Who’s the Real Heretic?

A Biblical Study of the Word “Heresy”
By Roger Lange

I’m amazed how many words are used by the “church” of today that have been assigned traditional meanings that are contrary to biblical usage.  This paper considers the Greek word, “heresy”.  The motivation for this study came from a personal experience where there were those who were studying the Scriptures to examine the Preterist view of eschatology.

Preterism is the understanding that all prophecies in Scriptures have been fulfilled, including the return of Christ.  There were those of us who were arriving at a different conclusion, based on Scripture, than the traditional Futurist view held to by those who labeled Preterism heresy.  We insisted that we could abide together with brothers who held to a different view, but were told by those with the traditional view that Preterism and Futurism could not dwell together.  We were told to change our view and agree with article #10 of the Baptist Faith and Message or we should stop being Southern Baptist and give up our building to our Associational Organization.

One grievous fact I must add — these things were presented by those who refused to study the Scriptures together with us.  Our appeal was, “If we are wrong, show us from Scripture.”  In the end our appeals were rejected, they set the Scriptures aside, and continued to justify their actions based only on a creed—article # 10 of the Baptist Faith and Message.

I am increasingly convinced, through the study of Scripture, that all prophecies in the Bible have been fulfilled.  However, my main point is not dependent on whether or not the reader agrees with my view of eschatology.   The biblical usage of the word “heresy” will not justify branding a Futurist or a Preterist as a “heretic.”

Webster defines heresy: “Religious or ideological belief opposed to orthodoxy.”  

This is the traditional usage of the word.  The question has been asked, “What happens when orthodoxy is wrong?”  Are there any examples in church history where the orthodox teachings of the “church” have been in opposition to what Scriptures teach?

Church history is full of those who were labeled heretics and then condemned to death because their consciences were captive to the Word of God. They refused to recant because to deny the truth and live was a greater torture.

Ask yourself this, “Are there any beliefs that I hold to that, if I lived in times past, I would have been labeled a heretic and suffered martyrdom?”  Do you enjoy reading the Bible in your own language and believe that it is your right to do so?  William Tyndale was condemned and put to death by the church in 1536 for translating the Bible into English.

Do you understand the doctrine of Justification by Faith—Salvation by Grace alone through Faith alone in Christ alone?  You could have been burned at the stake for embracing this teaching in the 15th and 16th centuries.  I can tell you from experience, that although the modern church lacks the authority to put people to death, the spirit that led to the deaths of so many faithful believers in times past is still in existence today.

What is the biblical meaning of the word heresy?  According to the Arndt and Gingrich Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (third edition), heresy means — “sect, party, school, faction, divisions, dissension; that which distinguishes a group’s thinking, opinion, dogma, or way of thinking.

The context of the Scriptures where this word appears is what determines the biblical definition.  This word only appears in 10 New Testament verses.  The word translated from the Greek hairesis (Strong’s 139) is emphasized.  I have included the whole context in some of the references.

1.  “But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates, (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy…”  (Acts 5:17)

2.  “But certain ones of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed, stood up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.’”  (Acts 15:5)

3.  “For we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.”  (Acts 24:5)

4.  “But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law, and that is written in the Prophets…”  (Acts 24:14)

5.  “…since they have known about me for a long time previously, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion.” (Acts 26:5)

6.  “But we desire to hear from you what your views are; for concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere.”  (Acts 28:22)

7.  “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part, I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s  Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first;  and one is hungry and another is drunk.  What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink?  Or do you despise the church of God, and shame those who have nothing?  What shall I say to you?  Shall I praise you?  In this I will not praise you.”  (1 Corinthians 11:18-22)

8.  “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envyings, drunkenness, carousings, and the things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I  have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21)

9.  ”But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.”  (2 Peter 2:1)

10.  “He saves us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,  whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,  that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God may be careful to engage in good deeds.  These things are good and profitable for men.  But shun foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law; for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.”    (Titus 3:5-11)

Remember, usage within the context of Scriptures, not tradition, determines the biblical meaning of a word.


The verses in Acts are used to describe the divisions between groups — Sadducees, Pharisees, the Nazarenes, and The Way.   The word “school” can be substituted for the word “sect;” the school of the Sadducees, the school of the Pharisees, etc.

1 Corinthians 11:18-22  Paul points out a grievous practice in the Corinthian church—They were practicing the Lord’s Supper in a manner that did not give remembrance to Christ but divided brothers between those who were approved and those who were despised.  Those who were honored ate and drank first and were filled and drunk, while the brother or sister who was despised went hungry.  This practice was a denial of Christ.  Jesus said, “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?  Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it unto the least of these, you did not do it to Me”  (Matthew 25:44-46).

Galatians 19:20 lists it as a deed of the flesh.  Paul gives a severe warning that those who practice the deeds of the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God. These are contrary to the fruit of the Spirit and therefore one who is truly guilty of practicing heresy/factions, cannot be considered to be a child of God.  This is true for all of the deeds of the flesh, not just heresy.

According to 1 Peter 2:1 heresy can only be applied to doctrines that deny the Lord Jesus Christ, who bought us.  Teachings that qualify as heresy are those that deny Jesus’ deity, sovereignty, lordship, gospel, and His Commandment to love one another.  My list is not exhaustive, but serves the point.

In Titus, it refers to a person who is unrepentant after a first and second warning and then continues in foolish controversies, genealogies, and strife and disputes about the Law in contrast to the gospel of Christ.  Those insisting that believers have to observe the law of Moses, (Acts 15), would fit into this category.

The much-too-common practice of today is to label as heresy those opinions and beliefs that differ from one’s own.   I think this is done because it is easier to label something heresy than it is to diligently search the Scriptures together to see if what we believe denies or honors Christ.

I must conclude that Preterism is not heresy by the biblical usage of the word.  It does not divide, even though some would disagree.  The truth is that men divide because of what is in their hearts.  It does not change the gospel of Christ, nor does it deny Jesus as God’s Christ.  In fact, I have found that it glorifies our Lord because it shows that He did exactly what He said He would do within the time frame that He told to His disciples — in their generation.

True believers need to be careful in examining the Scriptures and cast aside all traditions that do not agree with the Word of God.  This includes traditional definitions of words.  Remember our Lord condemned the Pharisees for their practice of holding to the doctrines of men that set aside the commandment of God (Matthew 15:1-9; Mark 7:5-13).

To the Glory of Christ Jesus

Roger Lange


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: