In Titus 1:10-14 Paul wrote about some rebellious and deceitful people that were most likely part of the church in Crete while Titus was there. Paul told Titus to rebuke them and keep them from deceiving people in the church there: “Rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith, and will pay no attention to Jewish myths…” (NIV). Paul didn’t give many details about these Jewish myths, but he possibly referred to them again in Titus 3:9 and 1 Timothy 1:4. We do know that these Jewish myths were very unhelpful and distracting to Christians. They were a hindrance to people who were following Christ so Paul told Titus to rebuke people who were devoted to “Jewish myths.”
So what are these Jewish myths? While we don’t know for certain, we do have some idea. For example, Samuel Ngewa wrote, “These myths may include the many legends that had grown up about the Old Testament patriarchs. The [Jewish] midrashic approach to the Old Testament opened the door to endless interpretations of any passage.”
E. Earle Ellis also gave some helpful comment on what these Jewish myths might be:
When Paul warned Timothy and Titus to beware of Jewish fables and commandments of men (1 Tim. 1:4; Titus 1:14; 3:9.), no doubt he had in mind many of the things exemplified in the rabbinic literature. Although some of their exegesis is praiseworthy and sometimes ingenious in justifying good traditions or judicial rights, nevertheless its essential character is indeed ‘weak and beggarly’ (Gal. 4:9). …To realize the great gulf which separates Paul’s use of the OT from that of the rabbis, one need only observe a few examples from [Jewish] talmudic literature:
1) ‘The dust of the first man was gathered from all over the earth because Ps. 139:16 says God saw the unformed substance, and Zech. 4:10 says the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth.”
2) “Why did Obadiah hide fifty prophets in the cave (1 Ki. 18:4)? Because the cave would only hold fifty.”
3) “The first man had two faces because Ps. 139:5 says, ‘Thou hast formed me behind and before.'”
4) “That God says his prayers is proved when Is. 56.7 says ‘My (i.e. God’s) house of prayer.'”
5) “Michael is greater than Gabriel because he reached his goal in one flight (Dan. 10:13) while Gabriel took two (Dan. 9:21; ‘fly’ occurs twice).”
This is an edited summary of Ellis’ list of Jewish talmudic myths. Ellis also noted that there are plenty more examples of such Jewish myths. In fact, a main principle of rabbinic Jewish interpretation is this: “A verse is capable of as many interpretations as splinters of a rock crushed by a hammer, for Jer. 23:29 says, ‘Like a hammer that breaketh a rock in pieces….” (Sanh. 34a).
Back to the main point: when Paul told Titus to stop certain people from following Jewish myths, the above kinds of myths are quite possibly what Paul was thinking about. And after reading just a few of them we can see how they’d be very troublesome to new Christians in Crete! Although we might not be distracted by Jewish myths, there are plenty of other myths out there. We need to be sure that we don’t follow myths and let them distract us from the truths of Scripture and our priority of following Jesus.
The above quotes are found in 1) Ngewa, Samuel. 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. Africa Bible Commentary Series. Grand Rapids, MI: Hippo Books, 2009 – and 2) Ellis, E. Earle, Paul’s Use of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1957.