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Bible Commentaries

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible

2 Peter 2

Verse 1


This entire chapter is a prophecy of the great apostasy foretold by Christ himself and by Paul, Peter and John. It is printed as a single paragraph in the ASV, but a workable outline of it is given by Strachan, thus:[1]

The false teachers and their judgment (2 Peter 2:1-3).

Historical illustration of Divine judgment on the wicked, and care of the righteous (2 Peter 2:4-10a).

Further description of the false teachers (2 Peter 2:10b-14).

The example of Balaam (2 Peter 2:15,16).

The libertines are themselves slaves (2 Peter 2:17-19).

The consequences of apostasy (2 Peter 2:20-22).

The connection this chapter has with other New Testament writings on the subject was pointed out by Paine, who observed that the warnings here are "somewhat after the manner of Acts 20:29,30; 1 Timothy 4:1-6, and 2 Timothy 3:1-5."[2] Plummer noted the same thing, pointing out that, in addition to the references just cited, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 2 Timothy 4:3,4; and 1John 2:18,1 John 4:3, also deal with the apostasy, observing that, "Those in 2Thessalonians and 2Timothy are especially worthy of comparison, as containing like the present chapter, a mixture of future and present."[3] For a fuller list of New Testament prophecies related to the great apostasy see my Commentary on 1,2Thessalonians, 1,2Timothy, Titus and Philemon, pp. 106-109. With regard to the strange mingling of future and present tenses, this was exactly the manner of the ancient prophets, such a device even being called the prophetic tense. Green agreed that this is the correct view on the mixed tenses, and that they do not, "as some maintain, (come from) the failure of some second century writer to be consistent."[4]

[1] R. H. Strachan, Expositor's Greek Testament, Vol. V (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), pp. 133-141.

[2] Stephen W. Paine, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 197l), p. 994.

[3] Alfred Plummer, Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 450.

[4] Michael Green, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, 2Peter (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968), p. 93.

But there arose false prophets also among the people, as among you also there shall be false teachers, who shall privily bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. (2 Peter 2:1)

False prophets ... One of the outstanding teachings in the Petrine writings is the correspondence between the Old and the New Israel, an analogy that he had surely learned from the Lord himself. Jesus himself had flatly predicted the same thing Peter prophesied here (Matthew 7:15-23). A number of Old Testament references to the false prophets of the Old Israel were cited by Barclay, thus:[5]

The false prophets said, Peace, Peace, when there is no peace (Jeremiah 6:14).

Its priests teach for hire, and its prophets divine for money (Micah 3:11).

The priest and the prophet reel with strong drink; they are confused with wine (Isaiah 28:17).

They commit adultery, and walk in lies, they strengthen the hands of evil-doers (Jeremiah 23:14).

They lead my people astray by their lies and by their recklessness (Jeremiah 23:32).

The prophets invited the people, Let us go after other gods (Deuteronomy 13:1-5; 18:20).

Paul evaluated the character of false teachers in the New Israel in the same terms (1 Timothy 6:5; Titus 1:11).

Among you, also, there shall be false teachers ... The scholars who see some dependence of this epistle upon Jude are confronted with a real problem in this. Is it possible that Peter was here prophesying a condition that Jude spoke of as already existent? As a matter of fact, this writer rejects outright any notion that either one of these epistles is dependent upon the other, despite the fact of Jude's certainly having 2Peter in mind when he wrote.

