Beware of False Teachers!
“There will also be false teachers among you.”—2 PETER 2:1.
1. What had Jude intended to write about, and why did he change his subject?
WHAT a shocking thing! False teachers in the first-century Christian congregation! (Matthew 7:15; Acts 20:29, 30) Jesus’ half brother Jude was aware of this development. He said that he had intended to write fellow believers “about the salvation we hold in common,” but he explained: “I found it necessary to write you to exhort you to put up a hard fight for the faith.” Why did Jude change his subject matter? Because, he said, “certain men have slipped in[to the congregations] . . . turning the undeserved kindness of our God into an excuse for loose conduct.”—Jude 3, 4.
2. Why are 2 Peter chapter 2 and Jude so similar?
2 Apparently, Jude wrote shortly after Peter penned his second letter. Jude no doubt was familiar with this letter. Certainly, he expressed many comparable thoughts in his own powerful letter of exhortation. Therefore, as we examine 2 Peter chapter 2, we will note how similar it is to Jude’s letter.
Consequences of False Teachings
3. What occurred in the past that Peter says would occur again?
3 After Peter has urged his brothers to pay attention to prophecy, he says: “However, there also came to be false prophets [in ancient Israel], as there will also be false teachers among you.” (2 Peter 1:14–2:1) God’s people in ancient times received true prophecy, but they also had to contend with the corrupt teachings of false prophets. (Jeremiah 6:13, 14; 28:1-3, 15) “In the prophets of Jerusalem,” wrote Jeremiah, “I have seen horrible things, committing adultery and walking in falsehood.”—Jeremiah 23:14.
4. Why do false teachers deserve destruction?
4 Describing what false teachers would do in the Christian congregation, Peter says: “These very ones will quietly bring in destructive sects and will disown even the owner [Jesus Christ] that bought them, bringing speedy destruction upon themselves.” (2 Peter 2:1; Jude 4) The final result of such first-century sectarianism is Christendom as we know it today. Peter shows why false teachers richly deserve destruction: “Many will follow their acts of loose conduct, and on account of these the way of the truth will be spoken of abusively.”—2 Peter 2:2.
5. For what were false teachers responsible?
5 Think of this! Because of the influence of false teachers, many in the congregations would become involved in loose conduct. The Greek word translated “loose conduct” denotes licentiousness, absence of restraint, indecency, wantonness, shameless conduct. Peter said earlier that Christians had “escaped from the corruption that is in the world through lust.” (2 Peter 1:4) But some were going to return to that corruption, and false teachers in the congregations would be largely responsible! Thus the way of the truth would suffer disrepute. How sad! Surely, this is a matter to which all of Jehovah’s Witnesses today should pay close attention. We should never forget that, depending on our conduct, we can bring either praise to Jehovah God and his people or reproach upon them.—Proverbs 27:11; Romans 2:24.
Introducing False Teachings
6. What motivates false teachers, and how do they seek to get what they want?
6 Wisely, we take note of how false teachers introduce their corrupt thinking. Peter first says that they do it quietly, or in an unobtrusive, subtle way. He adds: “With covetousness they will exploit you with counterfeit words.” Selfish desire motivates false teachers, as is emphasized by the rendering in The Jerusalem Bible: “They will eagerly try to buy you for themselves with insidious speeches.” Similarly, James Moffatt’s translation here says: “In their lust they will exploit you with cunning arguments.” (2 Peter 2:1, 3) The mouthings of false teachers may seem plausible to one who is not spiritually alert, but their words are carefully designed “to buy” people, seducing them into serving the deceivers’ selfish purposes.
7. What philosophy became popular in the first century?
7 No doubt, first-century false teachers were influenced by the then current worldly thinking. About the time of Peter’s writing, a philosophy called Gnosticism was becoming popular. Gnostics believed that all matter is evil and only that which pertains to the spirit is good. Thus, some of them said that it does not matter what a man does with his physical body. In time, they argued, man would not have this body. Therefore, they concluded, bodily—including sexual—sins are not important. Apparently, such views began to influence some who professed Christianity.
8, 9. (a) What twisted reasoning affected some early Christians? (b) According to Jude, what were some in the congregations doing?
8 One Bible scholar noted that “there were those in the Church who perverted the doctrine of grace,” or “undeserved kindness.” (Ephesians 1:5-7) According to him, the argument of some went like this: “Do you say that God’s [undeserved kindness] is wide enough to cover every sin? . . . Then let us go on sinning, for God’s [undeserved kindness] can wipe out every sin. In fact the more we sin the more chances God’s [undeserved kindness] will get to operate.” Have you ever heard more twisted reasoning than that?
