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Exegesis of 2 Peter 2:1 - To Buy or Not to Buy - Dr. Matthew McMahon

Calvinistic Articles on the Christian Faith

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Did Jesus really redeem those false teachers or not?

Proof texts can sometimes be useful. Well, maybe I should back up a moment and define the “proof text.” A proof text, biblically speaking, is a Scripture quoted on behalf of a given subject. Now that is a very simple definition. “Proof texting” Bible doctrines may become more defined, or more complex, when we add the notion of being systematically consistent on a given subject, and exhausting, as best as we are able, to demonstrate a certain set of Scriptures systematically teach a specific doctrine. For instance, a systematic theologian may proof text 12 Scriptures in support of the deity of Christ. He may be right on every one of them, since, even after studying their context and rightly interpreting them (which may take weeks or months), the Scriptures surely prove that Jesus Christ is God. There are other times when proof texting is done as a fault to a subject. For instance, a theologian may quote Psalm 91 where the Psalmist says that God seems to hide us under His “feathers.” Now quoting this Scripture in support of making God out to be a chicken is a crucial mistake. It does not fit with the rest of Scripture and vehemently denies specific texts that state that God does not have a material body. In that Psalm, it speaks figuratively, as with most Hebrew poetry. So, proof texting in the wrong hands can be dangerous.

Ok, now at this point I return to my previous statement that proof texts can sometimes be very useful, especially in the hands of a biblical scholar and exegete. However, sometimes, proof texting can lead into all manners of theological absurdities, and especially into heresy if one is not exceedingly careful. There is a particular Scripture that is often used out of context by Arminian theologians and pastors (those who do not believe that the death of Jesus Christ was only for those whom He died, the elect). You see, Arminian theologians believe that Jesus Christ died for all men, and all men have the possibility and chance of being redeemed, but only if they exercise their free will to choose the gift of life that Christ freely offers them in the Gospel. A hallmark text for their argument lies in the general epistle of 2 Peter in chapter 2 and verse 1. It reads as follows: “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.” Now this is a very serious text for the Calvinist to deal with. If the Calvinist just simply shrugs it off, he is not doing his homework, and he is not taking this text very seriously. Through the entire Bible, in my opinion, this is the easiest text to fumble for the Calvinist if he does not handle it in an exegetically responsible manner. It is also a very easy text to adhere to at face value for the Arminian since he is set upon making this text say exactly what it superficially states in our English Bibles. It seems that this text is teaching us that though Jesus bought these false teachers, they still denied Him and thus found that they were partakers of swift destruction. Theologically, it seems that this text asserts though Jesus purchases people they can still fall away. No doubt, this is a very serious charge in which to bring against the biblical text as a whole, since other passages throughout the Bible emphatically deny such a claim.

So, as a Calvinist, I am compelled to ask, what exactly does this mean since it seems to directly contradict what the rest of the Bible does say concerning the death of Christ for his church, the sheep, His people, and the like? It seems to purport that Jesus’ death is general, and seems to suggest that men ultimately decide their fate, though this is going against the grain of some of the clearest biblical passages in all the Word (like Romans 9, John 6 and 10, Ephesians 1, and other like passages.) What does the Calvinist do?

First, the biblical exegete and scholar must be honest and say that this text does cut across the grain of other texts. It does not seem to fit the biblical picture at face value. At first read, even after the second and third, the exegete must first say that he knows what it does not mean in light of the rest of the bible. There cannot be any contradictions through the Word, or it does not continue to remain the infallible and inerrant word of God. God does not err, and neither could His Word. So we know that it cannot contradict the other passages which show and demonstrate that Jesus died for a specific group of people (John 6:37-40; Matthew 1:21; John 10:15; John 15:13; Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25), and we also must be sure that it cannot mean men are ultimately in control of their eternal destinies (Amos 3:2; Romans 9:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:9; Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:20; Acts 4:28; Romans 8:30; 1 Co. 2:7; Proverbs 16:4, etc.). Such thoughts do not agree with the rest of the Bible.

