This post is an excerpt from the book review of Death of Death in the Death of Christ.
- But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
Peter is prophesying about a falling away. He speaks of false teachers who deny the Lord that bought them.
My argument is simple.
P1: Christ bought the false teachers
P2: the false teachers ultimately perish
C1: therefore Christ bought those that ultimately perish
Calvinists deny P1 in two ways. First, they claim that “the Lord” isn’t Christ but the Father. Second, they claim that bought isn’t Christ’s redemption from sin, but the Fathers ownership of the world in general.
The second point hinges on the first. If the redeemer is the Father, it might not refer to Christ’s redemption from sin. It still might, because God sent His son to redeem us from sin. But if Lord refers to Christ, it’s beyond question that the passage is talking about redemption from sin.
The first counter to this argument is that on the surface it seems unlikely. New Testament references to redemption are talking about Christ’s work on the cross. It’s true that there are some OT references of the Father redeeming, but they aren’t particularly close to this text and it’s hard to see why that usage should be the best sense here. But rather than dismiss the objection out of hand, let’s look at the details.
The term for Lord is despotes. The word is used 10 times in the New Testament. It most common usage is that of earthy masters. But at times it is used of the Father. For example Acts 4:24:“And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is” (Also see Luke 2:29)
In one passage, 2 Timothy 2:19-22, it’s a bit controversial, but it probably refers to Christ.
19Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.
20But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour.
21If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.
22Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
So at first glance, it looks like the meaning of despotes and the interpretation of this passage can go either way.
But if we look at the parallel text in Jude 1:4 we find:
For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (NASB)
Here, clearly despotes is a reference to Christ. Since Jude and 2 Peter parallel each other, this is a strong argument that despotes in 2 Peter 2:1 means Christ, not the Father.
In fairness, we should point out that there is a variant in the Greek text here. Notice the way the King James Version translates the verse:
Jude 1:4 For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. (KJV)
It looks like despotes (Lord or Master) is referring to the Father. The difference is that in some manuscripts the word “God” or “Theo” is added. This yields the difference in transition. Without “Theo”, Granville Sharp’s rule applies so the reference is plain to Christ.
The problem is that all the oldest manuscripts don’t add Theo. The first appearance of Theo is in manuscripts around 800. All the early manuscripts and papyruses exclude Theo. Nor is this a simple matter of Majority Text vs. Alexandrian text. Although most Byzantine texts have Theo, many do not. Further, the Latin Vulgate doesn’t have it, nor do quotations from the Church Fathers.
Understanding Christ as despotes matches the internal witness of Jude, because just 3 verses earlier Jude calls himself Christ’s slave.
For these reasons substantially every translation doesn’t have “God” in Jude 1:4 and make it clear that the reference is to Christ. This includes the ASV, NASV, ESV, NET, RSV, NRSV, Holman, NIV and many others.
But if someone persists despite the overwhelming evidence, there is another reason to understand despotes as Christ. The context.
The passage is saying these false prophets imitate the errors of OT false prophets. The clearest description of their error is in versus 18-20:
18For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error.
19While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.
20For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.
They escaped pollutions of the world, but were brought into the bondage to be servants of corruption. But how did they escape in the first place? Through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Can there be any doubt that despotes refers to Christ?