Here is the second part of my Bible study on 2 Peter:
The tone changes immediately as we read the beginning of chapter 2. The joy that Peter describes his encounter with the Living God is gone. The focus moves from the generosity of God and the wonder of the Christian life to dealing with false teachers (probably Gnostics-see note at bottom of the article.)
Looking at the language Peter uses shows this stark contrast. Here are the words he describes these false teachers:
“secretly introduce destructive heresies”; “depraved conduct”; “greed”; “exploit you with fabricated stories”; carouse in broad daylight”; “They are blots and blemishes, revelling in their pleasures while they feast with you.”; “adultery”; “they seduce the unstable”
It makes quite unpleasant reading. There is an emphasis on their preying on thevulnerable. The image Peter uses here is of the men in Sodom. The sin of these men was to demand that Lot hand over his guests in order that they might assault them. These false preachers may not want to do physical harm to the Christians but they will do spiritual harm.
Their desire to corrupt the faith of the believers is matched by their lifestyle. Gnosticism often ended up with two different kind of behaviour. Their attitude to matter is the root of the problem- it led to one of two extremes either a very severe asceticism to subdue the totally corrupt body or a complete hedonism because what you do to corrupt flesh is eternally irrelevant. If matter is unimportant I might harm my body or indulge it. Either way it doesn’t matter. For Peter, the fruit ofbelief are seen in our actions as we have already seen in chapter 1. Here we see how important the virtues Peter mentions in chapter 1 are. The false teachers do not display goodness, love or self-control. Peter has already stated that when we are open to all that God wants to give us, there is change that is beautiful in nature. Here we get a picture of the opposite. These people do not know God, they cannot participate in the work he does in their lives. So there are not fruit to be seen. They are not loving or self-controlled. They do not persevere or have any affection.
Towards the end of the chapter he describes them in harsh terms:
“These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. 18 For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.” 20 If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are
overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning” (NIV)
These people are tricky. They entice, entangle and enslave. Peter is showing these people as they are. Sometimes evil appears attractive – like an angel of light. However, like the wizard of Oz, there are smoke and loud noises that distract us from the reality. Here though instead of an ordinary man behind the curtain there is something far more foul. A little like Professor Quirrel who carried Lord Voldermort hidden under his turban. We are able to see the reality because Peter has already shown us the beauty and joy in a life lived close to God. Chapter 1 is expansive and makes the spirit soar. In the light of this, false teachers can be seen as they really are.
Note: The preachers that Paul talks of were probably Gnostics, given the content of what Peter says in the letter. Gnostics were those who felt special knowledge was important. They also had a tendency to split matter and the spiritual, so that matter was seen as problematic and the Spiritual was what was really important. A much more details explanation can be read here.