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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

2 Peter 2

 

 

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Verse 1

2 Peter 2:1. But — Now that I am speaking of the divinely-inspired Jewish prophets, whose writings you must give heed to, I must remind you that there were also false prophets among the people — Of Israel, whose doctrine and pretended predictions were to be disbelieved and disregarded, and whose society was to be shunned. Under the name of false prophets, that appeared among the Israelites of old, those that even spake the truth, when God had not sent them, might be comprehended; and also those that were truly sent of him, and yet corrupted or softened their message. Even as there shall be false teachers — As well as true; among you — Christians. The entrance of false teachers into the church of Christ, their impious doctrines, their success in perverting many, and the influence of their doctrines in corrupting the morals of their disciples, were all very early made known by the Spirit to the Apostle Paul, as we learn from his speech to the elders of Ephesus, and from his epistles to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, and to Titus. The same discoveries were made to the Apostles Peter, John, and Jude, who, as well as Paul, published them in their writings, that the faithful might oppose these false teachers, and confute their errors, as soon as they appeared. Peter, therefore, here records the revelation which was made to him concerning the false teachers who were to arise in the church, and concerning their destructive ways. But, lest the prospect of these great evils should grieve the faithful too much, as suggesting a fear that God had forsaken his church, he observes, by way of preface, that such a thing was not unexampled; because that, together with many true prophets, there were also many false ones in God’s ancient church, which, however, God had not therefore forsaken, but continued to superintend and take care of it. Who privily shall bring in — Into the church; damnable, or destructive heresies — As αιρεσεις απωλειας signifies; understanding by the word heresies not only fundamental errors in doctrine and practice, but divisions and parties occasioned by them, formed among the faithful. See note on 1 Corinthians 11:18-19. Even denying the Lord that bought them — They either, first, by denying the Lord, introduced destructive divisions, or they occasioned first those divisions, and then were given up to a reprobate mind, even to deny the Lord, both by their doctrine and their works. By the Lord here may be understood either the Father, who hath redeemed mankind by the blood of his Son, or the Son, who hath bought them with his own blood. Observe, reader, the persons here spoken of as denying the Lord, and therefore as perishing everlastingly, were nevertheless bought by him; by which it appears that even those who finally perish were bought with the blood of Christ; a full proof this of the truth of the doctrine of general, redemption. And bring upon themselves swift destruction — Future and eternal misery.


Verse 2-3

2 Peter 2:2-3. And many shall follow their pernicious ways — Their destructive doctrines, and sinful practices. By reason of whom the way of truth — The doctrine of the gospel, and the genuine religion of Christ; shall be evil spoken of — By many others, who will blend all false and true Christians together, as if the errors and vices of those members who are corrupted were to be charged on those who are not infected with their disorders; or the vices of a few were to be imputed to all. And through covetousness — Having nothing in view but worldly gain; shall they — Namely, the false teachers here spoken of; with feigned words — Words formed to deceive, smooth and artful speeches, such as covetous merchants, or unfair traders, make use of to put off bad goods; make merchandise of you — Use you to gain by you. “In this single sentence,” says Macknight, “there is a clear prediction of the iniquitous practices of those great merchants of souls, the Romish clergy, who have rated all crimes, even the most atrocious, at a fixed price; so that if their doctrine be true, whoever pays the price may commit the crime without hazarding his salvation.” Whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not — Was long ago determined, and will be executed speedily. All sinners are adjudged to destruction; and God’s punishing some proves he will punish the rest; and their damnation slumbereth not — How fondly soever they may dream of escaping it. Thus, while the apostle asserts the justice of God, he declares his patience. He is slow to punish, that sinners may have time to repent. But if they continue impenitent, he will, without fail, punish them at last.


