Heresy: Introduction, What Is Apostasy?

“Heresy” and “apostasy” are pretty strong words.  Are they the same?  Are they different?  How are they related?

I want to repeat what I’ve said so often: language is never precise.  It is often interesting to look up a word in Strong’s and meditate upon all the different facets of how a word is used in a particular verse, but at some point there is always an area of gray because human language not only is not precise but changes a great deal even in a short period of time.

14 Remind them of these things, charging them in the sight of the Lord, that they don’t argue about words, to no profit, to the subverting of those who hear.

15 Give diligence to present yourself approved by God, a workman who doesn’t need to be ashamed, properly handling the Word of Truth. 16 But shun empty chatter, for it will go further in ungodliness,

2Ti 2:14-16 (WEB)

There are reasons that sermons that drill down on obscure or vague definitions in spite of the evidence to the contrary makes my heart ache.  It is why Thiel’s controversy with LCG made me scratch my head.  Did either side really read the above passage and take it to heart?

Of course, I wrote about this and the meaning of apostasy in “Controversy Over Apostasy (‘Falling Away’) in 2 Thessalonians 2?“:

I can only answer what I would have an issue with here. It is the same one I’ve already pointed out. How do you fall away from something you’ve never embraced in the first place?

The Greek word apostasia is G646. It translates it as “a falling away, defection, apostasy”. “Defection” is probably a more familiar term. You cannot defect from an army you’ve never belonged to. backs this up in the definition of apostasy:

a·pos·ta·sy [uh-pos-tuh-see]
noun, plural a·pos·ta·sies.
a total desertion of or departure from one’s religion, principles, party, cause, etc.

~ (bolding mine)

Apostasia is also used in Ac 21:21, where the meaning is quite clear.

21 And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake [apostasia] Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.

~ Ac 21:21

Again, you cannot “forsake” something you’ve never embraced, even if you were once forced to do so. Children may forsake the ways of their parents, but that means when they were small they had to comply.

This goes well beyond just false teaching!  False teaching can result from deception, even about small things.  However, a “forsaking” is an active choice.  When we look at the Exodus, we see that God sometimes hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and sometimes Pharaoh’s advisors hardened his heart.  However, most of the time, Pharaoh hardened his own heart.  The point isn’t that he apostasized, but rather he chose a lie over the truth.

“Choice” is where “heresy” and “apostasy” intersect.  It is implied in apostasy, but it is at the core of heresy.


  1. John from Australia

    In regard to language, a couple of quotes:

    * AP, Watson the supercomputer battles Jeopardy! geniuses,, January 15, 2011:

    Watson, named for IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, is reminiscent of IBM’s famous Deep Blue computer, which defeated chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997. But while chess is well-defined and mathematical, “Jeopardy!” presents a more open-ended challenge involving troves of information and complexities of human language that would confound a normal computer.

    “Language is ambiguous; it’s contextual; it’s implicit,” said IBM scientist David Ferrucci, a leader of the Watson team. Sorting out the context – especially in a game show filled with hints and jokes – is an enormous job for the computer, which also must analyse how certain it is of an answer and whether it should risk a guess, he said.

    * Roy Gane, Cult and Character, p.37:

    Linguists have demonstrated that the way in which a word is used in a given period determines its meaning during that period. While etymology is interesting and important, it is not a safe guide to meaning.

    In regard to “apostasy” some comments from Gordon D. Fee, [The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians, The New International Commentary on the NT]:

    2Th 2:3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;

    … Paul’s clause does not have “that day will not come” in it; supplying these words (or something similar) is necessary for the sake of the reader in English – and all other Indo-European languages, it should be noted. (Fee, p.280).

    … what must take place “first,” namely, “the rebellion,” which includes “the revelation of the man of lawlessness” (= “the Rebel”), who is at the same time “the son of destruction,” where the first descriptor deals with his character and the second with his ultimate destiny. (Fee, p.280).

    2 Thess 1:7 when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed (apokalupsis; feminine noun)
    2 Thess 2:3 and that man of sin be revealed (apokalupto; verb)

    … very visible events … must transpire before the day of the Lord itself, especially the great rebellion that it is to precede it. Even though Paul himself does not use the term “Antichrist,” one of the reasons the Rebel is frequently referred to by that name here is the language Paul uses, “the revelation” of this figure, is a pickup of what he say of Christ in 1:7. (Fee, p.281).

    1 Mac 2:15 The officers of the king in charge of enforcing the apostasy came to the city of Modein to organize the sacrifices. (NAB).

    Since Paul does not use this word [‘Antichrist’], I have chosen to refer to this person as “the Rebel,” picking up the language of Paul himself from the noun apostasia (“rebellion”; cf. LXX Josh 22:22; 2 Chron 29:19; 1 Mac 2:15). (Fee, p.281).

    Ac 21:21a They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from (apostasia) Moses. (NIV).

    The Greek word rendered “rebellion” (apostasia) occurs in the New Testament only here and in Acts 21:21. In Acts it clearly means “to turn away from,” thus “to become ‘apostate’ ” picking up in its English expression the same meaning as in the Greek. Furthermore, the several occurrences of the cognate verb usually refers to a “turning away” that amounts to “apostasy,” a deliberate and antagonistic rejection of Christ. But despite the usual meaning of this noun in Acts 21, it can hardly have that sense here, its earlier usage, since Paul clearly expects perseverance on the part of these believers. After all, nothing in the context indicate that believers will be deceived by the “lawless one.” Therefore, this noun, which was rendered “falling away” in the KJV, in more recent English translations has been correctly rendered “rebellion.” In secular Greek, in fact, the word was used to refer to a political or military revolt, not in the sense of “falling way” from a position once held, but a rebellion against a power or deity to whom one was not committed. (Fee, p.281).

    Historically, therefore, this word has been understood to refer to some of God’s own people (either believers or Jews) who had chosen to rebel against God and Christ in one way or another. But that seems to place far more emphasis on the primary meaning of the word as such, and not enough on its usage in the present context. Moreover, one should note further that in verses 10-12 part of “the revelation of the Rebel” involves his powers and deceptions among “the perishing,” not among believers. Therefore, in the present case, just as “the mystery of lawlessness” is already at work (v.7), to be revealed in all its fullness and intensity with the “parousia” of the Rebel, so the language “rebellion” is used at the outset to describe this great satanic event. (Fee, pp.281-82).

    I have chosen to refer to this person throughout as “the Rebel,” because the more precise rendering “the lawless one” seems too strained in English; and, in any case, “lawless” in English suggests someone who operates outside the law, whereas this personage is decidedly over against the law… and is therefore the ultimate “rebel,” who in turn will lead the great rebellion against God and God’s people. Very likely this is the same person John refers to as … (“the Antichrist”; see 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7). (Fee, p.282).