Posts Tagged With: false teachers

Jude: Show Mercy, But With Wisdom

The book of Jude, also known as Judah (N. T. Wright’s preference) or even Judas, was possibly written by the prophet Judas (not Iscariot), though more likely written by Judas the brother of Jesus (c.f., Matthew 13:55).  This view is favored because the author does not consider himself an apostle and he calls himself a brother of James, which most believe is the pillar in the Jerusalem church, the author of James, and the brother of Jesus.  Seemingly not wanting to ride the coat-tails of his brother, Jude does not refer to himself as the Lord’s brother.

This is a hard book to date, and much of the decision rides on whether one thinks Jude borrowed from 2 Peter or vice versa or neither.  If Jude borrowed from 2 Peter, then Jude can be dated as late as the 80s.  As authors tend to borrow and elaborate, most scholars think Peter borrowed from the shorter Jude, meaning Jude cannot be dated later than AD 65.

Hebrews, James, John, Peter, and Jude are sometimes called the General Epistles because, unlike Paul’s letters, they appear to be written to broad groups of people, addressing very general circumstances.  Jude is likely the most general of the General Letters.  It is hard to say who is being addressed, what ethnicities are present, where they are located, and who exactly are the false teachers being discussed.  Regardless, the message is clear and widely applicable.

Verse 4 may be the best summary of the message of Jude:

They are godless men, who change the grace of God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

People have arisen in the church(es) Jude is addressing that have turned the grace of God into an excuse to sin.  If wrongdoing is going to be forgiven, why not live how you wish.  This could have been a libertine version of Gnosticism that Jude was attacking, though as we see even still today people who love their sin more than their Savior have always used grace as a license to stay in their old ways.

“Shrewd as serpents, innocent as doves”

The ancient Egyptians of the Exodus.  Angels who rebelled and were cast out of Heaven.  The perverted people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Dumb animals who only follow their instincts.  Cain, who killed his brother.  Balaam, who would prophesy for the highest bidder.  Korah and his fellow rebels who dared to question the leadership of Moses.  Jude compares the false teachers in the midst of his recipients to this rogue’s gallery.  Not great company.

As I read Jude again, a book I do not spend a lot of time in, I was struck by this interesting passage:

With some people who are wavering, you must show mercy.  Some you must rescue, snatching them from the fire.  To others you must show mercy, but with fear, hating even the clothes that have been defiled by the flesh. (22-23)

Jude is clear.  Show mercy to everyone, even those on the fence thinking about walking away from the way of life you think is right and best, even to those trying to lead you astray.  But it would be unwise to think that all people are equal threats to your faith.  There are some who need you to be deeply invested in their lives, fighting for their very souls.  But there are others — like these false teachers — who, while we do not give them the ill treatment they deserve, must be treated with a healthy fear of what they can do to a person’s faith.  There is a distance that must be in place, lest one be pulled into their wickedness as well.  All must be shown mercy, but not all should be related to in the same way.

What caught your eye in this often-neglected book?

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Categories: Jude | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2 Peter 2: Like a Dog to Vomit

Peter gives one of the most detailed descriptions of a group of false teachers that I am aware of in the New Testament:

  • Their false teaching is destructive (2:1)
  • Their teaching can even cause someone to renounce Jesus (2:1)
  • They will be destroyed (2:1)
  • They will be popular (2:2)
  • Their practices are disgusting (2:2)
  • They cause people to blaspheme the way of truth (2:2)
  • They exploit people to satisfy their greed (2:3)
  • They prophesy, but falsely (2:3)
  • They follow their carnal lists (2:10)
  • They despise authority and arrogantly assert their own will (2:10)
  • They act more like irrational animals than the knowledgeable people they claim to be (2:12)
  • They hurl curses at things they do not fully understand (2:12)
  • Their lifestyle comes back to destroy them (2:12)
  • They are unjust (2:13)
  • They audaciously enjoy flaunting their decadence (2:13)
  • They turn Christian fellowship into crass parties (2:13)
  • They are especially inclined toward adultery (2:14)
  • Their appetite for sin is insatiable (2:14)
  • They especially target vulnerable people (2:14)
  • They are driven by greed (2:14)
  • They used to be orthodox but have since wandered after gain like Balaam (2:15)
  • They promise what they cannot deliver (2:17)
  • They teach their foolishness with charisma (2:18)
  • They promise people freedom, but they themselves are slaves to their immorality (2:19)
  • They are worse off than pagans because they have known Christ and have knowingly turned away (2:20)

