False Teachers (2 Peter 2.1-3)
The first chapter of 2nd Peter ends with three different verifications of the gospel message that Peter and the other apostles/disciples of Christ were sharing with the world. The last of these proofs involves the historical precedent of prophets in the Old Testament accounts. Each prophet whose motivation to prophesy and message both came from God, “as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (1 Peter 1.21b) could be trusted to have spoken the truth.
The chapter division occurs at an unfortunate place here (as it does in most places), because in 2 Peter 2 the apostle by inspiration is now going to discuss the other side of the same issue. If “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man” (1.21a), then there is a need to address those things that do originate from men and are provoked by carnal motivations. The Holy Spirit (the source of all true messages from the LORD) will not mince words when it comes to the very-real problem of false teachers, the negative effects of their message, and their judgment before God.
False Teachers are Well-Precedented.
“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you…” (2 Peter 2.1a)
Just as the closing verses of 2 Peter 1 remind the reader that God’s prophets of old never spoke of their own volition, Peter also reminds the reader that false prophets certainly were a problem then as they are now. One need not search for very long in the accounts of the Israelites to find men and women who claimed to be speaking on God’s behalf when in fact they were not. Deuteronomy 18.20-22 commanded Israel to put to death anyone who spoke in God’s name presumptuously. The test for the false prophet was a simple one: if their word did not come true, they could not have possibly spoken on behalf of the true and perfect LORD.
By the time of the Divided Kingdom, false prophets were plenteous in both the northern and southern kingdoms. The most famous accounts of false prophets include Ahab’s gathering of “Yes Men” prophets contrasted with the one true prophet Micaiah (1 Kings 22). Hananiah the false prophet famously prophesied God had “broken the yoke of the king of Babylon” (Jeremiah 28.2), even going so far as to break the wooden yoke Jeremiah was wearing as a sign of Babylon’s pending reign over the nation of Judah. God spoke through Ezekiel in condemnation of the baseless optimism expressed by the false prophets of his day in Ezekiel 13.
The Holy Spirit’s message is a simple one: just as there were false prophets, so there will be false prophets. 2 Peter 2 goes on to describe the affects of their message, which when compared to the results of false teachers earlier in the scriptures bears an eerie resemblance.
False Teaching is Destructive, Sensual, and Blasphemous
“…who will bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.” (v.1b-2)
Many Christians today tend to shy away from identifying false teaching today with the same sorts of adjectives used in this passage and others like it. For a group of people who “speak as the Bible speaks” it bears repeating what the Scriptures say about the message of those people who do not speak according to the “oracles of God” (1 Peter 4.11).
Twice in this passage false teachings or heresies are described as destructive. This language does not allow for the possibility of many pathways in which one’s teaching can qualify as true. (Think about it: just how much destruction are you ok with?) When a teaching deviates from the word of the LORD, it destroys both the false teacher and all who believe their message. False teaching is not determined by how far the message has separated itself from original truth, but in the fact that the message has separated from the truth. Theft is theft no matter how much was stolen, and false teaching is false teaching no matter how far the message has shifted away from God’s truth.
Peter goes on to describe the teaching of a false message as “sensuality”, or that which pertains to the pursuit of what is pleasing to us (typically used in the physical or sexual sense). With this word Peter reminds the reader why false teachers are listened to in the first place: PEOPLE LIKE IT! Why else would Ahab have gathered together his mob of false prophets in 1 Kings 22 unless it was to tell him what he wanted to hear? “Behold, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king. Let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.” (1 Kings 22.13). Why were the false prophets in the days of Jeremiah and Ezekiel flocked to in droves? They spoke a message of hope and peace during a time when God’s prophets spoke only of the truth of their pending judgment. Paul would describe this sort of behavior to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4.3-4, where he also references sensuality as the hook for these people: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” Probably the best expression of this sort of behavior is found in Jeremiah 5.30-31: “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?”
Finally, the false teaching of these false prophets in 2 Peter 2 results in the very dangerous and real problem of blaspheming “the way of truth” (v.2). To speak evil of the truth by preaching any level of alternative heresy is to condemn both the speaker and the hearer to Hell. If Paul instructed Timothy to “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4.16), then the inverse of this must certainly also be true. “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” (Luke 6.39) There are many today who, simply put, have changed God’s message to attract men rather than be faithful to the clear teachings of the scriptures, and God has not ever held these people guiltless (more on this in v.3).
False Teachers are Motivated by Greed.
“And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.” (v.3a)
The next question that one might ask is “Why would someone bring a false message?” The individual expressions of this might be varied, but the root cause of this is simply put in 2 Peter 2.3: Greed. This greed might be for acclaim or praise from their audiences, or for the money and power this message will bring them, or for the need to be “right” when everyone else is “wrong”, whatever it may be. Jesus recognized the greedy, hungry nature of these people when He describes them in Matthew 7.15: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” The end goal of false teaching is always the exploitation of the listener. In the end, false teachers are concerned solely with consumption of what others will give them rather than what God has promised those who are faithful to His word. “But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.” (Ezekiel 3.19 emphasis mine, cf. 3.21).
False Teachers Will Be Condemned.
“Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” (v.3b)
There is no coincidence in the fact that the teachings of the false prophets described as destructive in v.1 results in their “swift destruction” in v.1 and in v.3. The evil and destruction that these people are bringing about because of the spreading of vile heresies will be heaped upon their own heads. In this sense we need not worry that God has “lost track” of all these people and that their evil will go unaccounted. “While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” (1 Thessalonians 5.3). This bears remembering as we speak with our friends and neighbors: our gospel message must be taught and defended not just against the “average churchgoer”, but also against those who lead those same “churchgoers”. The false teacher is as much in need of the true gospel message as those who consume their false doctrines. “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” (1 Timothy 1.3).
To close, I would simply urge you to heed the words of Solomon: “Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding.” (Proverbs 23.23) -Kyle Sanders