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.


What is The Message of Acts?

  1. Christ’s exalted rule empowers, guides, and extends the church in accordance with the prophesied word.
  2. God’s plan was evidenced in the death and resurrection of Christ and provides life and healing and hope for Jews and Gentiles.
  3. The outpouring of the Spirit confirms Christ’s exaltation and the fulfillment of the plan of redemption;  through that Spirit, there is life and witness and growth and joy in the church.
  4. Prayer and praise are the church’s work in conjunction with witness.  It is what God uses to make his reign and kingship known.
  5. The church is extended through the word being preached by the apostles, as they witness to God, His supremacy in the face of idols, His grace in the face of man’s sin and misery, His plan right through all the devices of principalities and powers.

The Kingdom and The Church

Ridderbos says,

“The basileia is the great divine work of salvation in its fulfillment and consummation in Christ; the ekklesia is the people elected and called by God and sharing in the bless of the basileia.” The kingdom “… represents the all-embracing perspective, it denotes the consummation of all history, brings both grace and judgment, has cosmic dimensions, fills time and eternity. The ekklesia in all this is the people who in this great drama have been placed on the side of God in Christ by virtue of the divine election and covenant. They have been given the divine promise, have been brought to manifestation and gathered together by the preaching of the gospel, and will inherit the redemption of the kingdom now and in the great future” (354-355).

Looking for more material on the Kingdom of God? I’d read the following:

  1. Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom (Philadelphia: P & R, 1962)
  2. Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom (Exeter, Paternoster, 1981)
  3. Leonhard Goppelt, Theology of the New Testament (2 vols; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981)

Some OLD Voices on the Kingdom of God

  1. Ladd, Matt 12:29 (How can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man?  Then indeed he may plunder his goods – embodies “the essential theology fo the Kingdom of God.  Instead of waiting until the end of the age to reveal his kingdly power and destroy satanic evil, Jesus declares that Go0d has acted in his kingly power to curb the power of Satan.  In other words, God’s Kingdom in Jesus’ teaching has a twofold manifestation: at the end fo the age to destroy Satan, and in Jesus’ mission to bind Satan” (63-64).
  2. Goppelt: “I: 71: “The very heart of God’s reign is summed up in the relationship between God and people becoming whole.”
  3. Ridderbos: 20-21: “The coming of the kingdom is first of all the display of the divine glory, the re-assertion and maintenance of God’s rights on earth in their full sense.”

What is the Kingdom of God?

Jerry Bilkes,

“The Kingdom of God is the radical manifestation and comprehensive effectuation of God’s saving reign at the culmination of redemptive history. Thus it has revelatory, redemptive, and eschatological dimensions.”

What the Old Testament says on the Kingdom from Goldsworthy,

“We first see the Kingdom of God in the Garden of Eden. Here Adam and Eve live[d] in willing obedience to the word of God and to God’s rule. In this setting, the Kingdom is destroyed by the sin of man – and the rest of the Bible is about the restoration of a people to be the willing subjects of the perfect rule of God” [47].

The Doctrine of Inspiration and Authority of Scripture

Warfield says:

“The Biblical books are called inspired as the Divinely determined products of inspired men; the Biblical writers are called inspired as breathed into by the Holy Spirit, so that the product of their activities transcends human powers and becomes Divinely authoritative. Inspiration is, therefore, usually defined as a supernatural influence exerted on the sacred writers by the Holy Spirit, by virtue of which their writings are given divine truthfulness, and constitute an infallible and sufficient rule of faith and practice.” The biblical term is specifically “theopneustos” (2 Tim 3:16). It does not have the sense “inspire,” but “spire” that is, God-breathed. “What it says of Scripture is, not that it is „breathed into by God,‟ or is the product of the Divine „inbreathing‟ into its human authors, but that it is breathed out by God, „God-breathed,‟ the product of the creative breath of God. In a word, what is declared by this fundamental passage is simply that the Scripture are a Divine product, without any indication of how God has operated in producing them. No term could have been chosen, however, which would have more emphatically asserted the Divine production of Scripture than that which is here employed.”

What is Biblical Theology?

Jerry Bilkes,

“Biblical Theology is that discipline of faithful confession, defense, and worship of the truth as it is revealed in the Old and New Testament, performed by the redeemed church of God on earth, normed exclusively and totally by the Word of Christ, illumined by the Spirit of Christ, unto obedience and witness in the world and praise and edification in the church, with special regard to the formal character of revelation, that is the categories of history, theological themes, and writing.”

