Choice, chosen way of life or faith, sect, school, party. The Greek word properly designates any sect or party, without implying praise or censure. So in Ac 5:17; 15:5; 26:4-5. In the epistles it denotes a sect or party in a bad sense, implying a refractory spirit, as well as error in faith and practice, 1Co 11:19; Ga 5:20; 2Pe 2:1. After the primitive age, the word came to signify simply error in doctrine.
from a Greek word signifying (1) a choice, (2) the opinion chosen, and (3) the sect holding the opinion. In the Acts of the Apostles (Ac 5:17; 15:5; 24:5,14; 26:5) it denotes a sect, without reference to its character. Elsewhere, however, in the New Testament it has a different meaning attached to it. Paul ranks "heresies" with crimes and seditions (Ga 5:20). This word also denotes divisions or schisms in the church (1Co 11:19). In Tit 3:10 a "heretical person" is one who follows his own self-willed "questions," and who is to be avoided. Heresies thus came to signify self-chosen doctrines not emanating from God (2Pe 2:1).
1Co 11:18-19. Schisms (Greek: "schisma") meant "divisions" through differences of opinion of recent standing. "Heresies" meant "schisms inveterate". "Sect" (Greek "heresy") Ac 5:17; 15:5. Paul means by "there must be heresies among you," that sin must bear its natural fruit, as Christ foretold (Lu 17:1), and schisms (compare 1Co 12:25) must eventuate in mattered secessions or confirmed schisms. "Heresy" did not yet bear its present meaning, "doctrinal error". However see its use in Ac 24:14.
The word 'heresy' (Gr. hairesis) is never used in the NT in the technical sense in which we find it by the first quarter of the 2nd cent., as a doctrinal departure from the true faith of the Church, implying a separation from its communion. The usual NT meaning of hairesis is simply a party, school, or sect; and sect is the word by which it is most frequently rendered. In Acts this is the invariable use. Thus it is applied to the parties of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Ac 5:17; 15:5; 26:5), precisely as in Josephus (Ant. XIII. v. 9). Similarly it is used of the followers of Christ, though not by themselves (Ac 24:5,14; 28:22). In Ac 24:14 St. Paul substitutes 'the Way' for his accusers' term 'a sect.' The reason may partly have been that in his own usage hairesis, while still bearing the general sense of 'party,' had come to convey a reproach as applied to Christians.
There was nothing that distressed St. Paul more than the presence of strife and party-feeling among his converts. The unity of the Church as the body of Christ was one of his ruling ideas (1Co 12:12 ff., Ro 12:5; Eph 1:22 f., Eph 5:23 ff., Col 1:18,24; 2:19); and the existence of factions, as fatal to the sense of unity, was strongly deprecated and condemned (Ga 5:20; 1Co 11:19; cf. 'heretic,' Tit 3:10). 'Heresy' was division or schism (1Co 11:18-19 shows that 'heresy' and 'division' [Gr. schisma] were practically synonymous); and 'schism' was a rending or cleaving of the body of Christ (1Co 12:25,27). It was not doctrinal aberration from the truth, however, but practical breaches of the law of brotherly love that the Apostle condemned under the name of 'heresy' (see esp., as illustrating this, 1Co 11:19 ff.).
Outside of Acts and the Pauline Epp., hairesis is used in the NT only in 2Pe 2:1. In this, probably the latest of the NT writings, we see a marked advance towards the subsequent ecclesiastical meaning of the word. The 'damnable (RV 'destructive') heresies' here spoken of spring not merely from a selfish and factious spirit, but from false teaching. As yet, however, there seems to be no thought of the existence of heretical bodies outside of the general Christian communion. The heresies are false teachings (v. 1) leading to 'licentious doings' (v. 2), but they are 'brought in,' says the writer, 'among you.'
J. C. Lambert.
HERESY, haeresis, ???????, from ?????, I choose, signifies an error in some essential point of Christian faith, publicly avowed, and obstinately maintained; or, according to the legal definition, "Sententia rerum divinarum humano sensu excogitata, palam docta, et pertinaciter defensa." [An opinion of divine things invented by human reason, openly taught, and obstinately defended.] Among the ancients, the word heresy appears to have had nothing of that odious signification which has been attached to it by ecclesiastical writers in later times. It only signified a peculiar opinion, dogma, or sect, without conveying any reproach; being indifferently used, either of a party approved, or of one disapproved, by the writer. In this. sense they spoke of the heresy of the Stoics, of the Peripatetics, Epicureans, &c, meaning the sect or peculiar system of these philosophers. In the historical part of the New Testament, the word seems to bear very nearly the same signification, being employed indiscriminately to denote a sect or party, whether good or bad. Thus we read of the sect or heresy of the Sadducees, of the Pharisees, of the Nazarenes, &c. See Ac 5:17; 15:5; 24:5; 26:5; 28:22. In the two former of these passages, the term heresy seems to be adopted by the sacred historian merely for the sake of distinction, without the least appearance, of any intention to convey either praise or blame. In Ac 26:4-5, St. Paul, in defending himself before King Agrippa, uses the same term, when it was manifestly his design to exalt the party to which he had belonged, and to give their system the preference over every other system of Judaism, both with regard to soundness of doctrine and purity of morals.
2. It has been suggested that the acceptation of the word ??????? in the epistles is different from what it has been observed to be in the historical books of the New Testament. In order to account for this difference, it may be observed that the word sect has always something relative in it; and therefore, although the general import of the term be the same, it will convey a favourable or an unfavourable idea, according to the particular relation which it bears in the application. When it is used along with the proper name, by way of distinguishing one party from another, it conveys neither praise nor reproach. If any thing reprehensible or commendable be meant, it is suggested, not by the word ??????? itself, but by the words with which it stands connected in construction. Thus we may speak of a strict sect, or a lax sect; or of a good sect, or a bad sect. Again: the term may be applied to a party formed in a community, when considered in reference to the whole. If the community be of such a nature as not to admit of such a subdivision, without impairing or corrupting its constitution, a charge of splitting into sects, or forming parties, is equivalent to a charge of corruption in that which is most essential to the existence and welfare of the society. Hence arises the whole difference in the word, as it is used in the historical part of the New Testament, and in the epistles of St. Peter and St. Paul; for these are the only Apostles who employ it. In the history, the reference is always of the first kind; in the epistles, it is always of the second. In these last, the Apostles address themselves only to Christians, and either reprehend them for, or warn them against, forming sects among themselves, to the prejudice of charity, to the production of much mischief within their community, and of great scandal to the unconverted world without. In both applications, however, the radical import of the word is the same; and even in the latter it has no necessary reference to doctrine, true or false. During the early ages of Christianity, the term heresy gradually lost the innocence of its original meaning, and came to be applied, in a reproachful sense, to any corruption of what was considered as the orthodox creed, or even to any departure from the established rites and ceremonies of the church.
3. The heresies chiefly alluded to in the apostolical epistles are, first, those of the Judaizers, or rigid adherents to the Mosaic rites, especially that of circumcision; second, those of converted Hellenists, or Grecian Jews, who held the Greek eloquence and philosophy in too high an estimation, and corrupted, by the speculations of the latter, the simplicity of the Gospel; and third, those who endeavoured to blend Christianity with a mixed philosophy of magic, demonology, and Platonism, which was then highly popular in the world. With respect to the latter, the remarks of Hug will tend to illustrate some passages in the writings of St. Paul;