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Wednesday, September 27th, 2023
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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2 Peter 2

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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This chapter addresses three major points:

1. False teachers were to arise among God’s people.

2. These teachers would lure many to follow their destructive ways.

3. The inevitable end for these teachers is a sure destruction.

It is Peter’s design in this chapter to affirm these points (especially the second one) and to warn the Christians to whom he is writing of the danger of apostasy.

Throughout Peter’s discourse, he vividly describes these false teachers as vicious, vain, self-seeking, and morally corrupt men who are doomed to eternal destruction. Peter uses such strong language that we should be warned of the importance of following the word of God today and not the words of men.

Verse 1

But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

But there were false prophets also among the people: "False" is "one who, acting the part of a divinely inspired prophet, utters falsehoods under the name of divine prophecies" (Thayer 676-1-5578). The expression "the people" refers to the Israelites: those who had lived under the law of Moses. Not all of the prophets of old were true prophets: even among them, some taught false doctrine and misled the people.

even as there shall be false teachers among you: Just as there were false prophets among the Israelites, Peter says, there would be false prophets among Christians. In the warning to first century Christians, Peter sends a strong warning to Christians of every generation, including our own. The apostle Peter is not alone in warning the church against false teachers or false prophets. Jesus first emphasized that the church should beware of false teachers (Matthew 24:5; Matthew 24:24). Paul (Acts 20:29-30) and John (1 John 4:1) followed in their writings with the same points of warning: we should beware of those who come among us to teach. They should first be proved to be firm and stable in the scriptures before we allow them to teach the people.

It is easy for us to deceive ourselves into thinking that we are being taught the truth just because we like and respect the one who is teaching. First, the teaching must be true. Then we give our respect to the one who is teaching.

Paul warns to "mark" and "avoid" those who cause divisions "contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned" (Romans 16:17). John says not to receive a man into our houses nor to bid him Godspeed if he "transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ" (2 John 1:9). Such a man, adds John, "hath not God."

Numerous other scriptures emphasize the responsibility we have to abide in the doctrine of God. God does not have a liberal view of those who take it upon themselves to misuse the scriptures or to teach a man-made concept. If there is any question about God’s view of such people, we need only look at Peter’s teaching in this chapter.

who privily shall bring in damnable heresies: "Privily" means "to introduce or bring in secretly or craftily" (Thayer 487-2-3919). Thayer goes a step further and suggests that it means to bring in by the side of or along with. Certainly, that is the danger of false teachers. They do not necessarily present their false doctrines all at once, but they will mix in a little "on the side" and teach it "along with" good, sound doctrine. Still--as Vine says in his definition of the word "privily"--they are like enemies who have been sneaked into the camp. They bring destruction and nothing else.

The word "damnable" that Peter uses refers to "utter destruction" (Thayer 70-2-684), and "heresies" literally means "that which is chosen" (Thayer 16-1-139). So a heretic is one who chooses false doctrine over God’s teaching. It is a deliberate choice. Vincent says it is better rendered "heresies of destruction" (Vol. I 689).

even denying the Lord that bought them: Some false teachers go so far as to deny that the Lord existed or that He was the sacrificial lamb offered for the salvation of the world. Peter seems to make this sin the pinnacle of the false teachers’ destructive teaching. Jesus makes clear the end for those who commit such heresy.

But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my father which is in heaven (Matthew 10:33).

For such men, who lived so near the time of the cross, to deny Jesus as the Lord seems unthinkable. There was such strong evidence of the Lord’s sacrifice and so many who had witnessed His life and His crucifixion that men had to turn deaf ears to the truth to believe such heresy.

Peter makes a similar reference to Christ’s purchasing of man in his first letter: "Forasmuch as ye know," he writes, "that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold...But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Peter 1:18-19). Christ "bought" or "redeemed" man with His own blood, thus making it more horrendous when man rejects Him and even denies Him as the false teacher of this chapter does.

People of every age have found it difficult to realize the preciousness and the importance of the purchase price for our salvation. Jesus’ blood--shed on the painful cross of Calvary--bought our redemption (Acts 20:28). If He had not been willing to suffer for us, we could not approach God with hope of salvation today.

and bring upon themselves swift destruction: This word "destruction" is the same word as "damnable" in this verse. It "refers to the loss of all that makes existence worthwhile. It is eternal misery apart from a holy God..." (Wuest, II Peter 47).

It is interesting to note that the destruction these men reap is a "self-imposed" destruction. Peter makes it clear: they bring it upon themselves! They make a decision to follow a certain path, and they must face the consequences of that decision. That consequence is eternal separation from God. The Apostle Paul says, "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).

