“Peter speaks of those who denied ‘the sovereign Lord who bought them’ (v.1) but who had ‘known the way of righteousness’ (v.21). This seems to indicate, so Arminians argue, that they were at one time truly saved. But the rest of the chapter indicates that their present denial has led to their ultimate doom, since the ‘blackest darkness is reserved for them’ (cf. v.17). They are ‘dogs’ (a figure used of unbelievers), not lambs (see v. 22). Also, they are called ‘slaves of depravity’ (v.19). In brief, they are not a ‘new creation’ (2 Cor. 5:17) of God. However, a closer look at the context reveals that the persons who are ‘denying the sovereign Lord’ (2 Pet. 2:1) WERE NEVER TRUE BELIEVERS but were ‘false teachers’ and ‘false prophets’ (v.1). Hence, their ‘knowledge’ of the Lord (v.20) was obviously one of mental assent, not heart commitment” (Norman Geisler, “Four Views on Eternal Security,” by J. Matthew Pinson, General Editor. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002, page 92).
Tonight’s post involves the text of 2 Peter 2.
Geisler, as always, rule out the idea that these people were once saved. But let’s look at the text closely.
First, in verse 1, we find that these “false prophets” were guilty of “denying the Master WHO BOUGHT THEM.” Notice the text says that the Master, the Lord, bought them; this means that they were recipients of the redemption He purchased with His own blood. Those who never accept Christ have not been “bought” with the Lord’s blood (in the sense that the atonement has been appropriated to them).
Secondly, look at the title Peter gives them in the chapter:
“Accursed children!” (2 Peter 2:14, Holman Christian Standard Bible).
Peter calls the false teachers “children” (Greek word “tekna”). Why would Peter refer to them as “children” if they were never saved at all? The word here for “accursed” is “kataras,” meaning “cursed.” Peter does not call them “children of wrath,” or in the Greek, “tekna orges,” as he does in Ephesians 2:3.
In verse 15, Peter writes, “By ABANDONING THE STRAIGHT PATH, they have gone astray and have followed the path of Balaam, the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness…” (2 Pet. 2:15). Merriam-Webster gives us the meaning of the word “abandon”:
b : to give up with the intent of never again claiming a right or interest in.
So those who “abandoned” the straight path “gave up” the godly direction they were headed in—and it seems that, in the case of the false teachers, they would never return to their godly beginning ever again. A person cannot abandon something they were never a part of to begin with.
I think here is a good place to examine something else in 2 Peter 2 that I think we forget about: the people, those affected by the false teachers. Most people believe that apostasy, or defection from the faith, involves people who were never believers; however, if that were true, why, as I said last night in my post on 1 Timothy, does Paul write and warn THE CHURCH about the dangers of deception? Why does he even write the church of 2 Corinthians about his “fear” that they would be deceived and led away from Christ? That they would be unfaithful to Christ? That they would not be presented as a chaste virgin to Christ? I think Paul’s warnings to the church show us how much of a reality deception is—and how it can affect even those of us who underestimate the power of sin’s grip.
Not only are the false teachers involved, but even those they target—genuine believers who are immature in the faith and prone to deception. We read these words later in 2 Peter 2:
“For uttering bombastic, empty words, they seduce, by fleshly desires and debauchery, PEOPLE WHO HAVE BARELY ESCAPED (or barely escaping) FROM THOSE WHO LIVE IN ERROR” (2 Peter 2:18).
Notice that those “who have barely escaped” are contrasted with “those who live in error.” Those who have escaped, then, are those who have gone the way of righteousness (righteousness and godliness are the opposite of error). However, Peter says that they have “barely escaped,” which means that they are weak in the faith. Dare I say it, that these people are those Jesus refers to in Luke 8 regarding the crop that has no “root”?
But, according to Geisler and other Calvinists, those who have no “root” must be unsaved! But if they have “barely” escaped the world, they have nonetheless STILL ESCAPED THE WORLD! Something must be said for this group that hasn’t bore much fruit, like those who are mature in the faith and endure and bear fruit.
And then comes verse 20:
“For if, having escaped the world’s impurity through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in these things and defeated, the last state is worse for them than the first.”
Notice that this verse is talking about “the deceived,” those of the body of Christ who FOLLOW the false teachers. It notes that they have “escaped the world’s impurity through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” which means that these people have come to the knowledge of the truth, they have been saved (1 Tim. 2:4).
