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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
2 Peter 2



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Verse 1

2 Peter 2:1. But there arose also false prophets among the people. Israel is obviously meant by ‘the people’ here (comp. Romans 15:11; Jude 1:5, etc.). As in the former Epistle, therefore, so here Peter regards the N. T. Church as the Israel of God, and finds in what took place within the O. T. Israel an image of what is to take place in the N. T. Church. The ‘but’ introduces a contrast with what was stated at the close of the previous chapter. There were prophets in Israel who ‘spake from God,’ but there arose in the same Israel false prophets, and so it shall be in the N. T. Israel. The term ‘false prophet’ occurs in the O. T. (e.g. Jeremiah 6:13), but is of much commoner occurrence in the N. T. The form of the word leaves it somewhat uncertain whether it means precisely one who prophesies false things, or one who falsely pretends to be a prophet. The latter sense is preferred by some of the best interpreters. The class of false prophets is dealt with in Deuteronomy 13:1-5.

as also among you there shall be false teachers. The term ‘false teachers’ occurs nowhere else in the N. T. As in the case of the ‘false prophet,’ it is uncertain whether it has the sense of pretended teachers, or that of teachers cf. falsehood. Both amount, however, to much the same. Christ Himself foretells the rise of ‘false prophets’ (Matthew 24:24), and Paul warned the elders of Ephesus of men who should arise within the Church ‘speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them’ (Acts 20:30).

who shall privily bring in destructive heresies. The ‘who’ means here rather ‘such as,’ pointing not merely to the fact that they shall so act, but to their character as such. The verb (which occurs only here) means literally to bring in by the side. It may convey the idea of secrecy or insidiousness, which both the A. V. and the R. V. represent by ‘privily bring in.’ Compare Paul’s use of the corresponding adjective, ‘false brethren unawares brought in’ (Galatians 2:4). Jude (Jude 1:4) uses a different term to express the same idea, and speaks of the event as already accomplished (‘crept in unawares’), while Peter speaks of it as still future. The ‘damnable heresies’ of the A. V. is an unhappy rendering of the original, which means ‘heresies of destruction,’ that is, heresies which lead to destruction, or, as the R. V. gives it, ‘destructive heresies.’ It is doubtful whether the word ‘heresies’ is to be understood here in the sense now attached to it, namely, that of heterodox, self-chosen doctrines, or in the sense of party divisions. The latter is undoubtedly the regular sense of the term in the N. T.; comp. Acts 5:17; Acts 15:5; Acts 24:5; Acts 26:5; Acts 28:22 (in all which it is rendered ‘sect’ in the A. V.), and also Acts 24:14; 1 Corinthians 11:19 (where it goes with schisms), and Galatians 5:20 (where it ranks with divisions). There is nothing to necessitate a departure here from the stated use. For the idea of party divisions created by false teaching suits the context well enough. Some good interpreters (Huther, etc.), however, are of opinion that the matter in view is the opinions themselves, that this is more in keeping with the phrase ‘privily bring in,’ and that the word, therefore, in this one instance at least, approaches the modern sense.

even denying the Lord that bought them, having brought upon themselves swift destruction. The construction of these clauses is uncertain. It is possible that one or other of the participles stands instead of the finite verb, and that the whole, therefore, takes the form, ‘and shall deny the Lord that bought them, bringing on themselves,’ etc., or better, ‘and denying the Lord... shall bring upon themselves,’ etc. It is best, however, to retain all the participles as such, and we have then an intensification of the previous statement. In bringing in these heresies of destruction the false teachers will be even denying the Lord, and their doing so will mean that they have brought doom upon themselves. If Peter writes this Epistle, this reference to the denial of Christ as the climax of all possible evil in faith, becomes doubly significant. The name given to Christ here is the term Master, which is repeatedly used to designate the head of a house in his relation of authority over, or in his rights of possession in, the members of his house (comp. 1 Timothy 6:1-2; 2 Timothy 2:21; Titus 2:9; 1 Peter 2:18). Christ’s claims upon them are further described as the claims of One who had made them His own by purchase. Jude (Jude 1:4) omits this notice of the purchase. The purchase price, which is elsewhere stated to be His blood (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:23; Revelation 5:9), is left unexplained. The passage is one of several, in which Christ’s death is presented in its world-wide attitude, as the means of instituting new relations between God and all mankind. These are balanced by others which ascribe a special effect and a particular design to His death in relation to His own, who have been given Him of His Father. Both must find a place in our doctrine of His reconciling work. As to the ‘swift,’ see on chap. 2 Peter 1:14. As there, so here it means sudden—a destruction speedy, inevitable, ‘like the lightning’s stroke’ (Lillie).

Verses 1-16

The second chapter of the Epistle stands entirely by itself. It is of so peculiar a character, that some have doubted whether it belonged originally to this Epistle, or could have been written by the same hand. It abounds in uncommon or entirely exceptional phrases, and is marked by a singularly broken style. It introduces a subject, and is pervaded by a tone, which are very different from what the previous chapter presents. The subject, however, is not absolutely unconnected with what precedes. The writer’s anxiety that his readers should remain established in the truth, after his own decease, prepares the way for what he has to say about the dangers of the future. And the change in the tone is not inconsistent with the change in the theme. The colours, however, in which he gives the outline of the future are of the darkest, and the terms which he uses are of the strongest. He speaks of the rise of false teachers in the Church as a certain thing, if not indeed a thing already realized. He describes their efforts, their pretensions, their successes, their lives, their fates, in a long train of passionate utterances, which have been compared to ‘blasting volleyed thunder.’ The terrible picture of the working of this ‘mystery of iniquity’ within the Church is unrelieved, too, by any reference to the ultimate victory of the kingdom of Christ, or to the larger issues of the conflict between good and evil. The gloom of the description is mitigated only by the assurance that the Lord knows as well how to deliver the godly themselves as to bring swift and awful destruction upon their enemies and seducers. The relation in which this chapter stands to the Epistle of Jude is also a matter of some interest. The points at which the two writings meet are too numerous and too marked not to demand explanation. Some argue, accordingly, in favour of the priority of Peter; others with equal decision assert the priority of Jude. The question whether the peculiarities of the case are to be explained on the theory of Peter’s dependence on Jude, on that of Jude’s dependence on Peter, or on that of the dependence of both upon a common source, is far from being settled, if indeed it admits at all of anything like conclusive settlement. We shall find, too, that along with very striking and continuous resemblances to Jude, this chapter exhibits some remarkable variations.

