The Gospel Observer

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations...teaching them to observe all that I commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:19,20).
August 7, 2011


1) 2 Peter 2:14-16 (Tom Edwards)
2) News & Notes


2 Peter 2:14-16
by Tom Edwards
As we consider the description Peter gives of these particular false teachers, he also refers to them as those who "entice unstable souls."  Words often have both a literal and a figurative meaning.  It is helpful to see that the Greek word for "entice" (deleazo) means not only "2) metaphorically to beguile by blandishments, allure, entice, deceive"; but also that its primary meaning is literally "1) to bait, catch by bait" (Thayer).  Peter, as a fisherman, was probably well aware of the literal meaning of this Greek word, as well as its figurative usage.  He also uses it again in 2 Peter 2:18 and shows there the type of "bait" these false teachers were using: "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[.]"

The Greek word for "unstable" (asteriktos) also means "unsteadfast."  So it would appear that one way to mend this problem of being unstable would be to become steadfast for the truth of God's word.  For in our doing so, the false teachers won't be able to then lead us astray or make us waver in our beliefs.  James Strong shows "asteriktos" to mean "unfixed, that is, (figuratively) vacillating."  And Bullinger defines it as "not set fast, not firmly set or fixed, not established."  As we have pointed out, a primary theme of 2 Peter is the need for a full knowledge of the gospel, that the Christian can become firmly established through that knowledge, and not steered in the wrong direction by the false teachers.  

These false teachers have "a heart trained in greed" (2 Pet. 2:14).  So not only are they covetous; but, as Peter indicates, they are deeply entrenched in their greed.  For it arises from a heart that has been trained to be that way.  

Interestingly, "trained" (from "gumnazo") is what the ancient Greeks used to refer to the rigorous training athletes would undergo, whether at a palaestra (which was "a building with a courtyard for training in wrestling or other sports, usually forming part of a gymnasium") or a school of athletics.  So we are not talking about a mere casual exercise; but, instead, one that requires much effort.  Thayer defines the term as "to exercise vigorously, in any way, either the body or the mind."  So Peter is using this athletic term to show just how much these false teachers had given themselves over to avarice or covetousness.  It appears to have been their primary motivation, what they lived for; and, thus, a main characteristic of their lives.

Rather than being like these false teachers, who have a "heart trained in greed," Paul shows the type of training we need to concentrate on in 1 Timothy 4:7,8: "But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come."

Here Paul uses the same Greek word (gumnazo) twice, but translates it as "discipline" -- instead of "trained."    

In Hebrews 12:11, the writer also speaks of the great advantage of having the proper type of training: "All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been TRAINED by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness."  He also uses this Greek word in expressing those who "because of practice  have their senses TRAINED to discern good and evil" (Heb. 5:14).  What a major difference this is, in contrast to those whose hearts are trained in greed.  We note, too, that to have our senses properly trained to discern good and evil, we must work at it.  For the writer shows that it will come about "because of practice."  So we need to practice at training our senses for spiritual things, to be able to know what is pleasing to God and what is not.  

That these false teachers were given to greed can also be seen in the very next verse -- 2 Peter  2:15: "forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness[.]"  

Though often translated as "love" in the English, the Greeks actually used different words to express different types of love.  Do you have any idea which one is used in this previous verse?  It is the verb form (agapao) of the noun "agape."  We speak of this love as being the greatest love of all; and, therefore, it should be directed toward God foremost, and then to our neighbor, as we see in the two greatest commands that Jesus cites in Mark 12:29,30.  But what is it when the greatest thing that one loves is only worldly things or unrighteousness -- as Balaam was doing? Jesus teaches on this in Matthew 6:24,25: "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.  For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing?"

