What Does the Bible Really Teach About the Great Apostasy?

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Edward D. Andrews
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 100 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

2 Thessalonians 2:1a, 3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

1 Now we request you, brothers, with regard to the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ … Let no one deceive[1] you in any way, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,

On this text, New Testament scholar Jon A. Weatherly writes, “Following the warning about deception, the rest of the verse in the Greek text is an anacoluthon, a subordinate clause with no clause to complete it. Literally, the text reads, ‘Because unless the rebellion comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed.’ Translators must supply the clause introduced with ‘because’ (ὅτι, hoti), which can be clearly inferred from v. 2. Since the question concerns the coming of the day of the Lord, Paul apparently expects the reader to conclude that the day is preceded by the rebellion and revelation of the man of lawlessness.”[2] (Weatherly 1996)

The Epistle to the Hebrews Paul PAUL AND LUKE ON TRIAL

The apostle Paul says to the Ephesian elders; there is but “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” (Eph. 4:5) Paul penned those words about 60 C.E., and he was informing them that there was but one Christian faith. Yet, today we see more varieties of Christian faith than we care to count, all claiming that they are the truth and the way. Whenever a brave soul dares to be truthful and bring up that there are doctrinal differences, different doctrinal position, and different standards of conduct, he is shouted down as an alarmist. They claim that most of these denominations are the same on the essential doctrines, i.e., the salvation doctrines. Well, this actually is not true and is an attempt at hiding the truth, because even the salvation doctrines have anywhere from three to five different interpretations. Regardless, we must concern ourselves with a crucial question from Jesus Christ, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lu 18:8) This is a whole other discussion. We concern ourselves with how these divisions came about in the first place.

The Great Apostasy Began in First Century Christianity

As has already been stated, but bears repeating, the blame lies with Satan. He attempted to have Jesus killed as a baby; he tempted Jesus in the wilderness after his baptism, and he attempted persecution right from the start. Peter wrote, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8) Initially, the persecution to this young Christian body came from Jewish religious leaders, and then from the Roman Empire itself. With “all authority in heaven” (Matt. 28:20) Jesus watched on, as the Holy Spirit guided and directed them, this infancy Christian congregation endured the best that Satan and his henchman had to offer. (See Rev. 1:9; 2:3, 19) As we know from Scripture, Satan is not one to give up, so he devised a new plan, divide and conquer. Yes, he would cause divisions within the Christian congregation. Satan broke out the ultimate weapon – the apostasy.[3] We need not believe that all of a sudden the apostasy came into the Christian congregation. No, Jesus was watching from heaven, and he made sure that he warned them while he was here on earth of what was to come and he made the young Christian congregation aware of what was coming and when it was getting started. – Colossians 1:18.

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“[Jesus] Be Aware of False Prophets … 

[Peter] There Will Be False Teachers Among You”

Matthew 7:15 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

Jesus was well aware of what Satan would try to accomplish step-by-step, and that divisions through those from within were on the list. New Testament scholar Stuart K. Weber says, “Jesus had an important reason for inserting the wolf metaphor (Acts 20:27–31)–to alert his listeners to the danger of a false prophet. If the false prophets were thought of as a source of bad fruit, then the disciples might think it was enough simply to recognize and ignore the false prophet, refusing to consume his bad fruit, and awaiting God’s judgment on him. But the wolf metaphor attributes a more active and malicious motive to the false prophet. He is actually an enemy of the sheep, and, if not confronted, will get his way by destroying the sheep.” (Weber 2000, 101)

Weber mentions Acts 20:28-30, where Paul, about 56 C.E., warned the Ephesian elders,

Acts 20:28-30 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the congregation of God, which he obtained with the blood of his own Son. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.

 Yes, these, who stand off from the truth and the way, would not be seeking their own disciples, but rather they would be seeking, “to draw away the disciples [Jesus’ disciples] after them.” Jesus was well aware that the easiest way to defeat any group is to divide them, and so was Satan, who had been watching humanity for over 4,000 years, and especially the Israelites (Isaac and Ishmael / Jacob and Esau / Israel and Judah), as “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” – 2 Corinthians 11:14-15.

