"Wolf" — as used in the Bible by Jesus and Paul — Charles W. Wilson

by Reverend Charles Wilson
posted with permission

The cartoon to the left depicts the wolf as goofy and comical; however, wolves are not goofy or comical. I have a friend who owns a German shepherd and wolf mix. Having hand-fed and raised the big beast from a pup, she is comfortable with him; I am not! When “Wolfie” looks at me, I feel he is measuring me for supper. Thankfully, he has yet to find me a tasty morsel.

In the wild, the wolf is an apex predator at the top of the food chain.  In Biblical parlance, because the wolf is a dangerous carnivore that feeds on sheep (and anything else she catches), Isaiah’s juxtaposing of a wolf and a lamb living in harmony becomes an eschatological symbol of millennial and eternal peace. On the other hand, because of the wolf’s fierce nature, other prophets use “wolf” (1) to describe the devouring and greedy leaders of Israel and Judah who abused their trust by robbing and enslaving the people of God;  and (2) to describe the city-leveling and nation-annihilating Gentile armies God sent to judge the people of God by destroying both Israel and Judah. Finally, in the New Testament, because the wolf is a cunning, remorseless, and edacious hunter, “wolf” is one of the terms used to specify the heretical teacher and the soul-blinding effects of the heretical teacher’s false doctrines on the church.

In Isaiah, some of the most beautiful language in the Old Testament incorporates the imagery of the “wolf” to describe peace. It is unexpected. It is a beautiful and a marvelous literary turn. Consider the following:

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb [my emphasis], and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. (Isaiah 11:6)

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together [my emphasis], and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD. (Isaiah 65:23)

Zephaniah and Ezekiel use “wolf” to describe the evil and grasping leaders who preyed on and oppressed the people of God. Their heinous  crimes were  portrayed in these terms:

Her princes within her are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves [my emphasis]; they gnaw not the bones till the morrow. (Zephaniah 3:3)

Her princes in the midst thereof are like wolves ravening the prey [my emphasis], to shed blood, and to destroy souls, to get dishonest gain. (Ezekiel 22:27)

Other prophets use the term “wolf” as a gloomy metaphor to describe the coming judgment of God on His people. Witness the following:

Wherefore a lion out of the forest shall slay them, and a wolf of the evenings shall spoil them [my emphasis], a leopard shall watch over their cities: every one that goeth out thence shall be torn in pieces: because their transgressions are many, and their backslidings are increased. (Jeremiah 5: 6)

Their horses also are swifter than the leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves [my emphasis]: and their horsemen shall spread themselves, and their horsemen shall come from far; they shall fly as the eagle that hasteth to eat. (Habakkuk 1:8)

In the Gospels, Jesus uses “wolf” to illustrate the peril of the world the disciples faced as He sent them with the gospel message: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16) and “Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3).

Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus warns that “false prophets” are “wolves in sheep’s clothing”:  “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matthew7:15). Jesus also warns that a “hireling” will run in fear before the “wolf” and not protect the “sheep” from harm: “But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth  them, and scattereth the sheep” (John 10:11).

The most notable “wolf” passage in the New Testament is found in Acts 20:28-30. The Apostle Paul warns:

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.

It is recorded in the history of the ancient church that the leaders of the church in Ephesus were very zealous in defending their church from false teachers. In Revelation 2:1-7, Jesus’ makes the following assessment of their faithfulness:

. . . I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. . . . This thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

Needless to say, Paul warned the Ephesian elders to beware of, to be discerning of, and to protect the church from the false teachers he described as “wolves.” This they did to the point that Jesus commended them for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which He also hated.

“Hate” is a powerful word. Many of us today recoil from and are offended by it. Some even say “hate” is a sub-Christian response.  Nevertheless, it is the word Jesus used and a response He approved of and commended in the Ephesian elders as they contended for the purity of the Christian community in Ephesus. Why? What is it about “false teachers” that brings out of Jesus and Paul the appellation of “wolf” and the visceral emotion of “hate”?

In the hands of Jesus and Paul, “wolf” is a literary device for identifying false teachers and the destructive heresies which are their trade. As the wolf in the forest stalks and kills and devours her prey, false teachers as they come stalking with their God-perverting and idolatrous doctrines kill and devour the souls and lives of men and women. Faith in and assent to Jesus as Savior and obedience to the doctrines of Jesus that both He and all the writers of the Scriptures taught lead to eternal life and faithful living. The “wolf” or false teacher opposes the gospel and promotes a ravaged lifestyle that is unacceptable and unblessed by God and leaves a mauled soul waiting for eternal death.