Verse 2

2 Peter 2:2. And many shall follow their wantonnesses. The A. V. gives ‘pernicious ways,’ following a reading which is now given up. On the noun see on 1 Peter 4:3. The same strong term is used for following, as in chap. 2 Peter 1:16. It denotes completeness or closeness of pursuit. Here again the immoral life is represented as the natural result of the false belief. So too, and still more positively, in Jude 1:4.

by reason of whom the way of the truth shall be evil spoken of. As to the verb see on 1 Peter 4:4. Christianity is designated ‘the way of the truth’ as being a mode of life which results from, or bears the qualities of, the truth. The term ‘way’ in this particular application occurs with marked frequency in the Book of Acts (comp. Acts 9:2, Acts 16:17, Acts 18:25-26, Acts 19:9; Acts 19:23, Acts 22:4, Acts 24:14). The connection leaves it ambiguous whether the persons referred to here are the false teachers themselves, or their followers, or both together. The most natural reference on the whole would be to those who have been immediately spoken of as certain to follow these teachers. In this case the point may be, as it is understood, e.g., by Alford, that greatest injury is done to the cause of Christ among those outside by men who, while ‘seeming to be in the way of truth, yet favour and follow false teachers.’

Verse 3

2 Peter 2:3. and in covetousness by feigned speeches they will make merchandise of you. The verb rendered ‘make merchandise of’ occurs but once again in the N. T., viz. in James 4:13, where it is translated ‘buy and sell.’ In later Classical Greek, and also in the Septuagint (comp. Proverbs 3:14), it occurs with the sense of gaining over. Hence some interpreters think that here it expresses the desire of the false teachers to win adherents. The more usual sense of the verb, however, is to make gain of an object. The idea, therefore, is rather that the false teachers, known for their life of sheer covetousness, and having greed for their great motive, will use their deluded followers for purposes of gain, employing artful speeches (perhaps on the subject of Christian liberty, as some suggest) as their weapons in the base traffic with souls. The sentence thus uncovers darker deeps in the corruptness of their character and the baseness of their aims. This evil distinction appears again in 2 Peter 2:14-15. It is given in terms not less strong by Jude (Jude 1:11; Jude 1:16). Compare also the indignant declarations on a like sordid state of matters, which are made by Paul (1 Timothy 6:5; Titus 1:11). The epithet ‘feigned’ is peculiar to this passage. With these ‘made up,’ or ‘craftily constructed’ speeches, compare also the ‘good words and fair speeches’ with which Paul tells us some who caused divisions and offences deceived the hearts of the simple (Romans 16:18).

whose judgment now from of old lingereth not. Literally it runs thus: ‘for whom the sentence now from of old lingereth not.’ The sentence of a righteous Judge is represented as having been pronounced against them from of old, as on the wing now, and as certain to descend. The phrase here translated ‘from of old’ occurs only here and in 2 Peter 3:5. The verb rendered ‘lingereth’ is peculiar to this passage. Its cognate adjective, however, occurs in chap. 2 Peter 1:8; where see Note.

and their destruction slumbereth not. The verb ‘slumber’ occurs only once again, viz. in the parable of the Virgins (Matthew 25:5). Literally it means to nod. The ‘destruction’ (the ‘damnation’ of the A. V. is inexact) is represented as a living thing awake and expectant. ‘Long ago that judgment started on its destroying path, and the fate of sinning angels, and the deluge, and the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, were but incidental illustrations of its power, nor has it ever since “lingered” as if now it had no work on hand, or for a moment slumbered on the way. It advances still, strong and vigilant as when first it sprang from the bosom of God, and will not fail to reach the mark to which it was pointed “from of old” (Lillie).

Verse 4

2 Peter 2:4. For if God spared not angels when they sinned. This rendering (which is adopted by the R. V.) comes nearer the original than that of the A. V. It is not merely that those of the angels who did sin were not spared, but that even the class of angels as such were not spared when sin entered among them.

but casting them into Tartarus committed them to pits of darkness in reserve unto judgment. There is a little uncertainty here both as to the connection and as to the reading. Some good interpreters arrange the clauses thus: ‘having cast them down into hell (bound) with chains of darkness, committed them as in reserve unto judgment.’ The preferable construction, however, is the other. Ancient authorities, again, vary between two slightly different forms of the word which the A. V. renders ‘chains.’ One of these means what the A. V. makes it—‘chains,’ ropes, or cords (comp. Proverbs 5:22). This reading gives a sense in harmony with the companion statement in Jude (Jude 1:6), as also with another in the Book of Wisdom, ‘they were bound with a chain of darkness’ (Wisdom 17:27). The best manuscripts, however, support the other form, which means caves, dungeons, or, as the R. V. puts it, ‘pits.’ The term itself, in either form, occurs only this once in the N. T. The word here used for ‘darkness’ is found again only in 2 Peter 2:17 and in Jude 1:6; Jude 1:13. The verb rendered ‘cast them down to hell’ by the A. V. is also peculiar to the present passage. It is the heathen term for consigning to Tartarus; that is, the dark abyss, as deep beneath Hades as heaven is high above earth, into which Homer tells us (Iliad, viii. 13, etc.) Zeus cast Kronos and the Titans. In later mythology it denoted either the nether world generally, or that region of it to which gross offenders were condemned. Here, as the immediately following words indicate, Peter has in view neither hades, the world of the departed generally, nor Gehenna, hell in the sense of the place of final judgment, but the intermediate scene or state of penalty. As the participle is in the present tense, the appended clause should be translated not ‘to be reserved,’ but ‘being reserved’ or ‘in reserve unto judgment.’ The Vulgate and all the old English Versions go astray here.—The case of the angels is introduced as the first of three historical events to which Peter appeals in proof of the certain judgment of the false teachers. It has been supposed by many that Peter is pointing here to the sin dimly indicated in Genesis 6:1-7, the ‘sons of God’ being taken there to be a synonym for angels. Others regard him as referring to ideas on the subject of the sins and penalties of angels, which were traditional among the Jews and became embodied in such books as that of Enoch (Enoch 7:1, 2). The passage itself, however, deals chiefly with the punishment of the angels, and simply mentions the fact of their sin, without explaining its nature. Jude gives no more definite account of it than that they ‘kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation’ (2 Peter 2:6). And over the whole question of angelic sin Scripture offers little or nothing to satisfy curiosity. With Peter’s description here compare Milton’s: Jude 1:1

‘Here their prison ordained

In utter darkness, and their portion set

As far removed from God and light of heaven.

