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How do I know if someone is a false teacher?

We must be careful before we label someone a false teacher. The Bible is clear that there will be false teachers, and that many people will follow them, but to call someone that without a full knowledge of what they teach would be unfair and may damage their reputation without cause. You mustlook at what they teache, and measure it against the Scriptures to see for yourself whether or not he preaches the authentic gospel of Jesus Christ.

Below are some verses which may help you distinguish what is true from what is false. From them, we can see some of the characteristics that would mark false teachers out.

They may do some or all of these:

  • They deny that Jesus Christ is God the Son come in the flesh (1 John 4:2-3)
  • They deny Jesus Christ is the Sovereign Lord (2 Peter 2:1)
  • They will say that Jesus has already returned (2 Timothy 2:18, Matthew 24:23-27)
  • They pretend to be Christ’s servants but they actually preach a different Gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4 and 12-15, Galatians 1:6-7)
  • They will behave in ‘depraved conduct’ (2 Peter 2:2)
  • They will be greedy and exploit people by telling lies (2 Peter 2:3)
  • They are in love with money and use their teaching as a tool to get rich (1 Timothy 6:5)
  • They seek their own personal glory rather than Christ’s (John 7:18)

The Bible does not deny that false teachers may have some power or that they will be popular. They may be able to perform miraculous signs (Matthew 24:24), they may be well liked and well-spoken of (Luke 6:26), and they may even claim to have received the truth from an angel! (Galatians 1:8). These things may be true, but they do not validate a ministry in and of themselves. A careful assessment of the character of the person and the content of their teaching is how you can spot a false teacher from a true gospel minister.

1 John 4:1-3: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognise the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”

2 Peter 2:1-3: “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.”

2 Timothy 2:17-18: “17 Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.”

2 Corinthians 11:4 and 12-15: “4 For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.”

“12 And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. 13 For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.”

1 Timothy 6:3-5: “3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5 and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.”

John 7:18: “18 Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.”

Matthew 24:23-27: “23 At that time if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Messiah!” or, “There he is!” do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you in advance. 26 ‘So if anyone tells you, “There he is, out in the desert,” do not go out; or, “Here he is, in the inner rooms,” do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

Luke 6:26: “26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”

Galatians 1:7-9: “ 6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: if anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!”