9 The apostle Paul countered wrong thinking about God’s mercy when he asked: “Shall we continue in sin, that undeserved kindness may abound?” He also inquired: “Shall we commit a sin because we are not under law but under undeserved kindness?” To each question Paul answered emphatically: “Never may that happen!” (Romans 6:1, 2, 15) Clearly, as Jude observes, certain ones were “turning the undeserved kindness of our God into an excuse for loose conduct.” However, Peter notes that for such ones ‘destruction is not slumbering.’—Jude 4; 2 Peter 2:3.
10, 11. What three warning examples does Peter provide?
10 To emphasize that God will take action against willful wrongdoers, Peter provides from the Scriptures three warning examples. First, he writes: “God did not hold back from punishing the angels that sinned.” These, Jude says, “did not keep their original position but forsook their own proper dwelling place” in heaven. They came to earth before the Flood and took on fleshly bodies so as to engage in sexual relations with the daughters of men. As punishment for their improper, unnatural conduct, they were thrown into “Tartarus,” or as Jude’s account says, they were “reserved with eternal bonds under dense darkness for the judgment of the great day.”—2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6; Genesis 6:1-3.
11 Next, Peter refers to the people of Noah’s day. (Genesis 7:17-24) He says that in Noah’s time God “did not hold back from punishing an ancient world . . . when he brought a deluge upon a world of ungodly people.” Finally, Peter writes that God set “a pattern for ungodly persons of things to come” by “reducing the cities Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes.” Jude gives the additional information that those individuals “committed fornication excessively and [went] out after flesh for unnatural use.” (2 Peter 2:5, 6; Jude 7) Men not only had illicit sexual relations with women but lusted for the flesh of other men, possibly even for the flesh of brute beasts.—Genesis 19:4, 5; Leviticus 18:22-25.
12. According to Peter, how is righteous conduct rewarded?
12 Yet, at the same time, Peter notes that Jehovah is a rewarder of those who faithfully serve him. For example, he relates how God “kept Noah, a preacher of righteousness, safe with seven others” when He brought the Deluge. He also tells of Jehovah’s deliverance of “righteous Lot” in the time of Sodom, concluding: “Jehovah knows how to deliver people of godly devotion out of trial, but to reserve unrighteous people for the day of judgment to be cut off.”—2 Peter 2:5, 7-9.
Deeds Meriting Punishment
13. Who especially are reserved for judgment, and in what dreams do they apparently indulge?
13 Peter singles out ones who are especially reserved for God’s judgment, namely, “those who go on after flesh with the desire to defile it and who look down on lordship.” We can almost feel Peter’s indignation as he says: “Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble at glorious ones but speak abusively.” Jude writes that “these men, . . . indulging in dreams, are defiling the flesh . . . and speaking abusively of glorious ones.” (2 Peter 2:10; Jude 8) Their dreams may involve impure sexual fantasies that encourage their pursuit of immoral sexual gratification. In what sense, though, do they “look down on lordship” and speak “abusively of glorious ones”?
14. In what sense do false teachers “look down on lordship” and speak “abusively of glorious ones”?
14 They do so in that they despise divinely constituted authority. Christian elders represent the glorious Jehovah God and his Son and, as a result, have certain glory conferred upon them. True, they make mistakes, as did Peter himself, but the Scriptures urge members of the congregation to be submissive to such glorious ones. (Hebrews 13:17) Their shortcomings are no reason to speak abusively of them. Peter says that angels do not “bring against [false teachers] an accusation in abusive terms,” although it would be richly deserved. “But these men,” Peter continues, “like unreasoning animals born naturally to be caught and destroyed, will, in the things of which they are ignorant and speak abusively, even suffer destruction.”—2 Peter 2:10-13.
“While Feasting . . . With You”
15. What are the methods of false teachers, and where do they pursue their seductions?
15 Although these corrupt men “consider luxurious living in the daytime a pleasure” and “are spots and blemishes,” they are also devious. They act “quietly,” using “counterfeit words,” as Peter noted earlier. (2 Peter 2:1, 3, 13) Thus they may not overtly challenge the elders’ attempts to uphold God’s moral standards or openly pursue their own sexual gratification. Rather, Peter says that they indulge “with unrestrained delight in their deceptive teachings while feasting together with you.” And Jude writes: “These are the rocks hidden below water in your love feasts.” (Jude 12) Yes, just as jagged rocks beneath water may rip the bottom out of a boat, causing unwary sailors to drown, false teachers were corrupting unwary ones for whom they hypocritically feigned love during “love feasts.”
16. (a) What were “love feasts,” and in what comparable settings may immoral ones operate today? (b) Upon whom do false teachers focus their attentions, so what must such ones do?
