(this is an unedited chapter)
God’s Word must be made available. Making the Word of God available is one of the reasons the Church was instituted by God on earth.
“…the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”
– First Timothy 3:15
We have been entrusted with the Word of God to make it available and teach it clearly to men:
“I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” - Jude 3
“This grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery…His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms….” - Ephesians 3:8-10
If the church fails to read, preach and teach the Word of God that was entrusted to them, then God’s word is not as readily made available to men. Understandably, if the Word of God is not set forth before men as paramount, they will replace it with something artificial. A man who seeks God in a church where there is no teaching will be forced to choose something inferior which will prove to be destructive for his spiritual maturity.
A man in a church where the reading, preaching and teaching the Word of God is not the principal purpose will have to embrace some other form of spiritual nutrition.The New Testament warns against these pseudo-nutritional additives, enhancements and sweeteners that replace the pure Word of God:
· traditions of men
· hollow and deceptive philosophies
· empty rituals
· religious regulations
· every wind of teaching
· deceitful, scheming of men
- (Ephesians 4:14; Colossians 2:8, 21-23; 1 Timothy 1:3-4; 4:1-3, 7)
Our wills can seek God but without the opportunity to hear and understand the Word of God, first for salvation, and second, for maturity, we would be left to pursue some cheap substitute for God’s glorious Truth.
False teaching that comes from the worldly philosophies of vain human imagination or demonic doctrines that come from deceiving spirits have been made available since Satan first question and misquoted the Word of God in the Garden of Eden. (Genesis 3:1) The very first act of evil and betrayal recorded in scripture was an attack on the veracity of the Word of God and the denial of its accuracy. (Genesis 3:4) The very first thing we see Satan doing in Scripture is adding to the Word and claiming that God’s Word did not accurately reflect the true character of God. (Genesis 3:5) The very first time Jesus encounters Satan in his earthly ministry he quotes verses from the Word of God three times to counter Satan’s twisted use of Scripture and warped will. (Matthew 4:1-11) When Jesus publicly teaches about the importance of the seed of the Word of God, he is quick to point out that Satan comes immediately to steal that Word. (Matthew 13:3-9; 18-23) Satan knows that if the Word is allowed to grow to fruition it will produce thirty, sixty and one hundred fold in the life of the believing heart. (Matthew 13:28)
If today these philosophies and doctrines are allowed to be substituted in the mind of a believer their spiritual growth will be stunted and their chance to produce eternal rewards will be squelched. They will have lost their inheritance (rewards) in the Kingdom of God. Even though they have a true understanding of salvation through faith in Jesus so they may be saved from eternal damnation, they will lives that are virtually spiritually unproductive in time on earth. They may be religiously busy, but they will lead a life of vanity and emptiness.
The Scripture identifies several imitations, alternatives and artificial sources that replace the Word of God in the pulpits of the church and in the heart of a believer:
1. “Weak and miserable forces… observing special days and months and seasons and years” – Galatians 4:9, 10. Refers to returning to the observation of a former religious belief system that had already proven to be ineffective and useless. Paul questions their judgment saying, “Now that you know God – or rather are known by God – how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days, and months and seasons and years!”
2. “Infants tossed back and forth by the waves.” – Ephesians 4:14. Refers to the churches current crisis in time in contrast to the ultimate result of good evangelists, pastors and teachers which describes the ultimate destination of believers in threefold terms in 4:13: unified in doctrine and knowledge, mature and producing the fullness of Christ in their lives. But, until then the church will have to deal with a three headed attack on its doctrine and knowledge. The first is “the waves” that toss the immature Christians back and forth. The Christians are on the waves attempting to make progress to the goal of maturity.
3. “Blown here and there by every wind of teaching” – Ephesians 4:14. Refers to the second of the three headed attack on the church’s unified faith and knowledge. As the Christian struggles to a destination of maturity there are ever changing winds of doctrinal teaching which moves the waves in different directions completely stopping the Christian’s progress towards the truth.
4. “Cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” – Ephesians 4:14. Refers to the third of three heads that besiege the church throughout history. Not only are the Christians on the rolling waves trying to progress toward the goal of maturity, and the variety of winds of teaching cause chaos on the waves, but men (and, Satan) are intentionally scheming to twist and warp the teaching to reflect their position and lead the Christians to man’s (and, Satan’s) desired position, which is not unity in doctrine, nor is it maturity.
5. “Mutilators of the flesh” – Philippians 3:2. Refers to dead, religious rituals with no reality. In this verse Paul exclaims, “Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.” The phrase “watch out” is “blepete” which indicates that this is an intense warning against this group of men that are harassing the church with their false doctrine. They are identified by a set of three negative descriptors: “dogs,” “men who do evil,” and “mutilators of the flesh.” These words identify a group of teachers who were trying to enforce the doctrine of circumcision on the church in order to obtain what they considered a more “complete salvation.” Dogs were not kept as pets by the Jews, nor were they cared for in Jewish homes. Dogs were despised and considered unclean. Paul is warning the Philippians of a group of teachers that he despised and mocked as mutilators instead of honoring them for keeping some rich religious ritual. In Galatians Paul sarcastically tells this same group of false teachers to “apokopsontai” (apokopto) themselves which according to the Lingustic Key, page 430 means “to cut off; here, to castrate. Paul expresses the wish that his opponents would not stop with circumcision, but would go on to emasculation.” This is how the NIV and the ESV translate. Paul considered their teaching as evil and said so.
6. “Fine-sounding arguments that deceive” – Colossians 2:4. Paul tells the saints in Colosse concerning the people he is trying to reach with the Word of God:
“My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.” - Colossians 2:3, 4
Paul is stating that the ultimate purpose of his ministry occurs when believers are encouraged and united. From that position they would “have the full riches of complete understanding” that would result in their knowing the mystery of God. Paul then warns them that he is trying to prepare them so they are not “deceived” by “fine-sounding arguments.” The word “deceived” is “paralogizetai” which means “to reckon wrong, to cheat by false reasoning.” This is in reference to the false teachers presenting faulty information for the students to reason with. The false teachers are stacking the deck and then dealing the cards to the students. There is an example in the ancient Greek documents of papyri where this word is used of a librarian in charge of the state library. The librarian willing miss used documents in the library to manipulate a government situation. This word “paralogizetai” (deceived) focuses on the wrong, erroneous conclusion made by a student that is based on the erroneous information and twisted doctrine presented by the teacher. The phrase “fine-sounding arguments” comes from one Greek word “pithanologia” which means “persuasive speech.” In the ancient Greek papyri this word is used to describe the speech of those who argued their case eloquently in court in order to convince the judge to allow them to keep the goods they had stolen. An English equivalent of this word is found in the phrase “to talk someone into something.” (Linguistic Key, p. 463) By putting these two words together Paul is saying:
“I am telling this so that no one will be able to intentionally present inaccurate information which will lead you to believe the lie they are presenting with their persuasive speech and smooth words.”
