2 Peter 2:1-22

Submitted by admin on Mon, 2010-10-25 13:34.

Posted in | printer-friendly version »

To remain divinely approved, disciples of God’s Son needed to be on guard against corrupt influences that would come to exist within the community of believers. “Among the people,” that is, among God’s people Israel, false prophets arose. These lying prophets lulled the Israelites into a false sense of security and contributed measurably to their waywardness. Just as the Israelites came to have false prophets in their midst, believers would come to have teachers of error. The corrupt teachers would become responsible for introducing “destructive sects,” causing division by advancing views that were contrary to the truth that Jesus Christ had revealed by his example and teaching. Those who adopted their erroneous opinions would thus come to form factions that aligned themselves with the false teachers and against believers who rejected their false doctrines. Such factions or sects are “destructive,” for they disrupt the peace existing in the community of believers and are ruinous to the faith that has Christ as its foundation. (2:1)

By failing to adhere to Christ and his teaching, the proponents of error deny him as the “Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction on themselves.” Their failure to submit to Christ as the head of the community of believers by advancing their own views leads them into a spiritually and morally corrupt way. Their deliberate course of disloyalty to Christ, denying him as the rightful Lord whose direction they should be following because he bought them with his precious blood, inescapably leads to their destruction. When Jesus Christ renders his judgment against them, their ruin will swiftly follow. (2:1)

Just as the false prophets deceived many among the Israelites, so the false teachers would gain many adherents who would follow them in their “licentious ways” (a plural form of asélgeia). The shockingly corrupt conduct of professed believers, particularly that of the false teachers, would not escape the attention of unbelievers. Because the corrupt individuals would claim to be Christ’s disciples, the “way of the truth” would be “blasphemed.” Unbelievers would begin to blaspheme, revile, malign, or speak abusively of the way of life that centered in the truth that Jesus Christ revealed in his person and teaching. They would point to the debased conduct of the corrupt teachers and their followers as confirming that belief in Jesus Christ was destructive to the existing social order. (2:2; see the Notes section.)

Teachers of error are motivated by “covetousness” or “greed.” “And in [their] greed,” they resort to using “fabricated words” in an effort to “exploit” (emporeúomai) believers. These false teachers would have an inordinate desire for power over others and the material profit and recognition they would receive from their followers. Their words would be mere fabrications, having no basis in truth, but would sound plausible to those who would be deceived. The Greek term emporeúomai relates to carrying on business transactions or trade. In this context, the thought would be conducting business in a dishonest manner and, therefore, engaging in exploitation. With lies, the teachers of falsehood would take advantage of others, making them their victims and persons from whom they could derive personal profit. (2:3)

In the case of the proponents of ruinous error, their “judgment” or condemnation that has been divinely determined upon “from of old is not idle, and their destruction is not dozing.” Adverse divine judgment is certain. “From of old,” God decreed that those who prove to be the devil’s “seed” or offspring would be condemned. (Compare Genesis 3:15; John 8:44; 1 John 3:7, 8; Jude 14, 15.) This judgment is no idle or empty threat that will never be carried out. It is not asleep or dormant, without any assurance that it will ever be executed. (2:3)

Past events provide unmistakable proof that the condemnatory judgment will be carried out without fail. “God did not spare the angels who sinned.” Although they had been in his very presence and once enjoyed the status of his approved sons, they lost their place in his family when they gave up their heavenly estate. According to Genesis 6:1-4, these “sons of God” took “daughters of men” as their wives and had offspring by them. While the Genesis account does not mention the action that God took against these angels who sinned, Jews in the first century appear to have been familiar with accounts that did provide details. (2:4; see the Notes section regarding ancient sources.)

God handed the disobedient angels over to “chains [seiraís] of darkness” or, according to another manuscript reading, “pits [siroís] of darkness.” The “chains of darkness” could designate confining restrictions that placed the disobedient angels in a state of darkness, cut off completely from the “light,” or the life and associated blessings enjoyed by those who are part of the family of God’s children. Similarly, “pits of darkness” could denote a condition of confinement, with nothing to brighten the gloom resulting from the permanent end of all fellowship with God. (2:4)

The debasement of the disobedient angels is seemingly expressed by a form of the Greek verb tartaróo, meaning to “cast into Tartarus.” In their debased and gloomy condition of confinement, the angels who sinned are kept for their final judgment. (2:4; see the Notes section regarding Tartarus.) So, although the ultimate punishment was not inflicted on the disobedient angels, they would not escape the future condemnation. This confirmed that teachers of pernicious error would likewise have no hope of being delivered from the judgment that would be expressed against them. Their future ruin was certain.

