Tuesday, May 30th, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Dr. Constable's Expository Notes Constable's Expository Notes
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Peter 2". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ dcc/ 2-peter-2.html. 2012.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Peter 2". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
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IV. THE DANGER TO THE CHRISTIAN CH. 2
Peter next warned his readers of the false teachers who presented a message contradictory to that of the apostles to help them avoid their influence. In chapter 1 Peter stressed the importance of building oneself up spiritually. In chapter 2 he described the reason it is important to be strong. He began by describing the characteristics of false teachers, then the consequences of their teaching, then their conduct, and finally their condemnation. The connecting link with the end of chapter 1 is the reference to the Old Testament prophets.
"Only Christ’s withering woes on hypocritical leaders in Matthew 23 and the parallel picture in the Epistle of Jude convey the same severe denunciation of false teachers contained in this chapter." [Note: D. Edmond Hiebert, "A Portrayal of False Teachers: An Exposition of 2 Peter 2:1-3," Bibliotheca Sacra 141:563 (July-September 1984):255.]
This whole chapter gives evidence of being written out of great emotional concern. Peter did not discuss his subject of false teachers in a cool, dispassionate fashion. He kept returning to previous thoughts and adding additional information. Some of his sentences are quite long and involved. His thoughts seem to have been rushing ahead of his ability to state them.
"The people" in view are God’s people in Old Testament times, the times to which Peter had just been referring (2 Peter 1:19-21). False prophets in Old Testament times sought to lead God’s people away from the revelations of the true prophets (cf. Numbers 22-24; Jeremiah 6:13; Ezekiel 13:9). False teachers in Peter’s time would try to lead God’s people away from the teaching of the apostles. These men-they were typically males in Peter’s day-would arise from the believers (cf. Jeremiah 5:31; Jeremiah 23:9-18; Acts 20:29). The term "false prophets" (Gr. pseudoprophetai) may refer to those who falsely claim to be prophets of God and or those who prophesy falsely. Likewise "false teachers" (Gr. pseudodidaskaloi) can refer to those who claim to be teachers of God’s truth but whom the churches’ leaders do not recognize as teachers and or those who teach falsehood. This is the only place that this Greek word for false teachers occurs in the New Testament.
Peter’s contrast between false prophets in Israel and false teachers in the church may suggest that teachers in the church had replaced prophets in Israel. However other references to prophets and teachers in the New Testament indicate that both were present in the church, and both were present in Israel. The contrast intended, therefore, must not be between former prophets and present teachers but between the true communicators of God’s Word and the false. In Israel prophets were the more prominent communicators of God’s truth whereas in the church teachers were. In Peter’s audience Jewish rabbis and other teachers who professed to communicate God’s truth posed the greatest threat to the Christians. By comparing false teachers in the church with false prophets in Israel Peter was saying that just as there were those who misrepresented God in Israel so there would be those who misrepresent Him in the church.
"Secretly introduce" literally means to bring in alongside. The heretics would seek to add some other teaching to the orthodox faith and or some other teaching as a substitute for the truth (cf. Galatians 2:4). The implication is that they would seek to do this in some underhanded way. They would unobtrusively change the doctrinal foundation of the church and thereby make it unstable. "Heresies" refers to ideas inconsistent with the revealed truth of God.
These men would go as far as even repeatedly or typically denying (present participle in Greek) teaching and practices associated with Christ. The inconsistency of their position is that they deny the Person they profess to submit to as Christians, their Master (Gr. despoten) Jesus Christ. Peter himself had denied Jesus three times, so he did not want others to follow his example.
When Jesus Christ died, He paid the penalty for everyone’s sins and redeemed (purchased, Gr. agorasanta) every human being in this sense, even unbelievers (John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:4-6; 1 Timothy 4:10; Acts 17:30; Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2). This verse supports the doctrine of unlimited atonement, the view that Jesus Christ died for everyone, not just for those whom He would later save. One limited atonement advocate believed that the whole case for unlimited atonement hangs on this verse. [Note: Gary D. Long, Definite Atonement, p. 68. For an analysis of Long’s arguments, see Andrew D. Chang, "2 Peter 2:1 and the Extent of the Atonement," Bibliotheca Sacra 142:565 (January-March 1985):52-63.] This is an over-simplification. Another writer said, ". . . no assertion of universal redemption can be plainer than this." [Note: Henry Alford, Alford’s Greek Testament, 4:402.]
