The Apostasy - A History of Rebellion

©1997 Barry Bickmore. All Rights Reserved.

Reference Info - glossary of ancient Christian writers and documents, guide to abbreviations, bibliography.

What exactly was this "apostasy", and when was it supposed to happen? According to LDS scholar Kent Jackson, the word apostasy is derived from the Greek word "apostasia", which means "'rebellion,' 'mutiny,' 'revolt,' or 'revolution,' and is used in ancient contexts with reference to uprisings against established authority."1 Thus, the apostasy was to be a rebellion against God's established authority on earth.

Latter-day Saints believe that the apostasy was underway even while the apostles were alive, and was complete shortly after the last apostles were taken away. While the New Testament does not give many specifics about the timetable of the rebellion in its predictions, it contains many clues pointing to the fact that a massive rebellion was taking place in the Church, and there was not much time left.

The apostasy was to happen before the second coming of Christ. Paul told the Thessalonians not to worry about Christ coming back anytime soon saying, "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away [Greek apostasia ] first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition."2 This does little to pinpoint the timing of the apostasy, but Paul gave other clues that it was happening even as he was writing his letters.

For instance, Paul rebuked the Galatians for turning to a perverted form of the Gospel:

    I marvel that ye are so soon removed from the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another, but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.3

Paul also warned the Corinthians against "false apostles"4 who preached "another Jesus, whom we have not preached."5 Remember also that Paul told the elders at Ephesus that as soon as he was gone, false teachers would arise out of their own ranks and deceive many.

Paul and Peter wrote in the 50's and 60's, and it is evident that they were witness to serious troubles within the Church. However, when we turn to later writings, such as Jude (ca. 80 A. D.) and John (late 90's), it is clear that the situation had become critical.

Jude, the brother of Jesus, wrote a general epistle to combat the many false teachers who had crept into the Church:

    ... it was needful for me to... exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.6

The Jerusalem Bible is more specific about the identity of these false teachers. "Certain people have infiltrated among you, and they are the ones you had a warning about, in writing, long ago. Who warned the saints "in writing" about the infiltration of false teachers? Jude goes on to explain that this warning came from the apostles, so it stands to reason that this was the apostasy foretold in the earlier New Testament writings.

    But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts.7

This passage brings up an important question. That is, why did Jude refer to his own day as "the last time?" John wrote, "Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time."8 Did Jude and John believe it was "the last time" because Christ was about to come back, or because the Church was filled with antichrists, and would not long survive?

The apostles were apparently indifferent to the specific time of Christ's return, as we saw with Paul's comment to the Thessalonians - Peter even told the Church not to worry about the Lord fulfilling his promise to return because, "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day."9 Therefore, it wasn't the "last time" because the Lord was about to return (a fact that should be obvious by this time), but because the Antichrist had come and the Church was about to be taken from the earth.

In the last few years before John, the last apostle, was taken from the Church, he recorded more indications of the rebellion that was about to find its fulfillment. John complained that a certain local leader in the Church, Diotrephes, would not receive John's letters and turned out "the brethren" from the Church as well as those who would receive them:

    I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth [them] out of the church.10

Certain of the earliest non-canonical Christian writings testified of the coming apostasy, also. The Didache (Greek "teaching" - short for "Teaching of the Twelve Apostles"), which was probably written in the first century, recorded:

    For in the last days false prophets and corrupters shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate; for when lawlessness increaseth, they shall hate and persecute and betray one another, and then shall appear the world-deceiver as Son of God, and shall do signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered into his hands, and he shall do iniquitous things which have never yet come to pass since the beginning.11

In an early second century apocryphal document, the Epistle of the Apostles, the resurrected Jesus told his Apostles:

    There shall come forth another doctrine, and a confusion, and because they shall strive after their own advancement, they shall bring forth an unprofitable doctrine. And therein shall be a deadly corruption (of uncleanness), and they shall teach it, and shall turn away them that believe on me from my commandments and cut them off from eternal life.12


1 Jackson, From Apostasy to Restoration, p. 9.

2 2 Thessalonians 2:3.

3 Galatians 1:6-8.

4 2 Corinthians 11:13.

5 2 Corinthians 11:4.

6 Jude 1:3-4.

7 Jude 1:17-18.

8 1 John 2:18.

9 2 Peter 3:8.

10 3 John 9-10.

11 Didache 16, in ANF 7:382.

12 Epistle of the Apostles 50, in ANT, p. 503.