Heresy, apostasy, false teacher, false prophet


For if a person comes and preaches another Jesus, whom we did not preach, or you receive a different spirit, which you had not received, or a different gospel, which you had not accepted, you put up with it splendidly!

I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are troubling you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, a curse be on him!

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Men will rise up even from your own number and distort the truth to lure the disciples into following them.                                                      

-2 Corinthians 11:4, Galatians 1:6-9, Acts 20:28-30


Someone who preaches 'another Jesus', 'a different gospel', or is a 'wolf' who 'distorts the truth'. These are three examples in the New Testament of abhorrent teaching antithetical to the truth about Christ, that comes in and spoils the church. It is amazing how much of the NT addresses this topic. It is something that has been and still is happening, so we need to be very aware of it. And guarding against it and sorting it out is not extremely hard, but requires every believer to read and study the Bible, and become familiar with the central doctrines of Christianity.

What is a false teacher, and are they different than someone who teaches something that is not true, not correct, and they are just mistaken? What is a false prophet and are you a false prophet if you make prophecies that don't come to pass? What is heresy and what makes a person a heretic? What does it mean when we say a teaching is heretical? What is apostasy? What does it mean when someone has apostatized or is an apostate?

Christians can disagree on many things, but agree on Christ, which makes them Christians who disagree with other Christians. A Christian teacher can teach a false (untrue, incorrect) teaching and not be a false teacher because a false teacher is a person who teaches false teachings willfully and does this because they are not Christians.  A Christian teacher who teaches falsely could be sincerely wrong.  The question is, "do they have Christ in their life, or rather does Christ have them?"  If so, then they are not a false teacher.

There are some teachings that are speculative, that are not the center of Christianity. Different teachers and different Christian communities have different opinions or interpretations about non-central topics. If the person or people believe in Christ and have the doctrine of Christ, the same as all Christians; then they can not be false teachers or false Christians.

A person may prophesy something incorrect and not be a false prophet, but, prophetic people should be accountable, apologize, and learn from their mistakes. Prophetic ministry should be 'fail safe' and also done with humility.

A false prophet, like a false teacher, is someone who is doing it on purpose, and is not a Christian. They are frauds, fakes, and counterfeits. How can we learn to discern?

We have to get over ourselves and be willing to debate, discuss, and disagree about doctrines that are not Christ. We have to get back to weighing prophecies and testing the spirits.

Do we agree on Christ? If we do, then we should start there and be loving in our disagreements, and never exclude or wall off fellowship from other Christians. Being sectarian is actually antithetical to Christ.

Heretic, heresy

True heresy is a belief that is strongly at variance with established orthodox beliefs. 

So what makes a person a true heretic? First, the person has to be teaching heresy to others. A person cannot be a heretic only in their own mind. They only become a heretic when they instruct other people in their heresy. Second, the person must know what they are teaching is heresy to their own faith community. In other words, a person cannot be a heretic totally outside of his or her faith community. Technically speaking, a person should never be called a heretic unless he or she fits the following: (1) is a member of a faith community and teaches against its orthodoxy, and (2) knows the doctrine he or she is teaching conflicts with the faith community’s orthodoxy.                                                                          

-Roger Olson, Counterfeit Christianity, p. 10

Someone can teach heresy and not be a heretic. Someone teaching heresy has to be confronted that their teaching is unorthodox by their faith community. Looking from the outside, we might observe heresy in that the teaching is unorthodox. But the person would need to be disciplined and then kicked out or sidelined, by their community, be be called a heretic.

All of that is to say that the label heretic is not necessarily inseparably attached to heresy. A person might very well believe in or even teach heresy out of ignorance. Once they are informed that what they are teaching is heresy and they continue believing or teaching it within that faith community, then they are a heretic. In other words, being a heretic is always presumptuous— never accidental or unconscious.                                                                                                                                                  

-Olson, p. 11

Michael Haykin:

This is vital to note: a person who embraces heresy is not a Christian according to Christian tradition. Thus, when an author very critical of an historical Baptist figure described his teaching as being the “mother of all heresies,” and I responded to him that this meant that this historical individual was not a saved person, and the author replied to me that this was not the case at all: of course, he was saved, he said—then I had to admit to him that this did not make any sense to me. If a person knowingly teaches heresy and as such is a heretic, then, by the way Christianity has defined “heresy,” this person cannot be a Christian.

What is heresy?

Most importantly, heresy pertains only to the central doctrines of God and Christ. Heresy is established by orthodoxy and orthodoxy was established by the classical creeds (Nicea, Chalcedon, etc). 

 -Harold O.J. Brown, Heresies

What are some heresies? Here are heresies throughout history that you might find forms of today:


Christianity and Gnosticism are mutually exclusive systems of belief. The principles of Gnosticism contradict what it means to be a Christian. Therefore, while some forms of Gnosticism may claim to be Christian, they are in fact decidedly non-Christian.

