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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
The general subject of this chapter is stated in the first verse, and it embraces these points:
(1) that it might be expected that there would be false teachers among Christians, as there were false prophets in ancient times;
(2) that they would introduce destructive errors, leading many astray; and,
(3) that they would be certainly punished. The design of the chapter is to illustrate and defend these points.
I. That there would be such false teachers the apostle expressly states in 2 Peter 2:1; and incidentally in that verse, and elsewhere in the chapter, he notices some of their characteristics, or some of the doctrines which they would hold.
(a) They would deny the Lord that bought them, 2 Peter 2:1. See the notes at that verse.
(b) They would be influenced by covetousness, and their object in their attempting to seduce others from the faith, and to induce them to become followers of themselves, would be to make money, 2 Peter 2:3.
(c) They would be corrupt, beastly, and licentious in their conduct; and it would be one design of their teaching to show that the indulgence of gross passions was not inconsistent with religion; 2 Peter 2:10, "that walk after the flesh, in the lust of uncleanness;" 2 Peter 2:12, "as natural brute beasts;" "shall perish in their own corruption;" 2 Peter 2:14, "having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin;" 2 Peter 2:22, "the dog has returned to his own vomit again."
(d) They would be proud, arrogant, and self-willed; men who would despise all proper government, and who would be thoroughly radical in their views; 2 Peter 2:10, "and despise government; presumptuous are they and self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities;" 2 Peter 2:18, "they speak great swelling words of vanity."
(e) They were persons who had been formerly of corrupt lives, but who had become professing Christians. This is implied in 2 Peter 2:20-22. They are spoken of as having "escaped the pollutions of the world, through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ;" as "having known the ways of righteousness," but as having turned again to their former corrupt practices and lusts; "it has happened to them according to the true proverb," etc. There were various classes of persons in primitive times, coming under the general appellation of the term "Gnostic," to whom this description would apply, and it is probable that they had begun to broach their doctrines in the times of the apostles. Among those persons were the Ebionites, Corinthians, Nicolaitanes, etc.
II. These false teachers would obtain followers, and their teachings would be likely to allure many. This is intimated more than once in the chapter: 2 Peter 2:2, "and many shall follow their pernicious ways;" 2 Peter 2:3, "and through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you;" 2 Peter 2:14, "beguiling unstable souls." Compare 2 Peter 2:18.
III. They would certainly be punished. A large part of the chapter is taken up in proving this point, and especially in showing from the examples of others who had erred in a similar manner, that they could not escape destruction. In doing this, the apostle refers to the following facts and illustrations:
(1) The case of the angels that sinned, and that were cast down to hell, 2 Peter 2:4. If God brought such dreadful punishment on those who were once before his throne, wicked men could have no hope of escape.
(2) the case of the wicked in the time of Noah, who were cut off by the flood, 2 Peter 2:5.
(3) the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, 2 Peter 2:6.
(4) the "character" of the persons referred to was such that they could have no hope of escape.
(a) They were corrupt, sensual, presumptuous, and self-willed, and were even worse than the rebel angels had been - men that seemed to be made to be taken and destroyed, 2 Peter 2:10-12.
(b) They were spots and blemishes, sensual and adulterers, emulating the example of Balaam, who was rebuked by even a dumb ass for his iniquity, 2 Peter 2:13-16.
(c) They allured others to sin under the specious promise of liberty, while they were themselves the slaves of debased appetites, and gross and sensual passions, 2 Peter 2:17-19.
From the entire description in this chapter, it is clear that the persons referred to, though once professors of religion, had become eminently abandoned and corrupt. It may not, indeed, be easy to identify them with any particular sect or class then existing and now known in history, though not a few of the sects in the early Christian church bore a strong resemblance to this description; but there have been those in every age who have strongly resembled these persons; and this chapter, therefore, possesses great value as containing important warnings against the arts of false teachers, and the danger of being seduced by them from the truth. Compare the introduction to the Epistle of Jude, Sections 3 and 4.
1But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
But there were false prophets also among the people - In the previous chapter, 2 Peter 2:19-21, Peter had appealed to the prophecies as containing unanswerable proofs of the truth of the Christian religion. He says, however, that he did not mean to say that all who claimed to be prophets were true messengers of God. There were many who pretended to be such, who only led the people astray. It is unnecessary to say, that such men have abounded in all ages where there have been true prophets.
Even as there shall be false teachers among you - The fact that false teachers would arise in the church is often adverted to in the New Testament. Compare Matthew 24:5, Matthew 24:24; Acts 20:29-30.
Who privily - That is, in a secret manner, or under plausible arts and pretences. They would not at first make an open avowal of their doctrines, but would, in fact, while their teachings seemed to be in accordance with truth, covertly maintain opinions which would sap the very foundations of religion. The Greek word here used, and which is rendered "who privily shall bring in," (παρεισάγω pareisagō,) means properly "to lead in by the side of others; to lead in along with others." Nothing could better express the usual way in which error is introduced. It is "by the side," or "along with," other doctrines which are true; that is, while the mind is turned mainly to other subjects, and is off its guard, gently and silently to lay down some principle, which, being admitted, would lead to the error, or from which the error would follow as a natural consequence. Those who inculcate error rarely do it openly. If they would at once boldly "deny the Lord that bought them," it would be easy to meet them, and the mass of professed Christians would be in no danger of embracing the error. But when principles are laid down which may lead to that; when doubts on remote points are suggested which may involve it; or when a long train of reasoning is pursued which may secretly tend to it; there is much more probability that the mind will be corrupted from the truth.
Damnable heresies - αἱρέσεις ἀπωλείας haireseis apōleias. "Heresies of destruction;" that is, heresies that will be followed by destruction. The Greek word which is rendered "damnable," is the same which in the close of the verse is rendered "destruction." It is so rendered also in Matthew 7:13; Romans 9:22; Philippians 3:19; 2 Peter 3:16 - in all of which places it refers to the future loss of the soul The same word also is rendered "perdition" in John 17:12; Philippians 1:28; 1 Timothy 6:9; Hebrews 10:39; 2 Peter 3:7; Revelation 17:8, Revelation 17:11 - in all which places it has the same reference. On the meaning of the word rendered "heresies," see the Acts 24:14 note; 1 Corinthians 11:19 note. The idea of "sect" or "party" is that which is conveyed by this word, rather than doctrinal errors; but it is evident that in this case the formation of the sect or party, as is the fact in most cases, would be founded on error of doctrine.
The thing which these false teachers would attempt would be divisions, alienations, or parties, in the church, but these would be based on the erroneous doctrines which they would promulgate. What would be the particular doctrine in this case is immediately specified, to wit, that they "would deny the Lord that bought them." The idea then is, that these false teachers would form sects or parties in the church, of a destructive or ruinous nature, founded on a denial of the Lord that bought them. Such a formation of sects would be ruinous to piety, to good morals, and to the soul. The authors of these sects, holding the views which they did, and influenced by the motives which they would be, and practicing the morals which they would practice, as growing out of their principles, would bring upon themselves swift and certain destruction. It is not possible now to determine to what particular class of errorists the apostle had reference here, but it is generally supposed that it was to some form of the Gnostic belief. There were many early sects of so-called "heretics" to whom what he here says would be applicable.