Who shall privily bring in ... The significance of "privily" is that, "The heresies were to be introduced under the color of true doctrine, in the dark as it were, little by little."[6]

Destructive heresies ... Heresies are often thought of as sects; but the thing in view here is, "given opinions, which came to mean the tenets of a party,"[7] at variance from orthodox Christianity. They are called "destructive," because, "They foster licentiousness and contempt for the way of truth."[8]

Denying even the Master that bought them ... This is a surprise, coming from one who himself had denied his Lord; and, as Plummer said, "No forger would have ventured to make Peter write this."[9] The reference is, of course, to the Lord Jesus Christ who, in a special sense, bought the church with his own precious blood (Acts 20:28), the important deduction from this being that the apostate teachers foretold here would arise from among the Christians themselves, in full agreement with what Paul wrote in Acts 20:29,30. Again, from Plummer, "The Apostle declares that these impious false teachers were redeemed by Jesus Christ,"[10] a fact absolutely opposed to teachings in Calvinism. Caffin also agreed that, "The word for Master, here, implies that the deniers stand to the Lord in the relation of slaves, bondservants."[11]

Despite this clause, however, Calvinistic ideas are defended in spite of it by some. Bruce attributed to the false teachers not any salvation at all, but a "measure of enlightenment," showing "in the end, their real unregenerated nature."[12] Throughout this chapter, there are extensive teachings which demand the understanding that the apostates had indeed known the Lord in the primary salvation of their souls, but who fell away, forsook the right way, and "went back."

Bringing upon themselves swift destruction ... This does not mean, "coming soon," but, "coming suddenly and unexpectedly so as to preclude escape."[13]

[5] William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 314.

[6] James Macknight, Macknight on the Epistles, 2Peter (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, reprint, 1969), p. 540.

[7] Albert E. Barnett, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. XII (New York and Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 187.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Alfred Plummer, op. cit., p. 451.

[10] Ibid.

[11] B.C. Caffin, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22,2Peter (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 43.

[12] F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972), p. 131.

[13] Alfred Plummer, op. cit., p. 451.

Verse 2

And many shall follow their lascivious doings; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.

Many shall follow ... True Christianity was prophesied to be followed by a period of wholesale defection from the truth. The vast majority of people will fall in with error and immorality. The truth will not be popular in the period foretold here. As Adam Clarke said:

Lasciviousness points to the nature of the heresies, a sort of Antinomianism; they pampered and indulged the lusts of the flesh; and if the Nicolaitans are meant, it is very applicable to them, for they taught the community of wives, etc.[14]

The way of truth ... This was an early name for Christianity (Acts 9:2).

Shall be evil spoken of ... According to Plummer, Clement of Rome in the second epistle to the Corinthians (xiii), elaborated this clause extensively, indicating that, "this epistle was known to him."[15] Regarding the date of this Clement, see introduction.

Antinomianism has foundation in the misunderstanding of Paul's teaching on salvation "by faith," which people have willfully perverted to mean "by faith alone," being apparently blind to the fact that if one is saved by faith alone; he is by that very definition saved without morality of any kind. The scholars, many of them, do not understand this; but the great multitudes make their own application of the obvious meaning of it.

[14] Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. VI (London: Carlton and Porter, 1829), p. 885.

[15] Alfred Plummer, op. cit., p. 451.

Verse 3

And in covetousness shall they with reigned words make merchandise of you: whose sentence now from of old lingereth not, and their destruction slumbereth not.

In covetousness ... The making of money is the motivation for a great deal of false teaching, the false teachers invariably being concerned, not with what is true, but what is popular.

With feigned words ... Any allegation that the apostate teachers appearing at various times during the historical progression of Christianity may be thought of as "sincere and honest" is vigorously denied by this. They, many of them, if indeed not the vast majority, are not sincere and honest in any sense of the words. Their words are "feigned," translated by Goodspeed as "pretended,"[16] by Weymouth as "bogus,"[17] and by Williams as "messages manufactured by themselves."[18] See more on the nature and quality of their words under 2 Peter 2:18.

Whose sentence now from of old, etc .... As Zerr said:

This means that the judgment or condemnation of such characters is of long standing, but that God has not changed his mind about it, nor tempered his wrath against them.[19]

Slumbereth ... It is of interest that the word occurs only one other time in the New Testament (Matthew 25:5).[20]

[16] Edgar J. Goodspeed, The New Testament, An American Translation (Chicago: The Chicago University Press, 1923), in loco.