Gnosticism teaches that salvation is gained through the acquisition of divine knowledge which frees one from the illusions of darkness. Although they claim to follow Jesus Christ and His original teachings, Gnostics contradict Him at every turn. Jesus said nothing about salvation through knowledge, but by faith in Him as Savior from sin. 

 -Got Questions


Montanism is named after a self-styled prophet named Montanus who lived in Asia Minor in the second century AD. Montanism, also called the Cataphrygian heresy or New Prophecy, taught that the Holy Spirit was continuing to give new revelation through Montanus and his followers and that Jesus would soon bring the New Jerusalem to a place in Phrygia.

The Montanists differentiated themselves from “ordinary” Christians in that they were “Spirit-filled,” and other Christians were not. The Montanists saw themselves as possessing a more advanced form of Christianity, having received a special baptism of the Spirit that enabled them to live a life of holiness. 

 -Got Questions


Marcion held to many errant views, but he is primarily known for his belief that the Old Testament Scriptures were not authoritative for a Christian. He denied that the God of the Old Testament was the same God presented in the New Testament. For Marcion, Jesus was the Son of the God of the New Testament but not the Son of the deity described in the Hebrew Scriptures. The deities of the Old and New Testaments were, from Marcion’s perspective, literally two different gods. Marcion did not deny the existence of the god of the Old Testament (what he referred to as a Demiurge). He simply classified this god as a secondary deity, one that was inferior to the supreme God revealed in Jesus. 

 -Got Questions


Adoptionism is a heresy which maintains that Jesus was a human being who became divine by adoption. Some taught that this occurred at his baptism, while other believed he became God at his resurrection. The earliest work that expresses this view in general is the Shepherd of Hermas (c. 150 AD). Adherents of this view were declared heretics in the third century. 



Arianism, in Christianity, the Christological (concerning the doctrine of Christ) position that Jesus, as the Son of God, was created by God. It was proposed early in the 4th century by the Alexandrian presbyter Arius and was popular throughout much of the Eastern and Western Roman empires, even after it was denounced as a heresy by the Council of Nicaea (325). 



Nestorianism, Christian sect that originated in Asia Minor and Syria stressing the independence of the divine and human natures of Christ and, in effect, suggesting that they are two persons loosely united. The schismatic sect formed following the condemnation of Nestorius and his teachings by the ecumenical councils of Ephesus (431 CE) and Chalcedon (451 CE). 



Subordinationism is an heretical view that God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are not merely relationally subordinate to God the Father, but also subordinate in nature and being. In other words, this view maintains that, within the Trinity, the Son and the Spirit are ontologically inferior to the Father.

This should not be confused with the eternal functional subordination of the Son held by Nicene and post-Nicene fathers, accepted within the creeds of the Church, and recognized as orthodox by theologians through the present era. Whereas Arianism held that the Son was a created being, inferior in nature to the Father, the church fathers believed that the Son was subordinate in function within the Godhead, but not in any way inferior in nature, being God of very God.                                                     



Modalism, also called Sabellianism, is the unorthodox belief that God is one person who has revealed himself in three forms or modes in contrast to the Trinitarian doctrine where God is one being eternally existing in three persons.                                                                                                                              



Tritheism is the belief in three distinct gods and stands in contrast to Trinitarianism.                                



Pelagianism views humanity as basically good and morally unaffected by the Fall. It denies the imputation of Adam's sin, original sin, total depravity, and substitutionary atonement. It simultaneously views man as fundamentally good and in possession of libertarian free will. With regards to salvation, it teaches that man has the ability in and of himself (apart from divine aid) to obey God and earn eternal salvation. Pelagianism is overwhelmingly incompatible with the Bible and was historically opposed by Augustine (354-430), Bishop of Hippo, leading to its condemnation as a heresy at Council of Carthage in 418 A.D. These condemnations were summarily ratified at the Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431).            



Unlike the Pelagians, who denied original sin and believed in perfect human free will, the semi-Pelagians believed in the universality of original sin as a corruptive force in humanity. They also believed that without God’s grace this corruptive force could not be overcome, and they therefore admitted the necessity of grace for Christian life and action. They also insisted on the necessity of baptism, even for infants. But contrary to St. Augustine, they taught that the innate corruption of humankind was not so great that the initiative toward Christian commitment was beyond the powers of a person’s native will...

The result of semi-Pelagianism, however, was the denial of the necessity of God’s unmerited, supernatural, gracious empowering of human will for saving action.                                                         


Notice that heresies are usually errors regarding Christ, the Trinity, or salvation.

There are three possible modern heresies in the church today, suggested by Roger Olson, in his book Counterfeit Christianity.

