2 Peter 2:10b-12 “The Character of False Teachers, Part 1: The Ignorance of Arrogance”

After making clear the righteousness, correctness, and certainty of divine judgment upon false teachers (2:4-10a), Peter returns to the issue at hand. There are several things to be observed about this text. First, Peter has a fondness for wordplay and repetition. Sometimes these repetitions are lost in our English translations. Peter uses βλασφημεώ/βλάσφημος (to blaspheme/blasphemous) three times in vv. 10-12 and φθορά/φθείρω (destruction/to destroy) three times in v. 12 alone. He uses a play on words in v. 13, bantering between doing unrighteousness (ἀδικούμενοι) and unrighteousness (ἀδικίας) and may be attempting a rhyming scheme in v. 16 with lawless (παρανομία) and insane (παραφρονίαν). The point is, this letter is carefully, thoughtfully, and artistically written. Second, there is a logical flow of thought that follows the outline provided in 2:1-3. We should expect the various topics (arrogance, sexual sin, greed) to be fleshed out in the order that Peter presented them. There is a logical mind behind these words.


In 2:1-3 these false teachers were briefly introduced as arrogant heretics (v. 1) who will lead many in sexual sin (v. 2) and are motivated by greed (v. 3). That brief introduction is here expounded upon as Peter brings more details to bear regarding these false teachers. There is a single flow and thought for 2:10b-16, much as there was in 2:1-3. The text can even be divided along the same lines where Peter first addresses the false teachers’ arrogance (vv. 10b-12), their sensualities (vv. 13-14b), and then their greed (vv. 14c-16).[1]Peter delivers the three basic character traits of these coming false teachers in vivid and graphic detail. We will address these character traits one at a time. First up we read of the arrogance that will infect these coming false teachers.


Bold. Self-willed. They do not tremble while blaspheming glories. Whereas angels, being greater in might and power, do not bring a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. But these, like unthinking beings, born creatures of instinct for capturing and destruction, blaspheming in which they are ignorant, in their destruction they will certainly be destroyed.


Beginning with the sin of pride or arrogance, Peter makes a connection between arrogance and ignorance. The irony of pride is that it is usually fueled by stupidity or ignorance. Arrogance is the blind man that insists he can see or the first-year student who speaks like a master of his field. If they only knew the vastness of their ignorance, perhaps they would pursue humility. There is a connection between arrogance and ignorance. In the realm of false teachers, Peter exposes three things that these arrogant men are ignorant of.


Arrogance Doesn’t Know Reverence (v. 10b)

Bold. Self-willed. They do not tremble while blaspheming glories


Each section of Peter’s detailed analysis contains an exclamation or compact statement about the false teachers. When addressing their arrogance, Peter calls them bold, self-willed. As he brings out their sensual immorality, he refers to them as spots and blemishes. Finally, when addressing their greed, he calls them accursed children. Each sin has its unique exclamation that helps to round the picture out. Here, the exclamation is that they are bold and self-willed.


It is best to take the adjective αὐθάδης (self-willed, stubborn, arrogant) as standing alongside τολμηταὶ (bold, audacious, daring) appositionally rather than in an attributive relationship with the preceding noun. Peter calls the false teachers “Bold! Self-willed!” not “Stubbornly bold!” The adjective is used because there is no corresponding noun in Greek,[2] though we have seen this adjective before in a different context. Paul uses this same term “self-willed, stubborn, arrogant” to articulate what an overseer must not be (Tit. 1:7). Boldness or Daring (τολμηταί) carries the idea of recklessness. The best-case scenario for such a person is that they fail to think before doing. But when coupled with this stubbornness or arrogance, the idea is that their recklessness is bound up in the fact that they care nothing for others. They charge ahead without thought because they care not how their actions affect others. It matters not what small boats are overturned by the violence of their wake. Obviously, this is not a desirable quality in any person, but Peter has a specific nuance in mind. These persons fail to tremble as they blaspheme glories.


