Why does the Bible use wolves in the context of false doctrine?
On the National Geographic website, we read: “Wolves are the largest members of the dog family. Adaptable gray wolves are by far the most common and were once found all over the Northern Hemisphere. But wolves and humans have a long adversarial history. Though they almost never attack humans, wolves are considered one of the animal world’s most fearsome natural villains. They do attack domestic animals, and countless wolves have been shot, trapped, and poisoned because of this tendency.”
In Acts 20:28-30 we read: “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.”
Paul is here describing a flock, and shepherding, which means that the members of the Church of God whom the apostle was addressing were likened to sheep. Wolves are the enemy of sheep and sheep can be part of their diet. There are other Scriptures where this same analogy is used. In Matthew 7:15 we read: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.
In Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, we read: “Which come to you in sheep’s clothing. The illustration implies something like the conception of the wolf disguising himself as a sheep in order to gain entrance into the fold.”
The Benson Commentary observes: “All those are false prophets who teach any other way than that which our Lord hath here marked out. Who come to you in sheep’s clothing — With a form of godliness and fair professions of love; but inwardly they are ravening wolves — Not feeding but destroying souls; feeding themselves by the destruction of the flock. ‘A wolf in sheep’s clothing,’ says Doddridge, is ‘grown into a proverb for a wicked man that makes a great profession of religion, yet cannot dissemble so well as not to be discovered by attentive observation; which was just the character of the Pharisees in our Saviour’s days.’”
We know that the Church changed from apostolic Christianity to something entirely different within a relatively short period of time. In the book “A History of the True religion” by Dugger and Dodd, the following is written at the beginning of chapter 5 which reviews the church between 100 AD to 200 AD:
“The first century closed with the death of the last of the apostles and writers of the New Testament, the Apostle John. No sooner had the apostles and disciples, who had been with Jesus, fallen asleep, than a new order arose and a different class of writers began to pen religious epistles. Hurlbut says of this change, in his Story of the Christian Church:
“‘For fifty years after St. Paul’s life, a curtain hangs over the church, through which we vainly strive to look; and when at last it rises, about 129 A.D. with the writings of the earliest church-fathers, we find a church in many aspects very different from that in the days of St. Peter and St. Paul’ (Page 41).”
In his editorial entitled “A Foundation to Endure” in our weekly Update No.724 dated 12th February 2016, Robb Harris stated that “Careless building techniques plague Christianity today, and have since deceit crept into the early New Testament church. Many of today’s most popular Christian leaders have built opulent church organizations and buildings with ever increasing growth. But all of these grand edifices invoking the name of God are built on lies and foundations conceived by man, not God.
“Christ spoke of those who falsely profess to know God because they refuse to heed His Word. ‘For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone build on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear’ (1 Corinthians 3:11-13). What man builds is based only on the physical, and physical cannot inherit the kingdom prepared for each of us (Matthew 25:34).”
The wolves have been at work, and the Truth that Jesus preached and the original apostles continued to preach after Jesus’s death was replaced by error, mainly by mixing truth with error and pagan practices (syncretism) which has been carried on down through the ages. What we see today in mainstream Christianity is a far cry from apostolic Christianity.
Jesus knew when sending out the twelve apostles to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 10:6) that there would be problems ahead of them, and in Matthew 10:16 He says: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”
In Luke 10:3 is the same admonition: “Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves.”
On the website whatchristianswanttoknow, we read an excellent description headed “The sneaky wolf. They hide until the time is right.” Continuing:
“Wolves are sneaky. They watch the prey and plan the attack. The sneaky wolf [that is, a] false prophet is in the church watching and waiting. He is the one who calls secret meetings. He gains the trust of folks and then rises up to attack, taking innocent victims with him. The Bible is clear about how God will deal with these sneaky wolves.”
We can read what action God will take in Matthew 7:21-23 which reads: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
Christ tells us in John 10:11-16 from where our protection comes: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.”
A hireling who is not a true shepherd. He sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees. The end product is that the wolf catches the sheep and can eat them and scatter them. False workers and teachers can do the same to church members in a spiritual sense; hence the reason why we have to be continually on guard.
We read in John 10:27: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Those who stick closely to God and His ways and His truth know Him from the written Word of God and are not distracted from the true path they have been called to. There is a sober warning in Ephesians 4:14 which is vital for our spiritual well-being: “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.” The phrasing of this verse clearly shows that some had been taken in by wrong and deceitful influences.
In the previous verses, Ephesians 4:11-13, we read about the ministry which is there for the protection of the sheep and the equipping of the saints: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” The true servants of God will be protectors of the brethren and of God’s Truth: the wolves will attack, disturb and disorientate the sheep by their false teaching and trickery.
Just before Jesus’s betrayal and arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed for His disciples, and for all believers and we read this in John 17:17: “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” In verse 20, He said, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” If the teaching is in accordance with the Word of God then the teachers are themselves sheep and members of the flock and not wolves in sheep’s clothing. The Word of God, the Bible, must always be our guide and will protect us against any wrong teachings of man.
Not only does God use wolves and sheep in analogies, but also sheep and goats (Matthew 25:32-33). In addition “the devil walks about like a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8) and as a “serpent” (Genesis 3:1 and Revelation 12:9). In analogy, lions and serpents or snakes are spoken of in less than complimentary terms.
Wolves and other beasts are also used in the Bible as metaphors to describe Gentile nations and their efforts to destroy the physical and spiritual Israelites or Jews. Norbert Link discusses this in great detail in the following three Q&As:
But in the Kingdom of God during the Millennium things will be completely different.
The good news is that Satan the devil will be bound for 1,000 years (Revelation 20:1-3) and then peace will reign with no more false teachers and without these malevolent influences that we now have to fight. We read how it will be in the book of Isaiah: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard shall lie down with the young goat, The calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6) and “‘The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, The lion shall eat straw like the ox, And dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,’ Says the LORD” (Isaiah 65:25).
The wolf and the lion will get on together and the analogy of wolves (false prophets and teachers) tricking the sheep (church members) will no longer be applicable.
But until the wonderful time just ahead of us, we need to make sure that we are on our spiritual toes so that we don’t fall prey to any false prophets and wrong teachers. God has surely warned us about them in His Word!
Lead Writer: Brian Gale (United Kingdom)