God did not spare the “ancient world,” but he preserved Noah, “the eighth one,” a “proclaimer of righteousness,” when he “brought a flood on the world of the impious.” In being designated as the “eighth,” Noah is identified as the one who survived the deluge along with seven others (his wife, their three sons Ham, Shem, and Japheth, and their wives). As a “proclaimer of righteousness,” Noah made known the just judgment to be executed upon the godless world and, by constructing the ark, indicated that only by acting in harmony with God’s commands would individuals survive the coming deluge. The fact that God decreed a means for survival also revealed his righteousness or justice, for those who wanted to do what is right would have the opportunity to be saved from the judgment that would be expressed against the godless ones. In a sense, the building of the ark constituted Noah’s tangible proclamation of divine justice. (2:5)

The fiery destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah reduced them to ashes. By thus condemning these cities or, according to another manuscript reading, condemning them “to destruction,” God set them as a warning “example” of what would befall the impious. (2:6; see the Notes section.)

Lot and two daughters did not perish with the ungodly inhabitants of Sodom. God rescued him, sending two angels to the city to instruct him and his family to flee out of the area destined for destruction. Lot is called a “righteous man,” for he did not live like the morally corrupt inhabitants of Sodom. The debased conduct of the city’s inhabitants was not limited to sexual depravity. According to Ezekiel 16:49, they were an arrogant people who had no regard for the poor and the needy. Lot was greatly distressed when he witnessed the licentious conduct of the lawless inhabitants of Sodom. They were “lawless,” for they acted contrary to the inner sense of human decency and propriety. (2:7)

As a “righteous man,” one who tried to live uprightly, Lot tormented his “righteous soul,” that is, himself. This was because “from day to day,” while residing among them, he saw and heard their “lawless works.” He did not escape being a witness to their God-dishonoring conduct. (2:8)

The fact that Noah and his family survived the deluge and that Lot did not perish with the inhabitants of Sodom reveals that the “Lord knows [how] to rescue godly ones from trial,” distress, trouble, or calamity. At the same time, destruction did befall the ungodly, demonstrating that God can “keep the unrighteous for the day of judgment.” (2:9)

In the Greek text, a participial form of the verb kolázo, defined as meaning “punish,” follows the words about judgment day. This could signify that punishment awaits the ungodly at the time they will then be called to account. A number of translations convey this meaning. “The Lord knows how … to reserve his punishment for the wicked until his day comes.” (J. B. Phillips) “The Lord is well able to … hold the wicked for their punishment until the Day of Judgement.” (NJB) “The Lord knows how … to be reserving the unrighteous for the day of judgment to be punished.” (K. S. Wuest) Others have translated the verse to mean that divine punishment precedes the day of judgment, with the final accounting coming on that day. This, however, does not seem likely, as it does not fit the fact that, in the case of the deluge and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the preservation of the upright and the ruin of the wicked occurred at the same time. (2:9)

Especially is it certain that condemnation will be expressed against persons who indulge their base fleshly desires (literally, “going after flesh in [the] passion of defilement”) and show contempt for “lordship.” These would be persons who are totally given to a degraded way of life and who have no respect for any kind of authority, doing whatever they please without regard for anyone else. As individuals, they are “bold,” brazen, or audacious, and “self-willed” or stubborn, resisting anyone who might stand in the way of their dishonorable objectives. The reference to their not “trembling” at “glories” may mean that they have no fear or respect for anyone who occupies a position of glory or dignity. Nothing appears to restrain them from pursuing their corrupt way of life. They blaspheme or speak abusively of all, refusing to grant anyone, not even God, the honor they deserve. (2:10; for another meaning of “glories,” see the Notes section.)

The course of these corrupt individuals contrasts sharply with that of angels who are superior in “strength and power.” These angels do not abuse their greater strength and power, never acting in a high-handed manner or resorting to insults. They “do not bring blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord.” Possibly the “them” against whom angels do not express judgment in abusive words are the teachers of error, as they have been the main focus of the warning admonition. “But even the angels, who are much stronger and more powerful than false teachers, do not accuse them with insults before the Lord.” (NCV) Although the angels would have reason to denounce them, they do not employ blasphemous or abusive speech, manifesting the highest regard for God as the holy one who disapproves all reviling. (2:11; see the Notes section.)

