One Verse Does not Establish Doctrine
By Ronald Graham
“For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.” 2 Peter 2:20. This verse is continually taken out of context and misquoted by those who would have the rest of us believe we can lose our salvation. But as we study the verse in context it’s impossible to establish an argument that proves salvation to be so fleeting. As we will soon see, the verse in question has nothing to do with the born again “in Christ” believer.
Before I continue I must point out these simple rules. Always consider the full counsel of God when studying His Word. Never pull one verse out of any chapter of the Bible and attempt to establish doctrine from that one verse. Never attempt to point to one particular verse to refute what God plainly states to the contrary in numerous other scripture verses. Only the foolish argue with God.
“Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us:” Hebrews 6:17-18.
As verse 18 clearly states “by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation”. In other words when God says something we are to consider what He says as absolute (immutable); when God repeats Himself, contradicting Him leaves a person with no other refuge to lay hold of. God’s word does not contradict itself. Rendering our interpretation by the whole counsel of God mandates we examine all relevant verses before coming to our conclusion.
Peter begins chapter 2 of his second epistle with the word “But”, which means we need to go back a chapter to get an idea of where he’s coming from so we can better grasp where he’s headed. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” 2 Peter 1:21. Peter is referring to prophecy and prophets of the Old Testament, which speak of the coming Messiah. The prophecies concerning the coming Messiah all pointed to Jesus Christ. He finishes up that chapter speaking of “holy men of God” who had received, by way of the Holy Spirit, the prophecy of the coming Messiah and as they were moved to do so they revealed those prophecies to mankind.
With that premise in mind, only now should we proceed with the chapter in question. “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.” 2 Peter 2:1. This chapter of second Peter is speaking about the coming of false teachers (shall be). As Peter delivers his message he equates these soon to arrive false teachers to the false prophets who had come in among the people of old. He tells us these false teachers who come in among us will bring with them damnable heresies. Peter dedicates this entire chapter to exposing the brethren to the truth about false teachers and their coming swift destruction. In this Peter gives a heads up warning to the followers of Messiah Jesus so we can be prepared.
We immediately begin to see the Apostle laying out in precise detail the characteristics of those he’s writing about. These false teachers will be Christ rejecters and fully corrupt. “And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.” 2 Peter 2:2. Peter tells his readers many will follow these false teachers and their destructive teachings. The truth of the Gospel will be rejected by these false teachers, even to the point that they will speak of the Gospel maliciously. This tells us that these false teachers will have already been presented with the knowledge of the truth of the Gospel of Christ, but will reject it and replace it with another gospel (damnable heresies). “And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you:” 2 Peter 2:3a. Peter goes on to explain that these heretics will have an agenda, which is to use those who follow them for their own selfish gain. Sound familiar?
Throughout this chapter Peter lays out a clear picture of just who these false teachers will be. He describes in full detail their wickedness. Once he exposes these false teachers for who and what they are, Peter then moves into the realm of their punishment. Interestingly, he compares their impossible escape from judgment to that of the angels that sinned as described way back in Genesis chapter 6 “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment” 2 Peter 2:4. Everlasting condemnation is upon those who persist in the teaching of false gospels.
It must be understood that in this entire chapter Peter never refers to these heretics as being at one time born again or that they’ve lost their salvation. On the contrary, those who Peter continually refers to as false teachers will reject the knowledge with which they are presented. “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.” 2 Peter 2:20. Peter tells his readers that the knowledge of the Gospel is sufficient in regards to making a correct decision for Christ, but he never even makes an allusion to knowledge alone being the key to salvation. Only the belief in the subject matter (which in this case is the Gospel of Christ) can justify a person in God’s eyes. All the knowledge in the world can’t save anyone.
The Apostle makes the assertion that those who hear the true Gospel (those who are given the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ) are provided a clear avenue for escaping the entanglements of the pollutions (defilements) of the world. The fact that these false teachers will have rejected that knowledge is as plain as day. Thus through their rejection of the Gospel they will see no problem as they return to the defilements of the world. Those who reject Christ cannot claim son-ship with the Father.
When it comes to false teachers, Peter speaks of their end as being worse for them than their beginning. Their horrible end is substantiated by the Apostle Paul’s statement in the following verse. “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” 2 Thessalonians 2:11. Paul is speaking of those who heard the word of truth (were presented with the knowledge of the Gospel of Christ) but who blatantly rejected it. As Peter states it “the latter end is worse with them than the beginning”.
“For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.” 2 Peter 2:21-22. It is mistakenly assumed that these two verses are speaking of those who are born again. Since we aren’t saved simply by knowing the way of righteousness but by believing in the way, returning to the muck and the mire of the pollutions of the world can’t be a recipe for losing one’s salvation. Peter explains again that even though they were given the knowledge (the way of righteousness) they rejected that truth. He never tells his readers that they had believed, on the contrary these folks were steeped in rejection.
By quoting the above proverb, Peter is attempting to show clearly the mindset of those who reject the truth. He confirms the fact that after hearing the truth many simply turn away and continue in the same filthy and corrupt lifestyles as before. The washed sow in the proverb is in no way speaking of those who have been washed with the blood of Christ, but is only an example of what happens to many people as they have been shown the way of righteousness (they’re presented with the perfect truth of the Gospel) and they reject its message, then continue on with their lives as before.
The truth of the matter is there are verses in the scriptures that seem to conflict with the fact that we can never lose what God has given us – His free gift of salvation which is His only begotten Son. However, there is always an explanation for every one of them. When the correct interpretation is explained and understood, all confusion is dispelled. Believing the truth of the Gospel is the key to everlasting life, rejecting that truth is the key to eternal damnation. Our salvation is secure because we are in God’s hands, and for no other reason. To state it more succinctly, without God’s mighty hands we are helpless to keep ourselves saved.
Finally, I’d like to add what James says concerning teachers. “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.” James 3:1. The word “master” is translated from the Greek word “didaskalos” which actually means teacher. Bible teachers today should put more emphasis on those words, particularly regarding the fact that as teachers of God’s word we are held accountable for the teaching the truth. If we teach a false gospel we will receive the greater condemnation just as Peter tells us happened to the angels who participated in the corruption of humankind as described in Genesis chapter 6. Be careful how you present the word of God to others.
God bless you all,
All original scripture is “theopneustos” God breathed.