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Apostasy in Christianity has a varied history. Christian apostates are previously Christian individuals who have renounced Christianity, typically converting to another religion. Examples include Julian the Apostate, an early Christian Roman Emperor who adopted paganism.

Biblical teaching regarding Apostasy

The prophecy in the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians has often been cited concerning apostasy:

"Let no man deceive you by any means, for unless there come a revolt first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition,"
"Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;"
"Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction"

Regarding apostasy on an individual level, some denominations quote Jude and Titus 3:10 saying that an apostate or heretic needs to be "rejected after the first and second admonition."

Jesus himself seemed fully aware of the individuals' loss of faith. His parable of the Sower in Luke chapter 8 talks of a farmer who sowed seed that fell along a path and was eaten by birds, seed that fell on a rock and withered for lack of moisture, seed that was choked out by thorns, and seed that fell on good soil and yielded good crops, reflecting well the states of disbelief, apostasy of one type or another, and belief. In another situation, John 6:66 relates that, "From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him." In speaking of the end times, Jesus said, "At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other." (Matthew 24:10) There is also the possibility that Judas Iscariot's betrayal was related to apostasy (as opposed to never having believed).

The apostles also acknowledged individual apostasy. In addition to witnessing the aforementioned loss of faith by many disciples of Jesus recorded in John 6, The apostle Paul cited Hymenaeus and Alexander as specific examples of those who had rejected the faith (I Timothy 1:20).

Permanence of Apostasy

Hebrews 6:4-6 notes the impossibility of those who have fallen away "to be brought back to repentance". Whilst Peter said that for believers in Christ who knowingly turn away from their faith that "the last state has become worse for them than the first". John addresses the same problem (I John 2:18-19).

Roman Catholicism and Apostasy

The Catholic Church holds that in certain circumstances apostasy can cause one to be excommunicated latae sententiae. The Church Catechism includes apostasy as a mortal sin. Julian the Apostate apostasized from the Catholic Church, symbolically "erasing" his baptism by bathing himself in bull's blood.

Past treatment of Apostates by the Catholic Church include the Inquisition and involvement in the Albigensian Crusade.

In the Catholic Church, the word has been applied to the renunciation of monastic vows (apostasis a monachatu) , and to the abandonment of the clerical profession for the life of the world (apostasis a clericatu) , though this usage is a technical one, and refers to the renunciation of the respective states.

Punishment of Apostasy

The Byzantine Emperor Justinian I instituted the punishment of death for apostasy in the Corpus Juris Civilis (Body of Civil Law), directed towards Jews, Samaritans, Manich├Žans, and other heretics (10 c., "De pag.", I, 11). This legal statute formed the basis of Western European law for several centuries.

Forced Apostasy

In the first centuries of the Christian era - as well as other times such as 17th century Japanmarker (See Kakure Kirishitan) - apostasy was most commonly induced by persecution, and was indicated by some outward act. (The readmission of such apostates to the Church was a matter that occasioned serious controversy.)

The Great Apostasy

Restorationist churches generally believe that a foretold apostasy, "The Great Apostasy," began with the death of the early Apostles and continued throughout the Middle Ages. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), a Restorationist church, believe that the "priesthood" (the authority to act in God's name) was lost during this time, and that the Church as it existed in the days of Christ needed to be restored to its original condition. They believe the "restoration" was performed by Joseph Smith in the early nineteenth century.

Many non-Restorationists would argue that, in reference to the Church as a whole, the Bible speaks of apostasies, but only of partial apostasies (see I Tim. 4:1, II Tim. 3:1-5). A partial apostasy (some, or a group of people turning from the faith) would not mean the Church ceased to exist; it would only mean its size diminished. This view would hold that all of the proof texts suggested by Mormons would actually deal with either apostasy of Israel (Amos 8:11, Isa. 29) a partial apostasy during the church age, or apostasy during the tribulation period (future).

According to the Catholic Church a large apostasy from the Catholic faith will take place near the end of time, but the Catholic Church will continue nonetheless, albeit under heavy persecution.

Pre-Tribulation adherents in Protestantism believe that the apostasy can be interpreted as the pre-tribulation Rapture of all Christians. This is because apostasy means departure (translated so in the first seven English translations).

See also


  1. 2 Thessalonians 2:3 Douay Rheims
  2. 2 Thessalonians 2:3 King James Version
  3. 2 Thessalonians 2:3 New American Standard Bible
  4. 2 Peter 2:20-22
  5. Dr. Thomas Ice, Pre-Trib Perspective, March 2004, Vol.8, No.11. Mid-Tribulation and Post-Tribulation adherents have different views on the Great Apostasy, as it is called in Eschatology.

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