The corrupt proponents of error are like irrational animals that have come into existence to be captured and destroyed or killed. These brute beasts to whom teachers of falsehood are likened are also described as physikós, meaning “physical” or “natural,” and could signify that they are mere beasts governed by instinct. It would appear that the reference to coming into existence to be “captured and destroyed” could relate to the fact that the roles of predator and prey are part of the existing cycle in the wild and also that these animals served as a food source for humans. As creatures hunted or raised for food, the ultimate end of their existence proved to be capture and slaughter. Teachers of pernicious error are described as “blaspheming,” or speaking abusively or insultingly of things they do not “know” or understand. Without any appreciation for God’s upright ways, they ridicule or insult whom or what they should regard with due respect. “In their corruption,” or in their pursuit of a debased way of life, “they also will be corrupted” or destroyed like the brute beasts. (2:12)

These individuals wrong themselves by their wrongdoing. The “wage,” or repayment for the injury they cause, is the ruin that results to them and which they have brought upon themselves by their God-dishonoring ways. (2:13; see the Notes section.)

The corrupt teachers regarded “luxury” or self-indulgence in the “day,” a time when they should have been engaged in productive work, as a pleasure to be enjoyed. Their objective was to satisfy their debased cravings. Because of their corrupt conduct, they proved to be “stains and blemishes,” ruinous to the reputation of believers. While they feasted with believers, they reveled in “their deceptions.” This could mean that they used the social interaction at meals to advance their corrupt teaching and to exploit others for their vile objectives. (2:13)

They transformed occasions that should have been times for expressing genuine love into opportunities for indulging their passions. Their eyes were “full of adultery [literally, ‘full of an adulteress,’ according to P72, Codex Vaticanus, and numerous other manuscripts] and ceaseless of sin.” They passionately looked for women with whom they could commit adultery and, without letup, they indulged their lusts. Having a “heart trained in covetousness” or greed, they would entice “unstable souls.” These individuals were “accursed children,” for God’s curse rested on them because of their degraded conduct. The “unstable souls” they tried to seduce would have been persons who had not as yet become firmly grounded in the truth about Jesus Christ and what living in harmony with his example and teaching required. In their “heart” or their inner self, the teachers of falsehood had become accustomed to being impelled to desire that to which they had no right, and this motivated them to ensnare others into engaging in immorality. Sin had become their way of life, and they never desisted from striving to satisfy their base desires. (2:14)

The proponents of falsehood had forsaken the “straight way,” turning aside from the course that honored God and Christ. As victims of their self-deception, they were misled, drawn into a debased way of life. “They followed the way of Balaam of Bosor [Beor or Beoorsor, according to other manuscripts], who loved the wage of unrighteousness.” (2:15)

According to the Septuagint reading of Numbers 22:5, the diviner Balaam was the “son of Beor.” YHWH God revealed to him that he should not curse the Israelites, but he very much desired the reward that Balak, the Moabite king, offered him for doing so. Although YHWH permitted him to accompany the second delegation Balak had sent, provided that he would only speak what would be revealed to him, Balaam appears to have set out on the way to meet Balak with the intent of obtaining the “wage of unrighteousness.” He, in defiance of God’s will, wanted the reward for the unrighteous or unjust act of cursing the Israelites. That this was his ultimate objective, though not expressly stated in the account in the book of Numbers, is evident from the fact that, when he could not curse the Israelites, he instructed Balak how he could use Moabite and Midiante women to seduce Israelite males to share in idolatry and sexual immorality, thereby having them bring God’s curse upon themselves. (2:15; Numbers 22:7-21; 25:1-3, 17, 18; 31:16; Revelation 2:14)