7. Hollow and deceptive philosophy based on human traditions that take people captive – Colossians 2:8. Paul writes here:
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive, through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human traditions and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”
In the previous verse (2:7) Paul had urged the Colossians to continue in the Word of God (Gospel, Christ) being rooted, built up and strengthened. Now in this verse (2:8) he warns them of the dangers of philosophy and traditions. These evil forces desire to replace the Word of God that has saved them and holds the power to build them up. Paul begins verse 8 saying “See to it” which has also been translated as “Be on your guard!”, “Look Out!”, “Beware!” This warning indicates the enemy of the Word of God and the destroyer of phase two of the Christian’s life is about to be identified. The enemy is identified as men who want to take the Colossian saints “captive.” The word “captive” is “sulagogon” which comes from the base word “sulao”, which means “to strip” and the word “ago”, which means “to lead, bring or drive.” Together “sulao” and “ago” (“to strip” and “to lead”) mean “to lead away and strip,” or, as it is used in the Greek, to carry off a captive for booty. This word means to kidnap or abduct someone. Paul says, “Christians, be on your guard! Some people want to spiritually abduct you.” Who are these people? Where do they live? What is the candy they use to get us into their car? The bait in the trap is called “hollow and deceptive philosophy.” First, in this image that Paul is portraying, these abductors are not trying to sell you drugs, encourage loose, immoral behavior, or urge you to wear a suicide vest. The abductors are the presenters of information. They are teachers of philosophy instead of teachers of the Word of God. The abductors want you to base your spiritual understanding and your worldview on a philosophical system rather than on God’s revelation. This philosophy is described four ways in the NIV:
· “Hollow” –
· “Human tradition”
· “Basic principles of this world”
But, in the Greek the word “philosophy” stands alone as the first of the four “candies” that lure the children into the abductor’s car. The ESV captures the Greek better than the NIV:
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of this world, and not according to Christ.”
So the four “candies” are:
· “Philosophy” – “philosophias” – This word means philosophy and is built on the two Greek words “philo” (love) and “sophia” (wisdom) which together mean “love of wisdom.” The word refers to the science that studies facts and principles of reality and our natural human experience. The information and knowledge collected and organized in this study can be then called a philosophy such as a philosophy of life, or a philosophy of history, or a business philosophy. Clearly these spiritual abductors in Colosse in 62 AD were not trying to replace the knowledge of Christ, or the Word of God, with a philosophy of medicine or a philosophy of education, but instead were presenting a philosophy of religion, or a philosophy of God, or a philosophy of Christ. This errant philosophy stood in contrast with Paul’s teaching, and was being used to replace the Word of God or interpret New Testament revelation. The challenge that the saints in Colosse faced was that this philosophy of God was attractive, sounded logical and appealed to the religious craving common to man. It was not some weird science fiction alien plan to resume the construction of the pyramids nor did it involve drinking Kool-Aid. This philosophy simply made the Christian faith seem more in line with what the Colossians already held to be true. In addition, these philosophers of the Christian faith were most likely trained in the popular skill of rhetoric and could argue their position brilliantly and leave the Word of God looking confusing, contradictory and useless without their philosophical system of interpretation.
· “Empty deceit” – “kenes apates” – “kenes” (kenos) means “empty” which would indicate that whatever is empty obviously holds nothing of value since it is hollow. “apates” (apate) refers to a delusion or something that gives a false impression. The Bible lists several things as being delusions that give false hope or security: money (Mt. 13:22) and sin (Heb. 3:13). Here “kenos” is combined with “apate” emphasizing the emptiness of delusions that give a false impression. The appearance of false teaching is delusional and will always be empty when compared to the fullness of the Word of God. We “have been given fullness in Christ.” (Col. 2:9)
· “Human tradition” – paradosin twn anthropon” (“traditions of men”) - “Tradition,” or “paradosin” means “a handing down” and refers to information handed down from one generation to next, year after year. The Rabbis handed down the teaching this way as did the Pagans and, even, the Christians (1 Co. 11:2; 2 Th. 2:15; 3:6). Here it refers to the Pagan religious teaching and rituals that were falsely believed to have a divine origin and a to serve a divine purpose.
· “Elemental spirits of the world” – “stoicheia tou kosmou” – The Greek word “stoicheia” has at its root the meaning “things in a row.” From this root there arise several usages including the basic building blocks of a system such as the letters of the alphabet, the elements of the world, namely earth, air, water and fire, the stars and planets the make up the universe and, finally, the angels, spirits and demons that make up the spiritual universe. Paul’s criticism of this religious philosophy then would be aimed at the focus of this Colossian heresy which was the angelic and spiritual beings that impressed the Pagans, the Jews and these early Christians. Paul is saying this philosophy that organizes the information concerning the spiritual dimension is simple, foundational, elementary and, thus misses the entire point of the revelation of the Word of God, which Paul immediately goes on to define in the next verse:
“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.” - Colossians2:9
The empty philosophy had diminished, but not rejected, Jesus, since he had been seen physically. They instead returned to their more familiar Pagan pursuit of spiritual beings or demons.
