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Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Apostasy, then and now

The word “apostasy” comes from a Greek term that means “a standing away from,” “a falling away, defection,” “rebellion, abandonment.” The first one to fall away from the true worship of Jehovah was Satan the Devil. He was therefore the first apostate. (John 8:44) He caused the first human couple to become apostates. (Genesis, chapter 3) Very early in the history of Israel there was a “falling away” or ‘turning aside’ from true worship. We read:

“Even to their judges they did not listen, but they had immoral intercourse with other gods and went bowing down to them. They quickly turned aside from the way in which their forefathers had walked by obeying the commandments of Jehovah.”—Judg. 2:17.

Later, many of the kings of both Israel and Judah became apostates and led the nations they were ruling over into a course of apostasy. God first punished the northern kingdom of Israel, saying: “Against an apostate nation [Israel] I shall send him [Assyria].” (Isa. 10:6) And just before the destruction of Jerusalem, capital of Judah, by the Babylonians, Jehovah stated: “From the prophets of Jerusalem apostasy has gone forth to all the land.” (Jer. 23:15) Apostasy or falling away from the true faith certainly brought no blessings to Israel and Judah.

Apostasy Among the Early Christians

Early on during his earthly ministry, Jesus warned his followers against apostates. In his Sermon on the Mount, he said:

“Go in through the narrow gate; because broad and spacious is the road leading off into destruction, and many are the ones going in through it; whereas narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life, and few are the ones finding it. Be on the watch for the false prophets that come to you in sheep’s covering, but inside they are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will recognize them.”—Matt. 7:13-16.

Twenty-five years later, Paul warned the Christian elders of Ephesus: “I know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, and from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:29, 30) In the last of his inspired writings Paul named a few of such first-century apostates. He warned Timothy: “Shun empty speeches that violate what is holy; for they will advance to more and more ungodliness, and their word will spread like gangrene. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of that number. These very men have deviated from the truth, . . . and they are subverting the faith of some.” “Alexander the coppersmith did me many injuries . . . be on guard against him, for he resisted our words to an excessive degree.”—2 Tim. 2:16-18; 4:14, 15.

If we analyze these warnings given by Jesus and Paul, the following identifying features of typical apostates emerge:

(1) Deviation from the truth

(2) Twisted, empty speech

(3) Efforts to subvert the faith of some and draw away disciples after themselves

(4) Hypocrisy (‘wolves in sheep’s covering’)

(5) Recognizable by their fruits; they ‘advance to more and more ungodliness’
Such telltale signs were meant to enable the early Christians quickly to identify apostates and to ‘be on guard against them.’

Apostasy “in Later Periods of Time”

Additional Reading:

The apostasy that was “already at work” while some of Christ’s apostles were still alive became prolific “in later periods of time,” that is, after their death. The five telltale signs became increasingly apparent from the second century on and reached a climax in the fourth century. This mass apostasy was due to occur before the “presence of our Lord Jesus Christ” and “the day of Jehovah.”—2 Thess. 2:1-12.

But other scriptures make it clear that even during “the last days” of the present system of things, cases of apostasy would occur within the true Christian congregation. The apostle Peter wrote:

“In the last days there will come ridiculers with their ridicule, proceeding according to their own desires and saying: ‘Where is this promised presence of his?’ . . . You, therefore, beloved ones, having this advance knowledge, be on your guard that you may not be led away with them by the error of the law-defying people and fall from your own steadfastness.”—2 Pet. 3:3, 4, 17.

Peter was not merely warning his brothers against “ridiculers” and “law-defying people” in the world. Christians have always been well aware of danger from that quarter. Peter was also speaking of the danger of being “led away” by some within the Christian congregation who would become “ridiculers,” making light of the fulfillment of prophecies concerning Christ’s “presence” and adopting a law-defying attitude toward “the faithful and discreet slave,” the Governing Body of the Christian congregation and the appointed elders.

Causes and Effects of Apostasy

Additional Reading:

Among the various causes of apostasy, one of the foremost is unquestionably a lack of faith through doubt. (Heb. 3:12) Interestingly, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology supplies the following information on the Greek verb that is often translated by “to doubt”: “Diakrinō, make a distinction, judge, . . . ; doubt, waver. . . . In some [New Testament] passages doubt appears as a lack of faith and thus as sin (Rom. 14:23). . . . In Rom. 4:20f. doubt comes close to disbelief. . . . Doubt is thus a lack of trust in the act of God which he has still to perform and which men are to await. . . . In the NT the doubter sins against God and his promises, because he judges God falsely.”

Thus the one who doubts to the point of becoming an apostate sets himself up as a judge. He thinks he knows better than his fellow Christians, better also than the “faithful and discreet slave,” through whom he has learned the best part, if not all that he knows about Jehovah God and his purposes. He develops a spirit of independence, and becomes “proud in heart . . . something detestable to Jehovah.” (Prov. 16:5) Some apostates even think they know better than God, as regards his ordering of events in the outworking of his purposes. Two other causes of apostasy are therefore ingratitude and presumption.—2 Pet. 2:10b-13a.

