Free Online Bible Library | Apostasy

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The abandonment or renunciation of Christianity, either voluntarily or by compulsion. The use of the term for religious apostasy in the Hebrew-Christian tradition derives probably from Septuagint usage. Both voluntary (Josh. 22:22; 2 Chron. 22:9) and involuntary aspects occur (1 Macc. 2:15). Mattathias's refusal to apostatize to pagan rites was the occasion for the Maccabean revolt; it denoted deserting from, rebellion against, or abandonment of the Mosaic teaching. While the term does not occur in the KJV, it does in the Greek (Acts 21:21; 2 Thess. 2:3).

There are frequent biblical allusions to the evils and the dangers of apostasy. It is described as departure from the faith (1 Tim. 4:1-3), being carried away by the error of lawless men (2 Pet. 3:17), and falling away from the living God (Heb. 3:12). The great apostasy, “The Rebellion” of 2 Thess. 2:3, is associated with the return of Christ. The serious consequences of apostasy are stressed in Hebrew 6:4-6; 10:26 (cf. 2 Pet. 2:20). It occurs through the subverting activities of false teachers (Matt. 24:11; Jude, etc.), but it may also occur because of persecution and stress (Matt. 24:9, 10; Luke 8:13). Thus the NT warns against both voluntary and involuntary apostasy so identified.

Church history reflects the activities of apostates and alleged apostates, and as well the problems of persecution, involuntary recanting, and what to do with the lapsed. The use of the civil power by both Catholics and Protestants to punish those charged with apostasy resulted in great cruelties during the Middle Ages and later. The Anabaptist concept of a religiously composite society prevailed in the New World and later in the Old also. Compositism does not diminish the seriousness of doctrinal error, but it does tolerate divergent views within society under law in the belief that persuasion not coercion reflects the Christian ideal. This in no way abrogates the responsibility of the Church to maintain and defend its doctrinal purity in relation to the norms of biblical teaching.

Many scholars restrict apostasy to the temporary falling away of true believers and the declension of nominal believers from an outward profession, but others hold that alongside the statements on the eternal security of the believer (see Perseverance) must be placed others which warn true believers against apostasy and the possibility of failing to find entrance to the kingdom of God (Heb 6; 10:26 ff.).


E. M. B. Green, The Meaning of Salvation (1965); I. H. Marshall, Kept by the Power of God (1969); S. Brown, Apostasy and Perseverance in the Theology of Luke (1969).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Prophecy originated as a Divine and imperative protest against this historic tendency to defection from the religion of Yahweh. In classical Greek, apostasy signified revolt from a military commander. In the roman catholic church it denotes abandonment of religious orders; renunciation of ecclesiastical authority; defection from the faith. The persecutions of the early Christian centuries forced many to deny Christian discipleship and to signify their apostasy by offering incense to a heathen deity or blaspheming the name of Christ. The emperor Julian, who probably never vitally embraced the Christian faith, is known in history as "the Apostate," having renounced Christianity for paganism soon after his accession to the throne. An apostate’s defection from the faith may be intellectual, as in the case of Ernst Haeckel, who, because of his materialistic philosophy, publicly and formally renounced Christianity and the church; or it may be moral and spiritual, as with Judas, who for filthy lucre’s sake basely betrayed his Lord. See exhaustive articles on "Apostasy" in the Jewish Encyclopedia.

Dwight M. Pratt

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