In his description of the false teachers in this verse, Peter lays the foundation upon which he will build throughout this chapter and even into the next.

Verse 2

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

And many shall follow their pernicious ways: "Pernicious ways" refers to "a perishing, ruin, destruction" or "destructive opinions" (Thayer 70-71-2-684). Wuest says, "unbridled lust, excess, licentiousness, etc." (II Peter 48). The New American Standard Bible has this wording: "And men will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned."

It is one thing to have an opinion that affects only oneself; but it is something else altogether to have a "destructive" opinion that will affect numerous others. Thayer explains just how serious these opinions are. They involve a destruction, he says, that results in "loss of eternal life...the lot of those excluded from the kingdom of God" (71-1-684).

The danger of such men is that they come in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves (Matthew 7:15). Paul warns Ephesus of such men, even saying that "of their own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:30). Paul understands the danger of such teachers and gives unmistakable warnings: with his warnings he mixes his own tears (Acts 20:31).

by reason of whom the way of truth: "Whom" may refer to those who follow the influence of the false teachers or to the false teachers themselves. Biblical scholarship appears not to be able to determine which. But the end result is the same: they do damage to "the way of truth," that is the way taught in the New Testament about God’s plan for man on the earth. The "truth" is the gospel message.

shall be evil spoken of: The gospel message, the church, and the Lord Himself are discredited by those who do not teach the truth of God’s word. Whether it is the false teachers or their followers, they damage the Lord’s cause when they teach false doctrine and live wicked lives.

One of the responsibilities of every Christian, and particularly those who are preachers of the gospel, is to hold up the standards the Lord has given for the church. We should never live such a life or teach a doctrine that lowers the standards of the body of Christ. We are to be a light to guide the way of the lost, and we can accomplish that task only when we follow God’s word and not false teachers. Our influence, our example, should be unmistakably positive. It should serve to glorify God, leaving the church "without spot or blemish or any such thing" (Ephesians 5:27).

The false teachers, however, do not have such an influence; rather, because of their lifestyles and their teaching, the truth shall be "evil spoken of."

Verse 3

And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.

And through covetousness: The motivation of these false teachers is perhaps the lowest form of motivation there is: covetousness, a "greedy desire to have more" (Thayer 516-1-4124). Jesus warns of the sin of covetousness when a man comes to him asking him to speak to his brother to persuade him to share his inheritance. That incident prompts Jesus to issue this warning: "Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth" (Luke 12:15). It is in that context that Christ goes on to tell the parable of a certain rich man who had barns full of grain and overflowing. So concerned was he with the things he had accumulated and with himself that he forgot to remember God or the needs of others.

The false teachers of this chapter had fallen into the same trap. Their motivation for preaching was to accumulate this world’s goods. Covetousness, indeed, is dangerous for any person, but its danger is magnified when a person has the gospel and the souls of impressionable people in his hands. Every inspired writer offers harsh warnings against such men. Covetousness is such a serious sin that Paul teaches not to keep company or even to eat with a brother who is guilty of this sin. He teaches that covetousness is one of the sins for which a brother can be withdrawn from by the congregation of the faithful (1 Corinthians 5:11).

shall they with feigned words: The word "feigned" is used no where else in the New Testament. It means "moulded, formed, as from clay, wax, stone..." (Thayer 515-1-4112). The words of these men would be formed for the occasion. Their doctrine would not be based on substantial fact nor would it be maintained by solid principles. But by using their words to fit any occasion, they would mold them for their own selfish reasons.

Of such devices, Paul offers this warning: "That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive" (Ephesians 4:14). The most powerful defense against such deceiving men is a strong knowledge of the word of God and an unwavering faith.

make merchandise of you: The phrase "make merchandise" means "to go a trading" (Thayer 208-2-1710). The word is used only here and in James 4:13 where James warns of making boastful plans of going to a city to buy and sell and "get gain." Although the context there is different, the attitude is the same: the individuals James refers to and the ones Peter warns against are presumptuous and do not consider God when they make their plans. The false teachers of 2 Peter are out to "make a gain" (Vine, Vol. III 60) of innocent people. They not only will strip people of their material goods; they also may strip them of their eternal wealth, a far more serious deception.

whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not and their damnation slumbereth not: "Of a long time" means "from of old" (Thayer 198-1-1597). "Lingereth" means "to be idle, inactive...delay" (Thayer 72-1-691). "Slumbereth" is a different word but has the same basic meaning as "lingereth" (Thayer 431-2-3573).

Even though God’s retribution is not immediate, it is inevitable. Just because these false teachers were still living in the world and functioning in society even among God’s own people does not mean that God has forgotten about their destructive sins. God will judge them, and they will be punished for their sins.

