Commentary on 2 Peter 2

Notes (NET Translation)

2:1 But false prophets arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. These false teachers will infiltrate your midst with destructive heresies, even to the point of denying the Master who bought them. As a result, they will bring swift destruction on themselves.

Peter just finished speaking about the true prophets of ancient Israel. He now uses the false prophets in ancient Israel as a type that prefigures the false teachers among his Christian audience. While this verse may imply the coming of the false teachers is a future event, subsequent passages (2:10b-22; 3:5-7, 15-16) imply that the false teachers are already present (Schreiner 327). The English word “infiltrate” implies that the heretics used stealth tactics to enter the community, but the Greek word pareisaxousin can also merely mean that they brought in or introduced false teaching (M. Green 105). While the opponents’ purpose was nefarious they appear to have sprung up from within the churches addressed and not from outside. The Greek word translated “heresies” (haireseis) simply means a school of thought or teaching (Davids 219), although Peter clearly has in mind false teaching. The plural “heresies” probably echoes traditional apocalyptic warnings instead of suggesting that multiple sects were at work in the community (Bauckham 240). These teachings are destructive in the sense that they will lead to eschatological destruction (cf. Mt 10:33). That the false teachers deny the Master who bought them implies that they were once Christians who owed Christ obedience. They deny the Master through their immoral behavior. The Greek word tachinen (“swift”) could also be translated “sudden” (Schreiner 329-330).

2:2 And many will follow their debauched lifestyles. Because of these false teachers, the way of truth will be slandered.

The term “debauched lifestyles” refers to libertine behavior (including sexual license) lacking moral restraint. This behavior caused the “way of truth” (i.e., the Christian way of life, “the right path,” 2:15; “the way of righteousness,” 2:21) to be slandered by outsiders.

The charges were slanderous (blasphemous [in some translations] means slanderous), not in that they were not true accounts of the behavior of the group in question, but in that this behavior was not the way God desired nor did it accord with the directives of “the way of truth.” But people who observed such dishonorable behavior readily believed and spread the word that this behavior was characteristic of those who followed Jesus. In a society where an honorable reputation was of the highest value and shame the worst thing that could happen to one, this was indeed a serious result. Furthermore, this reputation reflected on Jesus, who was the leader of “the way.” Apparently this has not yet become the reputation of the community that our author addresses, for he puts in the future the danger of slander spreading, but it is nevertheless a real issue for him. (Davids 223)

2:3 And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation pronounced long ago is not sitting idly by; their destruction is not asleep.

The talk of “deceptive words” turns the tables on the opponents who said the apostles taught “cleverly concocted fables” (1:16).

Peter assured his readers that the judgment would come. Probably the point is that the judgment has been planned for them for a long time (cf. Jude 4). Literally Peter said “it is not idle” (ouk argei). The false teachers should not conclude from the elapse of a long period of time that the judgment would never come (3:3-4). The next line expresses the same truth in a complementary way. The word for “destruction” (apoleia) is a common word for the consequences of the future judgment. To say that their destruction is not sleeping is to say that it will certainly come. (Schreiner 333)

2:4 For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but threw them into hell and locked them up in chains in utter darkness, to be kept until the judgment,

Verses 4-10a form an a fortiori argument. Discussion of an angelic fall prior to the flood was widespread in Jewish and Christian literature (e.g., Gen 6:1-4; 1 En 6-19, 21, 86-88; 106:13-17; Jub 4:15, 22; 5:1; CD 2:17-19; 1QapGen 2:1; T Reu 5:6-7; T Naph 3:5; 2 Bar 56:10-14; Jude 6). The angels were thrown into Tartarus (“hell”), the deepest region of the netherworld in Greek thought. The Jews borrowed the term to speak of a dark place where fallen angels were consigned. Note that Peter’s use of the term means it need not refer to the place of final punishment for it is a waiting place for the final judgment. That the angels were locked in chains implies that they will not escape future judgment (an alternate textual tradition says they were placed in dungeons but the general point is the same). “In the case of the angels, then, the punishment has two dimensions — the restriction imposed immediately as a result of their sin and the punishment they will receive on the day of the Lord’s return” (Schreiner 337).

