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BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION (5): False Teachers


But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping. – 2 Peter 2:1-3

Whom does Peter describe here? Is this a believer in Jesus who is doing the best he can to understand and follow the teachings of his Lord? Or is this a person who hypocritically wears the name of Christ to gain power, position, and finances from other believers?

Many apply this brush to the person who honestly differs in understanding some of the finer points of Christian doctrine. I do not believe Peter has such people in mind.

Context

In context, Peter goes on to describe the predecessors of the false teacher he describes:

  • angels who sinned and rebelled against God
  • the ancient world whose every thought was on violence and evil prior to the flood
  • Sodom  & Gomorrah in their gross immorality

He further says that these men (that is, the false teachers who will be among you):

  • slander heavenly beings and are blasphemous in things they do not understand
  • love pleasure so that they “carouse in broad daylight”
  • revel in pleasures “while they feast with you” – i.e., in the Lord’s Supper or the Love Feast
  • have eyes full of adultery, seducing the unstable as they constantly look for opportunity to sin
  • are experts in greed – like Balaam who loved the wages of wickedness
  • are slaves of depravity

Do you notice how much of this is arrogant selfishness in seeking their own way, their own pleasures, and their own greedy gain?

These people promise freedom in such a way that they appeal to “the lustful desires of sinful human nature.” In this, “they entice people who are just escaping [i.e., “from the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” – 2 Peter 1:4] from those who live in error” and lead those they so entice into slavery while promising freedom.

Peter further says:

Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.” – 2 Peter 2:21

The entire second chapter of 2 Peter is about these false teachers. It is disingenuous to lift verse one from this context and apply it to the brother who disagrees with you on disputable matters. If a matter is disputable, it means that there is something to be said for each “side” of the dispute. (I hardly believe that the man who was reputed to say that women should not wear top knots in their hair on the basis of Matthew 24:17 in the KJV, which says “top not come down,” had a truly legitimate position. Such a man could easily be schismatic if he pressed such a view.)

This merely means that on many issues there are considerations that both parties may legitimately hold that differ. In such matters, we should not resort to “name calling” (instead of reasoning) by calling someone a “false teacher.”

When we do that, we make the term so elastic it means anything we want it to mean. Peter had a definite type of person in mind when he said there will be false teachers among us. We would do well to focus on such people instead of calling every brother who differs a “false teacher.”

Identifying False Teachers

How, then, will we identify these false teachers?

  1. They are schismatic. That is, they bring in destructive heresies. See the previous post in this series for a discussion of what is a heresy. Here, Peter identifies an example of these as those who are “even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them.” Would this be the same as in 2 John 7 where John wrote, “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world“? It sure sounds like it to me.
  2. They “bring the way of truth into disrepute. In the New Testament, truth almost always refers to the truth about Jesus. If they dishonor the way of Christ, they dishonor Christ. One example of this would be the man in Corinth who had his father’s wife – something even the Gentiles would not do (1 Corinthians 5:1)! There were many plays and other writings among the Greeks and Romans about what we call the Oedipus Complex – where a man falls in love with his mother. All of these plays are written as tragedies. While Paul does not say the man of whom he wrote was sleeping with his own mother, he was at least sleeping with his step-mother. This made a tragedy in the Corinthian church, which should have been glorifying Christ. Instead, their actions here brought shame on him.
  3. These men are self-serving as they exploit the church through their greed. That is one reason that Peter, in his first epistle, wrote that the shepherd of God’s flock must “not be greedy for money, but eager to serve” (1 Peter 5:2). The exploiter is not one whom the church pays because of his work among them, but one who uses the church selfishly for his own purposes. Exploitation may be financial or emotional. That is, he may be paid but be so lazy he does not give value in what he does. Or, he may use people to “boost” his own ego by gathering a following he can use to manipulate others.
  4. He makes up stories of his own. His “narrative” differs from that of the Scriptures. This is in contrast with what Peter said in 2 Peter 1:16. “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ….” He later reminded us, “that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20).

If we would worry about real wolves who try to fleece the flock in one way or another more than we worry about a brother who disagrees with us on the precise definition of “the righteousness of God” as Paul uses the expression, we would all be better off. After all, Peter said at the end of this epistle that Paul wrote in his epistles some things that are hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16). When we differ on some of these things, it hardly makes one of us a false teacher, even if what we are teaching honestly happens not to be true. I dare say most of us have changed our teaching on some things as we have gained more mature understanding. This does not mean we were false teachers before that change. It just means we were mistaken because of immature understanding.

I remember F Lagard Smith telling of a group of brethren who wanted to argue about the view of baptism in his book Baptism: The Believer’s Wedding Ceremony. He wrote this book in an attempt to get others to see the importance of baptism, but these brethren thought he was taking away from the significance of baptism as necessary for the forgiveness of sins. They approached him at a book signing where he was signing copies of his book for purchasers and wanted to argue with him there. He tried to dismiss them and made a comment to the effect that if God wanted to save someone without baptism, that was His prerogative. Lagard said these men spluttered and said, “God has no prerogative.”

This, my friends, virtually denies the sovereignty of the Lord who has redeemed us. In trying to label Dr. Smith as a false teacher, these men identified themselves as at least dangerously near what Peter described as being false teachers.

NEXT (6): What Is Not of Faith

PREVIOUS (4): Contrary to the Teaching

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