The Bible’s Definition
The Bible’s definition of apostasy is summarized for us on page 126 of the book
Insight On The Scriptures (Volume 1), where the opening paragraph under the heading “Apostasy” reads as
“This term in Greek (a·po·sta·si′a) comes from the verb a·phi′ste·mi, literally
meaning ‘stand away from.’ The noun has the sense of ‘desertion, abandonment or rebellion.’ (Ac 21:21, ftn) In
classical Greek the noun was used to refer to political defection, and the verb is evidently employed in this
sense at Acts 5:37, concerning Judas the Galilean who ‘drew off’ (a·pe′ste·se, form of a·phi′ste·mi) followers.
The Greek Septuagint uses the term at Genesis 14:4 with reference to such a rebellion. However, in the
Christian Greek Scriptures it is used primarily with regard to religious defection; a withdrawal or abandonment
of the true cause, worship, and service of God, and hence an abandonment of what one has previously professed
and a total desertion of principles or faith. The religious leaders of Jerusalem charged Paul with such an
apostasy against the Mosaic Law.”
And so, at least according to the Insight book, the Bible refers to
“apostasy” as a “withdrawal or abandonment of the true cause, worship, and service of God”.
Specifically, there are connotations about apostates drawing off followers after themselves – but the basic
meaning is a rejection of true faith in God.
If this was the only definition by which someone accused of apostasy would be
judged, it would be relatively simple to determine whether the person was guilty or innocent. If the person’s
beliefs about God contradicted what is contained in the scriptures, then he would be classed as an
The Society’s Definition
The Watch Tower Society has a slightly more specific idea as to what “apostasy”
means. To find it (in a way that is expressed in clear terms), we must consult a letter that was sent out to all
Circuit and District Overseers, dated September 1st, 1980. One paragraph in the letter reads as follows:
Notice how the Society’s definition of “apostasy” (or “apostatizing”)
differs substantially from the basic biblical definition in two key areas:
An apostate is not just someone who “promotes” apostate views (i.e. by trying
to “draw off followers” after themselves) – he is someone who believes things that run contrary to the
“faithful and discreet slave”. An apostate is not just someone who disagrees with what the Bible teaches about
God – he is someone who rejects “what he has been provided through the slave class”.
Just thinking differently to any of the Governing Body’s teachings is enough
to be an “apostate” Hence, the Watchtower’s view of apostasy is different, and more specific, than the Bible’s
definition. To be an apostate, all you need to do is view things differently to the “faithful and
discreet slave” (now identified as the Governing Body). Period. It doesn’t even matter whether you go
to strenuous efforts to promote or convince others of your beliefs. You simply have to view Bible teachings
differently to how they are expressed in Watchtower publications, and you are automatically considered an
“apostate”, worthy of disfellowshipping.
It is for this reason that many are disfellowshipped for apostasy even if they
go to strenuous efforts during their judicial committee to demonstrate that their
beliefs do not contradict what is written in the Bible. In the
minds of elders who stick to the Society’s guidelines, it is irrelevant whether your beliefs can be backed up
by the scriptures. What matters most is that you agree with the Governing Body and everything that it teaches.
If you don’t, you are an “apostate” according to the Society’s definition of that
Watch Tower Society publications define
apostasy as the abandonment of the worship and service of God by members of the Christian
congregation, and equate it with rebellion against God.
Apostate behavior is said to include the rejection of biblical teachings or requirements, the rejection of
Jehovah's organization, association with or support for another religious group
and celebration of religious holidays.
It is grounds for expulsion from the group and subsequent shunning. Promotion of personal doctrinal views that
deviate from official teachings is also regarded as apostasy. The "identifying marks" of apostates are said to
include attempts to gain followers, disregard for the Witnesses’ preaching activity, rejection of God's visible
organization, public criticism of other Witnesses and attempts to hinder their work.
Other identifying behavior is said to include deviation from the truth, twisted, empty speech, hypocrisy and
involvement in deeper forms of ungodliness.
Watch Tower Society literature says apostates are motivated by vitriolic bitterness and that their writings are
poisonous, distorted and false, display the characteristics of "cunning, contrived error, prideful
intelligence, lack of love and dishonesty" and are designed to undermine the faith of Jehovah’s
Apostates are described as proud, independent, ungrateful and presumptuous,
displaying jealousy, fits of anger and other unchristian conduct and are said to often fall victim to drunken
bouts, loose conduct and fornication.
Apostates are said to have become part of the
antichrist and are regarded as more reprehensible than
They are described as "anti-God" and doomed to destruction.
Witnesses are told they must loathe and hate in the "biblical sense of the word" those who are defined as
apostates and show no curiosity about their ideas,
and that apostates' "whole purpose is to tear down God's people and to distort the
Apostates must be shunned and Witnesses are warned that those who greet one become "a sharer in his wicked
The Secular Definition
The secular (or dictionary) definition of apostasy is very succinct and easy
to understand. The Oxford Dictionary simply describes the word as follows:
And so, from a purely secular context,
apostasy is simply an abandonment or rejection of one’s former religious beliefs. Nothing more, nothing
less. In this strict context, Christianity can be considered as an “apostasy” from Judaism
(which clings to the Mosaic law covenant and awaits the arrival of the Messiah). The early Bible Students (who
later became Jehovah’s Witnesses) could be considered as “apostates” from Christendom – because, rightly or
wrongly, they rejected many traditional beliefs of mainstream Christianity.
Every time the Governing Body presents a
“new understanding”, it apostatizes from the organization’s former teachings If you want to
apply the secular definition at a minute level, you could even say that each time a new belief or understanding
is published that replaces a former teaching (as with the “new light” about the faithful and discreet slave)
this represents an “apostasy” from the former teachings of the organization. Conversely,
if a Jehovah’s Witness refused to accept a “new understanding” as
published in the organization’s literature, preferring instead to cling to the former teachings on the
matter, he would be disfellowshipped for apostasy – for abandoning the new beliefs of his
- The Bible’s definition: abandoning the true
faith in God
- The Watch Tower Society’s definition:
abandoning the teachings of the Faithful Slave.
- The secular definition: abandoning one’s
It is a matter of perpective or how you view it personally.
Keep an open mind, stay informed and listen to all
Do unbiased research. Get the facts that pass the 'acid test'. Then
decide. After all things are considered it is your decision and it is your life.