The Word Abused: 2 Peter 2:1

By Mike Willis

In the April issue of Restoration Review, editor Leroy Garrett continued his series on “The Word Abused” by writing an article on 2 Pet. 2: 1. Here is the passage:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.

By the time that Garrett had finished his article, he had stated that he believed that men like Billy Graham, Adam Clarke, and Albert Barnes could not be properly described as false teachers. And, as you might have guessed, the erudite editor of Restoration Review somehow managed to find a way to legitimately use the passage to describe those of us who believe such men are false teachers. But, let him speak for himself; here is what he wrote:

I may shock some of my more staid readers with the thesis I now set forth as to the identify of a false teacher. I do not believe, as I was always taught in the sect In which I grew up, that “denominational preachers” are necessarily false teachers, which Is the view still urged upon us by many within Christian Churches-Churches of Christ. I have long since discarded the notion that “our” men are the true teachers while “their” men are the false teachers (p. 262).

According to Garrett’s position, one cannot be properly called a false teacher unless he is intentionally dishonest; so long as he is ignorant of the truth, he cannot be called a false teacher.

It is unthinkable that such a characterization as this should be laid upon any sincere, well-meaning, God-loving person, however misled he may he on some ideas. One may even be caught up In the clutches of an insidious system and still not be a pseudo-didaskalos (false teacher-MW). The nun that marches her girls in front of you as you wait at the fight does not necessarily deserve the epithet of false, whatever judgment you make of Romanism.

She may well he more devoted to God than yourself, even If wrong about some things, and she may be a kalosdidaskalos (teacher of good), as in Tit. 2:3, in that she is teaching those girls “to be sensible, chaste, domestic, kind, and submissive to their husbands (and to the pope-MW), that the word of God may not be discredited” (p. 264).

No one is a false teacher who is honestly mistaken or in error. It is gracious of us to distinguish between unintentional wrong and deliberate and malicious falsehood (p. 265).

Rather, a false teacher is one who is unscrupulous, who acts deceptively and maliciously.

This term pseudo is the key to our understanding the true character of the false teacher, and its meaning becomes evident when we see it used as a prefix to numerous other words. 2 Cor. 11:13 refers to the pseudo-apostles and Mt. 24:24 mentions both pseudo-Christs and pseudo-prophets. Mt. 26:60 tells how pseudo-witnesses testified against Jesus before Calaphas.

In each of these cases you have a bad egg, an unscrupulous person who acts deceptively and maliciously so as to satisfy his perverted ego. So Paul described the false apostles as “deceitful workmen, disguising themselves.” Those who testified falsely against Jesus were malicious liars. That is our word, pseudo is a lie. A false teacher is a liar, and he knows he’s a liar; or he is so corrupt of mind and heart that he no longer between right and wrong. He has “rejected his own conscience,” as the apostle describes him (p. 264).

No one would deny that any teacher who acts deceptively, maliciously, or unscrupulously is a false teacher. The various passages which teach this are incontrovertible. My disagreement with Garrett regarding false teachers does not occur at this point. The point at which I find myself in disagreement with Garrett is his tendency to limit a false teacher to one who is so immoral and in deciding what doctrines qualify one to be considered a false teacher. Hence, I want to consider the false teacher of 2 Pet. 2:1 with you.

The False Teacher of 2 Peter 2:1

Since we are pretty much agreed that acts of immorality will classify any teacher as a false teacher, I see no need for further comments regarding those aspects of the teacher in 2 Pet. 2: 1. Hence, I want to draw your attention to this description in 2 Pet. 2:1 of the false teacher: “who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them.” From this, I will show that a false teacher is, not only a teacher who can be described as an unscrupulous man, but also any teacher who introduces destructive heresies whether that person be immoral or not.

Hairesis (heresy), in this passage, refers to heretical doctrine which destroys the foundation of the church (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 1, p. 183). Barclay’s comment about this word in this passage is appropriate; he said:

” . . . In other words, with the revelation of God in Christ, it is no longer a question of choosing the particular line of belief which happens to appeal to us; it is a question of accepting, or rejecting, the revealed truth of God. A heretic then becomes a man who believes what he wishes to believe instead of accepting the truth of God which he must believe.

“What was happening in the case of Peter’s people was that certain men, who claimed to be prophets, were insidiously persuading men to believe the things they wished to be true rather than the things which God has revealed as true. They did not set themselves up as opponents of Christianity. Far from it. Rather they set themselves up as the finest fruits of Christian thinking. Insidiously, unconsciously, Imperceptible, so gradually and so subtly that they did not even notice it, people were being lured away from God’s truth to men’s private opinions, for that is what heresy is” (William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, p. 374).

