William Bradford Institute
for Study of the
Early Settlement of America

What is Meant in Scripture by the Word "Heresies," and How We are to

Understand that There Must be Heresies, for Making Manifest the
Godly Party, or Those That are Approved
By George Gillespie

1 Cor. 11:19, "For there must be also heresies among you," says the
apostle, "that they which are approved may be made manifest among
you;" or, as others read, "that they which are approved among you
may be manifest."

By heresies, here, some understand no more but divisions and sects,
and conceive that heresies, in point of opinion or doctrine, are not
here meant. So Chrysostom, Erasmus, and others. If so, then the very
divisions and sects will make a discovery of who are approved, who
not, before it comes to heretical opinions, i.e., sectaries are not
approved, and those who are indeed approved are none of theirs, but
keep themselves unspotted and free from them. So, Titus 3:10, [Gk.]
heretikon [an heretic] is rendered in the Tigurine Bible sectarum
authorem, and in the margin, factiosum, i.e., a man that is an
author of sects (or factions), after the first and second admonition
reject; and, 1 Cor. 11:19, they read, oportet enim et sectas in
vobis esse [indeed, it is right that there are divisions among you].
Sometimes the word [Gk.] heresis is taken in the New Testament for a
sect, yet (to note that by the way) only for such a sect as either
was indeed, or was esteemed to be, of some heretical opinion, as
Acts 5:17; 15:5; 24:5; 26:5; 28:22. The apostle has the word [Gk.]
heresis twice in his epistles, and in both places he makes some
difference and distinction between heresies and divisions, or
strifes and variance, 1Cor. 11:18-19; Gal. 5:20. For every division,
strife, or variance, is not heresy; therefore, in the text which I
now speak to, I understand heresy to be somewhat more than division.
The Arabic, 1Cor. 12:25, that is in the Greek, and our translations,
1 Cor. 11:19, repeats the word schisms out of the preceding verse,
and adds, moreover, the word heresies, reading [Gk.] skismata kai
heresis [schisms and heresies], for there must arise schisms and
heresies among you, that those of you who are godly may be known. It
seems that they who understand only divisions to be meant by the
word heresies, do not observe the rising of the apostle's speech;
for, after he has spoken of their [Gk.] skismata, or schismatical
divisions, contrary to the rule of love, he adds, [Gk.] Dei gar kai
hereseis, etc., for there must also be heresies among you.[1] I
partly believe it, says he, that there are divisions among you; for
there must be not only schisms, but, worse than that, there must be
heresies also. If you ask now, "What is heresy?" I shall, without
any implicit following of writers, ground my answer on scripture
itself. And I answer first negatively, then positively.

Negatively. 1. Heresy is neither to be so far taken at large as to
be extended to every error which may be confuted by scripture,
although, happily, such an error be too tenaciously maintained; nor
yet is it to be so far restricted as that no error shall be
accounted heretical but that which is destructive to some
fundamental article of the Christian faith; if, by a fundamental
article, you understand such a truth, without the knowledge and
faith whereof it is impossible to get salvation. When Peter Martyr
defines heresy, he makes no mention of a fundamental error, but of
an error contrary to the scriptures, Loc. Com., class. 2, cap. 4,
sect. 50. So Calvin (Instit., lib. 4, cap. 2, sect. 5), understands
all such to be heretics as make a breach in the church by false
doctrines. Walus (tom. 1, p. 57) says heretical churches do either
err in the foundation, or only in some other things built upon the
foundation. When Peter speaks of such heresies as take away the very
foundation, Jesus Christ, he thinks it too little to call them
simple heresies, but he calls these "damnable heresies" [2 Pet.
2:1]. But if you understand by fundamental truths all the chief and
substantial principles (I do not mean only the first rudiments, or
A, B, C, of a catechism, which we, first of all, put to new
beginners; but I mean all such truths as are commonly put in the
confessions of faith, and in the more full and large catechisms of
the reformed churches; or all such truths as all and every one who
lives in a true Christian reformed church are commanded and required
to learn and know, as they expect, in the ordinary dispensation of
God, to be saved), in this sense I may yield that heresy is always
contrary to some fundamental truth.

