What is a False Teacher?

HomeFalse TeachingsWhat is a False Teacher?

The Bible has a lot to say about false teachers. Apparently, it was a serious problem in the first century. It’s a serious problem today as well. Before we try to learn whether any person is a false teacher, we need to discuss the why’s and how’s. Please read this page before you read the List of False Teachers.

Why should we care about false teachers?

Christians should care about false teachers because the New Testament tells us to watch out for them, to identify them, and to correct them. The New Testament tells us these things because false teaching is dangerous, leading people away from God instead of toward Him.

The early church was concerned because people are harmed by false teaching. We should be as concerned as they were, because people are still being harmed today. In fact, there is far more false teaching today than in the 1st century.

False teachers distort what Jesus taught. It’s important to remember Jesus’ words from John 8:31-32: If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. If you don’t know the truth, you can’t be free, so – logically – people who believe a lie are being kept in bondage.

Good theology makes trusting God easier, and bad theology makes trusting God harder. That’s the reason GodWords exists: to help people trust God by learning what Jesus actually taught. False teachers make trusting God harder, so they should be exposed.

What makes me an expert?

I don’t claim to be an expert. I’ve studied these things for over 40 years, but that’s largely irrelevant. The question is whether a preacher or teacher accurately represents what Jesus taught. Every Christian should, at some point, become mature enough to spot the errors of false teachers. Yes, sometimes it takes a bit of work. No, it’s not something that requires anyone to be an expert.

My credentials don’t matter. I’m not asking you to take my words to heart. I’m asking you to start here, and do your own research. Don’t trust me. Read and hear what others teach and compare that with Scripture. We should all be like the Bereans that Luke mentions in Acts 17:10-12:

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

I do not run a ‘discernment ministry.’ I’m not claiming to have any kind of special revelation. What I write here is information that any other Christian can know by studying the Bible and listening to those who teach and preach in Jesus’ name. I do not hate anyone, including people I list as teaching falsely. The point of writing about false teachers is not to condemn anyone. The point is to make the gospel – as found in the New Testament – clear.

Identifying a false teacher is difficult.

Believe it or not, the question of which teachers are false is not a simple question to answer. A false teacher is someone whose teaching contradicts what Jesus taught, or misrepresents what He taught. However: we need to be careful.

Nobody – including you and me – knows everything about God. We’re imperfect beings with limited knowledge and we make mistakes. We sometimes believe things that aren’t true. If we teach others, we will naturally pass on those mistakes. Making mistakes, or simply being wrong, does not automatically make someone a false teacher.

Because this is true, we shouldn’t be entirely comfortable calling anyone a false teacher. How many errors does it take to go from ‘sincerely wrong’ to ‘dangerous’? I’m not sure. I prefer to say that this teaching or that teaching is unbiblical, rather than ‘that person is a false teacher.’ In spite of that, it’s clear that the writers of the New Testament were wise to condemn false teachers for their actions. We are unwise when we fail to follow their example.

Our goal should not be to hurt anyone, but simply to expose false teachings. Gossip and slander are condemned in Scripture. We don’t have special insight into anyone else’s mind and heart, and it would be wrong for us to pretend otherwise. It would be equally wrong for us to engage in gossip or slander by simply repeating what others have said, rather than checking things out for ourselves.

The only reliable evidence we have about teachers, both false and true, are their words and actions. For that reason, we should not claim that someone is a false teacher without referring to their own words and actions. We should not engage in gossip about anyone, but – as followers of Jesus – we should point out false teachings where we find them.

Truth vs My Interpretation

Christians throughout history have differed on many secondary issues. We must be careful to not put our own traditions ahead of Scripture. We must not make matters of style or emphasis the dividing line between false and true. Where the Bible is not clear, we should hold our views and traditions loosely. Where the Bible is clear, we should be equally clear.

The Bible is clear about false teachers. Some of the strongest language in the New Testament has to do with false teaching. For an example, take a look at this passage from Titus 1:

For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach – and that for the sake of dishonest gain… Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth… They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

That’s powerful. Paul didn’t pull any punches. Neither did Peter, or John, or Jude… and neither should we. This is important, and lives are at stake.

NOTE: a distinction must be made between someone who contradicts a clear, fundamental principle in Scripture and someone who takes a position on a controversial issue. In-house debates about the proper interpretation of a passage should not necessarily divide us. These in-house debates include topics like infant baptism, the age of the earth, whether Jesus could have sinned, the exact timing and order of events in Revelation, and so on. Unfortunately, many of the online articles about false teachers are based solely on disagreements of this nature. You won’t find that on GodWords, as I don’t consider such disagreements to be the marks of false teachers.

Why do I name names?

One might ask whether we should only outline the false teachings, and not name the false teachers. This is a good question. I name those who teach false ideas because people need to know who they can trust. In James 3:1 we read that those who teach will be judged more strictly than those who don’t. Paul taught Timothy and Titus, who were pastors of local churches, that the gospel should be entrusted to only those who are faithful, who are above reproach, and who hold firmly to the true gospel.