Peter was not claiming that all the false teachers were Christians. In view of how he described them, most of them appear to have been unbelievers (cf. 2 Peter 2:4-6). However some of them could have been believers. Peter could have made it clear if he had in mind either unbelievers or believers exclusively, but he did not. Therefore the warning concerns any false teacher, unbeliever or believer. Of course, frequently only the teacher himself knows whether he is an unbeliever or a believer; others cannot tell.
". . . New Testament writers sometimes use the language of Christian conversion for such people [non-Christians] on the basis of their appearance." [Note: Moo, p. 154.]
The destruction of these heretics will be swift in the sense that when their judgment descends it will be sudden, not that it was about to descend shortly after Peter wrote. They were saying that the Lord was slow in coming to exercise judgment (2 Peter 3:9). Yet their own judgment was imminent (Gr. taxinen). Their spiritual rather than their physical destruction seems to be in view primarily. In the case of Christian false teachers who departed from the truth they previously embraced, they too brought sudden spiritual ruin on themselves. This ruin would come on them at Jesus Christ’s judgment seat (2 Corinthians 5:10) if not sooner.
"Ironically, the false teachers incur judgment by teaching that there will be no future judgment and thereby leading themselves and others into immorality." [Note: Bauckham, p. 241.]
". . . ’destruction’ for leading others to ’destruction’ is inevitable." [Note: Moo, p. 93.]
"False teachers are better known for what they deny than for what they affirm." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:447.]
A. The Characteristics of False Teachers 2:1-3
Reckless and hardened immorality would accompany their doctrinal error.
"Clearly they permitted and defended immorality in a very broad sense." [Note: Bigg, p. 273.]
When people abandon God’s standard of truth they usually adopt a lower standard of morality. Since sensuality appeals to the flesh, many people follow the example of heretics believing that they are correct in doing so because of the rationalizations of their teachers.
"No doctrine, however senseless and monstrous, which under the guise of a religious faith ministers to the sensual appetites of men, will ever want followers." [Note: Lillie, p. 442.]
This "religion" brings great dishonor on the church because unbelievers identify the immoral as professing Christians and judge their behavior as hypocritical.
False teachers typically desire to satisfy themselves rather than God. This leads them to take advantage of their audiences.
". . . Peter pointed out that the false teachers used ’feigned words.’ The Greek word is plastos, from which we get our English word plastic. Plastic words! Words that can be twisted to mean anything you want them to mean! The false teachers use our vocabulary, but they do not use our dictionary. They talk about ’salvation,’ ’inspiration,’ and the great words of the Christian faith, but they do not mean what we mean. Immature and untaught believers hear these preachers or read their books and think that these men are sound in the faith, but they are not." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:447.]
"There are also plastic preachers who can be molded and shaped by the people that they serve." [Note: McGee, 5:732.]
Peter personified their "judgment" and "destruction." His point was that God is never late or asleep in executing justice, though He is patient (cf. 2 Peter 3:9).
"We can argue that the danger of false teaching is greater in our day than it has ever been. Why? Because we live in an era that is deeply suspicious of absolute truth." [Note: Moo, p. 97.]
We could translate the "ifs" in 2 Peter 2:4; 2 Peter 2:6-7 "since." Each one is a first class condition in Greek. A first class condition assumes for the sake of the argument that what the writer wrote is true. In this case each statement describes a situation that is indeed true to reality.
Angels are in many respects superior to humans, yet God judged even them for sinning by consigning them to tartarosas (hell). This is the only reference to "Tartarus" in the Bible. This term evidently originated in Greek mythology. [Note: Hiebert, Second Peter . . ., p. 97.] This is probably the same angelic rebellion to which Jude referred (Judges 6). Tartarus is evidently a holding place of darkness and bondage. [Note: Gangel, p. 870.] Another view is that the reference to Tartarus is metaphorical and indicates a limitation on the sphere of influence that God imposed on these angels who fell rather than a literal place where they currently reside. [Note: Moo, pp. 102-3.] God will send these angels from Tartarus to the lake of fire, their terminal place of punishment, after He judges them finally (cf. Matthew 25:41). These angels appear to be those that rebelled with Satan. However since they are in bondage now they are evidently not the demons that assist Satan in his work on earth now. "Fetters" (Gr. seirais) has slightly better textual support than "pits" (Gr. Seirois; cf. Judges 6). We should probably not equate these angels with the "sons of God" that Moses wrote about in Genesis 6:1-4. [Note: See my comments on 1 Peter 3:19-20.]