  1. Making God a monster by divine determinism. (Some forms of Calvinism)
  2. Reducing God to manageable size in moralistic therapeutic deism.
  3. Using God for personal gain in the gospel of health and wealth. (The "God loves a winner" gospel)

Remember that a heresy is something that does not line up with orthodox beliefs, the central claims of Christianity such as the nature of God and the means of salvation.

There are three teachings prevalent in the church today that seem to qualify as heresies. Some people call Calvinism a heresy and some Calvinists might call theology that questions Calvinism heresy and think that Calvinism is orthodoxy. Arminianism is not the opposite of Calvinism. The heresy of Pelagianism that is opposed by both Calvinism and Arminianism, is that humans can initiate their salvation.  Pelagianism is the heresy and Jacobus Arminius was a Dutch Reformed Theologian, who protested the tenants on Calvinism like irresistible grace, and who's ideas influenced Baptist, Methodist, and Pentecostal denominations; sharing ideas that Lutherans hold. Wikipedia article on Arminianism.

Divine determinism is when Calvinism is taken to an extreme, saying that God is the author of sin and evil. Sovereign over and author of are two different things. If Calvinism teaches that God determines and pre-plans everything, down to the smallest detail, including pre-determining tragedies and people going to hell; logic might dictate that God is the author of sin and evil, which is heretical.

Moral Therapeutic Deism is a very popular form of fake Christianity that might be encapsulated in having a coexist bumper sticker.

And the health and wealth gospel heresy that is very popular today might be encapsulated with the   phrase, "God loves a winner!"

Divine Determinism

The problem with divine determinism is that it, "means belief, whether explicit or implicit, that God determines all things according to a preconceived plan and by his omnipotent power, including sin and evil..." 

In my opinion, and many other Christians’ opinions, making God the author of sin and evil is heresy. Most Reformed, Calvinist Christians do not fall into that. They are careful to keep a distance between God and evil...

It would seem, then, that all forms of divine determinism are on the precipice of heresy even if only calling God the author of sin and evil is outright heresy.                                                                             

-(Olson pp. 123, 135, and 136)

What is Moral Therapeutic Deism?

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (or MTD) was initially identified and named by sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton in their book, Soul Searching, published in 2005. It was based on national research among the teenagers of the turn of the millennium. At that time Smith and Denton identified several core beliefs that characterized the thinking and behavior of the group. Those components included:

-Belief in a God who remains distant from people’s lives
-People are supposed to be good to each other (i.e., moral)
-The universal purpose of life is being happy and feeling good about oneself
-There are no absolute moral truths
-God allows “good people” into Heaven
-God places very limited demands on people

-Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University

George Barna called MTD "fake Christianity", centered on self, rather than God. Some believe that the majority of American Christians hold MTD beliefs and of those, only 16% have been born again. (Christian Headlines)

The Health and Wealth Gospel

This has also been identified as the "Prosperity Gospel". I call it the ,"God loves a winner", message. The roots or foundations of this are the 19th century "New Thought" positive thinking (new age) movement; where God becomes a cosmic vending machine who provides health, wealth, and success through our activating positive faith. Prayer is magic, and God is a force to be harnessed.  Positive confession or 'Name it and claim it', is another name for this unorthodox type of Christianity.

“The gospel is not about physical health and financial prosperity; it is about God’s mercy, forgiveness, and inward transformation into the likeness of Jesus Christ” 

 -Olson, p. 158

What is apostasy?

Apostasy is the renunciation or abandonment of a religion. Apostasy means falling away.

But they have been informed about you—that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to abandon Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or to live according to our customs. 

-Acts 21:21

Paul had become apostate from Judaism (the word abandon in the verse above).

Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way. For that day will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.                                                          

-2 Thess. 2:3

Contrary to popular dispensational teaching today, the apostasy (falling away) in 2 Thess. 2, is probably referring to the time after Christianity became the state church of the Roman Empire and the Papacy was established. The context here is that the Thessalonian Christians thought that maybe the second coming had already occurred and Paul is telling them no, it has not.

False teachers

There were indeed false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, and will bring swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved ways, and the way of truth will be maligned because of them. They will exploit you in their greed with made-up stories. Their condemnation, pronounced long ago, is not idle, and their destruction does not sleep.                                                     

-2 Peter 2:1-3

As Peter teaches about false teachers, the context is the Apostles (1:16-18):

For we did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; instead, we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased!” We ourselves heard this voice when it came from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.

The OT Prophets (1:19-20):

We also have the prophetic word strongly confirmed, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you know this: No prophecy of Scripture comes from the prophet’s own interpretation

The OT false prophets (2:1a):

There were indeed false prophets among the people,

The false teachers today (2:1b-3):

just as there will be false teachers among you. They will bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, and will bring swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved ways, and the way of truth will be maligned because of them. They will exploit you in their greed with made-up stories. Their condemnation, pronounced long ago, is not idle, and their destruction does not sleep.