Verse 4

2 Peter 2:4. For if — Or since, as ει γαρ may be here rendered; God spared not the angels that sinned — “The angels seem to have been placed originally in a state of trial. Those who stood are called in Scripture, the holy angels. The sin of the angels is spoken of likewise, John 8:44, and Jude, 2 Peter 2:6, as a thing well known. Perhaps it was handed down by tradition from Adam and Eve, for the memory of it seems to have been preserved among the heathens in the fable of the Titans warring against the gods. What the sin of the angels was is not well known. 1:6, says, They kept not their first estate, or their own principality, as την εαυτων αρχην may be properly rendered, but left their proper habitation. Hence their sin, by many, is thought to have been pride, and a discontent with their station. See 1 Timothy 3:6. But whatever it was, considering their high intellectual powers, they might easily have avoided it; and therefore God did not spare them, as he spared Adam and Eve, who, on account of the greatness of the temptation spread for them by the evil angels, and their own inexperience, were fit objects of mercy.” But cast them down to hell — The bottomless pit, a place of unknown misery. The original expression, αλλα σειραις ζοφου ταρταρωσας, is rendered by Macknight, But with chains of darkness confining them in Tartarus. The word Tartarus, he observes, is not found in the LXX., nor anywhere in the New Testament but here. Its meaning, therefore, must be sought for among the Greeks. Homer represents Tartarus, Iliad, 8. ver. 13, as “a deep place under the earth, where there are iron gates and a brazen entrance.” It is derived from a word expressive of terror, and signifies the doleful prison in which wicked spirits are reserved till they shall be brought out to public condemnation and execution. In like manner, Hesiod speaks of Tartarus as a place far under ground, where the Titans are bound with chains in thick darkness. But on other occasions the Greek writers speak of Tartarus as in the air, and at the extremity of the earth. Hence the epithet ταρταρον ηεροεντα, airy Tartarus. The Jews, as appears from Job 2:2, thought that at least some of the fallen angels were permitted to wander up and down the earth, and to tempt men. This was the doctrine of the evangelists likewise, who speak of the devil tempting our Lord; and of Peter, who represents him as a roaring lion walking about, &c., 1 Peter 5:8; as also of St. Paul, who insinuates that evil spirits have their habitation in the air, Ephesians 2:2; Ephesians 6:11-12. Wherefore seeing the Greeks named the place where they supposed the Titans, the enemies of the gods, were confined, Tartarus, it was natural for Peter, when writing in the Greek language, concerning confining the evil angels in the place where they were shut up, to call it Tartarus, although his idea of Tartarus was different from that of the Greeks. Because it is said, Revelation 20:3, that Satan was cast, εις αβυσσον, into the abyss, and Luke 8:31, that the devil besought Jesus that he would not command them to go out, εις αβυσσον, into the abyss, Estius infers that Tartarus and Hell are the same; and that the greatest part of the angels who sinned are confined there, though some of them are allowed to roam about on the earth, tempting men. See Macknight and Doddridge. Reserved unto judgment — The full execution and open manifestation thereof. From this it follows that the angels who sinned are not at present suffering the punishment due to them for their crimes; but, like malefactors, they are kept in durance till the time come when they are to be punished with the wicked of mankind, whom they have seduced. Whitby hath shown that this was the opinion of all the Christian writers for five centuries. And it is agreeable to our Lord’s doctrine, who says, the fire into which wicked men are to be cast, is fire prepared for the devil and his angels.


Verse 5

2 Peter 2:5. And spared not the old — The antediluvian; world, but saved Noah — Interposed amidst the general ruin for the preservation of one good man and his family; the eighth person, a preacher, &c. — Bishop Pearson translates this clause, the eighth preacher of righteousness; supposing that Enoch, (Genesis 5:24,) from whom Noah was descended, was the first preacher of righteousness, and that all the intermediate persons were likewise preachers thereof, and that Christ preached by them all. But of this there is no evidence; and it seems certain that Enoch could not be the first preacher of righteousness: Adam was, in a wonderful manner, fitted to perform that office in the first world, as Noah was in the second; and what excellent instructions both might give, is easy to be conceived! Bishop Pearson adds, that if the above-mentioned sense of the passage be not admitted, it may be understood as denoting, not the order in which Noah was ranked, but merely the number of persons that were with him, namely, Noah with seven others, or Noah one of eight. By terming Noah a preacher, κηρυκα, a crier, or herald, of righteousness, Peter intimates that all the time Noah was preparing the ark, he proclaimed to the antediluvians the destruction of the world by a flood, that from the dread of that impending judgment of God they might be brought to repentance. His preaching, however, it appears, was attended with little or no success. Bringing in the flood — In a gradual, but irresistible manner; upon the world of the ungodly — Whose numbers stood them in no stead.