B. The Consequences of False Teaching 2:4-10a
Peter next described the consequences that follow false teaching to help his readers see the importance of avoiding it.
"Verses 4-10a form one long, complex conditional sentence; 2 Peter 2:4-8 form the conditional statement, and 2 Peter 2:9-10 a the conclusion. This long sentence skillfully combines the different aspects involved in God’s judicial dealings with mankind." [Note: Hiebert, Second Peter . . ., p. 95.]
"Now Peter will give us three examples of apostates in the past. His first example is of the angels who sinned (2 Peter 2:4), and it is an example of how the Devil works. His second example is that of the world of Noah’s day (2 Peter 2:5), and it is the example of the world. The third example (2 Peter 2:6) is the turning of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, and that is the example of the flesh." [Note: McGee, 5:734.]
Peter’s second example was the sinners in Noah’s day. God did not spare the sinners in the ancient world of Noah’s day either. Consequently there is no basis for supposing that He will spare any sinner in the world today. Both types of sinners are ungodly. Peter called Noah a herald of righteousness here (cf. 1 Peter 3:19). By his words and deeds, Noah proclaimed righteousness to his ungodly neighbors. By referring to seven others whom God saved with Noah (i.e., his family members), Peter was probably hinting that he was the beginning of a new creation.
"The reason for this stress is perhaps to be found in the eschatological symbolism of the number eight, which represented an eighth day of new creation, following the seven days of the old creation’s history (cf 2 Enoch 33:1-2; Barn. 15:9). Early Christians associated this symbolism with Sunday, the ’eighth day’ (Barn. 15:9: Justin, Dial. 24. 1: 41.4; 138.1). Sunday was the eighth day because it was the day of Christ’s resurrection in which the new creation was begun . . .
"Noah, preserved from the old world to be the beginning of the new world after the Flood, is a type of faithful Christians who will be preserved from the present world to inherit the new world after the judgment." [Note: Bauckham, p. 250.]
Many Bible students believe that the pattern of Noah’s deliverance before the Flood prefigures the pretribulation rapture of Christians. While it does, Peter did not make this comparison.
Peter’s third example was the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. God already demonstrated that He would judge ungodly sinners with fire when he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. The ungodly from then on should not expect to escape the same fate. They too will be subject to fiery judgment. God delivered Lot and his family before He brought fiery judgment on his world (cf. the pretribulation rapture; 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10).
"Undoubtedly the author sees the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire as a pattern for the fiery judgment of the ungodly at the Parousia (2 Peter 3:7)." [Note: Ibid., p. 252.]
"It has well been said that if God spares today’s cities from judgment, He will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:451.]
All three of Peter’s examples (2 Peter 2:4-6) deal with unbelievers. These were the primary focus of Peter’s warning. If there were some believers among the false teachers, Peter undoubtedly intended that they should take these warnings to heart even though they would not suffer the same eternal judgment as unbelievers.
The reminder of Lot shows that God will not only punish the wicked but He will also extricate the righteous from the judgment He will send on the ungodly that surround them. This example, as well as the example of Noah (2 Peter 2:5), assured Peter’s faithful readers that God would not lose them in the mass of sinners whom He would judge. The destruction of Jerusalem was going to destroy the unbelieving Jews living there in A.D. 70. [Note: See J. Dwight Pentecost, "The Apostles’ Use of Jesus’ Predictions of Judgment on Jerusalem in A.D. 70," in Integrity of Heart, Skillfulness of Hands, p. 142.] However the primary warning deals with eschatological deliverance and punishment at the return of Christ. [Note: Bauckham, p. 254.] Another view is that the trials in view are all those challenges to faith that Christians experience in this world. [Note: Moo, p. 106.]
Of course, many righteous people have died along with the ungodly in what have appeared to be God’s judgments. One example of this is the faithful remnant in Israel who died in the wars that resulted in Israel’s and Judah’s captivities. Note that Peter said God is able to deliver the righteous. He did not say that He would do so in every case. This is still a ground for comfort in that if the will of God is such, the righteous will not suffer with the wicked. In the end God will separate these two groups eternally, and no righteous person will suffer eternal judgment (cf. Matthew 13:30).
Had Peter not told us Lot was a righteous man we might have concluded otherwise. Lot’s righteousness strengthens Peter’s illustration.
