Peter gives one of the most detailed descriptions of a group of false teachers that I am aware of in the New Testament:
- Their false teaching is destructive (2:1)
- Their teaching can even cause someone to renounce Jesus (2:1)
- They will be destroyed (2:1)
- They will be popular (2:2)
- Their practices are disgusting (2:2)
- They cause people to blaspheme the way of truth (2:2)
- They exploit people to satisfy their greed (2:3)
- They prophesy, but falsely (2:3)
- They follow their carnal lists (2:10)
- They despise authority and arrogantly assert their own will (2:10)
- They act more like irrational animals than the knowledgeable people they claim to be (2:12)
- They hurl curses at things they do not fully understand (2:12)
- Their lifestyle comes back to destroy them (2:12)
- They are unjust (2:13)
- They audaciously enjoy flaunting their decadence (2:13)
- They turn Christian fellowship into crass parties (2:13)
- They are especially inclined toward adultery (2:14)
- Their appetite for sin is insatiable (2:14)
- They especially target vulnerable people (2:14)
- They are driven by greed (2:14)
- They used to be orthodox but have since wandered after gain like Balaam (2:15)
- They promise what they cannot deliver (2:17)
- They teach their foolishness with charisma (2:18)
- They promise people freedom, but they themselves are slaves to their immorality (2:19)
- They are worse off than pagans because they have known Christ and have knowingly turned away (2:20)
I cannot even imagine this combination of characteristics. It is unfathomable that all of these could be true of one group of false teachers and they were still persuasive to Christians. The very fact that these false teachers seem to be as sexually immoral as they are described to be and still were considered credible is mind-boggling to me. But that is probably because I am a post-Puritan Christian living in a time and place shaped by the Moral Majority where sexual sin is especially taboo. Licentiousness was much more commonplace in the ancient Roman Empire.
The closest thing I can imagine to false teachers like these might be church leaders who wind up on the front page of the news because of their sex scandals and money-grabbing. Inevitably their egos, appetites, and greed are their own undoing. It is shameful, and as the honor of God is tarnished in the process there is no wonder justice so often comes. However, even people like this try to hide their sin, whereas the false teachers of 2 Peter flaunted it.
Maybe the most important passage in today’s reading is Peter’s reassurance that God will not allow this sort of false teaching to overwhelm his Church.
The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from testing, and how to keep the unrighteous ready for the day of judgment and punishment. (2:9)
Peter’s audience surely needed this affirmation.