Peter wrote, “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.”
This verse has impact all on its own. Peter is saying that just as false prophets operated all throughout Israel’s history (as is amply indicated by the Old Testament, especially Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Micah) so too will there be false teachers among the people, and especially during the end times. This is an echo of Paul’s warning that the people would heap up teachers to tickle and scratch their ears as they turned away from sound doctrine.
But this verse gains even more impact when we re-discover what is actually being said here. We read this verse and most often we think that “destructive heresies” here is referring to “error,” blatantly false teachings that stand in stark contrast to the standard, basic teachings of the New Testament. This false understanding is aided along nicely by the KJV’s rendering it as “damnable heresies.” But this is not so.
The Greek word here is “hairesis” [ 139 ] and it has several meanings. It can refer to “the act of taking or capturing,” as in storming a city. It can refer to “choosing, choice or that which is chosen.” It can refer to “a body of men following their own tenets”(sect or party like the Sadducees, Pharisees and even Christians). Or it can refer to “dissensions arising from diversity of opinions and aims.” It is a direct opposite to the concept of the body of Christ which is based in unity and oneness. “Hairesis” is dividedness and multiplicity.
Since “error that arises from differing factions” is only a tangential meaning of the word “hairesis,” why do we assume that this tangential meaning, and not the primary meaning, is what Peter has in mind here? Especially since we know that Jesus, Paul and Peter were referring to a great falling away from the faith that involves many, perhaps even most, we must step back and re-evaluate what Peter would be referring to if he intended us to use the primary meaning of “hairesis.”
In this light, Peter would not be referring to error, but divisions – various groups of “Christians” (some even possessing genuine faith in Christ Jesus) each separating off into its own little place and refusing to have much, if anything, to do with other groups who claim to have Christ but who also have a different understanding on some doctrine, tenet, practice or feature of “Christianity.” Today, we call that denominationalism – and it is the accepted order of following Christ.
When Peter says these divisions were secretly introduced, it is meant in much the same way as what Jesus said about how the tares were planted – men slept. And when Peter says that these divisions deny the Lord who bought them, he has, in a prophetically “cryptic” way, told us that those who are in these divisions do not practice submission to the Lordship of Christ Jesus. They give Him lip service – but as many a preacher has lamented from the 3rd century on, the “church” has progressively stepped away from direct and personal obedience to the only true Shepherd. Instead, the “church,” in its spiritual state of slumber and unawareness, negligently turned instead toward the Nicolaitan doctrines of clergy and laity to keep the crowds quiet, passive, controlled and ultimately ineffective for Christ.
Churchianity is the great falling away from the faith. The systematic dividing of the people of Christ into various groups is no accident – it is a scheme of the enemy to keep us from being unified. When we are unified, the world will know that we are believers in Christ and it will clearly demonstrate – even to the world – that Christ came from God. Is it any wonder Satan would strive mightily to concoct a grand strategy to secretly bring in division among the people who name the name of Christ? And what does it say about the vast majority of people who claim to follow Christ but see nothing wrong with practicing denominational division in His name? Only that the prophecies about the great falling away are being fulfilled before our very eyes and that the vast majority of “Christians” are just like the Jews of Jesus’ day who had eyes but did not see and ears but did not hear.
Let he who has ears hear.
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