Warning Against False Teachers 2 Peter 2
Prediction Concerning False Teachers (vv. 1–3)
The Apostle Peter predicted that, just as false prophets arose among the people of Israel to oppose the declarations of true Old Testament prophets, so false teachers would come among the church saints to oppose the truths of Christianity. The word for “false teachers” suggests that their claim to be teachers of God’s truth is false and the content of their teaching is in error (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. II, p. 160). They try to introduce their false teaching in ways that are not legitimate or obvious to unsuspecting people (Ibid., vol. V, pp. 824–25).
Peter called the false teachings “heresies” (v. 1). The word he used referred to the teachings of a society outside of and hostile toward Christianity and the church. These teachings are so contrary to the doctrine of true Christianity that they threaten the foundation and nature of the church. If these teachings were tolerated and accepted, the church would cease being the church (Ibid., vol. 1, pp. 182–83). Thus, they are very destructive to true Christianity.
It is obvious that false teaching denies the truth concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ because its proponents deny Him, in spite of the fact that He paid the purchase price for their salvation. It is significant that Peter referred to Jesus as despotes rather than kurios in the word translated Lord. Despotes refers to an absolute ruler who possesses unlimited power, the exercise of which cannot be prevented (Ibid., vol. II, p. 44). The use of this term emphasizes the serious predicament of these false teachers. By denying the very despotes who paid for their salvation, they are bringing upon themselves His judgmental power. When that power is exercised against them, it will be swift and unpreventable. In this context, the word translated destruction refers to eternal judgment (Ibid., vol. I, p. 397). This teaching by Peter militates against the view that Christ provided salvation for a limited group of people (v. 1).
False teachers gain a large following by encouraging people to adopt their licentious sexual practices. As this immorality is brought into churches, it causes people to say abusive things about the Christian faith, which is supposed to motivate them to adopt a chaste lifestyle (v. 2).
False teachers are driven by covetous greed to get more and more material things that belong to others. They exploit people by inventing fantastic stories that prompt others to support them (Ibid., vol. IV, p. 789 and vol. VI, pp. 271–72).
The punishment of false teachers has been in the process of preparation “from ancient times,” and their eternal judgment is not inactive. “It is on its way” (William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pp. 451, 104, 549) (v. 3).
Old Testament Examples of Judgment and Deliverance (vv. 4–10a)
To emphasize God’s ability to judge false teachers in the future, Peter gave three examples of His judgment of wicked beings in Old Testament times. First, God did not spare certain angels from divine judgment. He delivered them to pits of darkness, consigning them to Tartaros, where they are being kept until their final judgment (v. 4).
Peter did not use the Greek word for Hell (Hades). Instead he used the word Tartaros. Ancient Greeks and Jewish apocalyptic literature understood Tartaros to be “a subterranean place lower than Hades where divine punishment was meted out” (Ibid., p. 813).
Peter was saying that in Old Testament times God placed angels in a temporary, dark place of judgment and is keeping them confined there until their final judgment because of some sin they committed. This cannot refer to their original rebellion against God because if it were that sin, all the fallen angels, including Satan, would have been confined in Tartaros.
Jude 6–7 reveals that this angelic sin involved four things. First, these angels left their domain to become part of a domain not intended for them. Second, they deserted their heavenly dwelling place to live in another location. Third, they entered into forbidden sexual relationships. Fourth, they went after flesh that was foreign to them.
It appears that these angels are “the sons of God” of Genesis 6 who married human women and fathered unusual children before the Noahic flood. (For an in-depth study of this issue see: Renald E. Showers, Those Invisible Spirits Called Angels, The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Inc.).
Although these angels were supernatural beings, God was able to confine them in a dark place of temporary judgment and keep them there until their final judgment in the eternal lake of fire (Mt. 25:41).
Second, God did not spare the ancient world from judgment. He brought the flood upon the world of the ungodly. But He also delivered Noah, the preacher of righteousness, and the seven members of his family from that judgment. He protected them from the flood (v. 5).
Third, God condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction, reducing them to ashes. He thereby set them as a permanent warning to future ungodly people (v. 6) [Ibid., pp. 851, 502; Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. VIII, p. 157].
God delivered righteous Lot from His judgment upon those cities. When Lot lived in Sodom before the judgment, he was continually oppressed by the unlawful, licentious sexual conduct of the men of that city (v. 7) [Arndt and Gingrich, Greek-English Lexicon, p. 417; Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. I, p. 167]. As he observed and heard those men acting as if there were no moral law, Lot tormented his righteous soul day after day (v. 8).
On the basis of the Old Testament examples in verses 4–8, Peter emphasized two truths in verse 9. First, the Lord knows how to preserve the godly from the tempting seductions to disobey Him and His moral law that the godless societies in which they live impose upon them (Ibid., vol. VI, p. 33). Noah and Lot were examples of God’s keeping His people righteous while living in a godless society. This truth should be an encouragement to saints who have false teachers imposing tempting seductions upon them.
