2 Peter on Atonement and Perseverance

I’m presently reading 2 Peter and have come across a couple of points worth noting regarding the nature of the atonement and the possibility of committing apostasy. Arminians affirm the unlimited scope of Christ’s atoning work while Calvinists have traditionally affrimed a limited atonement (some are now moving away from this position). Arminians have been mixed over whether or not a true believer can forever fall from grace while Calvinists have always held that those who truly belong to our Lord will not ultimately fall away.

First, in 2:1 Peter launches into a powerful polemic against false teachers. He says of them that they bring in destructive heresy even “denying the master, the one having bought them.” This verse could be taken in one of two ways. It might be taken to mean that these persons have never been followers of Christ and continue presently to deny him. If this is the case, then Peter clearly does not hold to a limited atonement. For he says that Jesus has bought these false teachers. On the other hand, it could be describing people who formerly were followers of Christ but have committed apostasy and now deny him. I prefer this reading because it seems that the affirmation of Christ having bought them points to their having experienced a state of grace and right standing. If this is the case, then Peter seems to be affirming the reality that someone might lose their justified status and undermines the idea that all true believers will finally persevere. This reading also carries the implication of an unlimited atonement in that these who have denied Christ and committed apostasy were not beyond the reach of Christ’s atoning work having previously been bought by him.

Second, in 2 Peter 3:17 the author exhorts his hearers to be on guard, “in order that you may not, having been led astray by the error of the lawless, fall from your firm position.” The NIV renders it, “fall from your secure position.” Peter clearly sees the audience as presently secure in their standing with God. They are stable. However, they are not beyond the danger of falling. Whatever sort of security they have, it is not the sort that cannot be lost. For Peter, this has been clearly demonstrated by the false teachers who deny the master who bought them. To say that Peter really means that those who fall away were never truly secure in the first place is to ignore the plain meaning of this text. It is nonsense to speak of those who are not really Christians as secure. Peter believes that those who truly belong to Lord must be on guard and persevere, lest they ultimately fall away.

8 thoughts on “2 Peter on Atonement and Perseverance

  1. MP, thanks, you too. You always ask insightful and difficult questions to make me think in new grooves. Take care, brother.


  2. 2 Pt uses “despotes” in 2:1 because this is where he begins using the Jude material. Note that the references you gave (except 2:20, 3:2) are from chps. 1 and 3, where Jude is not used. 2:20 is not quoting Jude so I can see the author reverting to his usual terminology of “kurios.” 3:2 is using Jude 17 which calls Jesus “kurios.” I think you have the interchanging terms because 2 Peter is following his source material. Also, he may hold on to “despotes” specifically because he wants his audience to know he is using Jude. I'll stop here because this could get into date and authorship which are beyond the bounds of this chat.

    I suppose that denying the coming judgment is an implicit denial of the Father as well. But that is not the primary charge that 2 Peter lays against the false teachers. He says they “deny the promise of his coming” (3:4). Judgment goes along with this of course. This seems clearly to be Jesus. In fact, since the false teachers are hanging aroung the church meetings, one might think they were not denying God. They were denying Jesus as Messiah and Lord. That would be a hypothesis on their perspective. We know that to deny the Son is to deny the Father.

    On “bought,” sure the OT is in the background, but everything was realigned Christologically after Jesus. Remember that Peter is writing to Christians. What would they have heard here especially given that they were familiar with the Pauline corpus (3:15).

    On Jude and 2 Peter, the commentaries by Peter H. Davids and Ben Witherington both give parallel lists of the material in Jude and 2 Peter. Witherington makes a good case for 2 Peter's literary dependence on Jude.

    Grace and peace, Matt


  3. Here's a question, though: why in 1:2, 8, 11, 14, 16; 2:20; 3:2, 8, 10, 15, and 18 does Peter use the word “kurios” for Lord and yet here use the word “despotes” (this is an open-ended question)?

    Also, regarding “denying the coming judgment,” is this not a denial of the Father, not just the Son?

    I agree that 2 Peter is mainly Christological. However, does that mean that Peter could not talk of God the Father in it? Saying that this does not refer to the Father because the book is Christological is not finally convincing. I will concede, however, that I over spoke in saying that the immediate context following 2:1 is only of the Father. I think it is both after looking further. The word “kurios,” however, could be argued to be talking of God the Father in a couple of verses in chapter 3 and in mid chapter 2. This would also build the case for the possibility of 2:1 referring to the Father (as well as the immediate following context moreso referring to God the Father). I'm just saying – not arguing for it (I'd have to do more than just read the text to see which it is).

