Naming Names—Is it Biblical?

Practically nothing is so frowned upon among certain groups today as the practice of naming the names of those you believe are wrong, especially concerning matters of faith. In the past couple of weeks I have seen several Christians discuss the theology and beliefs of certain individuals. For example, Rob Bell’s latest book has sparked a bunch of discussion about whether or not he is a universalist and/or heretic. The president of Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham, was just “disinvited” from speaking at two large homeschool conferences because he pointed out dangerous teachings being promoted by one of the other speakers at the conference.

I have read reactions to these issues on several blogs and facebook posts and I noticed a theme among many of those who posted comments. There is a strong sentiment among many professing Christians that it is sinful to name names of people that you believe are wrong. Is it sinful? Let’s take a look at what the Bible states on this issue.

In 1 Timothy 1:18–20, Paul charged Timothy to fight the good fight against false teachings. Paul went on to specifically name Hymenaeus and Alexander as individuals that he threw out of the church because of their behavior. In his next letter to Timothy, Paul mentioned Hymenaeus again and added Philetus to the list of false teachers that he named (2 Timothy 2:17).

Apparently, the Bible is not against the naming of names when it comes to false teachings. In fact, Jude told his readers that he wanted to write to them about their “common salvation, [but] found it necessary to write” to them exhorting them to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” because of false teachers that had crept into the church (Jude 3–4).

Some will argue that these were only cases which involved unbelievers that had infiltrated the church. While this is debatable in the cases mentioned by Paul, there is no question about what is described in Galatians 2:11–13, unless someone wants to say that the Apostle Peter wasn’t a believer. Paul wrote:

Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. (Galatians 2:11–13)

Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, stated that Peter and Barnabas were acting in hypocrisy. In verse 14 Paul went on to state that he confronted Peter “before them all.” He named names when it came to unbelievers and believers—and he did it publicly when the situation called for it.

Let’s take a look at the cases mentioned in the introductory paragraph and then close with a couple of observations. Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins, promotes the concept of universalism, which is the idea that everyone will eventually be in heaven, whether they have trusted in Christ or not. Compare that with Christ’s statement in John 14:6—”I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through Me.”

Many have objected to the portrayal of Bell’s teachings as universalism. Watch the video clip below from an interview conducted by MSNBC’s Martin Bashir and decide for yourself. Notice Bell’s refusal to provide a clear answer to the question.

I need to point out the interviewer committed a bifurcation fallacy when describing the so-called problem of evil. In other words, he gave only two options concerning God’s love and power in relation to the problem of evil, when in reality, there is a third option (the biblical solution – God created a perfect world, we messed it up by sinning, and He will eventually put an end to evil and suffering). Nevertheless, Bell repeatedly dodged the question and refused to admit that he is indeed a universalist while flatly denying it.

In the other instance, Ken Ham was “disinvited” from speaking at two upcoming homeschool conventions because he spoke out against the teachings of Dr. Peter Enns. What he said is described as personal attacks against a fellow believer. However, Ham never attacked Enns personally and did not question his faith in God. He pointed out that Enns has rejected a straightforward understanding of Genesis along with a historical Adam, questions Paul’s belief in a literal Adam, and promotes the acceptance of evolutionary beliefs over the Word of God.

Several well-known Christians have rebuked Ken Ham, essentially for naming names or for claiming that Dr. Enns’ views are unbiblical, including Dr. Jay Wile on his blog (John Stonestreet of Summit Ministries and Susan Wise Bauer of Peace Hill Press applauded Dr. Wile’s post). Many people commenting on various posts have attacked Ken Ham for critiquing Dr. Enns. [editor’s note: I originally stated Susan Wise Bauer was from BioLogos. Thanks for the correction Tony.]

Note the hypocrisy of individuals who attack others for naming names, while they themselves name names. It is hypocritical to publicly chide someone for naming names while you are in the process of naming names.

The fact of the matter is that it is not inherently un-Christian to name names. As we have already seen, there are several biblical examples where Christians named names. It is true that we need to be loving and respectful when dealing with fellow believers, but often the most loving thing a person can do is to point out erroneous thinking.

