The False Teachers’ Ungodly Lifestyle

2:1 But false prophets arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. These false teachers will infiltrate your midst with destructive heresies, even to the point of denying the Master who bought them. As a result, they will bring swift destruction on themselves. 2:2 And many will follow their debauched lifestyles. Because of these false teachers, the way of truth will be slandered. 2:3 And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation pronounced long ago is not sitting idly by; their destruction is not asleep.

The Master who bought them – ‘despotes’; ‘sovereign Lord’.  Not ‘kyrios‘, the usual term for Christ as Lord, but ‘despotes’, which is almost always used in the NT of God the Father or masters of servants.  Nevertheless, the parallel with Jude 5 suggests to most modern interpreters that ‘the sovereign Lord’ refers to Jesus Christ, and ‘bought’ refers to redemption through the work of Christ. This would suggest a general (i.e. unlimited) atonement in which the price of salvation has been paid on behalf of those who finally reject its terms, as well as the elect.

The extent of the atonement
v1 features prominently in discussions about the extent of the atonement:-

  1. Some think that the expression is used in a non-soteriological sense.  It is argued that the word ‘bought’ in the NT generally refers to a completed transaction, in which the purchaser is put in complete possession of what he has paid for. It is unlikely then that the word ‘bought’ in this verse refers to the payment of the price of redemption, when the purchase is never completed because of human rejection.
  2. Another non-soteriological approach understands it to refer to the tragedy that these false teachers are denying the sovereign God who owns them by right of creation.
  3. Others think that this verse teaches a general atonement, in which Christ has paid a general redemptive price for all men, including the lost.  Lightner, for example, says: ‘Peter’s use of one of the words for redeem, translated “bought” (2 Pet. 2:1), reveals that the price of redemption for all men was paid by Christ. This, of course, does not imply the release of all men; this comes only at the moment of faith in Christ.’ (The Death Christ Died, p48).  Lightner adds: ‘The nonelect, or those for whom Christ paid the ransom price who do not believe (2 Pet. 2:1), are condemned on the basis of the cross. They are not condemned because they are of the nonelect or because Christ did not die for them but rather because they believe not in Him.’ (p94)
  4. Still others think that Peter is speaking phenomenonologically, or ‘ad hominen‘ here: the false prophets and teachers profess that they were the Lord’s by redemption, yet deny it by their lives and teaching.  So particularists such as Nicole and Schreiner.  But this offends against the plain meaning of the text, which refers to ‘the Lord who brought them’ (not, ‘the Lord they claimed had bought them’).

Aware of the prominence of this verse in discussions about the extent of the atonement, John Owen noted three ‘exceedingly dark, uncertain, and doubtful’ aspects. To be specific: ‘It is uncertain, that “the Lord” means the Lord Christ; the word in the original is despotes, which is seldom or never ascribed to him. It is uncertain whether the purchase or buying of these false teachers refers to their eternal redemption by the blood of Christ, or a deliverance from the defilement of the world in idolatry or the like, effected by God’s goodness and by the knowledge of the truth, which the last part of the text expressly affirms (v. 20). It is uncertain, whether the apostle speaks of this purchase according to the reality of the thing, or according to their own apprehension and their profession of it’ (The Death of Death).

Bearing Owen’s thoughts in mind, we note that most modern commentators agree that ‘despotes‘ here does refer to Christ, as the parallel with Jude 4 demonstrates.  There is an equal level of agreement that the word for ‘redemption’ is used in a soteriological sense here, given that it is always so used elsewhere in the NT.

We learn from this that false teaching is as evil as ungodly behaviour. In some respects, it is more so, because, being by its nature deceptive, it leads many astray who would not follow a bad example.

False teachers

‘There will be false teachers among you’.  No doubt about it: as long as the church militant exists, false teachers will persist.

How can we recognise false teaching?  What are its characteristics?