As from the centre thrice to the utmost pole.’

Paradise Lost, i. 71-74.

Verse 5

2 Peter 2:5. and spared not the old world, but preserved Noah, the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly. The second historical instance of the penal justice of God does not appear in the companion statement of Jude. On the other hand, Jude introduces as his first case another historical event to which Peter makes no reference here, namely the Divine punishment of the unbelieving Israelites who had been delivered out of Egypt. The ‘flood’ is described here by the term (= cataclysm) which is used in Matthew 24:38-39, and by the Greek Version of the O. T. (Genesis 5:17). The region of the flood is termed not only ‘the old (or, ‘ancient’) world,’ but also ‘the world of the ungodly,’ the fact that it had practically become the absolute possession of the ungodly being the reason for God’s act of judgment. Noah is designated ‘a preacher (or, ‘herald’) of righteousness,’ in explanation of his exemption. He is styled ‘the eighth person,’ or as it may be rendered (with the R. V.), ‘with seven others,’ simply in reference to the historical fact. There is nothing to suggest that Peter intended the phrase to convey any mystical meaning, as if, e.g., it served as a symbol of the completeness of the saved Church. It expresses, however, the fewness of the righteous in comparison with the world-wide multitude of the ungodly. The number of those saved from the Deluge is specified also in 1 Peter 3:20. Perhaps in mentioning this case, and the following, Peter had in mind his Lord’s own words (Luke 17:26; Luke 17:29). The verb rendered ‘saved’ by the A. V. means simply to keep, or guard, and is supposed by some to refer particularly here to the words ‘shut him in’ in the narrative of Genesis (Genesis 7:16).

Verse 6

2 Peter 2:6. and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them with an overthrow, haying made them a type of those that should live ungodly. The term used for the ‘overthrow’ (=catastrophe) which constituted the punishment in this third historical instance is the one which is employed in the narrative of the event itself in Genesis 19:29. In the N. T. it occurs only once again, and there in a figurative sense, viz. in 2 Timothy 2:14. The brief description here is remarkable for its force and vividness. The word ‘turning into ashes,’ or, ‘burning to ashes’ (which occurs only here), is itself a strong and graphic expression. The retribution, too, is exhibited in all its righteous severity as a condemnation to an absolute overthrow. The destruction of the cities of the plain is regarded by the prophets (cf. Isaiah 1:9-10; Ezekiel 16:48-56), as well as by Peter, as an illustration or typical instance of the judicial principles on which God acts. The scriptural references to these cities and their fate are uncommonly numerous.

Verse 7

2 Peter 2:7. and delivered righteous Lot, Bore distressed by the behaviour of the lawless in wantonness. Here again we have some unusual words. The verb which is rendered ‘vexed’ by the A. V., but which has the stronger sense of ‘sore distressed’ (as the R. V. puts it), or ‘worn down,’ occurs only once again, viz. in Acts 7:24, where it is translated ‘oppressed.’ The adjective which the A. V. translates ‘wicked,’ but which has the more definite sense of ‘lawless,’ occurs only once again, namely in chap. 2 Peter 3:17. As to the word ‘conversation’ or ‘behaviour,’ see on 1 Peter 1:15; and as to the term ‘wantonness,’ see above on 2 Peter 2:2. Jude omits this notice of the deliverance of Lot, which in Peter serves to throw into still stronger relief the unerring penal judgment of God, but also to prepare the way for the assertion of God’s knowledge of how to ‘deliver the godly out of temptation.’

Verse 8

2 Peter 2:8. for by sight and hearing that righteous man, dwelling among them from day to day, tortured his righteous soul with their unlawful deeds. A parenthetical explanation of how it was that Lot was ‘sore distressed.’ The Vulgate, Erasmus, etc., strangely take the ‘sight and hearing’ as definitions of the directions in which Lot was righteous. The point, however, manifestly is, that the soreness of his distress was due to the fact that, living among these wicked men, he had the protracted pain of seeing with his own eyes and hearing with his own ears day after day things against which his soul revolted. The strong term ‘tortured’ or ‘tormented’ (cf. such occurrences of the same term as Matthew 8:6; Matthew 8:29; Mark 5:7; Luke 8:28; Revelation 9:5, Revelation 11:10, Revelation 14:10, Rev. 20:20, etc.), and the repetition of the moral epithet in ‘that righteous man’ and ‘his righteous soul,’ exhibit the pain as the acute pain due to natural repulsion. Nothing is said here of the faultiness ascribed to Lot’s action by the narrative of Genesis, or of the way in which he came to live among these men. Everything is done to present a telling picture of a righteous man thrown into godless society, and not suffering the edge of his righteous feeling to become blunted by lengthened familiarity with the coarse licentiousness of neighbours who mocked at the restraints of all law, human and Divine, but undergoing daily torment from sights and sounds which he was helpless to arrest.

