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Bible verses about False Teachers, Characteristics of
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Because of the way "prophet" is commonly used, there is a misconception that its basic definition is "someone who foretells the future," but this definition is too narrow. Prophet is better defined as "one who speaks for another." A true prophet, then, is a person who speaks for God, delivering a message that God has ordained him to give. In Exodus 7:1, God tells Moses that Aaron, his brother, would be his (Moses') prophet, even as Moses was God's prophet. Because of Moses' unbelief in God's ability to speak through him, God would speak to Moses, who would tell Aaron what to say to others - Pharaoh in particular (verse 2). It is the function of speaking for another, rather than the miracles they performed or their foretelling of what would befall Egypt, which defined Moses and Aaron as prophets.

Frequently, the words a prophet spoke on God's behalf were, in fact, foretelling what would happen later. However, the prophet's essential role was to speak for God, regardless of whether he did any predicting of the future. A prophet expresses the will of God in words, and sometimes he uses signs to back up what he says and to demonstrate God's power behind it.

In a similar way, a false prophet also may not be in the business of foretelling the future. A false prophet is simply someone who speaks for another but falsely. False prophets either speak for the wrong god, or they claim to have heard from the true God but do not accurately represent Him or His words. At the very least, they speak out of their own human hearts, but more likely, the "god" they are speaking for is really a demon.

It is true that, if a prophet foretells something that fails to come to pass, he is a false prophet (Deuteronomy 18:20-22), but foretelling the future correctly is not the determining factor when looking at false prophets. The real issue is whether one who claims to be representing God and speaking for Him is doing so accurately or falsely. A prophet may accurately predict an event or demonstrate supernatural power, but if he is leading people away from the true worship of the true God, he is a false prophet.

David C. Grabbe
What Is a False Prophet?


 

A false prophet can be anyone who claims to be speaking for God, but whose message is contrary to God. False prophets will not convict people of sin, for they themselves do not feel convicted. While true prophets speak according to God's law and testimony, false prophets speak soft, easy things to make them more popular. They will tell people what they want to hear.

A true prophet expresses the will of God with words. Sometimes signs, wonders, and foretelling are involved to add additional weight, but the most important part is the message. A true prophet points people to God and shows people their sins. False prophets point people to almost anything else. If they do try to point people to a god, it will be a different god from the God of the Bible. Whoever they point to, they do it for their own benefit.

Many false prophets simply point people to themselves. Their covetousness manifests itself in a desire for power, influence, control, prestige, or importance - the antithesis of being poor in spirit, meek, pure in heart, and mourning over their ungodly weaknesses. The true prophet does not draw attention to himself but to God. If a prophet or teacher spends a great deal of time talking about himself, it is a good indication just who his god is!

John the Baptist, the last Old Testament prophet, serves as a positive contrast. He undoubtedly knew what the angel Gabriel told his father, Zacharias (Luke 1:13-17), but there is no record of John promoting this remarkable story. His focus was not on proclaiming who he was, but on doing the work that God had given him to do. The fruit of his life and teaching reveals that he fulfilled the role of Elijah, which Jesus confirms. A false prophet, though, with his covetousness, presumption, and self-will, is more likely to end up spending a good deal of time talking about himself.

Other false prophets, like Balaam, are essentially in it only for the money, and so they will do what is necessary to ensure that the gold rolls in. The False Prophet in Revelation points the whole world to another man - the Beast. A true prophet would never suggest that a man be worshipped, with the exception of John the Baptist pointing the people to God's Son, Jesus Christ. John pointed people to a Man who was also God, and thus worthy of worship.

Prophets are false when they fail to express God's will accurately, and they fail because they are not in contact with the true God. The fruits of their lives and the meaning behind their words will indicate the source of their teaching. To paraphrase Jesus Christ, by their words they will be justified, or by their words they will be condemned (Matthew 12:37). If the words of a prophet are contrary to Scripture, contrary to God's law, the prophet is false, and worthy of condemnation for leading people astray.

David C. Grabbe
What Is a False Prophet?


