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Apostasi, apostat (he apostasia, “a standing away from”): I.e., a falling away, a withdrawal, a defection. Not found in the English Versions of the Bible, but used twice in the New Testament, in the Greek original, to express abandonment of the faith. Edward D. Andrews writes, “Apostasy: (Gr. apostasia) The term literally means ‘to stand away from’ and is used to refer to ones who ‘stand away from the truth.’ It is abandonment, a rebellion, an apostasy, a refusal to accept or acknowledge true worship. In Scripture, this is used primarily concerning the one who rises up in defiance of the only true God and his people, working in opposition to the truth. – Ac 21:21; 2 Thess. 2:3.”
Paul was falsely accused of teaching the Jews apostasy from Moses (Ac 21:21); he predicted the great apostasy from Christianity, foretold by Jesus (Mt 24:10-12), which would precede “the day of the Lord” (2Th 2:2). Apostasy, not in name but in fact, meets scathing rebuke in the Epistle of Jude, e.g., the apostasy of angels (Jude 1:6). Foretold, with warnings, as sure to abound in the latter days (1Ti 4:1-3; 2Th 2:3; 2Pe 3:17). Causes of: persecution (Mt 24:9-10); false teachers (Mt 24:11); temptation (Lu 8:13); worldliness (2Ti 4:4); defective knowledge of Christ (1Jo 2:19); moral lapse (Heb 6:4-6); forsaking worship and spiritual living (Heb. 10:25-31); unbelief (Heb. 3:12). Biblical examples: Saul (1Sa 15:11); Amaziah (2Ch 25:14,27); many disciples (Joh 6:66); Hymeneus and Alexander (1Ti 1:19-20); Demas (2Ti 4:10). For further illustration see De 13:13; Zep 1:4-6; Ga 5:4; 2Pe 2:20-21.
“Forsaking Yahweh” was the characteristic and oft-recurring sin of the chosen people, especially in their contact with idolatrous nations. It constituted their supreme national peril. The tendency appeared in their earliest history, as abundantly seen in the warnings and prohibitions of the laws of Moses (Ex 20:3-4,23; Deut. 6:14; 11:16). The fearful consequences of religious and moral apostasy appear in the curses pronounced against this sin, on Mount Ebal, by the representatives of six of the tribes of Israel, elected by Moses (Deut. 27:13-26; 28:15-68). So wayward was the heart of Israel, even in the years immediately following the national emancipation, in the wilderness, that Joshua found it necessary to re-pledge the entire nation to a new fidelity to Yahweh and to their original covenant before they were permitted to enter the Promised Land (Josh. 24:1-28). Infidelity to this covenant blighted the nation’s prospects and growth during the time of the Judges (Jg 2:11-15; 10:6,10,13; 1Sa 12:10). It was the cause of prolific and ever-increasing evil, civic and moral, from Solomon’s day to the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Many of the kings of the divided kingdom apostatized, leading the people, as in the case of Rehoboam, into the grossest forms of idolatry and immorality (1Ki 14:22-24; 2Ch 12:1). Conspicuous examples of such royal apostasy are Jeroboam (1Ki 12:28-32); Ahab (1Ki 16:30-33); Ahaziah (1Ki 22:51-53); Jehoram (2Ch 21:6,10,12-15); Ahaz (2Ch 28:1-4); Manasseh (2Ch 33:1-9); Amen (2Ch 33:22). Prophecy originated as a Divine and imperative protest against this historical tendency to defection from the religion of Jehovah.
In classical Greek, apostasy signified revolt from a military commander. In the Roman Catholic Church, it denotes abandonment of religious orders, renunciation of ecclesiastical authority, defection from the faith. The persecutions of the early Christian centuries forced many to deny Christian discipleship and to signify their apostasy by offering incense to a heathen deity or blaspheming the name of Christ. The emperor Julian, who probably never vitally embraced the Christian faith, is known in history as “the Apostate,” having renounced Christianity for paganism soon after his accession to the throne.
An apostate’s defection from the faith may be intellectual, as in the case of Ernst Haeckel, who, because of his materialistic philosophy, publicly and formally renounced Christianity and the church. Another would be Bart D. Ehrman, who became an atheist. Or it may be moral and spiritual, as with Judas, who for filthy profit’s sake basely betrayed his Lord.
by Dwight M. Pratt