Peter says in a sense, "here it is again", in that in the OT era there were false prophets and today we have false teachers. He is saying, in a sense, that there always have been and always will be false teachers.

The OT era false prophets were probably people who were false in the claim of being prophets and prophesied falsely. They had no divine authority, their messages were phony, they used flattery, asked for money, their lives were characterized by corruption and sinful indulgence, they were audacious in there lack of godliness, and their aim was deception. (J.B. Mayor, 2 Peter, 1907)

Peter could have called the false teachers false prophets, but he did not and maybe that is because all false teachers do not have the audacity to make the false claim to be prophets.

False teachers bring in destructive heresies

Bringing in means to 'sneak in' or to 'put in' along side true teaching. Some translations have "will infiltrate". The same idea is illustrated in Galatians 2:4, "some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks".

The word heresies, used in 2 Peter 2:1, "They will bring in destructive heresies", means a self-chosen opinion. We could say that people who teach heresies teach opinions that are contrary to orthodox theology. 

E.K. Simpson wrote, heretic is defined as, "an opinionative propagandist who promotes dissension by his pertinacity." Another definition might be, "arrogant independence" (Michael Green, 2 Peter).

Destructive heresies are teachings that bring destructive divisions. A marker of a false teacher is that their teachings divide God's people, away from Christ.

"destructive heresies"

Bob Utley wrote:

The term "heresies" (divisions) is used in three ways in the NT.

  1. as a religious sect or group (cf. Acts 24:14; 26:5)
  2. as divisions within Christianity (cf. 1 Cor. 11:19)
  3. as the teachings that are contrary to orthodoxy

The popular definition today among Christians, of heresy, is 'false doctrine'; but the NT definition is 'division'. Think about all the divisive teachings today. It is divisive to say, "God wants you all to be rich", "God caused all those people to be tortured and die", or "Be a good person and you will make it to heaven".  These heresies divide God's people from Bible orthodoxy about Christ and salvation.

 The division that is in the culture is in the church and is strangely celebrated. Sectarianism and denominationalism is a division from other Christians. It ranges from saying, "we get it right"; to saying that others are, "not even Christians".

The false teachers that will arise among God's people deny the Lord who bought them. The central issue is the Lordship of Christ. If he is Lord, then we need to obey him, follow him, and pattern our lives after him. If Jesus is not Lord, in our minds, but we claim to be Christians, we are not going to obey his commands, and we fall in to libertinism.

"even denying the Master who bought them"

"If it is true that the gospel is a (1) person; (2) a message about that person; and (3) a lifestyle emulating that person, then these false teachers violated all three. Can someone be "bought" by Jesus and deny Jesus? This is the problem."                                                                                     

-Bob Utley

An example of false teaching style is that a false teacher may teach liberation through God's work in Christ, but they do not teach the obligation to be a disciple and live a holy life under his Lordship:

They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption, since people are enslaved to whatever defeats them.                                                                                                                               

-2 Peter 2:19

We are either slaves to sin or slaves to Christ (Romans 6:15-23).  The lives of false teachers deny the Lord and they teach others to do so by their lives, as they do not walk with him. An example of this is the idea that whatever you do with your body does not matter.

But, Christ liberates us to live holy through him. We may stumble and even fall, but others help us, in Christ, to get back up and be restored and work out our salvation which is an event and a life long process. Libertinism is very different. It denies Christ, Jesus as Lord; and lives 'hog wild', while pretending to be saved in a man made religion.

But, is the marker of a false teacher or someone who follows false teaching libertinism? No. The big issue that makes you a false teacher or a follower of false teaching is the denial of the Master who bought you. This might be hard to comprehend because we live is a time and in a Christian culture where obedience to Christ, following him whole heartedly, making him Lord in that he takes over your life, where he is your master and you are his slave, has become optional.  

 Jesus said:

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do the things I say?                                                               

-Luke 6:46

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.                                                                                                            

-Matthew 7:21

People who are servants of Christ build their lives on the rock by obeying what he says, and there are people who mouth, 'Lord', but do not live out their lives under obedience to Christ. Living as a Christian is not about making my self better, but dying my self and letting Jesus live through me.

Peter says that heresies end in destruction. Denying the Lordship of Christ, opens the door to libertinism, which ends in destruction; a ruined life and ultimately going to hell. The irony is that false teachers promise you 'the good life', your dreams coming true, and fulfilling your potential: sensual happiness. The selling point or 'buy in' is freedom, but they and their followers become not slaves to Christ, but slaves to sin. The sin might be greed, immorality, unethical dealings to get ahead, or a highly religious lifestyle that is disconnected from the Lordship of Christ.

Denying the Lordship of Christ is given such negative emphasis by Peter because it is the center of Christianity. You simply are not a Christian if you don't believe Jesus is Lord. And saying Jesus is Lord is neither something that you can just say or even intellectually believe. Being a Christian is to do Christ's words and to make him your master. A false teaching is that you don't have to live as a servant of Christ.

