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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

2 Peter 2

 

 

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Introduction

II.

By a perfectly natural transition, we pass to an entirely different subject—from exhortation to show forth Christian graces to a warning against corrupt doctrine. True prophets (2 Peter 1:21) suggest false prophets, and false prophets suggest false teachers. On the character of the false teachers here attacked see Introduction, IV. There are several prophecies in the New Testament similar to the one contained in this and the next chapter (Acts 20:28-31; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-7; 1 Timothy 4:1-7; 2 Timothy 3:1-9; 2 Timothy 4:3-4; comp. 1 John 2:18; 1 John 4:3). Those in 2 Thess. and 2 Timothy 3 are specially worthy of comparison, as containing, like the present chapter, a mixture of future and present. (See Introduction, I. c, y.) The fervour and impetuosity with which the writer attacks the evil before him are thoroughly in harmony with St. Peter’s character. (Comp. Notes on Jude throughout.)


Verse 1

FIRST PREDICTION: False teachers shall have great success and certain ruin (2 Peter 2:1-10).

(1) But there were false prophets also.—To bring out the contrast between true and false prophets more strongly, the clause that in meaning is secondary has been made primary in form. The meaning is, “There shall be false teachers among you, as there were false prophets among the Jews;” the form is, “But (in contrast to the true prophets just mentioned) there were false prophets as well, even as,” &c.

Shall be false teachers among you.—We must add “also.” With this view of Christians as the antitype of the chosen people comp. 1 Peter 2:9. The word for “false teachers” occurs here only. It is probably analogous to “false witnesses,” and means those who teach what is false, rather than to “false Christs,” in which case it would mean pretending to be teachers when they are not. “False prophets” has both meanings—sham prophets and prophesying lies. Justin Martyr, about A.D. 145 (Trypho, lxxxii.), has “Just as there were false prophets contemporaneous with your holy prophets” (he is addressing a Jew), “so are there now many false teachers amongst us.” Another possible reference to this Epistle in Justin is given below on 2 Peter 3:8. As they occur close together, they seem to render it probable that Justin knew our Epistle. “There shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in heresies of destruction,” is quoted in a homily attributed, on doubtful authority, to Hippolytus. (See below, on chap. iii. 3.)

Privily shall bring in.—Comp. Jude 1:4, and Galatians 2:4; and see Notes in both places. Comp. also the Shepherd of Hermas, Sim. VIII. vi. 5.

Damnable heresies.—Rather, parties (full) of destruction (Philippians 1:28), “whose end is destruction” (Philippians 3:19). Wiclif and Rheims have “sects of perdition.” “Damnable heresies” comes from Geneva—altogether a change for the worse. The Greek word hairesis is sometimes translated “sect” in our version (Acts 5:17; Acts 15:5; Acts 24:5), sometimes “heresy” (Acts 24:14; 1 Corinthians 11:19; Galatians 5:20). Neither word gives quite the true meaning of the term in the New Testament, where it points rather to divisions than doctrines, and always to parties inside the Church, not to sects that have separated from it. The Greek word for “destruction” occurs six times in this short Epistle, according to the inferior texts used by our translators (in the best texts five times), and is rendered by them in no less than five different ways: “damnable” and “destruction” in this verse; “pernicious ways,” 2 Peter 2:2; “damnation,” 2 Peter 2:3; “perdition,” 2 Peter 3:7; “destruction,” 2 Peter 3:16.

Even denying the Lord that bought them.—Better, denying even the Master that bought them. (See Note on Jude 1:4.) The phrase is remarkable as coming from one who himself denied his Master. Would a forger have ventured to make St. Peter write thus?

This text is conclusive against Calvinistic doctrines of partial redemption; the Apostle declares that these impious false teachers were redeemed by Jesus Christ. (Comp. 1 Peter 1:18.)

And bring upon themselves.—More literally, bringing upon themselves. The two participles, “denying” and “bringing,” without any conjunction to connect them, are awkward, and show that the writer’s strong feeling is already beginning to ruffle the smoothness of his language.

Swift destruction—i.e., coming suddenly and unexpectedly, so as to preclude escape; not necessarily coming soon. (See first Note on 2 Peter 1:14.) The reference, probably, is to Christ’s sudden return to judgment (2 Peter 3:10), scoffing at which was one of the ways in which they “denied their Master.” By their lives they denied that He had “bought them.” He had bought them for His service, and they served their own lusts.


Verse 2

(2) Many shall follow their pernicious ways.—“Pernicious ways” is a translation of the plural of the word just rendered “destruction.” (See fourth Note on 2 Peter 2:1.) But here the reading is undoubtedly wrong. The margin has the right reading—lascivious ways (or better, wanton ways)—being the plural of the word translated “wantonness” in 2 Peter 2:18. Wiclif has “lecheries;” Rheims “riotousnesses.”

The connexion between false doctrine and licentiousness was often real, and is so still in some cases—e.g., Mormonism. But it was often asserted and believed without foundation. Impurity was the common charge to bring against those of a different creed, whether between heathen and Christian or between different divisions of Christians.

By reason of whom.—The many who are led astray are meant, rather than the original seducers. (Comp. Romans 2:24.)

The way of truth.—(See Note on Acts 9:2.) “The way of truth” occurs in Clement of Alexandria (Cohort. ad Gentes, x.), the only near approach to anything in 2 Peter in all the writings of his that have come down to us. This is strong evidence that he did not know the Epistle, especially as references are frequent to 1 Peter, which is sometimes quoted thus: “Peter in his Epistle says” (Strom. iv. 20).

Shall be evil spoken of.—By the heathen, who will judge of the way of truth by the evil lives of the many who have really been seduced from it, though they profess still to follow it. In the homily commonly called the Second Epistle of Clement (13) there is a remarkable amplification of this statement. Our Epistle was probably known to the writer of the homily, who to a considerable extent preaches against similar evils.


Verse 3

(3) And through covetousness.—Better, In covetousness. This is the atmosphere in which they live. (See Notes on 2 Peter 2:18 and 2 Peter 1:1-2; 2 Peter 1:4; 2 Peter 1:13.) Wiclif and Rheims have “in.” Simon Magus offering St. Peter money, which no doubt he was accustomed to take himself for his teaching, may illustrate this (Acts 8:18; comp. 1 Timothy 6:5; Titus 1:10-11). These false teachers, like the Greek Sophists, taught for money. A bombastic mysticism, promising to reveal secrets about the unseen world and the future, was a very lucrative profession in the last days of Paganism, and it passed over to Christianity as an element in various heresies. (Comp. the Shepherd of Hermas, Sim. IX. xix. 3.)

Make merchandise of you.—The verb means literally to travel, especially as a merchant on business; and hence “to be a merchant,” “to trade,” and, with an accusative, “to deal in,” “make merchandise of.” (Comp. our commercial phrase, “to travel in” such and such goods.) It may also mean simply “to gain,” or “gain over,” which would make good sense here; but our version is perhaps better. The word occurs elsewhere only in James 4:13. “With feigned words” possibly refers back to “cunningly devised fables” (2 Peter 1:16).

Lingereth not.—Literally, is not idle, the cognate verb of the adjective in 2 Peter 1:8. Their sentence has long since been pronounced, is working, and in due time will strike them. We have a similar thought in 1 Peter 4:17.

Their damnation slumbereth not.—Better, their destruction. (See fourth Note on 2 Peter 2:1.) Wiclif and Rheims have “perdition.” The destruction involved in the judgment pronounced by God is awake and on its way to overtake them. The word for “slumbereth” occurs in Matthew 25:5 only.

We now pass on to see how it is that this judgment “of a long time” has been working. It was pronounced against all sinners, such as they are, from the first beginning of the world.


Verse 4

(4) For if God.—The sentence has no proper conclusion. The third instance of God’s vengeance is so prolonged by the addition respecting Lot, that the apodosis is wanting, the writer in his eagerness having lost the thread of the construction. The three instances here are in chronological order (wanton angels, Flood, Sodom and Gomorrha), while those in Jude are not (unbelievers in the wilderness, impure angels, Sodom and Gomorrha). Both arrangements are natural—this as being chronological, that of St. Jude for reasons stated in the Notes there. (See on 2 Peter 2:5.)

The angels that sinned.—Better, the angels for their sin: it gives the reason why they were not spared, and points to some definite sin. What sin is meant? Not that which preceded the history of the human race, commonly called the fall of the angels—of that there is no record in the Old Testament; and, moreover, it affords no close analogy to the conduct of the false teachers. St. Jude is somewhat more explicit (Jude 1:6); he says it was for not keeping their own dignity—for deserting their proper home; and the reference, both there and here, is either to a common interpretation of Genesis 6:2 (that by “the sons of God” are meant “angels”), or, more probably, to distinct and frequent statements in the Book of Enoch, that certain angels sinned by having intercourse with women—e.g., Enoch vii. 1, 2; cv. 13 (Lawrence’s translation). Not improbably these false teachers made use of this book, and possibly of these passages, in their corrupt teaching. Hence St. Peter uses it as an argumentum ad hominem against them, and St. Jude, recognising the allusion, adopts it and makes it more plain; or both writers, knowing the Book of Enoch well, and calculating on their readers knowing it also, used it to illustrate their arguments and exhortations, just as St. Paul uses the Jewish belief of the rock following the Israelites. (See Note on 1 Corinthians 10:4.)

