I sat down to write a post on 2nd Peter 2:1 and the Arminian’s automatic belief that it’s speaking of Christs atonement as it relates to false teachers, but this article that I got from Alpha and Omega ministries does a much better job than I was doing. It’s a little long but worth the read.
2 Peter 2:1 and Universal Redemption
By Simon Escobedo III
What about 2 Peter 2:1? This is one of many questions that surface during conversations between Reformed and non-Reformed1 believers when discussing the emotionally charged issue of “Particular Redemption” (or as it is historically called, “Limited Atonement”). Often many non-Reformed believers cite the “terrible ‘L'” as the big stumbling block that precludes them from embracing the doctrines of grace at all or at the very least embracing the doctrines of grace en toto.
Generally, in the heat of conversation “general redemptionists” present a flurry of passages that from the non-Reformed perspective conveys a broader scope of atonement than that being presented by the Reformed position. John 3:16, 1:29, 1 John 2:2, and 2 Peter 2:1 are normally the big ones that are presented so as to dismiss the definite concept of atonement presented by Calvinistic soteriology.
But do these passages actually teach a broader extent of the atonement then that being presented by Reformed theology? Do these passages actually provide a universal extent that in the end is inconsistent with Scripture’s clear teaching on the nature of the atonement? Do they present a universal extent and application that is incompatible with an atonement that is perfectly sufficient and wholly efficacious in-and-of-itself? In the case of 2 Peter 2:1, is this passage the “dagger” that cuts the “terrible ‘L'” in half? Is the text even addressing the extent of the atonement as is so frequently assumed?
It is not my intention to deal with every text assumed by the non-Reformed to be supportive of a universal or general atonement but rather to limit my response to the specific use of 2 Peter 2:1. All of those passages assumed by the non-Reformed to be universal in extent have been excellently addressed in various Reformed works2 on the subject.
Moreover, it is not my objective to interact with every possible objection that exists regarding this text. My objective in this work is simple: the demonstration that there are exegetical grounds to conclude that 2 Peter 2:1 does not require a redemptive sense, as is so often asserted by general redemptionists. So, while it is the general redemptionist objection that is the target of specific focus, it is, nonetheless, my contention that such exegetical evidence precludes any other interpretation, no matter the particular theological view, which seeks to assert the same or even similar redemptive sense to this same text.
Helping me in the composition of this response were two works that specifically addressed this passage. The first was Definite Atonement by Gary Long.3 Long’s study was most helpful in corroborating many of my own insights, so I will include some of his thoughts so as to underscore some of my own. To be sure it was a difficult task composing a response that was “fresh” and insightful given the comprehensive study by Long. I hope this response is helpful even if only in stimulating further study. The reader is encouraged to read Gary Long’s work en toto so as to be given the full treatment that this discussion deserves.
The second work is a response to Long’s work, Second Peter 2:1 and the Extent of the Atonement by Andrew D. Chang. Chang, who is seeking to respond to Long’s position in defense of his own universal or general atonement, provided some interesting objections that deserve response. His article, however, is weakened by an obvious theological a priori. For example in his opening comments Chang writes:
A doctrinal issue that divides Christians is the question of the extent of the atonement. Did Christ die with the intention to save only the elect or was His death in some way relevant to all human beings? If one reads passages like John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:6; 4:10 without any preconceived theological framework, the conclusion seems to be that the Bible unequivocally teaches unlimited atonement. However, if one imposes a straightjacket of his own theological bias on those and other universal passages, he may say that it is equally possible to interpret those passages from the perspective of “limited redemption.”4
Please notice that Chang here “assumes” something he has yet to prove; namely, that the passages like those mentioned, and by implication 2 Peter 2:1, “unequivocally teaches unlimited atonement.” Obviously, a Reformed person looking at these very passages in their own context, and more importantly examining them in the writer’s own context, rejects the anachronistic and presuppositional notion that they teach “unequivocally” unlimited atonement. Notice Chang further implies that the Reformed “straightjacket” precludes the Reformed perspective from accepting these and “other universal passages” in context. Again Chang is assuming something he has yet to prove: that these “other passages” are in fact teaching a universal extent and intention in the atonement.
