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False Prophets and Their Punishment


But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions. They will even deny the Master who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2Even so, many will follow their licentious ways, and because of these teachers the way of truth will be maligned. 3And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation, pronounced against them long ago, has not been idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

4 For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of deepest darkness to be kept until the judgment; 5and if he did not spare the ancient world, even though he saved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood on a world of the ungodly; 6and if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction and made them an example of what is coming to the ungodly; 7and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man greatly distressed by the licentiousness of the lawless 8(for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by their lawless deeds that he saw and heard), 9then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment 10—especially those who indulge their flesh in depraved lust, and who despise authority.

Bold and willful, they are not afraid to slander the glorious ones, 11whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not bring against them a slanderous judgment from the Lord. 12These people, however, are like irrational animals, mere creatures of instinct, born to be caught and killed. They slander what they do not understand, and when those creatures are destroyed, they also will be destroyed, 13suffering the penalty for doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their dissipation while they feast with you. 14They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! 15They have left the straight road and have gone astray, following the road of Balaam son of Bosor, who loved the wages of doing wrong, 16but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.

17 These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm; for them the deepest darkness has been reserved. 18For they speak bombastic nonsense, and with licentious desires of the flesh they entice people who have just escaped from those who live in error. 19They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for people are slaves to whatever masters them. 20For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment that was passed on to them. 22It has happened to them according to the true proverb,

“The dog turns back to its own vomit,”


“The sow is washed only to wallow in the mud.”


12. But these. He proceeds with what he had begun to say respecting impious and wicked corrupters. And, first, he condemns their loose manners and the obscene wickedness of their whole life; and then he says that they were audacious and perverse, so that by their scurrilous garrulity they insinuated themselves into the favor of many.

He especially compares them to those brute animals, which seem to have come to existence to be ensnared, and to be driven to their own ruin by their own instinct; as though he had said, that being induced by no allurements, they of themselves hasten to throw themselves into the snares of Satan and of death. For what we render, naturally born, Peter has literally, “natural born.” But there is not much difference in the sense, whether one of the two has been by somebody else supplied, or by putting down both he meant more fully to express his meaning. 170170     The words may be thus rendered, —
   “But these, as natural unreasoning animals, born for capture and destruction, speaking evil of things which they understand not, shall utterly perish through their own corruption.”

   They are compared to animals which are by nature without reason, and such as live on prey, wild and rapacious, which seem to have been made to be taken and destroyed; and they are often taken and destroyed while committing plunder. So these men, their wickedness would be the means of ensnaring and destroying them. — Ed.

What he adds, speaking evil of the things that they understand not, refers to the pride and presumption he mentioned in the preceding verse. He then says that all excellency was insolently despised by them, because they were become wholly stupefied, so that they differed nothing from beasts. But the word I have rendered for destruction, and afterwards in corruption, is the same, φθορὰ; but it is variously taken: but when he says that they would perish in their own corruption, he shews that their corruptions would be ruinous or destructive.

13. Count it pleasure 171171     It is better to connect the first words of this verse, “receiving the reward of unrigrhteousness,” with the foregoing, and to begin another period with this clause, and to render this verse and the following thus, —
   “Counting (or, deeming) riot in the day-time a pleasure, they are spots and stains, rioting in their own delusions, feasting together with (14) you; having eyes full of adultery and which cease not from sin, ensnaring unstable souls, having a heart inured to covetous desires, being children of the curse.”

   The various things said of them are intended to shew that they were “spots and stains,” disgraceful and defiling: they rioted in carnal pleasure, and rioted in delusion, and associated with the faithful, feasting with them; they were libidinous, and led unstable souls to follow their ways; they were covetous, and shewed that they were heirs to the curse of God. — Ed.
As though he had said, “They place their happiness in their present enjoyments.” We know that men excel brute animals in this, that they extend their thoughts much farther. It is, then, a base thing in man to be occupied only with present things. Here he reminds us that our minds ought to be freed from the gratifications of the flesh, except we wish to be reduced to the state of beasts.

The meaning of what follows is this, “These are filthy spots to you and your assembly; for while they feast with you, they at the same time luxuriate in their errors, and shew by their eyes and gestures their lascivious lusts and detestable incontinency.” Erasmus has rendered the words thus, “Feasting in their errors, they deride you.” But this is too forced. It may not unaptly be thus explained, “Feasting with you, they insolently deride you by their errors.” I, however, have given the version which seems the most probable, “luxuriating in their errors, feasting with you.” He calls the libidinous such as had eyes full of adultery, and who were incessantly led to sin without restraint, as it appears from what is afterwards said.

