One of of the most important prophecies found in the New Testament was this one given to the Apostle Paul by God the Holy Spirit :
“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and DOCTRINES OF DEMONS; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats” (1 Timothy 4:1-3a)
If one does a web search for “doctrines of demons” one will find a diversity of opinions concerning these “doctrines”. For example, on the SermonAudio website, I’ve noticed that different preachers, whose sincerity and zeal for Christ I do not question (let us thank God for faithful preachers!), have used the previously quoted prophecy as a springboard text for denouncing various false teachings/groups (e.g. Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Neo-orthodoxy, etc…). I believe that this use of the text as a springboard text for diverse heresies is unfortunate because it can create confusion in the minds of some by promoting a wrong interpretation of this specific prophecy. I believe like other Bible teachers of past centuries that this prophecy has a specific application and is associated with the greatest apostasy in the history of professing Christianity. The biggest in terms of number of adherents. The biggest in terms of pretensions (e.g. religious authority, exclusivity and fidelity concerning holding Christian truth). The biggest in terms of historical/political/geographical/economic importance. The biggest in terms of maintaining ignorance and spiritual darkness. The biggest in terms of wielding power to both persecute true believers and oppose the true Gospel of justification (in other words, how a person can be made just by God or declared forensically just by Him) before God by His grace (unmerited favor) through the means of God-given faith (the object of that faith being the Biblical testimony concerning the Person and Works of Jesus Christ of Nazareth). The biggest in terms of ecumenical relations with non-Christian religions (e.g. Islam, modern Judaism, Buddhism, etc…). No other group comes close. How often do we read in the New Testament the words “the Spirit speaketh expressly”? This prophecy is important and worthy of our attention and scrutiny. This is an important prophecy about an important group of apostates. The most important group of apostates ever. Second to none. Any future apostates (if we are to understand the true fulfillment of this prophecy as still being future) would be hard pressed to match the skill of the group of apostates I am referring to in terms of deceiving professing Christians and sending hundreds of millions of souls to an eternal hell. When there already has been fulfillment why should we “look for another” group of apostates?
I believe before trying to interpret the passage itself one should look at the immediate context. Let us note a few things concerning the context:
POINT 1: this epistle is written by an apostle, Paul, to a local church leader, Timothy; in other words, a CHURCH LEADER writing to another CHURCH LEADER
POINT 2: why was this epistle written? “These things write I unto thee… that thou mayest know HOW TO OUGHTEST TO BEHAVE THYSELF IN THE HOUSE OF GOD, which is THE CHURCH OF THE LIVING GOD, the pillar and ground of the truth.” (1st Timothy 3:14a,15) This epistle concerns the workings of a local, visible Christian church and how its leaders are to behave within it. This must be kept in mind when interpreting the prophecy. The last quoted passage is located close to the prophecy found in the beginning of chapter 4.
POINT 3: this prophecy is immediately written after Paul had mentioned the qualifications needed for BISHOPS and DEACONS (CHURCH LEADERS) with one of these qualifications being adherence to the mystery of piety/godliness (1st Timothy 3:16) which is centered on the Lord Jesus Christ; is it not probable that the “some” who depart from the faith would be first and foremost CHURCH LEADERS when one considers Paul in the preceding chapter was dealing with BISHOPS and DEACONS?
Pause. Would it be much of a stretch to say that the first 3 points I mention seem to imply that the apostasy would chiefly be associated with church leaders in particular rather than to the “laity”? Let us remember that Timothy was at the time a church leader at Ephesus. Paul had spoken of coming apostasy to the elders of Ephesus gathered together in these words: “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also OF YOUR OWN SELVES (PAUL IS ADDRESSING CHURCH LEADERS) SHALL MEN ARISE, SPEAKING PERVERSE THINGS, TO DRAW AWAY DISCIPLES AFTER THEM.” (Acts of the Apostles 20:29-30)
POINT 4: the apostasy from the faith is mentioned right after the declaration of the mystery of faith; it seems to imply that the apostasy would be a falling away from at least one of the points previously mentioned in the mystery of faith or possibly from other Christological doctrines found in this epistle (e.g. Christ being the only Mediator between God and men – 1st Timothy 2:5)
POINT 5: the apostasy is mentioned as future to the time of the writing of the epistle so it cannot refer to existing groups in Paul’s day or even past groups; this apostasy would be something new/different; in Paul’s last epistle (2nd Timothy) he still mentions the apostasy as future; if prior to writing his first epistle to Timothy Paul had already written his epistle to the Colossians which some believe dealt with Gnostic heresies then that would mean Gnostics were already present in Paul’s day and consequently could not constitute a future apostasy; in John’s first epistle which some believe dealt with Gnosticism it speaks of antichrists (plural) in his day and one AntiChrist who was yet to come (1st John 2:18) so again Gnosticism existing in John’s day cannot be the prophesied apostasy
POINT 6: evil spirits – in other words, fallen angels – would be instrumental in bringing about this apostasy; do the words “giving heed to seducing spirits” mean that the spirits might have appeared to these apostates in a special way (e.g. a speaking apparition imparting false teachings)? It’s a possibility but not necessarily the only way of interpreting the words. Could it involve some form of demon possession (John 13:27)? Possibly but not necessarily.