"’Righteous’ is a relative term; and in this case we must look at Lot both in comparison with the defective morality of the age and also with the licentiousness of those with whom he is here contrasted. Moreover, in the midst of this corruption he preserves some of the brighter features of his purer nomad life." [Note: Alfred Plummer, "The Second Epistle General of Peter," in Ellicott’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, 8:453.]
We cannot always tell who the righteous are, but God knows (cf. Matthew 13:24-30). How a person behaves may be misleading. Not only may some unbelievers appear to be saints, but some believers, such as Lot, appear to be unsaved. If every genuine believer gives evidence of his salvation by his good works, as some interpreters assert, then Lot was the exception to the rule. It seems more likely that Lot was what the New Testament calls a carnal believer.
"It is possible for a Christian to live close to sin, but he may barely escape with his life." [Note: Barbieri, p. 111.]
"Daring" means bold to the point of being presumptuous, and "self-willed" is arrogant.
"They are concerned about doing their own thing as opposed to doing God’s will. Their theme song is ’I Did It My Way!’" [Note: Cedar, p. 222.]
"Angelic majesties" is literally "glories" (Gr. doxas) and probably refers to evil angels. Another less probable view is that they describe angels who are more morally excellent than the false teachers.
C. The Conduct of False Teachers 2:10b-19
Peter next emphasized the conduct of false teachers to motivate his readers to turn away from them.
This behavior of the false teachers is totally inappropriate, as is clear from the conduct of beings who are of a higher order than humans. Good angels do not slander evil angels (the "angelic majesties" of 2 Peter 2:10) in the heavenly courts (cf. Judges 9).
Rather than behaving as good angels do, the false teachers would act like animals. They would follow their lower instincts, their natural desires, instead of their reasons. Animals live mainly by instinct. Peter believed the false teachers deserved treatment similar to animals therefore. The last clause involves a play on words in Greek. The idea is that they will perish as beasts, like so much meat (cf. Judges 10). Peter did not mean they would escape eternal condemnation.
"As animals are trapped through their eagerness to satisfy their appetite, so self-indulgence betrays these men to their ruin." [Note: W. H. Bennett, "The General Epistles, James, Peter, John, and Jude," in The Century Bible: A Modern Commentary, p. 274.]
God will give them punishment in keeping with their crimes (Romans 6:23; Galatians 6:7). Rather than concealing their carousing under the cover of darkness, they shamelessly practice immorality in broad daylight. The pagans did this in their worship of false gods. Pagan worship often involved "sacred" prostitution. These practices were similar to stains on the clean fabric of the church, blemishes on its countenance, since the practitioners claimed to be Christians (cf. Ephesians 5:27). The faithful Christians did not carouse. The false teachers did the carousing, but they did it as part of the Christian community. Peter could say they reveled in their deceptions since they practiced immoral reveling while claiming to be followers of Christ.
"Like the blemishes on an animal not fit for sacrifice (Leviticus 1:3) or on a man not fit for priestly service (Leviticus 21:21), these immoral people were frustrating the church’s aim of holiness and could make the church unfit to be presented as a sacrifice to God." [Note: Bauckham, pp. 265-66.]
The person who has eyes full of adultery is one who thinks only of fornication when he or she sees members of the opposite sex. The false teachers sinned without restraint (cf. Matthew 5:28). Furthermore they lured people not firmly committed to Jesus Christ to join them, as a fisherman lures his prey. They had considerable experience practicing greed and were experts in it. They behaved like children, undisciplined and self-centered, and were under God’s judgment.
The false prophet Balaam counseled Balak, the king of Moab, to invite the Israelites to participate with his people in a feast to honor Moab’s gods (Numbers 31:16). The best textual evidence suggests that Peter wrote, "Balaam the son of Bosor," Bosor being a play on the Hebrew word basar, "flesh." Thus Peter indicated Balaam’s immoral character by calling him the "son of flesh." [Note: Ibid., pp. 267-68.] The Moabite worship included sacred prostitution (cf. Numbers 25:1-3). Balaam is "the classic example of the false teacher who leads people astray for his own personal gain." [Note: David H. Wheaton, "2 Peter," in The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 1256. Cf. McGee, 5:740; and Charles H. Savelle, "Canonical and Extra canonical Portraits of Balaam," Bibliotheca Sacra 166:664 (Octover-December 2009):387-404.]
The false teachers Peter referred to were also trying to get the Christians to participate in idolatry and immoral practices. They urged the faithful to wander from the narrow path of righteousness back onto the broad way that leads to destruction (cf. Isaiah 53:6; Revelation 2:14). Balaam’s motive was greed, as was the false teachers’. By advocating unrighteousness they gained followers and profited personally.
