“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.” 2 Peter 2:1
In 2 Peter chapter 2, Peter warns the church about false teachers who will come, just as false teachers had come in the past among the people of Israel. He offers many descriptions of these false teachers throughout the chapter. Perhaps, most notable, is the detail found in verse 1 that reads, “even denying the Master who bought them.”
This verse has certainly caused confusion for some, and clarity for others. The assertion often provided is that Peter is quite obviously making a statement regarding the universality of Christ’s atonement. The argument may sound something like, “Here we can see that Christ even died for those who reject Him.” And this may satisfy those who quickly read over the text, but let’s take a closer look.
This passage does not state that the term “Master” refers to Christ. In fact, it simply means, “Sovereign Lord.” But, let’s suppose that this does refer to God the Son. Again, it is assumed by some that this verse says, “Christ died for these false teachers.” But Peter doesn’t say this. The belief that Christ died for every individual past, present, and future, would require the atonement of Christ to be potentially effective, and not actually effective. In other words, Christ didn’t actually die for anyone at the cross, but only made all men everywhere saveable. This would make humanity the effective cause of their own salvation.
As for 2 Peter 2:1, the potentiality of their [false teachers] salvation provided by Christ’s death is not mentioned. Peter says that these men have been bought. Potentiality is not offered here. Rather, Peter speaks of finality. Certainly, we can find language used by Paul speaking of our having been bought by Christ. But Paul is also speaking to the churches, and not unbelievers. It certainly is a reality for believers. But for Christ to have bought these men, would imply that Christ actually satisfied the wrath of God on their behalf. This would mean that they would not incur His just punishment that Scripture so obviously discloses will befall false teachers. Before you say, “Yes, but how do you know Christ didn’t die for the men Peter is describing? What if they repent and believe?” Such men are not described by Peter, for verse 17 says,
“These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved.”
The Greek word for Master (despotes) used in this chapter is never used of Christ elsewhere. It denotes God as the sovereign Lord and creator. Now, certainly Jesus is both God and Creator, and I don’t mean to imply that He isn’t. But, in regard to this verse, it is not possible for Master to be a reference to Christ. Rather, it refers to God the Father. Of course, you may be wondering, “How in the world does this work with the term ‘bought?'” This term “bought” is agorazo in Greek, and can simply refer to any type of redemptive act. It doesn’t exclusively refer to the atonement. As with any other word, the context of the passage must dictate the use of any word.
As mentioned before, Peter is warning of future false prophets who will come just as they had in the past. He even references Balaam, the son of Beor. The warning offered by Peter is parallel to that of Jude’s.
“For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” Jude 4
The term “Master and Lord” is not referring to our “Master Jesus, and our Lord Jesus.” Rather, in Greek the word Master is “despotes theos” or Sovereign God, and the word Lord is “kurios theos,” meaning Lord God. The two terms are different from each other. In other words, these false teachers deny both the Father and the Son in Jude’s account, just as the antichrists that John describes in his letters. Jude, like Peter, continues to compare these false teachers to false teachers of the past. Jude says,
“Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion.” Jude 11
When we look at Deuteronomy 32:6, God speaks to Israel, and uses some interesting language:
“”Do you thus repay the LORD, O foolish and unwise people? Is not He your Father who has bought you? He has made you and established you.”
God reminds the Israelites that He had bought them. He isn’t reminding them of the atonement that Christ had made, but of the fact that He delivered them out of the slavery of Egypt. He established them, He created them, a particular people for His purposes.
Terror and dread fall upon them; because of the greatness of Your arm, they are still as a stone, till Your people, O Lord, pass by, till the people pass by whom You have purchased.” Exodus 15:16
This is consistent with the fact that Peter compares them to the false teachers of old. Peter is not making a grand statement that these men will deny Christ even though He had satisfied God’s wrath for them. He is saying that these men are like their forefathers, living contrary to the very One who established them.