Hypothetically, what they were sharing could have even been the truth, but because they have taken to the position of trying to manipulate others into accepting their belief or practice, they have crossed the line of heresy.
Our western culture is polarized. We are generally raised to see two possible answers to any question, one of them being correct and other being incorrect. We are then trained to choose and in doing so we are pitted against one another when somebody makes a choice that opposes our own. In politics this translates over to conservatives verses liberals, blacks verse whites, literate verse illiterate, rich verse poor, pro-life verse pro-choice and on and on we go through a world full of emotion-based issues we can choose from. Our adversary becomes anyone who doesn’t make the choice we do and we often end up finding ourselves pitted against our neighbor.
Within the scope of religion, we call the person who makes a choice different than our own a heretic. In our religious culture today, the word heretic is defined as “one who disagrees with the mainstream (orthodoxy).” Anyone who does not then agree with the orthodox view, or in a more personal sense, one who does not agree with me, is a heretic. This is why we see so many today throwing around this word with little care. We believe we have truth, and anyone who doesn’t agree is a heretic; there, nice and simple. But rarely is anything as simple as it seems.
The evolution of words
A word is merely a symbol and symbols are used to point to people, places, things or even concepts and ideas. The much overlooked fact about words, however, is that they evolve. What I mean by that is words can have a certain meaning at one time in history and yet carry a different meaning at another. Let me share a few examples of words evolving over time in relation to their meaning.
When the King James Version (KJV) was translated, the word “prevent” meant “to go before,” rather than “to keep from happening,” which is how it is defined today. If you have been in the military or have seen movies depicting squads out on patrol, one man would walk the “point,” out in front of the rest. A few hundred years ago that was the idea of the word prevent. About that same time in history, if I had said to you, “We engaged in gay intercourse,” you would have not thought twice and knew I meant, “pleasant (or happy) discussion.” That doesn’t exactly carry the same meaning today, does it?
While my latter example is an obvious one in regards to the evolution of words, a word like prevent is far more subtle. Yet even a subtle change in meaning can drastically alter the context of what we are reading. For example, in Psalm 59:10 we read, “The God of my mercy shall prevent me: God shall let me see my desire upon mine enemies.” One has to wonder how many readers of the KJV truly understand that the first half of that verse means, “The God of mercy shall go before me,” which is how most modern English bibles, rightly, render the Hebrew in that verse.
One thing most all of us do or have done is make an assumption in relation to the bibles we read. We have a word that is common in usage today and it has a certain meaning. We are assuming it has always had that meaning and are applying the definition from today to a work written at a time when the word in question held a different meaning. We do this often. In addition to prevent, for example, there are other words in Scripture that mean one thing today but meant something else entirely when they were first chosen to represent the underlying Hebrew or Greek words in our bibles. The word adoption comes to mind. Today we use that word to describe an orphan, a child without parents. But in the Near East in the first century, the word adoption was used to describe a business owner bringing into his family business one who might even be his own child. We have historical examples of a father adopting his own sons into the family business. So while the idea of being a spiritual orphan adopted by God has a nice picture to it, what this really means for us is that as “adopted sons of God,” we have been brought into the family of God to do the work of the Father. Thus when we read spiritual orphan into the word adoption in our bibles, we have completely missed the point God was trying to share.
There is another word found in Scripture that has a meaning that so differs from how it was used long ago that we have totally missed the context of our own identity; that word is gentile. Today, most Christians see themselves as gentiles. The online Webster’s dictionary would appear to support this modern conclusion as it defines the word gentile in this manner:
Gentile – often capitalized : a person of a non-Jewish nation or of non-Jewish faith; especially : a Christian as distinguished from a Jew;
However, when the first English bibles were translated and the word gentile was used as one translation for the Hebrew goyim or the Greek ethnos, the meaning was quite different. Here is the Webster’s Dictionary from 1828 to give us an idea of how the word gentile was understood just a couple of hundred years ago:
GEN’TILE, n. [L. gentilis; from L. gens, nation, race; applied to pagans.]
In the scriptures, a pagan; a worshipper of false gods; any person not a Jew or a christian; a heathen. The Hebrews included in the term goim or nations, all the tribes of men who had not received the true faith,and were not circumcised. The christians translated goim by the L. gentes, and imitated the Jews in giving the name gentiles to all nations who were not Jews nor christians. In civil affairs, the denomination was given to all nations who were not Romans.
