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The word apostasy does not appear in the 1611 KJV, but according to Webster's it has been in the English language since at least the 14th century. The English word apostasy is a transliteration of the Greek word apostasia. The Gingrich Shorter Lexicon defines it as "rebellion, abandonment, apostasy." Strong's defines it as "defection from truth." According to Strong's, the word apostasia is formed by attaching the apo- prefix to stao, a word related to stemi ("stand").
Regardless of how those ancient Greek speakers formed the word apostasia, it means defection from truth; rebellion, abandonment, apostasy. These lexicon definitions leave a couple of questions unanswered, namely: From which elements of truth do apostates defect? What specifically is it that apostates rebel against and abandon?
If we look at how the word apostasis is used in the New Testament, it will help answer these questions, and will give us a clearer understanding of what the New Testament writers meant when they wrote about apostasy.
The word apostasis is used only two times in the New Testament. The first time is in Acts 21:21. The Jewish believers in Jerusalem spoke about the false rumor that Paul was teaching people "to forsake (apostasian) Moses." (Notice, it was a false rumor.)
The second place the word appears is in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, where Paul says that the Day of Messiah will not come "except there come a falling away (apostasia) first." The NASB translates the KJV's "falling away" as "the apostasy," with a footnote that says "Or, falling away from the faith." Apostasy certainly is falling away from the faith, but the use of the Greek word in Acts 21:21 helps us understand which elements of the faith apostates fall away from. They fall away from Moses, or, as the KJV says, they "forsake Moses."
The context of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 also clarifies and confirms this. In conjunction with the "falling away" / "apostasy," Paul says that "the mystery of iniquity doth already work" (vs. 7). The musterion tes anomias (KJV "mystery of iniquity") literally means "mystery of lawlessness," and is so translated in the NASB. The NIV says "the secret power of lawlessness is already at work." Stern's Jewish New Testament says "already this separating from Torah is at work secretly."
The general meaning of apostasy is defection from truth; rebellion, abandonment. From Acts 21:21 and 2 Thessalonians 2, the only two places in the New Testament where the word apostasia appears, we can see that in the New Testament, apostasy involved (and still involves) defecting from the Torah, rebelling against God's Law, abandoning Moses.
Many Christians see 2 Thessalonians 2 as a prophecy of a future end-time falling away and a shadowy end-time Anti-Christ figure. It may be that, but in view of what post-Apostolic Church leaders did with the Torah, I'd say the apostasy began before the end of the first century. Paul said that this subtle departing from Torah was "already at work." According to the NIV Study Bible, 2 Thessalonians was written around A.D. 51 or 52, so the apostasy began while the first-century Apostles were still alive.
Jude wrote about "certain men crept in unawares" who were "turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness" (Jude 4).
Peter wrote an entire chapter (2 Peter 2) describing false prophets and teachers who were already in the midst of believers. "Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you" (vs. 13).
John wrote about the domineering "Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence...neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church" (3 John 9f).
The late Harry Veerman (a.k.a. Phinehas Ben Zadok) said this about Diotrephes: "If the persons named by the Apostle John as 'the brethren' were cast out of the Church by this Diotrephes, who then constituted 'the Church' afterwards? There can be only one answer to this question, and that is that although the church of Diotrephes carried on in the name of Christ, the people were confessing a counterfeit Christ, another Jesus" (Gates Of Eden newsletter issue 2-1, p. 4).
The apostasy gradually separated Christians from God's Torah and sent the Church into a spiritual Babylonian exile similar to the Jews' physical-geographical Babylonian exile of Jeremiah's day. The Jews' exile eventually came to an end and a holy remnant returned to Jerusalem to restore the City of God and rebuild the Temple, a dwelling place for God's Presence. The Church's exile is now coming to an end, and a holy remnant is heeding Jeremiah's call to return to "the old paths" (Jer. 6:16), to restore and rebuild a Temple of living stones "builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit" (Eph. 2:22).
God's final word to His people in regards to Babylon is "Come out of her, My people" (Rev. 18:4). The remedy for apostasy is to abandon the confusion and mixture of Babylon, and leave behind the cup of Babylon. For those who wish to remain in Babylon, there is no remedy for apostasy. "We would have healed Babylon, but she is not healed: forsake her, and let us go every one into his own country" (Jer. 51:9).
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Image (Top): Psalm 2, an original painting by Daniel Botkin from his Psurrealistic Psalms series. See more Galleries on his art site, DanielBotkin.com