I cannot even imagine this combination of characteristics.  It is unfathomable that all of these could be true of one group of false teachers and they were still persuasive to Christians.  The very fact that these false teachers seem to be as sexually immoral as they are described to be and still were considered credible is mind-boggling to me.  But that is probably because I am a post-Puritan Christian living in a time and place shaped by the Moral Majority where sexual sin is especially taboo.  Licentiousness was much more commonplace in the ancient Roman Empire.

The closest thing I can imagine to false teachers like these might be church leaders who wind up on the front page of the news because of their sex scandals and money-grabbing.  Inevitably their egos, appetites, and greed are their own undoing.  It is shameful, and as the honor of God is tarnished in the process there is no wonder justice so often comes.  However, even people like this try to hide their sin, whereas the false teachers of 2 Peter flaunted it.

Maybe the most important passage in today’s reading is Peter’s reassurance that God will not allow this sort of false teaching to overwhelm his Church.

The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from testing, and how to keep the unrighteous ready for the day of judgment and punishment. (2:9)

Peter’s audience surely needed this affirmation.

What caught your eye today?

Categories: 2 Peter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

BONUS: An Introduction to John’s Letters

Though never identified in the letters, the author of the Johannine letters is almost certainly the apostle John, the son of Zebedee, and author of the Gospel of John.  Based on writing style, there is good reason to think the writer of Revelation is a different John.  The John who wrote 1, 2, and 3 John was one of the inner circle of apostles and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23).  Though he started his adult life a fisherman, he ends it as one of the pillars of the new, growing Christian church, a highly respected leader in the Ephesus area in particular.

“The Apostle John” by Rembrandt

The Johannine letters are likely some of the latest parts of the New Testament.  Some date John’s letters to the late 80s.  If this is correct, the first generation of those who had actually seen Jesus were dying and John was pure royalty.  Given that no specific recipients are mentioned in 1 John, the first epistle was likely a circular letter distributed among a diverse group of Christians, especially in Asia Minor around Ephesus.  Given the general nature of the teachings of the letter, that makes perfect sense.  Second and Third John are equally as general and universal.

Most scholars situate the Johannine letters in the context of Gnosticism.  This false version of Christianity really blossomed in the second century AD but it was likely an early version John was addressing.  Gnosticism taught that the physical was evil and the spiritual was good.  The fleshly body was wasting away and either an impediment to holiness or a temporary object of no consequence to be used and abused because only the soul really mattered.  Gnosticism derives its name from the Greek word “gnosis” which means “knowledge,” because the truly spiritually enlightened ones have a special knowledge that sets them apart from their more earthbound peers.  With these beliefs, a good Gnostic could not believe Jesus was fully human and flesh.  One version of Gnosticism called “doceticism” taught that Jesus only seemed to be flesh and another version called “Cerinthianism” taught that the man named Jesus gained his spiritual nature at baptism and lost it before he died.  We will hear John attacking this sort of thinking in his letters, 1 John especially.  As the flesh was evil, one was supposed to either deny his fleshly desires through asceticism (seen earlier in Colossians) or indulge the flesh in licentiousness.  This latter version seems to be the one John addresses.

John wrote 1 John to expose false teaching and counter any wrong thinking about Jesus that had cropped up.  As one of the last eyewitnesses of Jesus, John could testify that Jesus was indeed flesh.  John also believed that the libertine worldliness of pre-Gnostic Christianity was eroding the true Christian witness.  In 2 and 3 John, John encourages faithful Christians to extend hospitality to evangelists he would have sent out even if powerful, possibly-Gnostic leaders in his church opposed him.

Categories: 1 John, 2 John, 3 John | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

1 Timothy 4: Overemphasizing the External

It is really easy to turn the way of Christ into a series of rules about external behavior.  That is not to say that the way of Christ is only internal — one does need to give attention to how one acts in this world — but there is something missing from a person’s Christianity if it entirely revolves around laws that dictate what a person does and does not do with their bodies.