The goal of pointing out false teachers is not to give someone a bad reputation. The goal is to expose those who should have a bad reputation but do not, because people generally don’t know they’re being taught falsely. Paul named names: Hymenaeus (twice), Alexander, Philetus, and Demas. If the early church needed to know, surely the modern church does as well.

False accusations are a serious problem. Condemning the innocent is unjust. We must be careful to accurately report what a person teaches. I do not want to dishonor God or myself by bearing false witness against anyone. Our goal is not to put any person down, but to make sure that false teachings are exposed.

What’s the difference between a false teacher and false teaching?

A false teaching is simply something that’s wrong. A false teacher, according to what we read in the New Testament, is someone who deceives, teaching things they should not teach. They cause division and confusion where we should have unity and clarity.

Not everyone who teaches an error is a false teacher. It is wrong to pretend otherwise. Not everyone who ‘creates division’ is a false teacher, either. In fact, wherever disagreements occur, there is division. The goal is not to avoid conflict entirely, but to make the truth our basis for disagreement. Errors should be gently corrected, as we see in 2 Timothy 2:23-26:

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

Humility in this area is often undervalued. If I’m wrong, I should be corrected. If these teachers are wrong, they should be corrected. Our goal should not be condemnation, but restoration.

What does the Bible say?

There are a lot of Bible verses about false prophets, false teachers, and false gospels. I will not try to list them all here. I hope to provide enough info to convince you that the truth matters, that we’re to protect the message of the gospel from those who would distort it, and that every person who follows Jesus should avoid false teachings.

A different gospel is no gospel at all

Galatians 1:6-9 tells us that the gospel that was handed down is the only true gospel:
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 – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 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!

A little leaven

The Bible regularly uses yeast to symbolize influence, whether positive or negative. In Matthew 13, Jesus compared the Kingdom of Heaven to yeast… that’s positive. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul corrected believers and told them to get rid of the yeast of their former lives of sin.

With regard to false teachers, Paul chastised the Galatians for being swayed by a false gospel.

You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.”

Note his use of the word ‘persuasion.’ These followers of Jesus had allowed false teaching to influence them away from the true gospel of Jesus Christ…. and even just a little false teaching, Paul suggested, is very dangerous. This passage, along with many others, should convince us to be on guard against false teaching, and false teachers.

This isn’t a small problem

2 Peter 2:1-3 tells us that false teachers exist, that they are destructive, and that they will damage the reputation of Christianity:
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. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 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.

Acts 20:28-31 explains that Christians should be watchful, and diligent, to protect others from false teachers:
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

Command people to not teach false doctrines

In 1 Timothy 1:3-4 we see Paul instructing Timothy to address the issue of false doctrines directly:
As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work – which is by faith.

Keep away from a false teacher

Romans 16:17-18 explains that naive people can be deceived by false teachers, and should be avoided:
I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.

Don’t share in their wicked work

2 John 1:10-11 points to the fact that we are not to welcome a false teacher:
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work.

Keep the goal in mind

We should not be eager to condemn or criticize. We should, instead, be eager to know the true gospel, to share the true gospel, to protect the reputation of Jesus and the faith, to gently correct those who are in error, and to protect the young, the innocent, and the naïve among us. The goal is love, as Paul explained to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:3-6:

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work – which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk.

This is serious business. It’s not a contest to see who’s right, where we tear down people with whom we disagree. It’s a spiritual war, where we seek to expose the lies of the enemy, to save those who are lost, and to free those in error from the bondage of the devil.

With that in mind, feel free to visit the List of False Teachers.

Questions and Objections

Enjoy a few of the responses I’ve seen over the years.

1: Judge not, lest you be judged

This refers to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1-5 which are obviously true, but don’t apply here. In context, Jesus is speaking not simply about judging, but about judging hypocritically as we see in verse 5. He instructs us to first remove the plank in our own eye, and then we will be able to remove the speck from our brother’s eye. There’s no hypocrisy in pointing out false teachers. Nearly every book in the New Testament does this, and that’s the standard by which we should judge.

In addition, we should also listen to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 5:12 where he says the following: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. Expel the wicked person from among you.”

2: Christ is being preached, so rejoice

This refers to Paul’s words in Philippians 1:15-18 where he mentions that some preach out of envy and rivalry, while others preach out of love. Paul’s words are true, but they don’t apply here. I don’t know the motivations of any false teacher, so I don’t judge their motivation. We should compare what they teach with the gospel as it’s expressed in the New Testament. If each person taught only what the New Testament teaches, I too would rejoice… regardless of their motivation. We should certainly not rejoice over false teaching, as Christ is NOT being preached.

3: Who are YOU, to criticize this person?

I get this question a lot. I mean, all the time. I’m told that this person is a great man or woman of God, and that I’m undermining God’s work by criticizing them. There are two serious problems involved in this kind of response.

The first problem is that they have put the teacher on a pedestal. They are, figuratively, out of reach. This is a VERY serious problem, where the followers in the pews believe that the person behind the podium is somehow different – better, special – and therefore beyond criticism. That’s not what we see in the New Testament, is it? No, the Bereans were commended for double-checking what the apostle Paul taught.

