10 Warnings Signs of False Teachers

10 Warnings Signs of False Teachers May 16, 2023

What are the signs of a “false teacher?”

It is one of those terms that Christians throw around too easily.

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Regularly, when you get down to it, it is actually shorthand for, “A person who disagrees with me on some disputable matter.” We can turn anyone into a false teacher, even if their teaching or conduct does not warrant it.

To use the phrase this way is dishonouring and, to be honest, lazy. It’s something people reach for when they want to win the argument and have run out of things to say, but we should able to debate and discuss biblical differences without insulting the other person to such a degree.

False teachers are something that we are certainly warned to watch for. But the Bible has very specific points on what constitutes a false teacher, and most of the time the term does not get used properly or biblically.

So what exactly constitutes a “false teacher?” What exactly should we be looking for?


  1. False teachers teach what is contrary to “the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching,” (1Tim 6.3). No doubt there will be some debate over what “godly teaching” means or how different people may interpret the words of Jesus. But the warning is clear that the words of Jesus are to be taken seriously, and we are to be wary of those who regularly move away from what Christ had to say.


  1. False teachers’ character are marked by arrogance, ignorance, an “unhealthy interest in controversies,” quarrelling about words, and a ministry that results in envy, strife, malicious talk, paranoia, and friction (1Tim 6.4-5). Much of the New Testament warnings on false teachers warns about their character, not just their teaching. If one is truly growing in the Word, this should be showing up in how they live their lives, and not just their Bible knowledge or charismatic preaching. While of course we are extending much grace to one another, knowing that none are perfect, we should expect our teachers to hold a higher standard, and if the fruit of their ministry consistently involves things like what is listed here, even after accountability and correction, we should rightly be concerned.


  1. False teachers are marked with “godless chatter,” which makes people who engage in it more and more ungodly (2Tim 2.16-17). Sometimes this shows up in teaching, but more likely it arises off the platform. If a person sounds completely different in private than they do in public, we should take note of this.


  1. False teachers get caught up in “foolish and stupid arguments” which lead to quarrels, whereas by contrast the Lord’s true servant “must not be quarrelsome, but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful,” and gentle (2Tim 2.23-25). Some people just like to fight, especially over Bible matters, and to be certain disagreements will comes. But the way in which we disagree is very important, as are the hills we choose to die on. Again, this warning is less about the teaching itself than it is about the nature of the teacher, and so we look at how teachers handle those in disagreement with them to help us discern whether they are a voice we should be listening to.


  1. False teachers “worm their way” into peoples’ lives and seek control (2Tim 3.6). Jesus never forced anyone to obey Him, but simply taught and then said, “Whoever has ears, let them hear,” (e.g. Mt 11.15, etc.). Those looking for power often use manipulation and domineering tactics in order to “win over” their audience, but the wise and mature see through these tactics for what they are.


  1. False teachers “oppose the truth,” (2Tim 3.8). Again, this can be harder to determine when it comes to matters such as predestination or the role of women in the Church or the nature of spiritual gifts today, where sincere believers can sincerely find different ways to understand the Word of truth. Certainly it should apply to an overall attitude towards truth and how seriously one is committed to Scripture.


  1. False teachers say what peoples’ “itching ears want to ear,” turning away from truth and turning to myths (2Tim 4.3-4). The way of Jesus is always good and right but it is also challenging (Mt 16.24-27), and anytime, on any issue, that a teacher is telling us exactly what we want to hear, it is at least worth pausing to discern whether that is indeed truth, or whether it is just what we want to be truth.


  1. False teachers deny core basic tenets of the faith (2Pet 2.1). Again, the list of what is included here is debatable, but certainly the classic creeds of orthodoxy should be a good guide of things that we would expect agreement on.


  1. False teachers are driven by greed, both for money and for influence (2Pet 2.2-3). Money gets a lot of attention, but the influence piece might be more dangerous, and is much more widespread, as even the tiniest church can fall prey to this, whether they have any money or not. Watch for the ones who seek hard after platform and position and acknowledgment, as this often means that there is something darker under the surface.


  1. False teachers speak “empty, boastful words” and bring people back into bondage instead of freedom (2Pet 2.18-19). The Gospel ultimately comes to set us free (Gal 5.1), and teachers should ultimately be bringing people in greater freedom in and for Christ. Those who boast in themselves or their ministries, while pulling people back into bondage, show the truth about themselves.


Now, just because we notice one or two of these things in someone from time to time does not mean we level charges against them. These are overall patterns of behaviour, over time, that we are wanting to keep in mind as we evaluate a teacher or ministry.

Even knowing these things, we should still be very careful how we use the term “false teacher.” We are not God. We are to be watchful, we are to be careful who we listen to, and where we see these signs, we are to avoid such teachers.

When in disagreement with a certain teacher, we should never be afraid of listening to what they have to say at first, as reasonable people can disagree on certain matters where the Scriptures are less clear and it may not be an issue (see Romans 14, or where we have written on this previously here).

But where we consistently hear teaching that we know departs from the core tenets of the faith, and where we see character that is not in line with Christ, and where we see bad fruit regularly coming from their ministry, then we are right to be concerned, and to not let that teacher or ministry influence our lives.

If there is someone connected to that person or ministry that we can share our concerns with, we should. Other than that, we pray for them in love, and leave them in God’s hands to do with whatever He knows is best, without elevating ourselves over them or thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought. Judgment is ultimately God’s job, and remain humble when we let Him take care of things.


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