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While this may seem a little repetitive, it will be beneficial as we dig deeper into explaining this important subject. Some authors will touch on things differently or give us a different way of looking at something or add details others have not.
APOSTASY. In classical Gk. apostasia is a technical term for political revolt or defection. In LXX it always relates to rebellion against God (Jos. 22:22; 2 Ch. 29:19), originally instigated by Satan, the apostate dragon of Jb. 26:13.
There are two NT instances of the Gk. word. Acts 21:21 records that Paul was maliciously accused of teaching the Jews to forsake Moses by abandoning circumcision and other traditional observances. 2 Thes. 2:3 describes the great apostasy of prophecy, alongside or prior to the revelation of the man of lawlessness (cf. Mt. 24:10–12). The allusion is neither to the political nor to the religious infidelity of the Jews, but is entirely eschatological in character and refers to ‘the final catastrophic revolt against the authority of God which in apocalyptic writings is a sign of the end of the world’ (E. J. Bicknell, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, 1932, p. 74). It may be regarded as the earthly counterpart of the heavenly rebellion in Rev. 12:7–9.
Apostasy is a continual danger to the church, and the NT contains repeated warnings against it (cf. 1 Tim. 4:1–3; 2 Thes. 2:3; 2 Pet. 3:17). Its nature is made clear: falling ‘from the faith’ (1 Tim. 4:1) and ‘from the living God’ (Heb. 3:12). It increases in times of special trial (Mt. 24:9–10; Lk. 8:13) and is encouraged by false teachers (Mt. 24:11; Gal. 2:4), who seduce believers from the purity of the Word with ‘another gospel’ (Gal. 1:6–8; cf. 2 Tim. 4:3–4; 2 Pet. 2:1–2; Jude 3–4). The impossibility of restoration after deliberate apostasy is solemnly urged (Heb. 6:4–6; 10:26).
By A. S. Wood
APOSTASY. A “falling away.” The common classical use of the word has to do with a political defection (Gen. 14:4, LXX; 2 Chron. 13:6, LXX; Acts 5:37). In the NT its more usual meaning is that of a religious defection (21:21; 1 Tim. 4:1; Heb. 3:12). This is called “apostasy from the faith” (apostasia a fide): a secession from the church, and a disowning of the name of Christ. Some of its peculiar characteristics are mentioned, such as seducing spirits, doctrines of demons, hypocritical lying, a seared conscience, forbidding of marriage and of meats, a form of godliness without the power (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:5). The grave nature of apostasy is shown by such passages as Heb. 10:26–29, 2 Pet. 2:15–21, and John 15:22. Apostasy as the act of a professed Christian, who knowingly and deliberately rejects revealed truth regarding the deity of Christ (1 John 4:1–3) and redemption through His atoning sacrifice (Phil. 3:18; 2 Pet. 2:1) is different from error, which may be the result of ignorance (Acts 19:1–6), or heresy, which may be the result of falling into the snare of Satan (2 Tim. 2:25–26). Both error and heresy may accordingly be consistent with true faith. On the other hand, apostasy departs from the faith but not from the outward profession of it (2 Tim. 3:5). Apostasy, whether among the angels (Isa. 14:12–14; Ezek. 28:15; Jude 6), in Israel (Isa. 1:1–6; 5:5–7), or in the church (Rev. 3:14–16) is irremediable and awaits judgment. Mankind’s apostasy in Adam (Gen. 3:6–7) is curable only through the sacrifice of Christ. Apostates apparently can only be professors and not actual possessors of true salvation, otherwise their defection would incur severe chastening or, if this failed to restore them, untimely (physical) death (1 Cor. 5:5; 11:32; 1 John 5:16).
By Merrill F. Unger
APOSTASY Turning against God, as evidenced by abandonment and repudiation of former beliefs. The term generally refers to a deliberate renouncing of the faith by a once sincere believer rather than a state of ignorance or mistaken knowledge. Apostasy is distinguished from heresy (denial of a part of the faith) and from transfer of allegiance from one religious body to another within the same faith. Also, it is possible to deny the faith, as Peter once did, and then at a later time reaffirm it.