There is much confusion brought on by shoddy translation work and even poorer exegesis regarding the phrase δόξας οὐ τρέμουσιν βλασφημοῦντες. A literal and accurate translation would be: “they do not tremble while blaspheming (participle of attendant circumstance) glories. The arrogance of these false teachers is displayed by their lack of fear as they blaspheme these glories. The term βλασφημέω (blaspheme) indicates slander or defamation. In English, we reserve the word blaspheme when God is the object of this slander. A proper translation requires an accurate understanding of what is being slandered/blasphemed.[3] According to Peter, the object of this βλασφημέω is “glories.” The question then becomes: what does he mean by “glories”?


Whatever Peter means by “glories,” we must assume that it was obvious to his readers. This demands that we do not pursue theories that have little or no precedence. In other words, making this term stand for personal entity is highly unlikely and making the personal entity an evil entity (evil angels/demons) is beyond the realm of possibility.


Peter helps us by using a plural form of the noun. Of the 166 uses of δόξα in the NT, only three are plurals. One of them is here. Another is in Jude 8, a companion passage to this verse and thus not abundantly helpful. The third is found in 1 Peter 1:11, which fits the context here beautifully. The “glories to follow” stand in the context of everything after Christ’s sufferings. This would refer to the resurrection and ascension but would also include His return, reign, and rule. To speak against the return of Christ is to blaspheme these same glories. This phrase comes immediately after a statement regarding Christ’s lordship (v. 10a), a thing which the false teachers reject.[4] What greater rejection of Christ’s lordship can be imagined than to deny or blaspheme the coming glories of the King? It would be plain to Peter’s audience that these glories are the same glories he previously referred to in his first letter. These glories are eschatological manifestations of the wondrous and majestic return or reign of King Jesus.


The arrogance of these false teachers is on full display when they fail to tremble as they blaspheme these glories. They reject the idea that the King will return. They scoff at the notion of a future and physical kingdom. The thought of future judgment before a risen and reigning Christ amuses them. What arrogance! How can one blaspheme the coming of the King without so much as a shiver?! There is no fear in their eyes.


Arrogance Doesn’t Know Humility (v. 11)


On the one hand, this seems like an obvious statement. Arrogance and humility are antonyms and so it is expected that the arrogant are ignorant of humility. Yet there is always a question of degree. Peter presents an example that exposes the height of their arrogance and the vastness of their ignorance.


The Greater Beings (v. 11a)

Whereas angels, being greater in might and power


Peter has in mind elect or holy angels here. As we have already argued, angelic beings are nowhere in view in v. 10 (elect or reprobate) and so we have no reason to suspect that demons are now the subject of Peter’s thought. Whenever “angel” is used without a modifier of some sort the sense is always that of elect angels.[5] Demons are always specified. The comparison is now set between angels and these heretical false teachers. These angels are no mere mortals but are greater beings in both might and power. The grandness of their position is necessary to establish in order to heighten the contrast between the humility of the angels and the arrogance of the false teachers.


The Greater Humility (v. 11b)

Do not bring a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord.


Them” (αὐτῶν) refers again to the false teachers. They know when to hold their tongue. They see all that the false teachers do and hear all that they say. They, who live and serve in the presence of the Almighty, might cry out for a swift judgment upon their heads and speak disrespectfully or strongly against them. Yet they do not. They keep silent. The Lord has already decreed their end and they submit to the Lord’s will.


How does this compare to the arrogance of the false teachers? Their bold words are backed by impotency while the angels, who are mighty, keep silent. The humility of the angels makes the arrogance of the false teachers even more shocking. Those who could speak of deserved justice remain silent as they submit to the Lord’s will. Those who know nothing of justice run their mouths without ceasing. Humility is not a pretense to be of lesser value than you are but is understanding the reality of your position. Arrogance is the pretense of grandeur devoid of reality. Pride is blind to reality.


Arrogance Doesn’t Know Destruction (v. 12)


This is where Peter makes the full connection between arrogance and ignorance. The conjunction δὲ (but) returns our thoughts from the humble and powerful angels back to the arrogant false teachers. Here we see the full consequences of ignorance.