Paul taught the Christians in Corinth to “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” In other words, don’t SIMPLY follow me… follow me as long as I’m living as I should. Take a look at 1 Corinthians 1:11-13 and ask whether any human teacher belongs on a pedestal:

My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?

In the end, it’s a silly, self-defeating argument. When someone asks who I am to criticize, I could ask them the same in return: who are you to criticize me? In the end, the measure of a faithful teacher is not whether they’re popular or well-known, but whether what they teach matches Scripture.

The second problem is that each and every Christian can, and should, know Scripture well enough to spot false teaching. Most, unfortunately, do not… so they assume that others are equally ignorant. It seems very wise indeed to ask my readers to NOT take my word for anything, but to compare my words with God’s words in the Bible. If the Bereans double-checked Paul, my readers should double-check me… and every Christian should be able to know whether the teachers they enjoy are also faithful in what they teach.

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8 responses to “What is a False Teacher?”

  1. Renee S Carroll says:

    Thank you for this article. I have learned from it even to pray about taking the plank out of my eye. Suggestion I believe in the paragraph about 1 Corinthians 5:12 it should say mine instead of mind but please correct me if I’m wrong.

    • Tony says:

      Thanks, Renee… I’ve fixed the typo. I’m happy to hear that you’ve been helped, even a little bit. Have a great day!

  2. Renee says:

    Well I never heard “a lot of things”..like modalism…

  3. David Justiniani says:

    Steven furtick is a wonderful pastor people love to throw darts born arrows and they try to save the people that they love in their Church it’s just getting uglier every time I cannot judge and so people do judge they better be careful

    I love Steven furtick pick up your cross and walk keep on walking and don’t turn around people are just so ugly these days we are in the last days continue on with your preaching I love you with all my heart

    • Tony says:


      It’s nice to meet you! Believe it or not, I love Steven Furtick too. I don’t dislike him. We’ve never met… but I want only good things for him, and would spend time and energy and resources to help him. I’d do the same for you, because I love you too.

      Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m right or you’re right or Steven Furtick is right. I’m pretty sure you and I agree that what people believe about God really, really matters. I mean, a lot. If that’s true, then it really really matters a lot when someone teaches things about God that just aren’t true. Please read this next sentence very carefully: I don’t want to write about Steven Furtick. I really don’t. I don’t love to – in your words – throw darts at anyone. Here’s the situation: people ask me questions. They want to know what’s true about God, and they’re not sure what to believe. Because you and I agree that what people believe about God really matters, it’s important to make sure I don’t lead them astray. How awful would it be for me to give someone bad advice and then learn they walked away from God because of me? That would be devastating!

      Because I bear this responsibility, I take it very seriously. I would never want to gossip about anyone, or say things about them that are untrue. Instead, I want to tell the truth so the people who come to me for help actually GET helped. Steven Furtick says a whole bunch of things that are true. He also says a bunch of things that are false. To see if that’s true, we only need to compare what Furtick says with what the Bible says. If he’s right, it will match. If he’s wrong, it won’t. My opinion of Steven Furtick is irrelevant, don’t you think?

      If you don’t mind, I’ll ask you a few questions.

      1. Do you believe that we who are in Christ are new creatures?
      2. Do you believe that God only PRESENTS Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and that all three are, in fact, the same exact person?
      3. Do you believe that God is a molecular structure?

      You might be surprised to read a few of the unbiblical things that Furtick has taught. If you agree with what he teaches, you should spend a lot more time reading your Bible. If you disagree, consider for a moment the impact false teaching has on those who hear it. While it’s GOOD to love Steven Furtick, it’s not good to look the other way when false teachers lead people away from the gospel that Jesus taught. I hope you can agree with that.

  4. leroy j Moore says:

    You will Know the Truth and the Truth will set Free!!!

  5. Elaine Raw says:

    Why do you say Bob Jones is a false teacher? We live near the University and are closely connected.

    • Tony says:


      Thanks for asking! One of the most obvious, and troubling, aspects of dealing with false teachers is that they all say lots of true, really meaningful, really helpful things. These true things should never be dismissed. At the same time, the New Testament makes it clear that we’re to watch closely for doctrinal problems, to adhere closely to the one true gospel handed down once for all, and to deal with false teachings and false teachers directly. Bob Jones was considered a prophet in the heretical New Apostolic Reformation movement. He was a proponent of Latter Rain and Manifest Sons theology, which teach that the church will be perfected on earth, will take over and rule the world both spiritually and politically, will take on glorified bodies on earth prior to Jesus’ return, and more.

      In addition, Jones was removed from the Vineyard fellowship for – quoting from their public letter – “using his gifts to manipulate people for his personal desires, sexual misconduct, rebelling against pastoral authority, slandering leaders and the promotion of bitterness within the body of Christ.” Part of this discipline came from encouraging women to undress in his office so they could stand “naked before the Lord” in order to receive a “word.”

      I’m sorry to bring you this sad news, Elaine. I truly wish things were very different.

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