment by Paul in 1 Titus hav­ing a chuck­le at how this para­dox seems to have gone right over his head.

    I used to imag­ine him sit­ting in a Roman cell while the guards would enter­tain each oth­er with jokes or the lat­est brain twist­ing para­dox going about. In my minds eye I would see Paul catch­ing a snip­pet of the con­ver­sa­tion as the first guard told the para­dox to the sec­ond guard, and while the sec­ond guard’s brain was start­ing to mull it over, Paul would scur­ry to the back of his cage, obliv­i­ous to the rest of the debate, grab a scrap of parch­ment and scrib­ble with right­eous indig­na­tion. I knew it” he would be think­ing, I knew Cre­tans were all lying scum. Now even a Cre­tan admits it!!”

    I think this was prob­a­bly a qual­i­ty that helped him become a suc­cess in reli­gious endeav­ours. When you’re busy try­ing to start a reli­gion you need the abil­i­ty to grab onto any sliv­er of evi­dence that sup­ports your pre­con­ceived notions and to nev­er let log­ic get in the way.

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