Is It Wrong to Name Names?

Dr Paul M Elliott

Some readers criticize us for citing, by name, individuals and institutions that promote heretical doctrines. They tell us that naming names is “unloving”. We respond that Scripture does not support this accusation. Consider the example of the Apostle Paul.

What is the Truly Loving Thing to Do?

Paul considered it vital to demonstrate his deep agape love for Christ and His church by warning believers to beware of those who would seek to “overthrow the faith of some” (2 Timothy 2:18). Paul’s consistent policy was to name names, recognizing that speaking in generalities is not always enough.

So great was Paul’s concern for the Galatian church’s departure into legalism – “another gospel, which is not another” (1:7) – that he cited the example of a fellow apostle’s temporary departure from soundness:

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. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the Gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?” (Galatians 2:11-14)

Paul also pulled no punches in this admonition to Titus:

One of them, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth. (Titus 1:12-14)

Paul also named several others whose departures from sound doctrine and sanctified living were, so far as we know, permanent:

This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:18-20)

But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:16-18)

Be diligent to come to me quickly; for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica… (2 Timothy 4:9-10)

Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works. (2 Timothy 4:14)

The Balance: Commendation of the Faithful

We must also keep in mind the fact that Paul cited many individuals by name when he commended those who were true to the faith, and lived according to the truth. The two most conspicuous examples are at the end of his letters to the Romans and the Colossians:

I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.

Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house.

Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ. Greet Mary, who labored much for us. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. Greet Amplias, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys, my beloved. Greet Apelles, approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my countryman. Greet those who are of the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, who have labored in the Lord. Greet the beloved Persis, who labored much in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren who are with them. Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. (Romans 16:1-15)

Tychicus, a beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that he may know your circumstances and comfort your hearts, with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will make known to you all things which are happening here.

Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him), and Jesus who is called Justus. These are my only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are of the circumcision; they have proved to be a comfort to me.

Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you, and those who are in Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis. Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you.

Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house. Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea. And say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.” (Colossians 4:7-17)

A Dual Concern for Christ’s Body

We need to follow the Biblical example in both respects. As faithful watchmen, we must be ready and willing to name individuals, churches, schools, and other organizations that deviate from the truth and thus endanger souls. We need to be sure of the facts, and sure that our motivation is the right one – a loving concern for those in the church who are, or may be, led away from the truth if we don’t speak out. In such cases we must, indeed, warn others to “note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them” (Romans 16:17). Likewise, as those who are concerned for the welfare of Christ’s body, we must follow the Biblical example in commending, by name, those who are faithful in teaching and living the truth.

HL –


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3 thoughts on “Is It Wrong to Name Names?

  1. What a photo! Sometimes God’s creation is so beautiful it is almost painful to behold! It certainly brings tears at times.

    Naming names: obviously a good thing according to Scripture. We do need to keep in mind that Paul’s discerning ability was clearly of superior nature, by reason of the very essence of who he was and what his role was to be in service of the church. At the time, it certainly needed a man of special qualities to stand up to the “leading” Apostle Peter.

    I think Dr Elliot’s words of warning that we need to be sure of the facts and sure that our motivation is the right one, cannot be sufficiently emphasized. I’m sure all too often we name names without being absolutely sure that we know the facts and the heart of the person whom we may simply be unjustifiably analyzing or imposing discipline upon.

    All too often, we in the church deliver criticism and pronounce judgment based on emotions, hearsay, personal opinion or societal taste and mere assumption. All of these can be severly affected by legalistic communities and erroneous interpretation of biblical instruction. It causes painful division; you simply need to find five true Christians and ask whether any of them has not been subjected to injurious and unwarranted finger pointing from within the church at one time, to see how rife the misappropriation of this trend has become.

    Nevertheless, it remains important to warn against the prowling lions clearly. We must just make sure we do not misidentify lost sheep as roaring lions.


  2. Pingback: Did Paul Always Name Names? « For the Love of His Truth

  3. Pingback: Faith Like Potatoes, or Biblical Faith? | Truth in Reality

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