The Chaos of False Teaching

Church leaders must have discernment to identify false teaching and boldness to confront it.

“These are . . . wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.” (Jude 13 ESV) 

Waves and oceans are attractive to many. The warm breeze, sunshine, and hot sand draw countless people to the seaside every year, and depictions of the ocean fill canvases in houses around the world. To the first-century Jewish mind, however, waves and oceans primarily symbolized chaos and unrest. Think of the primordial waters of Genesis 1:2 out of which God brought order or of the turbulent Sea of Galilee which the command of Christ calmed (Mark 4:35-41). John states that in his vision of the new heavens and new earth “the sea was no more” (Revelation 21:1), indicating the eternal peace and security of glory. 

When Jude refers to false teachers as “wild waves of the sea,” we should not think of a peaceful, Caribbean landscape, but of the foreboding threat that would have filled the minds of his original hearers. These false teachers were turbulent and noisy and attracted much attention, but the substance of their teaching was only chaos. 

Jude further expounds this point by saying they were “casting up the foam of their own shame.” They stirred up the congregation but to no end except to multiply their own shame and condemnation. Paul is clear that “God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33). These false teachers, however, create confusion and destroy the peace of their hearers, which is  entirely antithetical to the new life we receive in Christ through the gospel. 

Jude also accuses them of being “wandering stars.” This could mean that they appear bright and attract attention but soon vanish like a shooting star, or it could mean that they present themselves as guides yet in reality are deceptive, as is a planet by which unseasoned sailors attempt to navigate. Both would fit within the context of Jude’s statements, but I believe the latter provides the stronger interpretation. These teachers claim to possess truth and knowledge, leading others to listen to and follow them, but their claim is false, and their guidance is unreliable. For a sailor to set his course by “wandering stars” and stake his health and life on their reliability, only to find out they are not indeed stars, would be disastrous. He would soon find himself far off course and in danger of running aground or being shipwrecked on “hidden reefs.” Unlike Christ who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), these teachers lead all who follow them to confusion and destruction. 

The end of these teachers reflects the nature of their message. Jude soberly reminds his readers that false teachers are those “for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.” The devil and those who follow his pattern of propagating lies will not prosper forever. Their end is assured. 

Asaph reminds us of God’s plan for the ultimate end of the wicked when he says, “Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!” (Psalm 73:18-19). 

This should be both a comfort and a warning to Jude’s audience. They ought to take comfort in knowing that those who are assailing them will come to justice before a holy God. Though false teachers may deceive in the present, God will maintain the purity of his church to the end. Jude’s audience should take heed, however, lest they follow these teachers and come to the same destructive end. 

Jude displays two qualities here that are worth noting as vitally important to every believer, but particularly to pastors, missionaries, and others in positions of leadership—the discernment to identify false teaching and the boldness to confront it. In contrast to the false teachers, who are self-focused and self-serving, Jude’s concern and attention are directed toward those whom he is called to oversee. He takes notice and action when they are distressed and provides an excellent example for us to emulate. 

Let us therefore keep watch, defend the flock, and press on to a glorious end. 


Heavenly Father, 
You are not a God of chaos but of peace and truth. Teach us to follow only those guides who will lead us to you. Give us vigilance to keep watch over our soul and the souls of those in our lives.
In your Son’s name,

Prayer requests: 

  • Pray that the peace of the gospel would penetrate the chaos of false teaching. 
  • Pray for diligence to keep watch over the souls of those in our lives. 
  • Pray that God would show mercy to false teachers and bring them to repentance and faith.