The dangers of accepting universalism or evolutionary beliefs are well-documented. They are contrary to Scripture and undermine the Gospel message. If universalism is true, then there is no point in trusting in Christ because you’ll get to heaven no matter what (that’s probably why Bell refused to give a clear answer). If evolution is true, then the foundation of the Gospel is undermined because evolution places death before sin and forces many other theological errors into the text.

As Christians, we should not name names for the sake of naming names or to create division within the body. However, if false teaching is being publicly promoted then we are obligated (and commanded) to stand against it. If we have the opportunity to refute it publicly then we must do it—and we can certainly name names.

About Tim Chaffey

I am the founder of Midwest Apologetics and work as the Content Manager with the Attractions Division of Answers in Genesis. I have written (or co-authored) several books, including In Defense of Easter, God and Cancer, The Sons of God and the Nephilim, and The Truth Chronicles Series (see the publications page for more details). Please note: the opinions expressed on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of Answers in Genesis.


Naming Names—Is it Biblical? — 17 Comments

  1. The problem with citing Paul’s letters to Timothy is that it was a letter from one minister to another. It wasn’t a letter written to a church to be read before all of the members. Nobody besides Paul and Timothy presumably knew about the contents until all of the parties concerned were dead. You can make the same argument for John’s reference to Diotrophes in his letter to Gaius known as III John. Based on these examples you can’t justify naming names of people who teach something you disagree with. The author’s example of Paul rebuking Peter and Barnabas in Galatians is valid, but that was a serious issue because it went to the matter of justification by faith rather than works and had clear eternal consequences. What we see far too often today is “discernment” ministries attacking people over nonessentials, often misrepresenting them in the process. That is not justifiable from scripture.

    • Hi Rod,
      Thanks for reading. I think you bring up some good points. It’s true that the first two examples were to individuals. Obviously, they were written to encourage and instruct the recipient of each letter on how to handle certain situations. I also agree that the issue where Peter led Barnabas into error (Gal. 2) was a huge issue.
      Obviously, the NT writers were not opposed to naming names when the situation called for it. But I agree with you that “discernment” ministries go way too far on these matters. There seems to be an entire cottage industry among Christian bloggers dedicated to calling out what they believe to be false teachings and false teachers. Yet, in many cases, like you mentioned, the issues are minor matters and these bloggers often misrepresent the folks they are going after. I think a great deal of harm has been done by some of these people. I’ve even seen some who launch attacks on individuals because they think the person has said something wrong, when in fact, the person being attacked was exactly right and the person doing the attacking was basing his attack on tradition and pop theology rather than biblical exegesis.
      I am all for pointing out error when it arises. I think it’s vital for Christians to strive to accurately interpret God’s Word. But we must also strive to love one another. Pointing out error can be a loving act, but as is so often the case, the way in which we act determines whether we are truly being loving. In many cases, I think these “discernment” ministers just enjoy being critical of fellow believers. They may have started off with good intentions, but it’s so easy for pride to creep in to the point that we start to enjoy feeling like we are right and others are wrong. Because I’m involved in apologetics, I try to constantly remind myself of Jesus’ words to the Ephesian church in Revelation 2. He commended them for doing and thinking the right things. However, he cautioned them because they had left their first love. I believe “discernment” ministers face that danger. They become so focused on doing what they believe is right, trying to warn others and win theological debates, but they too often forget to love one another and treat others with respect. Most importantly, they might forget that the reason they started out doing what they are doing was out of a genuine love for the Lord, which eventually gave way to a love of the work itself. Pride has a way of doing that to us.

      • There’s also the issue of money. Some of these guys are just stirring up controversy for the sake of views on their blogs and videos to bring ad revenues and donations.

  2. “Note the hypocrisy of individuals who attack others for naming names, while they themselves name names.”

    THANK YOU for saying something about this! Excellent post.

  3. Thanks – and sorry for the typos in my previous post. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I certainly agree that they overreacted, and I don’t see the need or the wisdom in permanently banning Answers In Genesis even as a vendor. Perhaps there’s more to the story, and Todd Wood has been cautious on the matter:

    Here is Ken Ham’s blogpost where he referred to the convention as a “sea of lies”. This wasn’t mentioned in the board’s letter, I just brought it up because it seemed relevant.

