Luke 12:9

ESV but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.
NIV But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God.
NASB but the one who denies Me before people will be denied before the angels of God.
CSB but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God.
NLT But anyone who denies me here on earth will be denied before God’s angels.
KJV But he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God.

What does Luke 12:9 mean?

The disciples need to reject the way the Pharisees practice religion, according to Jesus' warning. Pharisees adhere to the manmade Oral Law while skirting around the God-given Mosaic law. They appear to be righteous followers of God, but their teaching brings death. And they ignore the prophets' messages about the Jewish Messiah, instead claiming that Jesus' power comes from demons (Luke 11:14–15, 44, 52).

The disciples have affirmed that Jesus is the "Christ of God" (Luke 9:18–20) and Jesus wants them to remain firm in that assertion, even if doing so leads to their death. Far more dangerous is denying Jesus before these religious leaders and facing God's eternal judgment (Luke 12:4–7).

This verse was at the heart of an early conflict in the Christian church. In the third century AD, emperor Decian persecuted the church, causing many self-professed believers to deny Christ. Novatian, a priest and theologian in Rome, strongly held that those who denied Christ may, perhaps, be forgiven by God. Yet he also insisted they must be disfellowshipped from the church. Other bishops disagreed and offered full restitution to those who repented after their denial. Novatian's extremism sparked a series of internal intrigues among other teachers. This is unfortunate, as his work on the Trinity is still highly valued today.

Today, some still debate whether Novatian was correct. The Greek for "denies" means to disown or assert no relation with. Peter certainly denied Christ at His first trial (Luke 22:54–62). Dr. Darrell Bock suggests that the fatal denial in view in Luke 12 is one "of heart," not one "of nerve." This would certainly cover the persecuted third-century Christians who succumbed to fear, but then wished to repent. In contrast to Peter losing his nerve, Judas rejected Jesus fully. This verse is not saying that a Christian will lose their salvation if, in a weak moment, they deny being associated with Jesus.

In Matthew's similar passage, Jesus says, "but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:33). Some say the angels represent the presence of God the Father; others say this is a different event. Declaring that one is not a believer is, of course, a dangerous thing, but Scripture doesn't teach that it's an unforgivable sin.
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