The Meaning Of Apostasy In The Bible

On November 18, 1978, over 900 American members of a San Francisco-based religious group called the Peoples Temple died after drinking poison at the urging of their leader, the Reverend Jim Jones, in a secluded South American jungle settlement. What does “apostasy meaning in the Bible” truly mean?

The group started as a Christian movement, with elements of Pentecostalism and Protestantism. Jones turned against traditional Christianity and argued that its teachings enslaved believers. This self-inflicted massacre reveals apostasy in its worst form in modern history.

A civil revolt is a serious public act—an open or violent resistance to an established ruler or government. Apostasy, or rebellion against God, is the most serious offense we can commit against the Lord. In God’s sight, apostasy such as idolatry or heresy is detestable and abominable.

What Is Apostasy?

Apostasy[1] comes from the Greek word apostasia—meaning rebellion, revolt, or falling away from the religious faith. Considered illegal in many countries, apostasy is punishable by death in at least ten countries in the world.

In Christianity, it is considered one of the most serious offenses against God. The Old and New Testaments stress the severity of this sin and that a willful falling away from the faith is punishable by death through stoning during the ancient times of the Israelites. The Bible also alludes that apostasy forfeits the salvation of a person’s soul.

What Is The Apostasy Meaning In The Bible?

The Great Apostasy

Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils.—1 Timothy 4:1, King James Version

The Greek word apostasia is only used twice in the New Testament. Apostasy in many forms, like heresy and idolatry, has been a big problem since ancient times. Jesus Christ felt this sorrow as He saw some of His followers abandon Him and His teachings.

The New Testament apostles also saw the rise of divisions and the rebellion of many congregations and disciples. Today, apostasy is an ongoing phenomenon that inundates the ranks of the faithful and the church.

Apostasy In The Old Testament

Stone them to death because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.—Deuteronomy 13:10 

From the beginning of the history of the Israelites, the people often offended our very God because of their disobedience and idolatry. Because God was so full of wrath because they committed apostasy, the rebellion was dealt with severely. God commanded that those who rebel against Him, including those who presumably commit adultery, be stoned to death.

Satan: The Great Apostate Teacher

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning,…For he is a liar and the father of lies.—John 8:44

Satan is the source of all apostasy. In the Garden of Eden, he was able to deceive Adam and Eve, questioning their faith and allegiance to God. They succumbed to the wiles of the devil, fell away from the truth, and were banished from Paradise. Their disobedience led to the fall of humanity.

Judas Iscariot: The Role Model Of Apostasy

Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus.—Luke 22:3–4

Judas was the epitome of betrayal and apostasy. Judas was aware of the persecution that had been inflicted on Christ’s followers, and he feared for his own life. This led him to betray Jesus and earn himself some money on the side. However, guilt overwhelmed him and he ended his own life.

hands reaching the ground and apostasy meaning in the bible

What Can Cause Apostasy?

Many reasons can cause an unbeliever to commit apostasy. It is important that we remain grounded in the faith and guarded against the wiles of the enemy. Some reasons that can lead us to apostasy:

  • Disbelief Or Unbelief. See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.—Hebrews 3:12
  • Persecution. Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time, many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other—Matthew 24:9–10
  • Fake Teachers. And many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.—Matthew 24:11
  • Temptation And Worldliness. Those on rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.—Luke 8:13
  • Forsaking Church Service. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the day approaching.—Hebrews 10:24–25

What Are The Forms Of Apostasy?

Having False Beliefs

Holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected, so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith.—1 Timothy 1:19

Apostasy may start with a subtle doubt or inquiry in the mind of the true believer. Satan is at work, and he bombards the person with questions that may derail his growing Christian faith. Without prayer, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the counsel of others, the person falls prey to false teaching.

The apostle Paul stresses that erroneous doctrines soon lead a person to walk away from the faith. Today, false apostles and teachers abound in the churches who are either deceiving pastors or clandestine atheists. They pollute the teachings of Christ and create divisions in the church.

Falling Away From Faith

From this time, many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.—John 6:66

The believers, after witnessing the miracles and hearing the profound messages of the Messiah, were still doubtful about the truth of Christ and the Gospel. When taught about the serious subjects of salvation and the resurrection, they walked away. Jesus also spoke to the twelve apostles and asked if they wanted to leave. He might have been sorrowful about the “falling away” of these disciples.

Today, the Bible warns us that we must not adopt false doctrines, revere other gods, or listen to apostate teachers. Satan disguises himself as an “angel of light,” who diverts us away from true faith and righteous spiritual living.

What Are The Characteristics Of Apostasy And Apostates?

Apostasy Can Be Subtle

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.—2 Peter 2:1

In the Garden of Eden, Satan masqueraded as an “angel of light.” His approach to enticing Eve was cunning and discreet. Yet he was able to lead her into doubt and eventually sin. Eve’s disobedience is the earliest form of apostasy recorded in the Bible. As the Father of All Lies, Satan roams around today, using evil spirits and fake teachers, subtle yet vile in leading us into the kingdom of darkness.

Denial Of The Faith

At that time, many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other.—Matthew 24:10

The word apostasy exudes diverse illustrations regarding abandoning God. Apostates have fragile faith. They continually harbor doubts about the existence of God and the infallibility of His precepts. They also waver in the pursuit of faith by lacking in prayer, Bible study, and attending church services. Apostates act like hypocrites because they claim to know God but deny Him through their words and deeds.

Falling Away From The Truth

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.—2 Timothy 4:3

Ultimately, apostates rebel against God and His teachings and righteousness. Instead, they cling to the notions of atheism, evolution, and deceitful doctrines of the enemy. Their spirits expressly contravene God and are led astray into Satan’s realm.

They no longer adhere to the Word of God as the source of all truth and have assembled for themselves people and circumstances to suit their vile selfish agenda. The Bible teaches that forsaking God by believing in false teachings and deceitful spirits elicits God’s wrath. Apostates have rejected God’s grace, and such men have ignored true doctrines and fallen into moral lapses.

hand reaching out from the water and apostasy meaning in the bible


The Bible reveals and warns that in the last days we will experience difficulties, ungodliness, and widespread treachery. We all witness the rise of a multitude of false teachers who develop their doctrines, which are serious departures from the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Like angels of light, they appear with good looks and fascinating pronouncements about life and the secrets to happiness and abounding wealth. But little is said about judgment and salvation.

Finding our right identity in Jesus Christ is necessary for our unswerving trust in God. The secret to true abounding faith is the ever-abiding faith in the infallibility of God’s Word, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and a pious, consistent congregation of the saints.

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