In the numerous books on Calvinism out in stores and on the internet, many will discuss the text of 2 Peter 2:20-22. And in many cases, there will be exposition on the false teachers--- how they left the faith and were never saved to begin with.
And I’m not going to disagree with that statement. It’s one thing to fall away from the faith...and another entirely to go on a campaign against the faith. To campaign and strategize “against” the faith is to declare oneself an enemy of the cross. Those who do so hate Christ and want His truth eradicated at all costs. They will do WHATEVER IT TAKES to bring Christ’s kingdom down (and to demolish His will being done in the lives of His people).
Robert Peterson is no different in his attack on the false teachers. He writes:
“I hold this view [false teachers as unregenerate] for three reasons. First, Lucas and Green correctly point to verse 22 as aiding in the interpretation of the false teachers’ identity. In the proverb, the dog and pig do not change nature---they remain unclean animals. Similarly, though the false teachers experience outward changes, they are never regenerated.
Second, as Lucas and Green mention, Jesus refers to unbelievers as ‘dogs’ and ‘pigs’ in Matthew 7:6, and Peter likely uses these terms in the same way in 2 Peter 2:22. Therefore, Peter’s comparison of the false teachers to the same animals makes it more likely that he regards them as unbelievers than as apostate Christians. Third, we noted that Peter quotes Proverbs 26:11 in verse 22. And the ‘fool’ of Proverbs 26:1-12 is better understood as a person never saved than as a believer who later repudiated his faith. Peter’s description of the false teachers in 2 Peter 2:20-21, then, when considered in light of verse 22, the Old Testament background of that verse’s first proverb, and Jesus’ saying in Matthew 7:6, leads me to regard the teachers as unregenerate persons affected for a time by Christian morality” (Robert A. Peterson, “Our Secure Salvation: Preservation and Apostasy.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2009, pages 184-185).
I will not disagree with Peterson regarding false teachers. However, I think Calvinists should engage Arminians not on the false teachers, but those who are enticed by the false teachers:
“For when they [false teachers] they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, THE ONES WHO ACTUALLY ESCAPED FROM THOSE WHO LIVE IN ERROR” (2 Peter 2:18, NKJV).
The word here for “actually” in the Greek is “oligos,” meaning “scarcely, barely.” The word “oligos” is a Greek word from which our English word “oligarchy” comes. An oligarchy refers to a few people in control over a territory. So those who “scarcely” or “barely” escape leave the corruption of the world by “small” increments. While they have come to Christ, they have made the right decision but still yearn in some sense for the things of the world. These people, then, are those who, like the soil that falls away in Jesus’ parable of the Sower, “have no root” (Lk. 8:13). However, according to Peter, they have still escaped the world. They are saved, even if they are “barely” saved!
My question to Peterson and all Calvinists would be, “What about those who have ‘actually escaped’? What about those who are saved, but are “barely” saved? What about this group? I think it’s easy to sit and debate about the false teachers...but it’s a lot harder to talk about this group that, while believing, is still very much in love with the things of the world (still lusts for the things of the world). These people, then, the “barely-escapers,” have begun to listen to the words of the false teachers. Are the followers saved?
I want Peterson and all other Calvinists to tackle this little thorny problem in 2 Peter 2:18. If the followers of 2 Peter 2:18 are saved, can they return to the world? And if so, does this mean that they were saved?
If we are faithful to the biblical text, we have to admit that the followers are saved. However, they are “barely” saved...and what does this mean? That, unless they continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18), they too can become entangled with the world again. This doesn’t mean that they were never saved---it just means that they fell away because of temptation.