Even denying the Lord that bought them - This must mean that they held doctrines which were in fact a denial of the Lord, or the tendency of which would be a denial of the Lord, for it cannot be supposed that, while they professed to be Christians, they would openly and avowedly deny him. To "deny the Lord" may be either to deny his existence, his claims, or his attributes; it is to withhold from him, in our belief and profession, anything which is essential to a proper conception of him. The particular thing, however, which is mentioned here as entering into that self-denial, is something connected with the fact that he had ""bought"" them. It was such a denial of the Lord "as having bought them," as to be in fact a renunciation of the uniqueness of the Christian religion. There has been much difference of opinion as to the meaning of the word "Lord" in this place - whether it refers to God the Father. or to the Lord Jesus Christ. The Greek word is Δεσπότης Despotēs. Many expositors have maintained that it refers to the Father, and that when it is said that he had "bought" them, it means in a general sense that he was the Author of the plan of redemption, and had causeD them to be purchased or redeemed. Michaelis supposes that the Gnostics are referred to as denying the Father by asserting that he was not the Creator of the universe, maintaining that it was created by an inferior being - Introduction to New Testament, iv. 360. Whitby, Benson, Slade, and many others, maintain that this refers to the Father as having originated the plan by which men are redeemed; and the same opinion is held, of necessity, by those who deny the doctrine of general atonement. The only arguments to show that it refers to God the Father would be,
(1) that the word used here Δεσπότην Despotēn is not the usual term (κύριος kurios) by which the Lord Jesus is designated in the New Testament; and,
(2) that the admission that it refers to the Lord Jesus would lead inevitably to the conclusion that some will perish for whom Christ died.
That it does, however, refer to the Lord Jesus, seems to me to be plain from the following considerations:
(1) It is the obvious interpretation; that which would be given by the great mass of Christians, and about which there could never have been any hesitancy if it had not been supposed that it would lead to the doctrine of general atonement. As to the alleged fact that the word used, Δεσπότης Despotēs, is not that which is commonly applied to the Lord Jesus, that may be admitted to be true, but still the word here may be understood as applied to him. It properly means "a master" as opposed to a servant; then it is used as denoting supreme authority, and is thus applied to God, and may be in that sense to the Lord Jesus Christ, as head over all things, or as having supreme authority over the church. It occurs in the New Testament only in the following places: 1 Timothy 6:1-2; Titus 2:9; 1 Peter 2:18, where it is rendered "masters;" Luke 2:29; Acts 4:24,; Revelation 6:10, where it is rendered "Lord," and is applied to God; and in Jde 1:4, and in the passage before us, in both which places it is rendered "Lord," and is probably to be regarded as applied to the Lord Jesus. There is nothing in the proper signification of the word which would forbid this.
(2) the phrase is one that is properly applicable to the Lord Jesus as having "bought" us with his blood. The Greek word is ἀγοράζω agorazō - a word which means properly "to market, to buy, to purchase," and then to redeem, or acquire for oneself by a price paid, or by a ransom. It is rendered "buy" or "bought" in the following places in the New Testament: Matthew 13:44, Matthew 13:46; Matthew 14:15; Matthew 21:12; Matthew 25:9-10; Matthew 27:7; Mark 6:36-37; Mark 11:15; Mark 15:46; Mark 16:1; Luke 9:13; Luke 14:18-19; Luke 17:28; Luke 19:45; Luke 22:36; John 4:8; John 6:5; John 13:29; 1 Corinthians 7:30; Revelation 3:18; Revelation 13:17; Revelation 18:11 - in all which places it is applicable to ordinary transactions of "buying." In the following places it is also rendered "bought," as applicable to the redeemed, as being bought or purchased by the Lord Jesus: 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:23, "Ye are 'bought' with a price;" and in the following places it is rendered "redeemed," Revelation 5:9; Revelation 14:3-4. It does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament. It is true that in a large sense this word might be applied to the Father as having caused his people to be redeemed, or as being the Author of the plan of redemption; but it is also true that the word is more properly applicable to the Lord Jesus, and that, when used with reference to redemption, it is uniformly given to him in the New Testament. Compare the passages referred to above.
It is strictly and properly true only of the Son of God that he has "bought" us. The Father indeed is represented as making the arrangement, as giving his Son to die, and as the great Source of all the blessings secured by redemption; but the "purchase" was actually made by the Son of God by his sacrifice on the cross. Whatever there was of the nature of "a price" was paid by him; and whatever obligations may grow out of the fact that we are purchased or ransomed are due particularly to him; 2 Corinthians 5:15. These considerations seem to me to make it clear that Peter referred here to the Lord Jesus Christ, and that he meant to say that the false teachers mentioned held doctrines which were in fact a "denial" of that Saviour. He does not specify particularly what constituted such a denial; but it is plain that any doctrine which represented him, his person, or his work, as essentially different from what was the truth, would amount to such a denial.
If he were Divine, and that fact was denied, making him wholly a different being; if he actually made an expiatory sacrifice by his death, and that fact was denied, and he was held to be a mere religious teacher, changing essentially the character of the work which he came to perform; if he, in some proper sense, "bought" them with his blood, and that fact was denied in such a way that according to their views it was not strictly proper to speak of him as having bought them at all, which would be the case if he were a mere prophet or religious teacher, then it is clear that such a representation would be in fact a denial of his true nature and work. That some of these views entered into their denial of him is clear, for it was with reference to the fact that he had bought them, or redeemed them, that they denied him.
And bring upon themselves swift destruction - The destruction here referred to can be only that which will occur in the future world, for there can be no evidence that Peter meant to say that this would destroy their health, their property, or their lives. The Greek word (ἀπώλειαν apōleian) is the same which is used in the former part of the verse, in the phrase "damnable heresies." See the notes. In regard, then, to this important passage, we may remark:
(1) that the apostle evidently believed that some would perish for whom Christ died.
(2) if this is so, then the same truth may be expressed by saying that he died for others besides those who will be saved that is, that the atonement was not confined merely to the elect. This one passage, therefore, demonstrates the doctrine of general atonement. This conclusion would be drawn from it by the great mass of readers, and it may be presumed, therefore, that this is the fair interpretation of the passage.
(See the supplementary 2 Corinthians 5:14 note; Hebrews 2:9 note for a general view of the question regarding the extent of the atonement. On this text Scott has well observed: "Doubtless Christ intended to redeem those, and those only, who he foresaw would eventually be saved by faith in him; yet his ransom was of infinite sufficiency, and people are continually addressed according to their profession." Christ has indeed laid down such a price as that all the human family may claim and find salvation in him. An unhappy ambiguity of terms has made this controversy very much a war of words. When the author here says, "Christ died for others besides those who will be saved," he does not use the words in the common sense of an actual design, on the part of Christ to save everyone. The reader will see, by consulting the notes above referred to, how much disputing might be saved by a careful definition of terms.)