Unthinking Beings (v. 12a)

But these, like unthinking beings, born creatures of instinct for capturing and destruction


But these” (οὗτοι δὲ) refers again to the false teachers. Peter unceremoniously calls them unthinking beasts (ἄλογα ζῷα) or unreasoning beings. The grandest observable difference between man and animals is the ability to reason. Man can use logic and reason because logic is a communicable perfection of God. As His image bearers, mankind has the ability to think and reason. Animals are not so. They have the ability to think, but it is not in the sense of logic, principle upon principle. They use instinct. They think along lines of survival. As the contrast to the humility found in the angels, these false teachers have more in common with beasts.


Sin is never logical. Deceit is never logical. Yet the mind of man is broken (Rom. 1:28) and so we cannot expect unregenerate man to use logic. Rather, fallen man is more animalistic in their decision making. They move on instinct and act out of self-preservation and advancement. Like a wolf in the timber, they run where they will, kill when the need, and live for themselves. Such men are purposed for one thing only; to be captured and killed.

The εἰς (εἰς ἅλωσιν καὶ φθορὰν) preposition indicates purpose. These instinctive false teachers are purposed for capture (ἅλωσις) and destruction (φθορά). It would be a poor shepherd that allowed such animals near his flock. Most shepherds have a shoot on sight policy towards wolves and coyotes. The policy is sound, but that responsibility will be taken by the Judge. He has already made it clear that their judgment is certain (vv. 4-10a). This statement is not to encourage local shepherds to hunt down these ravenous wolves, but to inform them of their character. They’re good for one thing only; stretching out on a barn door.


Unknowing Blasphemy (v. 12b)

Blaspheming in which they are ignorant


This is the first of two prepositional phrases that conclude this thought regarding the arrogance of the false teachers. The phrase before us addresses the context of their blasphemy. Once again, we see a close connection between their arrogance and their ignorance. The main verb of this clause is “they are ignorant” (ἀγνοοῦσιν). Another temporal participle (βλασφημοῦντες) indicates that while they blaspheme, they remain in ignorance. They have no idea of what they defame.


There is a reason why the qualification for elder/overseer “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2) must be understood objectively (he knows his Bible) rather than subjectively (he has a knack for public speaking). The role of a teacher in the church is to exhort sound doctrine and refute those who contradict (Tit. 1:9), not to fire up the troops. Where there are many words, transgression is unavoidable (Prov. 10:19). How much more so if those words are disconnected from truth?


Certain Destruction (v. 12c)

In their destruction they will certainly be destroyed.


The previous preposition revealed the context of their blasphemy. This phrase displays the certainty of their destruction. The Greek term φθείρω/φθορά (destruction/destroy) has been used three times in this single verse. False teachers are like animals who are purposed for capture and destruction. In their destruction they will be destroyed. It is probable that Peter is making a point.


It is possible that Peter is using a Hebraism to assert the certainty of their destruction.[6] It is more likely, however, that Peter here presents the result of their ignorant blasphemies. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. It matters not that they ran their mouths and led people astray without any knowledge of what they spoke. They will be destroyed. There is no need to burn heretics at the stake, for the Lord will destroy them in His timing. The angels dare not offer their opinion regarding their judgment, for the Lord has already established their demise. Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall (Prov. 16:18).


Conclusion


This is but the first of three sinful characteristics that identify false teachers. While aimed at blaspheming heretics, there remains things to be learned here. Pride is the root of all kinds of evil. All our sin can be traced back to arrogance and pride of some variety. We would do well to identify it, confess it, and repent from it as quickly as possible. If we have learned nothing else in these verses, it is that pride destroys. May it not destroy us!


Soli Deo Gloria!

[1] Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), p. 346. [2] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966), p. 317. [3] D. Edmond Hiebert, Second Peter and Jude: An Expositional Commentary (Greensville, South Carolina: BJU Press, 1989), p. 110-1 . [4] Lenski, p. 318-9. [5] Hiebert, p. 112. [6] Archibald Robertson, The General Epistles and The Revelation of John, vol. VI, VI vols., Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), p. 166.

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