Verse 9

2 Peter 2:9. The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation, and to reserve the unrighteous under punishment unto the day of judgment. The knowledge which is here in view is the Divine type of knowledge, which means both the perception of the way and the possession of the ability. ‘Temptation’ is used here in the sense which it has in 1 Peter 1:6 (on which see Note), as including not only temptation in the limited sense, but all species of trial. The ‘to be punished’ which the A. V. gives (in this following the Vulgate) is an incorrect reading. The participle is present, and the idea is that the unrighteous are sustaining now a certain measure of punishment, in the state in which they are held in reserve for the final judgment of the great day. This sentence gives, in a somewhat free form, the conclusion which is expected for the series of conditional statements which began with 2 Peter 2:4. It is as if the writer had said, ‘If it has always happened, as I have stated it to have happened in these several historical instances with which all are familiar, is it not plain that the Lord will act on the same principle with these false teachers?’ But while the previous context would lead us to look simply for a statement of the penal side of God’s righteousness, Peter introduces here the other side as well. His notice of God’s righteous care for the godly, however, is only for the moment. In the next verse he takes up only the punitive principle, and proceeds to make a pointed application of that to a particular class.

2 Peter 2:10. but chiefly those who go after the flesh in the lust of pollution, and despise lordship. Dares, self-willed, they tremble not in speaking evil of dignities. The parties aimed at appear to be the false teachers. Formerly they were described as only about to arise. They are spoken of now as already existing. The change from the future to the present may be due simply to the definite realization of the future in the writer’s prophetic vision. But it is to be accounted for rather by the fact that the first movements of the evil, which was afterwards to prove so great, were already discerned within the Church. Peter, therefore, brings the general principle which he has illustrated to bear above all upon a class now under his own eye. These were the men, he means, for whom there could least be exemption from the sweep of God’s punitive judgments. He proceeds to complete his account of what these men are, adding stronger colours to the picture of their scorn of law, their hostility to Christ, their covetousness, their sensuality. The description of their immorality is made more general than in Jude (Jude 1:7) by the omission of the epithet ‘strange’ which qualifies the ‘flesh’ in the latter. The phrase ‘go after’ occurs in the literal sense in Mark 1:20, and in the metaphorical in Jude 1:7; Jeremiah 2:5. The lust of pollution (the latter word occurs only here) means the lust which pollutes. The term which the A. V. renders ‘presumptuous,’ and which occurs again only in Titus 1:7, means rather ‘daring,’ or ‘darers.’ Instead of ‘presumptuous are they, self-willed’ (which latter adjective occurs only here), therefore, we should translate either ‘self-willed darers,’ or (with R. V.) ‘daring, self-willed.’ The difficulty is in determining the sin alluded to in the two phrases ‘despise lordship’ and ‘speaking evil of dignities,’ which reappear in almost the same terms in Jude 1:8. Many interpreters, specially those of older date, have understood the offence to be that of contemptuous disregard of human authority, whether of that generally in all its forms, or of ecclesiastical rule, or of civil and political rule (Calvin, Erasmus, etc.), in particular. Recent commentators, again, have for the most part taken other than human authorities to be intended. Some, e.g., think that good angels are referred to in both the ‘lordship’ and the ‘dignities;’ others, that evil angels are denoted by both; others, that God or Christ is meant by the former, and either good angels (Ritschl) or evil angels (Wiesinger) by the latter. In the only other N. T. occurrence of this term ‘lordship’ or ‘dominion’ (Ephesians 1:21; Colossians 1:16), it is used of angels. In Jude 1:8 (the only other instance of the word in such an application) the term ‘dignities’ is put, along with the whole statement, in immediate connection with what is said of Michael. The present passage, too, leads at once to direct mention of angels. These facts give probability to the view that by both terms angelic powers, in the character of God’s agents in the authoritative administration of earthly things, are intended. All that is meant, however, may be a general mention of authority as such, and of the contempt of that, in all its forms, human, angelic, and Divine, as a characteristic mark of the class dealt with. In Romans 13:1-2, we find the word ‘power’ in an equally indefinite, though perhaps less extensive, sense.

Verse 11

2 Peter 2:11. Where angels, greater as they are in strength and power, bring not against them before the Lord a railing judgment. The phrase ‘before the Lord’ is omitted by some good authorities, and is bracketed by the most recent editors of the text. The ‘railing’ is expressed by an adjective connected with the verb, which is translated ‘speak evil of’ in 2 Peter 2:2. In Acts 6:11, 1 Timothy 1:13, 2 Timothy 3:2, it is given as ‘blasphemous’ or ‘blasphemer.’ The word rendered ‘accusation’ by the A. V. means ‘judgment,’ and is so given in all the earlier English Versions. The opening relative, which the A. V. translates ‘whereas,’ means simply ‘where,’ and may be rendered ‘in cases where,’ or ‘in matters in which.’ The verse has received very different interpretations. The good angels, e.g., are supposed to be contrasted as a class with the evil angels in point of strength, and with the false teachers in respect of reverence. Or those angels who, like Michael, are supreme among all angels are understood to be referred to, and to be contrasted either with the ‘darers’ or with the ‘dignities.’ The most reasonable explanation, however, seems to be that even angels, who so far excel men, do not presume themselves to speak in terms of railing judgment against even offenders like these ‘darers.’ The reckless, impious audacity of the latter is thus presented in the darkest possible colours by being set over against the reverent regard for authority which in all circumstances characterizes the former. The statement which is given here broadly and generally, is connected with the eminent instance of Michael in Jude. Peter’s words here may take their form from the description of the scene between Joshua, Satan, and the angel of Jehovah in Zechariah 3:2. It is not improbable, however, that for their present purpose both Peter and Jude make use of some tradition or current belief on the subject of the angels, which was familiar enough to his readers to need no explanation at the time. From the Rabbinical writings and the Apocryphal books we can gather how large a mass of popular and traditional lore grew up from an early period around many points of Old Testament doctrine.

