2 Peter 2:1-3 “False Teachers: An Introduction to Destruction”
“So false prophets also came from among the people, just as false teachers will be among you, who will introduce heresies of destruction, even denying the Master who bought them bring upon themselves a swift destruction. And many will follow in their sensualities, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in greed they will exploit you with false words, concerning whom the judgment of long ago is not idle and their destruction does not sleep.”
With the whole of chapter 2 devoted to false teachers, Peter begins here with an introduction to this dangerous topic and these destructive foes. It is important that his readers understand their enemy and the stakes for which this game is played. Here we see four warnings issued by the apostle Peter to the Asian churches regarding false teachers so that they will not be lured in by their teaching and thus share in their destruction.
Warning: Know Your False Teachers (v. 1)
Peter begins his introduction by pointing out that the existence of false teachers within the church should not be a surprising phenomenon. The pattern of errant teaching is to be expected. Then, he proceeds to describe these false teachers so that they might be identified and avoided.
Consistent Trends (v. 1a)
“So false prophets also came from among the people, just as false teachers will be among you”
When Peter speaks of the people (τῷ λαῷ) he refers to the nation of Israel. For every true prophet of God among the people, there were always those who either falsely claimed they were God’s mouthpiece or claimed to be prophets of a pagan deity. The translators of the LXX use ψευδοπροφήτης (false/pseudo prophet) to translate the Hebrew נָבִיא (prophet) throughout the book of Jeremiah to distinguish between Yhwh’s true prophet and his many opponents (6:13; 26:7, 8, 11, 16; 27:9; 28:1; 29:1, 8). Even where the term is missing, the concept remains. Micaiah stood alone as the true prophet of Yhwh while surrounded by those falsely claiming to have a word from Yhwh (1 Kings 22:13-28). It is of no small significance that the first warnings against false prophets (Deut. 18:19-22) are in the same context of a prophecy about the prophet, Messiah, to come (Deut. 18:15-18). From Moses to Jeremiah, the history of Israel has been plagued with false prophets.
The comparative ὡς (just as) does not equate the church to Israel but likens the existence of false teachers within the church to those false prophets who came from within Israel. Peter uses the ἐν preposition to state that these false prophets/teachers did not come from the pagan world, but from within the ranks of God’s people. It is worth noting that Peter does not claim that false prophets (ψευδοπροφήτης) would arise from within the church, but false teachers (ψευδοδιδάσκαλος). Rather than claiming to have an additional word from the Lord (an indication that the canon would soon be closed?), these would be men who teach wrongly what God has already said. The future tense reflects the predictions of Jesus (Matt. 7:15; 24:11, 24) and warns of a day when false teaching, a problem that has been with the church from her earliest days (Acts. 13:6), would erupt into an unprecedented scale. The term ψευδοδιδάσκαλος (false teacher) is only used eleven times in the New Testament. Five of those uses are attributed to Jesus (Matt. 7:15; 24:11, 24; Mk. 13:22; Lk. 6:26). Three are used of the false teacher who will come at the consummation of the age (Rev. 16:13; 19:20; 20:10). While modern evangelicalism may suggest that false teachers are few and far between, the biblical record suggests that their presence and influence will steadily increase as the day of Christ draws ever nearer.
There is nothing new under the sun. The enemy is always adapting. He sent false prophets to confuse the coming of the prophet and he sends false teachers to confuse the return of the teacher of righteousness. If the nation of Israel was plagued with false prophets, the church should expect to deal with false teachers.
Consistent Characteristics (v. 1b)
After establishing a biblical expectation of false teachers, Peter goes on to describe them. Here he explains what makes them false teachers, why they are dangerous, and why they should be avoided.
“Who will introduce heresies of destruction”
By using the future tense Peter does not deny the fact that false teachers have already affected the church. The future tense agrees with Christ’s teaching of the days surrounding His return as well as indicating a time of increased false teachers that arise from within the church. These clowns will be identified by the content of their teaching.
