Holman Bible Dictionary
Old Testament The Old Testament speaks of “falling away” in terms of a person's deserting to a foreign king (2 Kings 25:11 ; Jeremiah 37:13-14 ; Jeremiah 39:9 ; Jeremiah 52:15 ). Associated ideas, however, include the concept of religious unfaithfulness: “rebellion” (Joshua 22:22 ); “cast away” (2 Chronicles 29:19 ); “trespass” (2 Chronicles 33:19 ); and “backslidings” (Jeremiah 2:19 ; Jeremiah 8:5 ). NAS uses “apostasy” in Jeremiah 8:5 and Hosea 14:4 with the plural in Jeremiah 2:19 ; Jeremiah 5:6 ; Jeremiah 14:7 .
The prophets picture Israel's history as the history of turning from God to other gods, from His law to injustice and lawlessness, from His anointed king to foreign kings, and from His word to the word of foreign kings. This is defined simply as forsaking God, not fearing Him (Jeremiah 2:19 ). Such action was sin, for which the people had to ask forgiveness (Jeremiah 14:7-9 ) and repent (Jeremiah 8:4-7 ). The basic narrative of Judges, Samuel, Kings is that Israel fell away from God, choosing selfish ways rather than His ways. Exile resulted. Still God's fallen people had hope. In freedom God could choose to turn away His anger and heal their “backsliding” (Hosea 14:4 ).
New Testament The English word “apostasy” is derived from a Greek word (apostasia ) that means, “to stand away from.” The Greek noun occurs twice in the New Testament (Acts 21:21 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:3 ), though it is not translated as “apostasy” in the King James Version. A related noun is used for a divorce (Matthew 5:31 ; Matthew 19:7 ; Mark 10:4 ). The corresponding Greek verb occurs nine times.
Acts 21:21 states an accusation made against Paul that he was leading Jews outside Palestine to abandon the law of Moses. Such apostasy was defined as failing to circumcise Jewish children and to observe distinctive Jewish customs.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:3 Paul addressed those who had been deceived into believing that the day of the Lord had already come. He taught that an apostasy would precede the day of the Lord. The Spirit had explicitly revealed this falling away from the faith ( 1 Timothy 4:1 ). Such apostasy in the latter times will involve doctrinal deception, moral insensitivity, and ethical departures from God's truth.
Associated New Testament concepts include the parable of the soils, in which Jesus spoke of those who believe for a while but “fall away” in time of temptation (Luke 8:13 ). At the judgment, those who work iniquity will be told to “depart” (Luke 13:27 ). Paul “withdrew” from the synagogue in Ephesus (Acts 19:9 ) because of the opposition he found there, and he counseled Timothy to “withdraw” from those who advocate a different doctrine (1 Timothy 6:3-5 ). Hebrews speaks of falling away from the living God because of “an evil heart of unbelief” (1 Timothy 3:12 ). Those who fall away cannot be renewed again to repentance (Hebrews 6:6 ). Yet God is able to keep the believer from falling (Jude 1:24 ).
Implications Apostasy certainly is a biblical concept, but the implications of the teaching have been hotly debated. The debate has centered on the issue of apostasy and salvation. Based on the concept of God's sovereign grace, some hold that, though true believers may stray, they will never totally fall away. Others affirm that any who fall away were never really saved. Though they may have “believed” for a while, they never experienced regeneration. Still others argue that the biblical warnings against apostasy are real and that believers maintain the freedom, at least potentially, to reject God's salvation.
Persons worried about apostasy should recognize that conviction of sin in itself is evidence that one has not fallen away. Desire for salvation shows one does not have “an evil heart of unbelief.”
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Apostasy'. Holman Bible Dictionary. http://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/a/apostasy.html. 1991.