Whenever a person rejects God’s Word and will, he or she begins to act irrationally because God’s Word reveals true reality. Finally right becomes wrong, and wrong becomes right for him or her. That is what happened to Balaam. He became so insensitive that God had to use a dumb animal to rebuke him. The ancients regarded animals as mute (dumb) because they did not speak human language. [Note: Bauckham, p. 268.] That donkey, a proverbially obstinate animal, was wiser than Balaam (cf. Judges 11).
"It is sufficient to say to one who believes at all in miracles, that it was no more difficult for God to utter thought through the mouth of the ass in the words of men, than to stop men, as he once did, from talking in a given language and cause them to talk in another." [Note: Nathaniel M. Williams, "Commentary on the Epistles of Peter," in An American Commentary on the New Testament, p. 102.]
Like the springs and mists Peter described, the false teachers failed to deliver what they promised.
"Heterodoxy is all very novel in the classroom; it is extremely unsatisfying in the parish." [Note: Green, p. 114.]
These teachers were hypocrites (cf. Judges 12). They would spend eternity in the darkness that symbolizes separation from Him who is light (cf. Matthew 25:30; 1 John 1:6; Judges 13) because they turned from the light of God (1 John 1:5). Elsewhere another figure of the final destiny of the lost is the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14-15). Since fire gives light we should probably understand both figures, darkness and fire, to represent two aspects of eternal judgment, namely, separation from God and torment. The figures do not contradict each other if understood this way.
The false teachers appealed to their audiences with boastful (lit. swollen) words, promising more than they could deliver, with vain words empty of anything to back them up. Their appeal was to "the lustful desires of sinful human nature" (NIV).
"Grandiose sophistry is the hook, filthy lust is the bait, with which these men catch those whom the Lord had delivered or was delivering." [Note: Bigg, p. 285.]
Furthermore they appealed to people who were only just escaping from those who live in error. This group probably includes new Christians and or older carnal ones who were still in the process of making a final break with their pagan past. [Note: Kelly, p. 345; Hiebert, Second Peter . . ., p. 126.]
"The average person does not know how to listen to and analyze the kind of propaganda that pours out of the mouths and printing presses of the apostates. Many people cannot tell the difference between a religious huckster and a sincere servant of Jesus Christ." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:458.]
By promising freedom from eschatological judgment to their hearers while they themselves were the slaves of corruption, the false teachers were ". . . like a 300-pound man selling diet books." [Note: Gangel, p. 873.] Slavery, after all, occurs whenever one is under the control of some influence, not just some other person.
"The false teachers reveal the futility of their promise of freedom from moral requirements by living lives enslaved to immorality themselves." [Note: Moo, p. 144.]
"Seneca [the Greek Stoic philosopher] said, ’To be enslaved to oneself is the heaviest of all servitudes.’" [Note: William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, p. 396.]
"Just as a gifted musician finds freedom and fulfillment putting himself or herself under the discipline of a great artist, or an athlete under the discipline of a great coach, so the believer finds true freedom and fulfillment under the authority of Jesus Christ." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:454.]
To whom does "they" refer? Some interpreters believe the antecedent is the new Christians Peter mentioned at the end of 2 Peter 2:18. [Note: E.g., Duane A. Dunham, "An Exegetical Study of 2 Peter 2:18-22," Bibliotheca Sacra 140:557 (January-March 1983):40-54.] Others think they are the unstable, unsaved people who were listening to the gospel. [Note: Gangel, p. 874.] Most commentators have concluded, however, that "they" are the false teachers who have been the main subject of Peter’s warning throughout this chapter and in the immediately preceding verses (2 Peter 2:18-19). What Peter said of them in 2 Peter 2:20-22 seems to bear this out.
"If the allusions in 2 Peter 2:20-22 are to recent converts whom they lead astray, the description of hopelessness and ruin seems almost incredible. In the case of the teachers . . . such a description of utter ruin is entirely appropriate." [Note: Thomas, p. 273.]
How could Peter say the false teachers had escaped the defilements of the world by the "full knowledge" (Gr. epignosei) of the "Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?" One answer is that they did not. In this view Peter’s "if" introduces a hypothetical possibility that is not true to reality. However, his other uses of "if" in this chapter (2 Peter 2:4; 2 Peter 2:6-7) all introduce situations that really took place. The situation he described in 2 Peter 2:20 seems to be a real situation too.