Cast them down to hell.—The Greek word occurs nowhere else, but its meaning is plain—to cast down to Tartarus; and though “Tartarus” occurs neither in the Old nor in the New Testament, it probably is the same as Gehenna. (See Note on Matthew 5:22.)

Into chains of darkness.—Critical reasons seem to require us to substitute dens, or caves, for “chains.” The Greek words for “chains” and for “caves” here are almost exactly alike; and “caves” may have been altered into “chains” in order to bring this passage into closer harmony with Jude 1:6, although the word used by St. Jude for “chains” is different. (See Note there.) If “chains of darkness” be retained, comp. Wisdom of Solomon 17:17. There still remains the doubt whether “into chains of darkness” should go with “delivered” or with “cast down into hell.” The former arrangement seems the better.


Verses 4-8

(4-8) Three instances of divine vengeance, proving that great wickedness never goes unpunished.


Verse 5

(5) And spared not the old world.—The fact that the Flood is taken as the second instance of divine vengeance gives us no clue as to the source of the first instance. In the Book of Enoch the Flood follows closely upon the sin of the angels, as in Genesis 6 upon that of the sons of God, so that in either case the first instance would naturally suggest the second.

Noah the eighth person.—According to a common Greek idiom, this means Noah and seven others; and the point of it is that the punishment must have been signal indeed if only eight persons out of a whole world escaped. The coincidence with 1 Peter 3:20 must not pass unobserved, especially as there the mention of “spirits in prison” immediately precedes, just as here, the angels in “caves of darkness.” The suggestion that eight is here a mystical number (the sabbatical seven and one over) is quite gratuitous; as also that “eighth” may mean eighth from Enos, which would be utterly pointless, there being neither mention of Enos nor the faintest allusion to him. (Comp. Clement I. vii. 6; ix. 4; and see Note on 2 Peter 2:9.)

Bringing in the flood upon the world.—“In” should be omitted. The phrase is exactly parallel to “bring upon themselves swift destruction “in 2 Peter 2:1. The word for “bring” is the same in both cases.


Verse 6

(6) And turning. . . .—The construction still depends upon the “if” in 2 Peter 2:4. (See Note on Jude 1:7.)

Condemned them with an overthrow.—Or, perhaps, to an overthrow, like “condemn to death” in Matthew 20:18. The very word here used for “overthrow”—catastrophe—is used by the LXX. of the overthrow of these cities (Genesis 19:29); in the New Testament it occurs in 2 Timothy 2:4 only.

An ensample unto those.—Literally, an ensample of those—i.e., of the punishment which such sinners must expect. (Comp. “Are set forth for an example,” Jude 1:7.)


Verse 7

(7) And delivered just Lot.—Better, righteous Lot; it is the same adjective as occurs twice in the next verse. These repetitions of the same word, of which there are several examples in this Epistle (“destruction” thrice, 2 Peter 2:1-3; various repetitions, 2 Peter 3:10-12; “look for” thrice, 2 Peter 3:12-14, &c), and which have been stigmatised as showing poverty of language, are perfectly natural in St. Peter, and not like the laboured efforts of a writer endeavouring to personate him. A person writing under strong emotion does not stop to pick his words; he uses the same word over and over again if it expresses what he means and no other word at once occurs to him. This is still more likely to be the case when a person is writing in a foreign language. The fact that such repetitions are frequent in the Second Epistle, but not in the First, is not only fully explained by the circumstances, but, as being so entirely in harmony with them, may be regarded as a mark of genuineness. “Delivered righteous Lot.” Here, as in the case of the Flood (2 Peter 2:5), the destruction of the guilty suggests the preservation of the innocent. Is it fanciful to think that these lights in a dark picture are characteristic of one who had himself “denied the Master who bought him,” and yet had been preserved like Noah and rescued like Lot? This brighter side is wanting in Jude, so that in the strictly historical illustrations this Epistle is more full than the other (see Note on 2 Peter 2:15); it is where apocryphal books seem to be alluded to that St. Jude has more detail.

The filthy conversation.—Literally, behaviour in wantonness (comp. 2 Peter 2:2; 2 Peter 2:18)—i.e., licentious mode of life. The word for “conversation,” or “behaviour,” is a favourite one with St. Peter—six times in the First Epistle, twice in this (2 Peter 3:11); elsewhere in the New Testament only five times.

Of the wicked.—Literally, of the lawless—a word peculiar to this Epistle; we have it again in 2 Peter 3:17. The word translated “abominable” in 1 Peter 4:3 is closely allied to it.

