Cretan or Cretin

Have you ever been called either a Cretan or a cretin? Both terms can be meant as insults but have different spellings and slightly different meanings. A “Cretan” is a person from the island of Crete.  If you call someone a Cretan in that sense, you are saying that they are like the stereotypical resident of ancient Crete.

Paul pigeonholes the Cretans this way (and it’s not remotely politically correct), “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” (Tit. 1:12 ESV) Paul shoots from the hip, but he’s not wrong.  Though Crete had been inhabited for centuries, during the New Testament time period, the island had become a haven for pirates. Titus, whom Paul left on Crete, had his work cut out for him.

“Cretin”, with an “i” is an intended slur, a synonym for “idiot”.  The origin of the term is fascinating.  In the Alps, a distinct type of congenital defect was common. Cretinism is a disease caused by a lack of iodine, which in turn leads to a birth defect consisting in short stature and mental impairment. A cretin suffers from this abnormality.

But how did cretinism get named?  “Cretin” is derived from the French word that means Christian.  The local Christians wanted to show kindness to these developmentally challenged individuals. Whereas some people regarded cretins as subhuman, they chose to regard them as brothers. They called them by the name “Christian” (cretin) to emphasize the worth of their human souls.  Being called a “cretin” may be intended as an insult, but it is a reminder as well, that God chose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise.

Happily then, “Cretan” and “cretin” are both words that remind us of the redemptive power of the gospel. In the case of “Cretans”, we know that Christ redeemed many on that island for himself.  The gospel of Christ can change pirates into saints of God. In the case of “cretins”, the gospel of Christ redeemed a whole culture’s view of the developmentally disabled.  Christ’s love in the gospel redeems Cretans and cretins for God’s glory.

Tip of the day: If someone calls you a “cretin” ask your detractor to spell it, define it, and then tell him how the gospel changes everything.  It changed you, dear cret*n.


Pastor Jay Beuoy