Verse 12

2 Peter 2:12. But these, as irrational animals, by nature born for capture and destruction. The string of epithets here is somewhat difficult to represent adequately. The latter phrase runs literally ‘born natural,’ etc., and may convey the idea either that they are not born spiritual creatures, or that in point of natural constitution they are intended only ‘for capture and destruction.’ The rendering of the A. V., ‘but these as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed,’ expresses the sense sufficiently well, only that it connects the ‘natural’ with the ‘beasts,’ instead of with the ‘born.’ The order given by the best authorities is followed by the R. V., ‘but these, as creatures without reason, born mere animals to be taken and destroyed.’ These last words represent substantives in the original. Hence some take the sense to be ‘to take and destroy,’ the idea then being that the irrational creatures are made to get their own maintenance by capturing and killing other creatures. The passive sense, however, ‘to be taken and destroyed,’ is more in harmony with the context.

speaking evil in things of which they are ignorant. The ‘speaking evil,’ or ‘railing,’ refers back to the ‘railing judgment’ of the previous verse. The senseless and malignant reviling indulged in by these men in matters which they are incapable of understanding, and in which ignorance should command silence, shows how like they are to the irrational beasts. And as they resemble these in their mode of life, Peter goes on to say, they shall resemble them in their destiny.

shall in their destruction also be destroyed. Many good interpreters give the ethical meaning to the word ‘destruction’ here. In this case the sense will be, as the A. V. gives it, ‘shall utterly perish in their own corruption,’ or (as it is more fully put, e.g., by Alford), shall go on practising the corrupt life to which they have sold themselves with increasing appetite until they are themselves destroyed by it. The idea, however, is rather this: in the destruction which they bring upon others, they shall yet bring destruction upon themselves. So Humphry (Comm. on Revised Version, p. 451) makes it= while causing destruction to others, shall accomplish their own destruction; with which non-ethical sense of the verb and noun he compares (with Wordsworth) 1 Corinthians 3:17, ‘If any man destroyeth the temple of God, him shall God destroy.’

Verse 13

2 Peter 2:13. Buffering wrong as the wages of wrong-doing. The reading represented by the ‘shall receive’ of the A. V,, is displaced by another, meaning ‘suffering wrong,’ which has the support of the oldest documents, is accepted by the R. V. and the most recent critical editors, and gives us one of those ‘emphatic and vehement repetitions of words’ which are recognised as distinctive of this Epistle (see Humphry, ut sup.). It is observed that the phrase ‘wages of unrighteousness’ is peculiar to Peter (here, in 2 Peter 2:15, and in his speech in Acts 1:18).

reckoning luxurious living in the day a pleasure. It is doubtful whether the first noun here can mean altogether so much as either the ‘riot’ of the A. V. or the ‘revel’ of the R. V. It occurs once again in the N. T., viz. in Luke 7:25, where it is translated ‘live delicately.’ The cognate verb, too, is translated ‘live in pleasure’ in James 5:5. The term denotes luxurious or delicate living. The phrase ‘in the day’ is understood by some (Beza, the Dutch and Italian Versions, etc.) to mean daily. But that is erroneous. Others (the Vulgate, Schott, Huther, Calvin, Alford, etc.) take it to mean for a day, or the temporal, transient, so that the idea would be ‘reckoning the luxurious living which lasts but the little day of man’s life a pleasure.’ The best interpretation, however, makes the phrase equivalent to in the daytime (Hofmann, etc.). The sentence then exhibits these men as pressing day and night alike into the service of luxurious delights. It is also in harmony with Peter’s own statement in Acts 2:15 on the scandalous profligacy which would be implied in men becoming drunken by ‘the third hour of the day.’ Compare also Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 5:7.—The train of participles, nouns, and adjectives which begins here and goes on through the next verse may be connected either with what precedes (so Huther and the majority) or with what follows (so Hofmann, etc.). In the former case they bring out the shamelessness of the ‘unrighteousness’ or ‘wrongdoing’ for which they are to receive their wares. In the latter case they begin a new sentence which finds its verb in the ‘have forsaken’ of 2 Peter 2:15, and runs on to the end of 2 Peter 2:16. They form a ‘series, or rather torrent, of short exclamatory clauses’ (Lillie), disclosing the dark elements of the reprobate character which makes such a judgment as has been asserted inevitable.

spots and blemishes. The former term occurs again only in Ephesians 5:27, although another form of the same is found in Jude 1:12. The verb, too, occurs in the ‘spotted’ of Jude 1:23 and the ‘defile’ of James 3:6. The latter term, which means properly blame, and then blemish, occurs only here. Its verb is found in 2 Corinthians 6:3; 2 Corinthians 8:20. We have the negatives of these two terms in the description of the lamb ‘without blemish and without spot’ in 1 Peter 1:19.

sporting in their own deceits, while they feast with you. The ‘sporting,’ as the A. V. gives it, is expressed by a compound verb connected with the noun rendered ‘luxurious living’ above. It may be translated, therefore, luxuriating. There is a remarkable variation among ancient documents between two readings, differing from each other only by a single letter. One of these means ‘deceits,’ as the A. V. gives it, or ‘deceivings’ as it is put in the margin of the R. V.; the other means ‘love-feasts,’ as it is given in the text of the R. V. In the latter case it is meant that these men pervert to their own advantage and enjoyment even the social meals, the agapa or ‘loves,’ as they came to be called, which were the expression of Christian brotherhood. That abuses crept into this institution at a very early period, simple as in all probability it was, appears from 1 Corinthians 11:2. In the former case (and the balance on the whole is on that side) the idea is that they luxuriate in deceits by which they seek their base ends, for this purpose taking advantage even of opportunities unsuspectingly offered them of social intercourse and entertainment with the Christian brotherhood.