    I personally agree with BioLogos and not Answers in Genesis on scientific matters, but Ken Ham is a good, popular speaker and a nice fit for these kind of conventions. What he said and did isn’t surprising, and they apparently expected it. I’m a bit baffled by the board, too. Their email to Ham seemed judgmental and extreme, but Ham published it to the public, not them. The publicity of the matter has more to do with Ham (and Wile) than the convention board itself.

    I just got an email for the Cincinnati convention which loudly presented Sarfati as ‘Dr. “Refuting Compromise” ‘. I don’t think they are censoring Young-Earth Creationism or trying to accommodate “compromisers”. I really think they just have some problem with Ken Ham personally and they decided they no longer want to deal with him at their conventions. I guess school boards and homeschool convention boards can suffer from the same counterproductive foolery, which makes my wife and I happy to take personal responsibility for educating our daughters.

    • Tony,
      Thanks for the link to the “sea of lies” comment. I can see why someone would take that comment and apply it to the convention, although in the post, he said, “I praise God for the opportunity, that even in this sea of lies permeating our culture, I am able to teach the truth of God’s Word to many.” So there is some ambiguity about whether he called the convention or the culture a “sea of lies.”
      I agree that it isn’t about young-earth creationism and it does seem to be some personal beef with Ken. As I understand it, the reason AiG posted the email on the website was because the convention’s organizer would not talk to them about it and sent an email saying he be able to talk about it on Sunday (today, five days after they sent the initial email). They were given a chance to respond before it was posted, but they refused.
      I certainly disagree with BioLogos on this issue, but I appreciate your thoughts and civility. I agree with your comments about taking personal responsibility for educating our own kids.

  4. Correction: Susan Bauer is not from or affiliated with BioLogos – she is a publisher of homeschool materials, and her company is Peace Hill Press (we use their materials homeschooling our daughters and we are very happy with them). The religious imprint of Peace Hill is called Olive Branch Books. Here connection to BioLogos is only found in the fact that Peter Enns, who wrote the Bible Curriculum for Olive Branch (with Dr. Wise’s approval), also writes for BioLogos is a foundation set up by leading geneticist and evangelical Christian Francis Collins, which gives voice to theologians, Bible Scholars (such as Enns), philosophers, pastors, and Christians in science who accept the evidence for biological evolution and make the case for Christian faith. Bauer does not deal with biology, and Enns’s curriculum (which I have found very useful in teaching our daughters) does not use with evolution, either (The Institute of Creation Research seemed to suggest it did, but I don’t think they read any of it).

    Dr. Bauer been sharing her experience in all this on her blog:

    The convention argued that it worked harder and apparently paid more to book Ken Ham, and they decided they didn’t appreciate that he referred to their convention as a “sea of lies” and spent some of his presentation time going after another speaker and an affiliated publisher. I personally don’t mind some healthy debate and I was looking forward to seeing Ham in Philadelphia, but the convention decided they didn’t want to deal with him and replaced him with another Young-earth creationist, Dr. Jonathan Sarfati, who once worked for Answers in Genesis and would be no more accepting of Enns’s view of Scripture than Ham.

    This isn’t about young-earth creationism, and it’s not actually about tolerance, it about one convention’s decision not to wcontinue hiring a particular speaker. Ken Ham is free to keep naming names, as he has continued to do at a fever pitch, and the convention is free to decide not to pay for his opportunity to do it. Banning Answers in Genesis forever looks like an over reaction to me, but that was their decision.

    Tim is right that naming names has a long history in Christianity. It can be done according to Biblical guidelines, and it can also be done in an un-Christian way. Those who say it’s inherently un-Christian to name names need to read Paul and any given Church Father or Reformation leader. Those who think calling people out is inherently Christian should also check Scripture and their hearts and make sure they are not out of line, not matter what their intentions may be.