It is one thing to dispute of the absolute sovereign power of God,
and what are the truths without the belief whereof it is absolutely
and altogether impossible that one can be saved; which question, I
doubt, is hardly determinable by scripture; nor do I know what
edification there is in the canvassing of it; sure I am it is a
question much abused. It is another thing to dispute what are those
truths which, in a church where the gospel is truly preached, all
and every one, come to years of knowledge and discretion, and having
the means and occasion to learn, are bound to know; and according to
the revealed will and ordinary dispensation of God, must learn, as
they desire or expect to have a true fellowship with Christ in the
sacrament of the Lord's supper, or to be accepted of God, and saved

2. We must not think that no man is a heretic but he who is
consistorially or judicially admonished, and thereafter continues
pertinaciously in his error; for where it is said, Titus 3:10, "A
man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition,
reject," it is intimated that he was an heretic before such an

Positively. I conceive that these six things do concur to make a
heresy: 1. It is an error held by some minister or member of a
church; I mean either a true church, or an assembly pretending and
professing to be a true church. For both Peter and Paul, where they
foretell that heresies were to come, 2 Pet. 2:1; 1 Cor. 11:19, they
add [Gk.] en humin, among you, i.e., among you Christians; so, Acts
20:30, "Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse
things." Therefore the scripture gives not the name of heretics to
those who are altogether without the visible church, but it calls
such by the names of heathens or unbelievers, or they that are
without, or the like.

2. It is an error voluntarily and freely chosen, both in the first
invention or broaching of it (which is proper to the heresiarchs),
and in the maintaining of it or adhering to it (which is common to
all heretics). This I collect from the very name which the scripture
gives to it; for [Gk.] heresis comes from [Gk.] hereomai, I choose.
Therefore we give not the name of heretics to such Christians as are
compelled, in time of persecution, to profess such an error, which,
peradventure, were a formal heresy, if voluntarily and without
compulsion professed. They ought, indeed, to die, and to endure the
greatest torments, before they profess what they know to be an
error. But this their sin is not properly called heresy, for an
heretic does freely and voluntarily hold that which is in his error.
And, in this respect and consideration, Tertullian thinks that a
heretic is said to be [Gk.] autokatakritos, condemned of himself,
Titus 3:11, because he has of himself chosen that which does condemn
him.[2] The apostle there has commanded to reject an heretic. If I
reject him (might one say) then I lose him, I destroy his soul. Nay
(says the apostle), his perdition is of himself, for he has chosen
his own ways, and his soul delights in his abominations. This
interpretation is much surer and safer than to say that a heretic is
called [Gk.] autokatakritos, or self-condemned, because he goes
against his own light, and against the principles received and
acknowledged by himself; which sense is accompanied with many
dangerous consequences.

3. It is such a choosing of error as is accompanied with a rejecting
of truth. A heretic puts light for darkness, and darkness for light;
good for evil, and evil for good; he chooses error as truth, and
refuses truth as error. They that give heed to seducing spirits and
doctrines of devils, do also "depart from the faith," 1 Tim. 4:1;
"resist the truth," 2 Tim. 3:8; and "turn away their ears from the
truth," 2 Tim. 4:4. Their course has a terminus a quo [end from
which] as well as ad quem [to which].

4. It is an error professed and maintained, and which, by that
means, becomes a scandal and snare to others. For although there may
be heresy (as well as other kinds of sin) lurking and hid in the
thoughts, yet that belongs to God's judgment only, not to man's. The
heresies which are spoken of, 1 Cor. 11:9, are certainly known, and
apparently discriminative, even among men. And heretics are
scandalous persons, to be avoided and rejected, Rom. 16:17; Titus
3:10; which could not be except their errors were known.

5. It is an error contradictory of some chief and substantial truth,
grounded upon, or, by necessary consequence, drawn from holy
scripture. There was never yet any heretic in the Christian world
who contradicted that which is literally and syllabically in
scripture. The most damnable heretic will offer to subscribe to the
scripture instead of a confession of faith, who yet will not
subscribe to all truths which necessarily follow from the words of
scripture. But I call not every error heresy, which is contrary to
any consequential truth grounded upon scripture. As the scripture
reckons not all who sin to be "workers of iniquity," so it reckons
not all who err to be heretics. Although there is not any sin or
error in the true nature of it venial, yet every sin is not a gross
and heinous sin, and every error is not heresy. Heresies are
mentioned as greater evils than schisms, 1 Cor. 11:18-19, which
could not be so if every error were an heresy.

6. It is an error factiously maintained, with a renting of the
church, and drawing away of disciples after it, in which respect
Augustine said, Errare potero, hreticus non ero I may err, but I
shall not be an heretic." Heretics are deceivers and seducers, who
endeavour to pervert others and to overthrow their faith, 2 Tim.
3:13; Acts 20:30; 2 Tim. 2:17-18; Rom. 16:17-19; 2 Pet. 2:2. All
known and noted heretics are also schismatics, who make a rupture,
and strengthen their own party by drawing after them, or confirming
unto them disciples and followers (in so much that [Gk.] heresis
often used for a sect, as Acts 5:17; 15:5; 24:5; 26:5). For this
cause the Donatists were condemned as heretics, without imputation
of heresy to Cyprian. "And, O strange turning about of things (says
Vincentius Lirinensis, Advers. Hret. [Against Heretics], cap. 11),
the authors of the same opinion are judged catholic, but the
followers heretics; the masters are absolved, the disciples are
condemned; the writers of these books are the children of the
kingdom, but hell shall receive the asserters or maintainers." This
last ingredient which is found in heresy is hinted by the Arabic
interpreter, 1 Cor. 11:19, where he joins schisms and heresies, as
was noted before; and, indeed, in the original, the particle [Gk.]
kai [and], and the rising of the speech, sets forth heresy as
carrying schism with it in its bosom. I believe, says the apostle,
in part, what I hear of your schisms, for "there must be also
heresies," i.e., both schisms and somewhat more. Calvin, Institut.,
lib. 4, cap. 2, sect. 5, makes the breaking of church communion, and
the making of a rent, a thing both common to heretics and
schismatics: for heretics break one band of church communion, which
is consent in doctrine; schismatics break another, which is love,
though sometimes they agree in the like faith.

From all which scriptural observations, we may make up a description
of heresy to this sense: Heresy is a gross and dangerous error,
voluntarily held and factiously maintained by some person or persons
within the visible church, in opposition to some chief or
substantial truth or truths grounded upon and drawn from the holy
scripture by necessary consequence.

But next, Why says the apostle that "there must be heresies?" This
is not a simple or absolute necessity, but ex hypothesi [one that
follows from supposition]. I mean not only upon supposition of
Satan's malice and men's corruption, but upon supposition of God's
eternal and infallible foreknowledge; and not only so, but upon
supposition of the eternal decree to permit Satan and corrupt men to
introduce heresies into the church, purposing, in the most wise and
most holy counsel of his will, to disabuse (as I may so say) his
church by these heresies; that is, to order and overrule them, for
the praise of his grace and mercy, to manifest such as are approved;
and from the glory of his justice, in sending strong delusions upon
such as received not the love of the truth, but had pleasure in
unrighteousness. These things being so, i.e., Satan's malice and
men's corruption being such, and there being such a foreknowledge,
yea, such a decree in God, therefore it is that there must be
heresies. And so we are also to understand Matt. 18:7, "It must
needs be that offences come." These things I do but touch by the way.

That which I here aim at, is the good use which God, in his most
wise and sovereign providence, can and does make of heresies. It is,
"that they which are approved may be made manifest;" where, by [Gk.]
hoi dokimoi they which are approved, we can understand nothing but
such as are true and sincere saints, approved and accepted of God;
or (as Bullinger on the place) vere pii, truly godly, in which sense
the word is used, Rom. 16:10; 2 Cor. 10:18; 2 Tim. 2:15; James 1:12.
The word is properly used of good money, or silver well-refined,
[Gk.] argurion. It is transferred to the saints with special
reference to their mortification, or to the refining of them from
the dross of their corruptions, and so notes such as walk in the
Spirit, and not in the flesh. The contrary word is [Gk.] hoi
adokimoi, rebrobate, rejectaneous, naughty, or to be cast away like
the dross of silver, 1 Cor. 9:27; 2 Cor. 13:5-6.

