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Advent 2020: 2 Peter 2:1-10(a)

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)


The Text

Chapter Two

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. 


Commentary

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

  1. 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?
  2. How does debauchery (sensuality, sexual sin) lead to blasphemy?
  3. What do you think a gloomy dungeon would be like?
  4. 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?
  5. 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.

Advent 4, Year C–Micah 5:2-5a

The last week of advent features a common Old Testament passage because it predicts Bethlehem as the birthplace of Messiah, and is quoted as such by Matthew. However, Matthew doesn’t quote the whole prophecy. Let’s take a moment to examine the text, but then I want to also address a second issue.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler of Israel, whose coming forth is from old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until he time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.

Micah 5:2-5a

Bethlehem means “house of bread” in the language of the Hebrews, and the further demarcation Ephrathah, an alternate name, means “fruitful.” I will resist the urge to draw too many connecting lines, but Jesus is the bread of God born of a woman–the fruit of her womb. Surely that can’t be completely coincidence. Micah sees the smallness of Bethlehem as a tiny village, not even a clan, as a grand reversal in that the Messiah will arise from there. Matthew cites this passage, but he also cites a non-biblical prophecy (unless Matthew is making a play on words and is referring to the word “branch” in passages like Isaiah 11) in Matthew 2:23 that says Messiah will be a Nazarene.

Jesus is born in Bethlehem, but he is raised in Nazareth (Galilee). Sometimes, two things can be true at the same time.

It is quick work to note details of Messiah–which would form a very good outline for a sermon or Bible study.

  • His coming is from of old–ancient.
  • He shall give them up–enigmatic to be certain, but I take it as a reference to ‘leaving Israel to her own devices for a period of time’
  • The rest of his brothers . . . return–I think this is future and refers to the repatriation of Palestine by Hebrews. You can pick your time period–distant past, recent past, or future. Or all of the above.
  • He shall shepherd–This is a kingly usage as David was the shepherd. Messiah will exert real power to protect the people.
  • They shall dwell secure–this is the people, his brothers, in Israel.
  • He shall be great to the ends of the earth–The name of Messiah will be feared by all peoples.
  • He shall be their peace–Messiah will ensure peace for his people.

Some of this prophecy is the past–the birth of Jesus. Some of this is also fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus as he has come to bring us peace and he is also our good shepherd. But much of it has not. Which is why this Micah oracle is applied across multiple timelines. We should also not rule out that some of it might have been fulfilled before Jesus’ birth, such as the return of exiles. Nevertheless, the bulk of it will not be fulfilled until the ultimate return of Christ and eternity begins.

Now, to the dirty work. The scholars of Israel in Herod’s time knew this oracle, and they knew where to tell the Wise Men to look for the baby. The actual timetable for when these things happened is hard to know, but the location is not. They said, look in Bethlehem. For this same reason, Herod knew where to do his butchery. He sent the soldiers to Bethlehem too. This leads us to the unsettling reality of prophetic and biblical material. In the wrong hands, it can be used for evil. If I were preaching this passage this Sunday (and I am not), I believe I would make this the actual focus of my sermon–“When the Good Word is turned into Evil Actions.”

This isn to about poor hermeneutics or misunderstandings. This is about people who are evil in their heart and turn the words of the Lord upside down.

  1. Terrorists quote the Bible as they murder abortion doctors.
  2. Politicians quote the Bible as they oppress millions or start wars.
  3. Churches cite scripture and verse to justify the tolerance of abuse.

You probably can come up with your own, but it is a real problem. Does this make God culpable? A co-conspirator? Absolutely not. People who twist the scriptures in violent and immoral ways will be punished. We, as people of faith, have an obligation to be alert for these particularly heinous kinds of false teachers.