What does the Bible say about false prophets and teachers? Jesus said in Matthew 7:15-16, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.”
Whenever Jesus tells us to “beware,” he means this in the most literal sense. As Christians we must be on guard, for wolves dress in sheep clothing, trying to masquerade as innocent pastors but in reality are dangerous false prophets and teachers. Wolves are cunning, they prey on sheep rather than on other wolves, and therefore Christians must know how to detect a dangerous leader, for they will not be obvious, especially if you are an accepting person.
1 John 4:1-3 tells us that anyone who does not confess Jesus Christ has come in the flesh from God is a false prophet. This sign of a false prophet is the most obvious. But again, as Jesus warned us, false prophets are crafty and they won’t always reveal themselves this easily. This is why 1 John 4:1 tells us, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
So here are 16 signs of a false prophet and teacher.
1. Many false prophets/teachers are gifted communicators but poor expositors.
The requirement of an elder (pastor) is not gifted communication but the ability to teach the word of God accurately. If someone is pretending to be a good teacher of the Bible when in actually they are simply a gifted orator who uses Christian ideas in their talks, which are presented as sermons, this person is a false teacher/prophet.
Twisting a passage of Scripture to mean something other than its intended meaning is the defining mark of a false prophet or teacher. But because they are cunning, they mask this deception with brilliant communication style.
(1 Timothy 3:2)
2. False prophets/teachers love large crowds rather than deep growth.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to preach to a lot of people. This is a good desire if the motivation is to help many know God more through your preaching. However, a false prophet/teacher loves large groups of people rather than “loving people.” Individuals are a nuisance. They love crowds for the sake of being admired and praised.
3. False prophets/teachers hate being rebuked and disciplined.
You can always know how authentic someone’s faith really is when they get corrected and disciplined. False teachers/prophets love to be seen as the leader, model, and the one doing the rebuking. But their faith is not genuine if they cannot receive corrections because all Christians will at times be in need of loving discipline by others.
4. A false teacher/prophet loves money.
The mark of a true prophet or Bible teacher is not a hatred of money or a vow of poverty. But most false prophets/teachers love money and use the gospel for personal gain.
(2 Corinthians 2:17, Titus 1:7, 1 Timothy 3:3)
5. False prophets/teachers hide problems in their family life.
One of the qualifications for being an elder/pastor is that you manager your own household well. This does not mean, however, there will never be problems in a qualified pastor’s home. Sometimes he can lead well while his family is following poorly.
However, when his poor leadership (which he does not repent of) is the cause of ongoing problems, this is when he is disqualified. A false prophet/teacher knows this, and so they hide the problems in their family. When a good pastor has family issues, he will seek the help of others, overcoming his fear of people judging him.
(1 Timothy 3:4)
6. A false prophet/teacher is often accompanied by a spiritually immature spouse.
Having an immature spouse does not mean you are a false teacher/prophet. And being a false teacher/prophet does not automatically mean your spouse is also a problem. Typically, however, people with similar character and values flock together (which is also why false prophets/teachers have bad marriages since both have bad character).
(1 Timothy 3:11)
7. A false prophet/teacher will be adored by his followers but despised by many “outsiders”.
If everyone hates you, it probably means you are a cruel person who advances your own agenda at the cost of others. If everyone loves you, it probably means you fear telling people the truth and want the approval of man more than God’s approval.
A good teacher, however, will be loved by some and despised by others. He will have a good reputation with outsiders. A false prophet will have a bad reputation with people who are not his followers. He will create an “us verse them” mentality in his church (cult). Those who don’t support him will be blacklisted by him and his followers. A true Christian leader desires his local church to be united with other local churches and leaders for the sake of supporting the universal church and being a witness to the world through Christian unity.
(1 Timothy 3:7, John 17:20-21)
8. Pride fuels false prophets/teachers.
Satan was brought down by his own pride. So many times pastors start out with good intentions, but over the years their own pride corrupts them. They may not have started out as a false leader in the church, which makes it difficult for people who have been around them along time when suddenly they realize this person has changed. The mark of maturity is humility, and only mature Christians should seek to be leaders in the church. A false prophet/teacher is not motivated by love for God and people but by pride and the desire for self-exaltation like Satan.
(1 Timothy 3:6)
9. A false prophet/teacher knows the Bible just enough to twist it towards their own ends.
A false Bible teacher will know some doctrines, but they will not love doctrine. They will know some Bible, but they will not love reading it. They will preach passionately but not live for Christ passionately. They will have an appearance of godliness, but they will lack real power in applying God’s word for his glory.
