Can Christian’s Identify “False Teachers'”?

By William C. Sexton

Recently I have corresponded with some brethren who contend that a teacher can scripturally be called “false” only if the heart is insincere. The false teacher is only the man who is knowingly and willingly distorting the message!

These brethren are using three sources of information to support their case, and I affirm that they are misusing all three:

1. First, they are claiming that the Greek word pseudodidaskalos is limited to one with an impure motive. Such is not true, however, and we need to see that such is not true, according to the authorities on the Greek word meaning.

Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (pp. 676, 144), says of pseudos (false): “a lie; conscious and intentional falsehood: . . . in a broad sense, whatever is not what it professed to be.” On page 144, this authority defines the word didaskalos (teacher): his seventh definition reads, “of false teachers among Christians: 2 Tim. 4:3.” These brethren quote only the first part of Thayer, because it agrees with their claim, but to limit the use to that is to fail. It includes that to be sure, but by no means is limited to that usage as they claim.

Arndt and Gingrich, in their monumental work, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature (p. 899), said of the word pseudodidaskalos, false teacher, “one who teaches falsehoods.”

Barclay M. Newman, Jr. in A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (p. 200), says of the word pseudodidaskalos, “false teachers, one who teaches what is not true.”

James Strong in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance Complete and Unabridged (p. 78), says, under number 5572 of the word pseudodidaskalous: a spurious teacher, i.e. propagator of erroneous Chr. doctrine: – false teacher.”

The Analytical Greek Lexicon by Harper (p. 441) said of the word pseudodidaskalos – “a false teacher, one who inculcates false doctrine. N.T.”

It is clear to the unbiased mind, I believe, that these authorities of the Greek word translated “false teacher” understand the meaning to be describing the person who is teaching something claiming it to be of God when in fact it is not! Consequently when any of us teaches things, claiming that such is from God and it is not, then we re “false teachers.”

2. Secondly, these brethren are saying that the English word “false” is limited to one who is knowingly and willingly telling something that they know is not according to the facts. Such is not true. Webster says that the basic idea is “not accurate; in error; incorrect; wrong; mistaken: as a false argument” (Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, College Edition, p. 524).

As with the Greek, in English to claim that the word is limited to a person who has an evil “motive” is to miss the mark – applying arbitrarily the meaning one wants to a word and dismissing the other legitimate meanings. Such is harmful, and we need to recognize the fault, point to it, and be sure that we are not taken in by it.

3. The New Testament passage, 2 Pet. 2:1 ff, is claimed by these brethren to limit the description of “false teachers” to people with evil motives, consciously trying to lead people away from what they know is the inspired word of God. Read the passage, beloved, to see if such is true. I affirm that such is not the case. To limit the meaning to such is like limiting the “false teacher” to “covetousness” because I such is used in the passage. However, not every false teacher has to be covetous; neither does a “false teacher” have to have an evil motive, although no doubt some “false teachers” do have evil motives. The motive, however, is not the criterion; rather it is the nature of the message and its claims!

The passage is a warning that “false teachers” – people teaching something other than the message delivered by the “holy men” speaking as they were “moved by the Holy Ghost”, 1:20-21 – would come and that we need to know that they can and will do us harm! We must be aware of the fact that they will be around and that the result of following them is destruction! We must have something more, beloved, than the ability to read their heart in order to identify them.

Question: If a teacher is “false” only when his/her heart is insincere, how can I detect a “false teacher”? What is required for me to detect one? Read his/her heart? Is that an impossible test? Is that really the aim? If that is the real test, how many “false teachers” are we going to identify? Friends, I pray that you will think on these things and respond to the God of Heaven’s message.

Food for thought: perhaps some of the most effective “false teachers” are the ones who are deceived themselves! Was Paul a “false teacher” when he “thought” that he “ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9-10)? When one is led by a “blind” leader – one having a good motive but out of the way – is he safe (Mt. 15:14)? Is there a passage that says one is safe if his motive is pure (cf. Mt. 7:21-23)?

Truth Magazine XXIII: 46, p. 741
November 22, 1979