From the beginning God has condemned sin and inflicted suitable punishments on transgressors; and has promised in His Word, from the earliest ages, to pour out His indignation on the wicked. The punishment, therefore, so long ago predicted shall fall on these impure and incorrigible sinners; and the "condemnation" which is denounced against them slumbereth not--it is alert; it is on its way; it is hurrying on, and must soon overtake them (Clark 1313).

The New International version puts this verse and the false teacher’s plight in simple terms: "Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping."

Verse 4

For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;

For if God spared not the angels that sinned: "Angels" means "messenger of God" (Thayer 5-2-32). This section begins a discourse in which Peter presents God as an "unsparing" God in some cases. God "spared" not the angels that sinned, nor did He spare the old world in the days of Noah (verse 5), Sodom and Gomorrah (verse 6), or Lot’s wife (verse 7).

Although God is longsuffering, His longsuffering has a limit. Angels who dwelt in the presence of Jehovah God chose to rebel and cross that limit. Because of their rebellion, even they were not spared. For them, there was no repentance, no second chance, no redemption, and no forgiveness. They had been in God’s presence and knew Him unlike anyone living knows Him today; yet they chose to rebel against Him. There is no forgiveness for such rebellion.

Even amidst the ominous tones of Second Peter, there are glimpses of God’s wondrous grace and longsuffering. Toward the end of the letter, Peter reminds us that God "is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (3:9). And in chapter one he speaks of that day when we shall have an abundant entrance into the "everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (1:10). No doubt God is an "unsparing" God--but He is unsparing in both senses: in His punishment of those who do not obey Him and in providing "precious promises" (1:4) to those who obey Him, promises we have because He "spared not his own son."

but cast them down to hell: This expression means "to hold captive in Tartarus" (Thayer 615-2-5020). The angels who rebelled against God are being held in Tartarus to this day, awaiting judgment.

Three Greek words are translated into the English word hell: gehenna, hades, and tartarus. Gehenna refers to everlasting torment, feared by all people who worship and revere God. Jesus is the only one to use the term gehenna with the exception of James who used it once in his epistle (3:6). Hades (Matthew 16:18) is the realm to which all departed spirits go to await judgment day. It is divided into two sections: Paradise (Luke 23:43), which is for the righteous, and Tartarus (this passage), which is the awaiting place for the wicked. This passage is the only place in the New Testament where the word Tartarus is used.

and delivered them into chains of darkness to be reserved unto judgment: The word "delivered" means "to give over into (one’s) power" (Thayer 481-1-3860). Thayer comments on the word "darkness" that it is "used of the darkness of the nether world" (272-2-2217). These fallen angels are being held in Tartarus until judgment day (Revelation 20:12). They are in "chains" because Tartarus is a place from which they cannot be released until God gives the command. At that time, they will receive their eternal punishment. John describes the event in his Revelation letter. "And death and hell (Hades) were cast into the lake of fire (gehenna). This is the second death" (Revelation 20:14).

Verse 5

And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly;

And spared not the old world: "Old" refers to the world before the time of Noah. "World" has reference to "the inhabitants of the world" (Thayer 357-1-2889).

but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness: Noah and the seven other members of his family were saved when God destroyed the earth by water. Noah was saved because he preached "righteousness." When he taught "righteousness" to his hearers, he was teaching them "uprightness, correctness in thinking, feeling, and acting" (Thayer 149-1-1343). Noah taught the people God’s way, that is God’s righteousness; but they refused to heed his teaching.

bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly: Noah warned that the flood was coming because of the wickedness on the earth at that time. The flood came, covering the entire world and destroying all who were left outside the ark. God said that this event would occur, and it did. "...I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth" (Genesis 7:4).

Unlike the angels who sinned, God showed mercy toward the old world. For a hundred and twenty years, He waited, giving those people a chance to repent. He warned, however, that "My spirit shall not always strive with man" (Genesis 6:3)--that is, there comes a point where the longsuffering ends. When the world reached a point that "every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5), God reached a point where He could no longer "spare" man.

Verse 6

And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly;

And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes: Lot begged God to give him one more chance to save these cities (Genesis 19:23-29). It came down to the point that God agreed if Lot could find even ten righteous souls in the cities, He would not destroy them; but he could not. Some of his own family even refused to heed his warnings. Jude describes the degradation to which most of mankind had fallen, saying they had "given themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire (Judges 1:7).

condemned them with an overthrow: This verse is a continuation of the "if" conditions set up in verse 4, and God is still the subject. God condemned the unrighteous by the "overthrow" ("destruction"--Thayer 337-2-2692) of these two cities.

making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly: The story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah lives on generation after generation and serves as a warning: people must give an account for their actions. Those even today who would live ungodly lives should receive a warning from what happened to these two cities.

