WHAT IS AN APOSTATE?
by the late Richard Nickels (founder of Giving and Sharing)
We often use "religious" words without knowing their actual
meaning. Without thinking, some have used the word "apostate" to
refer to anyone who has changed their views on a single doctrine.
What is the Bible definition of an apostate?
"Apostasia," Strong's Exhaustive Concordance #646. There are
two passages of Scripture using this word. (1) Acts 21,20-21 ...
many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all
zealous of the laws, And they are informed of you, that you teach
all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses,
saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither
to walk after the customs.
This was totally untrue, verse 24, as Paul did not teach
anyone to apostasize from the law of Moses.
(2) 2 Thes.2:3 ... for that day "(the coming of our Lord, verse
1) shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and
that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.
There would be a falling away (apostasizing) from the truth,
verse 10, not an organization. There would be a leader in this
apostasy, the man of sin, opposing the Almighty. Apostates are
led into strong delusion, that they should believe a lie. They
shall be condemned, verses 11-12. The way to avoid apostasy,
verse 15, is to stand fast and hold the traditions which you have
From these two passages, it is obvious that an apostate is
one who has utterly renounced the very foundation of the true
faith, not just one who adheres to a doctrinal error (heresy),
although departure from any part of the truth can and often does
lead to total falling away. Under the Old Covenant, physical
circumcision was the very seal of the covenant. Rejecting it
would be foundational, like rejecting baptism under the New. The
apostate once knew the truth, but now has "pleasure in
unrighteousness." 2 Thes.2:l2. He revels in what formerly his
conscience forbade him to do. His conscience is seared, I Tim.
4:1-2. He has deliberately renounced his faith and convictions.
Webster's unabridged dictionary elaborates on the meaning of
"apostasy" and "apostate." It comes from the Greek word
apostates, which means a rebel, deserter. The meaning of apostate
is clearly one who has renounced or forsaken his religious faith,
a total desertion or departure, one who has given up the
principles to which he once adhered, the abandonment of former
It should not be difficult to identify some of today's
apostates. Most of us know personally former brethren who, as we
say, have "given up everything." They are returned to the same
mire and filth of the world from which they were once washed
clean, 2 Pet.2:20-22.
Others we know of, have departed in significant areas from
truth once held. They may be grossly in error in one or several
major Biblical teachings. They have not (yet) totally departed
from the faith. They are in the process of giving heed to
Seducing spirits, doctrines of demons, I Tim.4:1. One might say
they are a ostasizing, giving up by inches, on the way toward
becoming apostates (total deserters). They need our prayers and
help, not the cold shoulder of rejection, Jude 21-23.
"Apostasion," Strong's #647, a related word to apostasies.
Matthew 5:31-32. It has been said, whosoever shall put away
his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement. See also Mt.
19,7; Mark l0:4.
Thus, apostasion was a total severance of the marriage bond,
final and irrevocable. In human terms, it was so final and
absolute that the husband could never take the divorced wife
back, Deut.24,1-4. It was as if the marriage vow had never
Thus, apostasy is a total severance of all former
relationships. It has gone so far that a return is impossible
Can an apostate ever return? One would think from the
evidence presented, that the answer is "no". However, from the
analogy given in Jer.3,1-14, it appears that after the Eternal
divorced Israel, He was still married to her and wanted her back,
even predicting her renewal, verses 15-25. Remember also the
story of King Manasseh, 2 Chron.33.
It is best to leave the judging to our Savior. Let us not be
guilty of condemnatory judgment of others, Mt.7:1-5.
The Unpardonable Sin
Hebrews 6:1-8 brings additional light on the subject of
apostasy. In verse 6, the word for fall away is "parapipto"
(Strong's #3895), which means to apostatize, or fall away from
After listing the foundational principles of the true faith,
Paul shows that it is impossible for those who were once
enlightened and understood, believed and lived by the truth,
having been led by the Holy Spirit, if they apostatize, to be
renewed again to repentance, seeing they shame the sacrifice of
the Messiah, Their end, verse 8, is to be burned in the lake of
So there is a point of no return, when even the Creator's
mercy, such as He extends to backsliding Israel, has been totally
exhausted. But as in the case of King Manasseh, let us be careful
lest we judge too soon, too harshly. It is not easy to determine
Antidote For Apostasy
"Will I ever be an apostate?" Each of us should ask
ourselves this vital question, and insure against the potential
loss of our salvation. We have already touched upon one major
antidote to apostasy, standing fast in the traditions you have
been taught, 2 Thes.2:15.
There is not need to fear, for when apostasy or falling away
is mentioned, the way to avoid the problem is also found. It is
found in "ministering to the saints," Heb.6:10 in the context of
6:1-8, and pulling others out of the fire (not standing back and
saying they are apostates and deserve it), Jude 21-24 in the
context of the rest of the epistle. And again, admonishing as a
brother those who are in the process of apostatizing, 2 Thes..
3:6,14-15 in the context of 2:l-12. See also Heb.10:24-25 in the
light of verses 26-29,39.
These clear passages show that we must take an active part
in combating apostasy. We cannot condemn apostates, and not
attempt to rescue them from their impending fate. This is our
labor of love. Heb.6:10, the work that we must be about at this
time, when so many have indeed apostatized.
What is an apostate? It is one who has totally renounced his
faith, awaiting certain execution, unless he is rescued from the
coming fire. He is awaiting our help, and with our prayers, the
mercy of the Almighty.
"Keep yourselves in the love of God, all the while awaiting the
mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life. Convince some
who doubt, but save others by snatching them from the fire; on
still others have pity mingled with great caution, loathing even
the clothing that has been polluted by their sensuality. Now to
Him who is able to keep you from stumbling [apostatizing] and to
present you faultless in the presence of His glory with abounding
joy.... Amen." Jude 21-25 (Modern Language translation)
Entered on this Website November 2007
In the last verses quoted, you will see that the saints will
be "faultless in the presence of His glory.." There is a lack of
understanding the resurrection and JUDGMENT day. You need to read
my study (if you have not done so already) "The Truth about
Judgment Day" - Keith Hunt