Last week’s post was on Peter’s first stage in responding to false teaching. Peter’s first concern was the growth of his readers, before he turned to the false teachers. This week, we will look at the second stage in his response.
His response to the false teachers in chapter 2 actually falls into four sections:
First, Peter introduces and describes the false teachers (2:1-3a). Their presence in the church was the main reason Peter wrote the letter. He compares them to false prophets in the OT and describes their teaching as destructive. They deny Jesus Christ and thus bring judgment upon themselves (2:1-2). Many will follow them, and the way of truth will be blasphemed because of their teaching. They are greedy, and they exploit people with false words (2:3a).
Second, Peter condemns them and also reminds his readers that the fate of the false teachers is not pretty (2:3b-10a). Their destruction is a sure thing (2:3b). Peter again turns to OT examples of God’s judgments on the wicked (2:4-10a) to make the point that God will surely bring judgment on these false teachers just as he did then.
Third, Peter points out their character flaws: arrogance and sensuality (2:10b-16). Peter takes time to shine light on their sinful lifestyle. Indeed, they were claiming the grace of God as an excuse for sin (see also 2:19-20). They resisted authority (2:10-11), and were involved in all kinds of sins of the flesh (2:13-16; cf. 2:18-20).
Finally, he again gives a description of them and points out their condemnation (2:17-22).
In 2 Peter 2, there are several things that stand out in his response to false teachings. 1) He is not too concerned with the content of their teaching. He does not address it at all as he describes them. All we know about what they were teaching is in his call on his readers to hold fast to their conviction that Christ will come again and will bring judgment. It follows that these false teachers were denying the truth of the return of Christ. 2) Peter does not address the false teachers directly. His audience in describing the false teachers and their destiny is his readers. 3) His aim is to warn his readers of the danger of listening to the false teachers and also to assure them that God is in control.
Again, the focus is on the spiritual health of the church. This leads to a conscious effort to teach and remind believers of the truth to which they hold. In doing so, the emphasis is on the truth that is being challenged by the false teaching. Here, we place that truth in its biblical context for better understanding. The spiritual growth of believers is important and should be guarded against teachings that hinder it. In Peter’s approach, he does not engage the false teachers, for that is not what matters. His goal is not to convince them that they are wrong. Rather, he describes them for who they are and points out their destiny. In doing so, he wants his readers to be warned, see how they are wrong, and continue to hold onto what is the truth.
There is much to be learned from Peter’s response to false teachings. A careful study of 2 Peter will provide solid guidelines for responding to false teaching in the church. At the core of the response is calling believers to remember what they already know as truth. That will protect them from false teachings (see 2 Pet. 1:12, 13, 15; 3:5, 8; cf. Eph. 4:11-16).