Originally, “apostasy” meant literal rebellion. Thus the Jews were described as “rebels” against King Artaxerxes (1 Esd 2:23) and Jason as a “rebel against the laws” (2 Macc 5:6–8). OT descriptions of spiritual rebellion include departure from the law, forsaking temple worship, and willful disobedience toward God himself (Jos 22:22; 2 Chr 29:19; Jer 2:19). The prophetic writings of Isaiah and Jeremiah provide many examples of Israel’s defections (Is 1:2–4; Jer 2:19). Israelite kings were often guilty of apostasy: Rehoboam (1 Kgs 14:22–24); Ahab (1 Kgs 16:30–33); Ahaziah (1 Kgs 22:51–53); Jehoram (2 Chr 21:6, 10); Ahaz (2 Chr 28:1–4); Manasseh (2 Chr 33:1–19); Amon (2 Chr 33:21–23).
In NT times many disciples withdrew from Christ (Jn 6:66)—the most notorious example being Judas Iscariot. The Greek word from which “apostasy” is derived appears in only two passages. The apostle Paul was accused of apostasy for teaching others “to turn their backs on the laws of Moses” (Acts 21:21, NLT). And apostasy is given an eschatological (end times) significance in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. Christians were warned not to be carried away and deceived in the widespread apostasy to come in the end times before the Lord’s return. That apostasy is linked to the rise of a man of rebellion who will be Satan’s tool (2 Thes 2:3–12; cf. 1 Tm 4:1–3).
Warnings Against Apostasy
Many NT passages, using different words, convey warnings against apostasy. In the last days, tribulation and persecution will cause many to “fall away” (Mt 24:9–10); false prophets will arise and “lead many astray” (Mt 24:11). Other causes of apostasy include temptation (Lk 8:13) and unbelief (Heb 3:12). Paul cited Hymenaeus and Alexander as examples of those who had rejected the faith (1 Tm 1:20). The writer of Hebrews referred to those who had believed and then departed from the faith as being in a hopeless state-with no possibility of further repentance (Heb 6:1–6). The consequences of willful sinning after receiving Christ are terrifying (Heb 10:26–31). The apostle Peter said that, for believers in Christ who knowingly turned away, “they are worse off than before” (2 Pt 2:20–22). The apostle John addresses this same problem (1 Jn 2:18–19).
By Walter A. Elwell and Philip Wesley Comfort
APOSTASY Act of rebelling against, forsaking, abandoning, or falling away from what one has believed.
Old Testament The OT speaks of “falling away” in terms of a person’s deserting to a foreign king (2 Kings 25:11; Jer. 37:13–14; 39:9; 52:15). Associated ideas, however, include the concept of religious unfaithfulness: “rebellion” (Josh. 22:22); “cast away” (2 Chron. 29:19); “trespass” (2 Chron. 33:19); and “backslidings” (Jer. 2:19; 8:5). NASB uses “apostasy” in Jer. 8:5 and Hos. 14:4 with the plural in Jer. 2:19; 5:6; 14:7.
The prophets picture Israel’s history as the history of turning from God to other gods, from His law to injustice and lawlessness, from His anointed king to foreign kings, and from His word to the word of foreign kings. This is defined simply as forsaking God, not fearing Him (Jer. 2:19). Such action was sin, for which the people had to ask forgiveness (Jer. 14:7–9) and repent (Jer. 8:4–7). The basic narrative of Judges, Samuel, and Kings is that Israel fell away from God, choosing selfish ways rather than His ways. Exile resulted. Still God’s fallen people had hope. In freedom God could choose to turn away His anger and heal their “backsliding” (Hos. 14:4).
New Testament The English word “apostasy” is derived from a Greek word (apostasia) that means, “to stand away from.” The Greek noun occurs twice in the NT (Acts 21:21; 2 Thess. 2:3), though it is not translated as “apostasy” in the KJV. A related noun is used for a divorce (Matt. 5:31; 19:7; Mark 10:4). The corresponding Greek verb occurs nine times.
Acts 21:21 states an accusation made against Paul that he was leading Jews outside Palestine to abandon the law of Moses. Such apostasy was defined as failing to circumcise Jewish children and to observe distinctive Jewish customs.
In 2 Thess. 2:3 Paul addressed those who had been deceived into believing that the day of the Lord had already come. He taught that an apostasy would precede the day of the Lord. The Spirit had explicitly revealed this falling away from the faith (1 Tim. 4:1). Such apostasy in the latter times will involve doctrinal deception, moral insensitivity, and ethical departures from God’s truth.
