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1 . But there were false prophets also among the people ] The section of the Epistle which now opens contains so many parallelisms with the Epistle of St Jude that we can scarcely avoid the conclusion that one was derived from the other, or both from a common source. For a discussion of the questions which thus present themselves see Introduction. As regards the meaning of the words it is again an open question whether the Apostle refers to the remoter past of the history of Israel, to the false prophets of the days of Ahab (1 Kings 22:12 ), or Isaiah (9:15, 28:7), or Jeremiah (Jeremiah 14:14 , Jeremiah 27:10 ), or Ezekiel (Ezekiel 13:3 ), or Zechariah (Zechariah 13:4 ), or to those who in his own time had deceived the “people” (the distinctive term for “Israel”) in Jerusalem. The warnings against false prophets in our Lord’s discourses (Matthew 7:22 , Matthew 24:24 ), and the like warnings in 1 John 4:1 , make it probable that he had chiefly the latter class in view. In the Greek compound noun ( pseudo-didaskaloi ) for “false teachers” we have another word peculiar to St Peter. The word was, perhaps, chosen as including in its range not only those who came with a direct claim to prophetic inspiration, but all who without authority should appear as teachers of a doctrine that was not true, and, as such, it would include the Judaizing teachers on the one side, the Gnosticizing teachers on the other. Comp. the distinction between “prophets” and “teachers” in Ephesians 4:11 ; 1 Corinthians 12:29 .
who privily shall bring in ] The verb is that from which was formed the adjective which St Paul uses for the “false brethren unawares brought in ” (Galatians 2:4 ). Are we justified in thinking that St Peter speaks of the same class of Judaizing teachers, or that he uses the word as indicating that it was applicable to others also, who were, it might be, at the opposite extreme of error?
damnable heresies ] Literally, heresies of destruction . The word “heresy,” literally, “the choice of a party,” was used by later Greek writers for a philosophic sect or school like that of the Stoics or Epicureans, and hence, as in Acts 5:17 , Acts 5:15 :5, Acts 5:24 :5, Acts 5:26 :5, Acts 5:28 :22; 1 Corinthians 11:19 , for a “sect” or “party” in the Church, and thence, again, for the principles characterizing such a sect, and so it passed to the ecclesiastical sense of “heresy.” The English adjective “damnable” hardly expresses the force of the Greek genitive, which indicates that the leading characteristic of the heresies of which the Apostle speaks was that they led men to “destruction” or “perdition.” Comp. the use of the same word in 1 Timothy 6:9 . It may be noted that it is a word specially characteristic of this Epistle, in which it occurs six times; twice here, and in verses 2 and 3, and chap. 3:7, 16.
even denying the Lord that bought them ] The word for Lord ( despotes ), literally, a master as contrasted with a slave (1 Timothy 6:1 , 1 Timothy 6:2 ), is used of Christ here, in the hymn, which we may fairly connect with St Peter, in Acts 4:24 , in Revelation 6:10 , and, in conjunction with the more common word for Lord ( Kyrios ), in Jude ver. 4. Here the choice of the word was probably determined by the connexion with the idea of “buying,” as a master buys a slave. The use of that word presents a parallelism with the thought of 1 Peter 1:18 , and here, as there, we have to think of the “precious blood of Christ” as the price that had been paid. No words could better assert the truth that the redemption so wrought was universal in its range than these. The sin of the teachers of these “heresies of perdition” was that they would not accept the position of redeemed creatures which of right belonged to them. The “denial” referred to may refer either to a formal rejection of Christ as the Son of God, like that of 1 John 2:22 , 1 John 2:23 , or to the practical denial of base and ungodly lives. The former is, perhaps, more prominently in view, but both are probably included. We cannot read the words without recollecting that the writer had himself, in one memorable instance, denied his Lord (Matthew 26:69-75 ). In his case, however, the denial came from a passing cowardice and was followed by an immediate repentance. That which he here condemns was more persistent and malignant in its nature, and was as yet unrepented of.
bring upon themselves swift destruction ] The adjective, which is peculiar to St Peter in the New Testament (here and in chap. 1:14), implies the swift unlooked-for manner of the destruction that was to be the end of the false teachers rather than the nearness of its approach. The Apostle seems to contemplate either some sudden “visitation of God,” or possibly some quick exposure of their falsehood and baseness before men, ending in their utter confusion.
