A Commentary by John Stott
Matthew 7:15-20. A Christian’s relationships: To false prophets.
In telling people to *beware of false prophets*, Jesus obviously assumed that there were such. There is no sense in putting on your garden gate the notice ‘beware of the dog’ if all you have at home is a couple of cats and a budgerigar! No, Jesus warned his followers of false prophets because they already existed. We come across them on numerous occasions in the Old Testament, and Jesus seems to have regarded the Pharisees and Sadducees in the same light. ‘Blind leaders of the blind’, he called them. He also implied that they would increase, and that the period preceding the end would be characterized not only by the world-wide spread of the gospel but also by the rise of false teachers as would lead many astray. (Mt.24:11-14.). We hear of them in nearly every New Testament letter. They are called either ‘pseudo-prophets’ as here (‘prophets’ presumably because they claimed divine inspiration), or ‘pseudo-apostles’ (because they claim apostolic authority, 2 Cor.11:13) or ‘pseudo-teachers (2 Pet.2:1) or even pseudo-Christs’ (because they made messianic pretensions or denied that Jesus was the Christ come in the flesh, Mt.24:24; Mk.13:22: cf. 1 Jn.2:18,22). But each was ‘pseudo’ and *pseudos* is the Greek word for a lie. The history of the Christian church has been a long and dreary story of controversy with false teachers. Their value, in the overruling providence of God, is that they have presented the church with a challenge to think out and define the truth, but they have caused much damage. I fear there are still many in today’s church.
In telling us to beware of false prophets Jesus made another assumption, namely that there is such a thing as an objective standard of truth from which the falsehood of the false prophets is to be distinguished. The very notion of ‘false’ prophets is meaningless otherwise. In biblical days a true prophet was one who taught the truth by divine inspiration, and a false prophet was one who claimed the same divine inspiration but actually propagated untruth. Jeremiah contrasted them in these terms: false prophets ‘speak visions of their own minds’, while true prophets ‘stand in the council of the Lord’, ‘hear his word’, ‘proclaim it to the people’ and ‘speak from the mouth of the Lord’ (23:16,18,22). Again, ‘let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream; but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? (23:28) So in referring to certain teachers as ‘false prophets’ it is clear that Jesus was no syncretist, teaching that contradictory opinions were in reality complementary insights into the same truth. No. He held that truth and falsehood excluded one another, and that those who propagate lies in God’s name are false prophets, of whom his followers must beware.
Tomorrow: Matthew 7:15-20. The peril of false teachers.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.