Solid Food
False Teacher

Luis D. Zamora

There is an element among churches of Christ that maintains that the "false teacher" of 2 Peter 2:1 is actually a "lying teacher," rather than "one who teaches something that is false." The argument sounds good, maybe, until one considers the whole scriptural picture and "the whole counsel of God." Today we are finding preachers, men who have been faithful for many years, who are teaching that one must know a person has intent to deceive in order to mark that person as a false teacher. In other words, they maintain we must not mark someone who teaches error "in all sincerity." And their justification for this is solely their subjective claim that the "false teacher" of 2 Peter 2:1 means a "lying teacher."

The Greek word underlying "false teacher" in 2 Peter 2:1 is pseudo-didaskalos, and this verse is the only occurrence of that word in the entire New Testament. (However, the fact that this is the only occurrence of the word does not establish their doctrine, for we shall see there is more information supplied by the use of the word "false" elsewhere.) "False teacher" is absolutely the best translation of the word there is, for reasons herein noted. The word is a compound of the Greek pseud(os) (meaning "false") and didaskalos (meaning "teacher"). I believe a closer examination of the word underlying "false teacher" in the lexicon and in context in the New Testament will better define its connotations for our application.

Let's go to the lexicon and see that the "false" in "false teacher" means: “pseudos: a falsehood, untruth, or lie” (Liddell & Scott; Oxford).

While the word can admittedly mean "lie" (implying intent), the "false" can also simply be something that is not true, a mistake, if you will. The same is also true of the word “false” in English. You can say something that is false without meaning to. It will still be false. But you can also falsify documents, which is premeditated and outright lying. But that is also termed "false" in English. This is exactly what it means in Greek, and this is why "false teacher" is the best translation.

One could well ask the question of those who hold to the obscure and narrow definition (false = lying), "Don't you believe it can also mean 'mistaken'?" Liddell & Scott say that the verb pseudo can (and does--they quote it from ancient texts!) mean "mistaken in or about a thing," "mistaken in opinion," "deceived in notion or estimation." An alternate form of the verb was used this way in another text: "..which I do not speak falsely about him."

So you see that our "false teacher" can be a "lying teacher," but can also be a "mistaken teacher." There is no justification for saying he must have intent to deceive. A false teacher can be sincerely deceived and sincerely deceive others through the false doctrines he preaches.

Allow me to illustrate this point by looking at some other words in other contexts in the New Testament that use the same pseudo root (list not exhaustive):

2 Corinthians 11:13: "For that kind are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ." Why does Paul have to say they are both "false" and "deceitful" if "false" necessarily means "deceitful?"

1 Timothy 4:1-2: "The Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will apostatize from the faith by heeding misleading spirits and demons' teachings, speaking falsehoods in hypocrisy since their own conscience will have been seared." Why does Paul have to say both "falsehoods" and "hypocrisy" if they mean the same thing?

1 Timothy 6:20: "Timothy, guard what was given into your care by turning aside from impure and vain talking and from the contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge." Do scientists and philosophers intend to mislead? Surely some do, but certainly not all. When one calls science knowledge, but is proven wrong in time, was he necessarily lying, or just mistaken?

Besides all the above evidence, Greek has words that mean "deceiving, misleading, tricking" (c.f. Mark 13:5-6; John 7:12), so if Peter had meant deceitful or lying teacher, he could easily have said that explicitly. If we take pseudos to mean strictly a lie, saying that there must be intent to deceive, we rob the Greek language of the ability to express "untruth" or "mistake." Seriously now, if pseudos must mean "lie," then how does one say "untruth" in Greek?

Now, brethren, apart from our search for the meaning of the word "false" itself, is it not still true that error causes people to be lost? Why does someone have to intend to mislead you in order for his or her teaching to be harmful? Please allow me to use an illustration from an experienced preacher: A child was once very ill in the middle of the night. His mother went to the bathroom in the dark and got some pills for him. But that child died by morning because mother had picked up poison rather than the medicine she thought she was giving her son. Mother gave her son the pills "in all good conscience," but it was still poison, and the child still died. False teaching is like this, brethren. A person with good intentions can still teach error that causes people to be lost. Witness Billy Graham. Witness the Pope. These two individuals, it can be said, both have the best of intentions, but their doctrines are just plain false, and those who believe them rather than God will be lost. Whether or not it is well-intended, error causes people to be lost. That is why we must mark those who teach what is false whether they intend to deceive or not.

I grant that the word "false" in the New Testament can mean lying, liar, deceiver. But it is not necessarily so -- and in many contexts is clearly not so. Basing an entire plan of action (or inaction) upon the need for the word to imply more than its basest meaning is perhaps not our wisest decision.

e-mail this author at

Return to Watchman Front Page

return to June index