(3) it follows that people may destroy themselves by a denial of the great and vital "doctrines" of religion. It cannot be a harmless thing, then, to hold erroneous opinions; nor can men be safe who deny the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. It is truth, not error, that saves the soul; and an erroneous opinion on any subject may be as dangerous to a man's ultimate peace, happiness, and prosperity, as a wrong course of life. How many men have been ruined in their worldly prospects, their health, and their lives, by holding false sentiments on the subject of morals, or in regard to medical treatment! Who would regard it as a harmless thing if a son should deny in respect to his father that he was a man of truth, probity, and honesty, or should attribute to him a character which does not belong to him - a character just the reverse of truth? Can the same thing be innocent in regard to God our Saviour?
(4) people bring destruction "on themselves." No one compels them to deny the Lord that bought them; no one forces them to embrace any dangerous error. If people perish, they perish by their own fault, for:
(a) ample provision was made for their salvation as well as for others;
(b) they were freely invited to be saved;
(c) it was, in itself, just as easy for them to embrace the truth as it was for others; and,
(d) it was as easy to embrace the truth as to embrace error.
2And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.
And many shall follow their pernicious ways - Margin: "lascivious." A large number of manuscripts and versions read "lascivious" here - ἀσελγείαις aselgeiais - instead of "pernicious" - ἀπωλείαις apōleiais (see Wetstein), and this reading is adopted in the editions of the Greek Testament by Tittman, Griesbach, and Hahn, and it seems probable that this is the correct reading. This will agree well with the account elsewhere given of these teachers, that their doctrines tended to licentiousness, 2 Peter 2:10, 2 Peter 2:14, 2 Peter 2:18-19. It is a very remarkable circumstance, that those who have denied the essential doctrines of the gospel have been so frequently licentious in their own conduct, and have inculcated opinions which tended to licentiousness. Many of the forms of religious error have somehow had a connection with this vice. People who are corrupt at heart often seek to obtain the sanction of religion for their corruptions.
By reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of -
(1) because they were professors of religion, and religion would seem to be held responsible for their conduct; and,
(2) because they were professed teachers of religion, and, by many, would be understood as expounding the true doctrines of the gospel.
3And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.
And through covetousness - This shows what one of the things was by which they were influenced - a thing which, like licentiousness, usually exerts a powerful influence over the teachers of error. The religious principle is the strongest that is implanted in the human bosom: and men who can obtain a livelihood in no other way, or who are too unprincipled or too indolent to labor for an honest living, often turn public teachers of religion, and adopt the kind of doctrines that will be likely to give them the greatest power over the purses of others. True religion, indeed, requires of its friends to devote all that they have to the service of God and to the promotion of his cause; but it is very easy to pervert this requirement, so that the teacher of error shall take advantage of it for his own aggrandizement.
Shall they with feigned words - Greek formed, fashioned; then those which are formed for the occasion - feigned, false, deceitful. The idea is, thug the doctrines which they would defend were not maintained by solid and substantial arguments, but that they would make use of plausible reasoning made up for the occasion.
Make merchandise of you - Treat you not as rational beings but as a bale of goods, or any other article of traffic. That is, they would endeavor to make money out of them, and regard them only as fitted to promote that object.
Whose judgment - Whose condemnation.
Now of a long time lingereth not - Greek, "of old; long since." The idea seems to be, that justice had been long attentive to their movements, and was on its way to their destruction. It was not a new thing - that is, there was no new principle involved in their destruction; but it was a principle which had always been in operation, and which would certainly be applicable to them, and of a long time justice had been impatient to do the work which it was accustomed to do. What had occurred to the angels that sinned, 2 Peter 2:4 to the old world, 2 Peter 2:5 and to Sodom and Gomorrah, 2 Peter 2:6 would occur to them; and the same justice which had overthrown them might be regarded as on its way to effect their destruction. Compare the notes at Isaiah 18:4.
And their damnation slumbereth not - Their condemnation, (Notes, 1 Corinthians 11:29) yet here referring to future punishment. "Mr. Blackwell observes, that this is a most beautiful figure, representing the vengeance that shall destroy such incorrigible sinners as an angel of judgment pursuing them on the wing, continually approaching nearer and nearer, and in the mean time keeping a watchful eye upon them, that he may at length discharge an unerring blow" - Doddridge. It is not uncommon to speak of "sleepless justice;" and the idea here is, that however justice may have seemed to slumber or to linger, it was not really so, but that it had on them an everwatchful eye, and was on its way to do that which was right in regard to them. A sinner should never forget that there is an eye of unslumbering vigilance always upon him, and that everything that he does is witnessed by one who will yet render exact justice to all men. No person, however careful to conceal his sins, or however bold in transgression, or however unconcerned he may seem to be, can hope that justice will always linger, or destruction always slumber.
4For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;
For if God spared not the angels that sinned - The apostle now proceeds to the proof of the proposition that these persons would be punished. It is to be remembered that they had been, or were even then, professing Christians, though they had really, if not in form, apostatized from the faith 2 Peter 2:20-22, and a part of the proofs, therefore, are derived from the cases of those who had apostatized from the service of God. He appeals, therefore, to the case of the angels that had revolted. Neither their former rank, their dignity, nor their holiness, saved them from being thrust down to hell; and if God punished them so severely, then false teachers could not hope to escape. The apostle, by the "angels" here, refers undoubtedly to a revolt in heaven - an event referred to in Jde 1:6, and everywhere implied in the Scriptures. When that occurred, however - why they revolted, or what was the number of the apostates - we have not the slightest information, and on these points conjecture would be useless. In the supposition that it occurred, there is no improbability; for there is nothing more absurd in the belief that angels have revolted than that men have; and if there are evil angels, as there is no more reason to doubt than that there are evil men, it is morally certain that they must have fallen at some period from a state of holiness, for it cannot be believed that God made them wicked.
But cast them down to hell - Greek ταρταρώσας tartarōsas - "thrusting them down to Tartarus." The word here used occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, though it is common in the Classical writers. It is a verb formed from Τάρταρος Tartaros, Tartarus, which in Greek mythology was the lower part, or abyss of Hades, ᾍδης Hadēs, where the shades of the wicked were supposed to be imprisoned and tormented, and corresponded to the Jewish word Γεέννα Geenna - "Gehenna." It was regarded, commonly, as beneath the earth; as entered through the grave; as dark, dismal, gloomy; and as a place of punishment. Compare the Job 10:21-22 notes, and Matthew 5:22 note. The word here is one that properly refers to a place of punishment, since the whole argument relates to that, and since it cannot be pretended that the "angels that sinned" were removed to a place of happiness on account of their transgression. It must also refer to punishment in some other world than this, for there is no evidence that This world is made a place of punishment for fallen angels.
