A few weeks ago, during our small group, a woman asked me how to identify a false teacher. Specifically, her concerns were based in the fact that she, herself, was still currently learning the scripture. The Bible tells us to test false teachers and prophets against God’s Word, but if you are currently not well versed in the scriptures… how do you begin? I am going to share here, the advice I gave to her. I hope that it is helpful.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”
- Begin in prayer. Whenever I am presented with an opportunity to hear from a new speaker, read a new book, or perhaps even attend another church as a guest… I start in prayer. I need the Holy Spirit to be that discerning voice, that physical presence in my body, that will help me. It is that voice you get in your head, when something just doesn’t sound right. That knot in the pit of your stomach when you are just not comfortable in your seat. The voice that says do not listen, flee. I pray that God will move me away from false teachers.
- Do some research. Thankfully the internet usually abounds with information on any sort of public figure. Most churches, organizations, and conferences have websites that will clue you into their statement of faith, allow you to see past sermons or snippets from events, etc. I want to know who this person is, what is their background, what do they believe in, and who is in their circle of influence, who do they consider a mentor or friend. You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep.
- Remember context matters. In your research phase, you may come across blogs and articles that speak against ANY given author, speaker, or well known Pastor. What I would challenge you to do, is to not take their word as gospel truth. If they post a 15 second sound clip, do not take that at face value. Instead, take the extra time and see if you can find those quotes, video clips, etc in full context. Many things can be taken out of context, the Bible often is. We need the full context of the statement (including who their audience was, and WHEN this was spoken) in order to make an educated decision. If I can’t find the quote/video in full context, I disregard it.
- Time changes people. I am so thankful I am not the person I was 20 years ago, 10 years ago, and even 5 years ago. I have grown a lot in my knowledge of the scriptures. Therefore, I will generally disregard any old quotes, writings, videos as evidence against a speaker. To be specific, I won’t usually consider anything that is over 10 years old…. UNLESS the speaker hasn’t changed their position. If this is the same platform being recycled every few years, then certainly it is important. But, I recently heard a woman call a current author a “false teacher” over a comment she made over 13 years ago… when the author was barely in her twenties. She has grown a lot since then, and that is evident in her more recent work. Therefore I am more interested in who the person is NOW, what to they believe today versus what their inexperienced youthful self saw as truth.
- Cautiously ask others. I used the word cautiously here, because we are looking at personal opinion. Personal opinion can quickly become gossip, it isn’t always factual, and even facts that are spoken may be inaccurate. To proceed cautiously I would suggest not asking everyone (like a general “what do you think of this person” post on social media. That will create a STORM. Instead look to key people whom you respect, and ask their thoughts. This could be your Pastor, his wife, bible study leaders, etc. It is ok if they say something along the lines of “he doesn’t sit well with me, but I can’t tell you why”. That’s their discernment at work (see #1). However, if they start giving you “facts”, take the time and do the research (see #2) to ensure accuracy.
- Keep Studying. No matter what, keep studying the Word for yourself. The more acquainted you become with the scriptures, the sooner you begin raising red flags at false teachers/prophets. In the beginning, it may simply come from your greater knowledge of God’s character over knowledge of the scriptures verbatim. If a false teacher says something that just doesn’t fall in line with the nature of God, it will stand out…. even if you can’t put your finger on the exact scripture reference at the moment. Over time, you will become more familiar with the scriptures themselves and improve your ability to recognize scriptures that are twisted or taken out of context.
These six tips are great ways to help you begin to identify false teachers, while you are becoming a better student of the Word. The more you know the Word, the more you know God… and the easier it is to identify those who are misusing, misrepresenting, and misquoting the Scripture.
The following are some scriptures that clue us into ways we can identify false teachers and prophets: (bold emphasis is mine)
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. – Ephesians 5:11 False teachers/prophets are going to make claims, but their claims will not come true. They will claim healing, but there will be none. They will give the illusion of miracles, but they will not be real. They will prophesy, but the prophesies won’t come true.