Verses 6-8

2 Peter 2:6-8. And turning the cities of Sodom, &c., into ashes — When the inhabitants of those places were sunk into the lowest degeneracy; and condemned them with an overthrow — Punished them with utter destruction, both of their persons and habitations; making them an ensample — Not an example to be imitated, but an example to be avoided, as the word υποδειγμα, here used, signifies. Hence Jude, to express the same idea, uses the word δειγμα. And delivered just Lot — By the miraculous interposition of his providence; vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked — Exceedingly grieved by the lewd behaviour of the lawless Sodomites. For that righteous man, dwelling among them — Lot appears to have dwelt sixteen years in Sodom, after he parted from Abraham; a long space to abide in one of the lewdest and most outrageously wicked cities in the world, and not be tainted with their vices. Doubtless, as he was so exceedingly grieved with their lewd conduct from day to day, he often earnestly desired to leave the place, but he was directed, it seems, by God, to remain, that he might be an example of the divine goodness and power in delivering the godly from temptation, sin, and punishment. In seeing their base actions, and in hearing their lewd speeches, he vexed εβασανιζεν, tormented; his righteous soul from day to day — For their wickedness was incessant; with their unlawful deeds — The cry of which came up at length to heaven, and brought down upon them flaming destruction.


Verse 9

2 Peter 2:9. The Lord, &c. — This answers to 2 Peter 2:4, and closes the sense which was begun there; knoweth how to deliver — As if he had said, It plainly appears, from these instances, that the Lord hath both wisdom and power sufficient, or can find out ways and means, and will do so; to deliver the godly — Those who now suffer persecution; out of temptations

That is, trials and afflictions of various kinds; and to reserve — Or, keep in ward, as it were; (so τηρειν seems here to signify;) the unjust — The unrighteous, or ungodly; unto the day of judgment — Temporal and eternal; to be punished — In a most signal manner, or with a severity becoming their guilt and wickedness. “The multitude of the inhabitants of the old world, and of the cities of the plain, was, in the eye of God, no reason for not destroying them. He destroyed them all at once. On the other hand, the few godly persons among them were not overlooked by God because they were few, but preserved by an immediate interposition of his power. This last observation Peter makes to show that, notwithstanding God permits false teachers to arise and deceive many, he will preserve the sincere from being deluded by them, and at length will destroy them out of the church. By God’s keeping the unrighteous in ward to be punished at the day of judgment, we are taught that the punishment inflicted on the wicked in this life, will not hinder them from being punished in the next. The principal part of their punishment will be that which they shall suffer after the judgment.”


Verse 10-11

2 Peter 2:10-11. But chiefly them that walk after the flesh — Their corrupt nature; particularly in the lusts of uncleanness — Which are especially detestable in the eye of God; and the crimes they commit so much resemble those of Sodom, that it is the less to be wondered at if they share in its punishment; and with them may be joined those who despise government — The authority of their governors. Presumptuous τολμηται, audacious, ready to venture upon any thing that may serve their purposes; self-willed — Uncontrollable in their own designs and ways; they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities — Of persons in the highest dignity. Whereas angels — When they appear before the Lord, (Job 1:6; Job 2:1,) to give an account of what they have seen and done in the earth; even those who are greater in power and might — Than the rest of those glorious beings; bring not railing accusation against them — With whom they contend, namely, the devil, (as 1:9,) or, when they speak of rulers, they speak honourably of them, Daniel 4:31; and, always avoiding all violence of language, they, with all calmness and decency, declare matters as they are, revering the presence of God, how much soever they may abhor the characters of wicked men.