[17] J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1960), in loco.

[18] Charles B. Williams, The New Testament, a Translation in the Language of the People (Chicago: Moody Press, 1950), in loco.

[19] E. M. Zerr, Bible Commentary, 2Peter (Marion, Indiana: The Cogdill Foundation, 1854), p. 273.

[20] Alfred Plummer, op. cit., p. 451.

Verse 4

For if God spared not angels when they sinned, but cast them down to hell, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;

Peter with this verse cited some historical examples of God's judgment and condemnation of the wicked (noting also that the righteous were spared), these being: (1) the example of the sinning angels; (2) the case of Noah and his generation; (3) the example of Sodom and Gomorrah; and (4) the deliverance of Lot. It is an unqualified mystery to this writer why anyone should suppose that Peter found all this in the Book of Enoch, or some other apocryphal writing. Peter received this from the Lord; for he was present when the Lord cited these very things, and in exactly the same order, (Luke 17:25ff), and connecting them, as Peter did here, with developments in the after times. Furthermore, as Paine pointed out:

There is (in Peter's account) an absence of that rather wild and questionable theorizing and intrusion of non-spiritual concept which is evident even to the casual reader of Enoch.[21]

The reason for this is clear. Peter was not inspired by Enoch, but by the Lord Jesus Christ.

Angels, when they sinned ... Very little is known of this; but, if as widely assumed, Satan himself was the leader of the sinning angels, it was through pride that he fell (Ezekiel 28:12ff, and 1 Timothy 3:6); and from this is the deduction that pride was also the sin of the angels, a suggestion not denied by Jude 1:1:6. The point Peter made was that God did not spare them, but condemned them.

Cast them down to hell ... The word here rendered "hell" is "Tartarus," a word not found in any other of the sacred writings.[22] The meaning of the word must therefore be sought in the pagan literature. Strachan said:

In Homer, Hades is the place of confinement of dead men, and Tartarus is the name given to a murky abyss beneath Hades, in which the sins of fallen immortals are punished.[23]

Macknight tells that there were other pagan references to Tartarus as being "in the air."[24] It was natural for Peter, writing to Greeks, to use their word with reference to the state of condemnation of the angels, but without endorsement of any of the pagan traditions about the fallen Titans. It was an "ad hominem" use of the expression here. It would appear that the demons themselves used another of the pagan words for this very place. See Luke 8:31, where is the record that the demons besought Jesus not to send them into the abyss.

Committed them to pits of darkness ... The language here is figurative, darkness symbolizing their separation from God and their existence under his disapproval and condemnation.

To be reserved unto judgment ... The fallen angels are not being punished now, but they are reserved to the day of judgment. The point is that, "If angels that sinned are confined in nether gloom until the judgment, assuredly heretical teachers and their immoral followers should know that `their destruction has not been asleep.'"[25]

[21] Stephen W. Paine, op. cit., p. 995.

[22] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 543.

[23] R. H. Strachan, op. cit., p. 135.

[24] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 544.

[25] Albert E. Barnett, op. cit., p. 190.

Verse 5

and spared not the ancient world, but preserved Noah with seven others, a preacher of righteousness, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly;

Significantly, Peter here refers to the flood recorded in Genesis as an historical event, denying the allegation of some that it was a myth.

The ancient world ... In the Greek text here, Peter omitted the article; but Strachan said, "This is not a mark of illiteracy. The chapter is prophetic in form, and the omission of the article is characteristic of this style."[26]

Noah with seven others ... These were Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, with their respective wives.

A preacher of righteousness ... There is not a word in Enoch about Noah's having been a preacher of righteousness;[27] nor, for that matter, even a word in the Old Testament about it. The link is not between Peter and Enoch, but between Peter and Christ. Furthermore, the implication is clear, even in the Old Testament, that Noah attempted to persuade his contemporaries to renounce their evil ways and turn to God.

[26] R. H. Strachan, op. cit., p. 135.

