Heresy Does Not Exist and The Heresy of Heretics

Editor's note:  I found this two part series on the internet at https://redeeminggod.com.  I don't know much about the website, the author seems to be a free thinking non-conformist (right up my alley!) but I haven't taken the time to explore his positions fully.  I like a lot of what he has to say, and other stuff not so much.  That's ok though - I don't agree with even myself half the time ha!  But I agreed very much with the meaning of the word heresy.  These articles were saved here for future reference.  It is my opinion that heresy is the lack of unity caused by a very bad attitude which can manifest itself through the promotion of false doctrine.  This is good stuff!  - Brandan

    A Centered Set approach to church tries not to restrict anyone from participating. Sure, there are rules about how to participate, but in a Centered Set, since there are not boundaries, everybody by definition is “in.”

    But what about the heretics? The really bad hell-bound heretics? The apostates and wicked men who lead people astray by lies and deceit? Cannot we at least restrict them?

    Heretics Don’t Exist

    Well, it may come as a surprise to learn that there is no such thing as a heretic. They are fictional creatures invented by religious leaders who want to scare people into strict compliance to everything the leader says. Like parents who try to scare their children into obedience by telling tales of the bogeyman, some church leaders try to scare their congregation with tales of fire-breathing heretics whose ideas originate in the pit of hell.

    Scripture on Heresy

    But doesn’t Scripture warn us about heresies? Yes, it does. More frequently than we realize.

    The word heresy comes from the Greek word airesis, which is pronounced “heresies.” So the English word “heresy” is not a translation from the Greek, but is a transliteration, just like baptism (baptizō) and evangelism (euangelizō). Translators will often transliterate a Greek word when they are not fully sure how to translate it. They just take the Greek letters and change them into English letters, and call it good.

    But it’s not so good for English readers who don’t know what’s going on behind the English. In the case of airesis, the translators knew what it meant, and most of the time, in most translations, it appears as “sect,” “division,” or “faction.”

    Heresy in Acts

    This is seen most prominently in Acts where Luke writes about the “sect (airesis) of the Sadducees” (5:17), the “sect (airesis) of the Pharisees” (15:5), and the “sect (airesis) of the Nazarenes” (24:5). We are generally familiar with the Pharisees and the Sadducees, but what was the “sect of the Nazarenes”? They were the followers of Jesus. They were Christians (cf. Acts 24:14; 26:5; 28:22).

    So, according to Scripture itself, Christianity was one of the “heresies” at the time of the early church. This isn’t a bad thing. It is not a condemnation of Christianity. It is just a way of describing a group of people within the broader religion of Judaism. It refers to a group who had some different beliefs and practices than other groups within the big religious tent of Judaism.

    Heresy in Paul

    Outside of Acts, there are only three more uses of the word airesis. The first two are found in 1 Corinthians 11:19 and Galatians 5:20, and both refer to “divisions” and “factions” that occur within Christianity, and both teach that such divisions are destructive and damaging. Rather than divide over doctrine, we are to be unified in the Spirit. Neither use refers to some sort of pit-of-hell false teaching that must be condemned by the true spiritual leaders. To the contrary, both passages condemn the practice of forming divisions and splits (airesis) within the Body of Christ. Paul recognizes that genuine Christians can become divided, but he instructs that such practices are works of the flesh, and not a result of life lived in the Spirit.

    If this understanding of these two passages is correct, the danger of airesis is not bad theology, but divisions within the Body of Christ. A fight against “heresy” is not a fight against bad doctrine, but against disunity in the church. Certainly, disagreements over doctrine can create division, but the proper response is not to separate from each other over our differences, but to love each other despite our differences.

    We will will look at the final passage tomorrow, 2 Peter 2:1. But for now, what do you think of this idea of heresy? Maybe you think that the idea itself is heresy. If so, why? But if you disagree, be careful how you respond, for according to Scripture, divisiveness is the true heresy.


    Yesterday we looked at several passages in Scripture that talk about “heresy” and we saw that heresy does not exist–at least, not the way we think of it today. I argued that according to Scripture, there is no such a thing as “heretical teaching” in the way the idea is used in churches today. Calling something “heresy” is a bogeyman tactic used to scare and control others.

    We looked at a few passages that mention “heresy” in which we saw that biblical heresy is actually the division and separation that sometimes occurs within the Body of Christ. Heresy is not false teaching, but the destruction of unity within the Church.

    The primary passage in Scripture which seems to challenge this view is 2 Peter 2:1.

    Heresy in 2 Peter 2:1

    Second Peter 2:1 is the closest we come to a designation of “heresy” as a doctrine or teaching condemned by God with the consequence that those who believe it are condemned to eternal damnation. In this text, Peter equates false prophets and false teachers with the destructive heresies they bring and writes that just as their teachings bring destruction to the church, so they themselves will face destruction.

    But in light of what we have seen of the other uses of the word airesis in Scripture, it is best to see first if that meaning fits here, and if so, we should seek no other meaning.  And indeed, the idea of airesis as a division fits quite well. The “destructive heresies” that the false teachers bring could just as well be translated “destructive divisions.” And false teachings do bring division and splits to the Body of Christ and the fellowship of believers. Peter says that as a consequence of the havoc they wreak on a Christian body of believers will be returned onto their own body. Whether this is hell or not is a question for another day.

    Heresy is Divsion

    The point is that here in 2 Peter 2:1, the word airesis is consistent with the rest of Scripture. A heresy is not a false teaching itself, but the division that false teachings cause.  The distinction is small, but there is a distinction.

    A heresy, therefore, is not a false teaching, but is a division, a sect, a faction, or a group within the Body of Christ, which separates from the rest.

    What About Heretics?

    If this is true of heresy, then what about heretics?

    This word comes from the Greek airetikos, which is used only one time in the entire New Testament, in Titus 3:10. And similarly to what we have seen about heresy, the problem is not the bad theology the person is teaching (though that is a problem), but rather the divisive and factious attitude of the person that Paul is most concerned about.

    Dealing with Heresy Today

    If we were going to be consistent today in our usage of the words “heretic” and “heresy,” we must not direct them toward people who have different theology than we, but rather toward those who want to argue, divide, separate, and split the church into various factions, denominations, and churches. And there is no shortage of these in religious circles today, except that they are usually not the ones we consider to be “heretics.”

    So can we disagree with the theology of others, and do our best to point out to people where they are wrong? Of course we can! And we should! Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John all disagreed with others, sometimes very strongly. I will write about all of this in later posts.

    But when we disagree, we cannot take a cheap shot and label others “heretics.” This is not how the Bible uses the term, and in fact, since condemning others as “heretics” is divisive, this behavior itself is the true biblical “heresy.”

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