Well, it seems that “wolf” equals “false teacher,” does it not? What does this “wolf” that Jesus hates look like? What is the nature of these “false teachers” the Ephesians elders hated – a hatred Jesus commended?

The following Biblical guidelines for identifying the “wolf” or “false teacher” are taken from the Epistles:

  1. The “wolf” or “false teacher” comes preaching “another Jesus . . . another spirit . . . or another gospel, which ye have not accepted . . . false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into . . . angel[s] of light . . . whose end shall be according to their works.” (2 Corinthians 11:4, 13-15)
  2. Paul warns that the “wolf” or “false teacher” preaches a false gospel “which is not another”; rather, it is a perversion of “the gospel of Christ.” And then he states: Though “we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-8)
  3. The deceitful tools of the “wolf” or “false teacher” are “cunning craftiness,” “every wind of doctrine,” and “the sleight of men.” (Ephesians 4:14)
  4. “Wolves” or “false teachers” are also pejoratively identified as “dogs” and “evil workers” for they do not “worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus”; rather, they put their “confidence in the flesh.” (Philippians 2:2-3)
  5. The “wolf” or “false teacher” beguiles through “enticing words.  He spoils “through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” (Colossians 2:4 and 8)
  6. The “wolf” or “false teacher” desires to be a teacher; however, he does not understand the Truth of the Scriptures and is drawn after “fables” and “genealogies” and “vain jangling” which produce questions, rather than “godly edifying.” The result is a “shipwreck” faith. (1 Timothy 3:5-7 and 19)
  7. According to the Apostle Peter, “wolves” or “false teacher” are “false prophets,” and, as they were among God’s people of old, they are also among us, “privily . . . bring[ing] in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.” Their ways are “pernicious” for they speak evil of “the way of truth.” They make “merchandise” of God’s people. They are “unstable souls” who have “forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness.” They are “wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever.” Though they promise “liberty, they themselves are the servants of  . . . bondage.” (2 Peter 2:1-3, 13-19)
  8. The “wolf” or “false teacher” is a deceiver whose teaching denies  “that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.” And, if such a teacher comes unto us, “receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” (2 John 7, 10-11)
  9. Finally, “wolves” or “false teachers” are “ungodly men” “who were before of old ordained to this condemnation.” They are men who turn the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and [deny] the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Jude 4)

Once again, “wolf” equals “false teacher.” A false teacher is someone who denies Jesus’ Incarnation. A false teacher rejects the Scriptures teaching that Jesus is the only Savior. In other words, the “false teacher” teaches there is an alternative way to God. Therefore, a “false teacher” is “evil.” A “false teacher” is under the curse of God. The “false teacher” is the object of Jesus’ hatred.

If any of the information above is true, it is a serious matter to identify someone as a “wolf.” “Wolf” has a very specific meaning in the pages of the Bible. It is the equivalent of identifying someone as a “false teacher” or, in the words of the Apostle John, an “anti-Christ”!

Historically, in the community of the ARP Church, is there a place where one could go to find people who look like “wolves? That is, a place where one could go and find “false teachers” gathered in order to ply their destructive craft?

In the ARP Church, we speak boldly and loudly about our commitment to evangelism. We say that Jesus is the only Way to find salvation, the only Truth, and the only Life. Indeed, we affirm there is no other way to God but through Jesus alone (John 14:6). We also declare that there is no other name whereby people are saved but Jesus’ name (Acts4:12). We say that all other ways and names are false and lead to eternal damnation.

However, historically, in the community of the ARP Church, is there a wolf’s den where one could go and find contradictory affirmations regarding Jesus as the only Lord and Savior of men and women?  Is there a place where teachers have looked on the “imperial claims” of Jesus as intellectually and academically embarrassing and ridiculed and denied them”? If such is the case, Is it proper to identify such a teacher or teachers as “wolf” or “false teacher”?

If we do not, are we caught on the horns of a dilemma? What are we going to do with John 6:29 and 1 John 3:24? Do we not affirm these words are “infallible” and “inerrant”? If the “work of God” is for people to believe on Jesus, and, if the command of God is for people  to “believe on Jesus Christ,” what do we do with and call those who deny both the “work” and “command” of God? If we do not define such a person as a “wolf” who is a “false teacher” and one who is “ravaging” the people of God with false teaching, are we disobedient to the Bible we affirm as God’s Truth?

