The Trajectory of False Teachers
False teachers have been around literally as long as the fall of man. There will always be someone around who tries to twist or pervert the Word of God. The problem with false teachers is that they don’t announce that they are false teachers and they often sound spiritual, so it can be tempting to be led away. Have you ever wondered how they got to be that way?
The Apostle Paul addresses false teachers in his first letter to Timothy, the young pastor of the church at Ephesus. After his greeting the Apostle gets right down to business in 1 Tim. 1:3 – “…charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine.” Later in the first chapter Paul will call out two people by name, but here he doesn’t. This is most likely because Paul believes that there is still some hope to see them come around. That Paul would instruct Timothy to charge them not to teach different doctrine means that these people are doing just that, which is cause for grave concern. Part of the problem is that these people are “devoting themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote endless speculation” (1 Tim. 1:4). One should note that these myths and genealogies are no doubt Scripture-based and would be akin to modern day numerology studies where people claim to be able to decrypt messages that are hidden in the Bible.
1 Tim. 1:5 serves as an important verse for two reasons. First, Paul tells Timothy the why behind the instruction to confront these teachers. It isn’t that Paul is filled with hubris, nor should Timothy be. But rather, the aim this charge true, selfless love (the highest form – agape) which finds its source in three areas:
What you need to know about those three nouns is that they are all feminine, singular, and genitive in the Greek. What all that means is not as important to the conversation at hand, but it must be noted in order to answer the question at hand. Remember, we are asking how a false teacher gets to be that way.
These “certain persons” come up again in 1 Tim. 1:6 and are therefore the same people referenced in 1:3. Paul says that they, “by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussions.” The these in view is a Greek relative pronoun (ὧν) that… you guessed it… is feminine, plural, and genitive. Each of the nouns of 1:5 is singular, but just as with English grammar, referring to a group, one would naturally use the plural. The point is that there is no other referent to which this relative pronoun can be tied. This actually answers our question!
A false teacher, at the beginning, is teaching from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. In other words, they're not false teachers. This is how people begin to follow them. So what happens after that?
The verb in question is translated “swerve” – to depart from. It tells us what they did, but not necessarily how it happened. Let us pause for a moment and consider this. From a practical standpoint, what would cause a person to depart from a pure heart and a sincere faith, to depart from sound teaching and the Gospel itself? That answer is also supplied in the text – for it is the TEXT ITSELF. Once we depart from the Word we open ourselves up to all sorts of the problems, prime among them, the departure from the cleansing and keeping power of the Word in our lives. It is the Word of God informs us of the picture of a pure heart. It is the Word of God that guides us to having a good conscience before God; and finally, it is the Word of God that guards and informs our sincere faith! So, what would tempt us away from the Word? Something that holds interest like the Word, but isn’t the Word.
To answer this we look at the next action in the verse which is that they “wandered away.” It might seem, at first read that they did this as a part of their “swerving.” However, upon closer examination we find that this verb is passive – that is to say, the action is being done by another party to the false teachers. Remember, it would be something that would hold the interest like the Word would but isn’t the Word. This would probably be myths and genealogies, as well as vain discussions that are no doubt spiritual, but lacking the substance of the Word. Spending too long on these without a steady diet of the Word is surely a recipe for false teaching.
This leads us to ponder who/what is doing the active leading when holding a pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith. I would say that it is the Spirit, through the Word that is leading us (we are passively being led) “toward the mark of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” – Phil. 3:14.
When the Spirit, through the Word is not leading you, you will be led astray. Nothing else can keep you on the mark of the truth and aimed straight at the target! So then, beloved, let us hold fast to the Word; be steeped in the Word, and constantly praying for wisdom from God through His Spirit each and every time we open the Word so that we may not be in danger of becoming a false teacher.
Soli Deo Gloria!