And delivered them into chains of darkness - "Where darkness lies like chains upon them" - Robinson, Lexicon. The meaning seems to be, that they are confined in that dark prisonhouse as if by chains. We are not to suppose that spirits are literally bound; but it was common to bind or fetter prisoners who were in dungeons, and the representation here is taken from that fact. This representation that the mass of fallen angels are confined in "Tartarus," or in hell, is not inconsistent with the representations which elsewhere occur that their leader is permitted to roam the earth, and that even many of those spirits are allowed to tempt men. It may be still true that the mass are con fined within the limits of their dark abode; and it may even be true also that Satan and those who axe permitted to roam the earth are under bondage, and are permitted to range only within certain bounds, and that they are so secured that they will be brought to trial at the last day.
To be reserved unto judgment - Jde 1:6, "to the judgment of the great day." They will then, with the revolted inhabitants of this world, be brought to trial for their crimes. That the fallen angels will be punished after the judgment is apparent from Revelation 20:10. The argument in this verse is, that if God punished the angels who revolted from Him, it is a fair inference that He will punish wicked people, though they were once professors of religion.
5And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly;
And spared not the old world - The world before the flood. The argument here is, that he cut off that wicked race, and thus showed that he would punish the guilty. By that awful act of sweeping away the inhabitants of a world, he showed that people could not sin with impunity, and that the incorrigibly wicked must perish.
But saved Noah the eighth person - This reference to Noah, like the reference to Lot in 2 Peter 2:7, seems to have been thrown in in the progress of the argument as an incidental remark, to show that the righteous, however few in number, would be saved when the wicked were cut off. The phrase "Noah the eighth," means Noah, one of eight; that is, Noah and seven others. This idiom is found, says Dr. Bloomfield, in the best writers - from Herodotus and Thucydides downward. See examples in Wetstein. The meaning in this place then is, that eight persons, and eight only of that race, were saved; thus showing, that while the wicked would be punished, however numerous they might be, the righteous, however few, would be saved.
A preacher of righteousness - In Genesis 6:9, it is said of Noah that he was "a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God;" and it may be presumed that during his long life he was faithful in reproving the wickedness of his age, and warned the world of the judgment that was preparing for it. Compare the notes at Hebrews 11:7.
Bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly - Upon all the world besides that pious family. The argument here is, that if God would cut off a wicked race in this manner, the principle is settled that the wicked will not escape.
6And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly;
And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes - Genesis 19:24-25. This is a third example to demonstrate that God will punish the wicked. Compare the notes at Jde 1:7. The word here rendered "turning into ashes" τεφρωσας tephrōsas, occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It is from τέφρα tefra, ashes, and means to reduce to ashes, and then to consume or destroy.
Condemned them with an overthrow - By the fact of their being overthrown, he showed that they were to be condemned, or that he disapproved their conduct. Their calamity came expressly on account of their enormous sins; as it is frequently the case now that the awful judgments that come upon the licentious and the intemperate, are as plain a proof of the divine disapprobation as were the calamities that came upon Sodom and Gomorrah.
Making them an ensample ... - That is, they were a demonstration that God disapproved of the crimes for which they were punished, and would disapprove of the same crimes in every age and in every land. The punishment of one wicked man or people always becomes a warning to all others.
7And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked:
And delivered just Lot - Genesis 19:16. This case is incidentally referred to, to show that God makes a distinction between the righteous and the wicked; and that while the latter will be destroyed, the former will be saved. See 2 Peter 2:9. Lot is called "just," because he preserved himself uncontaminated amidst the surrounding wickedness. As long as he lived in Sodom he maintained the character of an upright and holy man.
Vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked - By the corrupt and licentious conduct of the wicked around him. On the word "conversation," see the notes at Philippians 1:27. The original phrase, which is rendered "filthy," has reference to licentiousness. The corruption of Sodom was open and shameless; and as Lot was compelled to see much of it, his heart was pained. The word here rendered "vexed," means that he was wearied or burdened. The crimes of those around him he found it hard to bear with.
8(For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;)
For that righteous man dwelling among them - The Latin Vulgate renders this, "For in seeing and hearing he was just;" meaning that he maintained his uprightness, or that he did not become contaminated by the vices of Sodom. Many expositors have supposed that this is the correct rendering; but the most natural and the most common explanation is that which is found in our version. According to that, the meaning is, that compelled as he was, while living among them, to see and to hear what was going on, his soul was constantly troubled.
In seeing and hearing - Seeing their open acts of depravity, and hearing their vile conversation. The effect which this had on the mind of Lot is not mentioned in Genesis, but nothing is more probable than the statement here made by Peter. Whether this statement was founded on tradition, or whether it is a suggestion of inspiration to the mind of Peter, cannot be determined. The words rendered "seeing" and "hearing" may refer to the ACT of seeing, or to the object seen. Wetstein and Robinson suppose that they refer here to the latter, and that the sense is, that he was troubled by what he saw and heard. The meaning is not materially different. Those who live among the wicked are compelled to see and hear much that pains their hearts, and it is well if they do not become indifferent to it, or contaminated by it. "Vexed" his "righteous soul from day to day with" their "unlawful deeds."
Tortured or tormented his soul - ἐβασάνιζεν ebasanizen Compare Matthew 8:6, Matthew 8:29; Luke 8:28; Revelation 9:5; Revelation 11:10; Revelation 14:10; Revelation 20:10, where the same word is rendered "tormented." The use of this word would seem to imply that there was something active on the part of Lot which produced this distress on account of their conduct. He was not merely troubled as if his soul were passively acted on, but there were strong mental exercises of a positive kind, arising perhaps from anxious solicitude how he might prevent their evil conduct, or from painful reflections on the consequences of their deeds to themselves, or from earnest pleadings in their behalf before God, or from reproofs and warnings of the wicked. At all events, the language is such as would seem to indicate that he was not a mere passive observer of their conduct. This, it would seem, was "from day to day," that is, it was constant. There were doubtless reasons why Lot should remain among such a people, and why, when he might so easily have done it, he did not remove to another place.
Perhaps it was one purpose of his remaining to endeavor to do them good, as it is often the duty of good men now to reside among the wicked for the same purpose. Lot is supposed to have resided in Sodom - then probably the most corrupt place on the earth - for 16 years; and we have in that fact an instructive demonstration that a good man may maintain the life of religion in his soul when surrounded by the wicked, and an illustration of the effects which the conduct of the wicked will have on a man of true piety when he is compelled to witness it constantly. We may learn from the record made of Lot what those effect will be, and what is evidence that one is truly pious who lives among the wicked.
(1) he will not be contaminated with their wickedness, or will not conform to their evil customs.
(2) he will not become indifferent to it, but his heart will be more and more affected by their depravity. Compare Psalm 119:136; Luke 19:41; Acts 17:16.
(3) he will have not only constant, but growing solicitude in regard to it - solicitude that will be felt every day: "He vexed his soul from day to day." It will not only be at intervals that his mind will be affected by their conduct, but it will be an habitual and constant thing. True piety is not fitful, periodical, and spasmodic; it is constant and steady. It is not a "jet" that occasionally bursts out; it is a fountain always flowing.
