The word “heretic” gets thrown around a lot in our world today. Christians joke about semi-sacrilegious things and then point accusingly (in jest), “Heretic!” However, I don’t think we as the Church or we as a culture understand the words “heresy” or “heretic.”
This means you all get a Greek lesson from the Greek Geek himself!
(Note: I will be using the actual Greek, so if you’d like to see the characters, you may need to peruse the Internet to find a Greek font to install into your Font book/system.)
Heretic comes from the word, “αἱρετικός” – which means:
1. fitted or able to take or choose a thing
2. schismatic, factious, a follower of a false doctrine
(The last one may seem a bit obvious, but remember we’re taking Greek into English.)
Interestingly enough, the only verse this particular word occurs in is Titus 3:10.
In the NRSV – “After a first and second admonition, have nothing more to do with anyone who causes divisions,”
In the ESV – “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him,”
It’s only in the KJV that we actually find the word “heretic” being used. I suspect this is a political correctness coming about through the later translations of NRSV, ESV, etc. Yet we have this idea of “causing division.” Certainly this is true of someone who chooses what is deemed heresy. Yet that doesn’t quite explain the meaning of the word.
αἱρετικός is a noun; αἱρετίζω is the verb form – “to choose, to belong to a sect.”
To choose. Ready for the twist that may hurt your brain?
Look up Matthew 12:18.
If you know that passage, you must be thinking, “Why on earth are you referencing Jesus’ baptism?!?” *grin*
When God the Father says, “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen…” – guess what word is used?
If you guessed αἱρετίζω, you’re right! “ᾑρέτισα” is the form of “heresy” used there. (It’s an 1st person, Singular, Aorist, Active, Indicative for all you Greek scholars out there.)
So, we have an example of a human choosing in Titus 3:10, which causes division. But then in Matthew 12:18, we have God choosing Christ, which has brought “eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). Humans tend to mess up what God can do rightly (and justly).
Heresy is about choosing what one wants to do, rather than what one ought to do. I realize this opens the can o’ worms by talking about the authority of Scripture and doctrine. And for the sake of space and sanity (in this article), I will refrain from touching on it. But, keeping the authoritative questions in mind, it helped me (and hopefully helps you) see what is so destructive and divisive about being a “heretic.”
I’m reminded of Isaiah 55:9:
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
We often choose our own paths, our own clothes, our own career paths. We decide when we wake and when we sleep, who we marry, and what we will eat. Our culture screams at us to be our own person. There is some value to that, for there isn’t much value in being a mindless cow in a herd running off a cliff. But in regard to belief and practice of Christianity, individuality has the potential energy to be entirely bad.
Please do not hear me say that being an individual is wrong. We are all children of God, and we are only ONE child per person.
We have our own particular needs, and we have particular desires and passions that are God-given.
But when we begin to “strike out on our own” into territory that hasn’t been blazed, I think we should be careful of our choices.
As with everything, we have to live by prayer and the guidance of the Spirit.
Let God be the chooser, and we be the followers. I think we forget we’re followers first, and then leaders second.