[27] Michael Green, op. cit., p. 99.

Verse 6

and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, having made them an example unto those that should live ungodly;

Sodom and Gomorrah ... These cities were destroyed by God because of their wickedness; and it should not be lost on people of our own generation that the very type of sins prevalent in those two cities has become accepted in some circles today. Such a thing is a commentary upon the depravity of our own era. What were those sins?

The sin of Sodom was unnatural lusts (Genesis 19:5), and pride with fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness, especially among the women, and hard-heartedness towards the poor (Ezekiel 16:46, and Jude 1:1:7).[28]

It is quite significant that the two destructions in view in this and the preceding verses were (1) by water in the first instance, and (2) by fire in the second, a sequence which we have already observed was pointed out by Jesus himself (Luke 17:25ff).

Barnett noted that:

The sequence also prepares for 2 Peter 3:6,7, where the destruction of the world that then existed by water serves to warn that the heavens and the earth that now exist have been stored up for fire.[29]

[28] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 546.

[29] Albert E. Barnett, op. cit., p. 190.

Verse 7

and delivered righteous Lot, sore distressed by the lascivious life of the wicked

Peter injected this to show that whatever judgments may be executed upon the wicked, God will acknowledge and preserve the righteous.

Sore distressed ... "The corruption of Sodom was open and shameless; and as Lot was compelled to see much of it, his heart was pained."[30]

Verse 8

(for that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their lawless deeds):

In view of the rather sordid record of Lot's life in Genesis, some have questioned why such an epithet as "righteous" should be repeatedly applied to him here. However, all human righteousness is relative; and when Lot's life is evaluated in connection with the depraved culture of his day, the true value of it is evident. He was displeased with the wickedness around him; he did not participate in it; he was thoughtful to entertain strangers, thereby entertaining angels unawares, as extolled in Hebrews 13:2; he was accounted righteous by Abraham who, in his great intercession for the doomed cities, evidently included Lot among the ten righteous persons who, he felt, were living there; and when God commanded him to leave Sodom, Lot did not hesitate to obey. It was also at Lot's intercession that Zoar was spared. In view of all these things, Peter's reference to him here is justified.

Verse 9

the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment unto the day of judgment;

The great point of this is that the righteous will be preserved through all of God's judgments against the wicked.

Under punishment ... From this, some have concluded that the fallen angels, and other wicked beings are now suffering punishment; but Peter may well have used "under punishment" as a short form for "under sentence of punishment." It seems clear from Matthew 8:29, that there is "a time" appointed for the punishment of the wicked, a time yet future. (See Jude 1:1:6). See more on this below.

This verse is actually the culmination of all Peter had been saying, reaching all the way back to 2 Peter 2:4. As Kelcy said, "The protasis (that is, the conditional clauses antecedent to a conclusion) begins in 2 Peter 2:4; the apodosis (conclusion), is here."[31]

Despite what is said in the second paragraph above, scholars like Russell and Caffin are sure that the wicked are under punishment at the present time. Caffin said, "The wicked are already under punishment, awaiting the judgment, as indicated by the parable of Dives and Lazarus."[32] Russell has the following:

This verse implies that the unrighteous are always under punishment from the time that sin is committed, both before the judgment and after. Even between death and the judgment there is apparently a division between the righteous and the wicked (Luke 16:19-21).[33]

We do not despise such views as these, for there is certainly a measure of truth in them. The only uncertainty pertains to the scarcity of information in the Bible about such things, and the inability, really, to be certain about the full implications of what is revealed. The Lord simply has not given people a blueprint of the unseen world. Zerr, for example, on this very verse made the deduction from the word "reserve" (as in KJV) that, "The punishment of the unjust is to be at a future time."[34] Barnett struck a kind of middle position, which may be exactly right, saying, "They will get a foretaste of the punishment which will become their permanent destiny after the Second Coming."[35]

[31] Raymond C. Kelcy, The Letters of Peter and Jude (Austin, Texas: R. B. Sweet Company), p. 141.