Most modern translations correctly translate αἱρέσεις as heresies. This noun literally means “choice” or “opinion” and is used in the New Testament to describe various subgroups or sects of a larger group that are separated by their opinions. Both the Pharisees and Sadducees were considered under the larger umbrella of Judaism, yet both belong to their own subgroups or sects (Acts 5:17; 15:5). Even Christianity was called a sect (αἱρέσεις) by its opponents (Acts 24:5, 14). But what makes these sects distinct is that they taught and believed something different than the rest. To teach something different than what the prophets proclaimed, and the apostles preached is something different than Christianity. It is for that reason that the church fathers used this same term to describe all manner of false teaching that is incompatible with the Bible. If a doctrine or practice distinguishes a man or group from the apostles, that doctrine is a heresy and those who follow/practice it are heretics.
The translation “destructive heresies” (NASB, NKJV, LSB) is not nearly strong enough. The genitive modifier (ἀπωλείας) is not a simple adjective but a genitive of object. These heresies lead to destruction. The teaching itself destroys. Eternal hell and eschatological judgment are in view.
One might wonder how these false teachers were able to rise within the church. The future tense verb (παρεισάξουσιν) means “to introduce” with the idea of bringing a new idea in addition to what exists. They add to the prophetic message confirmed by the apostles and thus put words into the mouth of God. The context suggests that this is done stealthily and in an underhanded manner. Little by little they introduce their new ideas and add them to the historic apostolic faith. Only those who carefully pay attention to the prophetic word (1:19) will notice.
“Even denying the Master who bought them”
The initial καὶ is more than a simple connective (and) but introduces an addition to the preceding idea. They will introduce heresies of destruction even denying the Master who bought them. The term “master” is not κύριος (lord) but δεσπότης from where we get our English “despot.” The slave/master relationship is in view and thus the supremacy of Christ’s authority over an individual life. These heresies lead to apostasy, a denial and rejection of Christ’s authority. The actions of these false teachers are not difficult to understand. They reject Christ by either outright denial or by implication through their licentious actions. The issue here is the nature of apostasy.
There are two issues at stake and two questions that are linked. First, can believers commit apostasy? Second, is Peter teaching an unlimited atonement? To phrase these two questions more simply: (1) can a believer lose his salvation and (2) did Christ purchase redemption for every person on the cross? These two questions are inseparable because to answer one is to answer both. The answer to both questions is an emphatic no.
The security of believers was made plain by Jesus when He announced the impossibility of removing any person from His hand (Jn. 10:27-30). There is no one who can undo the work of God. If salvation is of grace by faith and not of works (Eph. 2:8-10) then it is impossible, even for the individual to whom grace was extended, to undo the work of Christ. Our eternal security lies in the fact that we contributed nothing to our conversion. It is therefore impossible for a believer to apostatize. And yet, apostates exist.
In his first letter, John explains this phenomenon very clearly by saying people depart from the faith because they were never actually part of the faith (1 Jn. 2:19). Believers still sin, they stumble and fall. Yet they repent and persevere! When one commits apostasy, the repentance from repentance, they reveal that they were never saved to begin with. These are the tares among the wheat (Matt. 13:24-30), the goats among the sheep (Matt. 25:31-46), and the seed sown in among rocky soil (Matt. 13:1-9; 18-23).
The fact that these false teachers professed Christ is obvious from the fact that they are among you (ἐν ὑμῖν). When they deny the Master, they do not deny the reality of what has happened but the perception of what has happened. If Christ had purchased them, then no one would be able to take them. But if they only claimed to have been purchased, they will be revealed as imposters. You shall know them by their fruits (Matt. 7:15-21). Peter will address some of these fruits in the next verse. It is likely that their lives display a rejection of Christ’s lordship. Yet the immediate context is their heresies. Their rejection of Christ’s return to rule and reign is a rejection of the Master. An errant eschatology exposes an errant Christology.
