Those for Whom Nothing Is Pure
Paul now identifies the ones in the Cretan church who are causing problems, and they are “those of the circumcision party,” that is, Jewish converts to the Christian faith, but whose conversion the Apostle obviously questions. We are again reminded that godliness must accompany faith. But instead of godliness, these are “upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.” They are insubordinate (indicating that there is rule in a church which is the specific task of the elder), empty talkers, and deceivers. To buttress his argument concerning these agitators in the church, he quotes a “prophet” who spoke of Cretans as “always liars, evil beasts, [and] lazy gluttons.” Crete was known in the ancient world for moral decadence and by quoting “a prophet of their own,” Paul was avoiding making the accusation himself while making his point that there was something terribly wrong in the church, something which had its origin in the pagan Cretan society which had infected the circumcision party as well. We learn in verse fourteen that this party of Jews was much like the party in Ephesus where Timothy was serving—“devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people” (also see 1 Timothy 1:3-7).
The focal point of this passage is verse fifteen: “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and consciences are defiled.” Scholars believe that these Jewish converts were ascetics; that is, people who trumpeted a works-based understanding of salvation in which they focused on diet and ritual while denying marriage (WBC, 400-403; 1 Timothy 4:1-3). But this has nothing to do with the true faith, which is about faith in Jesus Christ and growing in godliness through faith in him. The heretical Jewish converts thought ritual purity led to moral purity; but, since the inauguration of the new covenant, ritual purity is irrelevant. Rituals and purity codes were but a shadow of the good things to come; now that the “Way, Truth, and Life” has appeared, these old ways fall into disuse (Hebrews 8:1-7). Now that Christ has come, we accept the good things he has given us with gratitude. But to the man of a depraved mind, nothing is pure. He imagines food, drink, fidelity in marriage, and all other things as somehow sinful—but only because his sinful and fleshly mind can only conceive of them in sinful ways. He therefore must make rules to shun them; however in doing so, he accomplishes nothing but excites his own passions for the very thing he should despise—gluttony, drunkenness, and sexual immorality. But if we only begin with Christ, we may use all things rightly and to a godly purpose.