The church of Christ in the first century was plagued by false teachers known as “Judaizers.” Generally speaking, the Judaizers believed that Christians were required to keep the Law of Moses in order to be part of God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3. Judaizers commanded Gentile Christians to be circumcised (Gal. 2:3-4), kept observance of Jewish feast days (Gal. 4:10-11), and in effect denied that Jesus was necessary for salvation (Gal. 5:4-6).
One sees tremendous similarities between the Judaizers of the first century and those who are preaching false doctrines today. Jesus said that His disciples would know false teachers by their fruits (Matt. 7:15-20), and Paul warned the elders at Ephesus that false teaching was a perpetual danger to the Lord’s church (Acts 20:28ff). Can things be so different today? A wise man once pointed out that, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9-10). What are some common characteristics of false teachers?
They Twist the Truth — Every false doctrine has a kernel of truth. Judaizers looked to God’s promise to Abraham for salvation (Gen. 12:7; Gal. 3:16), but they believed that the promise was fulfilled in Moses’ Law, and not in the cross of Christ (Gal. 3:17-18). Make no mistake: this was a very appealing teaching in the first century church — it took God and the Old Testament seriously, and undoubtedly many sincere people were drawn away by it. We would do well to recognize that dangerous teachings nearly always find their root in some misapplied or distorted Scripture (cf. 2 Pet. 3:16; Matt. 4:1-11)
They Act Out of Pride — False teachers are nearly always motivated by pride — they seek the praise of men more than God. Pride is an exceedingly dangerous sin because it blinds us to reality (Jer. 17:9; Ob. 3). Pride made it easy for the Judaizers to dismiss Paul as an “illegitimate apostle” despite the Divine origins of his message (Gal. 1:11-12). Pride makes it easy for individuals to say, “I know what the Bible says, BUT…” Let us all beware the sin of pride — it can blind and deceive even the most sincere (Matt. 7:21).
They Look for Strength in Numbers — Funny thing about pride is that it always seeks applause. The proud look for an audience to impress, and that is exactly what the Judaizers did. They assembled for themselves a “circle of friends” in which they sought comfort, praise, and reassurance. While there is nothing inherently wrong with friendships, there is something perverse about gathering with those of like mind in order to plot against others and advance some ungodly agenda (Gal. 2:4, 12).
They Attempt to “Divide and Conquer” — Judaizers used their “circle of friends” to create factions in churches. Once established in a local congregation, the Judaizers would systematically seek to either assimilate Christians (as when they pressured Titus and Peter, Gal. 2:4,12), or failing that, to destroy them (as when they attacked Paul’s apostleship, Gal. 1:11-24). Let the church of the 21st century be warned: factions in a local congregation are both an abomination before God and a sign of real spiritual danger (1 Cor. 1:10ff; Jn. 17:20-22).
They Often Use Bullying Tactics — When a false teachers come to an impasse with those who love truth, they will often resort to a “bully” mentality to manipulate their opponents. Judaizers were “name droppers” (Gal. 2:12) and character assassinators (Gal. 1:10ff). They also exerted “peer pressure” on those who were concerned about what people think (Gal. 2:11ff). God’s people desperately need to affirm a love for truth so that the modern-day counterparts of Judaizers will have little success in Christ’s church. —JB