What is heterodoxy? What does it mean for something to be heterodox?Question: "What is heterodoxy? What does it mean for something to be heterodox?"
Answer: The word heterodox is used to describe something that is not orthodox. Heterodoxy is the collective term for opinions or doctrines that vary from orthodoxy, i.e., the official position. Heterodoxy differs from the orthodox view of the church, but the church is not infallible, and something heterodox is not automatically heretical or wrong. At times, heterodox views are more biblical than the prevailing orthodox view.
For example, Martin Luther’s views on salvation by grace through faith stood in direct opposition to Catholic doctrine, and his writings were considered heterodoxy. His ideas challenged the orthodoxy of the time and were a better, more biblical alternative to the established church’s dogma. Luther’s willingness to be heterodox led to the rise of Protestantism, to the printing of the Bible in the common language, and to a more biblical understanding of the gospel. When a doctrine stands in opposition to the Bible, it is called heresy. But orthodoxy and heterodoxy can change, depending on the views of the prevailing religious power. As can be seen in the story of Martin Luther, the biblical view can itself be heterodox, and biblically sound theology, heterodoxy.
Jesus Himself preached heterodox views. The religious leaders of His time taught that full adherence to the Law was possible by self-righteous self-effort. It was a religion devoid of mercy, grace, or dependence on God, and Jesus spoke against it (Matthew 9:13). In fact, Jesus opposed the Pharisees and scribes at every turn, preaching against their understanding of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1–8), decrying their additions to the Word of God (Mark 7:7), calling them “blind guides” (Matthew 23:24), and even proclaiming “woes” on them for their stubborn false teaching (Luke 11).
Like Jesus, we should use the Bible as our guide, rather than prevailing religious opinion or the teaching of any church. Many churches teach what is biblical, but each of us is responsible to know God’s Word individually. Doctrine should never be accepted simply because it is “orthodox”; sometimes the heterodox position is more biblical. We must see that what are taught is indeed true according to the Scripture (Acts 17:11).
Recommended Resource: Basic Theology by Charles Ryrie
Dig into this topic more with Logos Bible Software—get started with a free Bible study resource every month.
What is the definition of heresy?
How can I recognize a false teacher / false prophet?
What is orthopraxy/orthopraxis?
What is false doctrine?
What is apostasy and how can I recognize it?
Questions about False Doctrine
What is heterodoxy? What does it mean for something to be heterodox?