What is "mammon"?  The dictionary defines it as "riches or material wealth, esp. as an influence for evil or immorality.  Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:9,11,13" (Random House Webster's College Dictionary).  It is always wrong when we love anything more than we love God.  For that will then become a type of idol to us.  As Paul shows, even greed or covetousness is the equivalent of idolatry (see Col. 3:5 and Eph. 5:5).   How much room was  there in Balaam's heart to love righteousness, when he was busy in loving the wages of unrighteousness?  No room.  Not loving God above others will make us unworthy in God's sight: "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me" (Matt. 10:37).  In other words, when we disregard or compromise God's truth for someone else, then we love that someone else more than we love God.  Consider also what the psalmist states in Psalm 52:3,  "You love evil more than good, Falsehood more than speaking what is right."  This might also remind you of the explanation that Jesus gives for why some people reject the gospel in John 3:19,20: "And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed."

Peter refers to these false teachers as "accursed children."  The ASV renders this as "children of cursing," which might sound as if they are people given to using bad language; but that is not what is really meant by this phrase.  As Guy N. Woods points out, it is "a Hebrew idiom expressing character through sonship."  So this phrase does not indicate that these people were cursing; but, rather, that they are under a curse.  We can compare this to Judas in John 17:12, where he is referred to as "the son of perdition." What does that really mean?  Since "perdition," means not only "ruin or loss (physical, spiritual, or eternal)," but also "damnation" (Strong) and "the destruction which consists of eternal misery in hell" (Thayer), then this phrase, "son of perdition," identifies Judas as being one who is related to or characterized by this ruin, this loss, this condemnation.  Another example would be Ephesians 2:2,3 where Paul speaks of those who are following the course of this sinful world as being the "sons of disobedience" and the "children of wrath."  Again, we see how the phrases "sons of" and "children of" show them being in a relationship to, and characterized by, disobedience and God's wrath.  The phrase, "children of cursing," is also rendered as "children of a curse" (Young's Literal Translation) and "They are doomed to a curse" (International Standard Version).  

What appears to parallel with this in Jude's account is Jude 1:13 that refers to the false teachers as being those "for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever." That sure will be a terrible curse.  Even if it were possible for a witch doctor to inflict a curse through a voodoo doll, that would still be nothing compared to being the recipients of God's eternal wrath.  To, therefore, end up being "accursed children," as Peter speaks of, is the worst possible state anyone could ever fall into.  Nothing can even come close to being more terrible than that.  

The fact that these false teachers had forsook the right way and gone astray indicates that they were at one time in that right way.  So they had been Christians who apostatized.  As Peter also shows later in 2 Peter 2:20-22, these individuals were those who had "escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord"; but, by going back into sin, "they are again entangled in them and are overcome."  This is why one of the things they are likened to is "a sow," who, after being washed, "returns to wallowing in the mire" (v. 21).  These false teachers had at some time in their past been cleansed by the precious blood of Jesus, but now they had become defiled again by their transgressions.  

In the epistle of Jude, he also likens the false teachers to Balaam; but adds a couple more individuals, as well, in Jude 1:11: "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."  Cain, Balaam, and Korah.  What do these three men have in common?  They all went against God's will, which is exactly what these false teachers were doing.

The account of Balaam is in Numbers 22-24, but it is primarily in the NT where the error of his way is made most clear.  The parallel passage in Jude 1:11, for example, shows that these false teachers had "...for pay...rushed headlong into the error of Balaam."  And when addressing the church at Pergamum, the Lord points out that there were some there "who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit acts of immorality."  

In Numbers 31, God had Israel to select a thousand men from each tribe, so that 12,000 of them would go to war against the Midianites.  Balaam was also killed among them.  But when Israel spared the women of Midian, Moses was angry and said, "Have you spared the women?  Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the Lord" (vv. 15,16).     

Peter then goes on to show a most unusual way that God had reprimanded Balaam in 2 Peter 2:16: "but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet."  Many versions refer to this donkey as being "dumb."  That word, of course, is not used with regard to a level of intelligence.  Rather, it is emphasizing that the donkey could not speak.  It was "mute," as some other versions render it.  For it is from the Greek word "aphonos," which Thayer defines as "voiceless" or "without faculty of speech." One version translates it, in this verse, as "a speechless donkey." But that is no obstacle when God chooses to speak through such an animal.  For as Jesus states in Matthew 19:26, "...with God all things are possible."   

