The Journal of Biblical Accuracy

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Peter 2: "It would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness"

I left for last two of the "heaviest" passages in this chapter, which are incidentally similar: 2 Peter 2 and Jude. Let’s start from 2 Peter. This epistle has three chapters. The biggest of the three is devoted to the description of some very dangerous people related to the topic we are discussing here. We saw already parts of this chapter in a previous section. But let’s read now a big part of it:

2 Peter 2:1-19
"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. 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; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 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; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet's madness. These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved."

Many oppose the idea that the people we read about were ever believers. And indeed, up to here somebody may say that it is perhaps not 100% clear whether the people Peter is speaking about were ever Christians, though there are some indications: they denied the Master who bought them. Also as we read: "Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray". How could somebody forsake the right way if he was never in the right way? Nevertheless, the verses of 2 Peter that follow leave no doubt that these people were once part of the family of the believers but eventually turned back, returning to the defilements of the world:

2 Peter 2:20-22
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. 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. What the true proverb says has happened to them: "The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire."

That these people were once believers is obvious from the following facts:

i) they had escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It speaks about knowing the Lord here and you cannot know Him without faith. Even as believers, knowing the Lord Jesus Christ is an aim and not something that happens automatically.

That these people were once of the family of the believers with personal knowledge of the Lord becomes undeniable by the use of the Greek word "epignosis". This word does not mean just head knowledge or simply knowledge. In contrast it means precise knowledge that is applied in practice. Here is how Vine’s dictionary defines this word:

Epignosis: "denotes "exact or full knowledge, discernment, recognition," expressing a fuller or a full "knowledge," a greater participation by the "knower" in the object "known," thus more powerfully influencing him" (emphasis added)

Epignosis is the noun form of the verb "epiginosko". About this verb, Vine says:

"it denotes "to observe, fully perceive, notice attentively, discern, recognize" and "suggests generally a directive, a more special, recognition of the object "known" than does [ginosko]; it also may suggest advanced "knowledge" or special appreciation; thus, in Rom. 1:32, "knowing the ordinance of God" (epiginosko) means "knowing full well," whereas in verse Rom. 1:21 "knowing God" (ginosko) simply suggests that they could not avoid the perception. Sometimes epiginosko implies a special participation in the object "known," and gives greater weight to what is stated; thus in John 8:32, "ye shall know the truth," ginosko is used, whereas in 1 Tim. 4:3, "them that believe and know the truth," epiginosko lays stress on participation in the truth." (emphasis added)

An unbeliever may hear about God but if the Word does not enter his heart it will never lead to real knowledge of Jesus Christ, let alone full perception as the word "epignosis" denotes.

Just for the record, here are some examples where the word "epignosis" is used in connection to knowing God and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Ephesians 4:11-14
"And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge [epignosis] of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes."

Ephesians 1:17
"the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge [epignosis] of him"

Colossians 1:9-10
"And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge [epiginosko] of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge [epignosis] of God."

Colossians 2:1-2
"For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge [epignosis] of God's mystery, which is Christ."

Colossians 3:9-10
"Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge [epignosis] after the image of its creator."

2 Timothy 2:24-25
"And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge [epignosis] of the truth"

I think that we could not seriously support that any of these passages referring to knowing (epignosis) God and His Son could also apply to unbelievers. I wonder though why then some so fiercely oppose the idea that these people of 2 Peter were once believers, when it is so clearly written in the Word that they go back to the defilements of the world, after they had initially escaped them "through the knowledge [epignosis] of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ", the same knowledge that is the aim and the prayer for all of us, the believers? I would instruct us instead of fighting what is clearly written in the Word of God in order to support whatever cherished doctrines we may have, to submit to the Word accepting it like little children, especially since to Him, to the living Word of God, we will one day give account.

ii) That these people in 2 Peter were once believers is also obvious by the fact that, "the holy commandment was delivered unto them". Could a holy commandment ever be delivered to unbelievers? I do not think so. Speaking about commandment brings to my mind what Paul said to Timothy:

1 Timothy 6:12-14
"Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ"

Really, why would Paul charge Timothy to keep the commandment unstained if it was impossible that he would ever stain it?

Back to those of 2 Peter: they were recipients of the "holy commandment", which in a broad sense I take to mean the Word of God and what it commands us. As for example 1 John 3:23 tells us:

"And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us."

Furthermore, these people also got to know the way of righteousness. Again the word "know" is a translation of the Greek word "epiginosko" i.e. it is not a simple knowledge that is meant but a rather deep and good knowledge of the way of righteousness. Could this really happen to people that are not believers? No it could not. What I believe the above facts very clearly say is that these people belonged originally to the family of the believers, but then they apostatized from the faith. To apostatize means to belong somewhere and then betray it, turning back, moving away from it. Such apostates were also those of 2 Peter 2.

What will the end of these people be? The answer is in the following parts of 2 Peter 2:

"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."


"bringing upon themselves swift destruction"

Next section: Jude: "Turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness" - a much relevant warning


Author: Anastasios Kioulachoglou