  1. Different source – they feed off the human imagination, rather than the word of God, 2 Pet 1:16; 2:3.
  2. Different message – at the centre of their teaching is something other than the Christ of the Bible, 2 Pet 1:3; 2:1.
  3. Different position – the false believer is being mastered by sin, 2 Pet 2:19, whereas the true believer flees corruption, 2 Pet 1:4.
  4. Different character – the false Christian is marked by arrogance, slander, and greed, and despises authority, 2 Pet 2:10.  The true Christian is pursuing goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brother kindness, and love, 2 Pet 1:5.
  5. Different appeal – the false teacher appeals to the sinful desires of human nature, 2 Pet 2:18, whereas the true teacher appeals to Scripture, 2 Pet 1:19.
  6. Different fruit – counterfeit teaching promises much, but delivers nothing; it is a stream without water, 2 Pet 2:17.  True teaching produces knowledge of Jesus Christ, 2 Pet 1:18.
  7. Different end – the false teacher will experience destruction, 2 Pet 2:1, 3, whereas the true teacher will receive a rich welcome into the kingdom of the Lord Jesus, 2 Pet 1:11.

So:

  1. If a false teacher comes to your church, welcome him or her as far as possible (for they too are sinners in need of a Saviour).  But do not allow false teachers to have influence in the church.
  2. Remember that the existence of a counterfeit is no argument against accepting the genuine article.  Peter’s message, in a nutshell, is: ‘Of course there are counterfeit Christians. Of course there are teachers who do the church more harm than good. What else would you expect in this fallen world? Grow up! Don’t be naïve! Don’t miss what’s real simply because you have seen the counterfeit.’

(Based on this post by Colin Smith)

2:4 For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but threw them into hell and locked them up in chains in utter darkness, to be kept until the judgment, 2:5 and if he did not spare the ancient world, but did protect Noah, a herald of righteousness, along with seven others, when God brought a flood on an ungodly world, 2:6 and if he turned to ashes the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah when he condemned them to destruction, having appointed them to serve as an example to future generations of the ungodly, 2:7 and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man in anguish over the debauched lifestyle of lawless men, 2:8 (for while he lived among them day after day, that righteous man was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) 2:9—if so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from their trials, and to reserve the unrighteous for punishment at the day of judgment, 2:10 especially those who indulge their fleshly desires and who despise authority.

Hell – The word is tartarus, a Greek name for the underworld, especially for the abode of the damned. This is the only appearance of this word in the NT. ‘In Greek mythology Tartarus was the lowest hell; it was as far beneath Hades as the heaven is high above the earth. In particular it was the place into which there had been cast the Titans who had rebelled against Zeus, the Father of gods and men.’ (DSB)

‘And if God spared not the angels, whom he placed in the highest heavens, but for their pride threw them down headlong to the nethermost hell, how much less shall he spare the proud dust and ashes of the sons of men, but shall cast them from the height of their earthly altitude to the bottom of that infernal dungeon! “Humility makes men angels; pride makes angels devils;” as that Father said…Oh let us be humbled by our repentance, that we may not be brought down to everlasting confusion: let us be cast down upon our knees, that we may not be cast down upon our faces. For God will make good his own word, one way’ “A man’s pride shall bring him low.”‘ (Joseph Hall)

Gloomy dungeons – following the best manuscripts, which have seiroi, which originally meant large earthenware jars for storing grain (the word coming into English from the Provencal as ‘silo’). The word siros then came to stand for an underground pit used for grain storage, and then for a pit in which wild animals might be trapped. The TR, following some other manuscripts, has seirai, chains; hence AV translates as ‘chains of darkness’ (cf. Jude 6).

Lot, a righteous man – ‘In what sense might we count Lot “righteous,” given the narrative’s generally negative portrayal when compared to Abraham? When Lot is compared to his Sodomite neighbors, he can be regarded a strikingly moral man. He followed rigorously the custom of hospitality toward strangers, despite the intense pressure of the threat of death. Moreover, although having committed incest, the passage makes it clear that he was a victim, which mitigates somewhat his culpability. Early Christian interpreters pointed to Lot’s generosity toward the angels and commended him for resisting the wickedness of his fellow citizens as features worthy of Christian imitation (e.g., Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis 43.10–12; Ambrose, Flight from the World 9.55–56). Both Noah and Lot, whose lives ended disgracefully (drunkenness), nevertheless stood out as admirable people when set against the background of their wicked times. Commenting on Lot’s sin against his daughters, Calvin remarked, “Yet such are commonly the works of holy men: since nothing proceeds from them so excellent, as not to be in some respect defective.”’ (NAC on Genesis)

