Eight Symptoms of False Teaching

Pastor Colin Smith (@PastorColinS) of Unlocking the Bible recently offered 7 Traits of False Teachers on The Gospel Coalition’s website. In it, he contrasts the teaching 2 Peter 1 and 2 to show several traits of a false teacher. Over 100 years ago, J.C. Ryle shared a similar list that focused on symptoms of false teaching that still has tremendous relevance for the church today.

Here are Bishop J.C. Ryle’s eight symptoms of false teaching:

1. There is an undeniable zeal in some teachers of error–their “earnestness” makes many people think they must be right.

2. There is a great appearance of learning and theological knowledge–many think that such clever and intellectual men must surely be safe to listen to.

3. There is a general tendency to completely free and independent thinking today–many like to prove their independence of judgment by believing the newest ideas, which are nothing but novelties.

4. There is a wide-spread desire to appear kind, loving, and open-minded–many seem half-ashamed to say that anybody can be wrong or is a false teacher.

5. There is always a portion of half-truth taught by modern false teachers–they are always using scriptural words and phrases, but with unscriptural meaning.

6. There is a public craving for a more sensational and entertaining worship–people are impatient with the more inward and invisible work of God within the hearts of men.

7. There is a superficial readiness all around to believe anyone who talks cleverly, lovingly and earnestly, forgetting that Satan often masquerades himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14).

8. There is a wide-spread ignorance among professing Christians–every heretic who speaks well is surely believed, and anyone who doubts him is called narrow-minded and unloving.

All these are especially symptoms of our times. I challenge any honest and observant person to deny them. These tend to make the assaults of false doctrine today especially dangerous and make it even more important to say loudly, “Do not be carried away with strange doctrine!”

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Kevin Halloran is a Christian, blogger, and coffee aficionado. He serves with Leadership Resources International, training pastors to preach God’s Word with God’s heart. Follow Kevin on Twitter or visit his blog.

Date Posted: Apr 30th, 2013

  • KevinHalloran

    Hey @melanienlee:disqus and @leonardhoy:disqus…I think you’re both missing a crucial part of this post: they are symptoms of false teaching and not descriptions. I.e. false teaching can lead to each of the 8 symptoms. It doesn’t say that if a teacher can be described by any of the thoughts on 1-8 they are a false teacher…

    Hope that helps!

  • derek

    I understand your approach here but I think you should add some things. The bible says you will know them by their love, also says you will know them by their fruits. The bible encourages us to study His word so that we can identify the truth. To be able to clearly identify the offered symptoms one must know “Truth” for themselves they must study Gods word for themselves otherwise serious confusion and false accusations or judgments are made. Some of these symptoms will also apply to well intentioned people. You told the others who posted that they missed a crucial part of understanding your article however at the end of your article you challenged people to “deny them”. I think it better to encourage them to be prepared to properly identify the difference because just because someone may do one of these things does not particularly mean they are false. With that said I agree there is much truth to your article which is simply stating that there are false teachers who will look very good on the outside and say good things but have no clue or understanding of what they are saying and may not even have good intentions.