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

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-22

Denial of the Knowledge of God (2:1-3:13)

Existence of False Prophets and False Teachers (2:1-22)

It is rather generally agreed that in his description of the "false teachers" (vs. 1), their "heresies" and their "licentiousness" (vs. 2) , the author is relying on and employing the little Letter of Jude (particularly vss. 4-13, 18). We shall not attempt here a detailed comparison of the two letters. But the student should notice that in general the "false teachers" are described as "denying the Master who bought them" (vs. 1; see Judges 1:4), and as indulging in unethical conduct which both authors describe as a crude "licentiousness" (vs. 2; see Judges 1:4). In both letters these undesirable teachers who have made entry into the Christian Church are characterized as arrogant "scoffers" (3:3; see Judges 1:18), and in both their "condemnation" or "destruction" is threatened (vss. 3, 17; 3:7; see Judges 1:13; Judges 1:22-23) . It should be noted, too, that many of the illustrations of rebellion against God cited by the two authors are the same, for example, the fallen angels (vs. 4; Judges 1:6) , Sodom and Gomorrah (vs. 6; Judges 1:7), and Balaam (vs. 15; Judges 1:11). Much of the phraseology employed by the authors to describe the "false teachers" is similar, if not identical; for example, they "revile the glorious ones" (vs. 10; Judges 1:8) and act like "irrational animals" (vs. 12; see Judges 1:10); they are described as "blemishes" in their "carousing" (vs. 13; Judges 1:12) and are "waterless springs and mists driven by a storm" (vs. 17; Judges 1:12), for whom "the nether gloom of darkness has been reserved" (vs. 17; Judges 1:13). This is by no means an exhaustive list of the similarities between the two letters, but it will perhaps serve to suggest the likelihood that Second Peter employs Jude’s description of these "false teachers," since that description suits his purpose.

In 2:1-3 the author is concerned to suggest that his readers should remember how at all times in the history of the people of God the true and the false are found together, and that a choice must be made by this people. Just as in the past "false prophets" were found along with those who had the prophetic word in their mouths, so now there are "false teachers" to be distinguished from the true (see Matthew 7:15-23). From the description of these false teachers, it seems clear that they were of the type loosely described as "Gnostic." Such teachers arose within both Judaism and Christianity and drew their teachings from a multitude of sources. Like the modem "theosophists," they were eclectics — that is, they selected from here and there teachings congenial to their own thinking. They were generally arrogant, holding that they alone were in possession of the "way of truth" (vs. 2), and their arrogance was usually matched with "licentiousness" or immoral living.

In verses 4-10 the author enlarges on the idea expressed in verse 3, to the effect that the "false teachers" will discover that "their condemnation has not been idle, and their destruction has not been asleep." He selects three outstanding examples from the patriarchal times in proof of his thesis — namely, "the angels when they sinned" (vs. 4; see Genesis 6:1-4); "the ancient world" at the time of the flood (vs. 5; Genesis 6:5-7); and finally, the "turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes" (vs. 6; Genesis 19:24-25). Second Peter’s argument from these three examples is that God "knows how ... to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment" (vs. 9). At the same time, he also cites the cases of Noah (vs. 5; Genesis 6:8-22; Genesis 8:20-22) and Lot (vss. 7-8; Genesis 19:15-23), to indicate that the Lord "knows how to rescue the godly from trial" (vs. 9).

The reference in verse 4 to the fallen "angels" (see Judges 1:6) arises from the fact that the Greek translation of Genesis 6:1-4, instead of "sons of God," reads "angels of God." This teaching about the fallen angels was greatly elaborated in the apocryphal book of First Enoch, with which either Jude or Second Peter or both seem to have been familiar. This book teaches that for their sin these angels were "cast . . . into hell and committed ... to pits of nether gloom to be kept until the judgment" (vs. 4; see I Enoch 10:4-13). Jude does not refer to the case of Noah, and probably Second Peter derived the reference to him, and the "seven other persons" with him, from 1 Peter 3:20. Similarly, although the example of "Sodom and Gomorrah" is found in both Second Peter and Jude (vs. 6; Judges 1:7), that of the "righteous Lot" is found nowhere else in the New Testament except in Luke 17:28-32, where Noah also is cited as an example (vss. 26-27).

The two sins which are particularly abhorrent to the author and which he sees illustrated in the examples he has cited, he now specifies as indulgence in "the lust of defiling passion" and as the tendency to "despise authority" (vs. 10). He has already spoken of these two sins, employing a slightly different terminology, in verses 1-3, and he will further develop his picture of the contemporary "false teachers" along these two lines.

