In my previous post, I took a quick stroll through the pseudes/pseudo word group in the New Testament and looked at the term “false” in its various usages and manifestations. Now I recognize that seems like I’m on a mission to make myself the most fringe Bible-egghead out there, but I honestly and sincerely do those sorts of things unto a serious and necessary end.
So, in an eggshell, the idea of the last post was that a “false prophet” isn’t so much a technical category as it is, quite simply, a prophet who falsely claims to be a prophet. This then begs the question: if every prophet who wrongly claims the title us a false prophet, aren’t there tens of thousands of false prophets out there? Aren’t there then also millions of false teachers? What about a guy who thinks he’s a prophet and is simply mistaken due to ignorance? Isn’t there room for an innocent misunderstanding with a guy who’s simply untrained about prophets, teachers, apostles, etc.?
Well, that’s where we need to take a comprehensive look at the concept of false prophets in the Bible. That should help us hammer through these secondary questions. Let’s rock!
Let’s start and do this somewhat orderly:
1. What is a “teacher” in the New Testament?
a. The Greek term for “teacher” is didaskalos, which appears 58x in the NT and 2/3 of those occurrences are in the gospel where the disciples refer to Jesus as “Master” (didaskalos).
i. The idea is that a didaskalos was an expert (or master) of a subject, and he had disciples: the ones who followed and did the listening were the “disciples” and the one who lead and did the teaching was the “Master” (an example of this can be seen in Rom. 2:20)
ii. Even in passages like Matthew 12:38 or Luke 10:25, the Pharisees and the experts in the law called Jesus “didaskalos” because they all recognized that he was exceedingly knowledgeable in the scriptures. This doesn’t mean that they were his disciples, but rather that they only acknowledged his expertise in matters related to the Old Testament (i.e. the law).
b. 7 out of 10 times outside the gospels, the term “didaskalos” is spoken of as a specific office of the church that was a gift of God to the church (1 Cor. 12:28;-29; Eph. 4:11). Paul was appointed by Christ to that office (1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11). Understanding the nature of a didaskalos in the church comes into play (to some extent) when figuring out what a counterfeit didaskalos would be.
2. What then is a false teacher?
a. The Greek term for “false teacher” is pseudodidaskalos, which comes from combining “pseudo” (false/counterfeit) and “didaskalos” (master/teacher).
b. The concept of a false teacher is paralleled in the NT with OT false prophets (2 Pet. 2:1), Peter describes them with the following words:
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 in their greed they will exploit you with false words. – 2 Pet. 2:1-3
It’s again worth noting that this is the only place in the New Testament where the word appears, so the concept of “false prophet” is essentially synonymous with the idea of a “false teacher”.
c. Therefore, we can generally conclude that just as “false prophets” were counterfeit prophets, “false teachers” were counterfeit teachers (most likely in the sense of the office of teacher, which was the main usage in the church at the time Peter wrote 2 Peter). Interestingly, Paul speaks of the counterfeit apostles in Corinth saying:
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. – 2 Cor. 11:13-15
Satan has counterfeit servants modeled after of God’s authentic servants. One example of this is in 2 Thess. 2:2 where the Thessalonians were warned about possible counterfeit epistles that were (falsely) attributed to the apostles but taught doctrines contrary to their own. Many such letters survive even 2,000 years later, and there were certainly several letters that have been lost and forgotten over the millennia.
3. What do false prophets appear to be?
a. They appear to speak for God or teach in his name (Jer. 14:14-15, 23:16, 25-26; Matt. 7:15, 22; 2 Cor. 11:12-15)
b. They appear to be people from your own religious circles (Deut. 13:6-8; Acts 20:29-30; 1 Tim. 3: 6-7, 6: 9-10; 2 Pet. 2:1; 1 John 2:19; Jude 4)
c. They appear to be actually convincing (Rom. 16:18; Col 2:4, 8; 2 Tim 4:3), even to the point of being verified by miraculous signs and wonders (Deut. 13:1-3; Matt. 24:24; 2 Thess. 2:9-10).