Well, we have “convinced” ourselves that we know what it cannot mean, but, then, what does it mean? Let us recap this for a moment. We know it cannot mean that Jesus purchased a hypothetical salvation for all men and that men are the ultimate “saviors” of their own destinies. We know that God predestinates some to heaven and others He condemns to a fate in hell, and we know this is all done before the foundation of the world, both in Adam and in Christ. So, what do we do with this text which seems to state otherwise? First we must look to the language. There is something we must be missing to understand this fully. Who is Peter speaking about here? What is the context? The context takes a turn at this point in 2:1. Peter had been exhorting the people of God about the necessity of a God inspired Bible and that prophecy (the forth telling of the Word of God) is something God takes great care in. It is not something simply jotted down or received nonchalantly. It came not by the will of men, as if it was created and written by men, no, not at all. Rather the word of God is inspired by the Holy Spirit as a result of the Spirit’s work in carrying along the men who wrote it in a supernatural venue. Then Peter makes a shift. Though the Spirit has given His infallible and inerrant word to the church, there are also false teachers who bring in false doctrine. Now it is important to note the drastic contrast between the truth of God and His faithful prophets, and the false prophets which come to destroy the church. They are the pseudoprophetes {psyoo-dop-rof-ay’-tace}. This means that they are those who, acting the part of a divinely inspired prophet, utter falsehoods under the name of divine prophecies. That is the meaning of a false prophet. These “pseudo” prophets are not outside the church, but “among you” as if they infiltrated the church and became part of her. Now it is important that when I say, “became part of her,” I mean the external community of the local church, not the elect people of God. These false prophets seemed to have made it through the membership class and at the very least, had gained the trust of the people. Peter, here, is warning the church that such people bring “pareisa xousin ai resei avpwleia”, or translated literally, “they shall bring in from the outside damnable heresies.” Now this is important to note! The false teachers infiltrate the church and then introduce to the church damnable heresies. These false teachers do not simply have a dispute here, rather, they are bringing in false teaching, heresy, which is damning, both to them who are teaching it, and those who then receive it. This is not something that is a mere trifle. Peter is saying that false teachers propagate damnable heresy that shall miscarry a soul into everlasting perdition if it is heeded. Those who teach heresy will be damned, and those who follow after heresy, even in ignorance, will be damned as well. As a matter of fact, the fate of an ignorant soul following false teaching is much worse than those teaching it! Jesus even said in Matthew 23:15, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.” False teachers not only damn people in excess, but they damn themselves as well.

Now that we know these false teachers not only bring damnable heresies into the church, but are damned themselves for doing it. We then come to the difficult aspect of the text. These false teachers, who are damning themselves, “kai ton avgora santa auvtou despo thn avrnoumenoi” or literally, “the ones bought by the Lord, denouncing Him.” This is very interesting phrase. The aorist verb for “bought” is masculine and the word “false prophet” is also a masculine word as well. They are certainly linked here. The Lord, according to the translation, has bought these false teachers, though they are denying the Lord and are damned. Even the next phrase “evpagonte e autoi tacinhn avpwleian” (bringing swift destruction upon themselves” proves that these men are damned to hell. How can they be damned though the Lord has bought them? This does not seem to make sense unless you adhere to the hypothetical salvation offered by the Arminian theological construct, but that is erroneous. Yet, the verse simply cannot mean that they are really bought while at the same time they are those who fall away as false teachers. This cannot be said of this verse because the Greek will not allow for the interpretation. It will not allow it! They are either bought, or…what? There is an answer.

This verse is adamantly un-Arminian. Yes, you heard right. The verse is completely and totally against the Arminian interpretation because the Arminian is not taking the time to find out what “bought” means. The word avgora,santa is a masculine participle verb in the aorist tense. It is a derivative of avgorazw. Before I explain what the tense means, you should be aware that the verb itself is literally defined as “someone or something bought or purchased, as a slave would be bought or purchased in the marketplace.” That means the verb does not mean “hypothetically bought” but “actually bought.” Then, getting back to the tense which amplifies the meaning, the aorist tense means that it has been completed in the past. For example, I bought some groceries. That does not mean I am in the process of buying, or that I hope to buy, or that I possibly bought groceries depending on one or two other factors. It emphatically demonstrates that I bought them and they cannot be anything else other than bought. In the verse we are looking at, the verb tense and meaning refers to the buying a slave’s freedom for a price paid by a benefactor, or to “redeem.” Now the aorist tense makes this very plain. According to the verse these false teachers have actually been bought. There is no possibility of being possibly bought, or any dependence on other actions. The Lord literally buys these false teachers, and they are truly bought or, more theologically, they are redeemed. Hmmmm, now what do we do? We seem to be confused about the meaning. Either they are false teachers going to hell, or they are elect saints redeemed by the Lord. Which is it? It seems to say both, but that would be a contradiction. It cannot be both.

