The Meaning Of Apostasy In The Bible

Photo of author

Published by Kenneth Garcia


Co-Founder of Biblekeeper, Author & Theologian

Last Updated:

Editorial Policy and Guidelines

Our content is expertly crafted and reviewed by theologians and scholars, ensuring accuracy and relevance by referencing reliable sources, primarily the Bible. Before publication and significant updates, we rigorously confirm the factual integrity, delivering well-informed articles grounded in biblical teachings

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.

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. So what does “apostasy” mean in the Bible?

Key Takeaways

  • Apostasy, defined as falling away from religious faith, is a serious offense in Christianity. The article explores its origins, consequences, and various forms throughout history.
  • Factors contributing to apostasy include disbelief, persecution, false teachings, and worldly temptations. The article highlights the subtle nature of apostasy and its detrimental effects on individuals’ faith.
  • To combat apostasy, believers are advised to deepen their relationship with God, seek fellowship, remain rooted in biblical truth, embrace holiness, engage in spiritual disciplines, and persevere in trials.
A digital illustration that artistically interprets a moment of profound conflict and sorrow

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 was punishable by death through stoning during the ancient times of the Israelites. The Bible also alludes to the fact that apostasy forfeits the salvation of a person’s soul.

What Is The Apostasy Meaning In The Bible?

The Great Apostasy

Now the Spirit speaks expressly that in the latter times, some will depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and the 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. 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 the Lord Jesus Christ and earn himself some money on the side. However, guilt overwhelmed him, and he ended his own life.

a figure against a stark urban backdrop, using stark contrasts and a shallow depth of field to emphasize the conflicted expression

What Can Cause Apostasy?

Many reasons can cause an unbeliever to commit apostasy. It is important that we remain grounded in the faith through Christ Jesus and guarded against the wiles of the enemy with his grace and mercy.

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

One of the fundamental causes of apostasy is disbelief. When individuals begin to question or doubt the teachings of the Bible, their faith can waver. The Apostle John addresses this concern in his writings, urging believers to hold steadfastly to their faith and not succumb to the temptation of disbelief.


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

Persecution poses another significant threat to faith, leading some to apostatize. The early Christians faced intense persecution for their beliefs, often enduring severe hardships and even martyrdom. In times of persecution, the pressure to renounce one’s faith and conform to societal norms can be overwhelming, causing individuals to fall away.

Fake Teachers

And many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.

— Matthew 24:11

The presence of false teachers within the Christian community can also contribute to apostasy. Apostle Peter warned about the influence of false prophets who would arise and deceive believers with their distorted teachings. Such false teachers can lead many Christians astray, causing them to abandon the truth of the Gospel and embrace falsehoods.

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

The allure of worldly desires and temptations can lure individuals away from their faith. The Apostle John cautions believers not to love the things of the world but to remain faithful to God. When individuals prioritize worldly pleasures and pursuits over their relationship with God, they become susceptible to apostasy.

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

Neglecting regular attendance and active involvement in the church community can also contribute to apostasy. The fellowship and accountability found within the church play a vital role in nurturing and strengthening one’s faith. When individuals distance themselves from the community of believers, they become more vulnerable to apostasy.

What Are The Forms Of Apostasy?

Having False Beliefs

Holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected, I have suffered a 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 on, 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 masquerades 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, to lead 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

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, his teachings, and his righteousness. Instead, they cling to the notions of atheism, evolution, and the 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.

a central figure amidst a crowd tearing a parchmen

How To Stay In Faith

To navigate the challenges and avoid apostasy, it is crucial for believers to actively cultivate their faith and remain steadfast in their devotion to the Lord Jesus. The New Testament provides valuable guidance on how to stay in faith and guard against false teachings that may lead one astray.

  1. Cultivate A Deep Relationship With God

Developing a deep and personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is paramount. This can be achieved through regular prayer and meditation, allowing for heartfelt communication with God. The study and application of the New Testament further nurture this relationship, providing guidance and insight into the truths that sustain true believers.

  1. Seek Fellowship And Accountability

Believers are encouraged to actively engage in fellowship within a local church community. Connecting with fellow believers who share a genuine faith in Christ provides opportunities for mutual encouragement and accountability. Small group Bible studies can further enhance spiritual growth and understanding, promoting a sense of unity and support.

  1. Stay Rooted In Truth

Remaining firmly rooted in the truth of the Gospel is essential to withstand the influence of false teachings. The New Testament repeatedly warns against false prophets and deceitful doctrines that may lead people astray. By renewing their minds with biblical teachings, true believers can discern and refute these falsehoods, safeguarding their faith.

  1. Embrace A Life Of Holiness

Living a life of holiness is a testament to one’s faith in Christ. Aligning one’s actions, thoughts, and choices with biblical values helps believers guard against worldly temptations and the potential to fall into apostasy. Regular self-examination and repentance foster spiritual growth and reinforce a commitment to following Christ.

  1. Engage In Spiritual Disciplines

Active participation in spiritual disciplines strengthens the believer’s faith. Worship and praise provide opportunities to express gratitude to the Lord Jesus and draw closer to him. Fasting serves as a means of seeking God’s guidance and cultivating spiritual sensitivity. Serving others and demonstrating love and kindness reflect the transformative power of Christ’s teachings.

  1. Persevere In Trials

True believers must remain steadfast in their faith, even in the face of trials and challenges. Relying on the Lord’s strength and seeking his guidance enables believers to overcome adversity. Holding onto the hope found in Christ and trusting in his promises sustains faith amidst the hardships of life. The Holy Spirit, given to believers, provides comfort and guidance throughout their journey.

a lone figure in prayerful agony, torn between loyalty and doubt


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 ever-abiding faith in the infallibility of God’s Word, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and a pious, consistent congregation of the saints.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are examples of apostasy?

Apostasy, the abandonment of religious beliefs, spans diverse examples from public renunciations to subtle questioning within communities. Historical instances include Martin Luther’s split from the Catholic Church and modern movements rejecting organized religion for personal convictions or atheism.

Is apostasy a mortal sin?

Apostasy is widely regarded as a serious offense in many theological beliefs, often classified as a mortal sin due to its rejection of fundamental truths. Interpretations vary among religious denominations, with consequences ranging from damnation to forgiveness upon repentance.

How do I avoid apostasy?

Avoiding apostasy involves staying connected to faith through spiritual practices, seeking guidance, and fostering a supportive community. Regular study, addressing doubts openly, and living according to religious values can help prevent apostasy.

Leave a Comment