In Romans 16:17-20, Paul delineates the Christian’s responsibility toward the teachers of doctrinal error. Beginning in verse 17 and continuing through verse 20, Paul admonishes believers about their duty to God and the church as well as their response toward those who teach false doctrine and cause divisions.
In Romans 16:17, the Bible instructs believers to “mark” false teachers; that is, to keep their eyes open, to scrutinize, to look at, to observe, and to stay fixed so that they can guard against false doctrine. Pastors must keep a sharp eye out for false teaching. They stand as sentries always on guard to protect their flocks. In Paul's day, the Judaizers and Gnostics were making their influence felt in the new church, both in doctrine and practice. In our day, many more are working to infiltrate the church of God with false teaching.
Because of the danger from false teaching, Paul uses the word “beseech” (parakaleo). Parakaleo means “to admonish, exhort, to beg.” Consequently, the instruction to mark false teachers is an urgent matter.
To “mark” means to identify. It is the translation of (skopeo). Thayer defines the term as follows:
“. . . to look at, observe, contemplate. To mark . . . to fix one's eyes upon, direct one's attention to, any one: Ro. xvi.17 . . . skopeo is more pointed than blepein; often i.q. to scrutinize, observe. When the physical sense recedes, i.e. to fix one's (mind's) eye on, direct one's attention to, a thing in order to get it, or owing to interest in it, or a duty towards it.”1Skopeo in this verse is a present infinitive functioning as the object of the present tense admonition to beseech. (Technically, you and mark are both objects of beseech. In Greek syntax, this construction is known as the double accusative of the person and thing.) An expanded literal translation could read, “Now brethren, I am admonishing and begging you to continually scrutinize the ones causing divisions and offences.” That is, we are to take note of, and point out for others, those referred to in Romans 16: 17-20 as the ones who “cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned.”
“What is this paragraph talking about? If you would look at verse 17 you will see that it is a paragraph dealing with people who are teaching contrary doctrine. . . . These are people who are teaching as truth doctrine that actually is alongside orthodoxy. They are teaching what is a contradiction to, what is the opposite of, what is antithetical to, the doctrines that are taught in the Scripture.”2
Those who through false teaching cause divisions are to be marked. It is biblical to personally identify false teachers and point them out so that others may avoid them. Paul uses the word cause (poieo), meaning produce, construct, form, or fashion in reference to those who are the authors of division through their false teaching.
“For the sake of those whom he is leading astray or who might be led astray by him if not properly warned from the Scripture, a faithful minister of Christ must warn against that man even though he pretends to, and perhaps to an extent does, preach the gospel. At best, this is a situation in which a disobedient Christian is behaving like a false teacher. . . . But when some man is the prime instigator, promoter, and advocate of an unbiblical position, we must expose that man as we denounce the sin he is promoting.”3
It is somewhat ironic that if you identify a brother who is promoting a false gospel and biblically mark him, he will likely accuse you of being divisive. We have certainly seen this complaint from several men in the “Crossless Gospel” camp. You must remember, however, that it is that man’s false doctrine, which is really causing the division among believers.
“It is often said that the divided condition of Christendom is an evil, and so it is. But the evil consists in the existence of the errors which cause divisions and not at all in the recognition of those errors when once they exist.”4
“It is not authentic teaching that creates the divisions; it is the contrary teaching that creates the division. They have got it just backwards. . . . Those who teach contrary to the body of revealed truth . . . are the ones who create the divisions and create the stumbling blocks.”5
Those who teach the “Crossless Gospel” cause “offences” (skandalon). We get our English word scandal from this Greek word. “Offences” means a trap, snare, or any impediment placed in the way and causing one to stumble or fall. The “Crossless Gospel” is a stumbling block for the lost and a dangerous theology for the redeemed. To be in fidelity with God’s Word, to protect the saints, you must “mark” the men whose “Crossless” doctrine causes “offences.”
Paul admonishes believers to “avoid,” (ekklino) those whom we have marked. The form of this verb would indicate that it is a present imperative, which simply indicates that this avoidance is neither a suggestion nor advice, but, in fact, a command. We are commanded by God to continually avoid the person who has been marked! Thayer's lexicon lists several possible translations for the word, but indicates that in this text, it is best translated “to shun.” We are to shun those who create scandal through their false teaching.
In referring to the terms beseech, mark, and avoid in verse 17, Dr. Mark Minnick said,
“If you take those terms and you ponder them for just a moment, what becomes apparent is this: that our response in the first place is mandated. We have no subjective decision to make. The decision has already been made and the mandate is objective; it is in print! It has been in print for centuries! I exhort you, “mark” them and “avoid” them. . . . The response that we are given is a mandated response! We are obligated to obey what is here.”6To be continued...
1. Joseph Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 579.
2. Mark Minnick, The Scriptural Response To Teachers of Doctrinal Error, a sermon recorded November, 1997 at the Mid-America Conference on Preaching.
3. Mark Sidwell, The Dividing Line: Understanding and Applying Biblical Separation, p. 65.
4. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, p. 50.
5. Mark Minnick, The Scriptural Response to Teachers of Doctrinal Error. A sermon recorded November, 1997.
Please proceed to Part 2 of the series
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