2 . And many shall follow their pernicious ways ] Better, their lasciviousnesses . The word is the same as in Mark 7:22 , Romans 13:13 , 1 Peter 4:3 , and elsewhere; and the English version loses the distinctive character of the sectarian teaching and conduct (analogous to what is noted in Jude, verses 4, 8, Revelation 2:20 ) which called down the Apostle’s condemnation. The needless variation in the rendering of the English version hinders the reader from perceiving the identity with St Jude’s condemnation of those who “turn the grace of God into lasciviousness .”
the way of truth shall be evil spoken of ] Better, reviled or blasphemed . Comp. Romans 2:24 . In the use of the term “ the way of truth” we have an interesting parallel with the frequent occurrence of that word in the Acts (18:26, 19:9, 23, 22:4, 24:22), as equivalent to what we should call, in modern phrase, the “system” or the “religion” of Christ. The scandals caused by the impurities of the false teachers brought discredit upon the whole system with which, in the judgment of the outside world, they were identified.
3 . through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you ] Better, in or with covetousness. The adjective for “ feigned ” is not found elsewhere in the New Testament. This greed of gain, found in strange union with high-flown claims to a higher knowledge and holiness than that of others, seems to have been one of the chief features of the heresies of the Apostolic age. Comp. 1 Timothy 6:5 ; Titus 1:11 . If they made proselytes it was only that they might get profit out of them.
whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not ] Better, for whom judgment for a long time idleth not .
damnation ] Better, destruction , as keeping up the continuity of thought with the preceding verses. The thought involves a half-personification of the two nouns. “Judgment” does not loiter on its way; “destruction” does not nod drowsily, like the foolish virgins of Matthew 25:5 . Both are eager, watchful, waiting for the appointed hour.
4 . For if God spared not the angels that sinned ] Better, spared not angels , there being no article in the Greek. Here the nature of the sin is not specified. We may think either of a rebellion of angels headed by Satan, such as Milton has represented in Paradise Lost , or of the degradation of their spiritual nature by sensual lust, as in Genesis 6:2 . Looking to the more definite language of Jude, verses 6 8, where the guilt of the angels is placed on a level with that of Sodom, it seems probable that the Apostle had the latter in his thoughts.
but cast them down to hell ] Literally, cast them into Tartarus . The use of a word so closely bound up with the associations of Greek mythology is a phenomenon absolutely unique in the New Testament. A compound form of the same word had been used of Zeus as inflicting punishment on Cronos and the rebel Titans. (Apollodorus, Bibl . 1. 1.) Here it is used of the Almighty as punishing rebellious angels.
delivered them into chains of darkness ] The MSS. present two readings, one giving a word which literally means a “rope,” as in the LXX. of Proverbs 5:22 , and may, therefore, rightly be rendered “cords,” “bonds,” or “chains,” so agreeing with the thought of Wisd. 17:17 (“they were bound with a chain of darkness”) and Jude, verse 6, and the other a noun which has probably the meaning of “dens” or “caves.” The latter is the best supported, having A, B, C and א in its favour. The two words differ but by a single letter, (1) σειραῖς , and (2) σειροῖς , and as (2) was the less familiar of the two and (1) agreed better with the “everlasting chains” (or “bonds”) of Jude verse 6, the change was a natural one for transcribers to make.
to be reserved unto judgment ] Literally, being reserved . The judgment in Jude, verse 6, is defined as that of the “great day.” Here it is left undefined, but it is natural to refer it to the same great day of doom. As far as the text goes, it indicates a difference of some kind between the angels who are thus imprisoned, and the “demons” who torment and harass men on earth, but it would be hazardous to dogmatise with undue definiteness, on the strength of this passing allusion, as to the condition of these inhabitants of the unseen world.
5 . and spared not the old world …] The à fortiori argument is continued, and enters on the series of typical examples of judgments which St Peter had heard from our Lord’s lips in Luke 17:26-29 . In regard to this instance we note the parallelism with 1 Peter 3:20 , extending even to the stress laid on the number of those who were rescued from the destruction “Noah, the eighth person,” is, according to a common idiom, equivalent to “Noah and seven others.” The nouns in the clause that follows are remarkable as being all without the article in the Greek.
bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly ] The description of Noah as “a preacher of righteousness” has no verbal counterpart in the language of the Old Testament, but it is obviously implied in the substance of the narrative.
6 . and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes …] The parallelism with Luke 17:26-29 continues and here runs on side by side with Jude (verse 7), who omits, however, any reference to the deluge, and does not dwell on the deliverance of Lot.
making them an ensample …] St Peter does not see in the supernatural destruction of the cities of the plain an exception to the normal order of the Divine government. It was rather a pattern instance of the judgment sure to fall, sooner or later, on all who were guilty of like sins. It may be noted that that destruction had been used as an illustration by the older prophets (Isaiah 1:9 , Isaiah 1:10 ; Ezekiel 16:48-56 ) as well as by our Lord.
7 . vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked ] More accurately, vexed with the mode of life (or conduct) of the lawless ones in lasciviousness . On “conversation” see notes on 1 Peter 1:15 , and on “lasciviousness” note on verse 2.
8 . for that righteous man …] Literally, the righteous man. We note the use of the term in this half-generic, half-individual, way as analogous to that of James 5:6 .
vexed his righteous soul ] Literally, tortured , as in Mark 5:7 , Mark 6:48 . It would have seemed scarcely necessary to point out that the words refer to the pain suffered by a man of sensitive moral nature at the sight and report of flagrant evil (comp. Ezekiel’s language (9:4) as to those “that sigh and that cry” for the abominations done in Jerusalem) had not some patristic interpreters of authority (Theophylact and Œcumenius) seen in them a description of the self-inflicted ascetic discipline by which Lot maintained his purity. It may be noted that the “seeing” is peculiar to St Peter.
9 . the godly … the unjust ] Both adjectives are in the Greek without the article.
out of temptations ] The word includes the trial of conflict with evil, as well as its alluring side. See note on 1 Peter 1:6 .
to be punished ] Literally, under punishment . The participle is in the present tense, and has no future or gerundial force. The ungodly are represented as being already under a penal process of some kind. If we take the Greek word for “punished” in the sense in which it was received by the Greek ethical writers (Aristotle, Rhet . i. 10), who distinguish between kolasis , as punishment inflicted for the good of the sufferer, and timôria as inflicted for the satisfaction of justice, the word chosen by St Peter at least admits the idea of the punishment being corrective. In the only other passage in which the word occurs (Acts 4:21 ) the verb implies a penalty inflicted in order to bring about a desired result. Looking to the fact that the words obviously refer to the case of Noah as well as that of Lot, we may find in them a point of contact with 1 Peter 3:19 , 1 Peter 4:6 . Those who are here said to be under punishment are the same as the “spirits in prison,” who were “judged” in order that they might “live.”
10 . but chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness ] Literally, in the lust of defilement , the genitive being either that of a characterising attribute, or implying that those of whom the writer speaks had fallen to a depth of baseness in which they seemed to desire impurity for its own sake, apart even from the mere pleasure of indulged appetite. (Comp. Romans 1:28 .) In the parallel passage of Jude, verse 7, we have the addition “going after strange flesh.” The Apostle seems to have in view the darker forms of impurity which were common throughout the Roman Empire (Romans 1:24-28 ). St Paul uses the cognate verb in Titus 1:15 .
and despise government ] More literally, lordship , or, perhaps better, dominion . In Ephesians 1:21 , Colossians 1:16 the word seems used of angelic authorities. Here apparently, as in Jude verse 8, the abstract noun is used as including all forms of authority, just as St Paul uses “power” in Romans 13:1 , Romans 13:2 .
Presumptuous are they ] Better, Daring , or perhaps, Darers .
they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities ] Better, they do not tremble as they blaspheme (or revile) glories . The last word may be used like “principalities” and “powers,” as including all forms of the dignity that gives glory, but the context seems to shew that it also is used with special reference to angels. This passage, with the parallel in Jude, verses 8, 9, suggests the inference that the undue “worshipping of angels” in the Judaizing Gnosticism which had developed out of the teaching of the Essenes (Colossians 2:18 ) had been met by its more extreme opponents with coarse and railing mockery as to all angels whether good or evil, and that the Apostle felt it necessary to rebuke this licence of speech as well as that which paid no respect to human authority.
11 . Whereas angels, which are greater in power …] Some of the MSS. omit the words “before the Lord.” The words as they stand here leave it uncertain of what instance the Apostle speaks, but it is probable that he refers to the tradition mentioned by St Jude (see notes on Jude 1:9 ), or possibly to the words spoken by the Angel of the Lord to Satan as the accuser of Joshua the son of Josedech in Zechariah 3:2 . In the “railing” accusation, we have a distinct reference to the “reviling” or “speaking evil” of the previous verse. The Vulgate rendering “non portant adversus se execrabile judicium” is probably meant to convey the sense “against each other,” but it has been strangely interpreted by Lyra and other Roman Catholic commentators as meaning that as “evil angels cannot endure the accursed doom that falls on them from the Lord,” how much less will ungodly men be able to endure it. The true sequence of thought is obviously that if good angels refrain from a railing judgment (not “accusation”) against evil ones, how much more should men refrain from light or railing words in regard to either.
12 . But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed ] Literally, as irrational merely natural animals born for capture and destruction . A different order of the words in some MSS. justifies the rendering born by their nature . The words express a strong indignation, at first sight scarcely reconcilable with the implied protest against a railing accusation. It must be remembered however that the whole context implies a depth of infamy and impurity for which no language could well be too strong in its scornful condemnation.
speak evil of the things that they understand not ] Literally, speaking evil (or railing) in the things in which they are ignorant . The words point to the same form of railing as before. They present, as it were, the evil of which St Paul speaks (“intruding into those things which they have not seen,” Colossians 2:18 ) at its opposite pole. As, on the one hand, there was the danger of an undue reverence for angelic “dignities,” so, on the other, there was the peril of men acting irreverently, from the standpoint of an equally crass ignorance, and speaking of the mystery of spiritual evil, not with solemn awe, but with foolish talking and jesting.
and shall utterly perish in their own corruption ] We cannot improve on the English rendering, but it fails to give the emphasis which is found in the Greek from the repetition of the same root both in the noun and the verb. Literally the clause runs, they shall be corrupted in and by their corruption , i.e. in St Paul’s words, of which these are in fact the echo, “they that sow to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption” (Galatians 6:8 ).
13 . and shall receive the reward of unrighteousness …] The words, which stand in the Greek as one of a series of participial clauses, are, perhaps, better joined with the last clause of the preceding verse, They shall perish … receiving the reward .…
as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time ] The latter words have been variously rendered; (1) as in the English version, (2) counting delicate living for a day (i.e. but for a little while, laying stress on the transitoriness of all such indulgence) as pleasure: (1) seems, on the whole, preferable, all the more so as it supplies a point of contact at once with St Peter’s own language as to the shamelessness of revel “at the third hour of the day” (Acts 2:15 ), and with St Paul’s contrast between the works of the day and those of night (Romans 13:13 , Romans 13:14 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:7 ). It has been urged against this that the Greek word for “riot” means rather the delicate and luxurious living (Luke 7:25 ) that might be practised both by day and night rather than actual riot, but it is obvious that luxury shews itself chiefly in banquets which belong to night, and to carry the same luxury into the morning meal might well be noted as indicating excess. In the Greek version by Symmachus a cognate noun is applied to the banqueters of Amos 6:7 .
Spots they are and blemishes ] The former word is found in Ephesians 5:27 ; the latter is not found elsewhere in the New Testament.
sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you ] The MSS. both here and in the parallel passage of Jude (ver. 12) vary between ἀπάταις (= deceits ) and ἀγάπαις (= feasts of love ). The latter gives, on the whole, a preferable meaning, and, even if we adopt the former reading, we are compelled by the context to look on the love-feasts as the scene of the sin referred to. The Agapae were a kind of social club feast, at first, perhaps, connected in time and place with the Lord’s Supper, but afterwards first distinguished and then divided from it. They were a witness of the new brotherhood in which the conventional distinctions of society were suspended, and rich and poor met together. Their existence is recognised in early ecclesiastical writers, in the first century by Ignatius ( ad Smyrn . c. 2), in the second by Tertullian ( Apol . c. 39), and they survived for three or four hundred years, till the disorders connected with them led to their discontinuance. In 1 Corinthians 11:21 we have traces of such disorders at a very early period, and St Peter’s language here shews that they had found their way into the Asiatic Churches as well as into that of Corinth. The “false teachers” and their followers took their place in the company of the faithful, and instead of being content with their simple food, consisting probably of bread, fish, and vegetables (the fish are always prominent in the representations of the Agapae in the Catacombs of Rome), brought with them, it would seem, the materials for a more luxurious meal (comp. 1 Corinthians 11:21 ), and, as the context shews, abused the opportunities thus given them for wanton glances and impure dalliance. Taking the first reading (“deceits”), the Apostle lays stress on the fact that in doing so they were in fact practising a fraud on the Christian society into which they thus intruded themselves.
14 . having eyes full of adultery ] The Greek gives literally the somewhat strange figure, having eyes full of an adulteress . The phrase is probably connected with a recollection of our Lord’s words as to the sin of looking on a woman, to lust after her, being equivalent to adultery (Matthew 5:28 ). St John’s mention of the “woman Jezebel” in the Church of Thyatira (Revelation 2:20-22 ) suggests the thought that there may have been some conspicuous woman of that type of character present to St Peter’s thoughts, who at once encouraged her followers to bring their dainties even though they were things that had been sacrificed to idols, to the Agapae of the Christian Church, and when they were there held them fascinated by her wanton beauty. The spell thus exercised is further described as causing a restlessness in evil. The eyes that were thus attracted could not “cease from sin.”
beguiling unstable souls ] The Greek word for “beguiling” may be noted as one of those which St Peter had in common with St James. It means primarily to “take with a bait, or in a snare,” and in James 1:14 is rightly rendered “enticed.” The idea suggested is that the false teachers attended the Agapae as seducers of the innocence of others.
a heart they have exercised with covetous practices ] Better, trained in covetousness . The words have an adequate meaning if we take “covetousness” in its ordinary sense. Greed of gain as well as wantonness characterised the false teachers. (See note on verse 3.) In not a few instances, however, there is so close a connexion between the Greek word and sins of impurity (comp. 1 Thessalonians 4:6 ; 1 Corinthians 5:11 ; Ephesians 5:3 , Ephesians 5:5 ) that it is not unreasonable to see that meaning here also. The idiomatic use of the English phrase “taking advantage” of a woman’s weakness, presents a like association of thought.
cursed children ] Better, children of a curse . The Apostle falls back on the old Hebrew idiom of expressing character by the idea of sonship. So we have “children of obedience in 1 Peter 1:14 . “Children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2 ). The “son of perdition” (John 17:12 ).
15 . which have forsaken the right way …] There may possibly be a reference to “the way of truth” in ver. 2 and to the general use of “the way” for the sum and substance of the doctrine of Christ. (See note on verse 2.) It may be noted that the charge thus brought against the false teachers by St Peter is identical with that which St Paul brings against Elymas of “perverting the right ways of the Lord” (Acts 13:10 ). We may see in the sorcerer of Cyprus, as well as in that of Samaria, a representative instance of the character which both Apostles condemn.
following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor ] The use of the term “way” is probably connected with the stress laid in the narrative of Numbers 22:32 (“Thy way is perverse before me”), in the journey which Balaam took in spite of the Divine warnings. The form Bosor, instead of Beor, may represent the mode of pronouncing the guttural letter that enters into the Hebrew name ( ע ) which prevailed in Galilee, analogous to that which in other languages has turned ἐπτὰ into septem , ὕλη into sylva , and the like. On this supposition, St Peter’s use of the form presents a coincidence with his betraying himself by his Galilean dialect in Matthew 26:73 . The characteristic feature of that dialect was its tendency to soften gutturals. Another explanation, not, however, incompatible with this, has been found in the conjecture that as the Hebrew word Bashar signifies “flesh,” the Apostle may have used the form of the name which conveyed the thought that Balaam was “a son of the flesh,” carnal and base of purpose. Like explanations have been given of the change of Sychem (= a portion) into Sychar (= a lie) (John 4:5 ), of Beelzebub (= lord of flies) into Beelzebul (= lord of dung) (Matthew 10:25 , Matthew 12:24 ). If we accept the explanation given by many commentators of the name Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:6 ) as being a Greek equivalent for Balaamites, there would be reason for thinking that the prominence given to his history at this period of the Apostolic age led men, after the manner of the time, to find even in the syllables of his name a paronomasia which made it ominous and significant of evil.
The prominence just spoken of is traceable not only here and in the parallel passage of Jude (ver. 11), but in Revelation 2:14 , where it appears in close connexion with the practice of eating things sacrificed to idols and the impurity associated with that practice. It has been contended by some writers (Renan, St Paul , c. x. p. 304) that from the point of view of the three writers who thus refer to Balaam, St Paul, in teaching the essential indifference of the act (1 Corinthians 8:4-8 ), appeared to reproduce the errors of the son of Beor. The hypothesis is, however, a singularly untenable one. No teacher could condemn the practice more strongly than St Paul, though he does so on rational and spiritual grounds, and not from the Jewish standpoint of there being an actual physical contamination in the things so sacrificed (1 Cor. 8 10). It would indeed be much more in accordance with facts to infer that it was St Paul’s allusion to the history of Balaam’s temptation of the Israelites (1 Corinthians 10:8 ; Numbers 25:9 , Numbers 31:16 ) that first associated the name of the prophet of Pethor with the corrupt practices of the party of licence in the Apostolic Church, and that St Peter, St Jude, and St John were but following in his track. It is noticeable, lastly, that in the purely Ebionite or Judaizing books, known as the Clementine Homilies and Recognitions , there is no reference to the name of Balaam.
who loved the wages of unrighteousness ] The phrase is repeated from verse 13 as laying stress on this point of parallelism between the earlier and later forms of evil. It is not without interest to note that in both the Apostle reproduces what we find recorded as spoken by him in Acts 1:18 .
16 . but was rebuked for his iniquity ] Literally, had a rebuke for his transgression of the law .
the dumb ass speaking with man’s voice …] The Greek word for “ass” is literally beast of burden . It is used, as here, in Matthew 21:5 . The term for “madness” is not found elsewhere in the New Testament, but the corresponding verb is used by St Paul (2 Corinthians 11:23 ). For “forbade” it would be better, perhaps, to read checked , the actual rebuke having come from the angel, and taking the form of a permission rather than a prohibition. It is obvious that St Peter assumes the truth of the narrative of Numbers 22:0 (22 33) as beyond question, nor is there indeed any ground for thinking that it was at that time questioned by any reader, as it has been since. It does not fall within the scope of this Commentary to discuss either the objections which have been urged against that narrative, or the explanations that have been offered as toning down or minimising the supernatural element in it.
