Heresy is a teaching or practice which denies one or more essentials of the Christian faith, divides Christians, and deserves condemnation. The term is derived from the Greek word hairesis, literally meaning a choice, but referring
more specifically to a sect, party or disunion. Luke uses the term in Acts to refer to the sects of the Sadducees (5:17),
Pharisees (15:5; 26:5), and even the Christians - called Nazarenes and the Way (24:5,14; 28:22). When
Paul uses the term in 1 Corinthians and Galatians, he refers to the divisions which cause strife in the church, while
Peter links the term to false prophets and teachers.
While there is a temptation for Christians to label whatever is not in keeping with sound doctrine as heresy, the Bible seems to make the distinction that heresy is not merely the opposite of orthodoxy. Rather, heresy is a divisive teaching or
practice which forces those who call themselves Christians to separate from it or face condemnation for it.
John the Apostle gave a prime example of such a doctrine: denying the true nature of the person and work of Jesus Christ (I John 4:1-3; 2 John 1:7-11).
- Ben Quash and Michael Ward,
Heresies and How to Avoid Them: What it Matters What Christians Believe. Hendrickson, 2007.