Second, the Lord knows how to keep the unrighteous dead in their present state of punishment until the day of final judgment. The language of the latter part of verse 9 indicates that Peter had “in view the time between death and judgment. For the ungodly this time is filled with punishments. They remain in this dreadful state until the day when their fate will be finally decided” (Johannes Schneider, Ibid., vol. III, p. 816). The angels whom God keeps in Tartaros until their final judgment are examples of this truth.
This second truth should serve as a warning to false teachers. Peter asserted that the Lord especially knows how to keep in judgment false teachers who live according to the power of their defiling passion for forbidden things while continually despising God’s ruling authority (v. 10a) [Arndt and Gingrich, Greek-English Lexicon, pp. 578, 293, 461].
Description of False Teachers (vv.10b–22)
False teachers boldly presume that they can hold God’s authority in contempt. They are self-willed and unafraid to say abusive things about fallen angels who sometimes administer God’s judgments (v. 10b; cp. Jud. 9:23; 1 Sam. 16:14; Isa. 19:14).
By contrast, the holy angels, who are greater in power and ability to exercise that power than false teachers, do not bring abusive judgment against these fallen angels before the Lord (v. 11; see Jude 9) [Arndt and Gingrich, Greek-English Lexicon, pp. 384, 206, 454].
Like animals, which cannot reason, are “creatures of instinct,” and have been “born to be caught and killed “ (Ibid., pp. 40, 877), false teachers continually speak abusively about things they do not understand, act according to destructive impulses, and will be punished with eternal judgment (v. 12) [Ibid., pp. 11, 865].
Injury is continually being stored up for false teachers as the wages for their unrighteousness. They take pleasure in indulging their lustful passions even in broad daylight. They are stains and blemishes at church fellowship meals because even there they carouse in their sinful pleasures (v. 13).
False teachers constantly look for women with whom to commit sexual sin. They continually entice unstable people to become their disciples, and their hearts have been trained with an insatiable desire for more possessions. God’s curse is on them (v. 14) [Ibid., pp. 527, 29, 173, 902, 166, 673].
As a result of leaving the correct teaching of Christianity, false teachers go astray (Ibid., pp. 321, 557). They pursue the way of Balaam, who loved the wages of unrighteousness. To obtain wealth and honor from the King of Moab (Num. 22–24), Balaam taught him how to entice Israelites into false worship and immorality (Num. 24:14; 25:1; 31:16; Rev. 2:14). In like manner, false teachers entice people into false teaching and immorality to obtain wealth and a following for themselves (v. 15).
God rebuked Balaam for his evildoing and restrained his insanity by causing his donkey, which was incapable of speech, to speak to him in a loud human voice (v. 16; cp. Num. 22:22–30). This unusual incident indicates God’s strong displeasure with people who entice others into false teaching and immorality.
Just as dry springs and mists that are driven away by the wind are not able to provide the refreshment people expect, so false teachers are not able to deliver the benefits they promise. The darkness of the nether regions has been reserved for them (v. 17) [Ibid., pp. 661, 568, 248, 340).
While speaking boastful but empty claims, false teachers entice people with fleshly desires for forbidden things (“sexual excesses”)—people who barely escape from others who continually live in error (Ibid., pp. 496, 173, 293, 114, 567). In other words, they target those who have barely come out of paganism but are not yet saved (v. 18) [Kenneth O. Gangel, “2 Peter,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament edition, p. 873).
Although false teachers promise people freedom from restraints, they themselves are slaves of “religious and moral depravity,” for people are enslaved to that to which they succumb (v. 19) [Arndt and Gingrich, Greek-English Lexicon, pp. 865, 205, 350).
Verses 20–22 may refer to false teachers or to their victims. Either way, they describe people who, after being taught the truth concerning Jesus Christ, escape from the moral defilements of the world without salvation for a while, but later succumb to entanglement with those defilements again. This last state is more severe than the first state from which they escaped (v. 20) because they have thrown off the restraints of Christianity that could have held them back from an even worse life of sin (see Mt. 12:43–45).
It would have been better for these people not to have known the way of salvation than, having learned it, to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them personally to trust Jesus Christ as Savior (v. 21). Through this statement, Peter indicated that verses 20–22 refer to people who do not experience salvation. Thus, their escape from defilements after being taught Christian truth was a temporary reformation of conduct. It did not involve regeneration. There was no change in their nature. It is the same as when a dog returns to the vomit from which it was relieved and a pig returns to rolling in the mud from which it was washed. This demonstrates that the relief and washing were temporary changes of conditions. There was no change in the natures of the dog and the pig (v. 22).
The Bible teaches that churches can have people who are with but never of the regenerate and who eventually go out from the regenerate as a result of turning away from Christian truth to error (1 Jn. 2:18–19). Second Peter 2 warns individuals and churches to beware of false teachers.