(2 Timothy 3:5, 1 Timothy 4:16)
10. A false prophet/teacher avoids strong elders.
A pastor who picks elders rather than a pastor picked by elders is a red flag. Certainly there are times for church-planters to pick elders to start a church, but even these elections should not be his sole decision. A good pastor will seek strong elders before seeking large numbers of congregants. A good pastor is eager to empower elders and be submissive to them.
Trying to build a church without strong elders is like building a house on a weak foundation. It’s like starting construction before getting your loan approved. A New Testament Church must be elder led, where everyone, including the pastors and other elders are held accountable to the group of elders. A false prophet knows this but avoids other strong leaders because he wants all the control and hates being corrected. He sets up figurehead “yes men” as elders to have an appearance of a New Testament church but in actuality he alone is still able to keep control. He surrounds himself with weak leaders who will struggle to discipline him (which is also why a false prophet/teacher often puts family in leadership).
(1 Timothy 1:5, Acts 14:23)
11. A false teacher/prophet will have a life that looks nothing like his sermons.
A false teacher/prophet primarily errs in preaching the word of God accurately. But another significant mark of an unfit pastor is one whose life contradicts the content of their own sermons. It’s possible to fake your faith for an hour in the pulpit. But it’s impossible to fake your faith throughout your whole week. Faith is expressed through your deeds. A false prophet will have a life full of evil deeds, hidden from the public of course. Don’t expect a false prophet/teacher to open up his home life to his church. There are too many secrets there for that.
(Matthew 5:19-20, 1Timothy 4:12)
12. A false prophet/teacher often points to their past “ministry successes.”
Again, many pastors turn into a false prophet/teacher over a period of time. Just because God did good through someone in the past does not mean they are for sure a true pastor pleasing to the Lord. God is so powerful, he can bring about converts and develop true Christians even through false teachers/prophets (Philippians 1:15-18).
Overtime, however, the fruitfulness usually fades, and thus they typically talk about the glory days of the past and remind people often of their past “successes” in ministry.
13. A false prophet/teacher will often preach the same message over and over again.
John Stott said, “Every heresy is due to an overemphasis upon some truth, without allowing other truths to qualify and balance it.” By zeroing in on one doctrine, they often misrepresent other doctrines. A false teacher/preacher also steers clear of expository preaching because he wants to avoid parts of Scripture that do not advance his personal agenda or that he feels personally convicted by. Many false preachers try to preach through books of the Bible, but they reveal their falseness through turning every passage into a sermon about what they want to say rather than what the point of that specific passage actually is.
(2 Peter 2:1-3, Matthew 6:7)
14. A false prophet/teacher will surround himself with weak willed people.
A wolf maybe evil, but he is not stupid. False pastors love power, therefore they try to fill their churches with people who are easy to manipulate and control. If you are an “easy going person,” a false prophet/teacher will butter you up with titles, compliments, promises of promotions, and through confiding in you as a friend. But don’t be mistaken, this is all about getting control over you.
15. A false teacher/prophet seeks to “please God” in return for “blessings” and “success.”
A false teacher/prophet is often very religious. They might fast often, pray long public prayers, and perhaps have never even taken a drink of alcohol in their life. While doing such pious acts can be great benefits for any pastor, a false pastor does these things as a way of appeasing God. A false pastor makes sacrifices because he thinks God will bless him with power, ministry success, financial gain, or a bigger following (Acts 8:18).
A false prophet/teacher seeks to “glorify God” so he can be successful in ministry (followed by a lot of people for his ego) rather than seeking to be successful in ministry for the glory of God. If a false prophet/teacher like this does achieve some “success,” you will know he is false because he will take the credit for the success, sometimes blatantly but always in the heart. He will give himself credit because he believes that through his religious acts God has blessed him and his ministry.
(1 Corinthians 3:5-7, 1 Corinthians 4:6-7, Acts 8:18-23)
16. False prophets/teachers are led by their desire to be worshiped.
So what does the Bible say about false teachers, prophets, and pastors? Ultimately a false church leader is just that – false. The theme of their life will be deception, hiding, and lies. They distort the word of God in preaching and they distort the example of Christ in their behavior. They tell people what their itching ears want to hear so that they will receive from the people what they want in return – power, fame, finances, and other worldly pursuits.
In short, a false prophet/teacher does what he does because he desires to be worshiped by people rather than lead the people in worshiping God. He does not want to serve God. He pretends to serve God so people will serve and worship him.
(2 Timothy 4:1-5)
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