The Great Apostasy – Testimony of the Epistles
In our previous installment on the Great Apostasy, we examined the direct correlation between what Jesus taught and what Paul said about that falling away. The correspondence is direct and perfect, and that demands that the Great Apostasy did occur in the first century.
We want now to do an overview of the NT epistles to see if they corroborate what we have seen. Did the Great Apostasy truly take place in the first century? The answer is a resounding Yes!
1. Romans 16:17 — Paul had to deal with those causing serious division in the body at Rome.
2. Corinthians — An examination of the chapter by chapter discussions of the serious issues in the Corinthian church should convince anyone that what Jesus predicting was taking place. False apostles, false miracle workers (2 Corinthians 12) were ravaging the church. Some denied the very foundation of the faith, the resurrection. There were schisms over ethnic lines, abuses of the Lord’s Supper, eating of meats and other issues.
3. Galatians — Not just a single congregation, but, an entire region containing who knows how many congregations — “I marvel you are so soon removed from him who called you to grace” (1:6). This was written, perhaps as early as AD 49, yet, the apostasy was rampant!
4. Ephesians — In Acts 20:29ff, Paul realized and predicted that “grievous wolves” were to rend the church — and did (Rev. 2).
5. Philippians — Paul spoke of those “who are enemies of the cross” (3:17f). While it is possible that Paul had in mind the Jewish persecutors of the Philippian church, there is no doubt that the Judaizers were also a severe problem.
6. Colossians — Christians were being deprived of their reward (chapter 2).
8. Thessalonians — See 2 Thessalonians 2 — Some were in danger of being deceived into believing that the Day of the Lord and the resurrection had already taken place. (It is important to correlate what was taking place there with what was taking place in Ephesus, in 2 Timothy 2, with Hymenaeaus and Philetus).
9. Timothy — Paul told Timothy to confront false teachers (1:1:18f; 3:1ff). False teachers were already rending the flock at Ephesus, (2:2:18)- which is what Paul predicted in Acts 20:29.
10. Titus — “those of the circumcision whose mouths must be stopped” (1:10).
11. Hebrews — consider the analogy in chapter 3 — the writer speaks of the generation of Israel that wondered in the desert and failed to receive the reward. His warning is for his generation not to suffer the same fate by leaving the faith. The whole book is an effort to stem the tide of those forsaking the assembling.
12. James — “Be patient brethren” Why? because of persecution. We should lose sight of Jesus’ prediction that persecution was coming and as a result, the love of many would grow cold (Matthew 24:10-12). What Jesus predicted was taking place.
13. Peter — Like James, Peter’s audience was experiencing the persecution that Jesus foretold. Likewise, the false teachers that Jesus predicted were present in the antinomians of 2 Peter 2. Peter speaks graphically of those who had been delivered from “corruption” but, who had now returned to the corruption of the world.
14. I John — The apostle spoke of the apostates that, “Went out from us” (1:2:19); He also said: “many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1:4:1-3). Once again, what was happening in 1 John is precisely what Jesus predicted in Matthew 24.
15. Jude — Peter foretold the coming of scoffers and Jude says that what was predicted was taking place! The urgency of Jude’s epistle reveals how dire the situation truly was. Apostate members of the body were at work, seeking to destroy in from within.
16. Revelation — Consider the problems of the seven churches. While Jesus did have some complimentary things to say to some of the churches, nonetheless, the language of Revelation is clear that the situation was dangerous. False teachers within and persecution without was the order of the day.
The references in the specific books could be listed by the score. We have not even examined the book of Acts and its record of the problems of apostasy beginning at an early time indeed. Surely it is not hard to see that the Great Apostasy was indeed happening as the inspired writers wrote.
Specifically, the inspired writers often wrote to stem the tide of apostasy. This apostasy was in Asia and Africa; from Rome to Corinth, from Corinth to Jerusalem; North, South, East, and West. (cf. I Peter 1:1f, Rev., Gal. 1) How can anyone deny the correlation of what the epistles record and what Jesus predicted? When we accept that testimony, it is patently clear that the Great Apostasy predicted by Jesus was taking place. More on the Great Apostasy in the next installment.