In its wider definition, heresy is an opinion contrary to the orthodox tenets of the true emunah (faith). From the Greek, haíreses, it properly means 'choice', and it is this meaning which has always been in the Septuagint (LXX). As used by classical authors, it can refer to a philosophical school which the individual chooses to follow. In the same way, the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) use the word to denote a 'party', with the suggestion of self-will or sectarian spirit. Yet in none of these examples are the parties described in a state of schism from the parent body.
The Sadducees (Ac.5:17) and the Pharisees (Ac.15:5; 26:5) formed sects within the fold of first century Judaism and the same word is used to describe Christianity or Messianism as seen from outside (Ac.25:5,14; 28:22). When parties appeared in the early Messianic Community (Church) they were called 'heresies' (1 Cor.11:19, where Paul, either with a touch of irony, or else in acknowledgement of the ways of providence, remarks that they are at least a means of bringing leaders to the top).
Such divisions were regarded as a work of the flesh (Gal.5:20), and primarily as a breach of mutual ahavah/agapé (love) or charity, so that the heretic, i.e. the man (or woman) who stubbornly chooses to follow his own group, is to be rejected after two admonitions (Tit.3:10).
The first use of 'heresy' in the modern sense of doctrinal error occurs in 2 Peter where denial of the Redeemer is viewed as the worst possible kind:
Among incipient heresies (Jewish, Hellenistic and pagan) mentioned in the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament), the following two are the most prominent:
"But there were also false nevi'im (prophets) among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Master who bought them - bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of emet (truth) into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping" (2 Peter 2:1-3, NIV).
In the broadest sense, heresy is any teaching that diverts believers from the true Besorah (Gospel) toward doctrine that erodes the foundations of emunah (faith), leads to ungodly living, and destroys the echadness or unity in the Messianic Community (Church). This, then, is the sense which we use the word here, heresy being a wrong teaching (often in small though widening steps) that leads ultimately to spiritual destruction.
- 1. A Jewish variety of Gnosticism (Col.2:8-23); and
- 2. Docetism, the belief that Messiah's physical nature and humanity was only apparent (1 Jn.4:2-3; 2 Jn.7)
Heresy has always been present in the Messianic Community (Church). In this sub-site we identity the more important ones in the 21st century.