d. They appear to believe that they’re authentic/divinely appointed (Jer. 28:15-16; Ez. 13:6; Matt. 7:22)
4. So how can someone see them for what they are? You P.R.O.D. them:
a. Test their Prophecy:
i. Their prophecies do not come to pass (Deut. 18:21-22; 1 Ki. 22:11-12, 24-25; Jer. 14:14-16; 28:7-9)
b. Test their Reception:
i. They are widely welcomed by the unregenerate world/those who despise the word of the Lord (Jer. 23:17; Ez. 12:21-25; Luke 6:26; 2 Tim. 4:3-4; 2 Pet. 2:2; 1 John 4:4-5)
ii. They’re numerous (1 Ki. 18:18-19, 22:6-12; 1 John 4:1; 2 John 7)
iii. Their reception is often built on false credentials (2 Cor 11:18-23; 2 Thess. 2:1-3; Rev 2:24)
c. Test their Orthodoxy:
i. They don’t follow in the doctrine of the prophets and apostles (Is. 8:19-20; Jer. 28:8-9; Rom. 16:17; 2 Cor. 11:4; Gal. 1:6-8; 1 Tim. 1:3, 6:3-4; 2 Tim. 2:17-18; 1 John 2:22-24, 4:2-6; 2 John 7-10)
ii. They oppose those who legitimately speak for God (Jer. 2:30; 20:1-2, 26:7-11; Ez. 13:22; Acts 13:8-10; 2 Tim 3:8; 1 John 4:6)
iii. They see the scripture as a list of rules that, when kept, equates to righteousness (Is. 28:9-10; Col. 2:16-23)
iv. They soft-pedal sin and make excuses for wickedness (Jer. 2:8; Ez. 12:26-28, 22:26-28; Mic. 2:11)
v. They combine the elements of paganism with Christianity (Ez. 13:20-23)
d. Test their Deeds:
i. They use their position to get money (1 Tim. 6:5, 9-10; Tit. 1:11; 2 Pet. 2:3, 15).
ii. They use their position to get sex (Jer. 23:11, 14; 2 Pet. 2:10, 13-14; Jude 8).
iii. They use their position to get followers (Ez. 13:18; Acts 20:30)
iv. They are smooth talkers who prey on the naive and weak (Jer. 5:28; Rom. 16:18; 2 Tim. 3:6; 2 Pet. 2:14)
v. They slander spiritual forces (2 Pet. 2:10-12)
vi. They are rebellious to authority (2 Pet. 2:10; Jude 8)
vii. They violate justice (Jer. 5:28, 23:14; Ez. 13:19)
viii. They stimulate quarrels, division and trouble (Rom 16:17; 1 Tim1:4, 6:4-5; Jude 19)
ix. They don’t walk in obedience to God (1 John 2:3-6, 3:4-10, 5:1-2)
5. Are they really that dangerous?
a. They actually teach error (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Pet. 2:1; 1 John 2:26)
b. They actually turn people away from God (Jer. 23:26-27, 32; Matt. 24:11; 2 Cor. 11:3; 2 John 8)
c. They actually have dreams/visions, but the dreams/visions are lying visions from their imaginations (Jer. 14:14, 23:16, 26; Ez. 13:2-7, 17; 2 Pet 2:3), from Satan (Jer. 2:8, 1 Tim 4:1) or stolen from each other (Jer. 23:30)
d. They don’t speak words from God (Jer. 23:32; Lam. 2:14; Ez. 12:24; Jude 8)
e. They preach a counterfeit gospel (Gal. 1:6-7)
f. They destroy lives & families (Ez. 22:25; Matt. 7:15; Titus 1:11)
g. They have seared consciences (1 Tim 1:18-19, 4:1-2; Titus 1:16)
h. They are not believers (Matt. 7:22-23; 2 Pet. 2:19)
i. If someone follows them, thinking that they’re the real deal, it would have been worse for them to have never heard the gospel (2 Peter. 2:20-21)
j. They may be sent by God as a test (Deut. 13:3) but when they increase in number, they indicate a sign of judgment (1 Ki. 22:19-23; Jer. 5:20-31, 14:14-16; Ez. 13:10; 2 Thess. 2:9-12)
k. They will receive the most severe punishment on the day of judgment (Luke 12:47; James 3:1); God has the worst spot in Hell reserved especially for them (2 Pet. 2:17; Jude 13)
6. So what should we do?
a. The elders of the church have divine directives:
i. The Old Testament model was to get kill them (Deut. 13:5, 18:20; 1 Ki. 18:40) and when the leaders of Israel didn’t, God himself did (Jer. 14:15, 28:15-17). This suggests how dangerous they are.
ii. The elders of the church are commanded to silence (literally “muzzle”) them (1 Tim. 3:3-4, Titus 1:11)
iii. The elders of the church are also commanded to kindly, patiently and gently correct them, praying for their repentance (2 Thess. 2:15; 2 Tim. 2:24-25).