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.- Romans 16:17 These are people who are trouble makers, pot stirrers, always looking for a fight and to cause trouble. They are creating divisions in the church, and spinning scripture out of context further causing division among the body of believers.
For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. – Romans 16:18 They are smooth talkers, who say the things we want to hear. It sounds nice, it sounds appealing, and it may even sound like truth. But they are not trying to serve you, or God… but only themselves. Everything they do is for their own gain. More money, more prestige, more celebrity, more power. They may also speak with authority and their words may seem credible, but their intentions are to build themselves up over man… not pointing man to God.
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions. – 2 Timothy 4:3 These teachers will tell us what we want to hear in a way that sounds like truth, and even those who love God will fall for it… if they do not know His word for themselves. It will sound like truth, because it will distort scripture to support their claims.
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. – 2 Peter 2:1 False teachers and prophets are sneaky, and actively sneaking their way into the lives of believers. They won’t always stand out and boldly proclaim things contrary to the scriptures. Some will slither in to our churches, sitting next to us in pews. And like the serpent was able to get Eve to question what God really said about eating the forbidden fruit… they will make us question what the bible means in scripture passages. They will claim to be our sisters and brothers in Christ, but will be wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt 7:15)
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. – 1 John 4:1-3 There will be false teachers and prophets that are more obvious, speaking directly against God, speak of God without Jesus Christ, or speak of God in a way that contradicts what the scripture reveal of Him.
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.- Colossians 2:8 False teachers and prophets will use human thinking, logic, theories and empty evidences as an explanation in an attempt to discredit God or to change how we think of God.
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 False teachers will also disguise themselves as leaders, not just fellow believers. They will call themselves apostles, disciples, pastors, bishops, reverends, priests, etc. They will use terms we are familiar with to create a credibility. However the Word tells us that we will see through their claims by their deeds, how they behave and what actions they take.
And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. – 2 Peter 2:2 Multiple times in the scriptures we are warned that false teachers are going to be attractive to people. They may be good looking, seem to have their lives all together, the words that flow out of their mouths will be appealing. They will have charm, charisma, and an attractive personality. They will seem to be financially blessed, free of difficulties in their lives, everything appears to always go in their favor.
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.
– 1 Timothy 3:6-5
There are many, many more, scriptures that talk about the false teachers and prophets found in the Old Testament through the New Testament. These are just a small sampling of those scriptures. This is also not a discount to those who have received Spiritual Gifts! Rather it is a call to all believers to be students of the word, to have a solid foundation in sound doctrine, and an intentional prayer life that keeps their focus on WHO GOD REALLY IS, WHAT HIS WORD REALLY SAYS, AND HOW GOD CONSISTENTLY ACTS.
About a year ago, I read an article written by a Christian woman on a piece of scripture that was entirely off the mark. She ended it with an invitation to challenge her interpretation of the scripture, but only if you could support your argument with the Bible. I responded to the article, siting multiple resources on the historical context of it. I also included Bible verses that discounted her interpretation. Her reply??? I don’t have enough time to address all of this individually. I disagree with you and she listed a few quick retorts. Then do you know what she did? She blocked me from responding.
I followed her rules. I had more biblical evidence than she did. She was unwilling to even check if my evidence was accurate. And she closed down the conversation.
What did that tell me? False teacher.
2 Pet2:1 – false prophets among the people, false teachers among you. —– She labeled herself a Christian.
2 Tim4:3 – they will not endure sound doctrine. —– She was unwilling to consider BIBLICAL evidence.
Rom 16:17 – cause division, create obstacles to sound doctrine. —– Her argument took scripture out of context, and was pitting Christians vs. Christians. You were only right if you supported her “interpretation”.
Ephesians 5:11 – take no part in fruitless work, but expose it. —– When she was rebuked using scripture, she disabled me from continuing to expose her.
1 Tim3:6-5 – teaching a different doctrine that didn’t agree with the words of Christ. —– She was conceited in her belief that she was right. She was creating controversy and friction among God’s people. She was absolutely unteachable, and her deeds exposed her. (2 Cor 11:15)