Next, it says IF “they are again entangled in these things and defeated…” This “if” shows us the possibility that such believers could go back to the world. This very verse, then, proves that APOSTASY does refer to believers! They can get entangled again with the world, they can go back to their former way of life! If it were not so, then Peter would not have made mention of it. But notice too, that, not only do these believers go back to the world—they are “defeated” in their attempt, which means that, while trying to wage war against their flesh, they LOSE the war! Their flesh overtakes them, and sin overwhelms them, and they yield to it again—as if they were never freed from it! This is possible, since Peter talks about it. Anyone, including Geisler, who is gonna say that these verses have nothing to do with believers must prove to me that the words in the text mean something else OTHER than what I’m reading them to mean. All I’ve done is take a common-sense approach to the text. And if it says that those who “escaped” the world can return to it and become “entangled,” then I have no justification whatsoever to deny that true believers can fall back into sin. To deny what this text says is to hold to a presupposition that will not allow someone to acknowledge what’s staring them in the face. It is the equivalent of looking at John 14, where Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” and saying to myself, “This doesn’t really mean Jesus is the only way to salvation and eternal life.” And to say that is absolutely ridiculous!
But, should the believer fall back into the world, should he, as Jesus says, “put his hand to the plow and look back,”(Luke 9:62), “the last state is worse for them than the first.” What is their “first state”? A sinner (before Christ). What is their “last state”? What happens AFTER they become saved and then go back out into the world again. Peter says that, should they do so, they will end up more cursed than they were as sinners to begin with.
As I pointed out in the verses above about those who “barely escaped,” the idea of “escaping” the world is found in chapter 1 of Peter’s second letter:
“By these He has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them YOU MAY SHARE IN THE DIVINE NATURE, ESCAPING THE CORRUPTION THAT IS IN THE WORLD because of evil desires” (2 Peter 1:4).
For the readers of 2 Peter to “share in the divine nature” means that they will “escape the corruption that is in the world.” By God’s promises, He has given the believers an opportunity to “escape the world,” to be saved from the world and its nearing destruction. So we know that those who “barely escaped” or are “barely escaping” are those who are believers. There is no hint in the text that these persons are unsaved.
Verse 21 reads, “For 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 DELIVERED TO THEM” (2 Peter 2:21).
They have “known the way of righteousness,” which means they have more than just head knowledge of godliness. There is a somewhat similar phrase found in Scripture—and the reference is Psalm 1:6—
“For the Lord watches over THE WAY OF THE RIGHTEOUS, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.”
Here, we see that the “way of the righteous” is in contrast to “the way of the wicked.” Those who have barely escaped the world are characterized as once having “known the way of righteousness,” which means that at one time, they walked the path of godliness, they once did godly things, they once had a godly lifestyle, they were once part of the body of Christ.
But Peter says that one can know the right way, have been a part of it, and can “turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.” They can have knowledge of the truth (be saved, 1 Tim. 2:4) and still turn back to the world. And Peter says that it would be better for them to have never come to Christ than, after coming to Christ, they should walk away from Him and betray Him, spit on and profane His blood that He shed for them.
The last verse of the chapter, verse 22, is one that I cannot end this post without discussing:
“It has happened to them according to the true proverb: a dog returns to its own vomit, and, ‘a sow, after washing itself, wallows in the mud’” (2 Peter 2:22).
When a dog vomits, his vomit lies OUTSIDE of his body—it was once WITHIN him, but, once he RELEASES it, the vomit is no longer inside of him. But, when he RETURNS to his vomit, he goes back to the very thing he ONCE RELEASED and begins to soak it up again. It is almost as if he “re-swallows” everything he once got rid of. And this is what apostates do—they go back into the world and “re-embrace” EVERYTHING THEY ONCE LET GO OF!
The sow does the same thing. The sow goes and washes itself, which means that it is clean. We don’t read in the text where the sow doesn’t wash all the filth off. We are told that the sow is clean; then, the sow “wallows in the mud.” The sow takes its CLEAN STATE and stains itself once again! In other words, the sow goes back to the very filth it once left to get clean.
All the verses of 2 Peter 2 show us that a person can come to Christ, come to a saving faith (“saved” and come to the knowledge of the truth as 1 Tim. 2:4 tells us), and then, can reenter the world. However, we’re told that if believers do so, then they are in a more disastrous state than before they ever came to Christ! For, once a person “betrays” Christ, as did Judas, as did the false teachers, they can never return to their former way of life (Hebrews 6:4-6).
Geisler’s comments ended with a discussion of the false teachers; however, he errs greatly not to go into a discussion of those who are deceived by the false teachers. For the deceived are not like the deceivers. Whereas the deceivers choose not to have anything to do with Christ (except to destroy His church), the deceived are genuine believers who are immature in the faith, and have barely gotten away from the clutches of the world. Such “unstable” people are prime targets of the false teachers. However, I would argue that the “unstable” are not all fake and phony Christians. Some of these believers are genuine about their faith—but they can easily be led astray.