In fairness Chang did not write his article so as to give a full presentation of the nature and extent of the atonement from the universal position. His article is simply a response to Gary Long and the interpretation of 2 Peter 2:1. Hence, it is not my intention to make this article a full response to Andrew Chang. But I do wish to interact with some of his comments in order to consider the objections that are available in reference to this discussion.
A Right Perspective
Let us now focus specifically on 2 Peter 2:1 and the frequently asked questions concerning it. To do so I will use as a springboard a question that was posed by a correspondent I had some time ago. Paraphrasing the writer’s (I will refer to him as “Bill”) question he asked:
I was wondering how Mr. White would interpret 2 Peter 2:1 which seems to me to very clearly teach that these ‘false teachers,’ who are destined for condemnation (hell), because of the destructive heresies they are propounding, can be designated as ones whom the Lord bought? How does the Reformed position of limited atonement harmonize with a text such as this one? How are they going to end up in hell if Jesus died to purchase (bought) them?
In response I have to inquire whether the correspondent is suggesting that it is Peter’s purpose or intention to discuss the nature and the extent of the atonement in this passage. It goes without saying that before addressing any passage that might be understood as providing scope or extent (although as I hope to later demonstrate, Peter is not even addressing the atonement in this passage), we must have a clear understanding of the nature of Christ’s perfect work. Before one can ask, “for whom did Christ die?” one must ask the question, “what did Christ accomplish in His death?”5 To address the extent of the atonement before you have addressed the nature of the atonement is to put the cart before the horse.
Did Christ intend to die for everyone in general but no one in particular? What do the biblical terms concerning the nature of the atonement mean? What do terms like: propitiation, reconciliation, ransom, satisfaction, imputation, substitution,6 etc. tell us about the work of Christ? What do you do with extensive treatments on the nature of the atonement such as is found in Hebrews 6-10?7
My point is to establish a proper biblical context for a discussion like this. Both Calvinists (specifically, particularists) and the general redemptionists can appeal to passages that discuss “extent” (whether restrictive or universal) and proof text each other to death without accomplishing anything. However, how they interact with Scripture’s teaching on the nature of the atonement is a completely different issue. From the Reformed perspective it is our contention that an appeal to a general atonement is biblically inconsistent with the perfect sufficiency of the work of Christ in the behalf of sinners. This, we believe, is the consistent teaching of Scripture.8
Now the response to such an assertion (that the nature of Christ’s work must be dealt with before dealing with passages that supposedly deal with extent) may be:
Now, Mr. Calvinist, I was looking for a simple answer to what I thought was a simple question. The text in 2 Peter indicates that although Jesus died to purchase these men, who became false teachers, they will not be redeemed after all. If Jesus died to purchase (bought them) them then why are they not finally saved? Isn’t the passage much easier to understand if we simply take it as it is written – that although Jesus died for their salvation (potentially) they have rejected that free offer thereby bringing upon themselves the wrath of God?9
A Simple Look
At this point someone may object and argue that such an “in-depth” look betrays the simple reading of the text. I mean do we really have to examine Greek words such as agorazo and despotes? Do we really have to distinguish between the use of these terms in redemptive and non-redemptive contexts? Must we know Greek infinitives, subjunctives, and participles to understand a single verse? Is this not Calvinistic intellectualism or elitism10 that disallows the average lay-person from simply reading his Bible the way it was written?
There is no question that the Bible is clear in its message. God’s Word was not written to the “spiritual elite” or restricted to the intellectual theologian. It was written for all the people of God. It was written to the housewife, the parts department salesman, and to the child. This is not to say that all of the Bible is equally understandable as Peter himself states (2 Peter 3:16). Some passages take a little more work and hence God has blessed his Church with learned and stable men who are able to distill from God’s truth elements that are more difficult than others.
Having said that, though, is the in-depth analysis of 2 Peter 2:1 all that is available to us in the understanding of this passage? While such a rich study, probing into the depths of the text, is indeed useful, it is my contention that there is, in fact, a “plain” and “simple” reading of the passage, in its original context, that is quite clear and quite compelling. Furthermore, that even this reading is very much supportive of the Reformed position. For it is in the very use of this text that the non-Reformed advocate most demonstrates the inconsistency of his own position. How is this so? Most non-Reformed folk who embrace eternal security and yet seek to use this text as the “trump card” against the Reformed perspective have not really thought through the obvious meaning of the text itself.
