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Greek Word Study - Factions

The city-states of Greece were choosing up sides. With the Persians driven off, now the Greeks were fighting among themselves. All the lesser powers were becoming allies with one or the other of the two super powers—Athens and Thebes. Thus, it was with some bitterness that the men of Thebes said to one of the smaller cities, “Willingly and not under compulsion you chose the Athenian cause.” From the viewpoint of Thebes, this was both “dishonorable” and “wicked.” Athens, of course, thought their choice was fine.

The Greek word for “choosing up sides” was hairesis (HI reh sis). In addition to its use in political situations it was often used in the context of choosing to join a particular school of philosophy. In this sense a hairesis was a “selection” or “choice.” When Josephus chose which sect of the Jews he would join (the Essenes, the Sadducees, or the Pharisees) his “choice” was the “sect” (hairesis) of the Pharisees.

It is natural to want to choose up sides—natural, but wrong. When Paul listed the works of the flesh (NIV “acts of the sinful nature”) in Galatians 5:19-21, he included the plural form of the word hairesis (NIV “factions,” or choosing up sides). For those who are led by the Spirit in the community of Christ, there is no room for choosing up sides—forming sects around favorite leaders or pet doctrines.

By the time hairesis came into the English language a thousand years later it had come to mean “heresy,” choosing the wrong doctrine. Folks who see the word in the KJV often misunderstand, thinking that the sinful act lies in choosing the wrong leader or the wrong doctrine. But the sin is in the very act of choosing. Carnal men choose up sides; Christians stand together.