14. Beguiling, or baiting, unstable souls. By the metaphor of baiting he reminds the faithful to beware of their hidden and deceitful arts; for he compares their impostures to hooks which may catch the unwary to their destruction. By adding unstable souls he shews the reason for caution, that is, when we have not struck firm roots in faith and in the fear of the Lord: and he intimates at the same time, that they have no excuse who suffer themselves to be baited or lured by such flatteries; for this must have been ascribed to their levity. Let there be then a stability of faith, and we shall be safe from the artifices of the ungodly.

An heart they have exercised with covetous practices, or, with lusts. Erasmus renders the last word, “rapines.” The word is of a doubtful meaning. I prefer “lusts.” As he had before condemned incontinence in their eyes, so he now seems to refer to the vices latent in their hearts. It ought not, however, to be confined to covetousness. By calling them cursed or execrable children, he may be understood to mean, that they were so either actively or passively, that is, that they brought a curse with them wherever they went, or that they deserved a curse.

As he has hitherto referred to the injury they did by the example of a perverse and corrupt life, so he again repeats, that they spread by their teaching the deadly poison of impiety, in order that they might destroy the simple. He compares them to Balaam, the son of Bozor, who employed a venal tongue to curse God’s people. And to shew that they were not worthy of a long refutation, he says that Balaam was reproved by an ass, and that thus his madness was condemned. But by this means also he restrains the faithful from associating with them. For it was a dreadful judgment of God, that the angel made himself known to the ass before he did to the prophet, so that the ass, perceiving God displeased, dared not to advance farther, but went back, when the prophet, under the blind impulse of his own avarice, pushed forward against the evident prohibition of the Lord. For what was afterwards answered to him, that he was to proceed, was an evidence of God's indignation rather than a permission. In short, as the greatest indignity to him, the mouth of the ass was opened, that he who had been unwilling to submit to God's authority might have that as his teacher. And by this miracle the Lord designed to shew how monstrous a thing it was to change the truth to a lie.

It may be here asked, by what right Balaam had the name of a prophet, when it appears that he was addicted to many wicked superstitions. To this I reply, that the gift of prophecy was so special, that though he did not worship the true God, and had not true religion, he might yet have been endued with it. Besides, God has sometimes caused prophecy to exist in the midst of idolatry, in order that men might have less excuse.

Now, if any one considers the chief things which Peter says, he will see that his warning is equally suitable to the present age; for it is an evil which prevails everywhere, that men use scurrilous raillery for the purpose of deriding God and the Savior; nay, they ridicule all religion under the cloak of wit; and when addicted, like beasts, to their own lusts, they will mingle with the faithful; they prattle something about the gospel, and yet they prostitute their tongue to the service of the devil, that they may bring the whole world, as far as they can, to eternal perdition. They are in this respect worse than Balaam himself, because they gratuitously pour forth their maledictions, when he, induced by reward, attempted to curse.

17. These are wells, or fountains, without water. He shews by these two metaphors, that they had nothing within, though they made a great display. A fountain, by its appearance, draws men to itself, because it promises them water to drink, and for other purposes; as soon as clouds appear, they give hope of immediate rain to irrigate the earth. He then says that they were like fountains, because they excelled in boasting, and displayed some acuteness in their thoughts and elegance in their words; but that yet they were dry and barren within: hence the appearance of a fountain was fallacious.

He says that they were clouds carried by the wind, either without rain, or which burst forth into a calamitous storm. He thereby denotes that they brought nothing useful, and that often they were very hurtful. He afterwards denounces on them the dreadful judgment of God, that fear might restrain the faithful. By naming the mist or the blackness of darkness, he alludes to the clouds which obscure the air; as though he had said, that for the momentary darkness which they now spread, there is prepared for them a much thicker darkness which is to continue for ever.

18. For when they speak great swelling words of vanity. 172172     The words are, —
   “For uttering bombasts of vanity, they allure,” etc.