On the way with the second delegation Balak had sent, Balaam received a reproof for his “own lawlessness,” or for his intent to transgress the divine command that he not curse the Israelites. A “speechless” pack animal, his own female donkey that had no inherent ability to speak, uttered words with the “voice of a man,” which, at the time, “restrained the madness of the prophet.” As a diviner, one who made predictions, Balaam was a prophet. His madness involved his foolhardy defiance of God’s directive to him. For a time, the words of his female donkey brought him to his senses. Based on the account in Numbers 22:22-35, the “angel of YHWH” appears to have made it possible for Balaam to have perceived the words being spoken as coming from the mouth of his donkey. The example of Balaam may serve to show that not even a miracle would cause the false teachers to amend their ways. Possibly there is also an implication that believers whom the false teachers looked down upon as if they were inferiors would be able to resist them, just as the donkey restrained Balaam. (2:16)

Proponents of error are never the source of anything that proves to be beneficial. They may give the appearance of being like springs or wells from which a thirsty person might obtain refreshing water, but they are waterless, devoid of anything that would contribute to a person’s well-being. Teachers of pernicious error are likened to “mists” or, according to the reading of other manuscripts, “clouds” that a strong wind blows away. The formation of mists or clouds may give promise of much-needed rain, but those who look for rain are disappointed when they see mists or clouds quickly disappear because of being driven by fierce gusts of wind. No light or enlightenment can come from false teachers. “For them the gloom of darkness has been kept.” They are destined for the darkness of the condemnatory judgment that has been reserved for them, forever cut off from the possibility of any relationship with God and the blessings to be enjoyed by his family of devoted children. (2:17)

Proponents of falsehood utter “pompous” (hypéronkos) expressions, but their utterances are “emptiness” (mataiótes). What they say may sound impressive and be spoken with forceful confidence. The Greek word hypéronkos is descriptive of something that is “puffed up” or “swollen” and, therefore, can signify “haughty,” “bombastic,” “pompous,” or “high-sounding.” What is uttered is designated as being mataiótes, “emptiness,” “nothingness,” “nonsense,” something that is of no use or value. The utterances are just empty words. (2:18)

In their bearing and manner of speaking, false teachers can be very persuasive. By appealing to “the desires of the flesh,” they endeavor to entice believers who have “just” (olígos) or “really” (óntos, according to other manuscripts) escaped from those who conduct themselves “in error.” The Greek term olígos, basically means “little,” “small,” or “short.” In this case, the word denotes a “short time ago” or recently. The false teachers focus on persons who just recently had separated themselves from living as did those who conducted themselves in “error” or engaged in sinful practices. Especially for new believers, the pull from wrong desires can be very strong, making them more vulnerable to falling prey to corrupt teachers. (2:18)

In the Greek text, the expression “desires of the flesh” is followed by the plural form of asélgeia, which term would describe all manner of licentiousness or shockingly unbridled or indecent conduct. This could mean that, besides appealing to the desires of sinful human nature, the false teachers made licentiousness appear as acceptable, harmless, or desirable. (2:18) Translators have variously rendered the thought. “With their high-sounding but empty talk they tempt back people who have scarcely escaped from those who live in error, by playing on the disordered desires of their human nature and by debaucheries.” (NJB) “Talking empty bombast, they seduce with licentious desires of the flesh those who have barely escaped from people who live in error.” (NAB) “They use sensual lusts and debauchery as a bait to catch people who have only just begun to escape from their pagan associates.” (REB)

To those who are the objects of their deceptive words, false teachers “promise freedom,” making it appear that believers are under no restraints in pursuing whatever they might desire. They do not and cannot offer anyone true freedom, which exists among those who live in harmony with a good conscience and have the highest regard for moral law. The proponents of pernicious error are themselves not free, for they are “slaves of corruption.” Depravity has gained the mastery over them. So, as slaves, all they can offer to others is a slave status, because whatever comes to control one’s life enslaves. (2:19)

“Knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” involves a person’s coming into an approved relationship with him as his disciple, as a believer who recognizes Jesus Christ as his Lord whose example and teaching he is under obligation to follow and who, as his Savior, delivered him from the condemnation to which sin leads. “If, after having escaped the defilements of the world” upon having come to know Jesus Christ, individuals again become entangled in the kind of unclean or degrading practices common in the world of mankind alienated from God and Christ, their last state would become worse than their first. Their condition would then be worse than the one in which they found themselves prior to their becoming believers. As unbelievers, they acted in ignorance. After coming to know what is right as clearly revealed in Jesus’ life, activity, and teaching, those who return to a corrupt way of life have no excuse. They cannot claim ignorance, making their sin much more serious. (2:20)