Verses 10b- 18 follow very closely the text of Judges 1:8-13. Like Jude (see Judges 1:8-10), Second Peter says that the false teachers, "bold and wilful," do not hesitate to "revile the glorious ones" (vs. 10b). These false teachers are then compared with "angels" who do not indulge in such "reviling" (vs. 11), and with "irrational animals" in their "reviling in matters of which they are ignorant" (vs. 12). It is not clear to what event the author has reference here. Jude has a more specific reference to "the archangel Michael" at this point, and he says that, while "contending with the devil . . . about the body of Moses," Michael refrained from reviling the latter. Instead, the archangel merely said, "The Lord rebuke you" (Judges 1:9; see Zechariah 3:2). No such incident is recorded anywhere in Scripture, and it has been assumed by some that Jude (and, following him less precisely. Second Peter) is citing here an incident recorded in the lost apocryphal book, The Assumption of Moses. However this may be, in both letters it is the arrogance of the false teachers upon which stress is laid. They "will be destroyed . . . suffering wrong for their wrongdoing" (vss. 12-13).

The second sin of the false teachers is variously described by both Second Peter and Jude as "reveling," "carousing," "adultery," and "greed" (vss. 13-18; Judges 1:11-13). Jude actually suggests that this reveling was carried on at the "love feasts" of the Christians (Judges 1:12). And some of our best manuscripts read "their love feasts" instead of "their dissipation" (vs. 13; see margin). The difference in the Greek words involved amounts only to a change of two letters! Paul also is witness to the fact of such scandalous reveling on the occasion of the Lord’s Supper (see 1 Corinthians 11:21). It seems unbelievable that any Christians, however heretical, should have converted the most sacred of Christian rituals into a debauchery. And yet we must recall that many of these Christians, particularly those who had come out of a pagan environment, were not far removed from their former manner of living.

The example of "Balaam," to whom reference is made by both Second Peter and Jude (vss. 15-16; Judges 1:11; Numbers 22-24), and who in both letters is taken as an example of one who "loved gain from wrongdoing," is striking. This is particularly so because in Revelation 2:14 it is said that in the church at Pergamum in the Roman province of Asia a like "teaching of Balaam" was found. Second Peter follows the account in Numbers in implying that the "dumb ass" (vs. 16) had more prophetic insight than the prophet whom he bore! Like Jude, the author suggests that such teachers are merely "waterless springs," "mists driven by a storm," and that for them the same "nether gloom of darkness has been reserved" as for the fallen angels (vss. 17-18; see vs. 4 and Judges 1:12-13). We are reminded of Paul’s description of immaturity as characterized by being "tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine" (Ephesians 4:14), and of the sins of the Gentiles who "have given themselves up to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of uncleanness" (see Ephesians 4:17-24).

The general teaching of verses 19-22 is that these false teachers are men who cannot distinguish liberty from license. They have tasted somewhat of the "freedom" of the Christian faith but they have used that freedom to become "slaves of corruption" (vs. 19). This is the type of thinking and acting which in the terminology of Christian ethics is called "antinomianism," that is, the teaching that freedom from the Law means that one is now free to do as he pleases, rather than as God pleases. Paul had to write against this sort of teaching, and in Romans 6 he made Second Peter’s point that "whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved" (vs. 19; see Romans 6:16-18). According to the Fourth Gospel, Jesus had said very much the same thing (see John 8:34). It is generally believed that the "Nicolaitans" held to such antinomian teaching within the Christian Church (see Revelation 2:6; Revelation 2:14-15).

Verses 20-22 set forth the thesis that those who attain the freedom of the Christian "through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" and then turn back to the "defilements of the world" are worse off than they were before; "the last state has become worse for them than the first" (vs. 20). This teaching also has a familiar ring about it. For the sentence just quoted is almost an exact quotation of Matthew 12:45, and essentially the same teaching is also found in Hebrews 6:1-8. In verse 21 the two phrases "the way of righteousness" and "the holy commandment delivered to them," which clearly refer to the Christian gospel and its implications for ethical living, appear to be peculiar to Second Peter in the New Testament, although somewhat similar terms with essentially the same meaning are found elsewhere (see Matthew 7:13-14; John 13:34; John 15:12; compare Romans 7:12). In verse 22 the first part of the proverb ("The dog turns back to his own vomit") is probably taken from Proverbs 26:11, but the combination of the "dog" and the "sow" sounds very much like Matthew 7:6.

But if there is nothing new in the present section, it is at least informative of the hazardous state of the Church when it is surrounded by the defilements of a pagan society. The author, like the Apostle Paul, saw clearly the dire need of warning his readers that the Christian ethic follows naturally from the Christian theology. "You shall be holy, for I am holy" expresses this relationship as it is assumed throughout the totality of the Old and New Testament Scriptures (Leviticus 19:2; see 1 Peter 1:16). The teaching of this section may be conveniently summed up in the words of 1 Peter 2:16: "Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil."

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 2 Peter 2". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/2-peter-2.html.
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