posted by Phil Johnson
Truth has never been established by majority opinion, and it is in no way unusual that in our generation only a relatively small remnant still believe the Bible is inerrantly truthful. Here's proof:
ike sin itself, apostasy is by no means a recent phenomenon, and it is not even something unique to the Christian era. From that moment in the garden when the serpent brought his war against truth into the world of humanitythrough the close of the Old Testament canon and beyond, right down to the present daythe campaign against truth has been unrelenting and shockingly effective.
Again and again in the Old Testament, Israel was solemnly warned not to defect. Apostates nonetheless can be found in every period of Old Testament history. At times, it seemed as if the entire nation had apostatized at once. In Elijah's generation, for instance (at a time when the total population of Israel almost surely could be counted in the millions), the number of the faithful dwindled to some seven thousand (1 Kings 19:18). Elijah even imagined for a while that he was the last true believer alive!
During Jeremiah's lifetime, the size of the faithful remnant was probably smaller still. Almost everyone in Israel was utterly hostile to Jeremiah's ministry. After four decades of powerful preaching, the great prophet stood essentially alone. Scripture gives no indication that he ever saw a single convert.
Throughout Old Testament history, the problem of apostasy was pervasive, and times of widespread faithfulness in the nation, such as the sweeping revival described in Nehemiah 8, were exceptional and mostly short-lived. Nehemiah's revival quickly gave way to a watered-down and halfhearted form of religion (see Nehemiah 13). Spiritual lukewarmness dominated Israel's later history. The whole nation finally became so utterly apostate that when the promised Messiah was born, virtually everyone missed the true significance of the event. Within three years of the start of His public ministry, they were crying for Him to be murdered as a dangerous imposter and threat to their religion. From a human perspective, it might even seem as if the enemies of truth usually had the upper hand in the Old Testament era.
It is no surprise, then, that the word apostasia appears several times in the Septuagint (an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament that predates Christ by a couple of hundred years). In Joshua 22:22, for example, apostasy is characterized as "rebellion [and] treachery" against "the LORD God of gods." Jeremiah 2:19 likewise employs the word apostasia to describe the backslidings of those who utterly forsook the Lord. That same verse defines the essence of all apostasy: " 'The fear of Me is not in you,' says the Lord GOD of hosts."
So apostasy, appalling and dismal though it is, has been an ever-present reality throughout all of redemptive history. Many people who know the truth reject it anyway, and thus it has always been. In that respect, the times in which we live are by no means extraordinary.
Even Jesus' ministry provides a startling picture of real-life apostasy. John 6 records how large crowds showed up wherever he went while He was performing miracles. But they turned away en masse when He began to proclaim truth they did not want to hear. In most cases, it appears, their rejection of Christ was nothing less than final and irremediable apostasy. Near the end of that long, tragic chapter, verse 66 says this: "From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more."
Jesus' teaching made the truth starkly clear. These people, who evidently saw the truth plainly and understood Jesus' teaching perfectly well, turned away anyway. In fact, the utter clarity of the truth was the very thing that drove them away. When they saw the truth for what it was, they simply hated it. It was too demanding, too unpopular, too inconvenient, too much of a threat to their own agenda, and too much of a rebuke to their sin. Remember, "men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19).
So that is how the New Testament era began. Scripture also teaches that apostasy will be widespread at the end of the age. In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus gave an extended description of the last days, including this: "Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many" (Matthew 24:11). Peter likewise prophesied that "scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming?'" (2 Peter 3:3þ4). In 1 Timothy 4:1þ2, the apostle Paul says, "the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron." As a matter of fact, one of the major turning points at the end of this age will be a worldwide renunciation of the truth and a wholesale rejection of Christ, known as "the falling away" (apostasia), according to 2 Thessalonians 2:3.
So apostasy is a fact of all history, and there is never any kind of armistice in the Truth War. Our generation is certainly no exception to that rule. Some of the greatest threats to truth today come from within the visible church. Apostates are there in vast abundanceteaching lies, popularizing gross falsehoods, reinventing essential doctrines, and even redefining truth itself. They seem to be everywhere in the evangelical culture today, making merchandise of the gospel.