2:5 and if he did not spare the ancient world, but did protect Noah, a herald of righteousness, along with seven others, when God brought a flood on an ungodly world,

The flood shows that God can judge the entire world and still spare the righteous. Gen 6:9 states that Noah was righteous. In non-canonical texts Noah was said to have preached righteousness to sinners (Sib. Or. 1.125-198; Jub. 7.20-39; Josephus, Ant. 1.3.1 §74; Gen. Rab. 30.7; Eccles. Rab. 9.15; Pirqe R. El. 22; b. Sanh. 108; 1 Clem. 7.6; 9.4).

2:6 and if he turned to ashes the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah when he condemned them to destruction, having appointed them to serve as an example to future generations of the ungodly,

The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is narrated in Gen 18-19. They serve as an example of future judgment.

2:7 and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man in anguish over the debauched lifestyle of lawless men, 2:8 (for while he lived among them day after day, that righteous man was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)

Once again Peter notes that judgment and salvation can go hand-in-hand. Lot was seen as righteous in Jewish literature (Wis. 10.6; 19.17; Gen. Rab. 26.5; 50.11; Num. Rab. 10.5; Philo, Moses 2.10 §§57-58; cf. 1 Clem 11:1). Yet it must be admitted that Lot had his faults (Gen 13:8-13; 19:8, 30-38). Peter’s point is not to explore the ambiguities of the life of Lot, but to show that God will spare the righteous. The torment in view is not a specific occurrence, but a continual occurrence as Lot lived in Sodom. “It was not what was happening to him that ‘tormented’ him, but his ‘living among them day after day’ led to his hearing and seeing (a term that is used only here in biblical literature) ‘lawless deeds'” (Davids 230).

2:9 – if so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from their trials, and to reserve the unrighteous for punishment at the day of judgment,

Verse 9 completes the thought begun in verse 4. The preceding examples illustrate the point made in this verse: salvation and judgment are tightly bound. The righteous will eventually be saved while the unrighteous will eventually be punished.

The dual conclusion — deliverance and punishment — is the most prominent respect in which 2 Peter diverges from Jude 6-8, where the examples are only of punishment. But the dual conclusion, and the examples on which it is based, no doubt came from the catechetical tradition which our author knew: cf. 1 Clem. 11:1, which draws a similar double moral from the case of Sodom and Lot; and Philo, Mos. 2.57, where both aspects of the Flood and of the ruin of Sodom are brought out (cf. also Sir 16:11-14). Evidently our author wished to stress the discriminating character of divine justice. The fact that the wicked go unpunished raises the double problem of God’s justice in judging the wicked and the suffering of the righteous while the wicked flourish. Second Peter’s assertion of God’s intervention in judgment aims to meet this double problem. (Bauckham 254-255)

2:10a especially those who indulge their fleshly desires and who despise authority.

At this point Peter is probably focusing on the heretics. “Fleshly desires” likely refers to desires for sexual gratification. The authority being despised is that of Christ (2:1).

2:10b Brazen and insolent, they are not afraid to insult the glorious ones,

Peter is following the thought in Jude 8. The identity of the “glorious ones” is debated. The next verse leads me to believe they are the fallen angels. But keep in the mind the main point is that the opponents are “brazen” and “insolent”.

2:11 yet even angels, who are much more powerful, do not bring a slanderous judgment against them before the Lord.

Peter follows the thought in Jude 9 but drops the reference to the apocryphal story of the archangel Michael disputing with the devil over the body of Moses.

Peter’s omission of the apocryphal tradition is due to his adaptation of Jude to serve his own ends. It need not suggest that the author does not understand his source material, that he calculates that his readers would be unfamiliar with the Michael/Moses/devil story, or that he omits the apocryphal source story “to preclude any suggestion that these works should be considered as authoritative Scripture. Perkins is likely correct that the omission of the story is “because it is not relevant to the argument of the letter.” (G. Green 272-273)

From the perspective of Roman society, the angels show a noble character in their restraint in not bringing a slanderous judgment against their opponents (G. Green 274).

2:12 But these men, like irrational animals – creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed – do not understand whom they are insulting, and consequently in their destruction they will be destroyed,

Peter continues by borrowing from Jude 10. While Jude focuses on the corrupt character of his opponents, Peter focuses on the final destiny of his opponents. The opponents are like animals in that they are irrational. Peter borrows a common axiom about animals being born to be caught and destroyed (Plutarch, Alexander 22.4.5; Pliny the Elder, Nat. 8.81.219; Juvenal, Satire 1.141; Aristotle, Hist. an. 593A, 600A; Epictetus, Disc. 4.1.29; Nicander, Theriaca 795; b. B. Mes. 85a). “The point here is not about animals, but that the common supposition about animals (which 2 Peter has taken over from Jude and adapted to make a different point) was true of these teachers, who were acting like animals driven by instinct. That is, these teachers would be destroyed in the coming judgment” (Davids 237). The phrase “in their destruction they will be destroyed” means the heretics will be destroyed like beasts are destroyed (G. Green 276; Schreiner 350).

