The word “unruly” means people who don’t want to be ruled. That’s the dictionary definition, and that’s how the words is used in the Bible as well. The only other people in the Bible called unruly are people who didn’t want to be ruled by the rulers of the local church (I Thes. 5:12-14). And that’s how the men in Crete were unruly as well.
But how’d Paul know they didn’t want to be ruled by rulers in the church if they didn’t have rulers yet (Tit. 1:5)? He knew because pastors don’t rule by dominating the faith of men (II Cor. 1:24). Men stand “by faith,” which comes from hearing the Word (Rom.10:17). So pastors rule by teaching the Word and letting it rule people. When Paul was in Crete, he’d seen that they didn’t want to be ruled by the Word, and he’d heard about it from Titus. So he told Titus to ordain elders to teach more of the Word, for God doesn’t have a Plan B. I.e., He didn’t give us anything else to rule our lives!
We know these unruly people were telling others not to be ruled by the Word for they are called “unruly…talkers” (1:10). They were “of the circumcision,” so they were doubtless telling men to be ruled by the Law. Of course, the Law is the Word of God—but not the Word for today! They didn’t want to be ruled by grace. Timothy had men just like that (I Tim. 1:3-7), whose speech he called “vain jangling,” just as these in Crete were “unruly and vain talkers.”
“Vain” can mean a lot of things, but here it means things which can’t profit or deliver (I Sam. 12:21), i.e., can’t save (Joel 2:32 cf. Rom. 10:13). Teaching the Law today is vain because the Law can’t save! Of course, it wasn’t vain when the Law was God’s program (cf. Ps. 119:113). But those who teach the law today are “unruly” in that they don’t accept the “rule” that nothing matters today but the “new creature” that God makes us when we get saved (II Cor. 5:17; Gal. 5:15,16). Of course, when the age of grace is over, teaching grace will be “vain” in the Tribulation (James 2:20).
Paul calls these men “deceivers” (1:10), which means they knew the truth but purposely taught the Law to mislead people. And when Paul says they were “specially” of the circumcision, that means that some of these Law teachers were Gentiles! They taught the Law because Satan always makes sure the Law is popular.
Paul told Titus to shut their mouths (Tit. 1:11). Not forcibly, but as the Lord did, by answering their questions and arguments so thoroughly that they were left speechless (Lu. 20:40).
When Paul says these Law teachers “subvert” whole houses (1:11), that word means to turn something upside down. That’s what they said about Paul (Acts 17:5,6)! Law teachers wanted to subvert grace and turn it back upside down to the Law. The leadership in the kingdom church wasn’t behind this, agreeing that it would subvert Gentiles to put them under the Law (Acts 15:24).
Next Paul quotes what they were saying to justify their teaching of the Law (Tit.1:12). If men are liars, they need the law — or so they reasoned! But grace says not to lie too (Eph.4:25).
When that Cretian prophet said that the Cretians are “evil beasts,” that means they didn’t obey civil rulers either (II Pe. 2:10-12; Jude 1:8-10). But they didn’t need the law (Deut. 17:12) to tell them to obey the government (Tit. 3:1) and not speak evil of civil leaders (Tit. 3:2).
The Greek words for “slow bellies” (1:12) is barren womb, and barren wombs that want children are “never satisfied” (Pr. 30:15,16). The Law says not to covet (Ex. 20:17), but you don’t have to put yourself under the curse of the law (Gal. 3:10) to know not to covet (Col. 3:5).
In Titus 1:13, Paul doesn’t say, “All that you say about the Cretians is true, so you’re right, they need the Law.” Instead he agrees it is all true, and tells these liars, evil beasts and slow bellies to be sound in the faith. Paul’s gospel is the answer to all of our needs in the dispensation of grace, not the Law of Moses!