(4) he will seek to do them good. We may suppose that this was the case with Lot; we are certain that it is a characteristic of true religion to seek to do good to all, however wicked they may be.
(5) he will secure their confidence. He will practice no improper arts to do this, but it will be one of the usual results of a life of integrity, that a good man will secure the confidence of even the wicked. It does not appear that Lot lost that confidence, and the whole narrative in Genesis leads us to suppose that even the inhabitants of Sodom regarded him as a good man. The wicked may hate a good man because he is good; but if a man lives as he should, they will regard him as upright, and they will give him the credit of it when he dies, if they should withhold it while he lives.
9The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:
The Lord knoweth ... - That is, the cases referred to show that God is able to deliver his people when tempted, and understands the best way in which it should be done. He sees a way to do it when we cannot, though it is often a way which we should not have thought of. He can send an angel to take his tempted people by the hand; he can interpose and destroy the power of the tempter; he can raise up earthly friends; he can deliver his people completely and forever from temptation, by their removal to heaven.
And to reserve the unjust - As he does the rebel angels, 2 Peter 2:4. The case of the angels shows that God can keep wicked men, as if under bonds, reserved for their final trial at his bar. Though they seem to go at large, yet they are under his control, and are kept by him with reference to their ultimate arraignment.
10But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.
But chiefly - That is, it may be presumed that the principles just laid down would be applicable in an eminent degree to such persons as he proceeds to designate.
That walk after the flesh - That live for the indulgence of their carnal appetites. Notes, Romans 8:1.
In the lust of uncleanness - In polluted pleasures. Compare the notes at 2 Peter 2:2.
And despise government - Margin: "dominion." That is, they regard all government in the state, the church, and the family, as an evil. Advocates for unbridled freedom of all sorts; declaimers on liberty and on the evils of oppression; defenders of what they regard as the rights of injured man, and yet secretly themselves lusting for the exercise of the very power which they would deny to others - they make no just distinctions about what constitutes true freedom, and in their zeal array themselves against government in all forms. No topic of declamation would be more popular than this, and from none would they hope to secure more followers; for if they could succeed in removing all respect for the just restraints of law, the way would be open for the accomplishment of their own purposes, in setting up a dominion ever the minds of others. It is a common result of such views, that men of this description become impatient of the government of God himself, and seek to throw off all authority, and to live in the unrestrained indulgence of their vicious propensities.
Presumptuous are they - Τολμηταὶ Tolmētai - daring, bold, audacious, presumptuous men.
Self-willed - αὐθάδεις authadeis. See the notes at Titus 1:7.
They are not afraid to speak evil of dignities - The word rendered "dignities" here, (δόξας doxas,) means properly honor, glory, splendor; then that which is fitted to inspire respect; that which is dignified or exalted. It is applied here to men of exalted rank; and the meaning is, that they did not regard rank, or station, or office - thus violating the plainest rules of propriety and of religion. See the notes at Acts 23:4-5. Jude, between whose language and that of Peter in this chapter there is a remarkable resemblance, has expressed this more fully. He says, 2 Peter 2:8, "These filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities." It is one of the effects of religion to produce respect for superiors; but when men are self-willed, and when they purpose to give indulgence to corrupt propensities, it is natural for them to dislike all government. Accordingly, it is by no means an unfrequent effect of certain forms of error to lead men to speak disrespectfully of those in authority, and to attempt to throw off all the restraints of law. It is a very certain indication that men hold wrong opinions when they show disrespect to those in authority, and despise the restraints of law.
11Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord.
Whereas angels - The object, by the reference to angels here, is to show that they, even when manifesting the greatest zeal in a righteous cause, and even when opposing others, did not make use of reproachful terms, or of harsh and violent language. It is not known precisely to what Peter alludes here, nor on what the statement here is based. There can be little doubt, however, as Benson has remarked, that, from the strong resemblance between what Peter says and what Jude says, Jde 1:9-10, there is allusion to the same thing, and probably both referred to some common tradition among the Jews respecting the contention of the archangel Michael with the devil about the body of Moses. See the notes at Jde 1:9. As the statement in Jude is the most full, it is proper to explain the passage before us by a reference to that; and we may suppose that, though Peter uses the plural term, and speaks of "angels," yet that he really had the case of Michael in his eye, and meant to refer to that as an example of what the angels do. Whatever may have been the origin of this tradition, no one can doubt that what is here said of the angels accords with probability, and no one can prove that it is not true.
Which are greater in power and might - And who might, therefore, if it were in any case proper, speak freely of things of an exalted rank and dignity. It would be more becoming for them than for men. On this difficult passage, see the notes at Jde 1:9.
Bring not railing accusation - They simply say, "The Lord rebuke thee," Jde 1:9. Compare Zechariah 3:2. The Greek here is, "bring not blasphemous or reproachful judgment, or condemnation" - βλάσφημον κρίσιν blasphēmon krisin. They abhor all scurrility and violence of language; they simply state matters as they are. No one can doubt that this accords with what we should expect of the angels; and that if they had occasion to speak of those who were opposers, it would be in a calm and serious manner, not seeking to overwhelm them by reproaches.
Against them - Margin, "against themselves." So the Vulgate. The more correct reading is "against them;" that is, against those who might be regarded as their adversaries, Jde 1:9, or those of their own rank who had done wrong - the fallen angels.
Before the Lord - When standing before the Lord; or when represented as reporting the conduct of evil spirits. Compare Zechariah 3:1-2. This phrase, however, is missing in many manuscripts. See Wetstein.
12But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption;
But these, as natural brute beasts - These persons, who resemble so much irrational animals which are made to be taken and destroyed. The point of the comparison is, that they are like fierce and savage beasts that exercise no control over their appetites, and that seeM to be made only to be destroyed. These persons, by their fierce and ungovernable passions, appear to be made only for destruction, and rush blindly on to it. The word rendered "natural," (which, however, is lacking in several manuscripts), means "as they are by nature," following the bent of their natural appetites and passions. The idea is, that they exercised no more restraint over their passions than beasts do over their propensities. They were entirely under the dominion of their natural appetites, and did not allow their reason or conscience to exert any constraint. The word rendered "brute," means without reason; irrational. Man has reason, and should allow it to control his passions; the brutes have no rational nature, and it is to be expected that they will act out their propensities without restraint. Man, as an animal, has many passions and appetites resembling those of the brute creation, but he is also endowed with a higher nature, which is designed to regulate and control his inferior propensities, and to keep them in subordination to the requirements of law. If a man sinks himself to the level of brutes, he must expect to be treated like brutes; and as wild and savage animals - lions, and panthers, and wolves, and bears - are regarded as dangerous, and as "made to be taken and destroyed," so the same destiny must come upon men who make themselves like them.
Made to be taken and destroyed - They are not only useless to society, but destructive; and men feel that it is right to destroy them. We are not to suppose that this teaches that the only object which God had in view in making wild animals was that they might be destroyed; but that people so regard them.
Speak evil of the things that they understand not - Of objects whose worth and value they cannot appreciate. This is no uncommon thing among people, especially in regard to the works and ways of God.