“Bring upon themselves a swift destruction”
Another present tense participle (ἐπάγοντες) reveals the result of their denial. In denying the return of Christ, these false teachers may have the confidence to live in sin, but that does not mean they live in the realm of reality. Saying it is so, does not make it so. Peter repeats ἀπώλεια (destruction) from earlier in the verse. Of the 18 uses of this term in the New Testament, 16 (88%) are undoubtedly used in the context of eternal damnation (Matt. 7:13; Jn. 17:12; Acts 8:20; Rom. 9:22; Phil. 1:28; 3:19; 2 Thess. 2:3; 1 Tim. 6:9; Heb. 10:39; 2 Pet. 2:1 (2x); 2:3; 3:7, 16; Rev. 17:8, 11), 5 of which are in this letter (27%). They preach heresies of destruction and so this same destruction will come swiftly upon their own heads.
Warning: Know Their Impact (v. 2)
One would think that false teachers would not pose a great threat to the Church of Jesus Christ. If believers love their Lord and His Word, what could the danger possibly be? Yet this is precisely why Peter is warning these people. He wrote the first time to warn the church of coming external trials so that the churches of Asia Minor would be prepared. He writes this time to warn against coming internal trials. If the threat were imagined and not real, or if the threat were of little significance, Peter would not have written. The reality of the situation is that false teachers will have a substantial impact on the church and the community.
Many Deceived (v. 2a)
“And many will follow in their sensualities”
Peter does not mince words when he states that many will follow these false teachers. Ἐξακολουθήσοθσιν (they will follow) indicates that many will accept the authority of these false teachers and will obey them or at least imitate their behavior. They will not lack for followers in their sensualities, for such behavior naturally attracts carnal men like dung attracts flies. Ταῖς ἀσελγείαις (sensualities) is a common term in the New Testament to describe sexual sin and debauchery, but is literally used to describe a total self-abandonment or complete lack of self-control. Obviously, sexual sin would be included in this lack of self-restraint, though the idea is likely wider in scope. However, it should be noted that those who take a liberal stance on sexual promiscuity and debauchery have always been and continue to be popular with the masses.
Peter’s statement is meant as an encouragement and a warning. This is an encouragement because it is easy to lose heart when the enemy attracts so many people. It is easy to second guess one’s convictions when he is in the minority. This is a warning because the readers need to know that they will most certainly be in the minority. The righteous always are. False teachers will have a major impact on the church. These followers are coming from within just as the false teachers are coming from within. They will lead people out of the church and into destruction.
The Way Defamed (v. 2b)
“because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed”
Specifically, this phrase looks to the many who follow the false teachers. It is on their account that the way of truth will be blasphemed. When Peter says, “the way of truth” (ἡ ὁδὸς τῆς ἀληθείας) he means the entirety of the Christian faith. Christianity was originally called simply “the way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 24:14, 22) and their doctrine simply called “the way of the Lord” or “the way of God” (Acts 18:25, 26). This language should recall to our mind the Lord’s own words as He called Himself the way (ἡ ὁδὸς), the truth (ἡ ἀλήθεια), and the life (ἡ ζωή) (Jn. 14:6). Peter does not have in mind any simplistic gospel, but speaks of the person, work and return of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is this way that is being blasphemed.
Βλασφημέω (blaspheme) describes the act of slander, defamation, or disrespect. When the watching world see these many followers, witness their sinful lifestyles, and recognize the inconsistencies to the gospel, not to mention the obvious immorality that even a pagan can understand, they mock and slander the way of truth. To them, the false teachers are the same as the apostles. There is no distinction in the eyes of the world between orthodoxy and heterodoxy. They call themselves by the same name and use the same book. If these morons who lack any self-control are representative of the whole, then Christianity is a fraud and a joke.
There is a reason why holiness has such a priority in Peter’s mind. The impact of false teachers goes well beyond the church and bleeds into the community. They will deceive many and draw them away from the truth. But even the unbelieving society will be impacted by their mischief.
Warning: Know Their Ways (v. 3a)
Peter’s introduction to false teachers continues with a look inside their heads and hearts. What motivates them to do what they do and how do they accomplish this wicked work? First, Peter identifies their motives and then reveals their methods.