The judgment on Sodom and Gomorrha forms a fitting complement to that of the Flood as an instance of God’s vengeance, a judgment by fire being regarded as more awful than a judgment by flood, as is more distinctly shown in 2 Peter 3:6-7, where the total destruction of the world by fire is contrasted with the transformation of it wrought by the Flood.


Verse 8

(8) For that righteous man.—This epithet, here thrice given to Lot, seems at first sight to be at variance with his willingness to remain, for the sake of worldly advantages, in the midst of such wickedness. But “righteous is a relative term; and in this case we must look at Lot both in comparison with the defective morality of the age and also with the licentiousness of those with whom he is here contrasted. Moreover, in the midst of this corruption he preserves some of the brighter features of his purer nomad life, especially that “chivalrous hospitality” (Genesis 19:2-3; Genesis 19:8) to which the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews seems to point as a model: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Genesis 13:2). Add to this the fact of God’s rescuing him and his family, especially in connexion with the declaration that ten “righteous” people would have saved the whole city (Genesis 18:32), and his ready belief and obedience when told to leave all, and also the fact that Zoar was saved at his intercession (Genesis 19:21), and we must then admit that the epithet “righteous” as applied to Lot is by no means without warrant.


Verse 9

(9) The Lord knoweth.—This is the main sentence to which the various conditional clauses beginning 2 Peter 2:4 (see Note there) have been leading. But the construction is disjointed, owing to the eagerness of the writer, and the main clause does not fit on to the introductory clauses very smoothly. Even the main clause itself is interrupted by the insertion of “to deliver the godly out of temptations.” What the writer specially wishes to prove is that “the Lord knoweth how to reserve the ungodly unto the day of judgment under punishment,” as is shown by the “for” connecting 2 Peter 2:4 with 2 Peter 2:3.

To be punished.—Rather, being punished, or under punishment. They are already suffering punishment while waiting for their final doom. The error in our version is parallel to that in Acts 2:47, where “such as should be saved” stands instead of “those who were being saved.” The participle is present, not future.

The same double moral—that God will save the righteous and punish the ungodly—is drawn from the same historical instance by Clement of Rome (Epistle to the Corinthians, xi.): “For his hospitality and godliness Lot was saved from Sodom, when all the country round was judged by fire and brimstone; the Master having thus foreshown that He forsaketh not them who set their hope on Him, but appointeth unto punishment and torment them who swerve aside.” λ possible, but not a certain, reference to our Epistle. (See Note below on 2 Peter 3:4.)


Verse 10

(10) Them that walk after the flesh.—Less definite than Jude 1:7. Here there is nothing about going away or astray, nor about the flesh being “other” than is allowed. This is natural; Jude’s remark applying to the inhabitants of the cities of the plain in particular, this to sensual persons generally.

In the lust of uncleanness.—Better, in the lust of pollution—i.e., the lust that causes pollution. The exact word occurs nowhere else; the same word, all but the termination, occurs in 2 Peter 2:20, and nowhere else.

Despise government.—(Comp. “despise dominion,” Jude 1:8.) Our version is minutely perverse. The word translated “government” here and “dominion” in Jude is one and the same in the Greek: whereas the words translated in both places “despise” are different.

Presumptuous are they.—A fresh verse should begin here; the construction is entirely changed, and a fresh start made. From “the unjust” to “government” the reference is to ungodly and sensual people in general; here we return to the false teachers in particular. Audacious would be more literal than “presumptuous.” The word is found here only. On the change to the present tense, see Introduction, I., c, γ.

Speak evil of dignities.—The exact meaning of “dignities,” or “glories,” is not clear, either here or in Jude 1:8. The context in both places seems to show that spiritual powers alone are intended, and that earthly powers, whether civil or ecclesiastical, are not included, much less exclusively indicated. The construction here resembles that in 2 Peter 1:19 : “Do not tremble in (or, while) speaking evil of dignities,” like “ye do well in taking heed.” These men deny the existence of, or irreverently speak slightingly of, those spiritual agencies by means of which God conducts the government of the world.