We learn today that this was certainly happening in Ephesus:

They [the false teachers] will forbid marriage, and teach people to abstain from foods which God intended to be received with thanksgiving by people who believe and know the truth. (4:3)

Sometimes we do the same, especially when talking to younger Christians.  We make it seem like the task of following Jesus is all about not getting drunk, not smoking weed, and not sleeping around.  Then as people get older we talk about staying away from pornography, not speeding, and not missing church.  Of course, I am not suggesting that any of these are wholesome or appropriate; I simply beg us to remember there is more to the way of Christ than external rules, and limiting Christianity to external rules is action akin to the false teachers of Ephesus.

Like Paul was calling the Ephesian church to (1:5-7), like he was calling Timothy to (4:12), the way of Christ is all about “faith, love, and holiness” — all of which have external manifestations but all of which start as attitudes and desires of the heart first and foremost.  According to Paul today, to forget this is the beginning of false teaching.

What do you think?

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1 Timothy 1: Beware of False Teachers!

Lurking in the background of most Pauline letters is some person, group, or philosophy that threatens the orthodox beliefs and practices of the Christianity that Paul was spreading.  This is very much true in the letters to Timothy.

As we start our two weeks with these letters, let’s look at a profile of these “false teachers.”

  • They teach “false doctrines” (1:3; 6:3)
  • They want to be “teachers of the law” (1:7)
  • They base their teachings on myths not facts and genealogies not stories (1:4; 4:7)
  • They come off as conceited (1:7; 6:4)
  • They are argumentative, produce controversy, and disrupt the peace in the church (1:4; 6:4; 2 Tim 2:23)
  • They were full of meaningless and foolish talk, showing that they don’t really know what he are talking about (1:6-7; 6:4; 2 Tim 2:23)
  • They encouraged asceticism (4:3)
  • They used their authority for financial gain (6:5)

When you put this all together, this sketch does not produce a definitive identity.  Clearly, like many of Paul’s opponents, they were tying the Jewish law to the way of Christ.  The asceticism and emphasis on myth and genealogy could come from Judaism or from an early version of Gnosticism that was becoming popular in Asia Minor especially.

Maybe the most important point about these false teachers is what Paul says today:

That sort of thing breeds disputes rather than the instruction in faith that comes from God.  The goal of such instruction is love — the love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith. (1:4-5)

This was a false teaching that emphasized the obscure and ineffectual while neglecting the most important elements of the way of Christ: faith, love, and purity.

What does a Christian leader look like today who is similar to these false teachers?

Categories: 1 Timothy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

2 Corinthians 11: Not So Very “Super-Apostles”

Paul snidely labels those who are opposing him in the Corinthian church as the “super-apostles” (11:5).  Images of Clark Kent with a Bible come to mind.  He tells us a good deal about these people in today’s reading.

  • They have been able to sway some of the church away from true doctrine (11:3)
  • They may have been teaching significantly different things about Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the gospel (11:4)
  • They clearly were well-educated, much more than Paul, especially in the area of rhetoric (11:6)
  • Given that much of this book is about the collection Paul is taking up for the Christians in Judea and that Paul repeatedly has to defend his financial decisions, the super-apostles were likely accusing Paul of using the Corinthians for money (11:7-9)
  • They are so flawed as to actually be “false” prophets (11:13a)
  • They transform themselves, chameleon-like, to look pious and orthodox (11:13b)
  • Paul calls them servants of Satan, implying they are a threat to spiritual purity, not simply other Christians with views different from Paul’s (11:15)
  • They are destined for Hell (11:15)
  • They regularly boasted about themselves (11:18)
  • They are enslaving, insulting, and exploiting the Corinthians (11:20)
  • They may be Jewish (11:22)
  • They have not sacrificed as much as Paul for the sake of the gospel (11:23-29)

So who are these people? When you put it all together it makes a lot of sense that these super-apostles were the same Judaizers who followed Paul throughout the eastern Mediterranean undoing his grace-oriented Christianity with a re-binding of law on Christians.  Their air of superiority had much to do with their ethnicity and training in the law.

For Paul these differences are more than surface differences of preference and style.  The super-apostles had eviscerated the very gospel and in so doing they were not to be tolerated at all.

What caught your eye today?

Categories: 2 Corinthians | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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