8. “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!...based on human commands and teaching...their self-imposed worship, their false humility, their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value” – Colossians 2:8, 20-23 – refers to a some form of asceticism that is perceived as spiritual to those watching and feels spiritual to those ignorant of the Word of God as they refrain from basic functions of life. In reality it amounts to nothing. There is nothing spiritual here and this is not a sign of maturity. Instead, it is a sign of ignorance and immaturity.
9. “false doctrines” – First Timothy 1:3; Second Timothy 2:18 – In First Timothy 1:3 Paul writes: As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work…”
The word “urged” is “parakaleo.” It is a strong word that means “to beg, entreat.” (Wuest, v. 2, p.27) Timothy had wanted to go to another location (possibly with Paul) or had a different plan for his ministry. Paul wanted him to stay in Ephesus and “command” or (“paraggeiles”) certain men to stop teaching. The word for “command,” “paraggeiles,” is a technical term used in the military that referred to the passing on of orders that are understood as having come from a superior authority and are to be obeyed with no questions asked! Paul has given Timothy apostolic direction to order that this false teaching stop now. These “certain men” who had caused doctrinal confusion and had been identified by Paul as a problem, where to be commanded not to teach false doctrine (heterodidaskalein”) nor to pay attention to tales (“muthois”), nor pay attention to unending genealogies (“genealogiais aperantois”). These men most likely included Hymenaeus and Philetus “who have wandered away from the truth” and “say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.” (2 Tim. 2:17-18) Two other men from Ephesus that Paul wants ordered to stop teaching could be Alexander (who probably was not a Christian), who Paul tells Timothy to “be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message” and caused Paul “a great deal of harm,” (2 Timothy 4:14-15) and Demas, who “deserted” Paul “because he loved this world,” (2 Timothy 4:10) Some of these men were Christian teachers who taught Christian doctrines, such as the resurrection and eschatology, but they did it in such a way that made their teaching conflict with the Truth of the Word of God. Indeed, they used Christian terms and used Scriptural references, but they did it in such a way that it was a Christian teaching of a different kind. The Greek word that captures the thought of “another of a different kind” is “heteros.” This word for is found in the Greek word used here for “false doctrine” - “heterodidaskalein.” It is made up of two Greek words “heteros” which means “another of a different kind” and “didasko” meaning “to teach.” The word then means “another of a different kind of teaching.” This word does not refer to just any religious teaching other than Christianity such as the teachings of Buddha or of atheism. In this case, “heteros” doctrine refers specifically to twisted Christian doctrine. (Thus, we get our English word “heterodoxy” from this.)
10. “devote themselves to myths” – First Timothy 1:3 – The word “myths” is proceeded by the Greek “prosechein” which has literal meaning of “to hold to” and means here “to give assent to” or “believe” or “put their trust in.” These false teachers were basing their Christian doctrine on “myths.” The Greek word “muthos” that is translated “myths” has a general meaning of “word, speech, conversation,” but as the Greek language developed “muthos” began to mean fictional talk as opposed to a historic fact. (Wuest, v.2, p. 27) “Muthos” could also be translated “fable, legendary stories, fiction.” (Lingustic, p. 187) It may be worth mentioning that Paul refers to “Jewish myths” in Titus 1:14 which was written to Titus on the isle of Crete between 12-36 months later. These myths appear to have had two possible sources: One, fictional Jewish legends built around the scriptural account and recorded around 150 BC in the Jewish Book of Jubilees (NAC, Lea, 1, 2 Tim., p. 67). These entertaining legends would easily capture the minds of the listeners, but the sensational speculation would provide no basis for spiritual growth; two, cultural Greek legends that explain the origins of men and their ancient history which eventually contributed their philosophic seed which would become the gnostic heresies of the second century AD. These Pagan myths easily adjust to Christianity and willing bent to form false Christian teaching.
