False teacher. It can seem like a harsh term, but the Bible talks a lot about false teachers. In fact, it may be interesting to measure the 21st century Christian’s “shock-meter” against how the Bible describes a false teacher. Terms such as “irrational animals,” “dangerous reefs,” and “condemned to Hell” are used in Scripture…not sure how well our “modern” religious culture would tolerate these today.

In the post “7 False Teachers in the Church Today“, Tim Challies makes an interesting list of profiles for the modern false teacher. Included in the list are “The Prophet”, “The Abuser”, “The Divider”, and “The Tickler”. Maybe we can relate to these different categorizations from our church experience, but how does Scripture define a false teacher?

How Scripture answers "What is a false teacher?"

A false teacher is anyone who is teaching something different than God’s word2,3,4,10,11,12,13,14. John refers to them as antichrists9, and their “different teaching” could be a “distortion”2,8,11,14, an addition10, or an “obstacle”1. Most troubling is the fact that the false teacher won’t be obvious or easy to detect6,7,11,14, but they will be “in demand” and popular13.

Their character is called out as “puffed up”4, divisive1,4,8,11, greedy4,6, “ungodly”7, and “wicked”10. But the real condemning quality is their intention to lead others from the truth/gospel1,5,6,7,8,9,11,13,14. False teachers share a special and most dubious designation similar to false prophets5,6.

Answer built on scripture-blocks below

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.
Avoid (“mark” KJV) anyone that causes divisions and “offenses’ (KJV) or “obstacles” (ESV) contrary to the gospel “you have learned.” These people are self-serving and take advantage of the naive with smooth-talk and flattery.
Paul’s summary remarks in the letter to “all those in Rome” (1:7) admonishing them to be “wise” to what is good and “ignorant” to what is evil.
Scripture-block application to this question

False teachers are self-serving and opportunistic and should be avoided. They use smooth-talk and flattery.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

I [Paul] am amazed that you are listening to a different gospel and so refusing the gift of Christ to which you were called by God.  Not that there is a “different gospel” – there is only one – but some do you harm by distorting Christ’s call.  Even if an angel were to come from heaven to preach something contrary to what we have preached and you have heard, they should be doomed to destruction.  We have said this before but will say it again, if anyone contradicts the gospel of Christ that you have obeyed, let them be doomed to destruction.

Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia – churches that he had established not too long ago on his first missionary journey (Acts 13-14).  He is astonished by their quick turning from the gospel due to, in particular, “Judaizing teachers” that required Gentiles to be circumcised (affectively, accepting Judaism) before becoming, or in order to become, a Christian.

This was a significant issue throughout first-century Christianity and almost immediately becomes a problem after Paul’s first journey to Galatia (Acts 15).  Apparently, there was a “stigma” cast on Christians that had not been Jews first – or not part of the “circumcision party” (2:12), and even Peter is somewhat affected by this teaching (2:11-14).

Scripture-block application to this question

A false teacher is someone who “distorts the gospel”.

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.
As I have urged you already, remain in Ephesus in order to command certain individuals not to teach “any different doctrine” or to spend time on myths or endless genealogies.  These things only promote speculation rather than “good order” (lit) by our faith in God.  This is love that comes from a dedicated heart (mind), good conscience and sincere faith.  Certain individuals by diverting from this have gone into worthless discussion.  They desire to be teachers but don’t have an understanding of what they teach or the things they confidently assert.
Paul’s instructions to the young preacher Timothy, ending chap 1 with two named individuals that were engaged in false teaching and as a result made a “shipwreck of their faith” and have been “handed over to Satan…”
Scripture-block application to this question

A false teacher is anyone teaching a “different doctrine”, and the encouragement against such teaching is an act of love.

Teach and urge these things. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.
Insist on these things in your teaching. Anyone teaching a “different doctrine” is “puffed up” and doesn’t agree with the sound words of Jesus and teaching that agrees with godliness.  These people crave controversy and arguments over words, which only produces envy, division, slander, evil doubt, and churning.  They have depraved minds and are devoid of any truth.  They think godliness is a way to profit.

Paul’s instructions to Timothy, a young preacher. He has just concluded identifying several different roles/groups within the church before turning here to warn against false teachers and being content in all things.