But how is it that by means or occasion of heresies the godly party
is made manifest? Surely the meaning of the apostle is not that the
authors and followers of heresies are the godly party, for he calls
heresy a work of the flesh, Gal. 5:20, and will have an heretic to
be rejected, as one who is of himself condemned, Titus 3:10.
Therefore, most certainly, his meaning is that [Gk.] hoi dokimoi,
they which are approved, are known by this as one of their
characters: they hate, avoid, and resist heresies, and earnestly
contend for the faith; they hold fast the truth of Christ without
wavering. And those who broach or adhere unto heresies, are thereby
known to be [Gk.] adokimoi, unapproved, and such as are like
reprobate silver.

Whosoever, therefore, sides or engages with heresies or heretics
yea, whosoever stands not fast in the faith does, ipso facto [by
that very deed], declare himself to be none of Paul's godly party:
so contrary is the language of the Holy Ghost to the tone of
sectaries in these days. Neither is it in this scripture alone, but
in diverse other scriptures, that the Holy Ghost distinguishes those
that are approved of God, from such as turn from the truth after
false doctrines, and believe seducing spirits, as well as from those
who are of an ungodly life.

So Deut. 13:3, when a false prophet arose, and the sign or wonder
came to pass, what was God's meaning in permitting these things?
"The Lord your God proveth you to know whether ye love the Lord your
God with all your heart and with all your soul." They, therefore,
that hearkened to the false prophet, even when his sign or wonder
came to pass, made themselves known thereby, that they had not been
lovers of God with all their heart.

Again, Matt. 24:24, those that are elect are not deceived by false
Christs and the false prophets; and, by the rule of contraries, they
who are deceived by them, and go in their error to the end, are not
elect, but reprobate, Gal. 5:20-21.

Heresy is a work of the flesh, and is reckoned among those things
which render a person incapable of inheriting the kingdom of God.
They, therefore, who walk in the Spirit, and not in the flesh, and
are made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in
light, are not only no heretics, but resist and oppose heresy, as
being a work of the flesh, John 8:31. They who are Christ's
disciples, indeed, continue in his word; they who continue not in
his word, are not his disciples indeed, 1 John 2:24, with 2 John,
ver. 9. They who have fellowship with the Father and the Son abide
in the doctrine of Christ; they who abide not in the doctrine of
Christ have no fellowship with the Father and the Son: the like in
diverse other scriptures.

If, therefore, there must be heresies, even for this reason, to make
more manifest who are approved, who not, then let no thoughts arise
in our hearts toward the accusing of divine providence in this
particular. Justin Martyr, Qust. et Respons. ad Orthod. [Questions
and Responses on the Subject of Orthodoxy] quest. 1, answering this
doubt: "If God has taken away the idolatries, superstitions, and
false religions of the heathens, and has also abolished the Jewish
worship, why has he suffered heresies to enter into the Christian
church?" He gives this solution: that although heresies come into
the church through men's negligence and slothfulness (for while men
slept, the enemy sowed the tares among the wheat, Matt. 13:25), yet
the providence of God was no way slothful in the business. For he
foresaw and foretold that heresies should come, and has given plain
warning in his word concerning the same. He adds, that the same God
who did destroy the heathenish and the Jewish religion, will also
destroy heresies, after he has suffered them for a time. Although we
have not distinct knowledge what God intends to work of heresies,
yet we ought not to censure, but humbly and reverently to adore
God's most wise and most holy (though secret and unsearchable)

If we should see somewhat which is deadly poison among some drugs,
which a skilled and approved physician is making use of, we must not
rashly censure the physician; for he knows how to disabuse that
which is in itself poisonous, and to make it one of the ingredients
in a most sovereign medicine. Or if we should come into the shop of
a curious artificer, or engineer, and there see some ugly and
ill-favoured instruments, which we think serve for no good, but for
evil, yet it were foolishly done to censure the artificer, who knows
to make an excellent good use of these things, though we know not.
How much more foolish and sinful is it, to suffer thoughts to rise
in our hearts against the wisdom and providence of God, even
although we know not what he intends to work out of such things? We
were most of all inexcusable to accuse his providence, now when he
has made known in his word to us, that, by occasion of heresies, he
will make manifest who are approved, and who not. "Wherefore," says
Chrysostom (de Divers. etc., tom. loc., ser. 21), "that no man might
say, 'Why has Christ permitted this?' Paul says, 'This permission
shall not hurt you, if you are one who is approved, for by this
means you shall be made more manifest.' "