Verse 11

(11) Whereas angels.—Literally, Where angels—i.e., in circumstances in which angels. This verse, if it refers to the same incident as Jude 1:9, seems at first sight to tell somewhat in favour of the priority of Jude; for then, only when compared with Jude 1:9, does it become intelligible. The inference is that this is an abbreviation of Jude, rather than Jude an amplification of this. But (1) such an inference is at best only probable. The writer of this Epistle might possibly count on his readers at once understanding his allusion to a tradition that may have been well known, while St. Jude thought it best to point out the allusion more plainly. (2) It is possible that the contest alluded to is not that between Satan and Michael about the body of Moses, but that between Satan and the angel of the Lord about Joshua the high priest (Zechariah 3:1-2). (3) It is also possible that it does not refer to any contest with Satan at all, but merely to angels not denouncing these false teachers before God, but leaving them to His judgment. If either (2) or (3) is correct, the argument for the priority of Jude falls to the ground. If (1) is right, then the argument really favours the priority of 2 Peter; for if the author of 2 Peter had Jude before him (and this is maintained by those who contend for the priority of Jude), and wished to make use of St. Jude’s illustration, why should he so deface St. Jude’s statement of it as to make it almost unintelligible? The reason suggested is altogether inadequate—that reverential feelings made him wish to avoid mentioning Michael’s name—a name that every Jew was perfectly familiar with in the Book of Daniel.

Greater in power and might.—This is taken in two ways—either “greater than these audacious, self-willed men,” which is the simpler and more natural explanation; or “greater than other angels,” as if it were a periphrasis for “archangels,” which is rather awkward language. But either explanation makes good sense.

Railing accusation against them.—Literally, a railing judgment. Wiclif has “doom,” all the rest “judgment” both superior to “accusation.” “Against them,” if the reference is either to the contest about the body of Moses or to Zechariah 3:1-2, must mean against “dignities,” and “dignities” must here mean fallen angels, who are considered still to be worthy of reverence on account of their original glory and indefectible spiritual nature. The position is, therefore, that what angels do not venture to say of devils, this, and worse than this, these audacious men dare to say of angels and other unseen powers. But “against them” may possibly mean “against the false teachers,” i.e., they speak evil of angels, yet the angels bring no denunciation against them, but leave all judgment to God (Deuteronomy 32:35-36; Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30). This explanation avoids the awkwardness of making “dignities” in 2 Peter 2:10 mean unseen powers generally, and chiefly good ones; while “against dignities” in this verse has to mean against evil powers only.


Verse 12

(12) But these, as natural brute beasts.—Omit “natural.” This verse appears to tell strongly in favour of the priority of our Epistle. The literary form of Jude 1:10, is so very superior; the antithesis (quite wanting here) between abusing what they cannot know and misusing what they cannot help knowing is so telling, and would be so easily remembered, that it is improbable that a writer who was willing to adopt so much would not have adopted in this respect also; and whichever writer is second, it is evident that he was willing to adopt his predecessor’s material almost to any extent. On the other hand, there is nothing improbable in a writer who knew this verse improving upon it by writing Jude 1:10. The verses, similar as they are in much of their wording, are very different in their general drift. Jude 1:10, is simply an epigrammatic description of these ungodly men; this verse is a denunciation of final ruin against them.

Made to be taken and destroyed.—Literally, born naturally for capture and destruction. “Natural” comes in better here as a kind of adverb than as an additional epithet to beasts. The force of it is that these animals cannot help themselves—it is their nature to rush after what will prove their ruin; but the false teachers voluntarily seek their own destruction against nature. This verse contains one of the repetitions noticed above (see on 2 Peter 2:7) as characteristic of this Epistle. The word for “destruction” and “corruption” is one and the same in the Greek, the destroying being literal in the first case, moral in the second. Moreover, the word for “perish” is from the same root. “Like brutes born for capture and destruction, these men shall be destroyed in their destruction.” But such a translation would be misleading in English.

Shall utterly perish.—A reading of higher authority gives us, shall even perish.

In their own corruption.—“Own” may be omitted. Their present evil life anticipates and contains within itself the elements of their final destruction. Thus they “bring it upon themselves” (2 Peter 2:1). The right division of the sentences here cannot be decided with certainty; the Apostle hurries on, in the full flood of his denunciation, without paying much attention to the precise form of his language. On the whole, it seems best to place only a comma at the end of 2 Peter 2:12, with a full stop or colon at “unrighteousness,” and to make what follows part of the long sentence, of which the main verb is “are gone astray” in 2 Peter 2:15.


Verse 13

(13) And shall receive.—Literally, about to receive (as they are). (Comp. 1 Peter 1:9; 1 Peter 5:4; see also Epistle of Barnabas, iv. 12.)

As they that count.—We must begin a fresh sentence, and somewhat modify the translation. “To riot” is too strong; the word means “delicate fare, dainty living, luxury,” and if the exact meaning be retained, this will necessitate a change of “in the day time.” For though “rioting in the day time” makes good sense—revelry even among professed pleasure seekers being usually confined to the night (1 Thessalonians 5:7)—“dainty fare in the day time” does not seem to have much point. The meaning is, perhaps, “for the day,” without thought for the morrow, counting luxury for the moment a pleasure—the doctrine of the Cyrenaics and the instinct of “brute beasts.” In the Shepherd of Hermas (Sim. VI. iv. 4) there is a passage which may possibly be an echo of this: “The time of luxury and deceit is one hour, but the hours of torment have the power of thirty days; if, then, a man luxuriates for one day,” &c. &c. (See below on 2 Peter 2:15; 2 Peter 2:20; 2 Peter 3:5.)

