Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Interpretive difficulties in 2 Peter 2:1: "denying the Lord who bought them"

Again, in preaching the text 2 Peter 2:1-3 last Sunday, I spent some time dealing with Peter’s assertion that the false teachers were “denying the Lord who bought them” (v. 1).

What did Peter mean by this? There is a notorious interpretive difficulty in this verse. It is one that is often thrown in the face of Calvinists who believe both in the final perseverance of the saints and in particular redemption.

The verse presents at least two challenging questions:

First, does it teach that these false teachers were saved but they then lost their salvation? Does it teach that a believer can become an apostate?

Second, does it teach “universal redemption”? Does it teach that Christ potentially died for these false teachers and the only reason they were not saved was because they did not accept what Jesus had potentially done for them?

For the initial question, we examined the Scriptures’ plain teaching on the perseverance of the saints (cf. John 6:37-40; 10:27-29; Phil 1:6; 1 Peter 3:5; and Romans 8:33-39), while also acknowledging that the Bible teaches that there will be false professors (cf. Matt 7:21 and the parable of the soils in Matt 13:1-23). The conclusion: Using the principle of Scripture interpreting Scripture, we can only decide that Peter is not describing genuine believers in 2 Peter 2:1 but false professors. These are not men who lost their salvation, but men who never truly had it.

For the second question, we started by examining texts that teach particular redemption (cf. Mark 10:45; John 10:14-16; Acts 20:28; Eph 5:25), also noting that “universal redemption” presents some unseemly possibilities (e.g. that there are people in hell for whom Christ died on the cross).

Finally, we turned in summary to John Owen’s comments on this verse in his classic defense of particular redemption, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (Banner reprint, 1959): pp. 250-252. When Owen examined this text he made the following observations:

a. The word for “Lord” here is not kurios, the name that believers give to Jesus, but despotes. This implies that these men knew Jesus to be powerful, but they did not know him as their “Lord.”

b. When Peter spoke of them being “redeemed” he might have been using that word in a way that did not imply salvation (even though he uses the verb agorazo which in the NT most often refers to salvation as redemption or ransom). The implication would be that these false teachers had benefited from knowing the teachings of Christ, perhaps by being removed from the legalism of the Jews or the paganism of the Gentiles, but they were not savingly redeemed by the blood of Christ. Schreiner accuses Owen of “special pleading” on this point (1, 2 Peter, Jude [Broadman & Holman, 2003]: p. 330).

c. Peter’s point here is that in the estimation of others they were believed to be saved. They seemed to be among the redeemed. But Owen concludes, they were in truth “saints in show—really wolves and hypocrites, of old ordained to condemnation.”



jerry said...

The scriptures teach an Eternal Salvation and a timely or (in this time) Salvation. A child of God cannot lose his Eternal Salvation, but he can lose his timely Salvation. Timely Salvation is a fellowship we have with God the Father right now as we walk this earth, we can lose that by diobedience to the Father. But we can never lose our Eternal Salvation after this life.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Thanks for the comment.

I am a bit uncomfortable, however, with the distinction you make between "eternal" and "timely" salvation, particularly since I do not see these as Biblical categories. This view also runs the risk of the "carnal Christian" theory where folk can be saved but show no fruit. I agree that Christians will not "lose" their salvation (but prefer the Reformed language of "perseverance of the saints") though they may stumble, but Scriptures teaches that there will also be evidence or marks of conversion and sanctification as well.