© Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2007

This study looks at what the New Testament states about the nature of false teachers and their message. It does not contain much in the way of explanation or comment, but presents what the New Testament says and leaves its readers to come to their own conclusions.

One thing that needs to be kept clearly in mind is that the large majority of these descriptions were not about other religions or sects or cults, but about teachers and teaching within the visible people of God – that is, the Jews in the Gospels and Acts, and the church in the New Testament letters.

This serves as a serious warning to us that what we need to be particularly alert to is not so much those other religions and cults which we can tell at a glance are obviously different from biblical teaching, but the possibility, indeed the high probability, and, according to the New Testament, the inevitability, of false teachers and false teaching within the body of people which we identify, or which identifies itself, under a variety of denominational or individual group names as the Christian church - as followers of Jesus Christ.


When we read the words that Jesus spoke either to or about false teachers and their messages we are left with no doubt that they are wrong and that we should avoid them at all costs. He tells us:

They are hypocritical:

Jesus frequently referred to the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of the Jews:

      • They were trying to teach others when they are full of error themselves [Matthew 7:3-5]
      • They lay spiritual burdens on people that they themselves do not bear [Matthew 23:2-4; Luke 11:46]
      • Their religious activities are done for show, not from true spirituality [Matthew 6:1-18; 23:5-7]
      • In their pride they accept for themselves honour that is due only to Christ [Matthew 23:7-12]
      • They are keen to keep external rules but neglect true inner godliness that expresses itself in mercy and faithfulness [Matthew 23:23-28; Luke 11:39-42]
      • They are full of wickedness inside [Matthew 23:28]
      • They seek and receive honour, yet have no mercy [Mark 12:38-40; Luke 11:43]
      • Their hypocrisy is likened to ‘yeast’ [Luke 12:1]
      • They were hypocritical about the Sabbath [Luke 13:15-16]

They are destructive:

The end result for those who listen to them is destruction:

      • They destroy God’s truth and trample God’s people underfoot [Matthew 7:6]
      • The road they recommend leads to destruction [Matthew 7:13]
      • They are ferocious, savage wolves [Matthew 7:15; Acts 20:29]
      • Unlike the teaching of Christ, their teaching gives a weak and unstable foundation that will not stand [Matthew 7:24-27]
      • Those who are led by them fall into the pit along with them [Matthew 15:14]
      • They actually prevent people from entering heaven and deliver people to hell [Matthew 23:13-15; Luke 11:52]
      • They take after their father the devil, who was a murderer from the beginning [John 8:44]
      • They are thieves and robbers intent on destruction [John 10:1,8,10]
      • They are ‘hired hands’ caring nothing for the sheep [John 10:12,13]

They do not belong to or know Christ:

Jesus refused to acknowledge any relationship with false teachers, speaking scathingly about their lack of any real knowledge of or relationship to either him or his Father.

      • They are ‘dogs’ and ‘pigs’ – that is, not God’s people [Matthew 7:6]. Note that the terms ‘dogs’ and ‘pigs’ were commonly used as a derogatory reference to people outside the people of God.
      • They are bad trees producing bad fruit [Matthew 7:16-20]
      • They have no real relationship with Christ [Matthew 7:23]
      • They are plants that God has not planted [Matthew 15:13]
      • They do not know the truth, they are ‘blind guides’ [Matthew 15:14; 23:16,17,24,26; Luke 6:39]
      • They have a ‘plank in their eye’ [Matthew 7:3-5; Luke 6:31-42]
      • They are children of hell [Matthew 23:15]
      • They do not know the Father or the Son [John 5:37-40; 8:55]
      • They do not accept Jesus Christ [John 5:43]
      • They are children of the devil [John 8:44; Acts 13:10]
      • They do not belong to God [John 8:47]

They are impactive:

Jesus did acknowledge that false teachers have a wide and strong impact, and that this very fact contributes to their ability to deceive.

      • The majority follow their teaching [Matthew 7:13,14]
      • They are like ‘yeast’ [Matthew 16:6,11,12]
      • There are many of them [Matthew 24:5,11]
      • They would deceive even the elect if that were possible [Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22]

They are subtle and deceptive:

The description given to false teachers by Jesus and the apostles bears great similarity to the Old Testament description of them as subtle and deceptive. This seems to be a constant theme right through the scripture.

