Harry Whittaker
Word Studies


Heretic, Heresy

These English words are simply transliterated Greek: hairetikos, hairesis, which in turn derive from a verb meaning “choose” (as in 2Th. 2:13; Mat 12:18). Hence, the essential idea is that of a “select group”. In the NT, “the sect of the Sadducees” (Acts 5:17), “the sect of the Pharisees...the straitest sect of our religion” (15:5; 26:5). The early believers were at first deemed to be just such another special group: “this sect...everywhere spoken against” (28:22).

The idea of false doctrine was not inherent in these words originally, but simply the notion of a separatist group. Thus, “the Way, which they call heresy” (24:14) is misleading; “which they regard as just another Jewish sect” would be nearer the right idea.

It was the influence of the great age of theological disputation, the fourth century, which changed the word “heresy” to its modern, highly denigratory, meaning. So the apostles’ references to “damnable heresies”, etc. (2Pe 2:1; 1Co 11:19; Gal 5:20) have been rightly rendered by the RV: “factions”. What Peter and Paul were denouncing were separatist splits in the church. Thus “the man that is an heretic” (Tit 3:10) is one who leads a faction in or out of the church. Strange that those who go in for this kind of thing assert stoutly that they are rejecting heresy and separating themselves from its defiling influence! In fact, such a faction leader is “condemned of himself" by his own overt act of separatism (but the man who gives loyalty to a false doctrine does not condemn himself — he is sure he is right!).

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