Verses 12-14

2 Peter 2:12-14. But these — False teachers; as natural brute beasts — As irrational animals, led merely by their brutish inclinations, several of which, in the present disordered state of the world, seem to be made to be taken and destroyed by mankind. He speaks chiefly of savage beasts, which men for their own security and preservation hunt down and destroy; speak evil of things that they understand not — Namely, the mysteries of Christianity; or magistracy, the institution, use, and benefit whereof they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption — In that loose and abandoned course of life to which they have given up themselves, John 8:21; who account it pleasure to riot in the day-time — Reckon it their chief happiness to pursue, even in the broad light of day, those riotous and voluptuous courses, which one would suppose they would endeavour to conceal under the cover of night. See 1 Thessalonians 5:7; Isaiah 3:9. Spots they are — In themselves; and blemishes — To any church; sporting themselves with their own deceivings — Making a jest of those whom they deceive, and even jesting while they are deceiving their own souls; while they feast with you — When they join with you in the love-feasts. “The primitive Christians were used to feast together before they celebrated the Lord’s supper, because it was instituted by Christ after he had eaten the passover with his disciples. See 1 Corinthians 11:21. These previous suppers, it appears from Jude, 2 Peter 2:13, were called αγαπαι, love-feasts; because the rich, by feasting their poor brethren, expressed their love to them. But on these occasions, it seems, the false teachers and their disciples were guilty of great intemperance. Having eyes full of adultery — Many of them are as lewd as they are gluttonous. The Greek is, more literally, having eyes full of an adulteress; a very strong expression, implying their having an adulteress continually before their eyes; and that cannot — Or who act as if they could not; cease from sin; beguiling δελεαζοντες, insnaring; unstable souls — Such as are not established in the faith and practice of the gospel. A heart exercised with covetous practices — Well experienced in such contrivances as are calculated to promote their gain and carnal interest. Cursed children — Persons worthy to be had in utter abomination, and peculiarly exposed to the curse of God.


Verse 15

2 Peter 2:15. Which have forsaken the right ευθειαν, straight; way — The way of truth and integrity, and are gone astray — Have wandered in dangerous and destructive paths; following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor — (So the Chaldeans pronounced what the Jews called Beor,) namely, the ways of covetousness. Balaam loved wealth and honour so much, that to obtain them he acted contrary to his conscience. To follow his way, therefore, is to be guided by similar base passions, and to commit similar base actions; who loved the wages of unrighteousness — “When Balaam was first sent for to curse the Israelites, Balak’s messengers carried only the rewards of divination in their hands, Numbers 22:7 : and therefore when God forbade him to go, he easily acquiesced, and refused to go, 2 Peter 2:13. But when Balak sent a second request by more honourable messengers, and with them a promise to promote him to very great honour, and to do whatever he should say to him, Balaam, inflamed with the love of the promised hire, endeavoured a second time to obtain permission to go. And though God allowed him to go, on the express condition that he should do nothing in the affair without his order, Balaam went with the resolution of cursing the Israelites, whether God permitted him or not;” as evidently appears from the circumstances of the story, to which the reader is referred. “And though he so far obeyed God that he blessed the Israelites, it was no dictate of his heart, but a suggestion of the Spirit of God, which he could not resist. For that his love of the hire, and his inclination to curse the Israelites continued, he showed by his behaviour afterward, when, to bring the curse of God upon the Israelites, he counselled Balak to entice them to fornication and idolatry by means of the Midianitish women, Numbers 31:16; Revelation 2:14 :” in giving which advice he acted most unrighteously, knowing it to be evil, and that God’s purpose concerning the Israelites was irrevocable, Numbers 23:19, &c. “He therefore gave the advice, not in the persuasion that it would be effectual, but merely to gain the promised hire, which therefore is called the hire of unrighteousness. In these things the false teachers, who, to draw money from their disciples, encouraged them by their doctrine to commit all manner of lewdness, might well be said to follow in the way of Baalam; and their doctrine might justly be called, the doctrine of Balaam.” — Macknight.


Verse 16

2 Peter 2:16. But was rebuked for his iniquity — In a very extraordinary manner; the dumb ass — On which he rode; speaking with man’s voice — That is, in man’s language; forbade the madness of the prophet — Namely, his endeavour to contradict the will of God, which might well be called madness, because it could have no effect but to bring the curse of God upon himself. “The apostle does not mean that the ass forbade Balaam, in so many words, to go with the princes of Moab; but that her unwillingness to proceed in the journey, her falling down under him rather than go on, her complaint in man’s language of his smiting her three times for not going on, and her saying, Was I ever wont to do so to thee, were things, so extraordinary, especially her speaking, that Balaam, from that miracle at least, ought to have understood that the whole was a rebuke from God of his foolish project.” Though Balaam is termed a soothsayer, (Joshua 13:22,) and is said to have used enchantments, (Numbers 24:1,) Peter justly calls him a prophet, on account of God’s speaking to him, and giving him a very remarkable prophecy, recorded Numbers 24:15. However, being a very bad man, he may often have feigned communications with the Deity to draw money from the multitude. Perhaps the only communications he ever had with God were on this occasion; and they may have been granted to him, that by uttering them in the hearing of Balak, and of the princes of Moab and Midian, the coming of one out of Jacob, who was to have dominion, might be known to the nations of the East.