And shall utterly perish in their own corruption - Their views will be the means of their ruin; and they render them fit for it, just as much as the fierce passions of the wild animals do.
13And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you;
And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness - The appropriate recompense of their wickedness in the future world. Such people do not always receive the due recompense of their deeds in the present life; and as it is a great and immutable principle that all will be treated, under the government of God, as they deserve, or that justice will be rendered to every rational being, it follows that there must be punishment in the future state.
As they that count it pleasure to riot in the day-time - As especially wicked, shameless, and abandoned men; for only such revel in open day. Compare the Acts 2:15 note; 1 Thessalonians 5:7 note.
Spots they are and blemishes - That is, they are like a dark spot on a pure garment, or like a deformity on an otherwise beautiful person. They are a scandal and disgrace to the Christian profession.
Sporting themselves - The Greek word here means to live delicately or luxuriously; to revel. The idea is not exactly that of sporting, or playing, or amusing themselves; but it is that they take advantage of their views to live in riot and luxury. Under the garb of the Christian profession, they give indulgence to the most corrupt passions.
With their own deceivings - Jude, in the parallel place, Jde 1:12, has, "These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you." Several versions, and a few manuscripts also, here read "feasts" instead of "deceivings," (ἀγάπαῖς agapais for ἀπάταις apatais.) The common reading, however, is undoubtedly the correct one, (see Wetstein, in loc.); and the meaning is, that they took advantage of their false views to turn even the sacred feasts of charity, or perhaps the Lord's Supper itself, into an occasion of sensual indulgence. Compare the notes at 1 Corinthians 11:20-22. The difference between these persons, and those in the church at Corinth, seems to have been that these did it at design, and for the purpose of leading others into sin; those who were in the church at Corinth erred through ignorance.
While they feast with you - συνευωχούμενοι suneuōchoumenoi. This word means to feast several together; to feast with anyone; and the reference seems to be to some festival which was celebrated by Christians, where men and women were assembled together, 2 Peter 2:14, and where they could convert the festival into a scene of riot and disorder. If the Lord's Supper was celebrated by them as it was at Corinth, that would furnish such an occasion; or if it was preceded by a "feast of charity" (notes, Jde 1:12), that would furnish such an occasion. It would seem to be probable that a festival of some kind was connected with the observance of the Lord's Supper (notes, 1 Corinthians 11:21), and that this was converted by these persons into a scene of riot and disorder.
14Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children:
Having eyes full of adultery - Margin, as in the Greek, "an adulteress;" that is, gazing with desire after such persons. The word "full" is designed to denote that the corrupt passion referred to had wholly seized and occupied their minds. The eye was, as it were, full of this passion; it saw nothing else but some occasion for its indulgence; it expressed nothing else but the desire. The reference here is to the sacred festival mentioned in the previous verse; and the meaning is, that they celebrated that festival with licentious feelings, giving free indulgence to their corrupt desires by gazing on the females who were assembled with them. In the passion here referred to, the "eye" is usually the first offender, the inlet to corrupt desires, and the medium by which they are expressed. Compare the notes at Matthew 5:28. The wanton glance is a principal occasion of exciting the sin; and there is much often in dress, and mien, and gesture, to charm the eye and to deepen the debasing passion.
And that cannot cease from sin - They cannot look on the females who may be present without sinning. Compare Matthew 5:28. There are many men in whom the presence of the most virtuous woman only excites impure and corrupt desires. The expression here does not mean that they have no natural ability to cease from sin, or that they are impelled to it by any physical necessity, but only that they are so corrupt and unprincipled that they certainly will sin always.
Beguiling unstable souls - Those who are not strong in Christian principle, or who are naturally fluctuating and irresolute. The word rendered beguiling means to bait, to entrap, and would be applicable to the methods practiced in hunting. Here it means that it was one of their arts to place specious allurements before those who were known not to have settled principles or firmness, in order to allure them to sin. Compare 2 Timothy 3:6.
An heart they have exercised with covetous practices - Skilled in the arts which covetous men adopt in order to cheat others out of their property. A leading purpose which influenced these men was to obtain money. One of the most certain ways for dishonest men to do this is to make use of the religious principle; to corrupt and control the conscience; to make others believe that they are eminently holy, or that they are the special favorites of heaven; and when they can do this, they have the purses of others at command. For the religious principle is the most powerful of all principles; and he who can control that, can control all that a man possesses. The idea here is that these persons had made this their study, and had learned the ways in which men could be induced to part with their money under religious pretences. We should always be on our guard when professedly religious teachers propose to have much to do with money matters. While we should always be ready to aid every good cause, yet we should remember that unprincipled and indolent men often assume the mask of religion that they may practice their arts on the credulity of others, and that their real aim is to obtain their property, not to save their souls.
Cursed children - This is a Hebraism, meaning literally, "children of the curse," that is, persons devoted to the curse, or who will certainly be destroyed.
15Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;
Which have forsaken the right way - The straight path of honesty and integrity. Religion is often represented as a straight path, and to do wrong is to go out of that path in a crooked way.
Following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor - See Numbers 22:5, following. In the Book of Numbers, Balaam is called the son of "Beor." Perhaps the name Beor was corrupted into Bosor; or, as Rosenmuller suggests, the father of Balaam may have had two names. Schleusner (Lexicon) supposes that it was changed by the Greeks because it was more easily pronounced. The Septuagint, however, reads it as Βεὼρ Beōr - "Beor." The meaning here is, that they IMitAted Balaam. The particular point to which Peter refers in which they imitated him, seems to have been the love of gain, or covetousness. Possibly, however, he might have designed to refer to a more general resemblance, for in fact they imitated him in the following things:
(1) in being professed religious teachers, or the servants of God;
(2) in their covetousness;
(3) in inducing others to sin, referring to the same kind of sins in both cases.
Balaam counselled the Moabites to entice the children of Israel to illicit connection with their women, thus introducing licentiousness into the camp of the Hebrews (Numbers 31:16; compare Numbers 25:1-9); and in like manner these teachers led others into licentiousness, thus corrupting the church.
Who loved the wages of unrighteousness - Who was supremely influenced by the love of gain, and was capable of being employed, for a price, in a wicked design; thus prostituting his high office, as a professed prophet of the Most High, to base and ignoble ends. That Balaam, though he professed to be influenced by a supreme regard to the will of God Numbers 22:18, Numbers 22:38, was really influenced by the desire of reward, and was willing to prostitute his great office to secure such a reward, there can be no doubt.
(1) the elders of Moab and of Midian came to Balaam with "the rewards of divination in their hand" Numbers 22:7, and with promises from Balak of promoting him to great honor, if he would curse the children of Israel, Numbers 22:17.
(2) Balaam was disposed to go with them, and was restrained from going at once only by a direct and solemn prohibition from the Lord, Numbers 22:11.
