WHAT IS AN APOSTATE?
Study No. 25
We often use "religious" words without knowing their actual meaning. Without thinking, some have used the word "apostate" to refer to anyone who has changed their views on a single doctrine. What is the Bible definition of an apostate?
"Apostate" Defined by the Bible
"Apostate" is translated from apostasia, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance #646. There are two passages of Scripture using this word:
(1) Acts 21:20-21, " . . . many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law: And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs."
This was totally untrue, verse 24, as Paul did not teach anyone to apostatize from the law of Moses.
(2) II Thessalonians 2:3, " . . . for that day (the coming of our Lord verse 1) shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition."
There would be a falling away (apostatizing) from the truth, verse 10, NOT an organization. There would be a leader in this apostasy, the man of sin, opposing the Almighty. Apostates are led into strong delusions, that they should believe a lie. They shall be condemned, verses 11-12. The way to avoid apostasy, verse 15, is to stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught.
From these two passages, it is obvious that an apostate is one who has utterly renounced the very foundation of the true faith, not just one who adheres to a doctrinal error (heresy), although departure from any part of the truth can and often does lead to total falling away. Under the Old Covenant, physical circumcision was the very seal of the covenant. Rejecting it would be foundational, like rejecting baptism under the New Covenant. The apostate once knew the truth, but now has "pleasure in unrighteousness" II Thessalonians 2:12. He revels in what formerly his conscience forbade him to do. His conscience is seared, I Timothy 4:1-2. He has deliberately renounced his faith and convictions.
Webster’s unabridged dictionary elaborates on the meaning of "apostasy" and "apostate." They come from the Greek word apostates, which means rebels, deserters. The meaning of apostate is clear: one who has renounced or forsaken his religious faith, a total desertion or departure, one who has given up the principles to which he once adhered, the abandonment of former allegiance.
It should not be difficult to identify some of today’s apostates. Most of us know personally former brethren who, as we say, have "given up everything." They are returned to the same mire and filth of the world from which they were once washed clean, II Peter 2:20-21.
Others we know of, have departed in significant areas from truth once held. They may be grossly in error in one or several major Biblical teachings. They have not (yet) totally departed from the faith. They are in the process of giving heed to seducing spirits, doctrines of demons, I Timothy 4:1. One might say they are apostatizing, giving up by inches, on the way toward becoming apostates (total deserters). They need our prayers and help, not the cold shoulder of rejection, Jude 21-23.
A Departure With No Return Possible?
Another Bible word is apostasion, Strong’s #647, a word related to apostasia.
Matthew 5:31-32, "It hath been said, whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement." See also Matthew 19:7, Mark 10:4.
Thus, apostasion was a total severance of the marriage bond, final and irrevocable. In human terms, it was so final and absolute that the husband could never take the divorced wife back, Deuteronomy 24:1-4. It was as if the marriage vow had never existed.
Thus, apostasy is a total severance of all former relationships. It has gone so far that a return is impossible (see Hebrews 6: 4-6).
Can an apostate ever return? One would think from the evidence presented, that the answer is "no." However, from the analogy given in Jeremiah 3:1-14, it appears that after the Eternal divorced Israel, He was still married to her and wanted her back, even predicting her renewal, verses 15-25. Remember also the story of King Manasseh, II Chronicles 33.
It is best to leave the judging to our Savior. Let us not be guilty of condemnatory judgment of others, Matthew 7:1-5.
The Unpardonable Sin
Hebrews 6:1-8 brings additional light on the subject of apostasy. In verse 6, the word for "fall away" is parapipto (Strong’s #3895), which means "to apostatize, or fall away from the faith."
After listing the foundational principles of the true faith, Paul shows that it is impossible for those who were once enlightened and understood, who believed and lived by the truth, having been led by the Holy Spirit, if they apostatize, to be renewed again to repentance, seeing they shame the sacrifice of the Messiah. Their end, verse 8, is to be burned in the lake of fire.
So there is a point of no return, when even the Creator’s mercy, such as He extends to backsliding Israel, has been totally exhausted. But as in the case of King Manasseh, let us be careful lest we judge too soon, too harshly. It is not easy to determine such cases.
Antidote For Apostasy
"Will I ever be an apostate?" Each of us should ask ourselves this vital question, and insure against the potential loss of our salvation. We have already touched upon one major antidote to apostasy, standing fast in the traditions you have been taught, II Thessalonians 2:15.
There is no need to fear, for when apostasy or falling away is mentioned in the Scriptures, the way to avoid the problem is also given. It is found in "ministering to the saints" Hebrews 6:10 in the context of 6:1-8, and pulling others out of the fire (not standing back and saying they are apostates and deserve it), Jude 21-24 in the context of the rest of the epistle. And again, admonishing as a brother, those who are in the process of apostatizing, II Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15 in the context of 2:1-12. See also Hebrews 10:24-25 in the light of verses 26-29, 39.
These clear passages show that we must take an active part in combating apostasy. We cannot just condemn apostates, without making an attempt to rescue them from their impending fate. This is our labor of love, Hebrews 6:10, the work that we must be about at this time, when so many have indeed apostatized.
What is an apostate? It is one who has totally renounced his faith, awaiting certain execution, unless he is rescued from the coming fire. He is awaiting our help, and with our prayers, the mercy of the Almighty.
Keep yourselves in the love of God, all the while awaiting the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life. Convince some who doubt, but save others by snatching them from the fire; on still others have pity mingled with great caution, loathing even the clothing that has been polluted by their sensuality. Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling [apostatizing] and to present you faultless in the presence of His glory with abounding joy . . . Amen. Jude 21-25 (Modern Language translation)
Let us not be apostates. W
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