iv. The elders of the church are finally commanded to not associate with them (2 Thess 3:14; Titus 3:10-11)
b. The people in the church have divine directives:
i. Do not listen to them (Deut. 13:3; Matt. 24:25-26)
ii. Treat them as unbelievers (Gal. 1:8-9)
iii. Avoid them (Rom. 16:17-19)
iv. Do not associate with them (2 John 10-11)
So, from that survey of the biblical data, I notice a few things:
A. There is a difference between a mistaken teacher and a false teacher; the difference is a combination of error and unrighteous conduct. A person with a regenerate heart will often have practice that exceeds their doctrine (meaning they’ll often do what’s right and not necessarily be able to biblically articulate why), but a false teacher always has doctrine that far exceeds their practice (meaning that they’ll know all the right answers but won’t actually live them out). The latter discrepancy is far more telling.
B. The error in practice comes from error in doctrine, but both errors are sometimes more difficult to spot, mostly because false teachers/prophets actually look like authentic sheep and they arise from within our churches. When we think of false teachers, we often think of people like Joseph Smith or Tony Robbins, but guys like that are not a real threat to anyone with basic discernment and biblical knowledge. Far more difficult to spot would be if guys like like Chuck Smith or Duffy Robbins were false teachers (and I’m not saying they were/are one way or another). Well known guys like that with multi-decade careers in Christendom are often not even on anyone’s “false teacher” radar. Matt. 7:22-23 suggests that even the people at the absolute top of the spiritual totem pole are not above suspicion.
C. People who are well dressed, well skilled, well educated or well mannered aren’t necessarily men of God. Godliness isn’t just acting a certain way and spouting right beliefs (if I had a dime for every time churches I’ve been a part of bought the “nice guy equals godly man” lie...). It’s important to remember that a false teacher can easily steal a doctrinal statement from someone and spout “right answers” all day long, or copy “righteous” behaviour that they’ve learned by simply watching Christians for a few years. Still, an unregenerate heart will consistently betray a false prophet/teacher by pronounced doctrinal inconsistency or a lack of meaningfully deep understandings of professed beliefs, as well as a severe disconnect between doctrine and practice (especially in private – see point “A”). In other words, neither right answers nor right living can be convincingly faked forever.
D. Treating false teachers as unbelievers means praying for them and evangelizing them, though one needs to be super-careful in dealing with them. They’re essentially agents of spiritual cancer, so one must be extremely careful to neither listen to their doctrinal pigswill nor treat them as church members in good standing. One needs to treat them as if they’re persons under church discipline (lovingly and patiently call them to turn from their error without sinning against them with your tongue) as well as remember that the means to break them from their spiritual bondage is praying for them, not arguing with them. It’s always a natural desire to attempt to “straighten them out”, but their problem is spiritual, not rational; they’re where they are because of God and he’s the only one who can bring them back. This also doesn’t mean you need to avoid them like an infectious disease (it’s all right to be polite and kind to heretics), but rather like someone who has an infectious disease. Keep your distance and take necessary spiritual precautions (i.e. don’t be alone with them, ever).
There’s definitely a whole lot more there, but that’s some of what jumped out at me.
So what jumps out at you from all that data?
Speaking of data, that’s a lot of data.
One last thing I almost forgot: When can you pull out the “false teacher” moniker on someone?
I’d say that caution is certainly the word of the day (as is “graciousness”) and I’d want to state clearly that error or illegitimate prophecy does not automatically make someone a false prophet/teacher. Intransigence and unrepentance in error/sin is what marks a false teacher, and sexual/financial scandal seals the deal fairly easily. In other words, if someone has an error or sin revealed and then, instead of repenting, they mobilize their resources and power at minimizing that sin/covering it up. That’s the mark of someone who is more concerned with money or power than righteousness. Even big leaders get themselves into trouble by sinning in word or deed. Big frauds try to downplay it anyway they can (hide it, minimize it, lie about it, blame someone else, etc.) and then either cry “Christians are all hypocrites” when they finally get revealed as the wolves that they are, or offer some sort of token repentance and then just keep on doing the same old same old.
That describes Ted Haggard.
That describes Paula White.
That describes Benny Hinn.
That describes pretty much everyone attacked by name at the Strange Fire conference (just thought I had to overtly point that out).
That’s bad news for all the guys on the Charismatic “fringe” (which *actually* means “mainstream”).
Here’s some good news though: now we’re prepped for the review of the seventh chapter of Authentic Fire. The reason for this short two-part post will become clear once that review is up in a few days.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “praising the Lord that this false teacher was redeemed” Unger