    • Tony,
      Thanks for the correction on Susan Wise Bauer. I have made the appropriate change. Where did Ken Ham ever refer to the convention as a “sea of lies”? I have not seen or heard that. All I have seen from the convention is accusations of ungodly behavior by Mr. Ham, but I have not seen them give a specific example. I’ve read Ken’s blog posts, the AiG web article, and the official statement from Great Homeschool Conventions.
      In their email to AiG, they did not cite anything specific, but wrote: “Our expression of sacrifice and extraordinary kindness towards Ken and AIG has been returned to us and our attendees with Ken publicly attacking our conventions and other speakers. Our Board believes Ken’s comments to be unnecessary, ungodly, and mean-spirited statements that are divisive at best and defamatory at worst.”
      In their official statement they make this claim: “As an invited guest, Dr. Ham’s spirit toward our convention was unkind. Dr. Ham’s spirit toward our
      attendees was not gracious. Dr. Ham’s spirit toward other speakers was
      unprofessional. In short, a proud, ungrateful and divisive spirit was projected from Dr. Ham. Regardless of the message, Dr. Ham’s approach sullied the atmosphere of the convention.”
      Have you listened to Ken’s talks from those two conventions? Have you read his blogs? The convention has never given any examples to back up their claims. They say he wasn’t gracious to attendees? Where’s the evidence of that? Ask those who were in attendance. Scores of those who were in Ken’s talks have come out in support of Ken and testified that he never did any of these things. He played a video clip from Dr. Enns in which Enns undermines the authority of the Word of God. He never attacked Dr. Enns’ intelligence, character, or faith as he is accused of doing, but the homeschool convention has slandered Ken and (to my knowledge) never provided anything to support their claims. By the way, Ken isn’t the only one to say that Dr. Enns’ ideas are dangerous. He was let go by Westminster Theological Seminary because of his low view of inerrancy.
      Notice the homeschool convention has also thrown out AiG as a vendor. Why? They never mention that AiG had been promoting their conference regularly on their popular website and through their mass emailings. So it’s quite hypocritical for the convention to whine about how much they spent to bring Ken in, since he brings in far more money for the convention than they spend. It’s also hypocritical for them to replace him with Dr. Sarfati. While I happen to like Dr. Sarfati, he is far more abrasive in his writing than Ken has ever been. It’s also hypocritical for the convention to go back on their word—they knew Ken would speak against BioLogos and their speakers. In fact, the conference organizer, Brennan Dean, told AiG’s Mark Looy that he would expect nothing less from AiG. To now go out and complain about it and slander Ken for doing what he said he would do is wrong.
      The whole thing is a big mess and I pray there will be a peaceful resolution to it. Thanks again for the correction and for taking the time to read.

  5. Thanks for such a good article/blog. This compares to how the world and many Christians unfortunately misunderstand scripture & criticize against being “judgemental.” We are actually told to call sin sin. No, we are not to judge state of someone’s heart, but when blatent unrepentent sin is present….

  6. Great Post!! I have been watching this unfold. If you would like to support homeschoolers who are wanting to stand up for correct marketing of Biblical and prevent the false marketing of non-biblical curriculum, I invite you to join.!/ChristianHomeschoolersTakingaStand?sk=info

    Thanks so much for helping get the truth out in the homeschool loop.

    I blogged today as to why it is important not to send mixed messages to our children about Biblical doctrine. I explained my stance on this homeschool issue in my post.

  7. Could you direct me to the site where Susan Wise Bauer of Biologos makes these claims of supporting Jay Wile’s statements?

    Thank you so much.

    Have a blessed day!

  8. Thanks for this! Someone posted a link to this from our home school support group. I just attended the convention last weekend that is a hot mess! I will steal some of your comments here, if you don’t mind to send to the Great Home School Convention. And I ALSO was looking to the Rob Bell mess earlier last week too, so very timely blog whoever you are (LOL)! Blessings, your sister in Christ

    • Thanks Kelly. It’s sad that so many Christians have been misled to believe it is unloving to respectfully correct someone. Nearly five years ago my doctor told me one of the most hurtful things I could imagine (“You have leukemia”), but it was also a loving thing for him to do. Without that understanding I wouldn’t have sought treatment and I would have died. We need to learn to speak the truth in love, even if it means someone’s feelings will be hurt.

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