Americans love their dogs. But it’s not the same in all countries. The phenomenon of pet dogs is fairly rare in history, and certainly the widespread and common practice of keeping pets as it is today was previously unknown. On one of our earlier visits to Pachuca, Mexico, where we used to live, my wife and I saw a truck with a large cage on the back picking up stray dogs. The missionary who was with us informed us that Pachuca had a terrible stray dog problem. What we were seeing was animal control rounding up dogs for destruction. It’s necessary because they are both a nuisance and a health hazard. In fact, in many countries, dogs are worse than pests. In some, like parts of Africa, they are fierce predators.
The apostle Peter’s view of false teachers (superintended, of course, by the Holy Spirit) is about on the level of past societies’ view of dogs. He calls the false teachers “irrational creatures” and “natural animals for capture and destruction.” And he ends this section with two less-than-flattering sayings, one about dogs and one about pigs, the animal perhaps most unwelcome to the Jewish way of thinking. As was said earlier, this study is only intended to point out Peter’s argument, or flow of thought. In this section, there really is no logically developed argument, only a series of statements describing the characteristics, techniques and status of the false teachers. The outline will help you in your study of the details; I will only point out a few important points.
One characteristic of the false teachers is worthy of special note because of its contrast with real teachers, or elders. Peter declares that the false teachers are ‘arrogant’ or ‘self-willed’ in v. 10b. The Greek word he uses is authadeis. The only other use of this word in the NT is by the apostle Paul in Titus 1:7, where elders are required to NOT be authadeis. The contrast is telling. God’s real leaders are to be servants, leading by example, and shepherding their flock, not lording it over the people. The false teachers should be recognizable, partly by their contrast with God’s real servant leadership.
Verses 18 and 19 are confusing to many, because it is difficult to sort out the pronouns (they, those, and them) and their antecedents: “For speaking things that are boastful but empty they lure, by means of sensual lusts of the flesh, those who truly escaped from the ones whose manner of life is in error, promising them freedom although they themselves are slaves of corruption. For by what someone is overcome, by this he is also enslaved.” Here is the solution and why. In v. 18 the ‘they’ clearly refers to the false teachers. I have placed the pronouns referring to the false teachers in red. The false teachers lure a group of victims—“those who truly escaped....” The pronoun 'those' in this clause cannot be anything else but the object of the verb 'lure'. The ‘them’ in “promising them freedom” must be the same group of victims because the participle ‘promising’ is coordinate with the verbal idea of luring—in other words the verb and participle could be translated "they lure...and they promise...." Notice the pronouns for this group of victims are in green. The clue to the solution is the word ‘themselves’ in “they themselves are slaves….” This intensive pronoun can only refer to the false teachers, otherwise the contrast between the promised ‘freedom’ and being ‘slaves’ would make no sense. The intensive ‘themselves’ identifies the subject of "slaves of corruption" with the implied subject of the participle "promising”—in other words to the false teachers.
This passage also has a theological controversy. Those who maintain that a Christian can lose his salvation see vv. 20-22 as supporting their contention. Under this interpretation, because the false teachers were, at one time, supposedly saved—“ to have understood the way of righteousness”—and return to being lost—“to turn back from the holy commandment”—then, of course, it could happen to any Christian. Although this is a possible interpretation, I believe it is an erroneous one. [For a general discussion of the issue of whether salvation can be lost, see the article on this site, “Can A Christian Lose His Salvation?”]
To be fair, lets look at both sides. At first glance, there does seem to be evidence that the false teachers were saved then lost. Peter says in 2:1 that one of their heresies will be “denying the Master who bought them, bringing on to themselves imminent destruction.” In v. 20 he describes them as “escaping from the defilements of the world by means of the complete knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” And in v. 21 he states that they “understood the way of righteousness.” Then, of course, there is the famous “the last state has become worse for them than the first.” That the false teachers lost their salvation is certainly a possibility. But is there no other way to take these statements? We will see in a moment; but first, let’s look at the other side.