   The word ὒπέρογκα, being a neuter plural, may be rendered as a noun; literally, “overswellings of vanity;” but when applied to words, it means what is pompous, inflated, bombastic; but these bombasts were those of vanity, being empty, useless, unprofitable; or as some render the words, they were the bombasts of falsehood, according to the meaning of the word as used often in the Sept.; they spoke false things in a bombastic and inflated strain. — Ed.
He means that they dazzled the eyes of the simple by high-flown stuff of words, that they might not perceive their deceit, for it was not easy to captivate their minds with such dotages, except they were first besotted by some artifice. He then says that they used an inflated kind of words and speech, that they might fill the unwary with admiration. And then this grandiloquence, which the ample lungs of the soul send forth, (as Persius says, 173173     Sat. 1:14. ) was very suitable to cover their shifts and trumperies. There was formerly a craft of this kind in Valentinus, and in those like him, as we learn from the books of Irenaeus. They made words unheard of before, by the empty sound of which, the unlearned being smitten, they were ensnared by their reveries.

There are fanatics of a similar kind at this day, who call themselves by the plausible title of Libertines or free-men. For they talk most confidently of the Spirit and of spiritual things, as though they roared out from above the clouds, and fascinate many by their tricks and wiles, so that you may say that the Apostle has correctly prophesied of them. For they treat all things jocosely and scoffingly; and though they are great simpletons, yet as they indulge in all vices, they find favor with their own people by a sort of drollery. The state of the case is this, that when the difference between good and evil is removed, everything becomes lawful; and men, loosed from all subjection to laws, obey their own lusts. This Epistle, therefore, is not a little suitable to our age.

They allure, or bait, through the lusts of the flesh. He strikingly compares to hooks the allurements of the ungodly, when they make anything they please lawful; for as the lusts of men are headstrong and craving, as soon as liberty is offered, they lay hold on it with great avidity; but soon afterwards the strangling hook within is perceived. But we must consider the whole sentence of the Apostle.

He says that they who had really escaped from the society of those in error were again deceived by a new kind of error, even when the reins were let loose to them for the indulgence of every sort of intemperance. He hereby reminds us how dangerous are the wiles of these men. For it was already a dreadful thing that blindness and thick darkness possessed almost all mankind. It was, therefore, in a manner a double prodigy, that men, freed from the common errors of the world, should, after having received the light of God, be brought back to a beastly indifference. Let us be reminded of what we ought especially to beware of, after having been once enlightened, that is, lest Satan entice us under the pretense of liberty, so as to give ourselves up to lasciviousness to gratify the lusts of the flesh. But they are safe from this danger who seriously attend to the study of holiness.

19. While they promise them liberty. He shews their inconsistency, that they falsely promised liberty, while they themselves served sin, and were in the worst bondage; for no one can give what he has not. This reason, however, does not seem to be sufficiently valid, because it sometimes happens that wicked men, and wholly unacquainted with Christ, preach usefully concerning the benefits and blessings of Christ. But we must observe, that what is condemned here is vicious doctrine, connected with impurity of life; for the Apostle's design was to obviate the deceptive allurements by which they ensnared the foolish. The name of liberty is sweet, and they abused it for this end, that the hearer, being loosed from the fear of the divine law, might abandon himself unto unbridled licentiousness. But the liberty which Christ has procured for us, and which he offers daily by the gospel, is altogether different, for he has exempted us from the yoke of the law as far as it subjects us to a curse, that he might also deliver us from the dominion of sin, as far as it subjects us to its own lusts. Hence, where lusts reign, and therefore where the flesh rules, there the liberty of Christ has no place whatever. The Apostle then declares this to all the godly, that they might not desire any other liberty but that which leads those, who are set free from sin, to a willing obedience to righteousness.

We hence learn that there have ever been depraved men who made a false pretense to liberty, and that this has been an old cunning trick of Satan. We need not wonder that at this day the same filth is stirred up by fanatical men.

The Papists turn and twist this passage against us, but they thereby betray their ridiculous impudence. For in the first place, men of the filthiest life, in public-houses and brothels, belch out this charge, that we are the servants of corruption, in the life of whom they cannot point out anything reproachful. In the second place, since we teach nothing respecting Christian liberty but what is derived from Christ and his Apostles, and at the same time require the mortification of the flesh, and the proper exercises for subduing it, much more strictly than they do who slander us, they vomit forth their curses, not so much against us as against the Son of God, whom we have as our certain teacher and authority.

For of whom a man is overcome. This sentence is derived from military law; but yet it is a common saying among heathen writers, that there is no harder or a more miserable bondage than when lusts rule and reign. What then ought to be done by us, on whom the Son of God has bestowed his Spirit, not only that we may be freed from the dominion of sin, but that we may also become the conquerors of the flesh and the world?

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