[32] B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 45.

[33] James William Russell, Compact Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1964), p. 592.

[34] E. M. Zerr, op. cit., p. 274.

[35] Albert E. Barnett, op. cit., p. 191.

Verse 10

but chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of defilement, and despise dominion. Daring, self-willed, they tremble not to rail at dignities:

This concludes the description of them that are kept under punishment until the judgment. The peculiar cast of the words here "suggests that sodomy is here referred to."[36] It is as though Peter said that the sin of sodomy in particular is especially offensive to God and that the judgment of it is certain. Our generation needs this warning.

Daring ... "This is a shameless and irreverent daring."[37] A rather full description of the apostate teachers which will appear in the church is included in this and the following verses to the end of the chapter.

Rail at dignities ... This includes reviling "magistrates,"<38a> as Macknight said, but much more is meant. It is a loudmouthed, blasphemous declamation against all that is high, honorable, or holy. Authority of any or all kinds is anathema to this class. They have but one criterion, that being whatever their selfish, lustful desires may prompt them to do. There does not seem to be here any reference to speaking evil of angels; for the class of reprobates in view here would be incapable even of imagining the existence of such things as angels.

[36] David H. Wheaton, New Bible Commentary, Revised (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 1255.

[37] R. H. Strachan, op. cit., p. 137.

<38a> James Macknight, op. cit., p. 547.

Verse 11

whereas angels, though greater in might and power, bring not a railing judgment against them before the Lord.

Greater in might and power ... This is, greater in might and power than apostate teachers.

Bring not a railing judgment against them ... The "them" here is the same as "the dignities" in the preceding verse. There is absolutely nothing in view here of angels bringing a railing judgment against other angels. This meaning, which appears so obvious in the light of what Peter actually wrote here, was certainly admitted to be possibly the true one by Plummer. He said:

"Against them" may possibly mean "against the false teachers." ... The angels bring no accusation against the false teachers, but leave all judgment to God (Deuteronomy 32:35,36; Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30). This explanation avoids the awkwardness of making "dignities" in verse 10 mean "good authorities" and making it refer in this verse to "evil powers only."<38b>

The vain supposition that Peter here is talking about the book of Enoch causes many commentators to miss the point altogether.

Peter's verse here is the Biblical equivalent of the statement in Shakespeare that, "Wrens may prey where eagles dare not perch,"[39] or Pope's line that, "Fools rush in where angels dare to tread."[40] There is absolutely nothing of Enoch here.

Chase also, quoted by Strachan, suggested that the reference in this verse "is to the false teachers," making the deduction that "angels are represented as not bringing before the Lord tidings as to the conduct of created beings,"[41] a deduction that does not violate in any manner the witness of the holy Scriptures. Likewise Kelcy declared that, "it is far more natural to take the contrast as referring to the false teachers."[42]

<38b> Alfred Plummer, op. cit., p. 454.

[39] William Shakespeare, King Richard III, Act I, Scene 3, Line 70.

[40] Alexander Pope, Essay on Criticism, Part III, Line 66.

[41] R. H. Strachan, op. cit., p. 137.

[42] Raymond C. Kelcy, op. cit., p. 143.

Verse 12

But these, as creatures without reason, born mere animals to be taken and destroyed, railing in matters whereof they are ignorant, shall in their destroying surely be destroyed,

Railing in matters whereof they are ignorant ... Paine applied these words to railers against the New Testament, thus:

The characteristic of modern "liberal" critical teachers which amazes one most is their absolute confidence in their own conclusions, based upon evidence however trivial, and involving tremendously important departures from tenets maintained for centuries by the historic church.[43]

The contrast between the mere animals and the reprobate teachers is this:

Animals cannot help themselves; it is their nature to rush after what will prove their ruin; but the false teachers voluntarily seek their own destruction against nature.[44]

Evil men, through fraud, violence, lust and deceit establish the very type of social climate which inevitably encompasses their own destruction as well as that of their victims.