Sporting themselves.—The word is a compound of the one just translated “luxury”; hence luxuriating. It is worth noting that the words for “spots and blemishes” exactly correspond to the words translated “without blemish and without spot” in 1 Peter 1:19. (See below on 2 Peter 3:14.)

With their own deceivings.—Better, in their deceits, if this is the right reading. But both here and in Jude 1:12, the reading is uncertain, authorities being divided between agapai, “love-feasts,” and apatai, “deceits.” In Jude the balance on purely critical grounds is decidedly in favour of “love-feasts;” here (though much less decidedly) in favour of “deceits.” In Jude the context confirms the reading “love-feasts;” here the context is neutral, or slightly inclines to “love-feasts,” to which “while they feast with you” must in any case refer. But if “love-feasts” be right in Jude (and this is so probable that we may almost assume it), this in itself is strong support to the same reading here. Whichever writer is prior, so strange a change from “deceits” to “love-feasts” would hardly have been made deliberately; whereas, in copying mechanically, the interchange might easily be made, the words being so similar. The change from “spots” to “rocks,” if such a change has been deliberately made by either writer (see on Jude 1:12), would not be parallel to a change between “deceits” and “love-feasts.” The one is a mere variation of the metaphor, the other an alteration of the meaning. In 2 Thessalonians 2:10 there is possibly an intentional play upon the similarity of these two words.


Verse 14

(14) Of adultery.—Literally, of an adulteress. This verse has no counterpart in Jude.

That cannot cease from sin.—Literally, that cannot be made to cease from sin. (Comp. attentively 1 Peter 4:1.) It was precisely because these men refused to “suffer in the flesh,” but, on the contrary, gave the flesh all possible licence on principle, that they could not “cease from sin.”

Beguiling.—Strictly, enticing with bait. We have the same word in 2 Peter 2:18, James 1:14, and nowhere else. If “deceits” be the right reading in 2 Peter 2:13, this clause throws some light on it. In any case, the metaphor from fishing, twice in this Epistle and only once elsewhere, may point to a fisherman of Galilee. (Comp. Matthew 17:27.)

With covetous practices.—Better, in covetousness. The word is singular, as in 2 Peter 2:3, according to all the best MSS. and versions.

Cursed children.—Rather, children of malediction. So Rheims; Wiclif has “sones of cursynge.” They are devoted to execration; malediction has adopted them as its own. (Comp. “son of perdition,” John 17:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:3.)


Verse 15

(15) The right way.—(Comp. Acts 13:10.) In the Shepherd of Hermas (I. Vis. III. vii. 1) we have “Who have believed indeed, but through their doubting have forsaken their true way.” (See Notes on 2 Peter 2:1; 2 Peter 2:3; 2 Peter 2:13; 2 Peter 2:20; 2 Peter 3:5.)

Are gone astray.—The main verb of this long sentence. Here parallels with Jude begin again. In the historical incident of Balaam, as in that of Sodom and Gomorrha, our Epistle is more detailed than Jude (see on 2 Peter 2:7). The past tenses in this verse are quite in harmony with the view that this chapter is a genuine prediction. (Comp. Genesis 49:9; Genesis 49:15; Genesis 49:23-24.) The future foretold with such confidence as to be spoken of as already past is a common form for prophecy to assume.

Balaam the son of Bosor.—Bosor seems to be a dialectical variation from Beor, arising out of peculiar Aramaic pronunciation—a slight indication that the writer was a Jew of Palestine. The resemblance between these false teachers and Balaam consisted in their running counter to God’s will for their own profit, and in prostituting their office to an infamous purpose, which brought ruin on the community. He, like they, had “enticed unstable souls,” and had “a heart exercised in covetousness.” A comparison of this passage with Revelation 2:14-15, gives countenance to the view that among the false teachers thus stigmatised the Nicolaitans may be included. In Jude 1:11, these ungodly men are compared not only to Balaam, but also to Cain and Korah. It seems more likely that St. Jude should add these two very opprobrious comparisons than that the vehement writer of this Epistle should reject material so suitable to his invective. If so, we have here another argument for the priority of our Epistle. (See on 2 Peter 2:12.)


Verse 16

(16) But was rebuked for his iniquity.—Literally, But had a conviction of his own transgression—i.e., was convicted of it, or rebuked for it. His transgression was that, although as a prophet he knew the blessedness of Israel, and although God gave him leave to go only on condition of his blessing Israel, he went still cherishing a hope of being able to curse, and so winning Balak’s promised reward.