Jude speaks about the same false teachers in Jude 19 (see the context where many of the same descriptions are found). He says “These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.” A person without the Holy Spirit is clearly not saved (Rom. 8:9). But, the questions is, were they saved in the first place? In v. 22 Peter applies a proverb (Prov.26.11) to the false teachers—“a dog returns to his vomit”—and a popular saying—“a pig when washed returns to wallowing in filth." Burt Matthews has this observation concerning Peter’s use of these sayings: “This is true of the best bred dog, and of the prize blue-ribboned sow, because their natures remain unchanged1.” These sayings ONLY make sense if the false teacher’s nature has NEVER changed. And a Christian without question is given a new nature: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
How could a person being saved, going along for a while, then renouncing his faith, then becoming lost again qualify as “a dog returning to his vomit?” Wouldn’t it seem strange for Peter to have used the term ‘dog’ to refer to a believer with a new nature—even if he has returned to his previous ways? After all, Paul used the term dog to refer to a lost person, perhaps even a false teacher (Phil. 3:2): “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!” And Peter was familiar with Paul’s writings, according to 2 Peter 3:15. Jesus referred to both dogs and pigs (swine) in Matt. 7:6, a context clearly referring to those who were not holy: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.”
So we have two sets of apparently contradictory statements about the false teachers in this passage. Whenever we think we see the possibility of contradictions in Scripture, we must assume that the problem is our understanding. Then we must ask, which set of statements could be understood another way? In this case, since Jude clearly says these false teachers do not have the Spirit, and since dogs and swine are seen elsewhere as unsaved, and Peter’s analogy portrays the false teachers as having an unchanged nature, it seems easier to take “escaping” and “understanding the way of righteousness” as possible for an unsaved person.
Is it possible to say of an unsaved person such things as that he has “escaped” and "understood the way of righteousness?” In John 16:8 we are told that the Holy Spirit “will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment….” But are we ever told that this conviction cannot be rejected and turned away from? We know that the whole world is not going to be saved so some people do reject this conviction of the Holy Spirit. Note that the Spirit convicts the world of righteousness. This is why Peter says in v. 21 the false teachers “understood the way of righteousness.” Denying “the Master who bought them” can refer perfectly well to having had this conviction of the Holy Spirit, even over a period of time, then rejecting it—in fact rejecting the One who died for them (John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:6). The “bringing on to themselves imminent destruction” would be the special prophetic judgment spoken of in 2:1-10a.
In v. 20 the description of the false teachers as “escaping from the defilements of the world by means of the complete knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” is no particular problem either. Defilements are the moral pollutions that are a result of sensual sin. Having the conviction of sin, righteousness and judgment, having fellowship with the church, having the influence of Christian literature would bring a person out of the world’s defilements, to some extent. Many who are still lost and on their way to hell live a moral life under the influence of a society built on biblical values. Those under conviction of sin often reform their behavior without being saved. Again, there is no evidence that these false teachers could not have escaped the defilements of the world while still being unsaved.
The important thing in Bible study is to pay attention to what the text actually says, and not be influenced by preconceived notions. In this passage, Peter never says anything that requires us to think the false teachers were ever saved in the first place. And what he clearly says in v. 22 is that the nature of these false teachers never changed. For these reasons, the idea that the false teachers in this passage lost their salvation needs to be rejected.
The apostle Peter warned us of the false teachers. Jude, written perhaps 15 years later, portrays them as in the church at that time. The apostle Paul provided mechanisms for dealing with them in passages such as Acts 20:27-31; Tit.1:5-16. We still need to be alert today. The desire to be faithful to the truth as handed down by the apostles (Jude 1:3) is not popular today. Political correctness as a concept is in the church as it is in society. We do not want to call anyone wrong. But error is always dangerous. Paul warned of our days: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Let us today heed his warning!
Next study...a look at the scoffers in the last days.
1Quoted by Lewis Sperry Chafer in Systematic Theology, Vol. III, Soteriology, p.294.
2 Peter Flow Chart
2 Peter 1:1-7
2 Peter 1:8-11
2 Peter 1:12-15
2 Peter 1:16-21
2 Peter 2:1-3
2 Peter 2:3b-10a
2 Peter 3:1-6
2 Peter 3:7-10
2 Peter 3:11-16
2 Peter 3:17-18