(3) notwithstanding this solemn prohibition, and not with standing he said to the ambassadors from Balak that he would do only as God directed, though Balak should give him his house full of silver and gold, Numbers 22:18, yet he did not regard the matter as settled, but proposed to them that they should wait another night, with the hope that the Lord would give a more favourable direction in reference to their request, thus showing that his heart was in the service which they required, and that his inclination was to avail himself of their offer, Numbers 22:19.
(4) when he did obtain permission to go, it was only to say that which the Lord should direct him to say, Numbers 22:20; but he went with a perverse heart, with a secret wish to comply with the desire of Balak, and with a knowledge that he was doing wrong, Numbers 22:34, and was restrained from uttering the curse which Balak desired only by an influence from above which he could not control. Balaam was undoubtedly a wicked man, and was constrained by a power from on high to utter sentiments which God meant should be uttered, but which Balaam would never have expressed of his own accord.
16But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man's voice forbad the madness of the prophet.
But was rebuked for his iniquity - The object of Peter in this seems to be to show that God employed the very extraordinary means of causing the ass on which he rode to speak, because his iniquity was so monstrous. The guilt of thus debasing his high office, and going forth to curse the people of God - a people who had done him no wrong, and given no occasion for his malediction - was so extraordinary, that means as extraordinary were proper to express it. If God employed means so extraordinary to rebuke "his" depravity, it was to be expected that in some appropriate way he would express his sense of the wickedness of those who resembled him.
The dumb ass, speaking with man's voice - Numbers 22:28. God seems to have designed that both Balsam and Balak should be convinced that the children of Israel were his people; and so important was it that this conviction should rest fully on the minds of the rations through whom they passed, that he would not suffer even a pretended prophet to make use of his influence to curse them. He designed that all that influence should be in favor of the cause of truth, thus furnishing a striking instance of the use which he often makes of wicked men. To convince Balaam of the error of his course, and to make him sensible that God was an observer of his conduct, and to induce him to utter only what he should direct, nothing would be better suited than this miracle. The very animal upon which he rode, mute and naturally stupid, was made to utter a reproof; a reproof as directly from heaven as though the stones had cried out beneath his feet, or the trees of the wood had uttered the language of remonstrance. As to the nature of the miracle here referred to, it may be remarked:
(1) that it was as easy for God to perform this miracle as any other; and,
(2) that it was a miracle that would be as likely to be effectual, and to answer the purpose, as any other.
No one can show that it could not have occurred; and the occasion was one in which some decided rebuke, in language beyond that of conscience, was necessary.
Forbade the madness of the prophet - That is, the mad or perverse design of the prophet. The word here rendered "madness" means, properly, being aside from a right mind. It is not found elsewhere in the New Testament. It is used here to denote that Balaam was engaged in an enterprise which indicated a headstrong disposition; an acting contrary to reason and sober sense. He was so under the influence of avarice and ambition that his sober sense was blinded, and he acted like a madman. He knew indeed what was right, and had professed a purpose to do what was right, but he did not allow that to control him; but, for the sake of gain, went against his own sober conviction, and against what he knew to be the will of God. He was so mad or infatuated that he allowed neither reason, nor conscience, nor the will of God, to control him!
17These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever.
These are wells without water - Jde 1:12-13 employs several other epithets to describe the same class of persons. The language employed both by Peter and Jude is singularly terse, pointed, and emphatic. Nothing to an oriental mind would be more expressive than to say of professed religious teachers, that they were "wells without water." It was always a sad disappointment to a traveler in the hot sands of the desert to come to a well where it was expected that water might be found, and to find it dry. It only aggravated the trials of the thirsty and weary traveler. Such were these religious teachers. In a world, not unaptly compared, in regard to its real comforts, to the wastes and sands of the desert, they would only grievously disappoint the expectations of all those who were seeking for the refreshing influences of the truths of the gospel. There are many such teachers in the world.
Clouds that are carried with a tempest - Clouds that are driven about by the wind, and that send down no rain upon the earth. They promise rain, only to be followed by disappointment. Substantially the same idea is conveyed by this as by the previous phrase. "The Arabs compare persons who put on the appearance of virtue, when yet they are destitute of all goodness, to a light cloud which makes a show of rain, and afterward vanishes" - Benson. The sense is this: The cloud, as it rises, promises rain. The expectation of the farmer is excited that the thirsty earth is to be refreshed with needful showers. Instead of this, however, the wind "gets into" the cloud; it is driven about, and no rain falls, or it ends in a destructive tornado which sweeps everything before it. So of these religious teachers. Instruction in regard to the way of salvation was expected from them; but, instead of that, they disappointed the expectations of those who were desirous of knowing the way of life, and their doctrines only tended to destroy.
To whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever - The word rendered "mist" here, (ζόφος zophos,) means properly muskiness, thick gloom, darkness, (see 2 Peter 2:4); and the phrase "mist of darkness" is designed to denote "intense" darkness, or the thickest darkness. It refers undoubtedly to the place of future punishment, which is often represented as a place of intense darkness. See the notes at Matthew 8:12. When it is said that this is "reserved" for them, it means that it is prepared for them, or is kept in a state of readiness to receive them. It is like a jail or penitentiary which is built in anticipation that there will be criminals, and with the expectation that there will be a need for it. So God has constructed the great prison-house of the universe, the world where the wicked are to dwell, with the knowledge that there would be occasion for it; and so he keeps it from age to age that it may be ready to receive the wicked when the sentence of condemnation shall be passed upon them. Compare Matthew 25:41. The word "forever" is a word which denotes properly eternity, (εἰς αἰώνα eis aiōna,) and is such a word as could not have been used if it had been meant that they would not suffer forever. Compare the notes at Matthew 25:46.
18For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error.
For when they speak great swelling words of vanity - When they make pretensions to wisdom and learning, or seem to attach great importance to what they say, and urge it in a pompous and positive manner. Truth is simple, and delights in simple statements. It expects to make its way by its own intrinsic force, and is willing to pass for what it is worth. Error is noisy and declamatory, and hopes to succeed by substituting sound for sense, and by such tones and arts as shall induce men to believe that what is said is true, when it is known by the speaker to be false.
They allure through the lusts of the flesh - The same word is used here which in 2 Peter 2:14 is rendered "beguiling," and in James 1:14 "enticed." It does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament. It means that they make use of deceitful arts to allure, ensnare, or beguile others. The "means" which it is here said they employed, were "the lusts of the flesh;" that is, they promised unlimited indulgence to the carnal appetites, or taught such doctrines that their followers would feel themselves free to give unrestrained liberty to such propensities. This has been quite a common method in the world, of inducing people to embrace false doctrines.
Through much wantonness - See the notes at 2 Timothy 3:6. The meaning here is, that they made use of every variety of lascivious arts to beguile others under religious pretences. This has been often done in the world; for religion has been abused to give seducers access to the confidence of the innocent, only that they might betray and ruin them. It is right that for all such the "mist of darkness should be reserved forever;" and if there were not a place of punishment prepared for such men, there would be defect in the moral administration of the universe.