As to the effects of a course of apostasy, one immediate result is a loss of joy. The apostate becomes hardened in his rebellious ways. Another is he fails to take in the spiritual food provided by “the faithful and discreet slave”—this leading to spiritual weakness and breakdown of spirit. Contrasting the happiness of his loyal servants with the sad condition of apostates, Jehovah stated prophetically:

“Look! My own servants will eat, but you yourselves will go hungry. Look! My own servants will drink, but you yourselves will go thirsty. Look! My own servants will rejoice, but you yourselves will suffer shame. Look! My own servants will cry out joyfully because of the good condition of the heart, but you yourselves will make outcries because of the pain of heart and you will howl because of sheer breakdown of spirit.”—Isa. 65:13, 14.

After having yielded to such works of the flesh as “enmities, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, contentions, divisions, sects,” apostates often fall victim to other fleshly works such as “drunken bouts,” “loose conduct” and “fornication.” (Gal. 5:19-21) Peter warns us against those who “look down on lordship” by despising theocratic order, who “speak abusively” of those entrusted with responsibility within the Christian congregation, and so ‘abandon the straight path.’ He says that their “final conditions have become worse for them than the first.”—Read carefully 2 Peter, chapter 2.

- Published by the WTB&TS in 1980

2 Peter 2:1-22, NWT

1 However, there also came to be false prophets among the people, as there will also be false teachers among YOU. These very ones will quietly bring in destructive sects and will disown even the owner that bought them, bringing speedy destruction upon themselves. 2 Furthermore, many will follow their acts of loose conduct, and on account of these the way of the truth will be spoken of abusively. 3 Also, with covetousness they will exploit YOU with counterfeit words. But as for them, the judgment from of old is not moving slowly, and the destruction of them is not slumbering.

4 Certainly if God did not hold back from punishing the angels that sinned, but, by throwing them into Tar´ta·rus, delivered them to pits of dense darkness to be reserved for judgment; 5 and he did not hold back from punishing an ancient world, but kept Noah, a preacher of righteousness, safe with seven others when he brought a deluge upon a world of ungodly people; 6 and by reducing the cities Sod´om and Go·mor´rah to ashes he condemned them, setting a pattern for ungodly persons of things to come; 7 and he delivered righteous Lot, who was greatly distressed by the indulgence of the law-defying people in loose conduct— 8 for that righteous man by what he saw and heard while dwelling among them from day to day was tormenting his righteous soul by reason of their lawless deeds— 9 Jehovah knows how to deliver people of godly devotion out of trial, but to reserve unrighteous people for the day of judgment to be cut off, 10 especially, however, those who go on after flesh with the desire to defile [it] and who look down on lordship.

Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble at glorious ones but speak abusively, 11 whereas angels, although they are greater in strength and power, do not bring against them an accusation in abusive terms, [not doing so] out of respect for Jehovah. 12 But these [men], like unreasoning animals born naturally to be caught and destroyed, will, in the things of which they are ignorant and speak abusively, even suffer destruction in their own [course of] destruction, 13 wronging themselves as a reward for wrongdoing.

They consider luxurious living in the daytime a pleasure. They are spots and blemishes, indulging with unrestrained delight in their deceptive teachings while feasting together with YOU. 14 They have eyes full of adultery and unable to desist from sin, and they entice unsteady souls. They have a heart trained in covetousness. They are accursed children. 15 Abandoning the straight path, they have been misled. They have followed the path of Ba´laam, [the son] of Be´or, who loved the reward of wrongdoing, 16 but got a reproof for his own violation of what was right. A voiceless beast of burden, making utterance with the voice of a man, hindered the prophet’s mad course.

17 These are fountains without water, and mists driven by a violent storm, and for them the blackness of darkness has been reserved. 18 For they utter swelling expressions of no profit, and by the desires of the flesh and by loose habits they entice those who are just escaping from people who conduct themselves in error. 19 While they are promising them freedom, they themselves are existing as slaves of corruption. For whoever is overcome by another is enslaved by this one. 20 Certainly if, after having escaped from the defilements of the world by an accurate knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they get involved again with these very things and are overcome, the final conditions have become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them not to have accurately known the path of righteousness than after knowing it accurately to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 The saying of the true proverb has happened to them: “The dog has returned to its own vomit, and the sow that was bathed to rolling in the mire.”

Additional Reading:


Apostasy (IPA: /əˈpɒstəsi/) is the formal religious disaffiliation or abandonment or renunciation of one's religion, especially if the motive is deemed unworthy. In a technical sense, as used sometimes by sociologists without the pejorative connotations of the word, the term refers to renunciation and criticism of, or opposition to, one's former religion. One who commits apostasy is an apostate, or one who apostatizes. The word derives from Greek αποστασία (apostasia), meaning a defection or revolt, from απο, apo, "away, apart", στασις, stasis, "stand", "standing".

Bryan R. Wilson, who was a professor of Sociology at Oxford University, writes that apostates of new religious movements are generally in need of self-justification, and seek to reconstruct their past and to excuse their former affiliations, while blaming those who were formerly their closest associates. Wilson utilizes the term atrocity story, [a story] that is in his view rehearsed by the apostate to explain how, by manipulation, coercion or deceit, he was recruited to a group that he now condemns. Wilson also challenges the reliability of the apostate's testimony by saying that "the apostate [is] always seen as one whose personal history predisposes him to bias with respect to his previous religious commitment and affiliations, [so] the suspicion must arise that he acts from a personal motivation, to vindicate himself and to regain his self-esteem, by showing himself to have been first a victim, but subsequently a redeemed crusader."

- From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 2009