Many will follow their depraved ways, and the way of truth will be maligned because of them.                

-2 Peter 2:2

Instead of 'depraved ways, the NET Bible says, "debauched lifestyles"; which literally means licentiousness, shamelessness, and insolence.

There is a true way and one way, through Christ to salvation. In him, we know what to think and how to live. The path is called the Lordship of Christ and those on that path live out their belief or faith by doing what their master says to do. Non believers look at the false teachers and false believer's lifestyles and scoff at or blaspheme Christ. The witness of the false believers following false teachings brings scorn to the real thing from non believers. This is why Christians are supposed to live blameless lives under the headship of Christ.

They will exploit you in their greed with made-up stories.                                                                           

-2 Peter 2:3a

One of the characteristics of these false teachers is greed. Money or abounding is not the problem (Philippians 4:12). But the love of money or greed is a grave sin (1 Timothy 6:10).

Jesus pointed out that scribes and Pharisees were also full of greed (Matthew 23:25, Luke 11:39).

It is important to note that someone is not a false teacher, the kind of person Peter is writing about in 2 Peter 2, just because they teach a false teaching.  False teachers are false Christians, not going to heaven, not saved; true heretics.

Christians can believe and Christian teachers can teach things that are wrong; they can teach falsely, but not be a false teacher, according to the biblical definition. Born again people can argue over doctrines, but what makes a person a false teacher or a true heretic is that they have forsaken Christ. We can disagree about eschatology, Calvinism, communion, baptism, the sabbath, tithing, church governance/government, women ministers, spiritual gifts, and sabbath keeping. You can be wrong or at variance with other Christians on any of these and still be a Christian. You can teach or spread false doctrine but not be a false teacher.

A false teacher denies Christ (2 Peter 2:1) and some, much, or seemingly all of their doctrine might sound good; but their living, the fruit of their lives, gives them away. 

False doctrine addressed in 1 Timothy

In 1 Timothy, Paul addresses the issue of false doctrine being taught in the church that seems to be coming from inside, from the elders themselves, who are not false teachers, but are teaching falsely: (Gordon Fee, 1 Tim., p.40)

As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach false doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith. 

 -1 Timothy 1:3-4

If anyone teaches false doctrine and does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching that promotes godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing, but has an unhealthy interest in disputes and arguments over words. From these come envy, quarreling, slander, evil suspicions, and constant disagreement among people whose minds are depraved and deprived of the truth, who imagine that godliness is a way to material gain.                                                                     

-1 Timothy 6:3-5

The problem that prompted Paul to write 1 Timothy was false teaching in the church and how to organize a second generation church. In contrast, Paul's letter to Titus is written to a first generation church. Titus was pioneering new churches in Crete, whereas Timothy was giving apostolic leadership to established churches in Ephesus. (Winn Griffin, GEA, pp.266-7)

False doctrine literally means 'strange doctrines' (NASB). These strange or false doctrines taught seem to be outside Paul's orthodoxy. It is also translated 'different doctrine' in the Revised Standard Versions. Based on the rest of Paul's letter, these teachings were at best a 'majoring in the minors'. (Griffin)

Imagine listening to teachings that are not based on scripture in a church meeting and you get the idea. It might be a nice or interesting story or a teaching that does not line up with scripture. 

James cautioned people from becoming teachers in the church

Not many should become teachers, my brothers, because you know that we will receive a stricter judgment. 

 -James 3:1

Incompetent teachers can harm people. Just like the rabbis in James day, teachers are given much honor today. Becoming a teacher in the church for the prestige or power over other's lives is a bad idea, especially if one is not gifted by the Holy Spirit to teach. The hypocrisy issue might be the greatest challenge or pitfall for teachers, which is not living or seeking to live the message that they teach. James seeks to restrain the rush to teach in the church by those not qualified to do so. William Barclay wrote that, "no profession is more liable to beget spiritual and intellectual pride", than teaching in the church (The Letters of James and Peter, Barclay, William, p. 94).

Jude: "beware of the apostates" (EC Pentecost)

Jude's audience are Christians who are coming under the influence of false teaching. The antidote for false teaching is to come back to, "contending", for the faith. Like Hebrews, James, and 1 John; Jude's letter is a sermon. Jude tells his audience that false teaching leads to a wrong view of God, and leads to living in the wrong story; and that this is nothing new. (Griffin, GEA)

Dear friends, although I was eager to write you about the salvation we share, I found it necessary to write, appealing to you to contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all. For some people, who were designated for this judgment long ago, have come in by stealth; they are ungodly, turning the grace of our God into sensuality and denying Jesus Christ, our only Master and Lord.

