Zeal DoctrineThe Doctrine of Zeal


Rom 10:1, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.”

In Romans 10:1, we see an appropriate sense of zeal, that is having a heart that desires to reach the lost in witnessing. In Romans 10:2, we see an inappropriate and misguided form of Zeal which the Jews had.

Rom 10:2, “For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.”

Unfortunately, throughout history many have substituted works and effort for truly living the spiritual life. That is what Paul is addressing in chapter 10 verse 2.

Many think / say, “Surely it is better to be doing something than to be doing nothing.” With that statement, they look to get busy and involved typically in misguided ways.

Another word closely aligned to zeal is “sincerity.” Many think that sincerity is the manifestation of the spiritual life. They say things like, “We are to work with them,” “We are to stand with them,” “We must do all we can in a sincere and zealous way,” or “What does it matter what people believe as long as they are sincere?”

D.M. Lloyd Jones states regarding this, (Saving Faith, Romans Chapter 10, pg. 15), “Because of the terrible plight in which we find ourselves, the tendency is to exalt sincerity, zeal, and activity. What have we got in our churches? Is it Christianity or is it religion? Is it the Christian faith or is it some kind of social club?”

Dr. Jones wrote this over 40 years ago, and it seems to be the same perplexing question today, yet even more so. Given the confusion in Christianity today, we must endeavor to run our churches based on grace, faith, and love and remove any forms of religious zeal and social club atmosphere.

You can look at any so-called growing or active church bubbling over with people full of zeal and excitement, and yet, they are operating without grace and faith. All their zeal and activity is counted for naught, because it is not based on grace and faith. Even though they think they are doing great things through their works for their country and those in others, in truth, they are doing nothing more than the devil’s work cleaning up his world.

Remember what our passage says, “a zeal for God yet without knowledge.” Now that is the key. We cannot truly go forward in the plan of God without knowledge of Him and His plan for mankind. Zeal may seem to be producing good works, enthusiastic Christians and evangelism. In reality, if it is without knowledge, it is dangerously leading people astray, blinding them to the truth of the Word of God, and substituting zeal and activity for a true relationship with God.

Now Paul gives us the true and false picture of zeal in verses 1 & 2.  In verse 1, we see Paul’s desire for their salvation, a true zeal.  In verse 2, we see that their zeal is without knowledge, a false zeal.


Zeal is a form of power, motivating force, and a measure of energy with which a person does something. It is defined as eagerness and ardent interest in pursuit of something, fervor. A synonym for zeal is passion.

QINAH –  קִינָה (kee-naw’) is Hebrew from an unused word meaning; “ardor, zeal, jealousy, anger, envy, passion, and rivalry.”

God’s Zeal is seen in Isa 9:7; 26:11; 37:32; 42:13; 59:17 (Jesus Christ); 63:15; Ezek 5:13; 38:19; Zeph 3:8.

The Greek word for zeal is ZELOS – ζλος (dzay’-los), which most likely is from ZEO –  ζέω (dzeh’-o); a primary verb meaning, “to boil or be hot.” So, you can see where the meaning of passion comes in.

ZELOS means, “zeal, jealousy, or fury.” Properly it means, “heat,” that is figuratively “zeal” in a favorable sense, or ardor (eagerness). In an unfavorable sense it means, “an enemy, malice, or jealousy as of a husband.” It can be used figuratively as the jealousy of God in an anthropopathism. And finally, it means, “emulation, envy, fervent mind, or indignation.”

Joseph Thayer defines ZELOS as, “excitement of mind, ardor, fervor of spirit, zeal, pursuing, defending anything, zeal in behalf of or for a person or thing, the fierceness of indignation, punitive zeal, and an envious and contentious rivalry or jealousy.”

Liddell and Scott define later ZELOS as:

I.) Eager rivalry, zealous imitation, emulation, a noble passion, opposed to (envy), Plato, etc.: but also, jealousy, Hesiod.  Gen. pers. zeal for one, Sophocles, Plutarch. Gen. rei, rivalry for a thing, Euripides; Plutarch, etc.

II.) Pass. the object of emulation or desire, happiness, bliss, honor, glory, Sophocles, Demosthenes.

III.) Of style, extravagance, Plutarch:—also, fierceness, New Testament.

What are the Dangers of False Zeal?

