A series of articles exploring what God says is the ultimate Truth. Once established, all other truths are subject to it... including yours, mine, everyone's.
Deceivers: who can you and can't you trust?
The Scriptures are replete with warnings about false prophets and teachers that are found within God's flock (His churches). I was astounded by the sheer number of references in the New Testament, as well as the Old Testament, that could be found during the limited study that I did on this. This is not an exhaustive list on the subject by any means. But here are some of the verses that speak directly to the subject:
Jeremiah 2:8 The priests did not say, Where is the LORD? and they that handle the law do not know me: the pastors also transgressed against me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after things that do not profit.
Jeremiah 10:21 For the pastors have become stupid, and have not sought the LORD: therefore they shall not prosper, and all their flocks shall be scattered.
Jeremiah 12:10 Many pastors have destroyed my vineyard, they have trampled my portion under foot, they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness.
Jeremiah 12:11 They have made it desolate, and being desolate it mourns before me; the whole land is made desolate, because no man lays it to heart.
Jeremiah 23:1 Woe unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD.
Jeremiah 23:2 Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; You have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, says the LORD.
Jeremiah 23:21 I have not sent these prophets, Yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.
Jeremiah 23:25 I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed.
Jeremiah 23:26 How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart;
Jeremiah 27:9 Therefore do not listen to your prophets, nor to your diviners, nor to your dreamers, nor to your enchanters, nor to your sorcerers, which speak unto you, saying, You shall not serve the king of Babylon:
Jeremiah 27:10 For they prophesy a lie unto you, to remove you far from your land; and that I should drive you out, and you should perish.
Jeremiah 27:11 But the nations that bring their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him, those I will let remain in their own land, says the LORD; and they shall till it, and dwell therein.
Jeremiah 27:12 I spoke also to Zedekiah king of Judah according to all these words, saying, Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live.
Jeremiah 27:13 Why will you die, you and your people, by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence, as the LORD has spoken against the nation that will not serve the king of Babylon?
Jeremiah 27:14 Therefore do not listen to the words of the prophets that speak to you, saying, You shall not serve the king of Babylon: for they prophesy a lie unto you.
Jeremiah 27:15 For I have not sent them, says the LORD, yet they prophesy a lie in my name; that I might drive you out, and that you might perish, you, and the prophets that prophesy unto you.
Jeremiah 27:16 Also I spoke to the priests and to all this people, saying, Thus says the LORD; Do not listen to the words of your prophets that prophesy to you, saying, Behold, the vessels of the LORD'S house shall be brought again from Babylon shortly : for they prophesy a lie to you.
Jeremiah 27:17 Do not listen to them; serve the king of Babylon, and live: why should this city be laid waste?
Jeremiah 27:18 But if they are prophets, and if the word of the LORD is with them, let them now make intercession to the LORD of hosts, that the vessels which are left in the house of the LORD, and in the house of the king of Judah, and at Jerusalem, do not go to Babylon.
Jeremiah 29:8 For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Let your prophets and your diviners, that are in your midst, not deceive you, neither listen to the dreams which they dream.
Jeremiah 29:9 For they prophesy falsely to you in my name: I have not sent them, says the LORD.
Jeremiah 29:31 Send to all them held in captivity, saying, Thus says the LORD concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite; Because Shemaiah has prophesied to you, and I did not send him, and he caused you to trust in a lie:
Jeremiah 50:6 My people have been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their resting place.
Ezekiel 44:7 In that you have brought into my sanctuary foreigners, uncircumcised in heart, and uncircumcised in flesh, to be in my sanctuary, to pollute it, even my house, when you offer my bread, the fat and the blood, and they have broken my covenant because of all your abominations.
Ezekiel 44:8 And you have not kept the charge of mine holy things: but you have set keepers [foreigners] to keep charge in my sanctuary for yourselves.
Ezekiel 44:9 Thus says the Lord GOD; No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart, nor uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary, of any foreigner that is among the children of Israel.
Ezekiel 44:10 And the Levites that went away far from me, when Israel went astray, which went astray away from me after their idols; they shall even bear their iniquity.
Ezekiel 44:11 Yet they shall be ministers in my sanctuary, having oversight at the gates of the house, and ministering to the house: they shall slay the burnt offering and the sacrifice for the people, and they shall stand before them to minister unto them.
Ezekiel 44:12 Because they ministered to them before their idols, and caused the house of Israel to fall into iniquity; therefore I have lifted up my hand against them, says the Lord GOD, and they shall bear their iniquity.
Zec 10:2 For the idols have spoken vanity, and the diviners have seen a lie, and have told false dreams; they comfort in vain: therefore they went their way as a flock, they were troubled, because [there was] no shepherd.
Mal 2:7 "For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.
Mal 2:8 "But as for you, you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by the instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi," says the LORD of hosts.
Matthew 15:14 Let them alone: they are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.
Matthew 23:13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you close the kingdom of heaven from men: for you neither go in yourselves, nore do you allow them that are entering to go in.
Matthew 24:4 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.
Matthew 24:5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
Matthew 24:11 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.
Matthew 24:24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; in so much that, if it were possible, they would deceive the very elect.
Mark 13:5 And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you:
Mark 13:6 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
Luke 13:25 When the master of the house has risen up, and has shut the door, and you stand outside and knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I do not know where you are from
Luke 13:26 Then you shall begin to say, We ate and drank in your presence, and you have taught in our streets.
Luke 13:27 But he shall say, I tell you, I do not know where you are from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity.
Luke 13:28 There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.
Luke 13:29 And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.