2:13 suffering harm as the wages for their harmful ways. By considering it a pleasure to carouse in broad daylight, they are stains and blemishes, indulging in their deceitful pleasures when they feast together with you.

The word “wages” sets the stage for the allusion to Balaam, who loved the wages of unrighteousness, in verse 15. The Christian community is to be without moral spot or defect (2 Pet 3:14; Eph 5:27).

[S]ince [the opponents] were feasting with believers (a Greek term used only here and Jude 12 in the NT), they were turning the Lord’s Supper into something deceitful. They were not there celebrating in the presence of their living Lord, but rather they were there indulging their own selves, having their own agendas, for Jesus was not their Lord. Our author knows that Jesus was not their Lord since they were not apprentices to him, evident in the fact that they refused to follow his ethical instruction. (Davids 240).

2:14 Their eyes, full of adultery, never stop sinning; they entice unstable people. They have trained their hearts for greed, these cursed children!

The Greek literally says their eyes are full of “an adulterous woman”, meaning they are always looking for a woman with whom to commit adultery (Bauckham 266). The enticement of unstable people was probably done through the licentious desires of the flesh (2:18). The “unstable” are weak Christians who are not firmly established in the faith.

What characterizes the heretics is that a curse is on them. Peter is apparently thinking ahead to the Balaam story (or recalling Jude’s account of it), which includes a curse that Balaam could not pronounce (Num. 23:25-26; Deut. 23:5). But here the tables are turned as the heretics are under a curse, most likely that which is pronounced by God (Deut. 11:28-29; 28:15, 45; 29:27; Prov. 3:33; Sir. 41:9-10; Gal. 3:10, 13; Heb. 6:8; James 3:10). Those accursed are under divine judgment. The very verdict that the heretics have denied would ever be pronounced on them. The irony in this revelation is thick. This is not a simple wish on Peter’s part that the heretics be accursed, as if he were invoking a curse formula, but a recognition of their standing before God. (G. Green 283)

2:15 By forsaking the right path they have gone astray, because they followed the way of Balaam son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness, 2:16 yet was rebuked for his own transgression (a dumb donkey, speaking with a human voice, restrained the prophet’s madness).

Balaam is commonly called the son of Beor (Num 22:5; 24:3, 15; 31:8; Deut 23:5; Mic 6:5). While some manuscripts of 2 Peter attempt to harmonize this verse with other places in the Bible by replacing “Bosor” with “Beor”, the textual evidence strongly favors the reading “Bosor”. Since no other extant text identifies Balaam with Bosor it is difficult to explain why it appears in this verse. Gene L. Green believes the best suggestion is that Peter is referring to Balaam’s place of origin, not his biological father. A city called Bosor existed in the region Balaam was from (G. Green 289-290). Thomas R. Schreiner sees a play on the Hebrew word basar (“flesh”) to highlight that Balaam was a man of the flesh, not the Spirit. Bauckham adds that a similar explanation of Beor (not Bosor) was known from Jewish sources (b. Sanh. 105a).

The opponents are compared to Balaam because, like Balaam, they commit sexual immorality, are motivated by greed, and entice others (Num 22:7, 15-20; 25:1-5; 31:16; Philo, Moses 1.48 §§266-268; 1.54-55 §§295-304; Josephus, Ant. 4.6.6-9 §§126-140; Tg. Ps.-J. on Num. 24:14, 25; 31:8; Ps.-Philo, L.A.B. 18.7, 12-14; Jude 11).

The story of Balaam’s donkey can be found in Num 22:21-35 (cf. Tg. Neof. on Num 22:30; Tg. Ps.-J. on Num 22:30; Josephus, Ant. 4.6.3 §§109-110).

Some commentators remark that the donkey did not really rebuke Balaam but simply complained about his beatings. This observation fails to read the story at a deep enough level. The donkey’s complaints were a rebuke because he perceived the spiritual reality (the threat of death), while Balaam, the prophet, was oblivious to the danger. The prophet who presumably read the entrails of animals to prophesy was bested by one of his own animals, who discerned the things of God better than he. (Schreiner 354-355)

2:17 These men are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm, for whom the utter depths of darkness have been reserved.