[43] Stephen W. Paine, op. cit., p. 996.

[44] Alfred Plummer, op. cit., p. 454.

Verse 13

suffering wrong as the hire of wrong-doing; men that count it pleasure to revel in the daytime, spots and blemishes, reveling in their deceivings while they feast with you;

Wrong as the hire of wrong-doing ... is the same as Paul's "wages of sin is death." Evil behavior is its own wages.

Revel in the day-time ... "Daytime revelry is a feature of extreme dissipation; for the Christian, the day is the time of work (John 9:4; Romans 13:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:7f)."[45]

Spots and blemishes ... These are a reference to apostate Christians whose wicked and immoral behavior was a disgrace to the body of Christ.

Reveling in their deceivings ... The Greek text here falls short of using the word for love feasts, which would appear to have been in the apostle's mind, especially from his use of "while they feast with you" in connection with this. Perhaps he thought it was improper to apply a word of such sacred implications to the type of occasions used by the apostate teachers as a platform for their evil devices against the church.

Verse 14

having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; enticing unstedfast souls; having a heart exercised in covetousness; children of cursing;

Eyes full of adultery ... Wheaton said, "This is a compressed phrase for, 'always looking for a woman with whom to commit adultery.'"[46] Barnett understood it to mean, "Whenever they see a woman, they have licentious thoughts."[47]

Enticing unstedfast souls ... The imagery here is that of using a lure, "bait" to catch the unwary. The New English Bible (1961) translates this, "lure to their ruin unstable souls." "The metaphor is from fishing, and recurs again in 2 Peter 2:18."[48] Should not this have been expected of a fisherman?

Children of cursing ... This, although a permissible translation, is inferior to the KJV, which has "cursed children." The purpose of the change seems to have been that of obscuring the fact of the apostate teachers having been, at one time, truly born-again Christians. It is true, of course, as Vine pointed out that the construction here is the same as in "children of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3, etc.)"; yet the very use of "children" in any sense in this context identifies the meaning as that favored in the KJV.[49] Of course, whether this is allowed or not, the truth surfaces in the succeeding verses any way. Fuhrman was impressed with the reading in J.B. Phillips New Testament, "cursed children," meaning "under a curse." They are under God's curse now, and are heirs of doom in the world to come.[50]

[46] Ibid., p. 1256.

[47] Albert E. Barnett, op. cit., p. 193.

[48] Michael Green, op. cit., p. 111.

[49] W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1940), 1p. 187.

[50] Eldon R. Fuhrman, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 10 (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), p. 332.

Verse 15

forsaking the right way, they went astray, having followed the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the hire of wrongdoing;

This clears up exactly the identity of the "cursed children" just mentioned. They were those who once were in the right way and then forsook it, who were lured from the path of duty by the wages of wrong-doing. The example selected by Peter to illustrate this departure is also eloquent in explaining the true meaning. Balaam was not always a false prophet; because, at one time, he was a genuine prophet of God, one of the great Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament being accredited to him:

There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth (Numbers 24:17).

Peter's choice of Balaam, once a true prophet of God, but later an apostate, is absolutely analogous to the apostate teachers, once true children of God, later "cursed children," makes the meaning certain.

Who loved the hire of wrong-doing ... The story is set forth fully in the Book of Numbers, detailing how Balaam, for the love of reward, attempted to curse Israel for the king of Moab.

The choice of Balaam is most appropriate in still another particular. Finding it impossible to curse Israel, despite every effort to do so, Balaam originated the evil advice which he gave to Balak, and which eventually was the undoing of Israel. He advised the temptation of the Israelites to commit adultery, a temptation to which they succumbed (Numbers 31:16). Due to the extremely licentious character of the apostate teachers, Balaam was the perfect illustration of them.

Verse 16

but he was rebuked for his own transgression: a dumb ass spake with man's voice and stayed the madness of the prophet.