Verse 7

And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked:

And delivered just Lot: The word "delivered" means "to rescue" (Thayer 564-1-4506). Lot was a "just" man, and his life was spared because of his righteousness. God told him to get out of the cities before they were destroyed.

vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: The word "vexed" means "to afflict or oppress with evils" (Thayer 335-2-2669). The Greek word carries the idea of being "worn down...sore distress" (See Wuest or Vincent). "Filthy" means "lasciviousness" (Thayer 79-2-766), and "conversation" means "manner of life, behavior" (Thayer 42-2-391). "Wicked" means "lawless" (Thayer 18-2-113).

Lot was oppressed or worn down because of the wicked people of his time. He was in dismay because of the degradation into which these people had fallen and because they could not be touched by his continued warnings.

While God is loving, merciful, and longsuffering, He is also just. Because of His totally just nature, He cannot have injustice or unrighteousness (that is, sin) in His presence. Those who disobey His will cannot coexist with His just nature. They will receive their punishment.

Verse 8

(For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;)

This verse is a parenthetical expression inserted to add additional information about the topic under discussion.

For that righteous man: That man was Lot. Lot does not follow the multitude to do evil, but in a city of sin he walked uprightly.

dwelling among them in seeing and hearing: Lot, living in Sodom and Gomorrah, witnessed the awful acts that went on there daily. "Seeing" means "a look, glance" (Thayer 103-1-990). Lot unhappily witnessed all of the wickedness.

vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds: The word "vexed" is different from the same English word in verse 7. Here it means "to torment" (Thayer 96-2-928). Lot tried so hard to get the people to come to God, he was tormented over the fact that no one would give a favorable response to God’s call.

Lot’s faithfulness has served every generation as an example. In the midst of excessive wickedness, Lot remained faithful to God, teaching us that, regardless of what the majority do, we can maintain our spiritual purity if we really want to. Lot further teaches us that if an activity is wrong, it is wrong, regardless of who is involved or how many may participate. Lot diligently attempted to turn the hearts of the people to God, but they refused and were punished.

Verse 9

The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:

The Lord knoweth: This verse is the main clause after all of the situations set up by the introductory word "If" in verse 4. If the Lord "spared not the angels that sinned," "spared not the old world," turned "the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes," and "delivered just Lot," He has the knowledge and power to "deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished."

how to deliver the godly out of temptations: God can "deliver" the godly out of temptations. "Deliver" (Greek) means "to draw to oneself, rescue" (Thayer 564-1-4506). The examples Peter gives above prove that God has never abandoned His people but has always taken care of those who are faithful to Him. The Old Testament is replete with such examples.

Although God manifests Himself differently in the Christian age, He has given us full assurance that He still knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation. When Jesus was teaching His disciples how to pray, He says, "...lead us not into temptations, but deliver us from evil..." (Matthew 6:13). Later Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:13, "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it."

The Christian of every age has needed that assurance, and we in the twentieth century are no exception. Temptations abound around us, and we must fight against them. Christians are "in" the world, but they are not to be "of" the world. God has promised us His help in that fight against the wiles of the devil. But, we, like the apostle Paul, can know that "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Philippians 4:13).

and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished: "Unjust" means "unrighteous, sinful" and specifically refers to "one who breaks God’s laws" (Thayer 12-1-94). Such people will not go into eternal punishment at their deaths but will await that judgment in Tartarus. (See 2:4 above for discussion of punishment.)

Verse 10

But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.

The first half of this verse goes with the preceding verse; and beginning with the word "Presumptuous," Peter goes into further discussion about the false teachers.

But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness: This part of the verse is a continuation of the expression beginning "The Lord knoweth" in verse 9. "Chiefly" means "especially...above all" (Thayer 387-2-3122).

Peter is saying that God especially knows how to judge them that "walk after the flesh." This phrase means "to follow after the flesh" or after the desires of the flesh (Thayer 569-2-4561). "Lust" means "a longing (especially for what is forbidden);...desire" (Strong 31). "Uncleanness" means "the act of defiling, defilement, pollution" (Thayer 414-1-3394). Just as God knows:

1. How to deliver the godly out of temptations,

2. How to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished,

3. He has the power to judge those who defile themselves and live in the depths of the sinful pollution that this world has to offer.

and despise government: "Despise" means "to think little or nothing of" (Thayer 338-2-2706). "Government" is translated "authority" by the New American Standard Bible. These kinds of people actually have no respect for anyone: they do not respect earthly authority, they do not respect God’s authority, and really they have no respect for themselves--they are degraded morally and spiritually.