John Murray says,

“Systematic theology will fail of its task to the extent to which it discards its rootage in biblical theology as properly conceived and developed.”

Geerhardus Vos: Biblical Theology shows…

“That in the Bible there is an organization finer, more complicated, more exquisite than even the texture of muscles and nerves and brain in the human body, its various parts are interwoven and correlated in the most subtle manner, each sensitive to the impressions received from all the others, perfect in itself, and yet dependent upon the rest, while in them and through them all throbs as a unifying principle the Spirit of God‟s living truth” (RHBI 21-22).”

What is Biblical Theology’s Relationship to Systematic Theology?

Jerry Bilkes states,

“The definition of Systematic Theology accords with that of biblical theology in all elements except that it collapses the formal character of Scripture for the purpose of a more strictly logical presentation. The two disciplines rely on each other and together rely on Scripture. Biblical theology is especially ancillary to systematic theology and grows out of the sola scriptura of doctrine and life.”

How does Biblical Theology differ from Systematic Theology?

Although we don’t always agree… J. P. Gabler says,

“Biblical theology possesses a historical character, transmitting what the sacred writers thought about divine matters; dogmatic theology, on the contrary, possesses a didactic character, teaching what a particular theologian philosophizes about divine matters in accordance to his ability, time, age, place, sect, or school, and other similar things.”

What is Rationalism?

Rationalism is human reason exalted. It is an anti-authoritarian view of knowledge, an emphasis on subjective verification of the truth, a break up of Aristotelian and scholastic metaphysics, an emphasis on historical consciousness and historiographic concerns, a sense of progress, and even the inception of biblical criticism (cf. rise of Arminianism, Amyraldism, Socianism, and Deism).

Bibliography on New Testament Theology

Adam, Peter. Hearing God’s Words: Exploring Biblical Spirituality. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Bass, Christopher David. That You May Know: Assurance of Salvation in 1 John. NAC studies in Bible & theology, v. 5. Nashville, Tenn: B & H Academic, 2008.

Beale, G. K. The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God. Leicester, England: Apollos, 2004.

Bolt, Peter. The Cross from a Distance: Atonement in Mark’s Gospel. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Brower, K. E., and M. W. Elliott. Eschatology in Bible & Theology Evangelical Essays at the Dawn of a New Millennium. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1997.

Burke, Trevor J. Adopted into God’s Family: Exploring a Pauline Metaphor. Nottingham, England: Apollos, 2006.

Gilliland, Dean S. Pauline Theology & Mission Practice. Eugene, Or.: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1983. Pp 71-120.

Goppelt, Leonard. Theology of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981. Guthrie, Donald. New Testament Theology. Downer’s Grove: Intervarsity, 1981.

Morris, Leon. New Testament Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich: Academie Books, 1986.

Ridderbos, Herman. Paul: An Outline of His Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975. Schreiner, Thomas R. New Testament Theology Magnifying God in Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.

Vos, G. Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980. 3-58, 126-233.

Waters, Guy Prentiss. Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul A Review and Response. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub, 2004.

Horton, Michael Scott. God of Promise Introducing Covenant Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2006.

Köstenberger, Andreas J., and Scott R. Swain. Father, Son, and Spirit: The Trinity and John’s Gospel. Nottingham, England: Apollos, 2008.

Ladd, George Eldon. A Theology of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1974.

Marshall, I. Howard. New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses, One Gospel. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Morris, Leon. The Cross in the New Testament. Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1965.

O’Brien, Peter Thomas. Gospel and Mission in the Writings of Paul: An Exegetical and Theological Analysis. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 1995.

Pao, David W. Thanksgiving: An Investigation of a Pauline Theme. Leicester, England: Apollos, 2002.

Peterson, David. Possessed by God: A New Testament Theology of Sanctification and Holiness. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1995.

Piper, John. The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2007.

Reymond, Robert L. Paul, Missionary Theologian. Ross-Shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2000.

Thielman, Frank. Theology of the New Testament: A Canonical and Synthetic Approach. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2005.

Thompson, Mark. A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture. Nottingham, England: Apollos, 2006.

Wenham, David. Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995.