Now I want to remind you, although you came to know all these things once and for all, that Jesus saved a people out of Egypt and later destroyed those who did not believe; and the angels who did not keep their own position but abandoned their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deep darkness for the judgment on the great day. Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns committed sexual immorality and perversions, and serve as an example by undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.                                                                                                                                                

-Jude 3-7

The false teachers have snuck in to the church, they are ungodly (they do not revere God), and have taught a message of licentiousness (libertinism, shameless unbridled lust) , and deny Christ (that Jesus is Christ and King, The Savior and The Lord).

The false teachers deceive God's people about God and how to live. Jude tell his readers that this has happened before, and that judgement follows:

- Jesus saved a people out of Egypt and later destroyed those who did not believe

-The angels who did not keep their own position but abandoned their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deep darkness for the judgment on the great day.

-Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns committed sexual immorality and perversions, and serve as an example by undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.

Jude also mentions the examples of Cain, Balaam, and Korah as people who got the wrong idea and made wrong choices in how to live and were judged.

Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, have plunged into Balaam’s error for profit, and have perished in Korah’s rebellion.

-Jude 11

The message is that Jesus is King, Savior, and Judge. Sin must be judged. False teaching is eternally dangerous because a wrong view of God leads to a wrong way of living which results in judgement. Jesus is one with God who acted against sinners in the OT times and is the same today. The Bible teaches that apostasy is judged.

Arno C. Gaebelein wrote about apostasy in his notes on Jude:

"It starts with unbelief The people had been saved out of Egypt, but they believed not and were destroyed in the wilderness, except those mentioned in the Word who believed.

Thus all apostasy starts with unbelief in what God has spoken. The angels which kept not their first estate, who left their own habitation, and who are now chained, are the same angels of whom Peter speaks, those who brought in the corruption described in the opening verses of Genesis 6:1-22. They gave up the place assigned to them. This is the next step in the progress of apostasy. Unbelief leads to rebellion against God. Sodom and Gomorrha come next. Here we find the grossest immoralities and going after strange flesh. These vicious things are still in the world, and why are they so prominent in our days? On account of unbelief. Then follows the statement, that these apostates are filthy dreamers who defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities. This is lawlessness. This is the goal of all apostasy. The predicted lawlessness with which this age ends is the fruitage of infidelity. Such is the development of apostasy. Unbelief, rebellion against God and his revealed truth, immorality and anarchy. These steps may be traced in our own times." 

 -Gaebelein's Annotated Bible, Jude

Gnosticism may have been the main sort of heresy that Jude was dealing with. The false teaching of Gnosticism says that salvation is an escape from the evil realm of matter to the realm of the spirit through knowledge. The Jesus of Gnosticism can not have inhabited a material (human) body, so he was really a ghost, an illusion; who only seemed to be a man.

The antidote and the prevention for the wrong view of God and wrong way of living that leads to destruction, brought in by false teachers, is the apostolic faith.

But you, dear friends, remember what was predicted by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They told you, “In the end time there will be scoffers living according to their own ungodly desires.” These people create divisions and are worldly, not having the Spirit.

But you, dear friends, as you build yourselves up in your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting expectantly for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life. Have mercy on those who waver; save others by snatching them from the fire; have mercy on others but with fear, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.                                                          

-Jude 17-23

Notes/thoughts from Jude:

Why should you not embrace false teaching?

How do we resist becoming deceived?

How do we defend the true apostolic faith?

How do we remember the apostolic faith?

How do we build ourselves up in our most holy faith?

How do we pray in the Holy Spirit?

How do we keep ourselves in the love of God?

How do we wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life?

How do we have mercy on those who waver?

How do we snatch others from the fire?

How do we have mercy on others with fear, while not getting involved in their sins?

Forgetting or remembering the scriptures makes a huge difference.

Spiritual maturity is connected to time spent in prayer.

Knowing God's love is a protection.

The Christian life is the development of character, communion with God, and looking forward to eternal life.

Christians need, are called, to help other struggling Christians or falling away Christians. When people are wavering, that is the time to come along their side and help them. When we know someone is being taken in by false teaching, that is not the time to shun them, but the ripe time to talk to them. When we encounter a fellow Christian who is in fact falling away, who have already chosen and are walking away on the wrong path; we need to be very assertive, as we would be in pulling them out of or away from flames. And when we attempt to rescue someone who is already in a web on sin, we need to have the attitude, 'there but for the grace of God go I', and not superiority. We must be filled with the awe and fear of the Lord, as we work as his ambassadors. We need to call them back to walking with Christ.

False prophets

“Be on your guard against false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So you’ll recognize them by their fruit.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers!’                                                                   -Matthew 7:15-23

Who are these false prophets Jesus is referring to here? The majority of scholars believe they were libertinists who were antinomians. But it is impossible to know if Jesus had a particular group in mind here. We can apply the term to ministers who are wolves in sheep's clothing and recognize them by their bad fruit. If verses 21-23 are tied to the words of 15-20, then the false prophets may be hyper-charismatic ministers who have unrighteous fruit.

