False Teachers

False Teachers

While Jesus was alive, He warned His disciples, “Many false prophets will appear and deceive many people” (Matt. 24:11).

Very shortly after His resurrection and the birth of the early church, His words became a reality. False teachers sprang up everywhere. As the early church evangelized people all over the Mediterranean world, new converts began to deviate from orthodox Christian teaching. 

In fact, the presence of false teachers became so great that Jesus’ own brother, a man named Jude, felt the need to write a letter to all the known churches at the time. The book of Jude, as it’s called in the New Testament, is actually an ancient version of those forwarded emails that my mom sends me 16 times a week. “This is really important” she’ll type at the top of an email. Then I’ll have to scroll down six pages just to find the original email.

Jude’s letter was like the forwarded email of the early church. Scholars call it a “General Epistle,” meaning it was addressed to all Christians everywhere. Copied and sent off to church after church, the letter began, 

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. (Jude vv. 3–4)

Other apostles and church leaders sent similar warnings to churches they helped oversee: 

There will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies. (2 Peter 2:1)

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. (Heb. 13:9)

See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. (1 John 2:24)

The adjectives the apostles used to describe false teachers are ruthless:

Cunning, crafty, and deceitful schemers (Eph. 4:14); Conceited and understanding nothing (1 Tim. 6:3–5); Detestable, disobedient, and unfit for doing anything good (v. 10); Rebellious, mere talkers, and deceivers (Titus 1:10); Grumblers, faultfinders, and flatterers (Jude 1:16); Exploiters (2 Peter 2:3); and seducers (v. 14)

While those adjectives may seem harsh, I can tell you from personal experience they’re both accurate and well deserved.

Here’s the danger—when I read New Testament warnings about false teachers, my mind conjures up images of the bearded, Birkenstock sandal–wearing, pipe-smoking, seminary professor who destroyed my faith. He never should have set foot inside a Christian seminary. If only false teachers were that easy to recognize.

The reality is that the types of false teachers the apostles confronted had very little in common with my seminary professor. They were everyday people with regular jobs who were trying to raise families and do their best to make life work. They were normal people who had their own ideas of how Christianity ought to be taught, and freely expressed those ideas over dinner, on the job, or while caring for their children.

The cunning, crafty, and deceitful false teachers the apostles mention were 26-year-old moms with two kids, farmers down the road, and the fisherman everyone rubbed shoulders with at the market. Occasionally, it was the pastor who went off the deep end, but more often than not it was the everyday soccer mom on the street that everybody knew.

The stark reality is that you and I can become false teachers at any time.

Or, we can be influenced by one.

That’s why the biblical advice for how to interact with false teachers is just as stern as the words used to describe them:

  • Command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer. (1 Tim. 1:3)
  • Guard what has been entrusted to your care. (6:20)
  • Defend the gospel. (see Phil. 1:16)
  • Refute those who oppose it. (Titus 1:9)
  • Stand firm. (2 Thess. 2:15)
  • Fight the battle well. (1 Tim. 1:18)

Admittedly, those are all hard things to do when the person who’s teaching false doctrine is your grandmother, your friend in accounting, or your small-group leader. Yet, these are some of the important, but unpleasant duties of every Christian.

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