The dumb ass.—Literally, a dumb beast of burden. The same word is rendered “ass” in Matthew 21:5, in the phrase “foal of an ass.” In Palestine the ass was the most common beast of burden, horses being rare, so that in most cases “beast of burden” would necessarily mean “ass.”

Forbad the madness.—Strictly, hindered the madness; and thus the trivial discrepancy which some would urge as existing between this passage and Numbers 22 disappears. It has been objected that not the ass but the angel forbad Balaam from proceeding. But it was the ass which hindered the infatuation of Balaam from hurrying him to his own destruction (Numbers 22:33). The word for “madness” is probably chosen for the sake of alliteration with “prophet”—prophétou paraphronian. It is a very rare formation, perhaps coined by the writer himself.


Verse 17

(17) These are wells.—Or, springs; same word as John 4:6. These men are like dried-up watering-places in the desert, which entice and mock the thirsty traveller; perhaps leading him into danger also by drawing him from places where there is water. (Comp. Jeremiah 2:13; Jeremiah 14:3.) The parallel passage, Jude 1:12-13, is much more full than the one before us, and is more like an amplification of this than this a condensation of that—e.g., would a simile so admirably suitable to false guides as “wandering stars” have been neglected by the writer of our Epistle? A Hebrew word which occurs only twice in the Old Testament is translated by the LXX. in the one place (Genesis 2:6) by the word here used for “well,” and in the other (Job 36:27) by the word used in Jude 1:12, for “cloud.” Thus the same Hebrew might have produced “wells without water” here and “clouds without water” in Jude. This is one of the arguments used in favour of a Hebrew original of both these Epistles. Coincidences of this kind, which may easily be mere accidents of language, must be shown to be numerous before a solid argument can be based upon them. Moreover, we must remember that the writers in both cases were Jews, writing in Greek, while thinking probably in Hebrew, so that the same Hebrew thought might suggest a different Greek expression in the two cases. When we have deducted all that might easily be accounted for in this way, and also all that is perhaps purely accidental, from the not very numerous instances of a similar kind that have been collected, we shall not find much on which to build the hypothesis of these Epistles being translations from Hebrew originals. (See Introduction to Jude, II.)

Clouds that are carried with a tempest.—Better, mists driven by the storm-wind. Wiclif has “myistis.” The words for “clouds” and “carried about” in Jude 1:12, are quite different, so that our version creates a false impression of great similarity. The idea is not very different from that of the “wells without water.” These mists promise refreshment to the thirsty soil (Genesis 2:6), and are so flimsy that they are blown away before they do any good. So these false teachers deceived those who were thirsting for the knowledge and liberty promised them by raising hopes which they could not satisfy.

To whom the mist of darkness.—Better, for whom the gloom of darkness. (See Note on Jude 1:6.) “For ever” is wanting in authority; the words have probably been inserted from the parallel passage in Jude.


Verse 18

(18) Great swelling words of vanity.—Exaggeration, unreality, boastfulness, and emptiness are expressed by this phrase. It carries on the same idea as the waterless wells and the driven mists—great pretensions and no results. The rebuke here is not unlike the warning in 1 Peter 5:5-6.

Allure.—Translated “beguile” in 2 Peter 2:14, where see Note.

Through the lusts of the flesh.—Better, in the lusts of the flesh (as in 2 Peter 2:3, and 2 Peter 1:1-2; 2 Peter 1:4; 2 Peter 1:13). The preposition “in” points to the sphere in which the enticement takes place; “through” should be reserved for “wantonness” (see Note on 2 Peter 2:2), which is the bait used to entice.

Were clean escaped.—Both verb and adverb require correction. The margin indicates the right reading for the adverb—“for a little,” or better, by a little; scarcely. The verb should be present, not past—those who are scarcely escaping, viz., the “unstable souls” of 2 Peter 2:14. Wiclif has “scapen a litil;” Rheims “escape a litle.” The word translated “scarcely” occurs nowhere else in the New Testament; that translated here “clean,” and elsewhere “indeed,” or “certainly,” is frequent (Mark 11:32; Luke 23:47; Luke 24:34, &c. &c). Hence the change, an unfamiliar word being, by a slight alteration, turned into a familiar one. The two Greek words are much alike.


Verse 19

(19) Promise them liberty.—A specimen of the “great swelling words”—loud, high-sounding talk about liberty. The doctrines of Simon Magus, as reported by Irenæus (I., chap. xxiii. 3) and by Hippolytus (Refut. VI., chap. xiv.), show us the kind of liberty that such teachers promised—being “freed from righteousness” to become “the slaves of sin.”

