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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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HERESY . The word ‘heresy’ (Gr. hairesis ) is never used in the NT in the technical sense in which we find it by the first quarter of the 2nd cent., as a doctrinal departure from the true faith of the Church, implying a separation from its communion. The usual NT meaning of hairesis is simply a party, school, or sect; and sect is the word by which it is most frequently rendered. In Acts this is the invariable use. Thus it is applied to the parties of the Pharisees and Sadducees ( Acts 5:17 , Acts 15:5 , Acts 26:5 ), precisely as in Jos. [Note: Josephus.] ( Ant . XIII. v. 9). Similarly it is used of the followers of Christ, though not by themselves ( Acts 24:5; Acts 24:14 , Acts 28:22 ). In Acts 24:14 St. Paul substitutes ‘the Way’ for his accusers’ term ‘a sect .’ The reason may partly have been that in his own usage hairesis , while still bearing the general sense of ‘party,’ had come to convey a reproach as applied to Christians.

There was nothing that distressed St. Paul more than the presence of strife and party-feeling among his converts. The unity of the Church as the body of Christ was one of his ruling ideas (1 Corinthians 12:12 ff., Romans 12:5 , Ephesians 1:22 f., Ephesians 5:23 ff., Colossians 1:18; Colossians 1:24; Colossians 2:19 ); and the existence of factions, as fatal to the sense of unity, was strongly deprecated and condemned ( Galatians 5:20 , 1 Corinthians 11:19; cf. ‘heretic,’ Titus 3:10 ). ‘Heresy’ was division or schism ( 1 Corinthians 11:18-19 shows that ‘heresy’ and ‘division’ [Gr. schisma ] were practically synonymous); and ‘schism’ was a rending or cleaving of the body of Christ ( 1 Corinthians 12:25; 1 Corinthians 12:27 ). It was not doctrinal aberration from the truth, however, but practical breaches of the law of brotherly love that the Apostle condemned under the name of ‘heresy’ (see esp., as illustrating this, 1 Corinthians 11:19 ff.).

Outside of Acts and the Pauline Epp., hairesis is used in the NT only in 2 Peter 2:1 . In this, probably the latest of the NT writings, we see a marked advance towards the subsequent ecclesiastical meaning of the word. The ‘damnable (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘destructive’) heresies’ here spoken of spring not merely from a selfish and factious spirit, but from false teaching. As yet, however, there seems to be no thought of the existence of heretical bodies outside of the general Christian communion. The heresies are false teachings (v. 1) leading to ‘licentious doings’ (v. 2), but they are ‘brought in,’ says the writer, ‘among you.’

J. C. Lambert.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Heresy'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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