The Journal of Biblical Accuracy
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On false teachers

Forgive me for continuing in this digression, but here it is perhaps a good opportunity to give some more information concerning false teachers. Peter spoke about them in 2 Peter 2:

2 Peter 2:1-3
"But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep." (ESV-KJV)

"Many will follow their sensuality": false teachers have apparently a large following. They are popular. Contrast this with the narrow gate that leads to life. It is not many who find it but few. The many go through the broad gate.

Matthew 7:13-14
"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."

The fact that somebody is a popular preacher does not necessarily mean that he is also a true teacher. It may well be that he is a false teacher and in fact his popularity is just because of this: because he gives the people an entrance through the broad gate and the easy way and many like this entrance and thus follow him.

Furthermore as Peter tells us: "and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed". There is only one way of truth and this is the "hard way that leads to life". It is the way through the narrow gate. This way, the true and genuine Christianity, will be blasphemed. It will be perhaps branded as "religion", "legalism" etc. as opposed to the "freedom" and the "grace" (but cheap, falsified grace and not the grace of the Word) these false teachers promise. Also, the world, seeing these impostors and thinking that they are what they pretend to be ("Christians"), will come to wrong conclusions about Christianity as a whole, again causing the way of truth to be blasphemed. And Peter continues:

2 Peter 2:18-19
"For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption."

"Freedom" is the main promise they sell but their promises are lies, for they themselves are slaves of corruption. And why do they do this? What is their motive? Again Peter gives us the answer:

2 Peter 2:3
"And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you"

I took this part from the KJV. The old translations use the above rendering, which corresponds exactly to what the Greek text says. The newer versions have the part "they with feigned words make merchandise of you" as "they will exploit you with false words", rendering the Greek verb "emporeuomai" as "to exploit". However this verb does not mean to exploit but "to trade, buy and sell, make merchandise" (Strong’s dictionary). In other words, a characteristic of a false teacher is that he is greedy and in his greed he makes merchandise of the people of God. I do not know about you but to me this speaks volumes. Do you see "preachers" amassing huge property (including but not restricted to super luxury homes, jets, luxury cars, huge salaries etc.) all through "preaching"? I would say: run away! You do not need to hear anything else. This is the fruit of a greedy, false teacher who has merchandised the people of God, extorting "offerings" from them1, selling them bogus books (many of them written by ghost writers), conferences and "advice" for big fees. "By the fruit you will know them" the Lord said and greed is a definite fruit of a false teacher that one can ignore only at his peril.

Now the greedy, false teacher "who perverts the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ" (Jude 1:4) is not the only kind of false teacher. There is another one, in the other extreme and this is the kind which had plagued the churches in Galatia and was active in other churches too. Their teaching? That Christians should keep the law of Moses (see the book of Galatians), that they should abstain from foods (Hebrews 13:9), that they should not marry (1 Timothy 4:1-4), that they should "observe days, months and seasons" (Galatians 4:10), that they should worship angels (Colossians 2:18) instead of God only, through the Lord Jesus Christ, that they should call to other mediators instead of the only "one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5) etc. Those who were preaching or preach such things are false teachers too doing the same thing, as those on the other side: leading people astray, from the true Word of God, this time through false "humility" and "intruding into those things which they have not seen, vainly puffed up by their fleshly mind" (Colossians 2:18 – KJV).

Therefore, false teachers appear basically as two extremes: the one extreme is a perversion of the grace of God, turning it into a license for immorality, while the other is legalism, and following - through a cover up of false humility - after practices that God never intended. We need to beware of both.

To close this section, I would like to add the following clarification: though a false teacher messes up God’s Word, mishandling it for selfish purposes, this does not mean that a Christian who makes a mistake in teaching God’s Word is by definition a false teacher. As James says:

James 3:1-2a
"Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways."

"We all stumble in many ways", says James, referring to teachers and very graciously including himself also. Making a mistake in teaching the Word of God does not necessarily make somebody a false teacher. Else we would all be false teachers, for according to James we all stumble in many ways. The truth is that we all learn and as we learn more, we may have to go back and teach more accurately what we had taught in the past. I am thankful to God that He does not wait until we reach perfection before He can use us! A false teacher is not somebody who, despite his sincerity and respect for the Word of God, makes a mistake in teaching it. The mistake of the false teacher is not "just a mistake". It is something much bigger. There is indeed a huge difference between making "just a mistake" and "perverting the grace of God into a license for immorality" (Jude 4) or "speaking twisted things to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:30) or "through covetousness make with feigned words merchandise of the people of God" (2 Peter 2:3). The former, the one who makes "just a mistake" is not a false teacher, but a disciple that needs to fix his message (example here: Apollos in Acts 18: he did not have a 100% correct message but he got it fixed). The latter though, is indeed a false teacher, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, an exploiter of the people of God who leads them astray and after himself. And though it is easy to imagine these exploiters as complete outsiders to the faith, this is not always so. Some of them are people who though they had started in the Lord they apostatized from Him afterwards. 2 Peter 2 devotes a large part to them. I have left the related passages, as well as the similar ones from Jude, for the end of this chapter. For the time being let us go to Galatians.

 


Footnotes

1. Usually under the threat of tithing and the supposed horrible things that will happen to the followers if they do not give their tithe to the "ministry" (more accurate would be "business") of the preacher.

Next section: Galatians 5:2-4 "Severed from Christ"

 

Author: Anastasios Kioulachoglou