It is important that Peter accepted this event as historical; and Christians today should do likewise. Certainly, it is contrary to what is natural; because the event itself is supernatural. One who does not believe in miracles does not believe in the Bible at all, in any worthwhile sense. Take the supernatural out of Christianity, and there is absolutely nothing left.

Verse 17

These are springs without water, and mists driven by a storm; for whom the blackness of darkness hath been reserved.

Springs without water ... mists driven by a storm ... These are metaphors of the utter emptiness and disappointment that always come of accepting the teaching of apostates. This absolute emptiness is what is wrong with all false teaching. "It is this feature of the movement known as `religious liberalism' which has caused great numbers of spiritually hungry people to desert cold, formal churches."[51] In the desert, a spring without water would be the ultimate disaster; and clouds, or mists that promised moisture for burning crops, which instead of doing so were driven away, would be exactly the same thing.

The blackness of darkness ... Macknight's comment on this is:

In Scripture darkness signifies a state of disconsolate misery. Here it denotes the punishment of the wicked after judgment, which our Lord also hath represented by persons being cast into outer darkness (Matthew 8:12).[52]

[51] Stephen W. Paine, op. cit., p. 997.

[52] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 554.

Verse 18

For, uttering great swelling words of vanity, they entice in the lusts of the flesh, by lasciviousness, those who are just escaping from them that live in error;

Great swelling words of vanity ... The empty, extravagant, and pretentious words of apostate teachers is a phenomenon by no means absent from the earth at the present time. Barnett's description of their speech is this, "Using fine phrases that have no meaning, they bait their hook with the wanton appetites of sense."[53] Green called it "ostentatious verbosity."[54] One translator referred to it as "canting nonsense." But does it still go on?


In 1974, Dr. Donald H. Naftulin, University of Southern California Medical School, John E. Ware, Jr., assistant professor of medical education at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, and Frank A. Donnelley, instructor in psychiatry at the University of Southern California designed a study and published the results in the Journal of Medical Education. They tried it out on a distinguished gathering of 55 educators, school administrators, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers.

The speaker was introduced as Dr. Myron L. Fox and identified by a high-sounding ambiguous title, and as an authority on the application of mathematics to human behavior.

Actually, the lecture was nonsense - pure meaningless double-talk; but it fooled the distinguished audience! It so impressed some of them that they expressed interest in learning more about it. Not one of the distinguished auditors recognized it as a hoax. "Fox" was only an actor, hired by the three medical educators to prove a point. The audience was asked to fill out a questionnaire concerning "Dr. Fox's" lecture, after it ended. Exactly 42 of them agreed that "he used enough examples to clarify the material," and that "the material was well organized," and that "it stimulated their thinking!"

This report, after being given in the Journal of Medical Education, was widely circulated in newspapers throughout the United States, the information given here, having been published in the Houston Chronicle, Section 3, page 20, Wednesday, May 8,1974. It is reproduced here for the purpose of pointing up this writer's observation that there is also an incredible amount of the same kind of nonsense being disseminated from religious platforms in the present era. Perhaps not in the same unalloyed manner as in the above experiment, but with just enough popular cliches and high sounding phrases thrown in to give an impression of substance.

Those who are just escaping from them that live in error ... This is a departure from the KJV; and again, there would seem to be no very good reason for the change. Caffin observed that the King James version here follows the Textus Receptus[55] rendering the passage, "those who are clean escaped," which would appear to be the proper meaning, no matter how the verse is rendered. There is no such thing as a partial escape, or a bare escape, from sin. One either has "clean escaped," or he has not escaped at all.

[53] Albert E. Barnett, op. cit., p. 194.

[54] Michael Green, op. cit., p. 115.

[55] B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 48.

Verse 19

promising them liberty, while they themselves are bondservants of corruption; for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he also brought into bondage.

Jesus the Lord himself said, "Every one that committeth sin is the bondservant of sin" (John 8:34); and Paul declared that, "To whom ye present yourselves as servants unto obedience, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness" (Romans 6:16). Thus, what Peter said here is exactly an echo of the teachings both of the Saviour and of Paul.