In the ARP Church, we have a high view of the authority of the Bible. We say the Bible is the “Word of God written”. We declare the Bible to be the “infallible” Truth we trust completely to inform people regarding salvation and holy living. In the ARP Church, we declare the Bible to be the “very Word of God”. We confess “the Bible is without error in all it teaches.” We even affirm the “inerrancy” of the Bible.

This must be very important to us. We demand affirmation of the doctrine of Inerrancy when we ordain ministers. We demand affirmation of the doctrine of Inerrancy by the people we hire to run our agencies. We even post on the official website of the ARP Church our statements regarding the authority of and the inerrancy of the Bible. Are these things we believe about the Bible trifling matters for us?

However, historically, is there a place in the ARP Church community were one could go and find teachers who not only denied our affirmations concerning the Bible but mocked them? Is there a place today where one can go and still find a teacher who rejects and belittles our view of Scripture? Is there a place where one can go and find faculty members and administrators who decry our affirmation of Scripture as intellectually binding and restricting to intellectual freedom and academic integrity? Are these “false teachers”? Technically, yes! Are they “wolves”? I am not prepared to go that far. Are they dangerous to the theological and spiritual welfare of the ARP Church? Yes!

In the ARP Church, we say we believe God is the Creator of all things and without Him nothing was created (John 1:3 and 10). We deny and stand against all formulations of naturalist evolution. We believe man is more than a mammal. We believe God fashioned man from the “dust” of the ground in His “own image” and breathed in him “the breath of life” (Genesis1:26-2:25). Whatever our views regarding the length of the days of creation, we all acknowledge the historicity of the first eleven chapters of Genesis. We are so zealous in our defense of the historicity of Adam and Eve we passed a “memorial” at our last General Synod re-affirming our belief that Adam and Eve are historical and not a mythical story accounting for the presence of mankind. In other words, our belief in Adam and Eve are a part of the very warp and weft of the Biblical account – and our theology!

However, historically, in the ARP Church community, is there a place one could go and find people espousing naturalistic views of evolution? Today, is there a place one can go today and find a tenured professor who recently published articles in the Greenville and Columbia papers affirming and promoting a Darwinian view of evolution and rejecting the Biblical account of creation as unthinkable for an educated person? What does one call such a teacher? What does one call a so-called Christian college that countenances such a teacher? What comes to your mind?

I became a member of the Erskine board of trustees in 1998. I knew of the matters of which I have spoken. I was convinced by the Erskine leadership, at that time, that the way of wisdom was to be silent and allow for incremental change. I was wrong. I do not live easy with my disobedience. I will have to stand before God and give account of my inaction – my sin of betrayal!

Was I a “wolf” because of my silence? No! However, there is another designation that Jesus used. It is “hireling.” I am trapped by that word. Because I did not cry out (Ezekiel 33), “blood” is on my hands. Because I did not cry out, I played the role of the “hireling”.

I am informed by the Bible that repentance is not an incremental action. When God commanded ancient Israel to put away their idols and “foreign wives,” He did not tell them to do it incrementally. I do not think that the Apostle Paul would have been impressed by our concern on the Erskine board about “academic freedom” or “tenure.” Nor do I think that Jesus will give any of us trustees a mulligan when we plead fear of academic accrediting agencies. Is it me, or do you not think the Bible is very “black and white” on these matters?

Are there “wolves” in the ARP Church? Is the “wolf” correctly defined as a “false teacher” who teaches a way to God other than Jesus? Is the “wolf” one who denies and devours the clear teaching of the Bible? If there are “wolves” in the ARP Church, where would one go to find the wolf’s den? Is it not time that we not only exposed but were rid of the wolf’s den?

Let us close with one final observation. According to the usage of “wolf” in the Bible, a “wolf” is not one who speaks prophetically to those in power. A “wolf” is not one who critiques denominational leaders and denominational institutions.

These are my thoughts,

Charles W. Wilson


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Tony Locke

Live in Gwinnett, GA next to Lake Lanier Islands. Married with four children. Pastored three churches over 18 years. Spent time serving as an Army Chaplain. Traveled in ministry to over 34 countries. B.A., M.A., M.Div., M.A.T.S., D.Min. BCC with NSC. Covering Georgia and upstate South Carolina

1 Comment

  1. webdevelopment on June 23, 2012 at 6:23 am

    As the editor, I am committed to content building up the body of Christ. This sermon is a good Biblical sermon. You can know Jesus better for its content. I pray the Spirit will instruct your spirit through this careful and reverent exposition.

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