False Teachers in 2 Peter and Jude

Introduction

When discussing the false teachers mentioned in the books of 2 Peter and Jude a few essential questions must be answered prior to drawing any applications about them. We need to discuss their teachings, their methods— or tactics, and also their spiritual standing—or trusts. All of this will form a picture for us to look at while ascertaining fundamental truths, and thus applications and reactions to false teachers we can have in today’s world. The first three sections of this paper will cover those attributes, and the final section will discuss biblical responses to false teachers, both in the first century when these letters were written, and today when these letters are read.

False Teachers’ Teachings

Figuring out what false doctrines were being taught by these teachers is much more difficult than one might think. Unfortunately, the Holy Spirit did not inspire Peter and Jude to write out a list of the false doctrines that were being taught and then refute them one by one. Because this is not the case, we need to look at the internal clues to try and determine the false truths being taught. The best clues come from what Peter affirmed to the believers as truth.

Since Peter was writing the letter in order to set straight the people who had been led away by the false teachers, the directions he gives and the truths he specifically affirms are very likely there to be direct opposites of the “false truths” being spread. This means that every instance of truth or clear direction that Peter puts forth is potentially relevant to determining the false teachers’ teachings.

The first clear instance of a firm command to the believing audience of Second Peter is found in chapter one verses five through eight. Peter instructs the readers to supply moral excellence in their faith, and by doing so they will also supply knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, kindness, and love. He then makes the point that if these qualities are increasing the possessor of them is neither useless nor unfruitful.

The fact that Peter chose to go on this little tangent illuminates much about the possible errors into which these readers had lead by the false teachers. Whatever they were teaching it was probably leading the people to laziness, a lack of self control, ungodliness, unkindness, and selfishness, otherwise his exhortations to behave in the opposite manner would have been unnecessary. This is the first indicator as to the teachings of the false teachers. While we can’t pinpoint exactly what they were teaching, we know that it led to laziness, ungodliness and selfishness, and this creates the general picture of lawless licentiousness.

This conclusion is further supported by Peter’s warning in the first few verses of the second chapter, when he tells the reader that there will be teachers who, “introduce destructive heresies,” lead people away by, “their sensualities,” and, “malign the truth.” These utter worldliness of the followers of these teachers leads one to the suspicion that they were teaching basic idea that, “since our sins are forgiven, there is no need not to sin.” In other words, they encouraged sinful behavior because the price for sin had already been paid. As a logical step further, it is safe to say that, based on the text, they lived by the mantra “pleasure is paramount.” I think these are fairly safe conclusions to draw about the teachings of the false teachers in 2 Peter.

Now, we must discuss the false teachers that were being warned of in Jude. I find it particularly interesting that Jude wrote to his audience specifically because of the false teachers in spite of his desire to speak on the common salvation of believers. It definitely speaks to Jude’s character, and to his obedience to the Spirit that he was willing to put aside his own desires and say what needed to be said, instead of what he wanted to say. It also lets us know that the false teachers Jude warned about were becoming very prominent. They were prominent enough to merit an urgent, obviously quite brief, letter warning believers against their teachings. Jude waxes poetically about the nature of the false teachers, that they are hidden reefs, empty clouds, fruitless trees, and wandering stars. In short, they are worthless. All of this, however, does not give us any insight into what they were teaching.

There are even fewer direct mentions of teachings in Jude than in Second Peter, but the most damning piece of information on these teachers is found in the fourth verse, when he says that the teachers are, “ungodly people who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness, and deny our only master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” This undoubtedly shows that at any rate, the teachers were spreading lawless, worldly living among the Church.

It is easy to see then, that the false teachers in both books were spreading the same sorts of lies. “Live like you want as a Christian, cause the law is gone.”

False Teachers’ Tactics

The tactics, or measures that these false teachers took, in order to spread their unholy doctrines, were subversive and underhanded at best, and downright evil at worst. As John MacArthur puts it, “False teachers are never honest and straightforward about their operations. After all, the church would never embrace them if their schemes were unmasked.” [1]

In the case of Second Peter, they infiltrated the Church from the inside, and, in the absence of apostolic direction, lead the people astray under the guise of teaching truth. This can been most clearly seen in Second Peter chapter two verse one. Peter states that, “there will be false teachers among you who will secretly introduce destructive heresies…” The use of words like “secretly” and “among you” indicate that these teachers were coming up from inside the church, not outside it.

