Posted by: Heather | April 7, 2009

About False Teachers

First, I would like to preface this by saying a couple of things:

Any teacher can be idolized by his following and the affect on the follower is the same as if he was a false teacher. So I want to avoid measuring a teacher by his followers. Paul exhorted his followers to follow him as he followed Christ.
1 Corinthians 11:1 (1) Be imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ.

Also, I don’t believe there has ever been a teacher (except for The Teacher – Jesus Christ) who has been without error. So in my mind (and I believe Scripture supports this) one false teaching does not a false teacher make. Now the teachings that were God breathed and written down and preserved in scripture were without error, but I believe the teachers themselves were not without error. However, I do not believe that scripture is being written today, it is a completed work and must be the final measure of any teacher or teaching.

James 3:1-8 (1) My brothers, do not be many teachers, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. (2) For in many things we all offend. If anyone does not offend in word, the same is a full-grown man, able also to bridle the whole body. (3) Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, so that they may obey us, and we turn about their whole body. (4) Behold also the ships being so great, and driven by fierce winds, yet they are turned about with a very small rudder, where the impulse of him steering desires. (5) Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. Behold how little a fire kindles how large a forest! (6) And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. So the tongue is set among our members, spotting all the body and inflaming the course of nature, and being inflamed by hell. (7) For every kind of animals, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of sea-animals, is tamed, and has been tamed by mankind. (8) But no one can tame the tongue, it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

That being said, I only find one doctrine that would qualify someone as a false teacher according to scripture. This is found in the following passage:
1 John 2:21-26 (21) I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and know that no lie is of the truth. (22) Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He who denies the Father and the Son is antichrist. (23) Everyone who denies the Son neither has the Father. The one confessing the Son also has the Father. (24) Therefore what you heard from the beginning, let it abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning remains in you, you will abide in both the Son and in the Father. (25) And this is the promise that He has promised us: everlasting life. (26) These things I have written to you concerning those leading you astray.

Doctrinally, what does a teacher do with Christ? Does their teaching agree with the Bible about Christ? Do they believe that Jesus was (and is) a man, is fully God, died in our place as the atoning sacrifice for our sin, and is now seated at the right hand of God? That is the expanded version of the meaning of “Christ.”

So Christ is central to all correct teaching.

Other than this type of statement, I do not find any other doctrinal litmus test for false teachers. What I do find, is several descriptions of what they are like. The fruit of their lives or teachings. Jesus characterized them as ravenous wolves disguised in sheep’s clothing. (my understanding of this statement is that they were in shepherd’s clothing, so not dressed up as a sheep, but as shepherds)
Matthew 7:15-23 (15) Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. (16) You shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? (17) Even so every good tree brings forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit. (18) A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruits, nor can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. (19) Every tree that does not bring forth good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (20) Therefore by their fruits you shall know them. (21) Not everyone who says to Me, Lord! Lord! shall enter the kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in Heaven. (22) Many will say to Me in that day, Lord! Lord! Did we not prophesy in Your name, and through Your name throw out demons, and through Your name do many wonderful works? (23) And then I will say to them I never knew you! Depart from Me, those working lawlessness!
This marks them as being driven by their appetites. (ravenous) Paul made a similar statement in Philippians 3:18-19 (18) (For many are walking, of whom I have told you often and now tell you even weeping, as the enemies of the cross of Christ; (19) whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, those who mind earthly things.)

Jesus also describes them as being focused on their works (Did we not prophesy in Your name, and through Your name throw out demons, and through Your name do many wonderful works?)
Yet they are workers of lawlessness. What does this mean? In context, we are looking at the inaugural address of the King of Heaven in the Sermon on the mount. The mark of those who are in the kingdom is the beatitudes.
Matthew 5:3-16 (3) Blessed are the poor in spirit! For theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. (4) Blessed are they that mourn! For they shall be comforted. (5) Blessed are the meek! For they shall inherit the earth. (6) Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness! For they shall be filled. (7) Blessed are the merciful! For they shall obtain mercy. (8) Blessed are the pure in heart! For they shall see God. (9) Blessed are the peacemakers! For they shall be called the sons of God. (10) Blessed are they who have been persecuted for righteousness sake! For theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. (11) Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for My sake. (12) Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for your reward in Heaven is great. For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (13) You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt loses its savor, with what shall it be salted? It is no longer good for anything, but to be thrown out and to be trodden underfoot by men. (14) You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. (15) Nor do men light a lamp and put it under the grain-measure, but on a lampstand. And it gives light to all who are in the house. (16) Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.

One could go through this description of the kingdom attitude and find the antithesis of a false teacher’s demeanor.

I think the difference is summed up in contrasting verse 16 with the statement of chapter 7:22. The true citizen of the kingdom gives God the glory for their good works as the light shines. The false prophet has the audacity to cite his own good works before God as evidence.

Another measure of whether or not a teacher is true or false, would be to compare them to John chapter 10. Jesus said He is the good shepherd, and that he gives his life for the sheep. He says that there are thieves and robbers who only come to steal (or exploit the sheep) and also that a hireling is one who runs when there is trouble. This focus on one’s own self is another mark of a false teacher.

2 Peter chapter 2 gives us another view of a false teacher.
2 Peter 2:1-3
(1) But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who secretly will bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing on themselves swift destruction.
(2) And many will follow their pernicious ways, and because of them the way of truth will be evil spoken of.
(3) And through covetousness they will use you for gain with well-turned words; for whom judgment from of old does not linger, and their destruction does not sleep.

He goes on with this description:
2 Peter 2:12-19
(12) But these, as unreasoning natural brute animals having been born for capture and corruption, speak evil of the things that they do not understand. And they will utterly perish in their own corruption,
(13) being about to receive the wages of unrighteousness, deeming indulgence as pleasure in the daytime, and reveling in spots and blemishes, feasting along with you in their deceits,
(14) having eyes full of adultery and never ceasing from sin, alluring unstable souls, having a heart exercised with covetousness. They are cursed children
(15) who have forsaken the right way and have gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness,
(16) but had reproof of his lawbreaking, a dumb ass speaking in a man’s voice, held back the madness of the prophet.
(17) These are wells without water, clouds driven with a tempest, for whom the blackness of darkness is reserved forever.
(18) For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they lure through the lusts of the flesh, by unbridled lust, the ones who were escaping from those who live in error;
(19) promising them liberty, they themselves are the slaves of corruption. For by whom anyone has been overcome, even to this one he has been enslaved.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not at all saying that doctrine is not important. However, I believe a false teacher can have correct doctrine. Jesus said we would know them by their fruits. So I would like to encourage each person who reads this to be looking at a teacher’s fruit. Look at their attitude and life. False doctrine is indeed dangerous. But in my humble opinion, a false teacher is worse, as they can say the right things and still lead you away from Christ. So, as quoted earlier (from Paul) 1 Corinthians 11:1 (1) Be imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ.

This topic came up in our home lately, and as previously posted, I gave Heather an assignment. She posted the results of her study. I feel she did a wonderful job of covering the issue, so here is a link to her post.

In conclusion; it makes no sense to point out false teachers’ attitudes without pointing out what a true teacher is characterized by.
James 3:13
(13) Who is wise and knowing among you? Let him show his works by his good conduct with meekness of wisdom.
James 3:17-18
(17) But the wisdom that is from above is first truly pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.
(18) And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Micah 6:8
(8) He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does Jehovah require of you but to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?

Any thoughts?




  1. Thank you for taking the time to post this–and for your patience with me as I sort through stuff like this.Heather

  2. I will get to this, I would like to read it…thanks for your posts!

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