A “fable” (1:14) is an untrue story, and the Jews in Crete were telling some fables that were causing problems in the churches. These fables had to do with the “commandments of men” that Paul also warns us about (v. 14). Under the Law, the commandments of men were the traditions the Jews were telling that negated the commandments of God found in the Law (Mt. 15:6-8). But now under grace, the Law contains the commandments of men (Colossians 2:21-23).
So the commandments of men being taught by the Jews in Crete were the commandments of the Law, and the fables they were telling were doubtless stories designed to teach that we are still under the Law, for a fable is a story designed to teach a lesson. Those fables are still told today. When we tell men we are not under the Law, they tell stories of how God is still blessing men with health if they are good as He did under the Law (Ex. 23:25), and wealth if they pay their tithes, as He did under the Law (Deut. 8:18; Mal. 3:10).
Paul predicted that men would turn from the truth to these fables (II Tim. 4:3,4), and confirmed that fables turn men from the truth in our text (1:14). The Law was once the truth of God, but now it turns men from the truth of grace. If you obeyed the Law when it was part of God’s program you obeyed the truth, but when the Galatians turned from grace to the Law, Paul had to ask them what hindered them “that ye should not obey the truth” (Gal. 3:1). The Old Testament is full of true stories of how God blessed Israel with health and wealth when they were good, but stories like that happening today are fables, so don’t give heed to them!
The Law teachers in Crete were telling the believers that the Law said certain meats were unclean or impure, so Paul responded by saying that to pure, saved people, people like the believers in Crete’s churches, all things are pure (1:15). But to “them that are defiled and unbelieving” nothing was pure, i.e., to unbelievers all foods were unclean. Just as everything these unsaved Law teachers did was sin (Pr. 21:4), everything they ate was unclean, as startling as that is to consider!
When Paul says of these Law teachers that “even their mind” is defiled (1:15), that means everything the unsaved man thinks is unclean (Isaiah 59:7). Isaiah was talking about Jews, but Paul applies his words to all men (Rom. 3:15-17).
And if your mind is unclean, you can’t trust your conscience, and Paul says that the conscience of an unsaved man is defiled too (1:15). As Saul of Tarsus, he murdered men with a clear conscience (Acts 23:1) because his mind told him they were wrong. He thought he knew God and they didn’t.
Just as these Law teachers in Crete professed to know God (1:16), “but in works they deny Him,” just as Paul denied Him with his murderous works. He killed people for money (Gal. 1:13,14), they were teaching untrue things for money (Tit. 1:11).
There’s words for men who do despicable things like that for money, and one of them is “abominable” (1:16). The Law teachers were telling the believers they were abominable if they ate certain meats, for that’s what the Law said (Lev. 11:41-43). Paul says the Law teachers themselves were the abominable ones! “Abominable” means “very hated” (Deut. 12:31; Pr. 6:16; Jer. 4:44). God loved them as sinners needing salvation, but if they weren’t willing to admit their need, He hated them as workers of iniquity (Ps. 5:5).
The reason Paul calls these Law teachers “disobedient” (1:16) was because that’s what they were calling the saints for not keeping the diet laws. Under the Law, “disobedient” meant disobedient to the Law (Neh. 9:26). But they were the real disobedient ones (Rom. 10:21), for they had not obeyed the gospel (Rom. 10:16).
Finally, when Paul says they were “reprobates” (1:16), that word means abandoned (Rom. 1:21-29). In Romans 1, Paul was describing the Gentiles before Abraham, whom God had to abandon or give up, but now the Jews had joined them in this. They were “unto every good work reprobate” because as unsaved men they were totally unable to do good works, totally unable to do anything but sin. No wonder Paul told Titus to tell men to pay them no heed!