NT Warnings of Apostasy

Although the theme of apostasy can be traced throughout all of human history, its theology and the fullness of it is found in the New Dispensation—namely in the theology of Paul as he delivers warnings of false teachers,[1] and also in the theology of other New Testament writers Peter, Jude, and John. In Paul’s writings there are a few warnings that stand out among the rest, such as in Acts 20:28-31 where he sends a warning to the elders at Ephesus saying,

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 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. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.”

Paul once again warns the church of the “great falling away” and the “man of sin” at Thessalonica in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 as he says,

“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or ea letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness* is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.”

In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul describes to Timothy both how a man will depart from the faith and how some will not endure sound doctrine in 1 Timothy 4:1-3:

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.”

and 2 Timothy 4:1-4:

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 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.”

As mentioned, there are more than just Paul’s warnings about those that will fall from the truth and teach a false gospel. Peter—in 2 Peter 2:1-2—warned his readers of the false teachers to come who will bring destructive heresies and whom many will end up following:

“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.”

In Jude’s theology of apostasy he warns his readers of the false teachers who were even present during that time in the church, who crept their way in, turning the grace of God into lewdness and denying the Lord God and Jesus Christ. Jude 3-4 states:

“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. 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.”

Lastly, John’s theology matches the New Testament theme of apostasy as he also warns the church of it, specifically as he mentions the “antichrists” who had come—in fact, had already come during that time—and as such, John saw that the Church was living in the last hour before Jesus Christ’s second-coming. 1 John 2:18-19 reads:

“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. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

These warnings of apostasy through the New Testament writers also brings to light Jesus’ teaching to His disciples that apostasy was already underway during His ministry here on earth, when He stated in Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Another one of Jesus’ great predictions of what will take place before the end is characterized by tribulation which will occur in such a way that many will apostatize from the faith, as Matthew 24:10 says, “then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.” Here in Christ’s teaching one can see that until His second coming, apostasy will continue to take place within the Church. With this teaching, it is very evident in the letter to the Hebrews—from the very opening of the letter—that Jesus Christ occupies the ultimate position in the redemptive purpose of God, as Hebrews 1:1-4 reads,

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”

This is what the Old Testament looked toward, and is that which the New Testament believers apostatized from—that is, the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Because of the nature of this, the letter to the Hebrews insists that one cannot reverse apostasy; a teaching found in Hebrews 6:4-6[2] and 12:16-17. This, which those in the Old Dispensation broke away from and lost covenant, is that the same in which those in the New Covenant, during the New Dispensation, break or fall away from as well. Paul deals with this in his teachings in both Galatians 1:7-9 and in 1 Timothy 1:1-5. Paul explains to the New Testament Church that they would have among them those that claimed to live and teach the gospel, but in actuality preach a hypocritical gospel. Passages like 2 Timothy 4:3-4 and Acts 20:29-30 (as Paul deals with the elders at Ephesus) show that there were those that mislead the church from the truth of the gospel. It is important here to look at who the major New Dispensation apostates are, just as we did with the Old Dispensation in chapter three.

[1] For an in-depth study dealing with New Testament warning passages Cf. Robert Peterson, Our Secure Salvation: Perseverance and Apostasy, P&R Publishing: Philisberg, 2009), pp. 101-94.

[2] Hebrews 6:1-4 will be dealt with deeper in chapter 8. Cf. for a study of the Hebrews “warning passages”: Robert Peterson, Our Secure Salvation: Perseverance and Apostasy, P&R Publishing: Phillipsburg, 2009), pp. 157-77.


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