      • Acute discernment is needed to distinguish the true from the false [Matthew 7:6-23]
      • They are ‘false’ [Matthew 7:15; Mark 13:22]
      • They are deliberately deceptive [Matthew 7:15]
      • They are in the physical church [Matthew 7:15]
      • Their religious activities appear to validate their message [Matthew 7:21-23]
      • Their miracles appear to validate their message [Matthew 7:22; 24:24; Mark 13:22]
      • They are ‘snakes’, a ‘brood of vipers’ [Matthew 23:33]
      • They are ‘white-washed tombs’ – looking good on the outside but putrid inside [Matthew 23:27]
      • They claim to come in the name of Christ [Matthew 24:5; Mark 13:6]
      • They even claim to be Christ [Matthew 24:5, 23-24]
      • They deceive many [Matthew 24:5,11; Mark 13:6]
      • They wrongly teach that they have inside information about the coming of Christ [Matthew 24:26-27; Mark 13:21]
      • They take after their father, the devil, the father of lies [John 8:44; Acts 13:10]
      • They distort the truth and draw people away [Acts 20:30]


The New Testament letters and Revelation contain so many references to false teachers that it is rather overwhelming when they are brought altogether. To help us to get it all into some kind of perspective, the references from the letters and Revelation have been grouped into categories focused on aspects of the nature of false teachers.

It is important to remember that each individual false teaching or false teacher does not manifest every single one of these characteristics. Also, as indicated in Jesus’ indictment of their hypocrisy, some of these characteristics are hidden under an outward veneer of respectability and superficial godliness, which blinds their hearers to their true inner nature.

About their minds:

      • They are fools [Romans 1:22]
      • Their mindset is futile and dark [Romans 1:21; Eph 4:17,18]
      • They are ignorant of God [1 Cor 15:34]
      • They do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm [1 Tim 1:7]
      • Unhealthy interest in controversies, … robbed of the truth [1Tim 6:4-5]
      • Always learning, never able to acknowledge the truth [2Tim 3:7]
      • Blaspheme, do not understand, like brute beasts, creatures of instinct [2P 2:12; Jude 10,19]
      • Men of corrupt mind [1 Tim 6:5]
      • Men of depraved minds [2Tim 3:8]

About their morals:

      • False apostles, false brothers [2 Cor 11:13; Gal 2:4]
      • Boast about the people they have won over to their teaching [Gal 6:13]
      • They are cunning, crafty, deceitful, scheming [Eph 4:14; 6:11]
      • Sensual [Eph 4:19]
      • False humility [Col 2:18,23]
      • Hypocritical liars without consciences [1Tim 4:2 ]
      • Evil men, impostors [2Tim 3:13]
      • Minds and consciences are corrupted [Tit 1:15]
      • Claim to know God, but their actions deny him. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for doing anything good [Tit 16]
      • Bold, arrogant, slander celestial beings [2Pet 2:10; Jude 8]
      • Revelling in pleasures, eyes full of adultery, never stop sinning, seduce the unstable, experts in greed, an accursed brood [2Pet 2:13-14]
      • Liars [1Jn 2:22; Rev 3:9]
      • Grumblers, faultfinders [Jude 16]
      • Follow their own evil desires [Jude 16]

About their methods:

      • They use smooth talk and flattery [Romans 16:18]
      • Use secret and shameful ways, and deception [2 Cor 4:2]
      • Deceitful workmen [2 Cor 11:13; 2 Tim 3:13]
      • Masquerade as apostles of Christ [2 Cor 11:13]
      •  Worm their way into homes, gain control over weak-willed women [2Tim 3:6]
      • Appeal to the lustful desires of sinful human beings, entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error [2Pet 2:18]
      • Wicked work [2John 11]
      • Secretly slip in among you [Jude 4]
      • Boast about themselves and flatter others to their own advantage [Jude 16]
      • Magic arts [Rev 9:21]
      • Second beast performed great and miraculous signs [Rev 13:13,14]
      • Lead all the nations astray by their magic spell [Rev 18:23]

About their motives:

