Denying Limited Atonement (2 Peter 2:1)

Jacobello-Alberegno-altare-dellapocalisse-1360-9019 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
2 Peter 1:19-21; 2:1-3

Peter ends the first chapter of his second epistle by offering assurance to his readers. He assures them that the Scripture is worth paying attention to. What makes the prophetic words of Scripture so worthy of their attention is that their source is God Himself. This hasn’t crawled out from the wild imaginations of past madmen. The assurance doesn’t stop there.

Peter begins the next chapter by assuring them that false teachers will come, as they had in the past, bringing in destructive heresies and speaking false words. He assures them that many will follow these false prophets, consequently blaspheming the truth. Unlike true prophets of God, the Holy Spirit is not the source of these prophetic words. As lying words, they are devilish in nature. They come from the type of restless hostility toward God that can only be borne from a stoney and unregenerate heart. Of all of the dreadful descriptions Peter offers, the one that is by far the most controversial is that they “deny the Master who bought them.”

The reason this is such a point of contention is because of the implications one’s interpretation will have concerning the scope of Christ’s atonement. Those who believe Christ died for everyone will find no tension with Peter’s words. However, those who believe Christ only died for the elect, must try and offer an explanation other than what seems like the most natural reading of the text. How can these men “deny the Master who bought them” if Christ’s atonement is limited to the elect? A few explanations have been offered in defense of limited atonement:

I. They Aren’t Actually Bought

Some have explained that this has more to do with what was believed about these false teachers rather than reality. These false teachers appeared to be Christians, and by their wickedness were denying this profession. To everyone else, it appeared as if these were actual Christians. So they are denying the Master (who by all accounts) bought them, but in reality didn’t buy them because they are false teachers.

II. “Bought” Doesn’t Refer to the Atonement

Some have argued that “bought” isn’t referring to the atonement at all, but to another type of deliverance these false teachers had experienced. They point to Peter’s words just a few verses later where he describes these false prophets as having been delivered from the defilements of the world through the knowledge of Christ.

20 For 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 overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For 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 delivered to them.
2 Peter 2:20-21

The argument is broken down syllogistically:

1. These men are spoken of as having “escaped through the knowledge of Christ.”
2. Men can’t fall away from the faith.
3. Therefore, “escaped through the knowledge of Christ” must refer to a superficial outward reform only and not actual regeneration.

Using these two verses as evidence shows the circularity of this particular reasoning. These two verses are clearly speaking about those who have fallen away from the faith. These men had actually “escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” but had fallen away, becoming entangled once again. However, because most proponents of limited atonement do not believe that a Christian can fall away from the faith, these verses are used to defend a strange and alternate definition of “bought.”

III. “Master” is God the Father

Others have argued over Peter’s usage of the term “Master”. They contend that exact word Peter uses is8668OP155AU14084 usually attributed to God the Father, whereas when Christ is referred to as Master, the Greek word is “kurios”. The term “Master” used in 2 Peter 2:1 is “despotés” and it’s true that this term is used of God the Father. For instance, Simeon refers to God this way in the gospel of Luke, as he prayed, praising Him for finally seeing Christ (Luke 2:28). The apostles referred to God the Father this way as they prayed after Peter and John were before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:24). The apostle Paul refers to God the Father this way, when he tells Timothy that those who abstain from wickedness are vessels of honor, and useful to the Master (2 Timothy 2:21).

These verses are then coupled with Old Testament Scriptures that refer to God the Father  as having “bought” His people out of Egypt (Exodus 15:16; Deuteronomy 32:6):

Terror and dread fall upon them; because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone, till your people, O LORD, pass by, till the people pass by whom you have purchased.
Exodus 15:16

“Do you thus repay the LORD, O foolish and unwise people? Is not He your Father who has bought you? He has made you and established you.
Deuteronomy 32:6

This seems much more convincing in light of the words of 2 Peter 2:1 – “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you” where Peter makes an obvious comparison between false prophets of old and the ones to come. Therefore, these false teachers could be from the nation of Israel – the nation that God the Father “bought” out of Egypt.

