Different major branches of Christianity often understand certain terms differently. Is there a standard definition of 'heresy' across major Protestant denominations?

  • Just a thought, but you might take a Christian creed, such as the Apostles' Creed, and simply contradict every statement in the creed in order to determine what heresy is across Protestant denominations. You may not end up with a nice neat definition of what constitutes heresy, but you would have some, uh, constituents. For example, "I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth" would become "God is neither a father nor is he almighty." ". . . who was born of the virgin Mary" becomes, "Mary was impregnated by her fiance Joseph." ". . . he will come to judge the living 2 days ago
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    and the dead" becomes "Jesus will not return to earth from heaven." "I believe in the holy catholic church" becomes "Christianity is so hopelessly divided that there is no such thing as a universal church. let alone an undivided church." I'm sure you get the idea. Don 2 days ago
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    @rhetorician Thanks for this - it would be interesting if the Apostles' Creed was the standard! 2 days ago
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    @one Interesting?! It will be 'the standard' one day (again)!
    – steveowen
    15 hours ago

1 Answer 1


I believe C. Matthew McMahon’s definition here accurately sums up the majority view (emphasis mine):

Heresy is an erroneous or false opinion, repugnant unto and subverting the doctrine of faith revealed in the Word as necessary unto salvation; and obstinately maintained and perniciously adhered unto by a professed Christian.

By that definition, true heresy not just an erroneous or unscriptural system of belief, but a belief system that denies a doctrine that is essential to salvation, and is therefore damning.

The primary biblical example is the “circumcision party” mentioned in Galatians 2, who taught that salvation was available only to those who kept the entire Mosaic Law over and above having faith in Christ. This is heresy because it denies that faith alone in Christ alone is all that is necessary to justify believers (cf. Galatians 2:15-16.) Paul pronounced these teachers anathema (meaning “accursed” or “damned”) because they were preaching “a gospel contrary to the one we” (that is, the Apostles) “preached to you” (Galatians 1:8, ESV.)

Another example would be Hymenaeus and Philetus, mentioned in 2 Timothy 2:17-18. They were “upsetting the faith of some” by teaching that the resurrection had already happened (spiritually). This is heresy because it denies a bodily resurrection.

  • +1 "subverting the doctrine of faith revealed in the Word as necessary unto salvation" That's interesting - it seems most of the heavy lifting is then left up to defining what is necessary for salvation. 18 hours ago
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    Given that there is no single definition adhered to by all Protestants, offering that "majority view" is helpful. Let's hope most Protestants still go by what the NT says. Jesus identified some who were the custodians of orthodox Jewish teaching as making their converts twice as much subjects for hell than themselves (Matt.ch.23). Paul's anathema covers all teaching/practice that does not deliver people from the deadly grip of a devilish world, which the pure gospel of Christ alone frees us from. The Bible is clear as to what is necessary for salvation.
    – Anne
    10 hours ago
  • @Anne Do you think there is a majority view among Protestants re what is necessary for salvation? 1 hour ago

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