Verse 14

2 Peter 2:14. having eyes full of an adulteress. The noun rendered ‘adultery’ both by the A. V. and by the R. V. means really an adulteress. The phrase ‘full of’ also means, at least occasionally in the Classics, ‘engrossed by.’ Thus the sense may be either having eyes for nothing else but an adulteress, or revealing in their very eyes the adulterous object of their desire. It is possible, as has been suggested, that Peter is recalling here his Lord’s words recorded in Matthew 5:28. There is no reason to suppose, however, that any particular temptress occupying a prominent position is in view. The phrase is simply a bold method of expressing the sensual passion of the men,—men whose eyes burned with impure fires, whose adulterous lust gleamed in their eyes.

and that cannot be made to cease from sin. So it may be rendered rather than simply ‘unsatisfied with sin,’ or ‘that cannot cease from sin.’ The clause adds the strokes of restlessness and persistence to the picture of their sensual profligacy.

enticing unstable souls. The verb occurs again in 2 Peter 2:18 and in James 1:14, and is a more picturesque term than the ‘beguiling’ of the A. V. It means to allure by holding out a bait to one.

having a heart exercised in covetous-ness. The N. T. more than once brings greed and sensuality into very intimate connection (1 Thessalonians 4:6; 1 Corinthians 5:11; Ephesians 5:3; Ephesians 5:5), and hence some eminent interpreters (Calvin, Plumptre, etc.) suppose that the sin of impurity is meant here. But as covetousness has already been introduced in 2 Peter 2:3 as a prominent characteristic of these men, there is no reason for departing from the ordinary sense of the word here. Three great vices, therefore, which go naturally together, being only so many types of the same selfishness, viz. luxuriousness, sensuality, avarice, are ascribed to them here.—children of a curse; that is to say, men who are devoted to the curse, who are of the quality or character so described. On this formula see note on 1 Peter 1:14; comp. also John 17:12; Ephesians 2:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:3. The description given in this verse as a whole does not meet us again in Jude.

Verse 15

2 Peter 2:15. forsaking the straight way they went astray, having followed the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness (or, wrong-doing). The strong verb for a following which amounts to close pursuit or imitation is used here again, as in chap. 2 Peter 1:16, 2 Peter 2:2. The form Bosor, for the Beor of the Old Testament, is explained as due to the peculiarity of the Galilean pronunciation. Peter’s own Galilean speech ‘bewrayed’ him (Matthew 26:73). On the phrase ‘loved the wages of unrighteousness’ see on 2 Peter 2:13. Some good documents exhibit a different reading here, which connects this clause not with Balaam, but with these men, viz., ‘following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, they loved the wages of unrighteousness.’ It is to be observed, too, that in Acts 13:10 Peter is represented as using the phrase ‘right ways,’ or ‘straight ways,’ in his denunciation of Elymas the sorcerer. The word ‘way,’ too, meets us very often in the O. T. story of Balaam (Numbers 22). It is supposed by some that reference is made here to Balaam’s counsel in the matter of tempting Israel to sensuality (Numbers 31:16). The definition given, however, in the last clause points rather to covetousness as the character in which Balaam is brought in. The lust of gain which Balaam formally denied was, as the tenor of the O. T. narrative clearly shows, the thing that shaped his action. The fact that in Revelation 2:14-15 the Nicolaitans are mentioned in connection with Balaam, leads some to the conclusion that Peter also had that party in his view here. Jude makes use of the cases of Cain and Korah as well as that of Balaam.

Verse 16

2 Peter 2:16. but he was rebuked for his transgression. The phrase means literally, ‘but he had a rebuke for his transgression.’ The word used here for ‘his’ may mean ‘his own,’ and hence some suppose that it is emphatic here, the point being that he who was a prophet to others had himself to be rebuked for a trespass of his own. It is precarious, however, to assert such force for the word in the N. T. The transgression referred to is Balaam’s yielding to curse Israel for the sake of gain, under the proviso that God’s permission should not be withheld.

the dumb ass, speaking with man’s voice, stayed the madness of the prophet. The ass is designated here, and again in Matthew 21:5, by a general term which means simply a ‘beast that bears the yoke,’ or a ‘beast of burden.’ The ‘madness’ charged against Balaam is expressed by a term which is found only here, although the cognate verb appears in the ‘as a fool’ of 2 Corinthians 11:23. The ‘forbade’ of the A. V. does not fairly represent the sense of the original. The meaning is prevented, checked, or, as the R. V. very happily gives it, ‘stayed.’ The offence was interdicted, but not left uncommitted. It has been held by not a few that Peter gives an incorrect report of the O. T. narrative, in so far as the latter represents the angel, and not the ass, as uttering the rebuke. Peter, however, does not affirm that the rebuke was spoken by the ass. What he states is simply -that the prophet was rebuked, and that the dumb ass, speaking with man’s voice, stayed his madness. And that the O. T. narrative represents the beast as bringing the prophet first to a stand is clear. The difficult questions about the credibility and interpretation of the story of Balaam belong, however, to the criticism and exegesis of the Old Testament. It is referred to by the writer of this Epistle as a story well known and accepted in his time, and furnishing a parallel, which all might understand and feel, to the terrible picture which he has been sketching.

Verse 17

2 Peter 2:17. These are springs without water. The noun is the same as that used of Jacob’s well in John 4:6. It means, however, a spring-well or fountain. It is possible that the figure points to the apostasy of the men ‘who bear the semblance of teachers, just as, for a little time, a place in Eastern lands where water has flowed will continue green, but disappoint the thirsty traveller who may be led by a little verdure to hope for water’ (Lumby). But it is rather in respect simply of the pretence which they make, and the deception which they practise, that they are likened to waterless springs. The force of the imagery, which has a special appropriateness in Eastern lands, will be seen by comparing those passages in which God Himself is designated a ‘fountain of living waters’ (Jeremiah 2:13), or those in which men who turn from sin are likened to a ‘spring of water, whose waters fail not’ (Isaiah 58:11); but best of all by comparing such passages as those in which the ‘mouth of the righteous’ is said to be as a ‘well of life,’ and the ‘law of the wise’ is described as ‘a fountain of life’ (Proverbs 10:11; Proverbs 13:14). See also the imagery used by Christ Himself in John 4:10; John 4:14; John 7:37.

and mists driven by a storm. The R. V. rightly follows the best critical authorities here in substituting for the ‘clouds’ of the A. V. a more expressive term (not found elsewhere in the New Testament) meaning ‘mists’ or ‘mist-clouds.’ The noun rendered ‘storm’ is the one which is applied to the ‘storm’ on the Lake in Mark 4:37; Luke 8:23 (its only other New Testament occurrences). It denotes properly a whirlwind sweeping upwards. Hence the aptness of the description ‘driven,’ not merely ‘carried’ as in the A. V. Wycliffe’s rendering is very expressive—‘mists driven with whirling winds.’ It is doubtful, however, whether this second figure is intended to convey the idea that these false teachers are wanting in consistency (Huther). The point of comparison is simply the deceptive-ness of what they offer. Like the drifting mist-clouds, presaging rain to refresh the earth and enrich the husbandman, which suddenly vanish and leave bitter disappointment to the expectant, when they are caught up by the tempest, so these teachers excite delusive hopes by lofty promises which leave nothing behind them. Compare the Old Testament figure—‘whoso boasteth himself of a false gift is like clouds and wind without rain’ (Proverbs 25:14). See also Paul’s figure in Ephesians 4:14.