Scripture-block application to this question

Fundamentally, the false teacher’s motivation is self-serving and personal gain.

For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.

False messiahs and prophets will come with intentions to deceive the elect, and they will do so with seemingly God-given powers.

This chapter, along with the next (chapter 25), constitutes a discussion between Jesus and his disciples sometimes referred to as the “Olivet Discourse.” Matthew is the only gospel writer to record the second half (chapter 25), while shorter versions of the first half can be found in Mark 13:1-37 and Luke 17:20-27 & 21:5-36.

Upon leaving the temple, Jesus comments on its destruction (vs 2).  Subsequently, they wanted to know about three things from Jesus: 1) the timing of the temple’s destruction, 2) the sign of His coming, and 3) the end of the age (vs 3). Jesus begins His answer, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, I am the Christ, and they will lead many astray.” (vs 4-5)

Taking this backdrop and chapters 24 & 25 together it is clear Jesus is addressing God’s judgment on both the nation of Israel and His final judgment on all mankind. We can further contextualize this discussion by looking at other instances when God, through a prophet, would pronounce judgment on a nation. When we read Amos or Hosea regarding Israel’s judgment, Isaiah or Jeremiah regarding Judah’s judgment, or Obadiah regarding Edom’s judgment, we read about not only God’s judgment on that nation (a near-term “day of the Lord”) but also His eventual judgment on all mankind (a longer-term final “day of the Lord”). In fact, often the prophet (e.g. God) will go back and forth between near-term judgment events and long-term judgment events.

This is the same with Jesus and how He speaks about God’s judgment in chapter 24. Remember, the disciples had asked about both the timing of the destruction of the temple and His return (vs 3). Jesus shares events (vss 15-28) that will take place in their generation (vs 34) regarding the destruction of the temple (in fact, taking place about forty years later in 70AD).  He then speaks primarily about what will happen “immediately after the tribulation of those days” (vs 29), namely His return (vss 29-44), before concluding with three parables and describing what the final “day of the Lord” will look like.

Detail of the sequencing of Jesus’ prophecy re: a near-term “day of the Lord” and the final “day of the Lord”:

  • 24:4-14 – A broad review of events during the ‘end times’ (both near-term and long-term) when “lawlessness is increased”.
  • 24:15-28 – A near-term description of events that they would experience relating to the destruction of Jerusalem.  Something that in fact, would happen about forty years later (70AD).
  • 24:29-31 – A long-term description of the events of the second coming, the final judgment.
  • vss 32-34 – The near-term timing that He relates and explains with a parable about the fig tree for how they would identify the occurrence of “these things” (vs 33) and says, “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (vs 34).
  • 24:35-44 – The long-term timing, transitioned by contrasting things that will and won’t pass away (vs 34-35) and with “But…” (vs 36). This timing “no one knows” – not even Himself (vs 36).
  • 24:45-25:30 – Three parables about being ready for His coming because we don’t know when it will be:
    • 24:45-51 – The “faithful and wise servant”
    • 25:1-13 – The “ten virgins”
    • 25:14-30 – The “talents”
  • 25:31-46 – Description of how it will be on that final “day of the Lord”. A good portion of this is repeated by Jesus in a different setting in Luke 17:20-27.
Scripture-block application to this question

Jesus promises false teachers will come (using synonymous terms antichrists or false prophets). Their goal is to lead Christians astray and will use means of “great signs and wonders.”

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

Just like false prophets were, greedy false teachers will arise among you and act in secret (infiltrate) to malign the truth, even going so far as to deny Jesus, which will bring them swift destruction.  Many will be persuaded and because of them the gospel message will be blasphemed.  Their greed will cause them to take advantage of you by telling lies.  Don’t be deceived; their destruction is certain.

All three chapters of 2 Peter are really confronting false teaching. Chap 1 confirms the “truth” they already learned and confidence in “all scripture”. Chap 2 further describes false teachers as “bold” and “willful” and their condemnation in the worst ways. In Chap 3 he addresses Paul’s teachings that they will “twist to their own destruction.”

Scripture-block application to this question

Maligning the truth (speaking spitefully or critically) while persuading others. Also connects to false prophets of old.

