How to Discern False Prophets, False Teachers and False Doctrine

By Floyd McClung

There are some people who claim to be teaching the truth but are in fact are false teachers and false prophets. There is a difference between what is true and what is false. Paul the apostle wrote to the Galatians and warned them about false doctrine. He said even if an angel from heaven taught something different than the gospel Paul gave them that angel was not to be believed:

“Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including myself, who preaches any other message than the one we told you about. Even if an angel comes from heaven and preaches any other message, let him be forever cursed.” Galatians 1:8

Paul rebuked the Galatians for turning away from the truth and believing a false gospel:

“I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel…” Galatians 1:6

What do we learn from these two verses? We learn there are false teachers and false doctrines and we need to be on our guard against them. Satan uses false teachers and false prophets and false apostles to lead people away from the truth. Satan uses lies, temptations and deception. The weapon we have to fight the spiritual battle against deception is the Word of God, the Bible.

We can usually tell false teachers because they believe they have something they believe makes them “special” or better than other Christians. Be on guard for people who have something that they think makes them better than others!!!

For example:

  1. A “better” teaching – a doctrine that is better or different than what followers of Christ believe
  2. A “better” book – a book or translation that is better than the Bible itself
  3. A “better” leader – their leader is a holy man and they worship him or treat him different than other Christians
  4. A “better” experience – like a dream, or they have a revelation, or something happens to them that makes them more holy or more spiritual than other Christians

False teachers usually teach false doctrines in these six categories:

  1. False teaching about God’s nature and character. God is good, just, true, infinite, eternal, the creator and all knowing, all powerful and all wise. Any doctrine or teaching that denies God’s greatness, His goodness, or the truth that He is the creator (and not part of the creation) is false teaching. We are told to worship God and no one else and nothing else. It is false teaching/false religion to worship angels, people, ancestors, or spirits.
  2. False teaching about Jesus’ deity, death, resurrection and second coming. Jesus was born of a virgin, was fully God and fully man, died on the cross for our sins, was raised from the dead on the third day, and is coming again. Any teaching that denies that Jesus is God in human flesh is false teaching, that he has already come in some other human form, or that is not returning again is false teaching.
  3. False teaching about Salvation by grace through faith in Jesus death on the cross. Jesus died on the cross for our sins – there is no other way to be saved than to believe on the Lord Jesus with our hearts and to confess Him with our mouths as God and saviour. We cannot earn our salvation through doing things to make God forgive us. Salvation is God’s gift to us. God’s part was to send Jesus to die for us to take the punishment for our sins, and our part is to believe and receive. We can never do anything to guarantee or earn our salvation by our good works. Any teaching that denies Jesus died on the cross is false teaching. Any doctrine that substitutes “works” for grace and faith is false teaching. The evidence of our faith in God’s grace to us is repentance from sin.
  4. False teaching about sin as rebellion against God and His law. There are people who teach that we can sin freely since God gives us grace and freely forgives us. Other false teachers tell us there is no such thing as sin. Any compromise of God’s standards of righteousness and what requires of spiritual leaders to live above reproach is false teaching. Any teaching that takes away the seriousness of sin is a form of rebellion against God.
  5. False teaching about the Bible, that it is not divinely inspired truth and the final authority for life and doctrine. False cults and deceived teachers and churches teach there are other books that are better than the Bible, or that the Bible has errors and their Bible/holy book is the only one to be trusted. Such groups as the Mormons, Jehovah’s witnesses, and other groups try to substitute their version of the Bible for the Bible itself.
  6. False teaching about prophets, apostles and leaders in the church. Such teaching gives leaders too much power and authority. It makes them exceptions to what the Bible teaches about sin, repentance, and accountability to others. Usually these leaders live lives of extreme wealth, and do not have others around them who can say “no” to them, which means they have absolute power to do what they say God is telling them to do. They are not accountable to others.

Below are Bible verses from the New Testament that warn us and help us understand who are false teachers and what is false doctrine. Sometimes false teachers are also called “false prophets”. A false teacher taught false doctrine, while a false prophet claimed to know the future or make prophecies about the future. Remember, even if they sound good, or look good, even they look like an angel, from heaven or do miracles, they can be led by demons and used by Satan himself. All verses below are from the New Living Translation (NLT).

  • Matthew 7:15 Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep, but are really wolves that will tear you apart.
  • Matthew 7:21 - 23  “Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but they still won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey my Father in heaven. 22 On judgment day many will tell me, ‘Lord, Lord, we prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Go away; the things you did were unauthorized.’
  • Matthew 24:11 And many false prophets will appear and will lead many people astray.
  • Matthew 24:24 For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform great miraculous signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones.
  • Romans 16:17  And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers and sisters. Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things that are contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them.
  • Acts 13:6 Afterward they preached from town to town across the entire island until finally they reached Paphos, where they met a Jewish sorcerer, a false prophet named Bar-jesus.
  • 2Corinthians 11:13 - 15 These people are false apostles. They have fooled you by disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 But I am not surprised! Even Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no wonder Satan’s servants can also do it by pretending to be godly ministers. In the end they will get every bit of punishment their wicked deeds deserve.
  • 2Corinthians 11:26 I have traveled many weary miles. I have faced danger from flooded rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the stormy seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be Christians but are not.
  • Ephesians 4:14 Then we will no longer be like children, forever changing our minds about what we believe because someone has told us something different or because someone has cleverly lied to us and made the lie sound like the truth.
  • Galatians 2:4 Even that question wouldn’t have come up except for some so-called Christians there—false ones, really—who came to spy on us and see our freedom in Christ Jesus. They wanted to force us, like slaves, to follow their Jewish regulations.
  • Colossians 2:18 Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on self-denial. And don’t let anyone say you must worship angels, even though they say they have had visions about this. These people claim to be so humble, but their sinful minds have made them proud.
  • 1Timothy 1:3 When I left for Macedonia, I urged you to stay there in Ephesus and stop those who are teaching wrong doctrine.
  • 2Peter 2:1 But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach their destructive heresies about God and even turn against their Master who bought them. Theirs will be a swift and terrible end.
  • 1John 4:1 Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world.