The first danger of a false zeal is when you set up zeal or sincerity in the supreme position in your spiritual walk. That means you put zeal and emotion above the knowledge of the Word of God. The danger here is the mistaken application to salvation, which says, “it does not matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.”  In other words, all roads lead to Rome especial for those who show enthusiasm.

Zeal comes from the will of man and usually is motivated by some emotion or emotional state. Therefore, since man is a sinful creature who has a sin nature, zeal alone should never be used to assess someone’s faith or spirituality. We can never say that doing something or doing anything is better than doing nothing at all, especially in regard to salvation.

Given that a definition for zeal is “fire,” or to say, “someone is on fire for the Lord,” we should always keep in mind that “Fire is a good servant, but a bad master.” In addition, being hot or cold, for that matter, is not a barometer or measuring tool for spiritual achievement. Our Lord wished that the Laodiceans were either hot or cold in Rev 3:15, yet they were lukewarm. A believer can either be on fire for the Lord with a soothing ministry to the soul, or a cold cup of water which is refreshing to the soul that is parched. Either extreme can be an effective believer and vessel for God to use. So, we cannot just look at the zealous person and say that they are God’s people and that indicates they are saved. Neither hot nor cold indicate by themselves as to the true spirituality or salvation of a person, as it did not with the Jews who “had a zeal for God yet without knowledge.”

Zeal is a prominent characteristic of those in the occult. Many times, their effort and energy puts the typical Christian to shame, yet their zeal is focused erroneously in works of recruiting, evangelism, self-depravation, and sacrifice.

A person with great zeal can also become fanatical. In Christ’s time, these people were called zealots. A ZEALOT – Ζηάλωτ (Zihl’ uht) was a militant radical; one who acts with great zeal for a cause. The term came to designate a particular segment of the Jewish population who continually tried to overthrow foreign oppression, especially the Roman rule in Palestine. Jesus called Simon a zealot who was one of His twelve disciples (Luke 6:15). He did so to distinguish him from Simon Peter, but there may be more to it as he may have previously been part of a group secretly fighting for the “cause,” freedom of Israel. Even before Jesus’ time, zealots were a class of men who, like Phinehas (Numbers 25:7), were fanatical defenders of the theocracy; and who, while taking vengeance on those who wronged it, were themselves guilty of great excesses.

Zeal can lead people to disregard the need for knowledge. Someone who is zealous can be absolutely wrong in their beliefs of the cause for which they are fighting. They get so emotionally involved, they lose focus of the main principles or disregard them altogether. Even though they may have begun with right knowledge or principles, because emotion has taken control, they stop learning, and therefore, fall prey to gross misconceptions, deceptions, or deviations to the original principle. When this happens, the original principles or truth get completely turned around, upside down, and misconstrued. As new recruits or future generations come along and are taught the “basic principles,” the original truth is lost and what remains as “truth” is now completely erroneous.

  • Jesus said this about the Pharisees in Mat 23:15.
  • Paul said this about the Pharisees in Gal 4:17-18.
  • Paul said this of himself prior to coming to the true knowledge of Christ in Acts 26:9-11; Phil 3:5-6.
  • Paul said this of false worldly teachers and evangelists in 2 Tim 3:1-7.
  • Paul said this of worldly people in regards to their selection of a church in 2 Tim 4:3-4, (seeking their own lusts and accumulating for themselves = zealous for the worldly living and teaching).

A.T. Roberts says of the Jews here, “They became zealous for the letter and the form instead of for God Himself.”

So, you see you can have zeal for God yet be absolutely wrong. This object lesson of the Jews is a warning to all members of the human race to not trust in your zeal for God as the measurement for your spirituality. This is even truer in our day when we see the emotional zeal of charismatic Christianity today. They believe that a demonstration of emotional activity demonstrates their salvation or the indwelling of the Spirit. That type of thinking is not according to the knowledge found in the Bible.

In addition, we see today the fanaticism of the extreme Muslim community regarding their religion. They want to conquer the world and kill all those who do not convert to Islam. They have a zeal for their god but not according to knowledge.

