Is China the New Crete?

China is facing another product safety scandal. By now everyone has lost count of how many this makes. Joel Brinkley, in an article titled “A Culture of Cheaters Grows in China,” reports a recent finding that Chinese pill manufacturers were deliberately using a known carcinogen in their capsules. Apparently, the companies decided it was more profitable to use a cheaper industrial gelatin normally used for glue.

This news comes about a year after after China’s “leather milk” scandal. Companies were diluting their milk with water and then adding toxic leather-waste byproducts to pass the government’s protein-content tests. Another milk scandal caused infants to grow breasts, and still others have left children dead. Such instances lead Brinkley to conclude,

China…has grown to be an industrial power in only one generation. And it hasn’t yet set up an effective regulatory structure to police its manufacturers. That certainly plays a part. But there’s another, institutional problem:

China is a nation of cheaters!

No, it’s not my intention to besmirch 1.35 billion Chinese. Certainly, many do try to be honest — even if it puts them at a disadvantage. But the state holds so many selfish, deceitful people that they have given the entire country an ugly reputation.

Two thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul condemned the culture of Crete by quoting a Cretan philosopher (probably Epimenides) who said,

“Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” (Titus 1:12)


Crete was known for its deceptive population. Koine Greek even had verb “to crete-ize” (κρητίζω) that meant “to lie” or “to cheat.”

Evil Beasts

Crete was know for its ruthless population. The island of Crete famously lacked wild animals (Pliny, Natural History 8.83; Plutarch, Moralia 86C). By calling Cretans “evil beasts,” the description implies that the island had natural predators of the human sort.

Lazy Gluttons

Crete was know for its gross materialism. The term “lazy gluttons” probably speaks more to excessive self-indulgence than inactivity since the Cretans also had a reputation as pirates and mercenaries. Towner notes, “The phrase complements the sorts of things Polybius and other ancients said about the excessive and uncontrollable appetites of Cretans, who exercised no trace of self control, gentleness, or uprightness, and who would do anything to turn a profit” (The Letters to Timothy and Titus 702).

Christianity and Cretan Culture

The Cretans were lying ruthless materialists. Their culture sounds like modern-day China. Since this description of Crete comes right after instructions for selecting Cretan pastors on the basis of positive character qualities, Paul obviously did not assume that all Cretans lived up to their culture’s reputation, and we should likewise not judge Chinese individuals by their culture. However, China’s Cretan characteristics have become engrained in Chinese culture. Paul provides three biblical principles for ministry in Cretan cultures.

The Chinese Church Needs Seriously Prepared Leaders

Who did Paul send to Crete? He sent one of his closest ministry partners (2 Cor 8:23). Titus was well trained to enter a difficult ministry and cultural situation. Apparently, Titus was to pass his training and experience along to the local leadership (Titus 1:5; 3:14). Seriously sinful cultures need seriously prepared Christian leaders. Western Christianity should send its best pastors/teachers/resources to help equip China’s Christian leaders.

The Chinese Church Needs Seriously Qualified Leaders

After a brief greeting, Paul immediately turns his attention to the qualities necessary for church leaders (Titus 1:5-9). These qualities should stand in stark contrast to the sinful culture surrounding the church. News of the culture’s sinfulness should constantly remind Christian leaders to guard their spiritual qualifications and drive the church to pray that their leaders would have grace to endure temptation.

The Chinese Church Needs Seriously Confrontational Leaders

The church must be prepared to critique and condemn its surrounding culture. Leaders must confront false doctrine arising from the culture (Titus 1:10-16) and teach the church to pursue godly lives in their fallen cultures (2:1-3:11). China’s Christian leaders must “speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority” (2:15).


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