16 These “love feasts” apparently were social occasions when first-century Christians got together to enjoy food and association. Jehovah’s Witnesses today also sometimes get together socially, perhaps at wedding receptions, on picnics, or for an evening of association. How could corrupt individuals use such events to seduce victims? Peter writes: “They have eyes full of adultery . . . , and they entice unsteady souls.” They focus their “heart trained in covetousness” on the spiritually unsteady ones who have failed to make the truth fully their own. So be forewarned by what happened in Peter’s day, and be on guard! Resist any impure advances, and do not be fooled by the charm or physical attractiveness of someone making immoral advances!—2 Peter 2:14.
“The Path of Balaam”
17. What was “the path of Balaam,” and how did it affect 24,000 Israelites?
17 These “accursed” ones have known the truth for some time. They may still appear to be active in the congregation. But Peter says: “Abandoning the straight path, they have been misled. They have followed the path of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the reward of wrongdoing.” (2 Peter 2:14, 15) The prophet Balaam’s path was to counsel a course of immoral seduction for his own personal gain. He told Moabite King Balak that God would curse Israel if the people could be enticed to commit fornication. As a result, many of God’s people were seduced by Moabite women, and 24,000 were put to death for their immoral conduct.—Numbers 25:1-9; 31:15, 16; Revelation 2:14.
18. How persistent was Balaam, and what does the outcome portend for false teachers?
18 Peter notes that Balaam was hindered when his donkey spoke to him, yet Balaam “loved the reward of wrongdoing” so much that even when that happened, he did not discontinue his “mad course.” (2 Peter 2:15, 16) How wicked! Woe to any like Balaam who try to corrupt God’s people by tempting them to commit immorality! Balaam died for his badness, a preview of what will happen to all who follow his path.—Numbers 31:8.
Their Devilish Seductions
19, 20. (a) To what are Balaamlike ones compared, and why? (b) Whom do they entice, and how? (c) Why can we say that their seductions are devilish, and how can we protect ourselves and others from them?
19 Describing Balaamlike ones, Peter writes: “These are fountains [or, wells] without water, and mists [or, clouds] driven by a violent storm.” For a thirsty traveler in a desert, a dry well may mean death. No wonder “the blackness of darkness has been reserved” for those who resemble such things! “For they utter swelling expressions of no profit,” Peter continues, “and by the desires of the flesh and by loose habits they entice those who are just escaping from people who conduct themselves in error.” They seduce the inexperienced by “promising them freedom,” Peter says, while “they themselves are existing as slaves of corruption.”—2 Peter 2:17-19; Galatians 5:13.
20 The seductions of such corrupt teachers are devilish. They may say, for example: ‘God knows we are weak and subject to passion. So if we indulge ourselves and satisfy our sexual desires, God will be merciful. If we confess our sin, he will forgive us just as he did when we first came into the truth.’ Recall that the Devil used a somewhat comparable approach with Eve, promising her that she could sin with impunity. In Eve’s case, he claimed that sin against God would give her enlightenment and freedom. (Genesis 3:4, 5) If we should happen to encounter such a corrupt person associating with the congregation, we have an obligation to protect ourselves as well as others by reporting the individual to responsible ones in the Christian congregation.—Leviticus 5:1.
Protected by Accurate Knowledge
21-23. (a) What are the consequences of failing to apply accurate knowledge? (b) What further problem does Peter discuss that will be considered next?
21 Peter concludes this section of his letter by describing the consequences of failing to apply the knowledge that he said earlier is vital to “life and godly devotion.” (2 Peter 1:2, 3, 8) He writes: “Certainly if, after having escaped from the defilements of the world by an accurate knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they get involved again with these very things and are overcome, the final conditions have become worse for them than the first.” (2 Peter 2:20) How sad! Such ones in Peter’s day had thrown away the precious hope of immortal heavenly life for fleeting moments of sexual gratification.
22 So Peter says: “It would have been better for them not to have accurately known the path of righteousness than after knowing it accurately to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them. The saying of the true proverb has happened to them: ‘The dog has returned to its own vomit, and the sow that was bathed to rolling in the mire.’”—2 Peter 2:21, 22; Proverbs 26:11.
23 Another problem that had evidently begun to affect early Christians was similar to one that affects some today. Back then, some were evidently complaining about the seeming nonarrival of Christ’s promised presence. Let us examine how Peter addresses this matter.
Do You Recall?
□ What three warning examples does Peter cite?
□ How do false teachers “look down on lordship”?
□ What is the path of Balaam, and how may those following it try to seduce others?
□ What are the consequences of failing to apply accurate knowledge?
[Picture on page 16, 17]
Balaam serves as a warning example