17 . These are wells without water ] In the parallel passage of St Jude (verse 12) we have “ clouds without water.” In St Peter’s variation we may, perhaps, trace an allusive reference to our Lord’s teaching as to the “fountain of springing water” in John 4:14 , or to St James’ illustration from the “fountain” (the same word as that here translated “well”) that sends forth fresh water only, and not salt and fresh together (James 3:11 , James 3:12 ). We are reminded also of the “broken cisterns that can hold no water” of Jeremiah 2:13 . There, however, we have in the LXX. the proper Greek word for cisterns as contrasted with the “fountain of living waters.”
clouds that are carried with a tempest ] More accurately, mists driven about by a whirlwind , the better MSS. giving “mists” instead of “clouds.” The word was probably chosen as indicating what we should call the “haziness” of the speculations of the false teachers. The Greek word for “tempest” is found also in the descriptions of the storm on the Sea of Galilee in Mark 4:27 ; Luke 8:23 . Did St Peter’s mind go back to that scene, so that he saw, in the wild whirling mists that brought the risk of destruction, a parable of the storm of heresies by which the Church was now threatened? The imagery, it may be noted, is identical with that used by St Paul, when he speaks of men as “carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14 ).
to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever ] The two last words are omitted in some of the best MSS. and versions. For “mist” it would be better to read blackness , as in Jude, verse 13. It is noticeable that the word had been used by Homer ( Il . xv. 191) of the gloom of Hades, and so had probably come to be associated in common language with the thought of Tartarus, as it is here and in verse 4.
18 . For when they speak great swelling words of vanity ] Literally, For speaking .… The adjective is used by classical writers both literally and figuratively of excessive magnitude. It indicates what we should call the “high-flown” character of the language of the false teachers. “Vanity” is used in its proper sense of “emptiness.” There was no substance below their show of a transcendental knowledge. Here again we trace a parallel with St Paul’s language, “Knowledge puffeth up” (1 Corinthians 8:1 ).
they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness ] Better, they entice in the lusts of flesh (describing the state of the tempters) by acts of lasciviousness (as the dative of the instrument). The word for “allure” is the same as in verse 14. In “wantonness” we have the same word as in verses 2 and 7.
those that were clean escaped from them who live in error ] Some of the better MSS. give those who were a little (or partially) escaping … In the one case, stress is laid on the fact that the work of a real and true conversion was marred by the impurity into which the victims were afterwards betrayed; in the other, on the fact that their conversion had been but incomplete, and that therefore they yielded readily to the temptation. A possible construction of the sentence would be to take the last clause in the Greek in apposition with the first, “those that had partially escaped, those that live in error,” but the English version gives a preferable meaning. In the verb for “live” we have a cognate form of St Peter’s favourite word for “conversation” or “conduct” (1 Peter 1:15 , 1 Peter 1:18 , 1 Peter 1:2 :12, 1 Peter 1:3 :1, 1 Peter 1:2 , 1 Peter 1:16 ).
19 . While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption ] We have here the characteristic feature of the teaching which St Peter condemns. It offered its followers freedom from the restraints which the Council of Jerusalem had imposed alike on participation in idolatrous feasts and on sins of impurity (Acts 15:29 ). That this was the key-note of their claims we have a distinct indication in St Paul’s teaching on the same subject. His question “Am I not free?” (1 Corinthians 9:1 ), his condemnation of those who boasted of their “right” (“liberty” in the English version) to eat things sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 8:9 ), who proclaimed that all things were “lawful” for them (1 Corinthians 10:23 ), shew that this was the watchword of the party of license at Corinth, and the language of St Peter, though more coloured with the feeling of a burning indignation at the later development of the system, is, in substance, but the echo of that of his brother Apostle. In his contrast between the boast of liberty and the actual bondage to corruption we may trace a reproduction of our Lord’s teaching in John 8:34 , of St Paul’s in Romans 6:16 . The word for “they are the servants” (literally, being the servants ) implies that this had been all along their settled, continuous state. The very phrase bond-slaves of corruption seems to reproduce Romans 8:21 .
of whom a man is overcome …] The Greek leaves it uncertain whether the pronouns refer to a person, or to a more abstract power wherein a man is overcome, to that he is enslaved . On the whole the latter seems preferable. Here again we have an echo of St Paul’s language in Romans 6:16 .
20 . For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world ] The word “escaped” had been used above (verse 18) of the followers. Here, as the context shews, in the repetition of the word “overcome” from the preceding verse, it is used of the teachers themselves. They also had once fled from the pollutions of heathen life and heathen worship into which they had now fallen back.
through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ ] The word for “knowledge” in the Greek is the compound form ( ἐπίγνωσις ) which is always used by St Paul (e.g. Ephesians 4:13 ; Colossians 2:2 , Colossians 2:3 :10; 1 Timothy 2:4 ), and had been used by St Peter (chap. 1:2, 3, 8), of the highest form of knowledge which is spiritual as well as speculative. The false teachers had not been all along hypocrites and pretenders. They had once in the fullest sense of the words “known Christ” as their Lord and Saviour. There is, perhaps, no single passage in the whole extent of New Testament teaching more crucial than this in its bearing on the Calvinistic dogma of the indefectibility of grace. The fullest clearness of spiritual vision had not protected these heresiarchs from the temptations of their sensuous nature.
they are again entangled therein, and overcome ] The verb “entangled” is used also by St Paul (2 Timothy 2:4 ). It describes vividly the manner of the fall of those of whom the Apostle speaks. They had not at first contemplated the ultimate results of their teaching. It was their boast of freedom which led them within the tangled snares of the corruption in which they were now inextricably involved.
the latter end is worse with them than the beginning ] Literally, the last state has become worse than the first . The last words are so distinctly a citation from our Lord’s teaching in Matthew 12:45 , that we are compelled to think of St Peter as finding in the history of the false teachers that which answered to the parable of the unclean spirit who was cast out of his house and returned to it with seven other spirits more wicked than himself.
21 . For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness ] The verb for “known” is, like the noun in the preceding verse, that which implies the fullest form of knowledge, as in 1 Corinthians 13:12 ; 2 Corinthians 6:9 ; 1 Timothy 4:3 . The “way of righteousness” is like the “way of truth” in verse 2, a comprehensive description of the religion of Christ as a whole, regarded here in its bearing on life, as there in its relation to belief.
to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them ] The word “delivered” implies, as in Luke 1:2 ; 1 Corinthians 11:2 , 1 Corinthians 11:23 , 1 Corinthians 11:15 :3; Jude, verse 3, the oral teaching of the elements of Christian faith and life which was imparted to all converts prior to their baptism. Stress is laid on the “commandment” because the Apostle is contemplating chiefly the sins of impurity of which the heresiarchs had been guilty rather than their dogmatic heresies as such.
22 . it is happened unto them according to the true proverb …] Literally, that (saying) of the true proverb has happened to them … In the words that follow we have another of St Peter’s references, without a formal citation, to the Book of Proverbs (26:11). See notes on 1 Peter 4:8 , 1 Peter 5:5 . The form in which he gives the proverbs is participial. “The dog returned to his own vomit; the washed sow to her wallowing in the mire.” We have, however, the colloquial, allusive form which the proverb had assumed in common speech rather than an actual quotation, and the second part of the proverb is not found in the passage referred to. In both cases stress is laid on the fact that there had been a real change. The dog had ejected what was foul; the sow had washed herself, but the old nature returned in both cases. Those who after their baptism returned to the impurities they had renounced, were, in the Apostle’s eyes, no better than the unclean beasts. In the union of the two types of baseness we may, perhaps, trace a reminiscence of our Lord’s teaching in Matthew 7:6 .
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"Commentary on 2 Peter 2". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/
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