 

2 Kings 4:27-31

As the Shunammite woman clutches Elisha's feet, a posture of abject humility, grief, and supplication, Gehazi attempts to push her away from the prophet. Elisha sternly rebukes him for not noticing her distress and accommodating her in her sorrow (verse 27). The servant is not perceptive enough to see her heartfelt anguish—all he sees is another demanding supplicant to be dealt with, to be put in her rightful place before the great prophet.

Who is this Gehazi? The Bible describes him consistently and solely as Elisha's servant, shedding very little light on his background or position. In his All the Men of the Bible, Herbert Lockyer speculates that he "likely stood in the same relationship to Elisha as Elisha had done to Elijah" (p. 124). This would make him the prophet's probable successor as well as his assistant. If this is so, it makes him, as the type of a false minister, that much more significant and sinister.

Scripture records very little that is good about Gehazi. He heeds Elisha's commands well enough, but the sense of his basic unbelief and impure motives that hovers between the lines is real. He appears in three scenes, and only in one of them does he do anything of even moderate merit (II Kings 8:1-6). The second scene in II Kings 5:20-27 exposes his greed for money and the power it brings, and God through Elisha curses him and his descendants with leprosy, a hideous form of excommunication.

The third scene appears here in II Kings 4, bringing out his inconsiderate attitude and spiritual impotence. It shows him living intimately with the righteous example of Elisha but never instilling it into his own character. He is a servant who never learns how to care for those he serves. He is a man with great potential for growth in God's way and service who instead seeks material wealth and position in society. In the end he receives the "reward" of a false minister.

Gehazi's spiritual inadequacy comes out when Elisha sends him ahead to try to heal the dead child (verses 29-31). The text does not mention him praying for the child's healing, and even using the prophet's staff does him no good. The terse narrative suggests that, once Gehazi sees no change in the boy's condition, he says, "Oh, well!" and reports his unsuccessful attempt to Elisha and the grieving mother. "Try, try again" is not in his spiritual vocabulary (see Luke 18:1-8)!

This should give us some general clues about false ministers, tares among the wheat in God's service. Many are avaricious; they see "serving" God's people as a means to a profitable end. Many are inconsiderate; their "ministry" is more about them and their desires than the true needs of the flock. Many are spiritually weak, "having a form of godliness but denying its power" (II Timothy 3:5); they merely go through the motions of godly works. The apostles Peter and Jude expound on other elements of false ministers in their books (II Peter 2; Jude 5-19).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Elisha and the Shunammite Woman, Part II: Serving God's Children


 

Acts 20:29

He calls these future apostates, these future false teachers, "savage wolves." Jude later calls them "brute beasts" (Jude 1:20). This conjures in our minds the idea that man's animalistic nature—what one could call the physical side of man's nature, what he shares with the beasts—is driving these false teachers. It is not necessarily their minds and their ideas that are driving them but their bodies, their desires, their lusts, and they want these lusts satiated in some way. It is not just eating, drinking, sex, and similar carnal needs, but also the base desires that men have for gain, for standing atop the pack, for glory and prestige. These false teachers are letting their "animal nature" get the best of them.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Jude


 

Acts 20:29-30

Paul specifically says these apostates will rise up from among the ministry. In verse 29, he says that "savage wolves will come in among you," and in verse 30, that "among yourselves men will rise up." They will be people in leadership positions or those who are considered to be pillars in the church and highly respected. Thus, they are in an advantageous position, from their point of view, to do the most damage.SS

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Jude


 

1 Timothy 6:3-5

Paul says, "Leave!" His concern is for those who will be confronted with false doctrines. He urges them to come "to wholesome words" (verse 3). Wholesome literally means "healthy," words that produce health. In the context of food one would say "health food." Paul says, "Eat the good food, not the junk!" The same applies spiritually: Mentally, a Christian needs to eat healthy words that will produce spiritual health.

Then he describes false teachers: They are conceited, have an unnatural craving for debate, and argue incessantly about words. They are theorists who waste time in futile academic disputes or exercises in semantics. God instructs that these characteristics are not a sign of good spiritual health. Out of this kind of thinking come envy, abusive speech, evil suspicions, constant friction, and a warped idea that godliness is a means of financial gain (verses 4-5).

