False Teachers

Mark Mayberry

False teachers and false teachings abound! Jesus said, "Beware of false prophets" (Matt. 7:15-20). Paul cautioned the Ephesian elders to be on guard against the same (Acts 20:28-31). Peter warned of those who secretly bring in destructive heresies (2 Pet. 2:1-2). John said, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1-3).

Their Conduct

False teachers add to and subtract from the word of God. This is in direct opposition to the will of God (Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Prov. 30:6). A classic example of this fallacy can be found in the Matthew 15, where the scribes and Pharisees accused Jesus of transgressing the tradition of the elders. Yet, these religious leaders were themselves at fault. In binding the washing of hands, they had added to the word of God. In teaching that men could neglect their responsibility to their aged parents, they were subtracting from God's word (Matt. 15:1-9).

False teachers also pervert the word of God (2 Pet. 3:15-16). The Greek word used in this context is strebloo. It is translated "wrest" (KJV, ASV), "twist" (NKJ), "distort" (NAS, NIV). Strong says it means "to wrench, i.e., (specifically) to torture (by the rack), but only figuratively, to pervert." Thayer says it means (1) to twist, to turn awry; (2) to torture, to put to the rack; (3) metaphorically, to pervert, used of one who wrests or tortures language in a false sense." In ancient times, when a person was subjected to torture, he was placed on a rack and stretched until his bones popped out of joint. In like manner, false teachers stretch the truth until it is "out of joint." Many do not handle the word of God rightly. Instead, they twist it to their own ends. They make a torturous interpretation and application of the text to justify their pre-conceived notions.

Their Causation

What motivates false teachers? In 2 Peter 2, the apostle Peter says they are driven by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Let us note that Peter is de-scribing a "worst case scenario." Not all false teachers are overtly driven by all three motives. In a given situation, they may be dominated by the lust of the flesh, or the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life, or some combination of the three. In the worst cases, false teachers are motivated by an unhealthy addiction to them all.

Let us also realize that the true motivation of false teachers may not be easy to detect. Jesus said they come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves (Matt. 7:15). Paul said they rise up from among the leader-ship of the church (Acts 20:28-31). Deceitful workers can disguise themselves as apostles of Christ and ministers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:13-15).

Some false teachers are motivated by the lust of the flesh. They walk in "the lust of uncleanness" (2 Pet. 2:10). They count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime (2 Pet. 2:13). They have eyes full of adultery and cannot cease from sin (2 Pet. 2:14). They entice others through lasciviousness, sensuality, and lewdness (2 Pet. 2:18). Modern application is easy to come by: Think of the TV evangelists who have fallen into disgrace in recent years.

Some false teachers are motivated by the lust of the eyes. They are covetous (2 Pet. 2:3). Like Balaam, they love the wages of unrighteousness (2 Pet. 2:15). What is the modem application? There are many preachers who sacrifice truth on the altar of popularity, power, position, and prosperity.

Some false teachers are motivated by the pride of life. They are presumptuous, self-willed and arrogant. They are not afraid to revile angelic majesties (2 Pet. 2:10-12). What is the modem application? Many preachers are blinded by their own learning and wisdom. Higher education leads them down the pathways of doubt and disbelief. The Bible affirms that not many wise, not many mighty, not many noble are called (1 Cor. 1:20-26). Truth that is clearly visible to babes is often hidden from the wise and prudent (Matt. 11:25).

Their Curse

To reject the divine pattern is to invite divine rejection. Consider the tragic example of Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1-2), King Saul (1 Sam. 15:23), and Solomon (1 Chron. 28:6-9). We cannot change God's word to suit our preferences. The gospel is God's will for man. It contains all that we are to believe and practice. To reject the divine pattern is to court everlasting destruction. The curse of false teachers is clear: They worship in vain (Matt. 15:8-9). They stand accursed (Gal. 1:8-9; Rev. 22:18-19). They have not God (2 John 9).


The cure for false teachers and false teaching is simple: We must first recognize that God's word is perfect. The word "perfect" describes something that is "lacking nothing essential to the whole; complete of its nature or kind; being without defect or blemish; completely suited for a particular purpose or situation." It was through the preaching of the gospel that the apostle Paul sought to present every man "perfect in Christ Jesus" (Col. 1:28). James de-scribed the Holy Scriptures as "the perfect law of liberty" (Jas. 1:25).

Since God's word is perfect, we must acknowledge our obligation to obey it. Joshua was commanded to do according to all that is written in the Book of the Law (Josh. 1:7-8). When Jesus set forth the great commission, he ordered the apostles to make disciples of all nations. After submitting to baptism, converts were taught to observe all the commandments of the Lord (Matt. 28:18-20). Finally, this principle of full obedience is also seen in Paul's admonition: "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord" (Col. 3:17).

Guardian of Truth XLI: 23 p. 18-19
December 4, 1997