A glimpse of the allurement in the teaching of the apostates appears in this; because they were promising the people the free and easy indulgence of all their sinful passions, "liberty" they called it; but the falsity of their claims was manifest in the fact of those false teachers being themselves veritable slaves of the darkest passions and debaucheries. Such "liberty" has indeed been heralded in the present age; Paine quoted a professor by the name of Rauschenbusch who declared that, "The worst thing that could happen to God would be to remain an autocrat, while the world is moving toward democracy." Also, he mentioned another, a Professor Hartshorne, who said, "We no longer derive our ethical standards from established authority, whether state, church, family, convention, or philosophical system." Such people suppose that they are "free"; but they are slaves.[56]

Verse 20

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the last state has become worse with them than the first.

Here again, the subsequent clause makes it perfectly clear what Peter said, and fully justifies the KJV rendition in 2 Peter 2:18.

The thing in view in this verse is a spiritual condition described as worse than being lost; and the only thing that answers to such a condition is that of being lost without the possibility of being saved. Therefore, this verse is to be understood in connection with Hebrews 6:6, "quenching the Spirit" (1 Thessalonians 5:19), "the sin unto death" (1 John 5:16), being "dead while alive" (1 Timothy 5:6), etc., that is, the state of having committed "an eternal sin" (Mark 3:29). The apostate teachers in view in this chapter are in a state of total rejection of Christ, having thereby committed the sin against the Holy Spirit, called by Mark, "an eternal sin." For full discussion of this, see in my Commentary on Matthew, pp. 173-175, and also in my Commentary on Mark, pp. 65-67.

Verse 21

For it were better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment delivered unto them.

As Caffin said, "This verse implies that these unhappy men once had the full knowledge of Christ.[57] "The passage indicates that the heretics had been orthodox Christians in the first place."[58] "Peter said they had escaped the defilements of the world, which could not be said of pretenders."[59] The verse also declares that the holy commandment had once been "delivered unto them," which is a far different thing from merely having been preached to them. These men had once been true teachers of God's precious word. Green summarized the whole paragraph (the entire chapter), saying:

The subject of the whole paragraph is then the same ... those overcome in :19,20 are also the same. There can be little doubt that the false teachers had once been orthodox Christians.[60]

[57] Ibid., p. 49.

[58] David F. Payne, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 603.

[59] Raymond C. Kelcy, op. cit., p. 150.

[60] Michael Green, op. cit., p. 118.

Verse 22

It has happened unto them according to the true proverb, the dog turning to his own vomit again, and the sow that had washed to wallowing in the mire.

The first of these proverbs is found in Proverbs 26:11, another indication of the familiarity which Peter had with the book of Proverbs. The origin of the second half of this verse is not known; but it is exactly the same kind of stark, realistic, down-to-earth saying as the other half, both expressions being exactly the type of homely wisdom that would have been familiar to a man like Peter. In fact, this whole chapter, the reference to "bait" in the enticement to sin, the impetuous and enthusiastic manner of the writing, as he piles word upon word, phrase upon phrase, rushing on to his conclusion - the whole thing is absolutely harmonious with what the New Testament reveals elsewhere of the mind and personality of this magnificent apostle.

Before concluding the study of this verse, it should be noted that we have to do here with a prophecy of what would take place in the after times of Christianity; and in a word, the prophecy has been most overwhelmingly and circumstantially fulfilled. Who can deny that the very things foretold by Peter are even now in the world? and neither is this to deny that other manifestations and fulfillments of this prophecy have appeared at other times previously. Furthermore, Peter was not finished with the prophecy at the end of this chapter; but he would go on to elaborate even more fully on these matters in chapter 3.

There is no logical way for people to deny that the Spirit of the Lord spoke through Peter in this epistle.

Copyright Statement
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Peter 2". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.