POINT 7: this apostasy would be associated with “doctrines of demons” which can mean doctrines (plural) authored by demons (the same evil spirits mentioned earlier in the same verse) or (false) doctrines/views concerning demons themselves; let us notice that it speaks of demonS (plural); they are not called “the doctrines of a demon (singular)” or “the doctrines of Satan”; since this is the only place where the exact term “doctrines of demons” appears a study of the usage within the Bible of the underlying Greek word translated “demons” will be necessary and useful especially if we are to understand the words as specifically meaning doctrines CONCERNING demons
POINT 8: this apostasy would be associated with some apostates forbidding others to marry; it would imply that the ones who are forbidding have some form of authority; where would this authority be exerted? since Paul is dealing with the inner workings of a local church it would not be farfetched to say that the authority would be ecclesiastical (within a local church) rather than political (outside the local church); this marriage prohibition would be necessarily unbiblical/legalistic going beyond what is written in the Bible; think about it… why would Paul associate with apostasy a Biblical prohibition concerning marriage (e.g. Christians should not marry unbelievers – see 1st Corinthians 7:39b which has the words “only in the Lord” in connection to marriage)?
POINT 9: the other traits of this coming apostasy would be associated with commanding to abstain from meats; it should be understood that the same ones forbidding marriage to some or all are the same commanding others to abstain from meats (unless history would show us otherwise); this prohibition would necessarily be an unbiblical/legalistic prohibition; think about it… why would Paul associate with apostasy a Biblical prohibition concerning food (e.g. not eating blood – see Acts chapter 15, verse 29)?
POINT 10: this apostasy would be associated with human liars and hypocrites having a deadened conscience
POINT 11: this epistle was written by the Apostle to the GENTILES (Paul) to a church leader who was a half-GENTILE (Timothy) living in a GENTILE city (Ephesus); interestingly, twice in the declaration of the mystery of piety/godliness (which immediately precedes the prophecy) are Gentiles referred to (“the Gentiles”, “the world”); was the Holy Spirit possibly trying to give us a clue concerning the place where this apostasy would take place (THE GENTILE WORLD) or the racial identity of the apostate teachers (GENTILES)? If that be the case then this prophecy could not be about Judaizers for example. Judaizers already existed in Paul’s day and could not be the subject of a prophecy. Since the apostasy was still future in Paul’s day it could not refer to an existing ascetic group like the Jewish Essenes. When did the Essenes ever have authority within professing Christianity to forbid marriage to anyone? The Essenes were never part of the Christian Church so could not have been said to have “departed from the faith”. If the Essenes are the guilty party referred to in the prophecy why didn’t the Holy Sprit tell us “expressly” and prevent any fruitless speculating? Why would the Holy Spirit bother to give a prophecy through Paul to a half-Gentile, half-Jew church leader (Timothy) living in a Gentile city concerning a geographically isolated and limited group like the Jewish Essenes when He does not even bother to move any of one of His servants to mention the Essenes explicitly in any of the New Testament historical accounts? Were Jewish Essenes traveling all around the world infiltrating Gentiles churches in order to spread unbiblical asceticism? Not to my knowledge. How big a threat are Essenes to Biblical Christianity today?
POINT 12: since this prophecy was first given to a church leader in Ephesus it is possible also that the Holy Spirit is giving us a historical clue concerning the rise of this apostasy; the study of the relatively brief Christian history of Ephesus (starting from Paul’s first long stay there) may thus help us in our identification of this apostasy; it’s interesting to note that Ephesus is one of the seven churches of Asia Minor addressed by the apostle John in the Book of Revelation which does prophesy of apostasy in connection with a city sitting on seven hills which ruled over other nations in the Apostle John’s day (1st century); it is possible that the Holy Spirit is giving us an additional clue that both Revelation and 1st Timothy chapter 4 are dealing with the same coming apostasy?
POINT 13: this apostasy is foretold to occur in the “latter times”; these “latter times” were latter to the Apostle Paul and so far, we’ve had 19 centuries of history latter to the Apostle Paul since he died as a martyr; whether or not these latter times in connection to the prophecy refer to a period of long duration or a short period is to be ascertained; the historical fulfillment of the characteristics of the apostasy taken together (doctrines of demons, forbidding to marry, commanding to abstain from meats, hypocrites) will be our guide in that regard
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