Associated NT concepts include the parable of the soils, in which Jesus spoke of those who believe for a while but “fall away” in time of temptation (Luke 8:13). At the judgment those who work iniquity will be told to “depart” (Luke 13:27). Paul “withdrew” from the synagogue in Ephesus (Acts 19:9) because of the opposition he found there, and he counseled Timothy to “withdraw” from those who advocate a different doctrine (1 Tim. 6:3–5). Hebrews speaks of falling away from the living God because of “an evil heart of unbelief” (3:12). Those who fall away cannot be renewed again to repentance (Heb. 6:6). Yet God is able to keep the believer from falling (Jude 24).
Implications Apostasy certainly is a biblical concept, but the implications of the teaching have been hotly debated. The debate has centered on the issue of apostasy and salvation. Based on the concept of God’s sovereign grace, some hold that, though true believers may stray, they will never totally fall away. Others affirm that any who fall away were never really saved. Though they may have “believed” for a while, they never experienced regeneration. Still others argue that the biblical warnings against apostasy are real and that believers maintain the freedom, at least potentially, to reject God’s salvation.
Persons worried about apostasy should recognize that conviction of sin in itself is evidence that one has not fallen away. Desire for salvation shows one does not have “an evil heart of unbelief.”
By Michael Fink
Apostasy. Turning against God, as evidenced by abandonment and repudiation of former beliefs. The term generally refers to a deliberate renouncing of the faith by a once sincere believer rather than a state of ignorance or mistaken knowledge. Apostasy is distinguished from heresy (denial of a part of the faith), and from transfer of allegiance from one religious body to another within the same faith. Also, it is possible to deny the faith, as Peter once did, and then at a later time reaffirm it.
Originally, “apostasy” meant literal rebellion. Thus the Jews were described as “rebels” against King Artaxerxes (1 Esd 2:23) and Jason as a “rebel against the laws” (2 Mc 5:6–8). OT descriptions of spiritual rebellion include departure from the Law, forsaking temple worship, and willful disobedience toward God himself (Jos 22:22, rebellion or unfaithful act; 2 Chr 29:19, transgression kjv, or faithlessness; Jer 2:19, backslidings kjv, or apostasy). The prophetic writings of Isaiah and Jeremiah provide many examples of Israel’s defections (Is 1:2–4; Jer 2:19). Israelite kings were often guilty of apostasy (Rehoboam—1 Kgs 14:22–24; Ahab—1 Kgs 16:30–33; Ahaziah—1 Kgs 22:51–53; Jehoram—2 Chr 21:6, 10; Ahaz—2 Chr 28:1–4; Manasseh—2 Chr 33:1–19; Amon—2 Chr 33:21–23).
In NT times many disciples withdrew from Christ (Jn 6:66), the most notorious example being Judas Iscariot. The Greek word from which “apostasy” is derived appears in only two passages. The apostle Paul was accused of apostasy for being “against the laws of Moses” (Acts 21:21 lb). Apostasy was given an eschatological significance in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. Christians were warned not to be carried away and deceived in the widespread apostasy to come in the end times before the Lord’s return. That apostasy is linked to the rise of a “man of rebellion” who will be “Satan’s tool” (2 Thes 2:3–12 lb; cf. 1 Tm 4:1–3).
Many other NT passages, using different words, convey similar warnings. In the last days, tribulation and persecution will cause many to “fall away” (Mt. 24:9, 10); false prophets will arise and “lead many astray” (Mt 24:11). Other causes of apostasy include temptation (Lk 8:13) and unbelief (Heb 3:12). Paul cited Hymenaeus and Alexander as examples of those who had rejected the faith (1 Tm 1:20). The writer of Hebrews referred to those who had believed and then departed from the faith as being in a hopeless state with no possibility of further repentance (Heb 6:1–6). The consequences of willful sinning after receiving Christ are terrifying (Heb 10:26–31). The apostle Peter said that, for believers in Christ who knowingly turned away, “the last state has become worse for them than the first” (2 Pt 2:20–22). The apostle John addresses this same problem (1 Jn 2:18, 19).
Ten periods of persecution intensified the problem of apostasy during the first four centuries of the church’s existence. Repentance and public confession were required before offenders could be accepted again. The Roman emperor Julian (361–63) renounced the Christian faith and made such a vigorous effort to establish paganism in the empire that he became known as “the Apostate.” Apostasy continues to be a danger to the Christian church, especially where the church is undergoing persecution.
By James D. Price and Luder G. Whitlock, Jr.
