Speaking of False Teachers: A Primer (Part 1)

The Council of Nicaea and the Death of Arius

The Council of Nicaea and the Death of Arius

How does one speak about those with hierarchical authority who contradict church teaching, leading the faithful astray? Even if they are priests, bishops, and cardinals? Should one have sensitive dialogue with schismatics and heretics? Compromise for the sake of unity and peace? Avoid stirring the ecclesial pot? Meet them where they are and find common ground? Respect their office and thereby respect their lies?

Jesus, Scripture, and the Saints say “no more mister nice guy” for false teachers. So should it be today if anyone “corrupts the gospel.”

Examples of corruption include:

  • Telling the faithful it is fine and virtuous that the remarried without annulment, who have some but not the fullness of marriage, can now receive the sacraments without committing grave sin.
  • Touting that those publicly engaged in sinful conduct, who simply say they love each other, can be welcomed by the church without repentance and can continue in their sin without heeding Jesus’s words “Go and sin no more.”

Interestingly, several of the scriptural admonitions are addressed to those who proclaim false teaching for the sake of monetary gain. History repeats itself.

Thesaurus for False Teachers:

Brood of Vipers, Serpents

Jesus: “You brood of vipers, how can you speak good things when you are evil?” (Matthew 12:34).

“You serpents, you brood of vipers” (Matthew 23:33).

John the Baptist: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers . . .” (Matthew 3:7).


Jesus: “But woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It were better for that man if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24).


St. Paul: “Now I exhort you, brethren, that you watch those who cause dissensions and scandals contrary to the doctrine that you have learned, and avoid them. For such do not serve Christ Our Lord but their own belly” (Romans 16:17-18).


St. Paul: “For many walk, of whom I have told you often and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is ruin, their god is their belly, their glory is in their shame, they mind the things of earth” (Phillipians 3:17-19).

Lying Teachers Who Seek Financial Gain

St. Paul: “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain” (1 Timothy 6:3-5).

St. Jude: “These dreamers in the same way pollute themselves, reject authority, and slander the angels. . .They are damned . . . These people are like jagged rocks just below the surface of the water waiting to snag you when they join your love feasts. They feast with you without reverence. They care only for themselves. They are waterless clouds carried along by the winds; fruitless autumn trees, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom the darkness of the underworld is reserved forever. … These are grumbling murmurers walking according to their lusts. And haughty in speech, they cultivate people for the sake of gain” (Jude 1:5-19).

St. Peter: “And in their greed they will exploit you with false words” (2 Pet 2:3).              “They have hearts trained in greed” (2 Pet 2:14).

False Teachers

St.Paul: “Remind them of these things and warn them in the sight of God not to engage in battles over words that aren’t helpful and only destroy those who hear them…Avoid their godless discussions, because they will lead many people into ungodly behavior, and their ideas will spread like an infection. This includes Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have deviated from the truth…This has undermined some people’s faith” (2 Timothy: 14-18).


Jesus: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. … Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:13, 27-28).


St. Paul: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be accursed!” (Galatians 1: 6-9). (St. Athanasius refers to this text several times.)

Accursed, Blots, Blemishes, Depraved, Arrogant, Seducers, Dogs in Their Vomit, Sows Wallowing in Mud

St. Peter

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgement; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) — if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment. This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority.

Bold and arrogant, they are not afraid to heap abuse on celestial beings; yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not heap abuse on such beings when bringing judgment on them from the Lord.

But these people blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like unreasoning animals, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like animals they too will perish.

They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer, who loved the wages of wickedness. But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey—an animal without speech—who spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.

These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.” If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud” (2 Peter 2).

Hireling Cowards

Jesus: “The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep” (John 10:12-13).


Jesus: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves” (Matthew 7:15).

In part two we will learn from the example of St. Athanasius.

Guy McClung, J.D., Ph.D. received his law degree from the University of Texas and his doctorate in philosophy from Rice University, with a specialization in the philosophy of law. Unable to give up his day job as a patent attorney, he writes in his spare time unless that time is spent with his wife of forty-two years who is pointing him toward heaven. His bedtime reading is St. Thomas Aquinas and the Fathers of the Church.