From Donald Hagner's Matthew commentary:

"A false prophet is a person that appears to be someone who they are not.

A false prophet pretends to have and proclaim the truth while their lives evidence that they themselves do not follow the truth."

Fruit is a metaphor for righteous deeds:

Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance.

The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.                                                                                                                      

-Matthew 3:8, 10

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruit.                                                                                                                                                          

-Matthew 21:43

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things.                                                                                           

-Galatians 5:22-23

Every branch in me that does not produce fruit he removes, and he prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me. If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be my disciples.                                                                                                                                                  

-John 15:2-8

What gives away the false prophet is what they do and how they live, and not in what they say. Yes, they might say things that don't sound right, but since they are by definition lying liars, it might be hard to tell, unless you are very discerning. Unfortunately many people can not discern and then follow false teachers and prophets and that is why these are sternly warned against. Is this person a follower of Christ, a disciple? How is their fruit?

Jesus also critiqued the Pharisees as having bad fruit, illustrated by what they said; when they said that Jesus was casting out demons through demonic power in Matthew 12. In this case, their nasty, blasphemous words were the fruit of rotten hearts that were not governed by God.

Character matters. Jesus gives false prophets an ethics test, not a test on doctrine. It is a test for hypocrisy. Hypocrite means 'actor'. A person can be a fraud in how they act and what they say, and fool you.

False prophets are tested by their fruit, which, "are indicators of that person's discipleship and relationship to the kingdom." (Hagner, Matthew, p. 351) Fruit can be words or deeds. As the analogy of the tree illustrates, words and deeds come from a person's insides; their character.

Richard France wrote,

"The principal (you will know them by their fruit) will determine men's final destiny. Profession of discipleship alone will be no protection against the coming judgement. Jesus here reinforces John the Baptist's attack on superficial repentance." (Matthew, RT France, TNTC, p. 148)

Testing prophets

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming; even now it is already in the world.                                       

-1 John 4:1-3

False prophets are identified by what they teach about Jesus Christ. A false prophet has a deficit in affirming Christ. They simply do not teach or proclaim that Jesus is Christ, which also means he is King and to be obeyed. False prophets lack Christology. True prophets, inspired by the Spirit of God, profess (are professors of) Christ. A false prophet's message lacks Christ. A false prophet does not necessarily preach against Christ, but a false prophet can not preach Christ: profess, confess, and proclaim Jesus is Lord, because they themselves are not Christians, at heart.

It is necessary to test the prophets. Test means to make a critical examination to determine its genuineness. There are stories in the OT where false prophets who prophesied one thing, and one true prophet who prophesied another thing. The only way to know who was right was to wait to see what happened.

In Deuteronomy, there are some guidelines:

“If a prophet or someone who has dreams arises among you and proclaims a sign or wonder to you, and that sign or wonder he has promised you comes about, but he says, ‘Let’s follow other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let’s worship them,’ do not listen to that prophet’s words or to that dreamer. For the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul.                                                                                                                                                       

-Deuteronomy 13:1-3

A false prophet may be allowed by God to do signs and wonders to you (miraculous ministry that seems genuine in that it 'comes about'), but preaches heresy ('Let's follow other gods' and 'worship them'), do not listen to them. God tests our hearts through false prophets.

When a prophet speaks in the Lord’s name, and the message does not come true or is not fulfilled, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him. 

 -Deuteronomy 18:22

If a prophet is adamant about their prediction which does not come true, they have been presumptuous. This is a warning to would be genuine prophets to not be presumptuous.

We learn here that false prophets preach the heresy of following and worshipping other gods, or are presumptuous. These are fruits. A prophet may be accurate and move in signs and wonders, but be false because of their fruit; and a prophet may be false because of presumption.

Presumption is when you go beyond the revelation you might have been given, 'playing God', and force your fleshly, carnal interpretation or timeline onto a revelation you have been given, or think you have been given. Presumption can be an immature misspeak or an audacious, arrogant statement that goes beyond the revelation given, that is rooted in pride. Prophesying in humility is the antidote for presumption and repenting when and if you misspeak and even making amends.

A true prophet can become false if they are not walking with Christ. False prophets today can be either frauds who are making stuff up and/or speaking from their delusions, or they can be speaking from a spirit of falsehood. Apostle John is black and white when he says that it is Christ or Antichrist that a prophetic person is speaking from.