For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Certain ungodly individuals have come into your midst unnoticed.  They were designated for this long ago, perverting the grace of our God (gospel) into a base, unbridled lust and deny Jesus.

Jude’s letter is dedicated to addressing false teaching (in lieu of wanting to write about “our common salvation”) encouraging them to “contend” (stand against, defend) their faith against those who are perverting the gospel.  Notably, they have “crept in unnoticed,” comparing them to Cain, Balaam and Korah’s rebellion while recalling and applying a prophecy from Enoch.

Scripture-block application to this question

Jude is not restrained in his description of these false teachers, saying, “It is these who cause division.”

But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.

Avoid ungodly, empty discussion, because it will lead to more ungodliness and it will spread like a disease.  Such were Hymenaeus and Philetus.  They have left the truth, teaching that the resurrection already happened and are leading some astray.

Paul’s letter to young preacher Timothy, instructing him to remind others of some basic truths (vss 11-13) about their faith and here warning of some that apparently have not held to them – “quarreling about words” (vs 14) and not “rightly handling the word of truth” (vs 15) and later saying, “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” (vs 23).

Scripture-block application to this question

A warning to handle truth correctly by avoiding quarreling “about words” and engaging in “foolish, ignorant controversies.”

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.

Brothers, it is the last hour, and many antichrists have come just as you heard would happen.  This is how we know it’s the last hour.

The Apostle John is writing to Christians to remain steadfast.  After reminding them that they are “not of this world”, he calls to their attention those that are personally antagonistic to Jesus (“antichrist”) and His teaching.  He marks those false teachers and implores his “children” to “let what you heard from the beginning abide in you” (vs 24).

Scripture-block application to this question

False teachers are antichrists and “have come”.

Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.

Anyone that gets in front of the teaching of Christ does not abide in it and does not have God. You must remain in the teaching to have both the Father and the Son.  If someone comes to you without this teaching, do not honor him with hospitality or acceptance because in so doing you partake in his evil ways.

The apostle John is warning brethren (likely a local church – vs 1) about false teachers (as was much of his first epistle referring to “antichrists” having come).  He specifically tells them to “watch yourselves” (vs 8).

Scripture-block application to this question

A false teacher is anyone that “goes on ahead” of the teaching of Christ. They should not be “greeted” or tolerated to avoid taking part in “wicked works”.

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.
I [Paul] know that after I leave, false teachers – like fierce wolves – will come from among your own flock, twisting the gospel in order to draw people away to follow them.

Paul is meeting with the elders of the church in Ephesus on the beach before boarding a ship back to Jerusalem.  He is returning from his third missionary journey and does not expect he will see them again.

Scripture-block application to this question

False teachers are like “fierce wolves,” twisting the gospel to draw people away from Christ and toward themselves.

Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

As a result, I want you to recognize that only those speaking in the Holy Spirit will testify that Jesus is Lord.  Anyone denying this is not speaking in the Spirit of God.

Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth addresses many serious and difficult issues they were facing.  Division among the body was a recurring theme – addressed in chapter 1 as following after certain prominent men (instead of Christ) – and here in chapter 12 as boasts in various spiritual gifts.

Scripture-block application to this question

Anyone denying that Jesus is Lord is a false teacher.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

A time is coming when people won’t tolerate the truth, but wanting to be pleased, will search out teachers to suit their own desires, turning away from listening to God’s word and pursue myths instead.

The closing comments of Paul’s second letter to the young evangelist Timothy. He feels that his death is imminent (vss 6-8) but is hopeful to see Timothy again (vs 9).

Scripture-block application to this question

A false teacher is a people pleaser, teaching things that suit human passions and desires.

As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?
God says that He will judge His flock, each individual (e.g. “sheep and sheep”). It’s not enough for [priests] to enjoy the best pasture and clear water, but they damage and muddy with their own feet and then force the people to eat what they’ve trampled and muddied with their feet.

In this entire chapter, God through Ezekiel is contrasting the spiritual leaders of his day (“shepherds”) who were leading the people astray with a shepherd through whom God would establish “a covenant of peace” (vs 25). 

Scripture-block application to this question

Those whom God had designated to teach the people the Old Covenant (e.g. the priesthood) largely became false teachers by destroying the “good pasture” and “clear water” of God’s word.

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