We have a theological conundrum. There are two opposing ideas presented. What do we do? Are they false teachers or not? Are they bought or not? Are they elect? Are they reprobate? We certainly know that the Arminian notion of hypothetical redemption based on man’s response read into this text is nonsense especially since the tense and meaning of the Greek words do not allow for such an interpretation. But it seems the Calvinist still has his hands full.

There are questions to be asked. Are false prophets even viewed as saved by the Lord? A survey of the New Testament will prove that false prophets are not saved, unless of course Christ converts them later. You can search out the New Testament and see this for yourself. False prophets, while they remain in their “false” state are those on their way to “swift destruction.” In the Old Testament it was worse, for false prophets were immediately stoned to death. But here, in 2 Peter 2:1ff, Peter lays out the tragic downfall of the false prophets. There is a large amount of “name calling” in this section. These false, damned prophets are called those who “walk after the flesh,” are “self willed,” are “brute beasts,” do not “understand,” shall “utterly perish,” shall “receive the reward of unrighteousness,” are “spots,” “blemishes,” having “eyes full of adultery,” “cannot cease from sin,” and on and on and on. You get the picture very quickly. Peter then says in 2:20-22, “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For 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. But 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.” False teachers cannot, by their own strength, ultimately escape their wicked fallen, natures. However, through the knowledge they have gained, which is not the saving knowledge of the new birth, they still believe they are saved. Did you catch that? They believe they are bought by the Lord, though they deny Him with their false teaching. Think for a moment, what half-sane Christian church would ever believe or follow after a false teacher who admits they are a false teacher, and admits they are unconverted? My heavens, they would be admitting the obvious and the church would never, ever be foolish enough to follow them! If the devil popped up in all his wickedness and announced he was the devil, the one who desired to drag all people to hell to be tormented, who would be so foolish as to listen? However, it makes perfect sense that these false teachers are not openly admitting that their heretical doctrines are in fact heretical. Rather, they are claiming to be saved with their mouth, though their doctrines are false. They are claiming to be servants and Disciples of Christ, but have really only obtained a nominal knowledge of the Savior. They claim to be bought as salves, but their doctrine proves them to be hell deserving false teachers.

The text seems to have cleared up rather quickly. We know that the moment we look at the tense and the word for “bought” that the Arminian interpretation falls completely apart. Whatever the text means, we know it cannot be Arminian. But I believe the text takes care of itself in context, and by the notion that false teachers are doomed to swift destruction. So we find false teachers in the church, though they are not openly saying they are false teachers. In fact, they are claiming to be saved, and they are claiming that Christ has bought them. They are as redeemed as any other slave bought and redeemed by Christ, at least according to their thinking. But though their words say one thing, their false teachings and nominal Christian walk prove something else. They are really walking the walk of a false teacher. Sometimes it takes a keen eye to spot them, but the church ought not to tolerate them the moment they come to understand that they are false teachers. Their teachings will subvert the weak minded, and those who are not grounded in the faith may be swept away into a world of heresy which will ultimately damn them if they do not repent. Peter exhorts the church to keenly watch for these men. They are like Balaam, the false prophet who prophesied much about the Messiah to come, but ultimately returned to his own vomit of sin and wickedness, and perished. False teachers are often difficult to pick out of a crowd right away, but soon enough their teaching, checked against the true word which Peter exhorted us about in chapter 1, will show them to be what they are, false teachers bringing in damnable heresies which will in turn bring upon themselves swift destruction.

So to summarize the point here: false teachers are “saying” they are Christians, and “saying” they have been bought, but in fact are not bought at all. “Denying the sovereign Lord who bought them” is what they are saying about their lifestyle, though it is not true from the rest of the immediate context of the passage. The word “bought” means they are either saved (which we know false teachers are not saved so that cannot be the meaning of the passage) or they are “saying” they “they believe themselves to be saved” and ultimately are self-deceived. But it cannot mean that Christ bought them with His blood, and they reject that “offer” to eternal life.

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