Hence, the false teacher of 2 Pet. 2:1 is any man who brings in a destructive heresy whether he be unscrupulous, deceitful, immoral or not. The destructive heresies of the teacher is one of the things which causes a man to be classified as a false teacher. These “false doctrines” cause the false teacher, and his adherents, to deny the Lord who bought them.

Garrett admits that false doctrine can also cause a man to be considered a false teacher, even if the man’s personal character is immaculate. He wrote,

The early church had its Gnostics and its Judaizers, its legalists and its antinomians, all false teachers. We certainly have our Christ-denying systems as much as they had. We too have our pseudo-knowledge (philosophy of science “false socalled”) in various systems. I know brethren who have been led astray by the astral false teachers, professors of theosophy and the “spirit” cult. They now attend seances and commune with departed spirits rather than assemble with the saints and commune with the Holy Spirit (pp. 264-265).

Notice that Garrett called Judaizers, Gnostics, legalists and antinomians “false teachers” regardless of whether or not they were moral or immoral. Their personal character could not alter the fact that their basic doctrines were wrong and, because their doctrines were false, they were false teachers.

Now, we are able to see exactly why Garrett and I disagree regarding false teachers. We do not disagree regarding whether unscrupulous, ungodly men are false teachers; we do not disagree regarding whether false doctrine alone qualifies a man to be considered a false teacher. What we disagree on is whether or not certain doctrines are false doctrines and whether these doctrines are of serious enough consequence to cause one to be considered a false teacher.

Garrett cited the example of three pious men whom we consider false teachers but whom he considers to be men of God. Let us look at them one by one.

1. Albert Barnes. I have a set of Barnes’ commentaries and refer to them frequently in the study of the Scriptures. I have no reason to doubt that the man was a good moral man and, therefore, have no intention of assassinating his character. However, he was a false teacher! He, for example, believed the major tenets of Calvinism-total depravity, limitei atonement, . unconditional election, irresistible grace, and the perserverance of the saints. If that theological system is not a damnable heresy, there are none! Despite the fact that for well over 100 years our brethren have been fighting Calvinism, Garrett says that a man who propagates that system cannot be considered a false teacher.

2. Adam Clark. Though I do not use. Clarke’s commentaries because I do not have a set of them, I know that Clarke was a Presbyterian who became a Methodist in 1778. Hence, he accepted the unique doctrines of Methodism such as sprinkling for baptism, faith only, etc. Yet, Leroy Garrett does not believe that the man who propagates such doctrines is to be considered a false teacher!

3. Billy Graham. Most of us have read enough of Graham’s columns in the daily paper to have some idea of what this Baptist believes. He believes in salvation by faith only, impossibility of apostasy, and other typically Baptist doctrines. Yet, Leroy Garrett does not believe that the man who propagates such doctrines is to be considered a false teacher.

My brethren, if a man’s doctrine denies the truth regarding the steps to salvation in Christ, how can he be regarded as a good teacher? Yet, Garrett believes that these men must be recognized as good teachers and not as false teachers. This is probably due to the fact that Garrett himself believes that one can be saved without being immersed in water for the remission of his sins (salvation by faith only). If you doubt that this is true, I will be happy to document this from his pen.

Does the fact that I find useful material from the pens of these men prove that I do not actually consider them to be false teachers? No! I find some good material in William Barclay’s words. Barclay is a modernist who denies the miracles and inspiration of the Bible. in some places, his comments are as wild as a turkey; yet, many of his comments are simply outstanding. Does the fact that Garrett uses Barclay in his studies prove that Barclay is not a false teacher? No more so than the fact that I use Barnes proves that I do not believe that he is a false teacher.

Who is a false teacher? According to Garrett, those of us who call men like Billy Graham and other denominational preachers false teachers are more accurately described as false teachers than the denominational preachers are. He said,

In the light of all this, some of our folk will quote 2 Pet. 2:1 “There will be false teachers among you” – and browbeat those who would venture to a stadium to hear Billy Graham. That Graham errs in some things he Includes or excludes may be argued, but to say he is a false teacher after the order of 2 Pet. 2 is horrendously wrong. He who would so contend, to the confusion of well-meaning people who would like to help in what they believe to be a constructive effort, would come nearer fitting the scriptural description of the false teacher than does Graham (p. 263).

Now we see what Garrett’s concept of a false teacher is-one who denies that denominationals are Christians!


Once again we have seen how Leroy Garrett has tried to disarm those of us who are opposing the denominationals, both inside and outside the church, by throwing aside one of the proof-texts used against them. If we concede what these men say, at some point in the future we are going to try to expose a false teacher and reach for a text to use to do so and find there are none left to use. Garrett is methodically trying to throw out the various passages which we use to expose false teachers. I cannot sit in silence while he teaches his damnable heresy; he is a false teacher who must be exposed!

Truth Magazine XX: 33, pp. 518-520
August 19, 1976