John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!


 

1 John 1:1-5

Why did John begin his epistle in this manner? He was establishing his authority to preach the true gospel because some were disparaging the message he said he heard from Jesus Christ. The false teachers disparaged his message as too conservative, orthodox, and some said downright wrong. His defense was that he had personally seen, heard, and touched the Christ when He was on earth, and for almost seventy years after that, he had continued his fellowship with Him through prayer, study, and obedience! As he wrote, his detractors viewed him as a senile, cranky, old man who looked at life through 100-year-old eyes. Human nature never changes. Satan never changes. Most importantly, God never changes those things that are basic to His purpose! Knowing this, John could speak with powerful authority.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!


 

Jude 1:1

Jude's entire book is based on Matthew 7:15-20, where Jesus tells us, "Beware of false prophets," and "by their fruits you will know them." We should keep this thought in the back of our minds as we study Jude because most of the book describes these false teachers and their false teachings. Jude is giving this warning so that we will be able to spot them when they come out, when they begin to show their fruit.

In this way, Jude and II Peter are both witnesses to the certainty of false teachers, giving us instruction on identifying them and their effects. That said, however, the two epistles are only similar on the surface. They bring out different nuances of these false teachers. It is good to read them together, but it is also good to study them separately, because they are not necessarily saying the exact same things. They agree, but they give us different details, different information, so we can know more fully how to spot these false teachers.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Jude


 

Jude 1:4

In verse 4, Jude gives a few general points about false teachers. The literal translation of the first part is, "For certain men have wormed their way in." They slithered in like snakes without others being aware, on the sly. God, however, marked them out as enemies a long time ago; He knows they are there. This agrees with Jesus' Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:1). There, God allowed the adversary to sow the tares among the wheat, but He left them in the field for a reason. Paul says in I Corinthians 11:19 that they are left to show "who are approved" and who is not. Over time, God's enemies are shown in stark contrast to His true children.

Jude calls these false teachers "ungodly" or impious. The word "ungodly" crops up six times in the book of Jude, making it a significant word in the epistle. It means "irreverent" or "impious." People who are ungodly are not afraid to contravene God's way because they do not have the fear of God. They simply do what they feel like doing. They have nothing in common with God. Nevertheless, we should be careful not to think of them as "extreme" because, as II Corinthians 11:13-15 says, Satan transforms his ministers into angels of light. They look good on the outside, but on the inside they are ungodly. Their externals may be deceiving, but their fruits give them away.

The apostle also mentions that they are blatantly immoral, turning God's grace into licentiousness. They believe that the more they sin, the more they allow God to shower them with His grace and mercy, twisting what grace is. They think they are glorifying God by giving Him the opportunity to forgive them more. How ridiculous! How perverse!

Lastly, they deny Christ. This does not mean they say that Christ never existed or that He is not the Savior. However, everything they say and do, everything they believe, contradicts God's way. If one denies a statement, he is contradicting the person who says it. Jude is using "deny" in this sense. The false teachers contradict Jesus Christ in everything. Once again, they can appear to be following the rules, but their innermost drives and motivations are a denial of the true way of God.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Jude


 

Jude 1:5-11

In these seven verses, Jude expands on his general description of false teachers in verse 4. He compares them in turn to the unbelieving Israelites, to the angels that sinned, and finally to the perverts in Sodom and vicinity. He is giving examples of the three major hallmarks of apostasy:

  1. Unbelief, the Israelites' major failing.

  2. Rebellion, which the angels who sinned did.

  3. Immorality, what occurred in Sodom and Gomorrah.

Unbelief, rebellion, and immorality all result in divine judgment and punishment. The Israelites died in the wilderness, the angels that sinned were placed under restraint, and Sodom and Gomorrah were blasted off the face of the earth. We cannot find better examples of divine judgment and punishment than these.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Jude


 

Jude 1:13

Jude continues the nautical theme begun in verse 12 by calling the false ministers "raging waves of the sea." He describes them as storms in the church, causing trouble and turbulence wherever they go. James describes the doubting person in a similar way (James 1:6-8), as wind-tossed waves, double-minded, and unstable in everything. Such people will end up causing problems. Such waves toss people into hidden rocks, or as his brother Jude puts it, hidden reefs. Naive members can become caught in the turbulence and eventually be turned from the truth.