Yet all this cannot excuse either the heretics or sectaries
themselves, or those who connive at them. For that which Christ says
in genere [in general], of scandals, is true, in specie [in
particular], of heresies. It must needs be that heresies come, but
woe to him by whom they come. I add, and woe also to him who does
not, according to his place and calling, endeavour the extirpation
of them. The text which I now speak to, 1 Cor. 11:19, has not
reference to the will of God's commandment, which is the rule of our
duty, but to the will of God's decree, or the secret counsel of his
will. It is God's purpose to permit heresies, and to overrule them
for this end, that his graces may the more shine forth, and that
even heresies (contrary to the intentions of Satan and heretics) may
make manifest who are approved. Scilicet quos non potuerint
depravare, says Tertullian, opening this scripture (de Prser. Adv.
Hr.), to wit (says he): Such as heresies could not pervert and
deprave, no other are the approved ones.

But there are two things may be here objected. 1. May not one
chosen, and justified, and regenerate, be drawn away and infected
with heresy, through the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness
whereby they lie in wait to deceive? If so, then heresies do not
make manifest who are approved, who not. 2.May not many who are not
approved of God be preserved from the infections of heresies yea,
be forward in resisting and opposing them? If so, then preservation
from, and resisting of heresies, cannot make manifest that one is
approved of God. These objections are no more against me than
against the text of scripture.

To the first I answer: A regenerate person may be tempted and drawn
over to heresy as he may be tempted and drawn over to other great
sins. Heresy does no otherwise consist with the state of grace in
any person than other works of the flesh, adultery, fornication,
drunkenness, or the like. Look upon an elect and justified person
while lying in some great sin for instance, Noah, Lot, David,
Peter even so must you look upon an elect and justified person
poisoned with heresy. But then, that person, being elected,
justified, and regenerate, cannot be supposed to live and die in
that sinful estate; but God will certainly heal his backslidings,
and rescue his soul out of the snare of the devil by repentance; for
the elect cannot be deceived so as to continue and die in heresy,
Matt. 24:24.

And while he continues in such a gross sin or heresy, you may truly
say that, for that time, he is [Gk.] adokimos, unapproved, or like
dross and unrefined silver; in which sense the word is used by the
apostle, where he speaks of his bringing his body into subjection,
lest he himself should be found [Gk.] adokimos. Where the old
English translation reads, "Lest I myself should be reproved"
which is too soft a word the new translation has, "Lest I myself
should be a castaway. Beza [has], Ne ipse rejectaneus fiam [Lest I
myself become rejectable]. In the same sense it is used, 2 Cor.
13:5, "Know ye not your ownselves, how that Jesus Christ is in you,
except ye be reprobates?" Beza, Nisi rejectanei estis [Unless you
are to be rejected]. H. Stephanus expones ajdovkimo", Minime probus
non probandus: Item adulterinus non sincerus. [By no means should a
virtuous man not be proven to be so: just as much should a false man
be found insincere.] And he cites Aristotle, [Gk.] Adokimon hepoiase
nomisma, [Behaviour renders one unapproved]. In this sense even an
elect and regenerate person, supposed to be a maintainer or follower
of heresy, while such, is certainly [Gk.] adokimos, unapproved,
greatly reprovable, to be rejected and cast away to the furnace like
dross and unrefined silver. And no marvel; for, in that estate, he
does not act his graces, but his corruptions, and, by his great sin,
does extremely grieve, and dangerously quench, the Holy Spirit once
given to him.