for whom the blackness of darkness has been reserved. The best authorities omit the ‘for ever’ of the A. V. The phrase is the same as in Jude 1:13, and should, therefore, be rendered the ‘blackness,’ etc., not the ‘mist,’ etc. It asserts the Divine certainty, the hopelessness, the perpetuity of the doom of these apostates. Compare Jeremiah’s description of the false prophets, whose ‘way shall be unto them as slippery ways in the darkness’ (Jeremiah 23:12). For the conception of the Divine judgment, whether of the righteous or of the unrighteous, as reserved or prepared, see also Matthew 25:34; Matthew 25:41; 1 Peter 1:4, etc.

Verses 17-22

The description of the parties destined to spring up within the Church, which has been partially interrupted by the summary of Balaam’s case, is resumed in direct terms. New points are pressed with the utmost sharpness. These are the deceitfulness of what is offered by the false teachers, and their position as apostates from the truth. It is upon this last fact that the chapter concentrates its force as it nears its close. What is meant by this state of apostasy is expressed in a few bold words which are endorsed by two familiar proverbs.

Verse 18

2 Peter 2:18. for speaking great swelling things of vanity. The writer proceeds now to justify what he has just said, either as to the doom of the false teachers, or as to their character as pretenders and deceivers. The verb used for ‘speaking’ is one which occurs in the New Testament only in Acts 4:18, and in these two verses (Acts 4:16; Acts 4:18) of the present chapter. It usually expresses loud utterance, e.g. the scream of the eagle, the neighing of the horse, the speech of orators, the battle-cry of warriors, the recitative of a chorus. Hence its fitness here in reference to men who indulge in high-sounding, empty, grandiloquent statements. The phrase rendered ‘great swelling things’ is found only here and in the parallel passage in Jude. It describes what is over-large or immoderate, and is applied in the late Classics to a ponderous, verbose style. As to the ‘vanity,’ see note on 1 Peter 1:18. The noun occurs again only in Romans 8:20; Ephesians 4:17.

they entice in the lusts of the flesh by wantonnesses. The ‘lasts of the flesh’ (with which compare especially the Pauline formulae, Galatians 5:16; Ephesians 2:3) are the sphere within which they live and act. The ‘wantonnesses,’ or ‘acts of lasciviousness’ (on which see 1 Peter 4:3), are the instruments which they use within that sphere. The action ascribed to them is that of enticing as with a bait; such is the force of the verb, the use of which in the New Testament is limited to those two verses in the present chapter (14, 18) and James 1:14.

those who are just escaping from them who live in error. The A. V., following the Received Text, gives ‘those that were clean escaped.’ This reading must yield now to another which may be rendered ‘who are just escaping’ (so the R. V., etc.), or who ‘are but a little way escaped’ (Hofmann). By those ‘who live in error’ are to be understood not the false teachers themselves, but non-Christians generally. The phrase, too, best suits heath us. The guilt of those apostate teachers, therefore, is exhibited as aggravated by the fact that the persons whom they plied with the vile bait of sensual indulgence were those least fit to resist it, not men who were established in the new faith, but men who had but recently broken off from the ranks of heathenism, or who had as yet got but a few paces, as it were, in the process of separating themselves from their old pagan life. The verb used here for ‘live’ is the one which denotes the manner of life, the conduct, and is connected with the noun for ‘life’ or ‘conversation,’ which meets us most frequently in Peter (1 Peter 1:15; 1 Peter 1:18; 1 Peter 2:12; 1 Peter 3:1-2; 1 Peter 3:16’; 2 Peter 2:7; 2 Peter 3:11); occasionally in Paul (Galatians 1:13; Ephesians 4:22; 1 Timothy 4:12); and elsewhere only in Hebrews 13:7; James 3:13.

Verse 19

2 Peter 2:19. promising them liberty, they themselves being (all the while) bond-servants of corruption. The loud-sounding engagement to give ‘liberty,’—a new liberty worthy of man, would be one of the ‘great swelling things of vanity,’ one of the ‘baits’ with which they would ply the unwary. The kind of liberty to be given might be judged of, however, from the character of the pretended givers. From those who were themselves slaves of corruption what kind of liberty could come, but a liberty defiant of law, a liberty used ‘for an occasion to the flesh’ (Galatians 5:13)? It is doubtful whether even here the term rendered ‘corruption’ has the purely ethical sense of moral evil. Retaining the usual sense of’ destruction,’ we should have the idea that only a liberty which tended to destruction could come from those who were themselves bound to the service of destruction.

for of whom one has been overcome, to him has he been brought unto bondage (or, made a bond-servant). A justification of the statement that these men are themselves bond-servants of corruption, or destruction. As the phrase states a general principle, some prefer to give it the form—‘for of what one has been overcome, to that has he been made a bond-servant.’ The same principle is affirmed by Christ Himself (John 8:34), and by Paul (Romans 6:16). It is easy to see how the gospel doctrine of a new liberty through the truth (John 8:32), and especially the Pauline teaching on the ‘liberty of the children of God’ (Romans 8:21), the liberty which exists wherever the Spirit of the Lord is (2 Corinthians 3:17), the liberty ‘wherewith Christ hath made us free’ (Galatians 5:1), might be misinterpreted and turned to licence. But it may be, as Dean Plumptre suggests, that the dangerous cry for liberty, and the pretentious teaching on the subject, which are referred to in the Epistles, found their peculiar occasion in the restrictions imposed by the Convention at Jerusalem (Acts 15:29), and aimed at securing freedom not only from the things from which that Convention relieved the Gentile Christians, but also from the abstinence which was enjoined from ‘meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication,’