A similar passage in Jude would be verse four. “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed,” paints a picture of subversive operations. While this might just be descriptive language on the part of the authors, it seems more probable that the false teachers were in fact being sneaky in their deception. In fact, “this range of language was typical for characterizing false believers, heresy, and the devil, and underscored the element of deception.”[2]

I feel that this particular attribute of the teachers is easy to understand, and very rarely disputed, but the tragic fact about many false teachers is that they are successful— people listen to them and follow them and their shameful ways.”[3] We all are aware of these teachers and the fact that they are scheming against the church secretly, but we rarely do anything about it. More will be said on this thought when we get the application part at the end, which is why I will be ceasing this section for now.

False Teachers’ Trusts

Now we have reached the first of the hard questions: Were these false teachers saved? It’s a difficult question to attempt to answer, and one that largely depends on your beliefs about salvation. As it is my view that the Bible clearly states that all can be saved, not all will be saved, and that you cannot lose your salvation once you have believed, the eternal status of the false teachers will be analyzed under those conditions. If it is your belief that a man can lose his salvation, then the conclusions drawn in this section will not reflect your opinion, however I feel it necessary to note that that opinion is in fact a wrong one, and is not entirely based on the plain, normal, grammatical, historical interpretation of biblical text.

It is also important to point out that no man can ever ascertain with one hundred percent certainty whether or not another man is saved. Good guesses can be made, based on the evidence at hand, but no assurances can be made.

With both of these facts in mind, the false teachers in First Peter are the more troubling and difficult to place on the scale of salvation. In the first verse of the second chapter, the text refers to these false teachers as being “bought” by Jesus. This makes some people fall into the belief that these teachers must therefore be saved. They make the understandable mistake of letting their perceived purpose of the use of the word “bought” to define its meaning. They take the word out of context and try to use the word, “bought” to mean, “saved.”

I consider this an incorrect conclusion as it is plainly seen in other biblical texts that we have all been “bought” with the blood of Christ. Jesus died for the sins of the entire world, not just for the sins of some, so the more important part of 2 Peter 2:1 is the phrase just before the word “bought.” It says that the teachers go so far as “denying the Master who bought them,” which very clearly places the teachers into a different category.

Being bought is something that Jesus did for everyone. What we have to do is respond to that purchase with belief, the opposite of which is denial. I think that, based on this verse alone, it would be safer to place the false teachers into the “unsaved” category because specifically remarks on their denial of the purchase that Jesus made.

It’s also interesting to note that Peter specifically uses the word “Master” which brings to mind slavery imagery. This starkly contrasts the lawless licentiousness of the false teachers and puts another divider between believers and the false teachers. “Rather than reject the term [Master] for its negative echoes, Peter reinforces it by pointing out that this Master has bought these people, and they are now his slaves.”[4]

However, this same position could be argued in an incorrect way, to say that Peter’s purpose in writing that they were “bought,” was to show that they were not saved. This is a fallacy that Dr. Norman Geisler explores in a chapter he wrote for the book Rightly Divided. In it he discusses the difference between purpose and meaning, and proves that assuming the authors purpose to determine his meaning works backwards to proper exegesis. “There are often many purposes for a text. If meaning were determined by a specific purpose of a text, then we would have to know which of the many purposes of a text is the purpose.”[5] In other words we can’t assume that Peter’s purpose here is to differentiate these false teachers by use of the words “bought” or “deny” but we can logically conclude that, based on the context.

As for the false teachers mentioned in Jude, a very similar case can be made. In verse four of Jude it states that the false teachers “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” Based on this clear-cut description, I cannot help but believe that these false teachers are non-believers.  For the same reason as in Second Peter, denial is the opposite of belief, and if belief in Jesus Christ is the method of salvation, to “deny” Jesus Christ must yield a result other than salvation.