    All this is to say that we (especially me!) need to be careful about saying blanket, sure statements when there are so many gray areas and questions that are unanswered. This goes for Calvinists with 1 John 2:2 and Arminians with Hebrews 6:3!

    As for the word “bought,” I'm not denying that it is of the “redemption word group” (whatever that means – hehe). I was just saying it is possible it could mean something else, with the Old Testament background (false prophets, Noah, Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot, etc.). We must remember that Peter was a staunch Jew and knew the Pentateuch – in fact, he was almost a Judaizer at times. He could not have written these things without the Pentateuch in mind. The language of “bought” in the Pentateuch regarding the false prophets (Ex. 15:!6; Deut. 32:6), or even Lot and Noah – is it in the same way that we are bought by Christ? That's all I was saying.

    Notice I ask a lot of questions this time as I'm really trying to learn. You had some good points. I just wasn't convinced – nor were you of me :^)

    I'll look into the whole Jude and 2 Peter thing. I did notice that fact of similarity as I was reading chapter two of 2 Peter (don't recall any other book of the Bible with such language). However, my recollection was that Jude was talking about the reprobate, not the apostatized. I'll look into it later. First, I need to get some sleep.

    Thanks for your always kind words. Your response to my last response was helpful and insightful. Grace to you!


  4. MP, I read your email yesterday before I read this comment. I thought I was afraid I had forgotten about a conversation we had or something. Now it all makes sense.

    I would disagree that in 2 Peter 2:1, “despotes” is referring to God the Father. As you point out in the email, this word refers to Jesus in Jude 4. 2 Peter quotes most of Jude in chapter 2, and 2:1 is using Jude 4. A considerable amount is word for word. Thus, it seems appropriate to take 2 Peter 2:1 as referring to Jesus not the Father. Further, 2 Peter does not really accuse the false teachers of denying God; they are denying the second coming of Jesus and the consonant judgment (cf. 3:3-4). The issue in 2 Peter is Christological and I think Jesus is clearly the object of denial in 2:1.

    Concerning the false prophets in Isreal, I am comfortable with them being a part of the covenant people of Israel and then committing apostasy. I think that is consistent with the biblical witness.

    As far as whether “bought” (arogadzo) refers to atonement. This is the word that is used of believers who are “bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:20). The idea has to do with redemption. I'm not sure what else it could mean. Commentators (including Schreiner) generally agree that this is part of the redemption word group.

    I welcome a response. Grace and peace, Matt


  5. (Read the whole comment so you know my tone – a tone of response, but more so a tone of brotherly sharpening as well as looking for your wise opinion in areas of this that I don't yet understand)

    Just a note on the interpretation of 2 Peter 2:1 (this is neither a Calvinistic or Arminian verse in my opinion). The word for “Lord” used here is never used in reference to God the Son, but God the Father (as far as I know). God the Son atones for us, not the Father – so this is not about atonement. Also, the following context to the verse is talking of God the Father. This verse, therefore, has nothing to do with the atonement as far as I can tell. Correct me if I'm wrong. 🙂

    Also, the comparison of these false teachers is with the false prophets (“just as”). God “bought” the false prophets, who were part of the nation of Israel, from Egypt (Ex. 15:16; Deut. 32:6). He did not buy them through Christ's death, but by forming them into a nation. Could it not be that these teachers with be among (but not a part of) the church in a similar position as the false prophets were in Israel who were “bought” by God? I honestly don't know. Though I'm confident this verse is not talking about the atonement because of the previous two points, I'm really not sure in what way these false teachers are bought. I know Jesus is the Savior of all men (surprised I said that?), but that's not the point of this verse. Look into this further and send me some ideas – I'd love to hear them!

    To be honest, my views of perseverance and the atonement are different from both Calvinists and Arminians (though I lean way more toward Calvinists in both). I kind of view them as “both/and” doctrines, not so much “either/or.” Therefore, I tend to read 2 Peter with less of a “Calvinist/Arminian” lens, I guess – I just don't see it as much in this letter.

    Keep the posts coming. You always sharpen me and cut off some of the parts of my beliefs that need to be changed, renewed, or “deleted.” You also challenge me to constantly be in the text. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you! In fact, I sing your praises (in a good way) with many of my brothers here in Auburn. We need more Arminians like you (I'm serious)! Hope to see you soon, brother!


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