“And in greed”
The term “greed” here (πλεονεξία) literally means to desire more. In this context (which is clearly negative) the idea of greed or wanting more than one’s fair share/what is due him is in view. False teachers are not motivated by love of the body, the good of the sheep, or a desire to serve the Savior. They are motivated by one single factor: what’s in it for me?
Our minds might immediately jump to prosperity preachers who fly in private jets and wear expensive suites. But those are extreme examples of a simpler idea. The ministry can be used to one’s advantage if a little imagination is applied. All that is required of most pastors is a gentle thirty-minute talk once a week and a few home visits. In all, there’s only about 5-10 hours of one’s week spoken for. Many false teachers get into ministry simply because they are free to do whatever they want to do. Now all that is needed is teaching that supports their lifestyle. In any case, the key motivating factor to these false teachers is the opposite from what Christ commands.
“They will exploit you with false words”
It is ironic that the accusation against Peter and the apostles is true of the false teachers. Peter defended the apostolic gospel by saying they did not present the return of Christ with carefully crafted fables (1:16). Here he accuses false teachers of exploitation via fake words. Those who spew false accusations are usually guilty of what they impute upon others. The term “exploit” (ἐμπορεύσονται) literally means to buy or to trade/do business. Yet Peter has already mentioned that this business is done out of greed. Exploitation captures the idea rather well. The purchase is attempted by use of false words (πλαστοῖς λόγοις). They use counterfeit tinder, sweet sounding coins that ring hollow in order to sway people to their cause. Peter points the finger directly at his readers and warns them: they will exploit you. There’s a reason Paul considered the Bereans more noble than the rest. They did not except any currency other than what came from God.
Warning: Know Their End (v. 3b)
“Concerning whom the judgment of long ago is not idle and their destruction does not sleep”
There is much reason to be on the lookout for false teachers yet, there is no reason to lose sleep over them. Their destruction is certain. The church concerns herself with false teachers for the sake of the sheep, not to do battle with the heretics. Jesus and the apostles tell us plainly that they will come, and so they must come. But we must not be discouraged by their existence. Their judgment is certain and has long ago been established.
This line confirms our understanding of the nature of their denial (v. 1) because this judgment has already been established. From long ago (ἔκπαλαι) the verdict of “guilty” and the sentence of “destruction” have been pronounced. This judgment is not idle in the sense of a judge who cannot or will not come to a decision. The verdict may not yet be executed, but the verdict is in, has been in, and will most certainly be carried out. Going from the view of the judge to the condemned, Peter addresses their destruction. This is the third time in three verses that Peter uses the term ἀπώλεια (destruction). The executioner is not dozing upon his axe. They will certainly be destroyed. They may laugh and joke regarding the judgment of God. They may feel secure in the fact that the sun rose today just as it did yesterday. But a day will soon dawn when the Sun of righteousness comes. On that day, they will meet their destruction which was pronounced long ago.
Again, we see encouragement mixed with warning. Encouragement in the sense that there is no reason to weep because the wicked seem to be prospering. They will meet their destruction soon enough. A warning is here to keep distance between the faithful and the false teachers. Their destruction is certain. Why then do we not show them the door?
It should not surprise us to think of false teaching coming from within the church to deceive many people who profess Christ. Peter is only stating what our Lord already proclaimed. False teachers do not come from the outside, but from within. They come wearing sheep’s clothing to disguise the fact that they are wolves intent on devouring the sheep. Their heresies may be subtle (and often are) but remain deadly. How are we to guard against such evil men? Motives may be perceived, but they cannot be proven. The heart may reveal itself, but the damage may already be done. Yet their teaching is objective. Do they teach the identical message of the prophets and the apostles? Any deviation from the prophetic word confirmed by the apostles is a heresy. Any heresy that is left unrepented of will lead only to destruction. May the bride of Christ cease her harlotries of ecumenism in favor of doctrinal fidelity. May the Lord Jesus come quickly for His bride.
Soli Deo Gloria!
 Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), p. 328.  R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966), p. 303-4.  D. Edmond Hiebert, Second Peter and Jude: An Expositional Commentary (Greensville, South Carolina: BJU Press, 1989), p. 89-90.