It’s also important to take into account, the actions of the false teachers and the actions of those following them. As one writer put it, “most commentaries ignore any but the false teachers in this passage.”[6] (vital biblical issues. Pg 210.  Duane A dunham)The believers being led astray certainly have consequences of their own to deal with. They were not diligent in testing those who claimed to be teachers of the word, which is one of the reasons Peter is writing to them. As for these false teachers, whether or not they were once believers and saved for all eternity, there is no question that if they are saved, they are at least carnal believers. The mere fact that we describe them as false teachers who promote licentiousness makes this fact absolutely clear, so while the question of their salvation can’t be determined with 100% certainty, the wrongfulness of their actions, and thus the direction of their spiritual walk, can be. If they are believers, which I’ve already stated is not as likely a reality as the alternative, they are clearly walking away from God as opposed to walking with him and maturing as believers.

Both sets of false teachers are clearly placing their “trusts” in the things of this world, as opposed to the things of the next, and both sets of Christians should have been more diligent in testing those teachings against the scriptures and the teachings of the apostles, which leads me nicely into the next section of this paper.

Biblical Responses in the First Century and Today

The primary biblical response in the first century to these false teachers was to kick them out. My father tells the story of the first time he went to a small town Pentecostal church in Oklahoma with my mother. The preacher was talking about a man who was smiling and shaking hands on Sunday morning, but was out drunk at the bars and the strip clubs on Friday night. He was getting more and more worked up and finally asked at the apex of his rant, “What are we gonna do with this man?” and a decrepit old lady said in the squeakiest, high pitched, old lady voice you can imagine, “Kick him outta church!”

This is basically what Peter and Jude were instructing the true believers to do. Stop following these teachers of lawless licentiousness and get back on the straight and narrow path. This is the same basic instruction that John gave in his second epistle. Do not allow God’s word to be perverted by any means, and if that means kicking them out of church to keep the truth in tact, then so be it. Peter and Jude’s reverence for the truth led them to all sorts of actions, and so it is simply not right for us to be anxious about a confrontational defense of truth that can result in nothing more than lower attendance.

We need to be diligent in weeding out the false teachers that plague our churches today. I’ll go ahead and be extra confrontational in this paper and say that teachers like Rob Bell, who promote love as God’s one and only attribute, and thus excuse all sin as a result, need to be “kicked outta church” for a while. I’m not saying that he is not a saved believer, but I am saying that he is teaching a false doctrine. The same goes for those denominations that are currently promoting the ordination of openly homosexual ministers. These are false teachings that fall right in line with the licentiousness that Peter and Jude were warning against.

Conclusion

All in all, the writings of Second Peter and Jude are incredibly vital and applicable to the church today. The false teachers who infiltrated the church in the first century, taught lawless licentiousness, they taught it subversively, and they were likely in the grips of un-Godly parties. We can learn a lot from these letters and prevent a lot of problems in our churches if we take heed of the warnings and exhortations provided in their pages.

Bibliography

Donelson, Lewis R. I & II Peter and Jude: A Commentary. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010.

Dunham, Duane A.  “An Exegetical Study of 2 Peter 2:18-22.” in Vital Biblical Issues, edited by Roy B. Zuck. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Resources, 1994.

Geisler, Norman. “The Relation of Purpose and Meaning in Interpreting Scripture.” in Rightly Divided: Readings in Biblical Hermeneutics, edited by Roy B. Zuck. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1996.

Harvey, Robert, Philip H. Towner. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: 2 Peter & Jude. Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009.

MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 2 Peter & Jude. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2005.

Walvoord, John F ed., Roy B Zuck, ed. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 1983.

[1] John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 2 Peter & Jude (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2005), 71.

[2] Robert Harvey, Philip H. Towner, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: 2 Peter & Jude (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 181.

[3] John F Walvoord, ed., Roy B Zuck, ed., The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 1983), 870.

[4] Lewis R. Donelson, I & II Peter and Jude: A Commentary (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 238.

[5] Norman Geisler, “The Relation of Purpose and Meaning in Interpreting Scripture,” in Rightly Divided: Readings in Biblical Hermeneutics, ed. Roy B. Zuck (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1996), 146.

[6] Duane A. Dunham, “An Exegetical Study of 2 Peter 2:18-22,” in Vital Biblical Issues, ed. Roy B. Zuck (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Resources, 1994), 210.

Leave a Comment