Presumptuous are they: "Presumptuous" means daring--"a daring man" (Thayer 628-1-5113). These false teachers are presumptuous, defying not just God but also civil authorities. "Are they" is not in the original, but the reference is clear: the word "presumptuous" describes the "they" after the word "selfwilled."

selfwilled: This word means "self-pleasing,...arrogant" (Thayer 83-2-829). These people care not about their own spiritual destiny nor about the destiny of others. They selfishly live for the moment, having to have their own way.

they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities: Thayer says "speak evil" means to speak "reproachfully, rail at, revile" (102-2-987). "Dignities" refers to "majesty, the majesty (glory) of angels" (Thayer 156-2-1391). This comment must indicate the height of being presumptuous. Not only do they show no concern for others, but they "speak evil of" heavenly beings.

The New American Standard Bible renders this passage, "Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties."

Verse 11

Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord.

Whereas angels which are greater in power and might: "Power" emphasizes outward manifestation; and "might" emphasizes inward, spiritual, or moral virtue. Even heavenly beings, who obviously have a greater position, do not demonstrate the presumption that these false teachers do.

bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord: "Railing" means "speaking evil, slanderous, reproachful, ...abusive" (Thayer 103-1-989). "Accusation" is "judgment, i.e. opinion or decision given concerning anything, especially concerning justice and injustice, right and wrong" (Thayer 361-2-2920).

It appears there is no limit to what these false teachers may say; they are vicious, abusive, and uncaring in the words they speak against the "dignities" of the previous verse, even as they come before the Lord, who is the judge of all.

Verse 12

But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption;

But these, as natural brute beasts: "These" refers to the vicious false teachers who are ungodly in every way. "Natural" means "governed by (the instincts of) nature (Thayer 660-1-5446), and "brute" is "destitute of reason" (Thayer 29-1-249).

Peter places these wicked men in the same category as wild animals who operate only by instinct, not by reason and intellect.

made to be taken and destroyed: "Taken" means "captured" (Thayer 30-1-259). "Destroyed" means "corruption, destruction, perishing" (Thayer 652-2-5356). This phrase refers to "natural brute beasts" who exist to be captured and killed.

speak evil of the things that they understand not: The false teachers have no appreciation for things human nor divine and "speak evil" against things they do not even understand. They have no appreciation for God nor for those who follow Him. Because of the evil attitude they have developed, they bitterly resist God’s ways and have no regard for His laws.

and shall utterly perish in their own corruption: This verse gives the end of these wicked men, who, like the "brute beasts," will be destroyed. The difference is that these men will "utterly perish" and not just be "caught and killed" (New Century Version) as animals are. The false teachers have an eternal soul and shall be judged by the Creator.

These ungodly men are on such a low level that they act irrationally, saying anything that comes to their minds without thinking of what they are saying, who is present, or what the consequences of their words might be. Their words and actions cause Peter to place them at the lowest level of humanity.

Verse 13

And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you;

And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness: Thayer says "the reward of unrighteousness" means the "reward due to unrighteousness" (12-1-93). Those who live in sin have their reward. "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23), and death means eternal separation from God. Those who live unrighteous lives have no hope of being with God in eternity but have assurance of going into eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46).

as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time: These evil men do their wickedness openly in the daytime whereas most people do such things at night. These men have no shame. In fact, they are pleased to perform their excesses for others to see. The sinners Peter describes here live for the pleasure of the moment, not realizing they must some day give account for their actions.

Spots they are and blemishes: "Blemishes" means "insult" and refers to "men who are a disgrace to society" (Thayer 420-2-3470). Such sinners are a disgrace both to the society in which they live and certainly to those who are spiritual.

sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you: "Sporting" refers to those who "live in luxury, live delicately or luxuriously" (Thayer 219-1-1792). Thayer comments that "deceivings" refers to "the lusts excited by deceit, i.e., by deceitful influences seducing to sin" (55-1-539).

The idea is not exactly that of sporting, or playing, or amusing themselves; but it is that they take advantage of their views to live in riot and luxury. Under the garb of the Christian profession, they give indulgence to the most corrupt passions (Barnes, II Peter 245).

These people "live for today," never thinking about eternal judgment. This passage is a reminder of the axiom "Live for today for tomorrow ye may die."