“The key word in Romans Chapter 10 is “righteousness.” The Jews wanted righteousness, but tried to obtain it in the wrong way. Like the Pharisees described in Matt. 23:15, the Jews expended energy in securing a right standing with God, but their deeds were done in ignorance. “Religious people” today are no different; they think that God will accept them for their good works. The Bible speaks of two kinds of righteousness: “works righteousness,” which comes from obeying the law; and “faith righteousness,” which is the gift of God to those who trust His Son. The Jews would not submit to faith righteousness; their racial and religious pride turned them from simple faith to blind religion. They rejected Christ and clung to the Law, not realizing that Christ was the very one for whom the Law had been preparing the way, and that He Himself, on the cross, had ended the reign of the Law. The Mosaic law is no longer God’s basis for dealing with mankind.  He deals with us at the cross, where Christ died for the world. Righteousness by the Law is described in Lev. 18:5; faith righteousness is described in Deut. 30:12-14.” Warren Weirsbe

What are the Characteristics of False Zeal?

The following are several questions you can ask yourself to determine if you have a false zeal. An affirmative response to any or several of these questions indicates a false zeal.

  • Am I just conforming to a pattern that someone else has imposed on me?
  • Does my zeal have to be whipped up, organized, or kept up especially through stimuli from others?
  • Is my emphasis greater on doing than being?
  • Are activities more prominent and at the center of my spiritual life than the intake of the Word of God?
  • Am I more fascinated and occupied with the energy displayed by Christian people than the Word of God?
  • Is there a form of lightness, frivolity, joviality, and superficiality, yet the people are sincere?
  • Is there an excessive form of excitement?
  • Is there an over assurance of being in control and having self-control with a hint of being proud of self and accomplishments?
  • Do I dislike being questioned about my faith and actions? Do I resent inquiry?
  • Do I dislike it when someone wants to make sure what is going on is according to Scripture?
  • Am I impatient with teaching? Do I want to get on with things?
  • Am I overly concerned with success rather than the Word?
  • Do I have a lack of balance?
  • Do I see things through only one lens and am not interested in anything else? For example, the King James Bible only, evangelism only, Calvinism only, Arminianism only, or Prophecy/Healing/Tongues only, etc.
  • Is there a sense of a light touch to spirituality with no sense of awe for God, no sense of holiness and reverence?
  • Everything is casual, light, and fluffy carried along with great enthusiasm with wonderful organizing power.
  • Am I always restless and unhappy when I am not active?

“False zeal always puts the emphasis on “doing,” and it is not interested in the “being” portion of sanctification. Likewise, there is always a tendency to overdo things, having an element of excess. The activity is more in evidence than the teaching which has called forth the activity.” DM Lloyd Jones, pg. 21

False zeal is not interested in learning Bible Doctrine, it is not interested in theology. – It must get people doing for God.

What are the Characteristics of True Zeal?

  • The exact opposite of all the above.
  • It is never imposed upon you by others or yourself.
  • It is the result of “being.” You are what you are by the grace and knowledge of God. You “do” because of what you are in Christ.
  • Your zeal is the outgrowth of your Biblical knowledge through the Grace Apparatus for Perception (GAP), (the mind, the heart, the will).
  • True zeal is a deep zeal, not superficial, spectacular, or showy.
  • Your zeal is based on a depth of knowledge and self-control.
  • You have spiritual self-esteem but are not self-confident.
  • You don’t get overly excited about your accomplishments.
  • Genuine Humility is expressed through your soul.
  • Having the mindset of glorifying God in all things.
  • Occupation with the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Having self-control in all things for the Lord.

Christ had true zeal for the House of God. John 2:16

John 2:16-17, “And to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.”” (Psa 69:9)

The Corinthians had a true zeal for the care and spiritual well-being of fellow Christians. 2 Cor 7:7-11

2 Cor 7:7-13, “And not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more. 8For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while— 9I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. 10For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. 11For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter. 12So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the offender nor for the sake of the one offended, but that your earnestness on our behalf might be made known to you in the sight of God. 13For this reason we have been comforted.”

2 Cor 9:2, “For I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the Macedonians, namely, that Achaia has been prepared since last year, and your zeal has stirred up most of them.”

Paul displayed true zeal in, 1 Cor 2:1-5; 15:911.

2 Cor 5:14, “The Love of Christ constrains me.”

Paul was genuinely concerned about the condition of the lost. He knows their destiny. He does not talk lightly, whimsically, or glibly about their condition. He realizes their condition is a desperate one and takes it seriously. That is why he goes to great lengths to explain to them the true knowledge of Christ which they have not seen.

The person with true zeal thanks God that He, to further His glory, has used them and that they have a position in Christ. Luke 10:17-20; Phil 3:8-11

The person with true zeal desires not only to be successful but also to know the Lord and be like Him.