Now let’s consider this.

IV. The Book of Jude

The book of Jude is oftentimes compared to 2 Peter because of their striking similarities in wording and themes. Some have said that Jude used 2 Peter as a source. Lay them side by side and see for yourself. It’s awesome. Jude also speaks of false prophets. Peter speaks of these false prophets in a futuristic way. Jude speaks of them as already having infiltrated the church. Jude also exhorts his readers to remember what the “apostles had said” (verse 17). Consider the following:

“COMMON SALVATION”

Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ:
2 Peter 1:1

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.
Jude 3

“BE MULTIPLIED TO YOU”

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord;
2 Peter 1:2

May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you.
Jude 2

ANGELS IN GLOOMY DARKNESS UNTIL JUDGMENT

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment;
2 Peter 2:4

And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day
Jude 6

SODOM AND GOMORRAH AS EXAMPLES

if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;
2 Peter 2:6

just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
Jude 7

Now check out the similarities in their descriptions of false teachers:

FLESHLY, REJECT AUTHORITY, REVILE ANGELS

and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority.
Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties,
2 Peter 2:10

Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties.
Jude 8

UNREASONING ANIMALS TO DESTRUCTION

But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed,
2 Peter 2:12

But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed.
Jude 10

GONE THE WAY OF BALAAM

forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;
2 Peter 2:15

Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.
Jude 11

WITHOUT WATER, RESERVED FOR BLACK DARKNESS

These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black Peter-spirits-in-prisondarkness has been reserved.
2 Peter 2:17

…clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.
Jude 12,13

SPEAK ARROGANTLY, SENSUAL, ENTICING

For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error,
2 Peter 2:18

These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining anadvantage.
Jude 18

CREPT IN SECRETLY, HEADED FOR DESTRUCTION, DENY THE MASTER

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.
Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
2 Peter 2:1,3

For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Jude 4

Did you catch it? Jude refers to Jesus Christ as “our only Master.” The term used for “Master” in Jude is despotés. The same exact word used by Peter. Given the overwhelming parallels, we have no reason to believe that 2 Peter’s term is any different. Therefore, these false teachers denied Christ, who bought them. And who bought you and me with His blood so that, by faith, His righteousness would be credited to our account.

V. Christ Bought Something He Can’t Have?

Usually the first argument that comes to mind is, “How can Christ have purchased something and not keep it?” First, it’s important to note that this is a logical argument, and not a Scriptural one. It is the same type of argument that some have posed against Trinitarianism. “How can it NOT be three separate gods?” Consider the Apostle Paul’s warning to the Corinthian church, which uses the same word “agorazo” (bought) regarding Christ’s atonement that Peter uses:

Cristo_crucificado_(Murillo)17 Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. 20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ.

You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 
1 Corinthians 7:17-23

Paul’s warning here is ultimately laid out in verse 19. We are to keep the commandments of God rather than the commands of men. Some may say that person must undo their circumcision. Others may say you must be circumcised. Others may say that you must remain a slave.  He boils it down to verse 23 – You were bought with a price, so don’t follow the commands of men. It is absolutely clear that someone can be “bought” by Christ and yet reject Him by following the commands of men.

This is further stressed just a few chapters later, when the apostle Paul warns them not to be idolatrous the way those in the wilderness with Moses were.

12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
1 Corinthians 10:12-13

This same church that Paul says is bought by Christ, is also warned to take heed lest they fall. God will provide a way of escape during temptation, but rejecting that and falling away is clearly a possibility.

 Thus, if we are confronted with such clear Scripture that doesn’t fit our theology about God, those presuppositions deserve further scrutiny. We ought to embrace the mysterious beauty of these passages with the same humility with which we approach Trinitarian texts, always remembering that God is the creator and we are the creature.

Peace to you

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