Verse 14

Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children:

Having eyes full of adultery: Thayer comments that this expression means "eyes always on the watch for an adulteress, or from which adulterous desire beams forth" (416-2-3428). This phrase describes people who always look upon another with the intent of seducing that person. They do not look to wholesome or spiritual qualities but rather to the sensual, caring not for the person but only for what the person can give to them. These men go beyond just looking. They fit the description Jesus gave in Matthew 5:28, "Whosoever looketh upon a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart."

and that cannot cease from sin: "Cannot" refers to those who are "unable to stop, unceasing," and in his comment Thayer says "eyes not quieted with sin,...which they commit with adulterous look" (21-2-180). Those who give themselves over to sin are never satisfied. They feel they must keep sinning for fulfillment. But their lust is never quieted, always demanding more.

beguiling unstable souls: "Beguiling" means "...to allure, entice, deceive" (Thayer 128-1-1185). There are always people ready to be deceived and seduced, thinking they will receive satisfaction. They (the "unstable souls") allow themselves to be used.

an heart they have exercised with covetous practices: "Covetous" means "greedy desire to have more" (Thayer 516-1-4124). The false teachers had practiced covetousness so long they were well trained in the habits of greed. This sin is in addition to their immorality. They are like those today who perform spiritual service because of the financial gain they will receive, not because they love the truth or want to help others. These evil men of old wanted more of everything: pleasure, sensual satisfaction, and money.

cursed children: These men are the children of cursing themselves because their wickedness will lead them only to eternal destruction. They are a curse to others because they deceive and mislead them, leaving them also without God.

Verses 15-16

Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man’s voice forbad the madness of the prophet.

The story of the prophet Balaam in Numbers 22 tells of one whose words were stronger than his actions. Balak, the king of Moab, petitions Balaam to curse the children of Israel who are passing through his country. Balaam approaches God on the issue, and God’s answer is firm: "Thou shalt not curse the people; for they are blessed" (Numbers 22:12). Balak, however, is determined, so he sends more princes to persuade Balaam, and he offers more gifts to lure him. Balaam responds to the enticement of Balak with a firm reply: "If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more" (18).

Following his declaration above, however, he asked the princes to stay the night so he could go to God "that I may know what the Lord will say unto me more" (19). Although the Lord had spoken, Balaam wanted to find a way to do what he wanted to do.

God finally gives in to Balaam, but He is not pleased. When Balaam gets on his donkey to go to curse the Israelites, God sends an angel to stand in the way of the animal. The donkey, seeing the angel in the way, tries to escape by thrusting himself against a wall, crushing Balaam’s foot. When the donkey sees there is no way to escape, he falls down; and Balaam beats the donkey and begins to argue with him. Balaam, so blinded by greed and obsessed with himself, argues with the animal.

Peter, then, offers this commentary on Balaam’s actions in this verse: "But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man’s voice forbad the madness of the prophet."

Peter uses this story to illustrate how these false prophets of his day had followed the pattern set by Balaam. They, too, had forsaken the Lord’s way because they wanted personal gain and they "loved the wages of unrighteousness."

which have forsaken the right way: The "right way" is "the straight, the right way, (and) is figuratively used of true religion as a rule of life leading to its goal, i.e. salvation" (Thayer 259-1-2117). "Way" denotes a course of conduct, a way (i.e. manner) of thinking, feeling, deciding" (Thayer 438-1-3598).

The implication--and it is one that is unmistakable--is that there is a right way. People in this age, and probably people in every age, have trouble with that concept. But there is a right way, and there is a wrong way. Balaam had to choose which way he would follow. And he chose the wrong way.

Some willfully stray from the right way (2 Peter 3:5), and others are deceived. The prophet of old says it this way: "There is a way which seemeth right unto man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 14:12). That is the trap that many fall into. That is the reason Peter warns of those people who will deceive others. "Many," he says, "shall follow their pernicious ways" (2:2).

Men such as Balaam, however, are not deceived. At best, they are "willfully ignorant" (3:5), and deep down they know better. They have "forsaken the right way."

and are gone astray: "Gone astray" means "to wander or fall away from the true faith" (Thayer 514-2-4106).

Those reading Peter’s letter understood how far such men had "gone astray" because of his comparison with Balaam. The Jews of that time saw Balaam as a "most abandoned deceiver" (Thayer 93-11-903). He had abandoned God’s way to follow his own.

From Peter’s teaching in these verses, we conclude one great Christian principle that so many today deny: that one can "go astray." These false teachers had done what some modern thinkers say cannot be done: they had fallen from grace. They were in the right way, but Peter says they had "forsaken the right way, and are gone astray."

the wages of unrighteousness: Thayer comments that unrighteousness refers to the "reward obtained by wrong-doing" (12-1-93). The false teachers loved the profit they received for their ungodly deeds.

Verse 17

These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever.

In this verse, Peter launches into some metaphors that appear to be a desperate attempt to show once and for all the destitute, depraved condition of this kind of sinner.

"Wells" means "a fountain, spring" (Thayer 508-1-4077).