      • Peddle the word of God for profit [2 Cor 2:17; 1 Tim 6:5; Titus 1:11]
      • Are zealous to win people [Gal 4:16,17]
      • Like to make outward impression [Gal 6:12]
      • Try to lead people astray [1John 2:26]
      • To suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. [2Tim 4:3]

About their message:

      • Does not come from Christ or God [Gal 5:8]
      • Is likened to yeast [Gal 5:9]
      • Abolishes the offence of the cross [Gal 5:11; 6:12]
      • Empty words [Eph 5:6]
      • Fine sounding arguments that deceive [Col 2:4]
      • Idle notions [Col 2:17]
      • Appearance of wisdom [Col 2:23]
      • False doctrines, myths, endless genealogies [1 Tim 1:4 ]
      • Meaningless talk [1 Timothy 1:6 ]
      • Things taught by demons [1Tim 4:1]
      • Godless chatter, opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge [1Tim 6:20; 2 Tim 2:16 ]
      • Quarrelling about words [1 Tim 6:4; 2 Tim 2:14]
      • Foolish and stupid arguments [2Tim 2:23]
      • Trap of the devil [2Tim 2:26]
      • Folly [2Tim 3:9]
      • Teaching things they ought not to teach [Tit 1:11]
      • Jewish myths … commands of those who reject the truth [Tit 1:14 ]
      • Destructive heresies, denying the sovereign Lord, bring swift destruction [2Pet 2:1]
      • Springs without water, mists driven by a storm, autumn trees without fruit [2Pet 2:17; Jude 12]
      • Empty boastful words [2 Peter 2:18]
      • Speak against God [Jude 15]
      • Way of or teaching of Balaam [2Pet 2:15-16; Jude 11; Rev 2:14]
      • Teaching of the Nicolaitans [Rev 2:6,15]
      • Satan’s so called ‘deep secrets’ [Rev 2:24]
      • Proud words and blasphemies [Rev 13:5-6]

About their allegiance:

      • They are not serving Christ [Romans 16:18]
      • Servants of Satan, who masquerades as an angel of light [2 Cor 11:15]
      • In accordance with the work of Satan [2Th 2:9]
      • Abandon the faith [1 Tim 4:1]
      • Follow deceiving spirits [1 Tim 4:1]
      • Antichrist, many antichrists, spirit of the antichrist already in the world [1Jn 2:18; 4:3; 2Jn 7]
      • Are from the world, speak from the viewpoint of the world [1Jn 4:5]
      • Spirit of falsehood [1Jn 4:6]
      • Three evil spirits … come from the beast and the false prophet … spirits of demons performing miraculous signs … go out to the kings of the whole world [Rev 16:13-14]
      • Satan … deceiving the nations [Rev 20:3,7,10]

About false teachers generally:

Note that many of the references in this section are from 2 Peter and Jude. These two letters deal with an extremely godless false teaching which encouraged a licentious and libertine antinomian lifestyle. Not all false teachers fit those extreme descriptions; some, especially of the legalistic kind, actually lived outwardly exemplary lives [e.g. the Pharisees].

      • Dogs, men who do evil, mutilators of the flesh [Phil 3:2]
      • Opposes and exalts himself over God [2Th 2:4]
      • Foretold by the Spirit [1Tim 4:1]
      • Rebellious people … mere talkers and deceivers [Tit 1:10]
      • Promise freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity [2P 2:19]
      • Returned to their own vomit – knew the truth but rejected it [2P 2:20-22]
      • Scoffers [2P 3:3]
      • Do not have God [2Jn 9]
      • Are godless men [Jude 4]
      • Reject authority [Jude 8]
      • Twice dead [Jude 12]
      • Wild waves of the sea … wandering stars [Jude 13]
      • Follow mere natural instincts, do not have the Spirit [Jude 19]
      • Those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan [Rev 2:9; 3:9]
      • Tolerate ‘Jezebel’ who calls herself a prophetess [Rev 2:20]
      • Worshipping demons, and idols of gold, sliver, bronze, stone and wood [Rev 9:20]
      • Are many [1John 4:1; 2John 7]

As we have noted, not all of these characteristics are evident at the same time. False teachers can look good. False teaching can sound right. Legalistic false teachers can outwardly look more spiritual than many people who know and teach the true truth. The success of false teachers depends on their ability to deceive.