Luke 13:30 And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.
Luke 21:8 And he said, Take heed that you are not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draws near: do not go after them.
Romans 16:18 For they are the type that do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.
Corinthians II 11:13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.
Corinthians II 11:14 And no wonder; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.
Corinthians II 11:15 Therefore it is not surprising if his ministers also are transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.
Ephesians 4:14 That hence forth we are no longer children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
Colossians 2:8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the principles of this world, and not after Christ.
Timothy I 1:6 From which some having erred, have turned aside unto vain babbling;
Timothy I 1:7 Desiring to be teachers of the law; neither understanding what they say, nor what they affirm.
Timothy I 4:1 Now the Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
Timothy I 4:2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;
Timothy I 4:3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from food, which God has created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.
Timothy I 4:4 For every creature of God is good, and none of them to be refused, if it is received with thanksgiving:
Timothy I 4:5 For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.
Timothy II 3:6 For of these are they which creep into houses, and lead captive unsuspecting women laden with sins, led away with many lusts,
Timothy II 3:13 But evil men and seducers shall become worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.
Peter II 3:17 You therefore, beloved, seeing you know these things beforehand, beware lest you also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness.
Revelation 12:9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceived the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
Just because someone sounds religious, it does not mean that they are speaking the truth. Many say that we are safe from false prophets based upon God's promise to His church (Mt16:18). But, as demonstrated in my article on the church, God's promise in this verse refers to the promise He made to His eternal church (the collection of His saints over the ages). God (speaking through Jeremiah) spoke directly to this idea of trusting in a church (OT church in this case):
Jer 7:1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,
Jer 7:2 "Stand in the gate of the LORD'S house and proclaim there this word and say, 'Hear the word of the LORD, all you of Judah, who enter by these gates to worship the LORD!'"
Jer 7:3 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, "Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place.
Jer 7:4 "Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, 'This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.'
Jer 7:5 "For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbor,
Jer 7:6 if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin,
Jer 7:7 then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.
Jer 7:8 "Behold, you are trusting in deceptive words to no avail.
Jer 7:9 "Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal and walk after other gods that you have not known,
Jer 7:10 then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, 'We are delivered!'--that you may do all these abominations?
Jer 7:11 "Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I, even I, have seen it," declares the LORD.
Jer 7:12 "But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I made My name dwell at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel.
Jer 7:13 "And now, because you have done all these things," declares the LORD, "and I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you did not hear, and I called you but you did not answer,
Jer 7:14 therefore, I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to the place which I gave you and your fathers, as I did to Shiloh.
Jer 7:15 "I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brothers, all the offspring of Ephraim.
Jer 7:16 "As for you, do not pray for this people, and do not lift up cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with Me; for I do not hear you.
How then can we be sure that we are not being duped by those who "sound" good, but, in actuality, are leading us away from Christ? Scripture teaches us that the only way to be sure is to compare what we are being taught with what the whole Bible has to say. And, in order to do this, we have to be familiar enough with the Scriptures to be able to spot a lie when it is presented to us. It may be a good intentioned minister who feels sorry for someone who passed away in his congregation, and concludes that Hell is parable. Or perhaps it's some pastor who reads one verse in the Bible that speaks of Jesus as a man, and concludes from one verse that Jesus was not God at all, but just a mere man. The point is that some well intentioned people who may be trying to make people "feel" better are actually deceiving people about the danger they are in because they don't want to be perceived as judging or offending. To borrow a line from Hank Hannagraf, "you have to be familiar enough with the Scriptures that when a counterfeit comes along, you can easily spot it."
A response by some may be to ask what did people do before the printing press was invented where they had no way of finding out if they were being deceived or not since they could not get their hands on a Bible. That is true, but consider that in Jesus' time there were no printing presses. See what Jesus taught about the scribes and Pharisees:
Matthew 23:13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you close the kingdom of heaven against men: for you neither go in yourselves nor do you allow them that are entering to go in.
The Jews of Jesus' time had no way of determining whether these leaders were deceiving them or not. It ends up, they were lying (anything that conflicts with the Truth is a lie - whether intentionally or not) to them about many things. The leaders may not have even known that they were propagating a lie. It was entirely probably that they had received the lies from the previous generation. They were deceived themselves, and were teaching deceit. Did they do this on purpose? Maybe, but probably not. Deceit just worked its way in and probably started out as good intentioned. As Jesus clearly points out, the blind followers of the blind leaders perished just as the leaders did. God has used and will use His Word to call His elect people to Himself. The messengers (us) are always flawed because we are all sinners. His Word isn't. That is why any pastor worth his salt will continuously point people to the Scriptures for the final say so or proof... not the pastor, himself nor his church.
In the days before the printing press (as well nowadays with people who are unreached with the true Gospel), the Lord has made sure that He brought someone to plant and/or water the Word of God into the lives of His saints at some point in their lives. But, you say that is not fair. It is not in our place to worry about whether these Jews had a "fair" chance because they had unfaithful teachers. God determines what is fair and what isn't, and if God were truly fair with any/all of us, we would all be condemned for our sins with no questions asked. "Anything this side of Hell is grace" from God.
We are incredibly blessed by being able to own a copy of the Scriptures ourselves nowadays at a relatively low cost. Woe unto us if we don't use it to check out to see if what we are being taught is the invention of man, or is Truth. Unlike the Jews of Jesus' time, if we (who have access to the Scriptures) are deceived by not being motivated enough to check out what we are being taught, then we will be totally without excuse. And, being deceived, we may end up hearing those dreadful words "I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity." - Mt7:23