It would have been better for them not to have known the “way of righteousness than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment that had been given to them.” For those who do not yet know the “way of righteousness,” the hope exists that they may respond to the message about Christ and begin living an upright life. Their God-dishonoring course is not as serious. It does not bring the kind of direct reproach on God and Christ as does the waywardness of professing believers who received the “holy commandment” or the pure teaching of the Son of God that should have served as a law to them. The injurious effect on the conscience is not as great in the case of unbelievers, for wrongdoing did not require a revolt against the restraint of a conscience that had been enlightened by knowledge of God and Christ and the obligations this knowledge imposed. (2:21)

In the case of those who return to a debauched way of life, the “true proverb,” the saying that expresses an undeniable truth, applies, “The dog has returned to its own vomit, and the bathed sow to wallowing in mud.” Professed believers had left defiling conduct behind (comparable to the dog’s vomit and the mud that had been washed away from the sow) and had been cleansed from their sins but then, instead of continuing to make progress in upright living, returned to their former degraded state like unclean animals. (2:22; compare Proverbs 26:11.)


In verse 2, not all manuscripts contain the expression “way of the truth.” Fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, a correction in fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, and a number of other manuscripts say “glory of the truth.”

Comments about Tartarus and the punishment of the disobedient angels are found in 1 Enoch, a book that appears to have been regarded as authoritative in the first century CE and earlier, as well as in later times. Presently, only the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Ethiopian Jews (Beta Israel) accept 1 Enoch as part of the Scriptures. According to the book of Enoch (X, 11), God instructed the angel Michael to “bind Semjâzâ and his associates who have united themselves with women so as to have defiled themselves with them in all their uncleanness.” This binding, however, is not represented as their final punishment, but they are said to remain in their bound state until “the day of their judgment and of their consummation.” (X, 12) “In those days they shall be led off to the abyss of fire.” (X, 13) Another passage (XX, 2) indicates that the angel Uriel is over Tartarus.

In the Septuagint, there are three occurrences of the expression “Tartarus.” Proverbs 30:16 includes Tartarus among the things that never say, “Enough.” Job 40:20 indicates that, when the wild beast (“behemoth,” according to the Hebrew text) ascended the “steep mountain, it made the quadrupeds in Tartarus rejoice.” In Job 41:24, the “dragon” (“leviathan,” according to the Hebrew text) is represented as accounting “Tartarus of the abyss as a captive.” These references to “Tartarus” could be understood as applying to the netherworld, but nothing specific about how the term was understood among the Jews can be established from the context.

In Greek mythology, Tartarus was the place of confinement for the Titans after the Olympian gods defeated them. In his Against Apion (II, 34, 35), Josephus commented on the compositions of the Greek poets about gods and goddesses, referring to the Titans as the “oldest” of all the gods and as having been bound “in Tartarus.” He, however, did not endorse the Greek myth about Tartarus, but included it among tales regarding deities that Greek intellectuals had rightly censured.

It would appear that caution needs to be exercised about any definitive conclusions regarding how first-century believers may have understood comments about the binding of the angels who sinned and their being “cast into Tartarus.” Moreover, spirit persons are not subject to the same kind of restraints as are humans, and the visual imagery that appears in the Scriptures must of necessity be expressed in human terms.

Another manuscript reading of verse 6 represents what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah as an example to those who were about to act in a godless manner.

In verse 10, some interpret the “glories” to mean the superterrestrial powers of darkness or the fallen angels, maintaining that they still have a measure of “glory” or splendor by reason of their existence as mighty spirits. The faithful angels, though, by reason of having the backing of the Almighty God, are in possession of greater “strength and power” than these “glories.” (Verse 11) According to this interpretation, the faithful angels do not express an insulting judgment against the fallen angels before God. Support for this view is drawn from verse 9 of Jude, where the reference is to the archangel Michael who, when disputing with the devil about Moses’ body, did not dare to express judgment against him in blasphemous or abusive words. It does seem highly unusual, however, that persons who defied God and his guidance would be specifically censured for speaking abusively of fallen angels.

Instead of “wronging themselves” followed by the word “wage” (in verse 13), other manuscripts say “receiving a wage.” Numerous manuscripts, including P72 (of the late third or early fourth century CE), contain the word apátais (“deceptions”), whereas many other manuscripts read agápais (“love feasts”).