“Marking” False Teachers

By Ron Daly

It is often alleged that those who propagate false doctrine must be “marked” because of the reading of Romans 16:17-18 in the King James and American Standard Versions of Scripture. Many assume that, inasmuch as the word “mark” is the term which was selected in translation to convey the meaning of the Greek skopeo, that it means “to designate, to point out, to label, to brand, or to stigmatize.”

In English usage there are several more definitions for “mark” than merely “to brand or label,” one of which is “to take note of” (American Heritage Dictionary, 767). It is not ever an appropriate procedure to arbitrarily choose word meanings which suit our purpose without giving due consideration to word usage in context, for most words have multiple meanings.

I do believe that the New Testament authorizes the people of God to designate, to point out, label, and name teachers of heresy and damnable error, but not because of the use of the word “mark” in Romans 16:17. Rather we learn that such is sanctioned by God through: (1) Apostolic example. The Holy Spirit through Luke records the name of BarJesus, Elymas the Sorcerer, and calls him a false prophet (Acts 13:6-8); Paul informs Timothy that “Hymenaeus and Alexander” made shipwreck concerning the faith, and they were delivered to Satan (1 Tim. 1:19-20); Paul also states that “Hymenaeus and Philetus” were men who concerning the truth have erred (2 Tim. 2:14-18). Finally, Paul designated “Alexander the coppersmith” as one who did him much evil, and as one who greatly withstood our words (2 Tim. 4:14-15). (2) Implication. The fact that we are to “turn away from (ekkiino apo) those who are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling contrary to the doctrine ye learned” (Rom. 16:17b), and since Paul exhorted Titus to put the brethren in mind of various obligations, one being, “a factious man after a first and second admonition refuse” (paraiteomai, Tit. 3:10), indicates that in order to “turn away from” and “refuse” we must know who the class of persons being discussed is, whether by personal observation, or someone else’s unbiased and just labeling.

But, this is not the meaning of “mark” in the Romans text. The Greek word from which the English term is derived is skopein, present active infinitive of skopeo. Skopeo means “to note, to keep an eye on, to look out for, be on watch for, to notice carefully.”(1) For similar uses of the word skopeo in the papyri documents of the first century see the work of James Hope Moulton and George Milligan.(2)

The use of the word “mark” in some of the older versions is appropriate and legitimate, provided, that the student of the text is aware, that the meaning is “to take careful notice,” or some equivalent expression. We have a similar use of “mark” in our vernacular, such as in the following example, “Tom, mark this statement well, do not cross the old bridge, it is treacherous.” That is, “Tom, take careful note of this statement.”

Skopeo is used six times in the Greek Text of Nestle-Aland, 26th Edition.(3) In the ASV, it is translated “Look” (Lk. 11:35), “Mark” (Rom. 16:17), “Look” (2 Cor. 4:18), “Looking” (Gal. 6:1), “looking” (Phil. 2:4), “mark” (Phil. 3.17). In neither text does skopeo have the connotation of branding. The translation variation between “look” and “mark” is based upon contextual usage.

Please take special note of the fact that the translators of the KJV and the ASV, use “mark” to translate skopeo in both Romans 16:17 and Philippians 3:17. This is significant in that it is not likely that the apostle is using skopeo differently, i.e. with a different meaning in the two texts. It is agreed by nearly all that in Philippians, skopeo does not mean “to brand,” but “to keep an eye on,” or “to take careful notice of” with a view of imitating their example, giving them due association, but in the Romans text they are to “keep an eye on” or “take careful notice of” those who are causing the divisions with a view of having no association with them, but rather “turning away from them. ” Mark the similarity in use and structure between the Romans and the Philippians texts.

In order to convey to the modern reader, the scriptural idea underlying the word skopeo in Romans 16:17, some of the older, versions and most of the more recent ones use a word or phrase that is not as likely to be misinterpreted as “mark” normally is.(4)

As stated earlier, the idea of “marking” i.e. pointing out, designating, labeling, and identifying those who teach error and cause divisions is taught in the New Testament, but that is not the meaning or use of the word “mark” (skopeo) in Romans 16:17.

It is possible that those who were “causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine” were the Judaizers (Rom. 2,3,4), yet they might have been those who caused dissensions by their opinions (Rom. 14). Nonetheless, Paul’s admonition is, “watch them closely.”(5) So, the obvious sense in which “mark” (skopeo) is used in the Romans’ text is “look after, consider, keep your eye upon, not in a malignant way, but in the way of precaution.”(6)

May God bless us with the knowledge and wisdom to use the correct texts and words to teach, uphold, and defend the truth, without misapplying his sacred word.


1. Cf. the following Greek-English lexicons of The New Testament, Louw and Nida, Volume 1, page 280, Section 24.32, Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testimenti, Translated by J.H. Thayer, p. 579, Bauer, Arndt-Gingrich, p. 764, A Critical Lexicon and Concordance, Ethelbert W. Bullinger, p. 482, A Reader’s Greek-English Lexicon, Sakae Kubo, p. 147, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume 7, p. 415.

2. The Vocabulary of The Greek New Testament, 1976 Reprint, p. 579.

3. Concordance To The Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland, Published by Walter De Gruyter, Berlin, 1987.

4. The NEB says “keep your eye on,” Weymouth says “to keep a watch on,” Moffatt says “to keep your eye on,” The New Berkeley says “to keep an eye on,” Williams New Testament says “to keep on the look out for,” NASV “keep your eye on,” McCord’s New Testament “watch out for,” NRSV “to keep an eye on,” NIV “to watch out for,” NKJV “note.”

5. An American Commentary on The New Testament, Volume IV, Acts and Romans, p. 308.

6. Commentary on Romans, William S. Plummer, p. 640.

Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 20, pp. 628-629
October 15, 1992