Verse 20

2 Peter 2:20. For if, having escaped the pollutions of the world in the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, but having been again entangled in these, they are overcome, the last things have become to them worse than the first. To whom does this description apply? Some (e.g. Bengel, Hofmann, etc.) take the persons in view to be the dupes of the false teachers. Beyond the fact, however, that the same term ‘escaped’ is used here as in 2 Peter 2:18, there is little to favour so remarkable a change from object to subject. The fake teachers themselves are still the subjects, and what is affirmed of them is a state of relapse into the ‘pollutions’ (the word is peculiar to this passage, although another form of it occurs in 2 Peter 2:10) of heathenism from which they had once separated themselves. In terms unmistakeably recalling, if not literally repeating, our Lord’s own words in Matthew 12:45, that state of relapse is declared to be worse than their original state of paganism—worse because no longer excused by ‘ignorance’ (cf. 1 Peter 1:14). The expression ‘entangled’ is a strong and significant one, being used e.g. by AEschylus of being entangled in the net of ruinous infatuation (Prom. 1079). It is in admirable harmony, therefore, with the previous ‘entice in the lusts of the flesh’ (2 Peter 2:18). The ‘knowledge’ of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ which is attributed here to these apostates is the same kind of knowledge as has been already spoken of in chap. 2 Peter 1:2-3; 2 Peter 1:8. Hence it is urged that the statement is entirely antagonistic to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, and indeed that there is, ‘perhaps, no single passage in the whole extent of New Testament teaching more crucial than this in its bearing on the Calvinistic dogma of the indefectibility of grace’ (Plumptre). The bearing of the passage, however, upon that doctrine is by no means so definite and absolute. It institutes a solemn comparison between two different conditions of the same individuals. It contrasts two different stages of impure living, and pronounces the one worse than the other. But beyond that it does not go, neither can it be regarded as of decisive importance in regard to the different views of grace advocated by different schools of theology. The whole statement is introduced simply in confirmation of what was said in the previous verse of the bondage in which those live who are overcome of sin.

Verse 21

2 Peter 2:21. For it were better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, having known it, to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. The ‘better’ here, as in 1 Peter 3:17 (see note there), means more to their advantage. The ‘way of righteousness’ is not quite the same as ‘the Gospel’ or ‘the way of salvation.’ It is a term for Christianity specifically on its ethical side, as a new moral life. Other phrases, such as ‘the way of truth,’ describe it more definitely on its doctrinal side. The ‘holy commandment’ is not to be limited either to the commandment known as the ‘new commandment’ (John 13:34), or to the Sermon on the Mount. It is the ethical requirement of the Gospel as a whole, the law of life which Christ has left. Here, too, the description moves entirely within the sphere of character, and resembles the picture given by Christ Himself of two moral states, in His parable of the unclean spirit and the seven more wicked spirits (Matthew 12:43-45).

Verse 22

2 Peter 2:22. There has happened unto them that of the true proverb. Two proverbial sayings follow. As having the same import, however, they are dealt with as if they made but one. The term is the one which is applied to the Proverbs of Solomon by the Greek Version of the Old Testament. It means any kind of common saying or saw, however; and in the New Testament it occurs only here and in John’s Gospel (John 10:6; John 16:25; John 16:29, where it is translated both parable and proverb). Instead of the simple expression ‘the true proverb,’ we have the periphrasis ‘that of the true proverb,’ or ‘the matter of the true proverb,’ as it might be rendered; a form found also in the later Classics, as well as elsewhere in the New Testament (Matthew 21:21; cf. also Matthew 8:33; Matthew 16:23; Romans 8:5). The ‘but’ which the A. V. introduces is not sufficiently supported.

A dog turning again to his own vomit. So the original gives the proverb in the abrupt form of a participle without a finite verb. The word ‘vomit’ occurs only here. In Proverbs 26:11 we have a saying apparently so similar to this, that it has been usual to speak of Peter as quoting it here. The actual terms in the original, however, differ so much as to make it more probable that he was simply repeating a well-known popular maxim.

and, A sow having washed herself, to wallowing in the mire. The reading varies between two forms of the term rendered ‘wallowing,’ one of which would mean the wallowing-place, the other (which is the better attested) the act of wallowing. The term occurs only here, and the same is the case with that for ‘mire.’ This second proverb has no definite parallel in the Old Testament, and is taken, therefore, from the mouth of the people. Compare, however, the comparison of a ‘fair woman without discretion’ to a ‘jewel of gold in a swine’s snout’ (Proverbs 11:22), and our Lord’s word, ‘neither cast ye your pearls before swine’ (Matthew 7:6). Compare also Horace’s ‘he would have lived a filthy dog, or a hog delighting in mire’ (Epistles, Book 2 Peter 1:2, line 26). The repute of the dog and the sow, not only in Judea but generally throughout the East, is well known. The former, as an unclean animal and the scavenger of Oriental towns, became a term of reproach, a name for one’s enemies (Psalms 22:16; Psalms 22:20), a figure of the profane or impure (Revelation 22:15; cf. also Matthew 15:26; Mark 7:27). The latter was forbidden to be eaten not only among the Jews, but also among the Arabs, the Phoenicians, and other Eastern nations. To the priests of Egypt, too, swine’s flesh was the most hateful of all meats. If these verses are pressed, as is often the case, into the controversy on the nature of grace as indefectible or otherwise, the two proverbs would certainly favour the Calvinistic view rather than the Arminian. For their point is, that the nature of the creatures was not changed, but that each, after a temporary separation, returned to the impurity which was according to its nature. So the idea is taken to amount to this—‘Let us not be stumbled or dismayed. “ The sure foundation of God “has not given way. These wretched men were never what they professed to be. They had, indeed, undergone a process of external reformation; but it was external merely, their heart all the while remaining unchanged, “like the washing of a swine, which you may make clean, but can never make cleanly (Lillie). But in point of fact these doctrinal questions are not fairly in view here.


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on 2 Peter 2:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". 1879-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, December 10th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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