Galatians 1:8-9 (ESV): “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
The Bible is clear: there is only one gospel, one saving gospel, one gospel for salvation. Anything other than that is a false gospel, and those preaching it are to be accursed. The concept of cursed is used a few times in the New Testament; for example, 1 Corinthians 16:22: “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.” This verse emphasizes the importance of love for God, implying that those who lack love should be considered accursed.
One who lacks love for God would be the same as one who spreads a false gospel and is to be accursed.
At least seven false gospels were prominent in the first and second centuries, and yet the Bible directly confronts each and every one.
Different Gospels in the First and Second Century
The following are some of the more prominent first and second-century false teachings and their specific biblical responses.
- Judiazers – required Christians to follow the Law and be circumcised. Since Israel had descended into legalism, these were added legalistic requirements for proselytes, i.e., Jewish converts.
- Galatians 2:16-17: “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the Law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the Law, because by works of the Law no one will be justified. But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!”
- Docetism – from the Greek “to seem.” It claims that Christ did not have a natural body, thus denying Christ’s incarnation and substitutionary death for our sins.
- 2 John 1:7: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.”
- Montanism – emphasis on prophetic revelations and ecstatic experiences.
- Matthew 24:24: “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”
- Paganism – included based worship with elements of ecology, witchcraft, and heathen traditions.
- Colossians 2:8: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”
- Gnosticism – believed that the physical world was evil and the spiritual world was good. They thought secret knowledge (gnosis) was necessary for salvation. This is akin to contemporary “new age” theology.
- 1 John 4:1-4: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” 1 Timothy 6:20-21: “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith…”
- Antinomianism – Liberty and pagan practices.
- Nicolatans at the Church of Pergamum in Revelation 2:6, 2:15: “Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I [Christ] also hate.” “So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” Romans 6:15-23: “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under Law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free regarding righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
- Marcionism – Marcion, a 2nd-century teacher, proposed a dualistic theology that rejected the Hebrew Bible and considered the God of the Old Testament different from the God of the New Testament.
- Matthew 5:17-18: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”
When you review the common false gospel at the beginning of Christianity, you encounter some rather simplistic concepts that either take away or add to the true gospel of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as the God-man who died to pay for our sins and then rose from the grave. And although these misdirections still continue, twenty-first-century false gospels are much more sophisticated and nuanced.
So much so that many Christians are even unaware. In the following weeks, we’ll explore some of these contemporary false gospels and the divisions that foster their existence.
Here you’ll determine what kind of Christian you are.