Today a gentile is a Christian as distinguished from a Jewish person, whereas when the word was first used in our bibles, a gentile was neither a Jew OR a Christian: a gentile was a pagan. Historically speaking, the idea of being a “gentile Christian” is an oxymoron. This is why in Ephesians 2 we see Paul writing about how we were gentiles in the flesh but are now fellow citizens of the Commonwealth of Israel. We clearly need to pay closer attention to definitions because of what a large part of the context definitions are.
Who is a heretic?
Heresy is another word that carried a meaning long ago that has changed today. Having already shared the modern meaning (disagreement with the orthodoxy), allow me to share the Thayer Lexicon entry for the Greek word hairesis, the underlying word for heresy:
1) act of taking, capture: e.g. storming a city
2) choosing, choice
3) that which is chosen
4) a body of men following their own tenets (sect or party)
4a) of the Sadducees
4b) of the Pharisees
4c) of the Christians
5) dissensions arising from diversity of opinions and aims
Within the word we have the concept of disagreement and choice, but also division and sects. Yet the number one definition is dealing with force and manipulation. When Rome was sacked by the Gauls in 387AD after the Battle of the Allia, one could rightly say the action of the Gauls was heresy. Thus the idea of storming a city carries the notion of disagreement because nobody storms a city filled with people they agree with. Yet the word is used in Scripture and not in the context of storming a city, so let’s take a look at one entry:
2 Peter 2:1 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 (G139), even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.
Within the context of the definition of the word heresy, I believe a proper conclusion here is to say that these false prophets and teachers that Peter speaks about have an understanding or perceived truth that they are attempting to force (or manipulate – force by stealth) others to accept. They are attempting to impose their view and their practices on others and in the process are causing division. Hypothetically, what they were sharing could have even been the truth, but because they have taken to the position of trying to manipulate others into accepting their belief or practice, they have crossed the line of heresy. This in part might be why Yeshua said, “he that seeks will find.” One who is not seeking will not find and if we force ourselves on a person not seeking then the results will not be a positive one. When we have to force what we believe on another we almost always end up polarizing them and turning them away from the truth as we understand it. In fact, force is often the reason we see brothers and sisters recoil against anything we have to share. A dear brother used in an recent article the example of Joseph and how he did indeed have a truth given to him by God. But instead of waiting on God’s timing, Joseph went and told his brothers about it. The result is well known, the brothers revolted against the idea that one day they will bow before Joseph and to make sure of it they threw him into a pit only to pull him out and throw him into slavery. Yes God used Joseph’s plight to His glory, but the altercation between him and his brothers stemmed from Joseph pushing a truth on another who was not ready to hear, not yet seeking.
Heresy might be disagreement, it might be a division or sect, but it is also the use of force on one not ready to receive. Secular and religious history depict heretics as those burned at the stake or who have lost their heads on a chopping block. Yet, the true heretics were the ones who gave the order to light the match or swing the axes. One who does not seek will not find; if he does not ask he will not hear the answer. If we do not practice the godly characteristic of patience and wait until that person is seeking before we give them whatever information we think they need to have, then we have entered the realm of heresy. And heresy is a work of the flesh that stands in direct opposition to the fruits of the Spirit.
Galatians 5:16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. (17) For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. (18) But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (19) Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, (20) idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, (21) envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (22) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, (23) gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (24) And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (25) If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
If you’ll notice in the above verses, the fruits of the Spirit of God, the character traits that define His being, stand in direct opposition to works that include heresy which itself seems to be the opposite of self-control. Heresy divides, it disrupts, it robs peace and joy and exalts the heretic as the standard of truth. Most heresy, I admit, comes from being overzealous and while zeal can be good, being overzealous is not. Paul wrote to Titus saying that if a man is a heretic after the first or second admonition, we are to reject him. This divisive nature, heresy, is something God clearly has a strong opinion against. The heretic supplants God because the spiritual well being of another is taken out of hand of God and placed into the hand of the heretic. And that, my dear brothers and sisters, is an unhealthy place to be.
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