Paul gives us guidance about evaluating prophecies:

Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should evaluate. But if something has been revealed to another person sitting there, the first prophet should be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged. And the prophets’ spirits are subject to the prophets, since God is not a God of disorder but of peace.                                                                         

-1 Corinthians 14:29-33

There are different kinds of prophets. Some minister prophecy to individuals, some singularly give messages, and some speak to the gathered body in church meetings. The context of 1 Corinthians 14 is the latter, but I believe these principles apply to all prophetic words. We must evaluate, "pass judgement" (NASB), or, "weigh carefully" (NIV) prophetic words. The answer to how to deal with prophetic words is not to stop them, but to evaluate them. It seems that there are only two extremes today, either no evaluation or no prophecy.

Where is the plurality of prophetic ministers where there is a chorus of prophets who are evaluated by one another in front of the church?

This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.

Now concerning spiritual gifts: brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be unaware. You know that when you were pagans, you used to be enticed and led astray by mute idols. Therefore I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. -1 John 4:2, and 1 Corinthians 12:1-3

The main way to tell if a prophecy is false is what it says about Jesus. The incarnation and the deity of Christ are central tenets of Christianity. If these are denied, then immediately stop listening. And if these are never mentioned by the person, then we need to question what they are saying as perhaps not being Christian. To give a message to a group of believers or to individuals that is supposed to be a prophecy, a prophetic word, but there is no Christ in it is a problem; and we need to discern this in evaluating and say, "wait a minute", or "hold on"; and not take in the message.

Then I fell at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers and sisters who hold firmly to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God, because the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”                                                                                                

-Revelation 19:10

Prophetic ministry, prophetic words, and prophets can not be disconnected from the testimony of Jesus. "Perhaps the angel meant that testimony about Jesus is the common substance of all prophecy, that all prophecy ultimately reveals Him" (David MacLeod Erdman). The true spirit of prophecy always manifests itself in bearing witness to Jesus; prophecy that does not bear witness to Him is false prophecy (Leon Morris, noted by Tom Constable in his notes on Revelation).

This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming; even now it is already in the world.                                      

-1 John 4:2-3

FF Bruce wrote, "No matter how charming, how plausible, how eloquent the prophets in question may be, the test of their witness to Christ and His truth is the test by which they must be judged."

But, being a prophet, prophetically gifted, or prophesying is very strongly encouraged:

Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy.                                             

-1 Corinthians 14:1

Pursue means to run swiftly. Love here is the love spoken of in 1 Corinthians 13:1-4. Desire here means 'burn with zeal'. We are told to desire spiritual gifts. Paul could have written that we need to chill out on this charismatic stuff and get back to just studying and being taught the Bible. But he did not say that. And this also is what he said to a church that was perhaps going overboard in their charismatic experiences, what we might today describe as 'hyper-charismatic'.

Paul says to pursue love AND desire spiritual gifts. We can glean that the Corinthian Christians had a love deficit. But Paul did not say to them to get back to loving one another and being taught the word and step back from the charismatic stuff. He said to run after spiritual gifts and especially the gift of prophecy.

Paul does not say, "Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts, and especially that you may teach". In most of today's church, we act like the most important gift is teaching.  But this is not what the NT teaches. 

In the early church, there were prophets in congregations and apparently prophets who would come and bring a message. There is a very strong encouragement here to be a prophet, to have the gift and use it. Along side, there is guidance for testing, evaluating, and judging prophecies. The church should reform itself in this area and get back to what the NT prescribes and describes.

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, a close friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.

-Acts 13:1

We need prophets and teachers in the church, and prophets are always listed first, because they are more important.

Summary and closing thoughts

Chapter 25, point number 5 of The Westminster Confession says this:

The purest churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan. Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth to worship God according to his will.

  • The antidote for doctrinal error is right doctrine. 
  •  There is no New Testament command to separate from other believers that we disagree with. We are supposed to work for unity with them in love.
  • But when a church or a person ministering to the church becomes an unbeliever in that they deny the Christian faith and are now a false church, false teacher, false prophet, heretic or apostate; then we should realize that they do not represent Christ and Christianity. They have separated from Christ.

Wayne Grudem wrote this note at the end of the chapter titled, 'The Purity and Unity of The Church', in his Systematic Theology book:

The New Testament authors would probably think it tragic that most divisions among Protestants have come about or been maintained today because of differences over some of the least emphasized and least clearly taught doctrines in the New Testament, such as the form of church government, the exact nature of Christ's presence in the Lord's Supper, and the details of the end times. (many people would want to add to that list: differences over the proper subjects for baptism.)

Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John all warned about false teachers, false prophets, and heretical teachings which are primarily about Christ and salvation. The center of Christianity that all the spokes connect to is Christ. Corrupting the teaching on Christ is the false teaching.



Bruce, FF; The Epistles of John, 1970

France, RT; Matthew, 1985

Green, Michael; 2 Peter and Jude, Tyndale NT Commentaries, 1987, pp. 103-9

Griffin, Winn; God's Epic Adventure, 2007, pp. 

Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1994

Hagner, D., Matthew, 1993

Olson, R., Counterfeit Christianity: The Persistence of Errors in the Church, 2015