To the other objection I answer: 1. Although the full and perfect
discovery (who are approved, who not) is reserved to the great and
last day, and there is no company, assembly, nor visible church in
this world, without a mixture of hypocrites, yet surely the word of
the Lord has been, and shall be, so far fulfilled, that, in a great
measure, and according to the knowledge which the church can have of
her members in this life, there is, in times of heresies and
schisms, a discovery made who are the approved ones, who not.
2. We must remember it is not the scope of this text to give us a
note of distinction between those who are approved, and all
counterfeits or unapproved Christians, but between those who are
approved, and those who are the fomenters or followers of heresies.
Thus they who are indeed approved of God continue in the truth of
Christ, grounded and settled, and stand fast in the faith, and
contend for it; and this is one of the characters found in all such
as are approved. And thus far, says Augustine,[3] are heretics
profitable to the church; for by their means those who are approved
of God, and spiritual men, are stirred up to vindicate, open, and
hold forth the truth, whereby they become more manifest than
otherwise they could have been. Upon the other part, whoever turn
away from the truth, and from the doctrine of Christ, and turn aside
after heresies, do thereby infallibly declare themselves to be
unapproved, whatsoever profession or show of holiness they have.
Whatsoever becomes of the white mark of those who are approved
(which also holds true as I have explained it), most certainly this
black mark cannot fail upon the other side. And he who supposes any
person who is of an heretical belief and faction to be holy,
spiritual, mortified, and approved or one that walks in the
Spirit, and not in the flesh does but suppose that which is
impossible. And I do not doubt but God is, by the heresies and
schisms of these times, making a discovery of many unapproved,
unmortified professors, who pretended to piety. So that I may
transfer to our time what Chrysostom observed of his own, Ad eos qui
Scandalizati Sunt [To Those Who Have Been Scandalized], lib. 1, cap.
19: "How many are there clothed with a shadow and show of godliness;
how many who were thought to be some great ones, and they were not
so, have been, in this time (when so many fall off and make
defection), quickly manifested, and their hypocrisy detected." They
have appeared what they were, not what they feigned themselves, and
most falsely pretended to be.

Neither is this a small matter, but very much for the profit and
edification of those that will observe it, even to know
distinguishingly those who are clothed in sheeps' clothing, and not
to reckon promiscuously those wolves (so hid) among the true sheep.
For this time has become a furnace, discovering the false copper
coin, melting the lead, burning up the precious metals. This also
Paul signified when he said, "For there must be also heresies among
you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you."
Vincentius Lirinensis does also record to this purpose, that when
almost the who world was infected with the Arian heresy, some being
compelled to it, others cheated into it, yet every true lover and
worshipper of Christ was preserved pure from it.[4]


1. Tertull. de Prscrip. Advers. Hret. Cum ideo credidisse se
dictat (Apostolus) de schismalibus et dissensionibus quai scilicet
etiam hreses oporteret esse. Ostendit enim gravioris mali respectu,
de levioribus se facile credidisse. [Tertullian, On Objections
Against Heretics. "So when he (the apostle) says, on the subject of
divisions and dissensions, that certainly he believes there should
be even heresies; in fact, by consideration of the weightier evil,
he shows that he easily believes it about the less serious cases."]
2. Tertull. de Prscript. Advers. Hret. Hreses dict grca voce ex
interpretatione electionis, quia quis sive ad instituendas sive ad
suscipiendas eas utitur. Ideo et sibi damnatum dixit hreticum: quia
et in quo damnatur sibi elegit. ["They are called heresies in the
Greek tongue by a translation of 'choosing,' because one uses it for
either the planting of them or an entering upon them. For this
reason he called the heretic 'self-condemned,' since he chose for
himself that in which he is condemned."]
3. August., tom. 1, lib. de Vera Relig., cap. 8. Sunt enim
innumerabiles in eccesia sancta, Deo probati viri, sed manifesti non
fiunt inter nos, quam diu imperiti nostr tenebris delectatidormire
malumus, quam lucem veritatis intueri. [Augustine, tom. 1, On True
Religion, ch. 8. "Indeed there are countless men, approved by God,
in the holy church, but they do not become apparent among us as long
as we prefer to sleep, delighted by the shadows of our ignorance,
rather than to give attention to the light of truth."]
4. Vin. Lirin. Advers. Hr., cap. 6. Tunc quisquis verus Christi
amator et cultor exstitit antiquam fidem novell perfid prferendo,
nulla contagii ipsius peste maculatus est. ["At that time, whoever
stood out as a true lover and worshipper of Christ by his preference
for the former faith over the just-hatched treachery, was not
polluted by any of the ruin brought about by that infection."]


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