Verse 17

2 Peter 2:17. These are wells without water, &c. — Pretenders to knowledge and piety, but really destitute thereof; clouds — Promising fertilizing showers of instructive and edifying doctrine, but yielding none; carried with a tempest — Driven by the violence of their own lusts from one error and vice to another; to whom the mist ο ζοφος, the blackness; of darkness is reserved for ever — Eternal darkness. Frequently in Scripture the word darkness signifies a state of disconsolate misery; here it denotes the punishment of the wicked after the day of judgment; which our Lord also hath represented by persons being cast into outer darkness. “There being few wells and little rain in the eastern countries, for a thirsty traveller to come to a well that had no water, was a grievous disappointment; as it was also to the husbandman to see clouds arise which gave him the prospect of rain, but which, ending in a tempest, instead of refreshing, destroyed the fruits of the earth. By these comparisons the ostentation, hypocrisy, levity, and mischief of the false teachers are set forth in the strongest colours.”


Verse 18-19

2 Peter 2:18-19. When they speak great swelling words of vanity — Propose their vain and false doctrine in a lofty style, or affect sublime strains of language, which are often void of any real meaning; they allure through the lusts of the flesh — By allowing their hearers to live in lewd courses, or to gratify some unholy desires under pretence of Christian liberty, 2 Peter 2:10; 2 Peter 2:19; those — Who, as Christians; were clean escaped from the spirit, customs, and company of them that live in error — That is, in sin. In other words, they bring back again to their former sensuality, and other vices, those who, having been converted, had entirely forsaken their former evil ways and wicked companions. While they promise them liberty — From needless restraints and scruples, and from the bondage of the law; they themselves are the servants of corruption — Slaves to their own lusts, to sin, the vilest of all kinds of bondage; for of whom — Or what; a man is overcome, of the same thing he is brought into bondage — Becomes a perfect slave to it. The apostle seems here to allude to the ancient custom of making those slaves who were conquered or taken in battle. It was one of the Stoical paradoxes, that the wise man is the only free man, and that all wicked men are slaves. This maxim the apostle adopts, and supports it in a sound sense by the above unanswerable argument. Hence our Lord said to the Jews, who boasted of their freedom, (John 8:34,)

Whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin. Of the slavery in which every carnal man lives, St. Paul has given us a lively picture, Romans 6:16-20.


Verses 20-22

2 Peter 2:20-22. For if after they — The persons here spoken of as deluded; have escaped the pollutions of the world — The sins which pollute those who know not God; through the knowledge of Christ — That is, through faith in him, 2 Peter 1:3; they are again entangled therein and overcome, the latter end — Their last state; is worse than the beginning — More inexcusable, and exposing them to a greater condemnation. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness — As set forth in the gospel; than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment, &c. — The doctrine of Christ, which enjoins nothing but what is holy. It would have been better, because their sin would have been less, and their punishment lighter. See the margin. But it has happened unto them according to the true proverb — The ancients used to sum up their wisest and most useful observations in short, nervous, and impressive proverbs, which were more easily understood, and better remembered, than long, laboured discourses. The dog, the sow — Unclean creatures: such are all men in the sight of God before they receive his grace, and after they have made shipwreck of the faith. These proverbs teach us the absolute necessity of constant watchfulness and prayer, self- denial and mortification, in order to our persevering in the way of righteousness after we have entered upon it. And, as some think, they teach also that many, if not most of those who relapse into their former habits of sin, had contented themselves with a mere external reformation, and had stopped short of a thorough change of nature, or being made new creatures in Christ Jesus. It may be worth observing, that the former of these proverbs is found Proverbs 26:11, and the latter is said to have been a common proverb among the ancients: see Sirach 26:24-26. Horace has a plain reference to both of them, lib. 1. Sirach 26:26, where he is speaking of the travels of Ulysses, and says, “If he had been conquered by the charms of Circe, he had lived like an impure dog, or a sow that is fond of the mire.” Surely these proverbs will not be thought coarse or unpolite in St. Peter, when some of the most elegant writers of antiquity have made use of, or referred to them.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Peter 2:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/2-peter-2.html. 1857.

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