BIBLE DIFFICULTIES

There were even some divisions beginning as early as 49 C.E., when the elders wrote a letter to the Gentile believers, saying,

Acts 15:24 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

24 Since we have heard that some went out from among us and troubled you with words, unsettling your souls,[4] although we gave them no instructions,

Here we see that some within [those who were Christians but had left the faith], were being very vocal about their opposition to the direction the faith was heading. Here, it was over whether the Gentiles needed to be circumcised, suggesting that they needed to be obedient to the Mosaic Law. – Acts 15:1, 5.

“[Paul says it] Is Already at Work.”

About 51 C.E., some 18-years after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, division was already starting to creep into the faith, “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.” (2 Thess. 2:7) Yes, the power of the man of lawlessness was already present, which is the power of Satan, the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:3-4), and his tens of millions of demons, are hard at work behind the scenes.

The apostle Peter also spoke of these things about 64 C.E., “there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies … in their greed they will exploit you with false words..” (2 Pet. 2:1, 3) These abandoned the faithful words, became false teachers, rising within the Christian congregation, sharing their corrupting influence, intending to hide, disguise, or mislead.

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These dire warnings by Jesus and the New Testament Authors had their beginnings in the first century C.E. Yes, they began small, but burst forth on the scene in the second century.

As the years progressed throughout the first-century, this divisive “talk [would] spread like gangrene.” (2 Tim. 2:17, c. 65 C.E.) About 51 C.E., They had some in Thessalonica, at worst, going ahead of, or at best, misunderstanding Paul, and wrongly stating by word and a bogus letter “that the day of the Lord has come.” (2 Thess. 2:1-2) In Corinth, about 55 C.E., “some of [were saying] that there is no resurrection of the dead. (1 Cor. 15:12) About 65 C.E., some were “saying that the resurrection has already happened. They [were] upsetting the faith of some.” – 2 Timothy 2:16-18.

Throughout the next three decades, no inspired books were written. However, by the time of the apostle John’s letter writing days of 96-98 C.E., he tells us “Now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.” (1 John 2:18) These are ones, “who denies that Jesus is the Christ” and ones who not confess “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” – 1 John 2:22; 4:2-3.

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From 33 C.E. to 100 C.E., the apostles served Christ as a restraint against “the apostasy” that was coming. Paul stated at 2 Thessalonians 2:7, “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; but only until the one who is right now acting as a restraint [Jesus’ apostles] is out of the way.” 2 Thessalonians 2:3 said, “Let no one deceive you in any way [misinterpretation or false teachers of Paul’s first letter], for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness [composite person, or maybe an organization/movement, empowered by Satan] is revealed, the son of destruction.”

So, again, how did this apostasy, this rebellion, grow out of the first-century Christian congregation? Repeating Paul’s words to Thessalonica about “the thing that acts as a restraint” on the lawless one. We have already said that it was the apostles, who acted as this restraining force. It was the presence of the apostles, with the powerful gift of the Holy Spirit, which held off the apostasy in its full force. (Acts 2:1-4; 1 Cor. 12:28) Nevertheless, when the last apostle John died in about 100 C.E., this restraint was removed. Again, we look at an example, from the words of New Testament textual scholar, Philip W. Comfort,

Once the final, authorized publication was released and distributed to the churches, I think it unlikely that any substantive changes would have occurred during the lifetime of the apostles or second-generation coworkers. By “substantive,” I mean a change that would alter Christian doctrine or falsify an apostolic account. The primary reason is that the writers (or their immediate successors) were alive at the time and therefore could challenge any significant, unauthorized alterations. As long as eyewitnesses such as John or Peter were alive, who would dare change any of the Gospel accounts in any significant manner? Anyone among the Twelve could have testified against any falsification. And there was also a group of 72 other disciples (Luke 10:1) who could do the same. Furthermore, according to 1 Corinthians 15:6, Jesus had at least five hundred followers by the time he had finished his ministry, and these people witnessed Jesus in resurrection. Most of these people were still alive (Paul said) in AD 57/58 (the date of composition for 1 Corinthians); it stands to reason that several lived for the next few decades—until the turn of the century and even beyond.[5]

We must keep in mind that the meaning of any given text is what the author meant by the words that he used, as should have been understood by his audience, and had some relevance/meaning for his audience. The rebellion [apostasy] began slowly in the first century and would break forth after the death of the last apostle, i.e., John. As the historian, Ariel Durant informed us earlier, by 187 C.E., there were 20 varieties of Christianity, and by 384 C.E., there were 80 varieties of Christianity. Christianity would become one again, a universal religion, i.e., Catholicism.