Ryle: ‘To be a Daniel in Babylon,—an Obadiah in Ahab’s house,—an Abijah in Jeroboam’s family,—a saint in Nero’s court, and a “righteous man” in Sodom, a man must have the grace of God.’ (Holiness)

A righteous man in anguish over the debauched lifestyle of lawless men – Candlish (Studies in Genesis) agrees that Lot, in first settling near Sodom, and then taking up residence within that ungodly city, had acted from worldly motives.  But he kept himself separate from extreme wickedness.  ‘That was his security; he retained his spiritual discernment, his spiritual taste. He loved not them that hated the Lord; he had no sympathy with their ungodliness. He did not learn to palliate or excuse, either their unholy opinions or their unlawful deeds—to call them by smooth names, affect a soft and serene charity, and hope the best even of the world lying in wickedness. He was vexed—he vexed himself. The English word here is too weak by far. He was wearied, worn out, worn down, by the impieties with which the lawless were conversant. They were an intolerable burden to him. Thus the Lord knew how to deliver him, by keeping alive in his soul, amid abounding iniquity, an undiminished zeal for truth and righteousness, and an uncompromising hatred of all evil.’

Celestial beings – lit. ‘glorious ones. These are not angels, at least not in the conventional sense, because they are contrasted with angels in v11. They would appear to be of the same type as those spiritual beings mentioned Eph 1:21; 6:12; Col 1:16.

Brazen and insolent, they are not afraid to insult the glorious ones, 2:11 yet even angels, who are much more powerful, do not bring a slanderous judgment against them before the Lord. 2:12 But these men, like irrational animals—creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed—do not understand whom they are insulting, and consequently in their destruction they will be destroyed, 2:13 suffering harm as the wages for their harmful ways. By considering it a pleasure to carouse in broad daylight, they are stains and blemishes, indulging in their deceitful pleasures when they feast together with you. 2:14 Their eyes, full of adultery, never stop sinning; they entice unstable people. They have trained their hearts for greed, these cursed children! 2:15 By forsaking the right path they have gone astray, because they followed the way of Balaam son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness, 2:16 yet was rebuked for his own transgression (a dumb donkey, speaking with a human voice, restrained the prophet’s madness).

Angels, who are much more powerful – ‘Their disembodied spiritual nature is apparently what makes them “greater in might and power” than humans (2 Pet 2:11). That a spirit existence was considered superior to embodiment is indicated by certain statements about the incarnation of the Second Person of the Godhead as Jesus of Nazareth. Philippians 2:5–8 describes the incarnation as an act of humility and condescension. The writer of Hebrews informs us that the incarnation resulted in the son of God being made “a little lower than the angels” (Heb 2:7). This secondary status was temporary. After his resurrection and subsequent ascension, Christ became “as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (Heb 1:4), with “angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (1 Pet 3:22).’ (Heiser, Angels: What the Bible Really Says about the Heavenly Host).

Balaam son of Beor – ‘Some MSS call Balaam ‘son of Bosor’ not son of Beor, in this verse. If Bosor is right, it may be a grim allusion to their sins, by paranomasia with bāśār (‘flesh’). It has also been suggested that this represents the Galilaean mispronunciation of the guttural in the Hebrew name, and as such is perhaps a pointer to Petrine authorship; for his Galilaean accent was noticeable (Matt. 26:73).’ (Green)

2:17 These men are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm, for whom the utter depths of darkness have been reserved. 2:18 For by speaking high-sounding but empty words they are able to entice, with fleshly desires and with debauchery, people who have just escaped from those who reside in error.
2:19 Although these false teachers promise such people freedom, they themselves are enslaved to immorality. For whatever a person succumbs to, to that he is enslaved. 2:20 For if after they have escaped the filthy things of the world through the rich knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they again get entangled in them and succumb to them, their last state has become worse for them than their first. 2:21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than, having known it, to turn back from the holy commandment that had been delivered to them. 2:22 They are illustrations of this true proverb: “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and “A sow, after washing herself, wallows in the mire.”

“Dog” – See Phil 3:2n