Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

Who is a False Teacher?

Some may look at this question and think the answer is simple. They may believe a false teacher is anyone who teaches something false, but I believe the answer is more complicated. Our English term, false teacher, implies there is something false about the teacher. This could refer to any number of things (teaching, character, behavior, etc.), or it could be a combination of things. We must look to the biblical text to discover what makes one a false teacher.

There are a number of problems associated with the position that anyone who teaches something false should be labeled a false teacher. For instance, what if I accidentally use the name Noah instead of Moses in a sermon? What I would say would be false, but I would not intend to say it. Does this make me a false teacher? Christians have disagreed on a number of issues throughout the years and still remained in fellowship. Obviously, when people disagree one side is right and one side is wrong. Even though we may not know who is right and who is wrong should the other side be labeled false teachers? If we label them false teachers can we still have fellowship with them? These are questions a person must answer if they take the position that anyone who teaches something false is a false teacher.

Thankfully, there are several passages that help us answer the question, “Who is a false teacher?” In 2 Peter 2 we are given a lengthy discourse on false teachers. Peter begins by saying false teachers will “secretly bring in destructive heresies” (vs. 1). Peter makes it obvious that false teachers will teach things which are false, but he does not stop there with his description. He says they will “deny the Master who bought them” (vs. 1). There are two possible interpretations of this phrase. They were either literally denying Christ by publicly proclaiming it, or they were denying Him by their actions. I believe the latter makes most sense. It is hard to believe that a person who publicly denies Christ would be allowed into a Christian assembly. Notice what Duane F. Watson says about this phrase:

“A master was the head of a household who was due great honor (1 Tim 6:1; 2 Tim. 2:21; Titus 2:9; 1 Pet. 2:18). Like masters who acted as patrons and purchased slaves out of slavery in order to set them free, Christ offered his blood as a purchase price to buy sinners from slavery to sin and death to set them free to serve him (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; Rev. 5:9 14:3-4). Any master who acted as a patron for a slave in this capacity was due lifetime gratitude and honor. Redemption by Christ should lead to slavery to him and a life of righteousness that honors him and expresses the loyalty due him (Rom. 6:15-23). The false teachers probably do not deny Christ’s authority with some doctrinal statement, but with the sinful conduct of their moral life that is an outgrowth of their denial of judgment.” (Watson p. 345)

In verse 3 Peter informs us of their motivation. He says, “in their greed they will exploit you with false words.” The word for false is plastois. Our English word plastic is derived from this word. By using this word Peter is “accusing the false teachers of counterfeiting the apostolic teaching” (Witherington p. 349). Why would a person lie and make things up about these matters? It was because they stood to profit from it. The false teachers Peter was writing about knew exactly what they were doing. They were not honest people who were mistaken. They knew what they were saying was untrue, but they continued to do it because they were driven by greed. Their false character combined with their false doctrine made them a false teacher.

Paul gives us a similar picture of false teachers in Titus 1:10-16. He begins by describing them as “empty talkers and deceivers” (vs. 10). He says they are “teaching for shameful gain” (vs. 11). This phrase simply means they are accumulating money or material things in a dishonest way. They are driven by greed. He concludes in verse 16 that they are denying Christ “by their works.” Again, we are shown it is a false character along with false doctrine that makes one a false teacher.

In Acts 18, Apollos boldly preaches Jesus, but all he knows is the baptism of John. He has not yet heard about the baptism of Jesus. What Apollos was preaching was false, but when he learned the truth he immediately changed what he was teaching. Although Apollos preached what was false, I do not believe he was a false teacher, because his motives and his character were pure. A false teacher would not have cared about the truth. They would have only been concerned with themselves. Apollos was honest and wanted to follow Christ above all else. He did not want to lead anyone astray. He never allowed pride, greed, envy, or any other sin get in the way of following Christ.

In biblical passages regarding false teachers, there is just as much, if not more, said about the character of the person than about what they teach. A false teacher is a person who is not only flawed in speech, but flawed on the inside as well. They are willing to compromise their beliefs, take advantage of other people, lie and destroy, all for personal gain. A false teacher will say things that are false, but the bigger problem lies within their heart.

“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45


Watson, Duane F. 1998. The New Interpreters Bible Vol. XII. Nashville, TN. Abingdon Press.

Witherington, Ben. 2007. Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians Volume II. Downers Grove, Illinois. IVP Academic.

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