The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02

Gnostic Belief

  Marcion (85-c.160) was a semi-Gnostic, who believed that the teachings of Jesus were irreconcilable with the actions of the God of the Old Testament. He viewed the God of the Old Testament, Jehovah, to be vicious, violent and cruel, an oppressor who gave out material rewards to those worshiping him. In contrast, Marcion described the New Testament God, Jesus Christ, as a perfect God, the God of unadulterated love and compassion, of kindness and quick to forgive.

Montanus (late second century) was a “prophet” from Asia Minor, who believed that their revelation came directly from the Holy Spirit, which superseded the authority of Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, James, anyone really. They believed in the imminent return of Christ and the setting up of the New Jerusalem in Pepuza. He was more concerned about Christian conduct than he was Christian doctrine, wanting to get back to the Christian values of the first century. However, he took this to the extreme, just as John Calvin would some 1,300 years later in the 16th century. Montanism was a movement focused around prophecy, especially the founder’s views, being seen as the light for their time. They believed that the apostle and prophets had the power to forgive sin.

Valentinus (c.100-c.160) was a Greek poet, who founded his school in Rome and most prominent early Christian gnostic theologian. He claimed that though Jesus’ heavenly (spiritual) body was of Mary, he was not actually born from her. This belief came about because Gnostics viewed all matter as evil. Therefore, if Jesus had really been a real human person with a physical body, he would have been evil. Another form of Gnosticism was Docetism, which claimed that Jesus Christ was not a real person, i.e., it was mere appearance and illusion, which would have included his death and resurrection.

Manes (c. 216-274) was the prophet and the founder of Manichaeism, a gnostic religion. He sought to combine elements of Christianity, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism, based on a rigid dualism of good and evil, locked in an eternal struggle. He believed that salvation is possible through education, self-denial, fasting, and chastity. He also believed that he was an “apostle of Jesus Christ,” (Ramsey 2006, 272) although, strictly speaking, his religion was not a movement of Christian Gnosticism in the earlier approach.

Beginning with the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E., Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in an attempt at reunited the empire. He thoroughly understood that religious division was a threat to the continuation of the Roman Empire. However, it was Emperor Theodosius I (347 – 395 C.E.), who banned paganism and imposed Christianity as the State religion of the Roman Empire. The Roman Catholic Church can trace its existence back to the council of Nicaea in 325 C.E. at best. Protestantism had its beginnings in the Reformation of the 16th century. However, there were dissensions in within Catholicism for a thousand years. Another identifying marker was the unscriptural clergy class that would develop over the coming centuries after the Council of Nicaea. This relegated the Christians to a second-class status. This is the way, the apostate; man of lawlessness slowly took the reins of power. It was Constantine the Great, who legalized Christianity but it was Theodosius I (d. 395 C.E.), who made Christianity a state religion. For centuries there was the Holy Roman Empire (5th to the 15th century C.E.),[6] which was anything but holy. As schisms and rifts took place, Christianity fragmented into tens of thousands of denominations. An example of such glorification by the man of lawlessness, setting oneself up over God is that of the papacy of Rome.

THE CREATION DAYS OF GENESIS gift of prophecy

Lucio Ferraris in his Ecclesiastical Dictionary, which was used as a standard for Roman Catholic divinity, offers its readers the following on papal power, “The pope is of such dignity and highness, that he is not simply man, but, as it were, God, and the vicar of God. Ferraris goes on, “The pope is father of fathers; since he possesses the primacy over all, is truly greater than all, and the greatest of all. He is called most holy because he is presumed to be such … Hence the pope is crowned with the triple crown as king of heaven, of earth and of hell … he is also above angels and is their superior … He is of such great dignity and power that he occupies one and the same tribunal with Christ; so that whatever the pope does, seems to proceed from the mouth of God.” Ferraris in his Ecclesiastical Dictionary goes on saying, “God on earth, the only prince of the faithful of Christ, the greatest king of all kings, possessing the plentitude of power, to whom the government of the earthly and heavenly kingdom is [entrusted]. (Elliott 1941, 157)

Let us consider the humble words of Peter, who said to the Roman army officer Cornelius, who “fell down at his feet and worshiped him,” “Stand up, . . . I am only a man after all”! (Acts 10:25-26, the Catholic Jerusalem Bible) Then there is the humility of an angel when the apostle John bowed down in a worshipful attitude before him. The angel said, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.” – Revelation 22:8-9, ESV.