"Tempest" means "tempestuous wind" (Thayer 369-1-2978).

"Mist" means "the blackness of (i.e. the densest) darkness" (Thayer 272-2-2217).

Peter uses two striking images here to convey the emptiness of these false teachers. Those who received this epistle would understand very well the excitement of seeing a well in the distance while traveling in their hot, dry land. But they also understand the disappointment of finding that well empty or dry, leaving them with nothing to quench their thirst.

Farmers in that land knew the despair of seeing a cloud overhead promising rain for their parched crops, only to have the wind carry the cloud away, producing nothing for the sustenance of their crops.

The analogies perfectly depict these false teachers: they are merely empty wells and passing clouds--they offer nothing that will benefit others.

Verse 18

For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error.

For when they speak great swelling words of vanity: "Vanity" means "what is devoid of truth and appropriateness" (Thayer 393-1-3153). These false teachers had the ability to appeal to many people. Their words, while they sounded wonderful, were empty and were designed to mislead people spiritually.

they allure through the lusts of the flesh: "Allure" means the same as "beguiling" in verse 14. "Flesh" means "the animal nature with cravings which incite to sin" (Thayer 570-2-4561). The false teachers led many Christians astray through their use of enticing words that appealed to the lust of the flesh.

through much wantonness: "Wantonness" means "unbridled lust, excess, licentiousness, lasciviousness...outrageousness, shamelessness, insolence" (Thayer 79-2-766). The false prophets used this appeal under the name of religion to deceive many.

those that were clean escaped from them who live in error: "Clean" means "truly, in reality, in point of fact, opp. to what is pretended, fictitious, false, conjectural" (Thayer 448-2-3689). "Error" means "wrong opinion relative to morals or religion" (Thayer 514-2-4106).

Some of the Christians with whom the false prophets came in contact had given up a life of sin--they had "escaped" it--and were trying to live the Christian life. The idea is that they would have had a much better chance of making it spiritually if these false teachers had left them alone.

Verse 19

While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.

While they promise them liberty: "Liberty" means "license, the liberty to do as one pleases" (Thayer 204-1-1657). The false teachers promised their hearers freedom from the restraints of Christianity.

These words sound as if they came out of our society today. We are told to throw off the restraints of traditional religion and morality and be free. We are advised to develop the whole person by doing what feels good. The humanistic message of "Do your own thing" did not bring happiness in Peter’s day, and it will not in ours.

they themselves are the servants of corruption: "Servants" means "one who gives himself up wholly to another’s will" (Thayer 158-1-1401). "Corruption" means "moral decay" (Thayer 6533-1-5356). The false teachers had given themselves totally to Satan--their only desire was to partake of every sensuous desire of the flesh.

The irony is that the false teachers promised "liberty" while they were leading their followers directly into the "bondage" of sin. Throughout scripture, sin is spoken of as a bondage, certainly not a liberty. James speaks of the law of Christ as the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25), that is it would liberate men from the bondage of sin. Paul speaks of those who had been transformed from the bondage of sin.

Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?

But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.

Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness (Romans 6:16-18).

for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage: These false teachers have given themselves over to the will of Satan; they are morally decadent. They do not really have liberty, and they cannot bring liberty to others. They are under the heaviest bondage of all--the bondage of Satan.

Verse 20

For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.

For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world: "Pollutions" means "that which defiles" (Thayer 414-1-3393). The people to whom Peter writes have come out of their sinful lives.

through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: This word "knowledge" is epignosis, the highest form of knowledge. Some authorities who have commented on these verses have tried to harmonize the teaching here with the doctrine of "once saved always saved," a belief that is just the opposite of what Peter is teaching here. Their argument is that some escape the world by coming to a "knowledge" of the word of God, but they never changed within, just on the outside; therefore, they never were saved in the first place.

But Peter does not teach that Calvinistic doctrine. Peter says that they escaped the world’s pollution "through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." The knowledge Peter refers to is not just a casual acquaintance; rather, it is the highest form of knowledge man can attain. Young defines it as "full knowledge" (579). The word epignosis is also used in the following passages:

For the perfecting of the saints...Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ (Ephesians 4:12-13).

It is the knowledge of the Son of God that takes man to the state of a "perfect man."

For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;

That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9-10).

It is important to note that the use of the word "knowledge" does not suggest a mere "cognitive" recognition of God; rather, it is a part of the Christian growth. It is a growing knowledge that one develops as he lives the Christian life. A mere "cognitive" knowledge does not enable one to grow in his Christian living.

Paul writes that God "will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). In that context, Paul equates "saved" with "knowledge." The way one is saved, he points out, is by coming unto the knowledge of the truth.

