Have you ever tried to warn someone about a false teacher and then heard the excuse that it is perfectly acceptable to listen to false teachers as long as we just eat the meat and spit out the bones? We have heard this saying so many times that it needed an extended biblical answer.
There are two major problems with the excuse for tolerating error.
The saying identifies truth as “meat” and “bones” as error. Unfortunately, those who claim that it is perfectly fine to “eat the meat” provided by a false teacher, are usually the least likely to recognize error or “bones.” They follow the false teacher because the teacher seems genuine and they like the person. They come to the teacher expecting that there is pure “meat” available. They also assume that truth is not tainted by error as long as a Christian discards the error before it is ingested. But the Bible clearly teaches that truth can be tainted by deceivers. And bones can be cleverly disguised as pure meat to entice the unwary. Paul expressed his concern that the Corinthians were ripe for deception because they were enduring false doctrine.
2 Corinthians 11:3–4
3 But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. 4 For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully.
Paul said that the Corinthians were bearing the false doctrine “beautifully.” The Greek term for “bear” in this verse means to endure something unpleasant or difficult, thereby to put up with it. Also, the term translated as “beautifully” is a word that can be used sarcastically. Paul showed that enduring false teaching is not an honorable thing, as false doctrine can lead people astray to become corrupted, spoiled, and ruined from the simplicity of the Gospel and pure devotion to Christ. Paul also records that there are many “peddling” the word of God. The word “peddling” in the original means to offer something in a way that is characterized by false and deceptive practice.
2 Corinthians 2:17 For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.
The Bible does not talk about truth and error as “meat” and “bones.” Instead, false teaching is identified as “yeast" which permeates the entire lump.
11 “How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
12 Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
The teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees adulterated the Word of God. The tainting of the truth permeated their entire doctrine. In fact, Paul had to defend his apostleship because false apostles had tainted the pure truth of the Word of God.
2 Corinthians 4:1–2
1 Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart,
2 but we have renounced the things hidden becauseof shame, not walking incraftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
Notice that Paul statesthat he and the other apostles did not walk in “craftiness” or in “adulterating the Word of God.” The original word translated as craftiness has the sense of cunning, deceitfulness, and trickery, usually characterizing an especially wicked character. The term “adulterating” carries the sense of falsifying — to deceptively make a message false as by mutilation or addition. False teachers walk in craftiness. Their purpose is to gain converts, fame, and profit, but to do this secretly. On the outside, they look good and upright, but deception is in their heart.
Paul also warned that there would be those who seek to take you captive through deception.
Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.
Satan misrepresents himself as an angel of light with the intention of deceiving God’s people. Those who think that it is okay to eat from the table of false teachers, just consuming the “meat,” are setting themselves up for deception.
False teaching is identified as yeast. Yeast is both hidden and permeating. You cannot spit out yeast and eat the bread. Just as yeast spreads and infiltrates the whole dough, so too poison added to water also infiltrates the entire water. Give a glass of tainted water that has only a small amount of arsenic in it to a person and ask them to drink the water and spit out the poison and watch if they volunteer to try. When poison is exposed as invading the water, no one will partake of it because separating the two is impossible. The nature of deception is that it is hidden, sly, and crafty so that the danger is not easily seen. Satan misrepresents himself, and so do his servants.
2 Corinthians 11:13–15
13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.
14 No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
15 Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.
What is a person supposed to do if they encounter someone who has crucial teachings that are false? We are to stay away from them as their teaching is tainted with poison. Now, I am not talking about secondary issues where Christians can agree to disagree, but primary issues that are foundational to our faith. Bill Johnson is a false teacher who teaches that Jesus was only a man on the earth without any power to do miracles. In his belief, that Jesus had no ability to raise the dead. This is a major departure from biblical doctrine and it is yeast that permeates Johnson’s ministry. Bill Johnson makes Jesus out to be a false prophet because Jesus prophesied that He would resurrect His own body (John 2:19-21.) Should we spit out the false doctrine and look for untainted “meat” to eat from Bill Johnson? Or do we go to good teachers who do not deviate from solid biblical truth?
Go to solid Bible teachers. Additionally, study the Bible for yourself. What does the Bible teach in context? False teachers rip Scripture out of context. They also go to the Bible looking to prove their point, rather than letting the Bible speak for itself in its complete context. False teachers use the Bible in order to twist and distort it. Peter reveals the destruction that comes from the twisting of Scripture. Concerning false teachers, Peter said:
2 Peter 3:15–17
15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.
17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness,
Romans 16:17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.
Should we eat the meat of false teachers and spit out the bones? Absolutely not! The next time you hear this saying, ask the person how they spit out the yeast from their bread? This is the biblical example of false teaching. It isn’t bones — it is yeast!
God’s will in this matter is that we be united in truth, but also — “not tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;” (See Ephesians 4:12- 15.) We are to divide over error on essential doctrine, while keeping the unity of the body in love, not dividing over the non-essentials.