While we have covered Catholicism and the pope, the question that many might have is, ‘have the Protestant denominations faired any better?’ The answer is actually a mixed review in that “yes” in a small way and “no” in a major way. One of the major contributions of the Protestant Reformation was that these men gave us the Bible in our common languages, be it French, German, English, etc. Another benefit was the abandonment of many of the false doctrines of the Catholic Church, such as transubstantiation, Mary as the mother of God, apostolic succession, among so many others. The third greatest contribution was the search for biblical truths. However, we must note that many of the excellent reasons for rebelling against the Catholic Church were short lived, as the fragmentation of denominations grew even faster after the Reformation. Most Protestant denominations have no reliable way of interpreting the Scriptures. Most use historical-critical methods of interpretation, which is subject and allows the reader to determine the meaning while few denominations use the historical-grammatical method, which is objective and the meaning is drawn from what the author meant. Several books have been written on this issue alone.

Much of Protestantism has failed to affirm Scripture as inspired, fully inerrant and authoritative. In addition, many denominations have abandoned the Word of God by leaving the literal translation philosophy for an interpretive translation known as the dynamic or functional equivalent.[7] These ones would argue that the Bible is full of errors, contradiction, myths, and legends. Many would argue that Moses is not the author of the first five book but rather several authors penned the book from the 10th and 5th centuries B.C.E. Many would argue that there are three authors, who penned the book, which we know as Isaiah, and none is the Isiah of the 8th-century B.C.E. They claim that Daniel did not write the book bearing his name, as it was written centuries later. Many more similar points could be made. As has been stated, the Protestant denominations cannot preserve any unity in their doctrinal views. Protestantism has failed to have any cohesion or to carry out the one commission that Jesus Christ gave: to proclaim the Gospel, teach Bible doctrines and to make disciples. They have failed to evangelize in their own communities. They have failed to teach the Bible to their own flock, as over ninety percent of churchgoers are biblically illiterate.

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New Testament textual scholar Daniel B. Wallace writes, “In Protestantism, one really doesn’t know what he or she will experience from church to church. Even churches of the same denomination are widely divergent. Some have a rock-solid proclamation of the Word, while others play games and woo sinners to join their ranks without even the slightest suggestion that they should repent of anything. Too many Protestant churches look like social clubs where the offense of the gospel has been diluted to feel-good psycho-theology. And the problem is only getting worse with mega-churches with their mini-theology. This ought not to be.”[8]

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Is this evaluation or appraisal of Catholicism and Protestantism too strong? Before we answer that, let it be said, Catholicism is a part of the composite body of the man of lawlessness, so there is no help that Titanic of a religious organization from going down but we can help those within, to find their way to the correct path, which leads to life. Besides, the vast majority of Protestantism is also a part of that body or composite of the man of lawlessness. Again, we cannot save the huge organization from going under, but we can pull members off their ship before it goes down in destruction with the ungodly men. However, I do believe God is using Protestantism in the sense that the true church will be identifiable before the end comes and those loving the truth will be able to make the choice to follow God or follow traditions.

If we are to identify whether our church or our denomination is a part of the man of lawlessness, we must apply the rule that Jesus gave for identifying false prophets. He said,

Matthew 7:15-16 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. They do not gather grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles, do they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.

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[1] Or seduce

[2] Jon A. Weatherly, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 1996), 2 Th 2:3.

[3] In the Greek New Testament, the noun “apostasy” (Gr., apostasia) has the sense of “desertion, abandonment or rebellion.” (Acts 21:21, ftn.) There it predominantly is alluding to abandonment; a drawing away from or abandoning of pure worship.

[4] This means that some, who left the Christian faith and were not trying to subvert (undermine) the faith of others.

[5] Philip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 255–256.

[6] The precise term “Holy Roman Empire” was not used until the 13th century.

[7] Do We Still Need a Literal Bible?: Discover the Truth about Literal Bibles Authored by Don Wilkins

http://www.christianpublishers.org/apps/webstore/products/show/4676433

[8] The Problem With Protestant Ecclesiology — Fr. John Peck, http://frjohnpeck.com/the-problem-with-protestant-ecclesiology/ (accessed January 03, 2016).

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