Chapter III:17: Apostasy

But Defection from the true Religion, whether unto Infidelity, or unto Heresy, is called Apostasy. In either case Apostasy verily obtains, and indeed emphatically in Defection unto Infidelity, when we not only depart from the true doctrine of Religion in one or another head, but together with the heads of Religion we deny its principia, and do not desire to be numbered with the professors of the Christian Religion: in our age defection unto Heresy is wont especially to be understood by Apostasy, on account of the less common defection of the other sort. But by use these significations of the word Apostasy have moved in a negative direction, while the word originally was of a neutral signification, and could be used in a good way, as well as a bad: and indeed the verb ἀφίστημι/aphistemi in Sacred Scripture is sometimes used of separation from evils, whether a commanded separation, or a practiced separation, 1 Timothy 6:5;[1] 2 Timothy 2:19;[2] Acts 19:9;[3] but, on the other hand, in that very place it also denotes a blameworthy separation, although yet within the bounds of sound doctrine, Acts 15:38.[4] Concerning defection unto Infidelity the word ἀποστασίαν/apostasy occurs in Acts 21:21,[5] and the verb ἀφίστημι/aphistemi in Luke 8:13,[6] while of defection unto Heresy ἀποστασία/apostasy comes to be explained in 2 Thessalonians 2:3.[7] For Paul ought not to be understood of a Defection even from the Christian name, since the man of sin ought to sit, and the mystery of iniquity was going to come, εἰς τὸν ναὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ, in the temple of God, verses 4 and 7; but of a Defection from true and sincere faith through a proud lifting up of himself, and a doctrine of demons, unto which the Spirit expressly predicted men by Apostasy are going to retreat in the last times, 1 Timothy 4:1.[8] And this twofold, negative signification cleaves to the language of Apostasy and Apostate in Ecclesiastical writings also: thus ZONARAS[9] on the Canons of Carthage, XLIX, in which grace is conceded to Apostates doing repentance, τοῖς ἀποστάταις, says he, τουτέστι τοῖς ἀρνησαμένοις τὸν χριστιανισμόν, that is to say, to apostates disowning Christianity; and thence the name of Apostate on account of his defection to Paganism adhered to the Emperor Julian, who was face-to-face called by Maris, Bishop of Chalcedon, ἀσεβὴς, ἀποστάτης καὶ ἄθεος, impious, apostate, and atheist, according to SOCRATES’ Historiam Ecclesiasticam, book III, chapter XII. But in the Justinian Codex by Apostates are also understood those falling away to Heresy, when it is treated under the Title of Apostatis, book I, title VII, both concerning the deserters of the Christian religion, law II, and concerning those that have desecrated their holy baptism with Heretical superstition, law III.

[1] 1 Timothy 6:5: “Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself (ἀφίστασο).”


[2] 2 Timothy 2:19: “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart (ἀποστήτω) from iniquity.”


[3] Acts 19:9: “But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed (ἀποστὰς) from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.”


[4] Acts 15:38: “But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed (ἀποστάντα) from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work.”


[5] Acts 21:21: “And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses (ἀποστασίαν—ἀπὸ Μωϋσέως, apostasy from Moses), saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.”


[6] Luke 8:13: “They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away (ἀφίστανται).”


[7] 2 Thessalonians 2:3: “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away (ἡ ἀποστασία, the apostasy) first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition…”


[8] 1 Timothy 4:1: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart (ἀποστήσονταί) from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils…”


[9] John Zonaras (twelfth century), native of Constantinople, was a historian and theologian.

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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