11. “devote themselves to…endless genealogies” – First Timothy 1:3. The use of speculation in teaching of the myths combined with the allegorical practice of interpretation created an endless flow of new information and new ideas. Many people enjoy teaching allegorically where they spiritualize all the historical facts and terminology to represent or symbolize some deeper, mysterious hidden meaning. In Ephesus during Paul and Timothy’s day (62 AD) the false teachers were doing more than spiritualizing the Truth of the Word of God, but where developing allegorical insights from fables, myths and legends that they had made up. It is ignorance to teach a myth as truth, but to use the allegorical approach of interpretation to explain the myth to add chaos to the myth. Again, the word “devote,” “prosechein” literally means “to hold to,” but as it is used here it means “to give assent to.” These teaches actually believe and follow their allegorical interpretations of the fables they have made up. “Endless” is from the word “aperantos” which is a compound word from “peras” which means “a limit or terminus” with the negative prefix “a-” which means “not.” So, to describe these “genealogies” as “aperantos,” or, “not a limit,” “without limits” means the false teachers lists of genealogies never ended. This confirms the erroneous concept of spiritualizing, or allegorizing, the Word of God in order to reveal a deeper truth. (Allegory is a form of writing, so when the writters of the Bible say they are using an allegory or their writing is allegorical, then it is appropriate to interpret that portion of the Bible allegorically. But, even then, realize most of the symbolism of Scripture is repeated and consistent in its interpretation. There is still no room for endless chaos. When the Bible is written historically or to communicate doctrinal truths, there is no need to dip into the imaginative allegorical interpretation.) The word “genealogies” that are described as being “endless” come from the word “genealogiais” and refers to the genealogies that are traced back through history. It appears that the myths and their endless allegorization was using long lists of genealogies to fuel their teaching. Paul ends this comment by saying this kind of teaching does not promote the Word of God, but instead produces “controversies” (ekzetesis). “ekzetesis” is from “zeteo” meaning “seek” and the prefix “ek-” meaning “out.” Together they mean simply “seek out.” But, as it is used here this compound word means “useless speculation, out-of-the-way-research, seeking out” (Linguistic, p.487) and “an investigation, a laborious inquiry or dispute, an exhaustive investigation.” (Wuest, v.2, p.28). The result of this false teaching based on allegorical interpretation of myths is ekzeteo, or produces more questions, opinions based on endless speculation that lead the people to more questions and controversial opinions. There is no growth with this kind of teaching since there is no truth to understand. As mentioned before it is hollow.
12. “Deceiving spirits and things taught by demons…forbid people to marry…order them to abstain from certain foods.” –First Timothy 4:1-3 – Paul also writes Timothy,
“Some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods.” - First Timothy 4:1-3
Again we see the two options: The first, is the faith which is the collection of true doctrine from the Word of God; the second, is deception which originates in the spiritual realm, just like the Word of God does, but this time it comes from deceiving spirits and demons. These deceptive doctrines and teachings come through hypocritical, lying men, but they originate in the demonic realm. The evil spirits work through men who speak for them. Paul says some people will abandon the faith. The word abandon is the Greek word apostesontai and means “to go away, to withdraw, to fall away, to become apostate.” The evil spirit’s doctrine establish religious regulations that project an evilness to marriage and certain foods. While the Word of God attributes good things such as marriage and food to God and as part of his plan, in stark contrast the demonic doctrine is the opposite and leads men away from the goodness of God into an ascetic religious observance. Notice which side is devoted to some religious ritual or standard in this case – the deceiving spirits. It is worth mentioning that these false teachers, who are the human agent s of the evil spirits, are called hypocritical liars would have been men who knew what was true, but choose to speak the lie. They are not called “deceived liars” which