Peter borrows from Jude 12-13 to highlight the unproductive and ineffective nature of his opponents as well as their coming judgment. A spring is a welcome sight in arid lands but a waterless spring would dash one’s initial hopes. At first glance the opponents appear to have promise but upon further inspection are found lacking. The image of mists driven by a storm may indicate that the heretics produce nothing of value and that they are destined for doom. Just as the fallen angels will not escape judgment (2:4) neither will the opponents.

2:18 For by speaking high-sounding but empty words they are able to entice, with fleshly desires and with debauchery, people who have just escaped from those who reside in error.

Peter follows many of the thoughts found in Jude 16 in describing how the opponents entice believers. The opponents’ speech has no substance and there is no reality to their claims. The opponents offer gratification of sexual desire to lure people to their way of life.

2:19 Although these false teachers promise such people freedom, they themselves are enslaved to immorality. For whatever a person succumbs to, to that he is enslaved.

The kind of freedom the opponents promise is unclear but it appears to be freedom from moral law and/or divine judgment.

The heretics are surely libertine in their ethics, and their apparent distortion of Pauline teaching (3:15-16) possibly suggests that they have turned the apostle’s teaching on Christian liberty into a pretext for vice. Paul himself needed to counter this tendency (Gal. 5:13) and emphasized that the person freed from sin who again engages in vice becomes sin’s slave (Rom. 6:15-23). The heretics’ claim may be plausibly interpreted in this frame. . . . The present context places emphasis on issues of morality (2:15-16, 18). Moreover, the following verse begins with the explanatory gar [for], rephrasing the teaching of the present verse in clear moral, not cosmic, terms . . .. (G. Green 297)

The statement “For whatever a person succumbs to, to that he is enslaved” may be an aphorism alluding to military conquest. In the ancient world the victorious army would often enslave the defeated foe. Peter is saying that the opponents have been vanquished by sin and are now its slaves (Jn 8:34; Rom 6:16).

2:20 For if after they have escaped the filthy things of the world through the rich knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they again get entangled in them and succumb to them, their last state has become worse for them than their first.

This verse indicates the opponents are apostates (in the eyes of Peter). The notion that something has become worse than it was initially may be a traditional proverb (Mt 12:43-45; 27:64; Lk 11:24-26; Herm. Sim. 9.17.5; Mart. Pol. 11.1). “Apparently what is worse about this situation is that (1) they have willingly entered into it (since they were once rescued from the power of evil), (2) it entails a rejection of the authority of Jesus in their lives, and (3) it is more hopeless than their pre-Christian state” (Davids 250). “To sin in ignorance, as the heathen do, is one thing; to sin deliberately when ‘the way of righteousness’ (2:21) is known and to spurn the gift of salvation is far more culpable” (Bauckham 278).

2:21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than, having known it, to turn back from the holy commandment that had been delivered to them.

This thought is similar to that found in Luke 12:47-48: the greater the knowledge, the greater the responsibility. The “holy commandment” is the initial Christian instruction given to new converts (“had been delivered to them” denotes the handing down of tradition). This was not mere advice but a sacred demand. “To turn away the divine imperative, and to turn back to their former way, is indeed a state worse than never having heard the sacred command” (G. Green 305).

2:22 They are illustrations of this true proverb: “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and “A sow, after washing herself, wallows in the mire.”

The first proverb is drawn from Proverbs 26:11. To call someone a dog was an insult (1 Sam 17:23; Ps 22:16, 20; Phil 3:2) that implied they were evil (Mt 7:6; Rev 22:15). The source of the second proverb is unknown but Peter expected his readers to understand it (Philo, Spec. Laws 1.29 §148; Agriculture 32 §144; Heraclitus, All. 53; Ahikar 8.18). The heretics have returned to their evil ways just as a dog returns to its vomit or a sow returns to the mire.

Bibliography

Bauckham, Richard J. Jude, 2 Peter. Word Books, 1983.

Davids, Peter H. The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006.

Green, Gene. Jude & 2 Peter. Baker Academic, 2008.

Green, Michael. 2 Peter & Jude. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.

Schreiner, Thomas R. 1, 2 Peter, Jude. Holman Reference, 2003.

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