Acts 4:20, “For we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

True Zeal Must be Based on EPIGNOSIS – πίγνωσις (ep-ig’-no-sis):

Our passage in Rom 10:2 states, “For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.”

We have noted false and true zeal previously; so here we are going to address the issue determining whether someone has true or false zeal. The issue is; do they have knowledge of the Word of God or not? If they do not, they are prone to false zeal. If they do, there is a good chance they will have true zeal for the Lord.

So, we are noting the last phrase of Rom 10:2 which is “but not in accordance with knowledge.” In the Greek, it looks like this; “χουσιν λλ’ ο κατ’ πίγνωσιν. Transliterated it is, ECHOUSIN ALL’ OU KAT EPIGNOSIN.

Paul is saying that the Israelites have a zeal, but it is not in accordance with knowledge. What does that mean?

First of all, we know from the history of the Old Testament that many times in Israel’s history, they wavered in faith and knowledge.

Eccl 9:6, “Indeed their love, their hate and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun.”

This is just one verse that tells us that a people and nation that once had zeal for God can lose it.

The Psalmist in Psa 119:139-140, indicates why zeal is lost and how his own true zeal drives him forward, just as Paul’s true zeal did, “My zeal has consumed me, Because my adversaries have forgotten Your words. 140Your word is very pure, Therefore Your servant loves it.”

This is very similar to what Paul is saying. When people forget the Word of God in their lives, they fall to the wayside and lose true zeal. As we have noted previously, at that point, they begin to replace true zeal that is based on the Word of God resident in their souls with some counterfeits like works, legalism, emotions, etc.

Let’s break this verse down a bit to see what Paul is saying.

ECHOUSIN – χουσιν (ekh’-o-sin) is from the Greek root word ECHO – χω (ekh’-o) in the Present Active Indicative meaning, “to have and to hold, or to be joined to.”

ALL’ – λλ’ (al-l) is a Greek coordinating conjunction ALLA – λλά (al-lah’) meaning, “but, rather, or on the contrary.”

OU – ο (oo) is the Greek negative OUK – οκ (oo-k) meaning, “not or absolutely not.”

KAT – κατά (kat)is the Greek word KATA – κατά (kat-ah’) which means, “down, against, according to, corresponding to, with reference to.”

EPIGNOSIN – πίγνωσιν (ep-ig’-no-sin) is from the root word EPIGNOSIS – πίγνωσις (ep-ig’-no-sis).

This is a compound word made up of EPI – πί (ep-ee’) meaning, “above,” and GINOSKO – γινώσκω (ghin-oce’-ko) meaning, “to come to know, recognize, perceive. So, this could mean, “above knowing,” but a better translation is “full, complete, or expanded knowledge of a thing.”

That is the meaning here. The Israelites had some knowledge of God and the Law, but they did not have full or complete knowledge. They did not possess the true information found in God’s word, as told to them in the Law.

Why?  Because they did not ECHOUSIN it. They did not compare Scripture with Scripture to understand its full meaning, and more importantly, they did not mix it with faith. They had a knowledge of the rituals, but they did not understand the meaning behind the rituals.

Ezra tells us that we must know intimately the things of God.

Ezra 7:23, “Whatever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be done with zeal [The Hebrew word ADRAZDA –  אַדְרַזְדָּא (ad-raz-daw’) which means, “correctly, exactly, diligently, or earnestly.”] for the house of the God of heaven,”

Paul had false zeal in his early career.

Phil 3:4-6, “If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: 5circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.”

If we are going to have true zeal for God, we must have EPIGNOSIS knowledge resident within our soul. When we do, we truly and accurately respond to the grace of God. When we do not, our substitutionary false zeal will lead us into all kinds of false applications up to and including murder as demonstrated by Paul himself.


Joseph Thayer’s Definition of EPIGNOSIS is “precise and correct knowledge.” He says, “it is used in the New Testament of the knowledge of things ethical and divine.”

This word is used in our passage plus Eph 1:17; Eph 4:13; Col 2:2; 3:9-10; 1 Tim 2:4, 25; 3:7; Titus 1:1; Philem 1:6; Heb 10:26; 2 Pet 1:2-3, 8; 2:20.

Eph 1:17, “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.”

Eph 4:11-13, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastor-teachers, 12for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”

Col 3:8-11, “But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, 10and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him— 11a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.”

2 Peter 1:3, “Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.”