would indicate they had been taken captive to do Satan’s will, but “hypocritical liars” who willing followed the practice of lying. Their consciences had been “sear” and were hardened with scar tissue which made them insensitive to the urging and calling of the Holy Spirit. “Sear” is really from the Greek word “kekausteriasmenwn” in the perfect passive form which means “having been branded on” (Wuest, v.2,p.67) or “to brand with a red hot iron” (Linguistic, p493). This is the word used to refer to the branding of slaves as property (criminals were branded on the fore head) (Wuest, v.2, p.67) This could refer to Satan branding them as his own slaves, or it could mean the sensitivity of their conscience has been seared resulting in being calloused. Something outside of them has branded them or seared them to finalize the hardening process. The perfect tense means this branding, or searing, is a completed action with lasting results. The passive means this “branding” has been done to them, not by them. What these men had done to themselves before they were branded is identified in scripture as “hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality” (Eph. 4:19), and then “grieved the Holy Spirit” (Eph. 4:30) which resulted ultimately in putting out the Spirit’s fire. (1 Thes. 5:19)
13. “a form of godliness but denying its power.” – Second Timothy 3:5 – In the book of Second Timothy Paul has already mentioned false teachers who “want to be teachers, but they do not know what they are talking about (2 Tim. 1:6-7), and those who practiced a religious form of asceticism as they followed demons (2 Tim. 4:3). Now, Paul says they have a “form of godliness but denying its power.” This “form of godliness” probably referred to the fact that they had all the trappings of the Christian religion like teachers, doctrine, regulations, self-denial as seen above, but no real power. Why? Because, that power only comes from the Truth, the Word of God. The word “form” is “morphosis” and can be translated “bringing into shape, embodiment, outline, outward form, resemblance.” “Godliness” is not the word “godlikeness” which could indicate a holy, righteous character. Instead, “godliness” refers to a reverence for God. These false teachers have an outline, or resemblance or an outward appearance of reverence for God, but in reality their appearance is hollow and void of any power. In fact, the word “deny,” “ernemenoi” from “arneomai,” means “disavow, reject, abnegate.” It is use to disown Jesus (Mt. 10:33; Lk. 12:9; Acts 3:14; 2 Tim. 2:12; 2 Pet. 2:1; Jude 4, etc.) Yet, in Romans 1:16 the gospel is said to be “the power of God for salvation.” These false teachers have an appearance of reverence for God, but have actually denied that there is any hope of saving people and empowering them for productive lives through the teaching of the God’s Word. Thus, they give an appearance but really have no Truth and thus no power to help. Timothy is then told to “have nothing to do with them.” (2 Tim. 3:5) They are a waste of time, and also, dangerous!
14. “destructive heresies” – Second Peter 2:1 – Peter writes in 65 AD:
“There will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them.”
– Second Peter 2:1
The word “heresies” is the Greek word “hairesis” that has the basic meaning of “choice”. Here it refers to the particular teaching of a school of thought within the large body of teaching it was associated with. A heresy is a choice, or a new opinion, on points of doctrine within the large body of Christian truth. Simply said, a heresy is “the choice of an opinion contrary to that usually received.” (Vincent, v.1, p. 689) This new choice is then transferred into the accepted doctrines of a certain sect of Christianity. The introduction of these new choices and opinions of the false teachers will challenge the established doctrine revealed by the apostles. These false opinions (heresies) will not go away, but will instead “spread like gangrene (or, cancer),” (2 Timothy 2:17) and “bring the way of Truth into disrepute.”
“Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.” - Second Peter 2:2
The word “destructive” is “apoleias” in the genitive of product form which indicate that the heresies produce this destruction. This is referring to the destruction of the Truth, unity, maturity and fruit of righteousness in the individual believer and in the church universal by the presences of these heresies. False teaching and heresy are the church’s biggest problem today, no, throughout the 2,000 years of church history. But, how can we identify it, isolate and remove it?