APOSTASY [Heb. mešûḇâ] (Jer. 2:19; 5:6); AV BACK-SLIDING; [GK. parapíptō] (He. 6:6); AV, NEB, FALL AWAY. Defection from the faith. The English word occurs only in the passages above (thrice in the RSV, twice in the NEB); the GK. apostasía occurs also in Acts 21:21 (“forsake”) and 2 Thess. 2:3 (“rebellion”; AV “falling away”). But the concept of apostasy is found throughout Scripture.
“Forsaking the Lord” was the characteristic and oft-recurring sin of the chosen people, especially in their contact with idolatrous nations. It constituted their supreme national peril. The tendency appeared in their earliest history, as abundantly seen in the warnings and prohibitions of the laws of Moses (Ex. 20:3f, 23; Dt. 6:14; 11:16). The fearful consequences of religious and moral apostasy appear in the curses pronounced against this sin, on Mt. Ebal, by the representatives of six of the tribes of Israel, elected by Moses (Dt. 27:13–26; 28:15–68). So wayward was the heart of Israel even in the years immediately following the national emancipation, in the wilderness, that Joshua found it necessary to repledge the entire nation to a new fidelity to the Lord and to their original covenant before they were permitted to enter the Promised Land (Josh. 24:1–28).
Infidelity to this covenant blighted the nation’s prospects and growth during the time of the judges (Jgs. 2:11–15; 10:6, 10, 13; 1 S. 12:10). It was the cause of prolific and ever increasing evil, civic and moral, from Solomon’s day to the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Many of the kings of the divided kingdom apostatized, leading the people, as in the case of Rehoboam, into the grossest forms of idolatry and immorality (1 K. 14:22–24; 2 Ch. 12:1). Conspicuous examples of such royal apostasy are Jeroboam (1 K. 12:28–32); Ahab (16:30–33); Ahaziah (22:51–53); Jehoram (2 Ch. 21:6, 10, 12–15); Ahaz (28:1–4); Manasseh (33:1–9); Amon (33:22). See Idolatry. Prophecy originated as a divine and imperative protest against this historic tendency to defection from the religion of the Lord.
Paul was falsely accused of teaching the Jews apostasy from Moses (Acts 21:21); he predicted the great apostasy from Christianity, foretold by Jesus (Mt. 24:10–12), which would precede “the Day of the Lord” (2 Thess. 2:2f). Apostasy, not in name but in fact, meets scathing rebuke in the Epistle of Jude, e.g., the apostasy of angels (v 6). It is foretold, with warnings, as sure to abound in the latter days (1 Tim. 4:1–3; 2 Thess. 2:3; 2 Pet. 3:17).
Causes of apostasy include persecution (Mt. 24:9f); false teachers (24:11); temptation (Lk. 8:13); worldliness (2 Tim. 4:4); defective knowledge of Christ (1 Jn. 2:19); moral lapse (He. 6:4–6); forsaking worship and spiritual living (10:25–31); unbelief (3:12).
Some additional biblical examples: Saul (1 S. 15:11); Amaziah (2 Ch. 25:14, 27); many disciples (Jn. 6:66); Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim. 1:19f); Demas (2 Tim. 4:10). For further illustration see Dt. 13:13; Zeph. 1:4–6; Gal. 5:4; 2 Pet. 2:20f.
In classical Greek, apostasy signified revolt from a military commander. In the Roman Catholic Church, it denotes abandonment of religious orders; renunciation of ecclesiastical authority; defection from the faith. The persecutions of the early Christian centuries forced many to deny Christian discipleship and to signify their apostasy by offering incense to a heathen deity or blaspheming the name of Christ. The emperor Julian, who probably never vitally embraced the Christian faith, is known in history as “the Apostate,” having renounced Christianity for paganism soon after his accession to the throne.
Edward D. Andrews’ Note: I am not certain that I would be saying how the Roman Catholic Church feels about apostasy, being that they are the greatest apostates of all time. Then go on to mention early Christians abandoning their beliefs because of persecution. What about the hundreds of thousands tortured and killed for daring to believe differently from the unbiblical beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church?
An apostate’s defection from the faith may be intellectual, as in the case of Ernst Haeckel, who, because of his materialistic philosophy, publicly and formally renounced Christianity and the Church; or it may be moral and spiritual, as with Judas, who barely betrayed his Lord.
By D. M. Pratt
NIDNTT 1, pp. 606–611; I. H. Marshall, Kept by the Power of God: A Study of Perseverance and Falling Away, 1969. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988). Jewish Encyclopedia (12 vols., 1901–1906) Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988). The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988). Tyndale Bible Dictionary, Tyndale Reference Library (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001). New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996). Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003)