During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.
Wednesday, 16 December 2020 2 Peter 1:1-10(a)
1. It happened that false prophets were among the people just as false teachers are among you. Some of them introduced destructive heresies, even denying the master who brought them, bringing instead destruction on themselves.
2. Many will follow them into debauchery, which is how the way of the truth will be blasphemed.
3. They will exploit you with greedy desire and phony words. Their ancient judgment is not idle, and their destruction does not sleep.
4. For if God did not spare sinning angles, but bound them to gloom, sent them to Tartarus, and gave them over to be kept for judgment,
5. and since he spared not the ancient world, but protected the preacher of righteousness, Noah, and his eight, then brought on the deluge upon the godless world
6. and ruined to ash the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He judged them to set an example of what is to be for the godless.
7. He rescued righteous Lot, worn down by the undisciplined debauchery of their behavior.
8. The righteous person living among them, seeing and hearing their lawless work, kept being tortured in his righteous soul.
9. The Lord knew how to rescue the godly from temptation and how to keep those being punished until Judgment Day.
10. Especially those following the flesh, following polluted desires, despising the Lordship.
The text changes abruptly at the end of verse 10. The lectionary follows this change by breaking up the reading mid-verse. It is a curious choice, but this is a good time to remember there were no verse divisions or chapter breaks when Peter wrote it. So, really, nothing to see here with that issue.
What is to be seen is the breathtaking argument Peter makes. We have to remember his target is false teachers. These false teaches have snuck into the church and spread heresies. Peter says God knows exactly how to deal with these people. We know how God deals with them, because of what he has done in the past. What has he done in the past? Peter is happy to explain it to you.
First, he punished the angels who went astray. This probably is a reference to Genesis 6 and is certainly a reference to the inferred but not definitive moment when angels rebelled against God and were smote down with the evil one. Peter says God sent these angels to gloom and destruction, a place called Tartarus. I gave the transliteration here, because it is significant. Tartarus is a synonym for hell, but it carries with it a different feeling than Hades or Sheol. Whereas Hades is kind of a shadowy murky place where people live and exist but without the hope of life on earth, Tartarus is a dungeon prepared for the Titans after the Olympians defeated them and banished them. Peter is linking the angels fall to the Titan’s fall, which is not something to glance over. It is an amazing bit of comparative religion that could inform us of how the early Christians understood the pagan world around them. To contextualize it in the modern sense, perhaps UFO’s, ghosts, and the legends of Zeus, Thor, and Thunderbird have more in common with demons and the devil than most of us think.
God knows how to handle rebellious spiritual beings, so he very well knows how to handle false teachers in your church.
But wait, there is more. He also knows how to punish them, because he did so in the flood and Sodom and Gomorrah. The deluge is literally a cataclysm, that is the word Peter uses. The ruined ashes of Sodom and Gomorrah show us he knows what to do with a city and a people who have rejected right and aligned with evil and exploitation.
So let’s review Peter’s argument: God knows how to put rebellious beings in dungeons, he knows how to drown wicked people, and he knows how to burn unrighteous heathens to a crisp, therefore the false teachers in your church will be no match for him.
Textually, verses 4, 5, and 6 are not a sentence in English, but it makes perfect sense in Greek. I left it the way it is because you get more of a feeling for it this way. At least, that is what I think.
I have to tell you, as a pastor who has fought continually one false teaching after another including but not limited to prosperity gospel, faith healers, political allegiance, and sexual debauchery this kind of affirmation of hard punishment brings a tear of joy to my eye. Burn, baby, burn.
We can’t leave this text, though, without thinking about Lot. I have serious problems with Peter’s understanding. He refers to Lot as ‘righteous’ and as someone who was ‘tortured’ in his soul. I’m not buying it. I’m not saying Peter is wrong, I am saying he gives Lot far too much credit. the Genesis account shows us a greedy compromised man who is willing to throw his daughters to a pack of sexually depraved wolves. If Lot was so tortured, he would have moved. But he didn’t, because he pitched his tent in that direction. He chose Sodom. He chose Gomorrah. He chose them because it is what he wanted.
I am not saying Peter is wrong, but Peter is wrong.
Questions For Application
- A heresy is not something you just disagree with, but something that is doctrinally incorrect, like saying Jesus is not the son of God or he was not born of a virgin. What heresies do you think the church is particularly vulnerable to right now? Which ones are you a little too dangerously fascinated with?
- How does debauchery (sensuality, sexual sin) lead to blasphemy?
- What do you think a gloomy dungeon would be like?
- Peter is speaking here about judgment. Do you think about judgment on God’s enemies very often? Is it possible to oversell forgiveness and love and neglect the doctrinal necessity of judgment?
- We are very much like Lot, living in a an age of apostasy and debauchery. The question for us is, are we tortured or do we like it? Do not answer that question too quickly.