(Heb. mesubaa [מְשׁובָּה]; Gk. parapipto [παραπίπτω], aphistemi [ἀφίστημι], apostasia [ἀποστασία]). Defection from the faith, an act of unpardonable rebellion against God and his truth. The sin of apostasy results in the abandonment of Christian doctrine and conduct. With respect to the covenant relationship established through prior profession of faith (passive profession in the case of baptized infants), apostates place themselves under the curse and wrath of God as covenant breakers, having entered into a state of final and irrevocable condemnation. Those who apostatize are thus numbered among the reprobate. Since the resurrection of Christ, there is no distinction between blasphemy against Christ and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt 12:31-32; Heb 6:4-6; 10:26-29; 1 John 5:16-17). G. C. Berkouwer comments: "We must underscore the deep seriousness of the biblical warning against apostasy ‘after enlightenment' and ‘after the knowledge of the truth.' This is the apostasy which reviles the Spirit of grace and despises the Son of God and crucifies the Man of Sorrows anew" (p. 343). Berkouwer is correct to refute the idea that this sin against the Holy Spirit is a mysterium iniquitatis ("a mystery of sin"), a sin difficult, if at all possible, to define precisely in the Bible.
Apostatizing from God's redemptive covenant is an act of unpardonable transgression and rebellion. All other sins are forgiven on true repentance and faith. Those who fall out of fellowship with the saints are restored to full communion through confession of sin and reaffirmation of faith in Jesus Christ. Excommunication, as a final step in the process of ecclesiastical discipline, is undertaken in the hope of restoring the wayward sinner who has fallen into grievous sin (1 Co 5:1-5).
Israel of old repeatedly broke covenant with God. By impugning the name and works of Yahweh, Israel despised her calling and proved to be a stubborn and disobedient nation. Pentateuchal law identifies covenantal faithlessness as apostasy (see, e.g., the curses of the covenant pronounced on Mount Ebal by the Israelites in Deut 27:9-26). With respect to temporal blessing in the land of promise, restoration of Israel to divine favor after covenant breaking was always a consequence of divine grace and mercy, not because of meritorious works on Israel's part.
In biblical prophecy apostasy is an eschatological sign of the impending day of the Lord, a precursor of the final day of judgment. Ancient Israel's experience of divine wrath and displeasure served as typological foreshadowings of that latter day. The increase in apostasy in these last days of the church's wilderness experience is associated with the appearance of the "man of lawlessness" (2 Th 2:1-3).
Mark W. Karlberg
See also Backsliding; Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit; Denial
Bibliography. G. C. Berkouwer, Sin; idem, The Return of Christ; A. A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future; H. Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology.