There is much talk today of false teachers and false prophets, and well there should be. The Scriptures warn us of these people especially in the last days. But when is a person’s teaching become so offensive and unscriptural that he must be labeled a false teacher? For example, Rick Warren believes the correct gospel but has formulated its presentation in such a pragmatic fashion that many people believe he has taken the “meat” and effectiveness from the message. Additionally he joins hands with unsaved people including gays and mormons in humanitarian efforts. He could be called shallow, or a compromiser, or even a liberal, but should he be called a false teacher?

And then there are conservative men who teach salvation through baptism and other forms of ceremonial sacramentalism, are they who we mean by false teachers? Some teach that man has no free will while others teach the opposite, are either of these people false teachers? See, the waters get very murky and it is easy to just throw an indiscriminate blanket over groups of people without a careful and Biblical comparison. If we are not careful we make those words just colloquial invectives and remove the seriousness that should accompany their use.
And that is my question, what standard is Biblical in calling a person a false teacher? There are those who call almost everyone a false teacher who don’t agree with them, but they are not serious contributors to this kind of discussion. And of course there are many who would never label anyone as a false teacher and they as well would not be productive in this discussion since they also are one sided. I grapple with this myself, not wanting to be hysterical and yet realizing there are false teachers today. It is an important issue because the sheep are being herded every which way in today’s doctrinal pastures and they must be warned and protected. Let us examine the major references to false teachers and prophets in the New Testament, there are others but these are the most descriptive and direct.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, October 28th, 2007 at 11:19 am and is filed under Commentary, Misuse of Scripture, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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10 Comments(+Add)

1   jazzact13
October 29th, 2007 at 7:28 am

You raise a good concern, Rick. I’ve tried to be careful of what could be considered a bit of an imbalance on some teacher’s parts on emphasizing some aspect of biblical teaching and ministry over others, and what are right -out changings of those things.

So, while I’m wary of those who seem to over-emphasize the social works aspects (especially as it involves over-simplifying their own concerns with an apparent political agenda), and the opposite of near-complete isolation from such aspects, I’ve tried to be careful of not thinking of them a believers. On the other hands, those like Marcus Borg and Bishop Spong and Dominic Crossan, who tell us the Bible is filled with lies and that Jesus was not really God, I do say are not Christians based on the emphasis in Acts on belief in the historical life of Christ.

Disagreement is one thing, and I must be careful of my own imbalances. Intentional distortion is something else.

2   Rick Frueh
October 29th, 2007 at 7:38 am

Good comment, Jazz. I have no problem labelling the three men you mentioned as heretics and probably even false brethren. But I want to be careul and credible about what labels I use for others who as you point out are more difficult to define.

3   Paul C
October 29th, 2007 at 8:44 am

Interesting article. While reading it, I was brought in mind of what the Apostle Paul said of Jannes and Jambres. These men were able to so closely mimic what Moses was doing that it made it near impossible for onlookers to discern who was right and who was wrong.

In another situation, Paul mentioned that Hymaneus and Philetus were false teachers/prophets because they had a single doctrine wrong (teaching the resurrection was passed).

In talking about the last days, Jesus made the comment that if it were possible, the very elect might even be deceived – so great the oncoming deception and mimickry. And Paul said that we should not marvel for even the devil himself has become an “angel of light.”

When you look at all the epistles, though written by different men, you can see a symmetry between their doctrines (teachings around way of life and teachings of truth). Not so today where there is so much mixing and gimmickry.

4   Paul C
October 29th, 2007 at 8:48 am

With Jesus now relegated to “product status”, all it takes today is a CEO-styled individual to draw the masses.

You’re right that there are fine lines that are hard to pass judgment on, but there are also very blatant areas such as Prosperity Preaching that bears no resemblance to the true message of the gospel.

5   Chris L
October 29th, 2007 at 9:08 am


I would go back to the definition that would have been understood by both Jesus and Paul, as part of the Second Temple Rabbinical understanding of what it meant to “destroy” Torah and to “fulfil” Torah –

If one “destroys” Torah, he is – at some level – a false teacher. This person teaches people Torah in a way that leads them into orthopraxy which violates God’s desires.

If one “fulfils” Torah, he is not a false teacher – he teaches people Torah in a way that leads them in an orthopraxy which is congruent with God’s desires.

And so, on one end of the spectrum, if a teacher is training people in a way that says that they have no need for self-examination and repentence, that would fit the definition of false teaching, because it would lead them to eschew pesonal holiness.

On the other end of the spectrum, if a teacher is training people in a way that so emphasizes personal holiness and a love for your neighbor which goes little beyond sharing the message of the gospel, he, too, would be a false teacher, because he would be leading them in a way that they would violate Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself. (Just ask Michael Servetus what it’s like to be on the receiving end of this…)

6   Rick Frueh
October 29th, 2007 at 9:21 am

I see what you are saying, Chris, but I think false teacher is deeper than the two examples you gave. The second may be a legalist and prideful and not a fruit bearer, but I’m not sure he would fit the false teacher moniker.

If the first example you gave was just a matter of focus he too would not be a false teacher in my estimation. I think false teachers are those who alter the gospel or the Person of Christ in some significant way.

It is something to ponder because some use those terms with careless and self serving abandon. I am headed for 4 – 6 hours of surgery in about an hour and I believe in prayer, so please lift me up not for my sake but His. And if I do not come forth, I will see you at His feet! Wait till you see the articles I’ll write then, the ones I offer now are poor looking glasses!

Praise His Redeeming Name!!!!

BTW – Who is Michael Servetus, I can’t ask him unless I know who he is.

7   Chris L
October 29th, 2007 at 9:29 am


We will keep you in our prayers!

I’m disappointed you didn’t recognize Michael Servetus‘ name, as I figured that you, of all people would recognize him…

As far as false teaching (at the damnable level) goes, I would agree that it requires alteration of the gospel. I think the key would be that it teaches people to live in a way which would not only lead them into poor orthopraxy, but would do so in a way which would not lead to eternal life in this world or the next…

We will pray for God’s grace and healing in your surgery this morning!



8   Paul C
October 29th, 2007 at 9:31 am

Chris L just confused me more… I don’t think it’s as complicated as that… Torah, second rabbinical…

9   jazzact13
October 29th, 2007 at 9:37 am

Hope the surgery goes well, Rick.

10   Chris L
October 29th, 2007 at 10:09 am


Jesus said:

Do not think that I have come to abolish (destroy) the Torah or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

Taken in context, to abolish (destroy) the Torah is to interpret it in a way that leads people to live out their faith incorrectly. To fulfill Torah, which Jesus came to do, was to interpret it in a way that leads people to live out their faith in a way most pleasing to God.

The only reason I brought up the Second Temple Rabbinical notation was to distinguish Jesus’ teaching and the contextual background from post-70AD Rabbinical Judiasm…