To the contrary of many modernistic thinkers today, what took place in this reference of 2 Peter 2:16 is not a mere allegory or some kind of fable. For Balaam was a real person of history.  Nor is what took place merely something that Balaam imagined -- or only thought that he heard.  It, too, actually took place.  This is also what is implied in this statement of fact that Peter is presenting -- a message that was given to Peter by the Holy Spirit Himself.  To see more of the account of  Balaam's donkey, read Numbers 22:21-33.  

It is interesting to consider the unusual ways that God sometimes chose to bring about His will.  Take a look, for instance, at the method He used in Jonah 4:5-11 to teach an important lesson to Jonah.  The Lord had "appointed a plant to grow" overnight, which caused Jonah to be comforted in its shade and be happy.  But the Lord also "appointed a worm" to attack that plant, so that it would wither and die and teach Jonah a lesson.  Earlier, in this same book, it was a much larger creature that the Lord had used.  Jonah 1:17 says that the Lord "appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah."  Even today, we can still learn some lessons from even the small creatures that God has made -- such as the little ant that is diligent in preparing for the future (Prov. 6:6-11).  

But in the case of the donkey and Balaam,  it was something miraculous which the Lord had done.  God made the donkey to actually speak with the voice of a man.  

An observation that Zerr makes from this passage, that certainly goes along with the context, is that "...since [God] was able to give speech to the dumb brute to chastise the prophet, it is made sure that the Lord will be able to give wicked men their proper punishment when the time comes for the judgment of evildoers."

God's desire, of course, is for the salvation of all -- rather than their being eternally lost (cf. 2 Pet. 3:9).  But each one must be willing to accept the way of the Lord by their faith and obedience to the gospel plan of salvation.  Many false teachers today are giving a false message, which gives a false hope, that will not save anyone.  So as Peter shows, we need to each look to God's word and know God's truth, so that we will not be led astray by the numerous false teachings that are in the world today.  For only in God's word can the path to eternal life be found.


News & Notes

Due to uterine cancer, my sister Helen is now recovering from a hysterectomy, and hoping that all the cancer will have been eliminated.  In about a week, she will know if it had already spread elsewhere, based on a biopsy performed on a lymph node.  I would appreciate the prayers of the saints for my sister; and I know she will, too.

Let those of us who are Christians, also continue praying for the following people:

Gabrielle Angel Lombrage "Gaby," who recently had surgery.  Everything went very well.  It was originally planned to be a 3-to-4-hour operation, but because of how much Gabrielle has continued to improve, her surgery was performed in about 20 minutes, due to 2 of the planned procedures turning out to now be unnecessary.

Danny Holton,
who has pancreatic cancer in its 4th stage. 

R.J. Evans, who will be undergoing radiation treatments for prostate cancer.   Fortunately, it was detected during its early stage and is also said to be a very slow developing kind.    

Jackie Evans (R.J.'s wife), who will soon be having an MRI before deciding what her next step will be to eliminate a 3-year back pain.   

Bill Barfield, an 85-year old with prostate cancer, who has not been doing very well physically.    

Bill Holt, who is still recuperating at home, after his recent hospital stay of about 3 weeks.  Just about all the time that Bill was in the hospital, he was wired up for intravenous feeding and had no food until about the last day he was there. So that, along with being bedridden for so long, is another reason why it is taking a while for him to get his strength back -- but he is improving and wants to try to make it back to church this Wednesday, which I was glad to hear.  

Cheryl Crews, who had been treated with antibiotics for an infection; but it came back again, soon after she discontinued the medicine.  She has also been suffering from migraines and other health problems..

The Steps That Lead to Eternal Salvation

1) Hear the gospel, for that is how faith comes (Rom. 10:17;  John 20:30,31).
2) Believe in the deity of Christ (John 8:24; John 3:18).
3) Repent of sins (Luke 13:5; Acts 17:30).
4) Confess faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 8:36-38).
5) Be baptized in water for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:26,27; 1 Pet. 3:21).
6) Continue in the faith; for, if not, salvation can be lost (Heb. 10:36-39; Rev. 2:10; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).

Park Forest

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evangelist/editor: Tom Edwards (225) 667-4520
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