He then describes them as "foaming up their own shame." It is quite a picturesque phrase. He alludes to the foam on the beach after a storm. The strand is littered with all kinds of driftwood and other debris a storm can dredge up. They brag about their past feats as great accomplishments, but a godly eye sees them for what they are: shameful deeds.

He also calls them "wandering stars," another nautical allusion, this time to the movement of the planets. Mariners used the fixed stars - not the planets - to guide their ships over the trackless sea. They would align themselves toward a certain star to reach their destination. These teachers are supposed to be leaders, guides for those who are not as experienced on the road of life, but as we would say, they are all over the map! They go here and there, this way and that. It is the blind leading the blind, and anyone following them will fall into a ditch (Matthew 15:14). They are unreliable guides. They give horrible advice. They are not worth even talking to about one's problems because they will lead a person astray.

Jude foretells their fate at the end of the verse: "for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever." The literal translation of this is really dark: "Their fate is the utter darkness of darkness for eternity." Lights out forever! James 3:1 says that those who are teachers will receive the stricter judgment, and this is an example of it: the utter darkness of darkness forever. God takes the deception of His people personally.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Jude


 

Jude 1:15-19

Verse 15 emphasizes ungodliness. These false ministers are the total opposite of what God is, and if we know what God is—what godliness is—then we can identify and avoid them.

Jude then gives four more descriptors to help us identify false teachers: 1) They are discontented murmurers and complainers. They always have something to gripe about. Discontent with their lot in life, they find fault with everything. Nothing is ever right for them. 2) They live to satisfy their every desire, a trait Jude has already explained thoroughly. 3) They speak bombastic bragging words, and 4) they are respecters of persons, if it will benefit them. They will do anything to get ahead.

In verse 17, we were warned that such people will enter the church and try to ruin it, so we have no excuse. They are here already, and we need to make sure they do not stay here by keeping an eye out for them and giving no quarter to them when they begin their ungodly work.

Jude then gives three final descriptions of them in verse 19. He calls them 1) "sensual" or worldly. They are based totally in this world, in the realm of the five senses. They have no connection to the heavenly. 2) They "cause divisions," meaning when they appear, the congregation begins taking sides. 3) He ends his description with the opposite of his description of true church members in verse 1: False teachers do not have God's Spirit. They are not of us. They may be among us, but they are not God's spiritual children (Romans 8:9-17). We can see from their fruits that the spirit they have is not God's.

With these descriptions of false teachers, we can be more confident in testing the spirits (I John 3:24; 4:1-6).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Jude


 

Revelation 2:4-5

The Ephesian church did have a problem. It was not in holding false teachers at arm's length, but in tending to become lax, to "drift with the tide," as it were, and this made them an easy target for false teachers. In this way, their weakness was, in a way, connected to their strength. They approached matters somewhat lackadaisically when times were fairly good, but when times became bad, they seemed to be able to stand up for the truth.

At certain times, their devotion to God's way left a lot to be desired. Just before the apostle John died in about AD 100, this was very much the case, and he really had to rouse them to get them back. From what we know from church history, by this time the membership of the true church was small and concentrated mostly around John in the church at Ephesus and some of the nearby towns in Asia Minor that he directly pastored.

Jude recognized the beginning of this drifting when he wrote in the mid-60s. All the apostles wrote similar things in their epistles: that the members of the church needed to get on the stick because false doctrines and false teachers were already in evidence among them and beginning to cause problems. If they did not root them out quickly, destruction would follow. The brethren were far too tolerant of divergent beliefs and practices, and Jude, especially, makes this point rather bluntly. He basically yells at them. Those who know Greek intimately say his language is very terse and sharp, and with it he lays in to them for being too tolerant of untruth.

His brother, Jesus, is more circumspect in His wording in Revelation 2:5. To paraphrase, he says, "I would rather that you were strong all the time. You need to go back and do the first works and remain strong so that these false teachers do not get a foothold in the church in the first place."

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Jude


 

 




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