Servants of corruption.—Better, bond-servants, or slaves of corruption. Our translators have often done well in translating the Greek word for “slave” by “servant” (see Note on 2 Peter 1:1), but here the full force of the ignominious term should be given. Tyndale, Cranmer, and Geneva have “bond-servants;” Rheims “slaves.” (Comp. “bondage of corruption,” Romans 8:21.)

Brought in bondage.—Or, enslaved. We seem here to have an echo of John 8:34 (see Notes there): “Every one who continues to commit sin is the slave of sin,” words which St. Peter may have heard. Comp. Romans 6:16-20, which the writer may also have had in his mind. There is nothing improbable in St. Peter being well acquainted with the Epistle to the Romans during the last years of his life; the improbability would rather be in supposing that he did not know it.


Verse 20

(20) For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world.—Applying the general statement of the preceding verse to the case of these false teachers. In the Shepherd of Hermas (I. Vis. IV. iii. 2.) “the black there is the world in which we dwell, and the fire-and-blood-colour (indicates) that this world must perish through blood and fire; but the golden part are ye who have escaped this world.” Another possible reminiscence of our Epistle. (See above on 2 Peter 2:1; 2 Peter 3:13; 2 Peter 3:15; and below, 2 Peter 3:5.)

Through the knowledge.—Better, in knowledge the preposition “in” pointing to that in which the escape consists. (See on 2 Peter 2:18, and comp. Luke 1:77.) The knowledge is of the same mature and complete kind as that spoken of in 2 Peter 1:2-3; 2 Peter 1:8 (where see Notes), showing that these men were well-instructed Christians.

Entangled therein, and overcome.—Or, entangled and overcome thereby, which, from the latter part of 2 Peter 2:19, seems to be the more probable construction.

The latter end is worse with them than the beginning.—Most certainly this should be made to correspond with Matthew 12:45, of which it is almost an exact reproduction—their last state is worse than the first. The only difference is that the word for “is” in Matthew 12:45 means literally “becomes,” and here “has become.” (Comp. the Shepherd, Sim. IX. xvii. 5.)


Verse 21

(21) It had been better for them not to have known.—There are many things of which the well-known lines.

“’Tis better to have loved and lost,

Than never to have loved at all,”

do not hold good. To have loved a great truth, to have loved a high principle, and after all to lose them, is what often causes the shipwreck of a life. To have loved Jesus Christ and lost Him is to make shipwreck of eternal life.

The way of righteousness.—The life of the Christian. That which from a doctrinal point of view is “the way of truth” (2 Peter 2:2), from a moral point of view is “the way of righteousness.” So also “the faith delivered to the saints” of Jude 1:3, is the doctrinal equivalent of “the holy commandment delivered unto them” of this verse.


Verse 22

(22) But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb.—More literally, There has happened to them what the true proverb says; “but” is of very doubtful authority. The word for “proverb” is the one used elsewhere only by St. John in his Gospel, and there translated once “parable” and thrice “proverb.” “Parable,” or “allegory,” would have been best in all four cases (John 10:6, where see Note; John 16:25; John 16:29). The first proverb is found, Proverbs 26:11, and if that be the source of the quotation, we have here an independent translation of the Hebrew, for the LXX. gives an entirely different rendering, “dog” being the only word in common to the two Greek versions. The word for “vomit” here is possibly formed by the writer himself; that for “wallowing” is also a rare word. The LXX. adds, “and becomes abominable,” which has no equivalent in the existing Hebrew text; and it has been suggested that these words may misrepresent the Hebrew original of the second proverb here. But it is quite possible that both proverbs come from popular tradition, and not from Scripture at all. If, however, the Book of Proverbs be the source of the quotation, it is worth while noting that no less than four times in as many chapters does St. Peter recall passages from the Proverbs in the First Epistle (1 Peter 1:7; 1 Peter 2:17; 1 Peter 4:8; 1 Peter 4:18). In the Greek neither proverb has a verb, as so often in such sayings—a dog that has returned to his own vomit; a washed sow to wallowing in the mire; just as we say “the dog in the manger,” “a fool and his money.”

The word for “mire,” not a very common one, is used by Irenæus of the Gnostic false teachers of his day, who taught that their fine spiritual natures could no more be hurt by sensuality than gold by mire. “For in the same way as gold when plunged in mire does not lay aside its beauty, but preserves its own nature, the mire having no power to injure the gold, so they say that they, no matter what kind of material actions they may be involved in, cannot suffer any harm, nor lose their spiritual essence.” (chap. vi. 2). But it is not probable that Irenæus knew our Epistle.

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 2 Peter 2:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/2-peter-2.html. 1905.

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