Another answer is that Peter was referring to false teachers who were Christians. Peter’s other descriptions of the false teachers in this epistle, especially in chapter 2, seem to portray unbelievers primarily. It seems very unlikely that now, at the climax of his exhortation, he would focus on the few false teachers that might have been Christians.
I think it is more likely that the false teachers in view here, as in the rest of the chapter, were unsaved. [Note: Cf. Blum, p. 282.] They had evidently heard the gospel preached and fully understood the apostles’ teaching that Jesus Christ was both Lord and Savior, but had rejected it. They escaped the defilements of the world in the sense that they had understood the gospel, acceptance of which liberates the sinner. In other words, the gospel is the key to escape. Their escape was possible because they had heard the gospel. To illustrate, suppose I have the cure for cancer in a pill, and you have cancer. If I give you the pill, one could say you escape your disease even though you choose not to swallow the pill.
The false teachers had thrown their key to deliverance away and had thereby become entangled and overcome again by the defilements of the world (cf. 2 Peter 2:19 b). Their "first" state was eternal damnation without having heard the gospel, but their "last" worse state was eternal damnation having rejected the gospel. Greater privilege results in greater responsibility, and greater punishment if one rejects the privilege. Scripture teaches degrees of punishment as well as differences in rewards (cf. 2 Peter 2:21; Matthew 11:20-24; Luke 16:24; 2 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 6:7).
If new Christians are in view here, their earlier worldly life contrasts with their later worldly life under God’s discipline. It is their condition in this mortal life and at the judgment seat of Christ that is in view, not their eternal damnation. [Note: Dillow, p. 468.]
Those who believe that loss of salvation is what Peter was talking about in this verse and in 2 Peter 2:21-22 have to deal with an insuperable problem. The problem is that such an interpretation makes Scripture contradict Scripture (cf. John 3:16; John 5:24; John 10:28-29; et al.).
"This passage [2 Peter 2:20-22] is often quoted to prove the ’possibility of falling from grace, and from a very high degree of it too.’ But it is one of the last passages in the Bible that should be addressed to prove that doctrine. The true point of this passage is to show that the persons referred to never were changed; that whatever external reformation might have occurred, their nature remained the same; and that when they apostatized from their outward profession, they merely acted out their nature, and showed in fact there had been no real change." [Note: Albert Barnes, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, p. 1454.]
D. The Condemnation of False Teachers 2:20-22
Peter focused his discussion next on the false teachers’ final doom to warn his readers of the serious results of following their instruction.
"Them" seems to continue to refer to unsaved false teachers. This verse amplifies the last statement in 2 Peter 2:20.
It would have been better for the false teachers never to gain full knowledge of God’s commandment regarding holy behavior (the "way of righteousness") than having gained it to reject it. Turning from the light results in going into greater darkness (cf. Matthew 12:43-45). Even for a believer, more light brings more responsibility and consequently more severe judgment (cf. James 3:1). [Note: See Green, p. 120.]
"Ignorance can be a very bad thing, but disobedience is always worse." [Note: J. Nieboer, Practical Exposition of 2 Peter Verse by Verse, p. 193.]
Peter compared the false teachers to unclean dogs and swine (cf. Matthew 7:6; Proverbs 26:11). Practice betrays nature. Dogs return to corruption that comes from within them: vomit. Pigs return to filth that they find outside themselves, even though their handlers may clean them up occasionally. [Note: See McGee, 5:741-44, for his "parable of the prodigal pig."] The false teachers in view do both things.
"The sense is, not that the creature has washed itself clean in water (so apparently the R.V.), still less that it has been washed clean (as A.V.), and then returns to the mud; but that having once bathed in filth it never ceases to delight in it." [Note: Bigg, p. 287.]
"Instead of being sheep, they were pigs and dogs . . ." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:460.]
Peter’s statement about the false teachers in this verse is his most derogatory of them, and it brings his warning to avoid these heretics to its climax.
One writer argued that, "Gnosticism, in whatever stage or form, had little or nothing to do with these communities." [Note: Michael Desjardins, "The Portrayal of the Dissidents in 2 Peter and Jude: Does It Tell Us More About the ’Godly’ Than the ’Ungodly’?" Journal for the Study of the New Testament 30 (June 1987):95.] However, another scholar wrote in his excellent commentary that he saw some Gnostic influence. [Note: Kelly, pp. 338 and 349.] Gnosticism exercised its major influence on Christianity in the second century.