Those that were clean escaped from them who live in error - Margin, "for a little while." The difference between the margin and the text here arises from a difference of reading in the Greek. Most of the later editions of the Greek Testament coincide with the reading in the margin, (ὀλίγως oligōs,) meaning "little, but a little, scarcely." This accords better with the scope of the passage; and, according to this, it means that they had "almost escaped" from the snares and influences of those who live in error and sin. They had begun to think of their ways; they had broken off many of their evil habits; and there was hope that they would be entirely reformed, and would become decided Christians, but they were allured again to the sins in which they had so long indulged. This seems to me to accord with the design of the passage, and it certainly accords with what frequently occurs, that those who are addicted to habits of vice become apparently interested in religion, and abandon many of their evil practices, but are again allured by the seductive influences of sin, and relapse into their former habits. In the case referred to here it was by professedly religious teachers - and is this never done now? Are there none for example, who have been addicted to habits of intemperance, who had been almost reformed, but who are led back again by the influence of religious teachers? Not directly and openly, indeed, would they lead them into habits of intemperance. But, when their reformation is begun, its success and its completion depend on total abstinence from all that intoxicates. In this condition, nothing more is necessary to secure their entire reformation and safety than mere abstinence; and nothing more may be necessary to lead them into their former practices than the example of others who indulge in moderate drinking, or than the doctrine inculcated by a religious teacher that such moderate drinking is not contrary to the spirit of the Bible.
19While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.
While they promise them liberty - True religion always promises and produces liberty (see the notes at John 8:36), but the particular liberty which these persons seem to have promised, was freedom from what they regarded as needless restraint, or from strict and narrow views of religion.
They themselves are the servants of corruption - They are the slaves of gross and corrupt passions, themselves utter strangers to freedom, and bound in the chains of servitude. These passions and appetites have obtained the entire mastery over them, and brought them into the severest bondage. This is often the case with those who deride the restraints of serious piety. They are themselves the slaves of appetite, or of the rules of fashionable life, or of the laws of honor, or of vicious indulgences. "He is a freeman whom the truth makes free, and all are slaves besides." Compare the notes at 2 Corinthians 3:17.
For of whom a man is overcome ... - Or rather "by what (ᾧ hō) anyone is overcome;" that is, "whatever" gets the mastery of him, whether it be avarice, or sensuality, or pride, or any form of error. See the notes at Romans 6:16, where this sentiment is explained.
20For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.
For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world - This does not necessarily mean that they had been true Christians, and had fallen from grace. People may outwardly reform, and escape from the open corruptions which prevail around them, or which they had themselves practiced, and still have no true grace at heart.
Through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesses Christ - Neither does This imply that they were true Christians, or that they had ever had any saving knowledge of the Redeemer. There is a knowledge of the doctrines and duties of religion which may lead sinners to abandon their outward vices, which has no connection with saving grace. They may profess religion, and may Know enough of religion to understand that it requires them to abandon their vicious habits, and still never be true Christians.
They are again entangled therein and overcome - The word rendered "entangled," (ἐμπλέκω emplekō,) from which is derived our word "implicate," means to braid in, to interweave; then to involve in, to entangle. It means here that they become implicated in those vices like an animal that is entangled in a net.
The latter end is worse with them than the beginning - This is usually the case. Apostates become worse than they were before their professed conversion. "Reformed" drunkards, if they go back to their "cups" again, become more abandoned than ever. Thus, it is with those who have been addicted to any habits of vice, and who profess to become religious, and then fall away. The "reasons" for this may be:
(1) that they are willing now to show to others that they are no longer under the restraints by which they had professedly bound themselves;
(2) that God gives them up to indulgence with fewer restraints than formerly; and,
(3) their old companions in sin may be at special pains to court their society, and to lead them into temptation, in order to obtain a triumph over virtue and religion.
21For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.
For it had been better for them ... - Compare the notes at Matthew 26:24. It would have been better for them, for:
(1) then they would not have dishonored the cause of religion as they have now done;
(2) they would not have sunk so deep in profligacy as they now have; and,
(3) they would not have incurred so aggravated a condemnation in the world of woe. If people are resolved on being wicked, they had better never pretend to be good. If they are to be cast off at last, it had better not be as apostates from the cause of virtue and religion.
22But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.
But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb - The meaning of the proverbs here quoted is, that they have returned to their former vile manner of life. Under all the appearances of reformation, still their evil nature remained, as really as that of the dog or the swine, and that nature finally prevailed. There was no thorough internal change, any more than there is in the swine when it is washed, or in the dog. This passage, therefore, would seem to demonstrate that there never had been any real change of heart, and of course there had been no falling away from true religion. It should not, therefore, he quoted to prove that true Christians may fall from grace and perish. The dog and the swine had never been anything else than the dog and the swine, and these persons had never been anything else than sinners.
The dog is turned to his own vomit again - That is, to eat it up. The passage would seem to imply, that whatever pains should be taken to change the habits of the dog, he would return to them again. The quotation here is from Proverbs 26:11; "As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly." A similar proverb is found in the Rabbinical writers. Of the truth of the disgusting fact here affirmed of the dog, there can be no doubt. Phaedrus (Fab. 27.) states a fact still more offensive respecting its habits. In the view of the Orientals, the dog was reckoned among the most vile and disgusting of all animals. Compare Deuteronomy 23:18; 1 Samuel 17:43; 2 Samuel 3:8; 2 Samuel 9:8; 2 Samuel 16:9; Matthew 7:6; Philippians 3:2. See also Horace, II. Epis. 1, 26:
Vixisset canis immundus, vel amica luto sus.
On the use of this proverb, see Wetstein, in loc.
And the sow that was washed ... - This proverb is not found in the Old Testament, but it was common in the Rabbinical writings, and is found in the Greek classics. See Wetstein, in loc. Its meaning is plain, and of the truth of what is affirmed no one can have any doubt. No matter how clean the swine is made by washing, this would not prevent it, in the slightest degree, from rolling in filth again. It will act out its real nature. So it is with the sinner. No external reformation will certainly prevent his returning to his former habits; and when he does return, we can only say that he is acting according to his real nature - a nature which has never been changed, any more than the nature of the dog or the swine. On the characteristics of the persons referred to in this chapter, 2 Peter 2:9-19, see the introduction, Section 3.
This passage is often quoted to prove "the possibility of falling from grace, and from a very high degree of it too." But it is one of the last passages in the Bible that should be adduced to prove that doctrine. The true point of this passage is to show that the persons referred to never "were changed;" that whatever external reformation might have occurred, their nature remained the same; and that when they apostatized from their outward profession, they merely acted out their nature, and showed that in fact there had been "no" real change. This passage will prove - what there are abundant facts to confirm - that persons may reform externally, and then return again to their former corrupt habits; it can never be made to prove that one true Christian will fall away and perish. It will also prove that we should rely on no mere external reformation, no outward cleansing, as certain evidence of piety. Thousands who have been externally reformed have ultimately shown that they. had no religion, and there is nothing in mere outward reformation that can suit us for heaven. God looks upon the heart; and it is only the religion that has its seat there, that can secure our final salvation.