Beware of Slow Bellies
by Bob Burridge ©2019
In Titus 1:12 the King James Version of the Bible uses an interesting term to describe some who were troubling the church at the time this letter was written. The Apostle Paul was warning that there are some dangerous people who were “insubordinate” among the Jewish people (Titus 1:10). He pointed out that “they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.” (ESV translation). Paul refers to the people in Crete by quoting Epimenides, one of their own poet-philosophers, who said they were liars, evil beasts, and people with “slow bellies” as the King James Version puts it.
The expression translated as “slow bellies” is two Greek words “gasteres argai” (γαστέρες ἀργαί).
1. The first word is the plural of the word “gastaer”(γαστήρ) which means “stomach” or “belly”. We get our English word “gastric” from it, things that refer to the stomach and the digestive system.
2. The second word there is a plural of the word “argos” (ἀργός). It means “lazy, inactive, idle”. It’s a negative form of the Greek word for “work” which is “ergon” (ἔργον). We get our English word “ergonomics” from it, “relating to or designed for efficiency and comfort in the working environment.” It’s in a form that makes it a modifier of “stomachs”.
It means that these Cretans are lazy, they do little work. They are just stomachs who are non-workers. [See the footnote for what some commentaries say.]
Paul’s concern was to encourage Titus as he ordained Elders for the new churches forming in the wake of his ministry in Crete. In Titus 1:5-9 he lays out the requirements for that office. All those he ordains should meet these standards. The danger was from some who followed some Jewish myths and the false teachings of men. This warning is in Titus 1:10-16.
Titus was told to silence the influence of those who refused to submit to proper biblical authority. They were deceiving the people by promoting self-serving priorities. These are the ones who were the liars. They were the “slow bellies”, gluttons who were more concerned about filling their stomachs than honoring God’s written truth. They who are lazy and overly concerned about getting things for themselves become a burden to others. They refuse to take up their personal responsibility of managing their time and abilities in productive work for God’s glory.
The warning points out a dangerous human attitude. Our fallen nature tempts us to neglect the duties we were created to perform for the glory of our Creator. God created us to be productive workers. One of the creation ordinances was for humans to work for 6 days every week taking care of the resources the Creator provided for us (Genesis 1:26-30). The command to work a 6 day week is repeated later when God’s moral principles were summed up in the Ten Commandments. The Fourth Commandment in Exodus 20:9 says, “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work”. This work ethic continues all through the history of God’s people as recorded in the Old and New Testaments.
We need to look to the strength given to us by our Savior so we don’t become focused on what satisfies our stomachs, and not concerned about our duty to work so that our own desires will be filled in a God-honoring way. We need to pray for our church leaders so they will be able to guide the people of God to honor the principles of biblical economics built into creation as the Holy Spirit works in our hearts. We should also examine our own hearts to be sure that sinful self-centered attitudes are confessed, repented of, and by God’s enablement removed from our lives.
The English Standard Version translates the expression as, “lazy gluttons”. Commentator John Gill explains that “the Cretians are called, by the poet, slow bellies partly for their intemperance, their gluttony and drunkenness: which suited the false teachers, whose god was their belly, and which they served, and not the Lord Jesus; and partly for their sloth and idleness, eating the bread of others without working.” The commentary by Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown identifies these Cretans as, “slow bellies — indolent through pampering their bellies. They themselves are called “bellies,” for that is the member for which they live (Rom_16:18; Phi_3:19).” Lenski in his commentary says they are a people who are “inactive, that want to be filled without exertion in earning an honest living by honest work.” The “Baker’s New Testament Commentary: The Pastoral Epistles” by William Hendriksen says, ” ‘Bellies inactive’ marks the Cretans as lazy gluttons, sluggish and sensual gormandizers. The Cretans, then, are untruthful, selfish, and pleasure-loving.”
Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.