Further Thoughts on “Mark and Avoid”

To whom and of whom is Paul’s instruction at the end of his letter to the Romans, to “mark and avoid” those teaching falsely?

Firstly, the majority Paul’s letter focussed on two critical matters: salvation by faith in Christ and His death for our sins, rather than works, and the same salvation of Jews as of Gentiles, by faith apart from any observation of the law given through Moses. After carefully stating and illustrating how faith was the qualifying factor in God’s acceptance of forefather Abraham, as it was then the sole qualifying factor in His acceptance of any person, Paul issued the following instruction, quoted in context which is always important to understanding the meaning of any words:

“17  Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.

18  For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.

19  For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.

20  And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.”    Romans 16:27-20

Who was to “mark” – meaning to take deliberate notice of – and to “avoid”? The Roman saints. Whom were they to “mark and avoid”? Specifically “…those caus[ing] divisions and offences (stumbling or temptation) contrary to the doctrine which you have learned.” What doctrine was the basis for this instruction? That which they had been taught by Paul, the other apostles, and possibly those who were sent to them by the apostles.

On what authority did Paul issue this directive? The fact that he was an apostle selected and appointed directly by Jesus Christ, personally taught directly by Jesus Christ through revelation, after having been fully aware of what Christ had been doing during his three and a half years of ministry. Paul had the authority of an apostle, along with the eleven others chosen specifically and directly by Christ, taught personally and verbally by Christ, witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and commissioned by Christ to “go into all the world” making disciples.[1] These men had authority conferred by Christ on the basis of His selection of them for a particular role: that of apostle, of which He selected only twelve[2] and to whom He gave exceptional gifts of the Spirit, ability to teach, and authority to go.[3] In fact, the church is built doctrinally on the “foundation of the apostles and prophets”[4], making their appointment and divine authority unique in the church.

No other person than those twelve appointed by Christ, have the authority held by those men. None since them were taught directly by Christ in the way that they were nor has He appointed any since then to fill the role that they filled; there is no “apostolic succession.”

When Paul instructed the Roman saints to note and avoid those teaching contrary, he was speaking of the doctrine that he and his fellow apostles had taught. Only the teaching coming from those men, was completely sound; only those men had the divine right to instruct others to reject anyone teaching contrary to their teachings, because they received them directly and personally from Christ the Lord Himself.

Everyone coming after them, is a follower, relying on the teachings left behind, and their own or other non-apostles’ interpretation of the meaning and intention of the written words. No matter how correct any individual may be, they do not have the authority possessed by Paul to instruct other people to refuse to listen to someone who teaches contrary to that individual’s teaching.

The Romans lacked our advantage of possessing the apostles’ writing by which to develop our own doctrinal knowledge; they relied on the apostles’ exposition of the Torah and those letters they received, in order to learn the truth about God. In the absence of an apostolic teacher, they were potentially susceptible to smooth presentations from false teachers, of which Jesus Himself, and all of His writers, warned would abound. In their case, lacking our treasure in the compiled writings of God’s chosen messengers, the Romans were instructed to avoid anyone who tried to teach them contrary to what Paul and his fellows had taught.

Interestingly, he did not give the same instructions universally, as indicated in his words to Thessalonians, in which he adjured that they “test everything; hold fast what is good.” Or his commendation of the Bereans who, having heard Paul, then resorted to the Scriptures – the Old Testament was their possession – to confirm whether what he was teaching was true.[5] Paul frequently instructed to test teachers, prophets, and teachings; today this is even more critical due to the proliferation of diverse teachings, and our lack of living apostles to test on our behalf whether any claim conforms to the doctrine delivered by them to the church.


[1] Matthew 10 – the names of the men and their particular first commission and instructions are the entire chapter.

Luke 11:49

Luke 22:14 – there were 12 apostles, not more, nor less. While the eleven drew straws in an attempt to replace Judas, God called and appointed Saul to become Paul the apostle, confronting him personally and directly, and training him personally and directly thereafter. (Acts 9:1-22; Ephesians 3:3-5; Acts 8:5-23; Gal 1:1 )

[2] Revelation 21:14

[3] Acts 2:42 – “… the apostles’ doctrine”; Acts 2:43 (signs), 4:33(witnesses of resurrection; also 1 Cor 15:7), 5:12 (signs), Acts 15:2à the authority of the apostles to adjudicate doctrine and conduct in the church; 1 Cor 12:28-29 – uniqueness of the office; 2 Cor 12:12 – that indicators unique to apostleship were provided to authenticate their right under Christ to be recognized in that role;

[4] Eph 2:20; Rev 21:14

[5] Acts 17:10-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:21;