A word of warning is in order for those individuals who attempt to mold the Bible to fit man-made doctrines such as the doctrine of "eternal security" of saints (or once saved always saved). Toward the end of this epistle, Peter warns that men "wrest" the scriptures and teach their doctrine to others, it is a serious matter. Peter says they do so to their own destruction.

they are again entangled therein, and overcome: In this part of the verse, Peter reenforces that one who has obeyed the gospel can once again become involved with the world. The scriptures teach that Christians are tempted--even Jesus Himself was tempted--and in temptation we have the choice of whether to withstand Satan or give in to his temptations. If we give in, it is a result of yielding to temptation and thereby sinning. Sin enslaves a person. One who lives in sin becomes a "servant of sin" (Romans 6:16).

Peter was a fisherman by trade, and it is not uncommon to see him use analogies that go with his trade. Here he uses "entangled," which brings to mind fish that are entangled in a net. In the same way, people can become entangled in sin by not heeding the Lord’s way; thus, they slip into sin and neglect the salvation extended to them. Even though these false teachers boasted of their freedom, they were not free at all.

Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him? (Hebrews 2:1-3)

In this passage, the writer emphasizes the same point that Peter does in his epistle: all Christians must be diligent in avoiding the snares of Satan and in overcoming sin.

the latter end is worse with them than the beginning: The words "latter end" are primarily a comparison between "the beginning" (the time when the person was not a Christian) and the "latter end" (the time after he had left the Lord). It is speculation to say why the person is worse off than before. Some believe he is worse than before because after having known the truth and departing from it, he will always have the mental anguish of realizing he at one time was spiritually healthy but now is spiritually dead.

It is common for those who leave the truth and return to the evils of the world to become more involved in sin than they were before.

Woods offers this explanation:

Their last state was worse than the first because (1) apostates are usually more abandoned in sin than those who have never known righteousness; (2) their guilt, and consequently, their punishment, would be greater because of their opportunities; and (3) those once enlightened, but who turned back to the world, are often more difficult to influence for good than alien sinners (Questions and Answers, Vol. II 197).

The New Century Version renders this verse as follows:

They were made free from the evil in the world by knowing our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, But if they return to evil things and those things control them, then it is worse for them than it was before.

When children of God fall away it is not uncommon to see them in the gutter or pig pen as the prodigal son found himself in Luke 15.

Verse 21

For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.

Zerr says, "The reason a backslider is in a worse state than the alien sinner, is that his heart has been hardened by the experience and will be less favorable to the truth" (Vol. VI 276).

Peter makes a contrast between those who never knew the way and those who knew the right way but left it and went back into sin. He says a person would be better off never to know the way than to know it and turn from it.

The "holy commandment" was the moral law which Jesus taught, and which these teachers disregarded. It would have been better for them never to have known the right way in view of their subsequent apostasy, for (a) in this event they would not have brought reproach on the cause of Christ; (b) they would not have fallen to such a level of depravity as that which now characterized them; (c) they would not suffer as great punishment in the last day, since with increased knowledge comes an increase of responsibility and consequently greater condemnation for those who do not avail themselves of the advantages afforded them (Luke 12:47-48) (Woods 179).

Rather than giving in to Satan, the scriptures encourage us "...be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Revelation 2:10).

Verse 22

But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.

Solomon wrote this proverb to which Peter refers about a dog returning to his vomit again (Proverbs 26:11). The proverb about the sow that was washed returning to her wallowing in the mire does not appear in the scriptures. The lesson to be learned from these two illustrations is identical.

It is very likely that Peter learned his analogies of dogs and pigs from Jesus. Jesus used the "dogs" and "swine" in his teachings, too. "Give not your pearls before the swine, lest they trample them under their feet and turn again and rend you" (Matthew 7:6). In Luke 15:15-16, when Jesus gave the parable of the prodigal son, he taught that the rebellious son reached the low level of feeding swine before he came to himself.

Peter’s message is abundantly clear. A person who has been faithful to God can (if he so chooses) return to the sinful ways of the world; however, the end will be worse than the beginning. These last three verses destroy the teaching of "once in grace, always in grace" or "once saved, always saved." There is no logical way to harmonize "eternal security" of the Calvinist with these verses.

The conclusion is evident. A child of God who sins and refuses to correct it is compared to a dog who vomits and then returns to eat the vomit. He is also compared to a pig who is washed but returns to the mud hole and wallows in the mire. It is disgusting to God the Father for His children to come in contact with the precious blood of Jesus and then return to the ways of the world. Woe be to that person who like Demas "hath forsaken me, having loved this present world" (2 Timothy 4:10).

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on 2 Peter 2". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/2-peter-2.html. 1993-2022.
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