Once again let us look at the passage emphasizing the key “controversy” from the text, that being the meaning of the term “bought” and the unstated assumption that this is to be understood in solely redemptive terms:
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them (emphasis mine), bringing swift destruction upon themselves. (2 Peter 2:1)
Notice what the text says. These men were ‘bought” by the Master. These men were not “potentially” bought but were in fact “bought,” period! The non-Reformed exegete is inconsistent in using this passage in the form in which Peter wrote it. I can best demonstrate this by the following example. In responding to an automotive illustration (used later in this response) where the buyer takes possession of the automotive part purchased, someone asked:
Your automotive illustration fails at just this point. Isn’t it possible for me to purchase an ice cream cone each for 10 children and have 5 of them refuse to take one? Does their refusal to accept my “purchase” mean that I never really purchased any ice cream for them at all?11
One can see that the argument was not thought through. The illustration is seriously flawed and only proves my point. What is bought in the above illustration? Ice cream. That is, ice cream is the direct object of the objector’s own verb “buy.” The obvious question then is this, “is the ice cream his to give or not”? Those to whom he chooses to give the ice cream is irrelevant to the fact that he purchased the ice cream and it is his! The response to my illustration only proved the point!
2 Peter 2:1, again states, “denying the Lord who bought them.” In other words, in laymen’s terms, what is the object of the participle bought? Quite simply, it is “them” i.e. the false teachers. To suggest that He “bought them” but does not “own them” is to betray the simple reading of the text. It is often argued by non-Reformed folk that Reformed adherents “reject” the “plain” meaning of Scripture. Yet, I would argue that it is just here that the non-Reformed advocate does the very thing he alleges of the Reformed.
In the above illustration what the objector is apparently seeking to communicate is that he (by parallel the Master) has purchased (bought or redeemed) ice cream (redemption) for 10 children (all men). The inconsistency underscores the error in the non-Reformed interpretation. On the one hand “bought” means “redeem” and on the other hand it does not. Which is it? On the one hand it is said that the false teachers “denied the Lord who bought (yet the term normally implied is redeemed) them” and on the other hand it is implied (and hence the direct object is changed) that they denied the Lord who bought (redeemed) redemption? This is equivocation and a clear case of not taking the text as it is. It is to impose external considerations into the text that are simply not supported by the passage or its author.
Please notice the comparison:
Notice the illustration does not say that he bought ten children. Such would then parallel Peter’s words. Rather, the illustration states that he bought something for 10 children. Peter, however, does not say that they denied the Lord who bought something for them (the implication is redemption) but that they themselves were the objects of the Master’s purchase. Could Peter have stated that any more clearly?
So who is reading words into the text and hence failing to take the text as it is? Where do we find in 2 Peter 2:1 the implied concepts, “they will not be redeemed after all,” “Jesus died to purchase (bought) them,” “that, although Jesus died for their salvation (implied potentiality), they will not be saved after all?” Is it not actually the Reformed believer who in this case is reading the text simply as it is? Do we need to add the words “potential,” “died,” “to purchase” to the text? When we see, “denying the Lord who bought them,” do we not simply take it as it is? Whatever else Peter may be saying, what he is not saying is that these were men who were potentially bought and hence did not belong to the Master at all.
A non-Reformed writer commenting on this passage wrote:
The focus of their heresies was the sovereign Lord, Christ, whom they denied (cf. Jude 4). …How can these false teachers, who were said to be among the people, and whom the Lord had bought (agorasanta, “redeem”), end up in everlasting destruction? Several suggestions have been offered: (1) They were saved but lost their salvation. But this contradicts many other Scriptures (e.g., John 3:16; 5:24; 10:28-29). (2) “Bought” means the Lord created them, not that He saved them. But this stretches the meaning of agorazo (“redeem”). (3) The false prophets merely said they were “bought” by Christ. This, however, seems to read into the verse. (4) They were “redeemed” in the sense that Christ paid the redemptive price for their salvation, but they did not apply it to themselves and so were not saved (emphasis mine). Christ’s death is “sufficient”12 for all (1 Tim. 2:6; Heb. 2:9; 1 John 2:2), but is “efficient” only for those who believe. This is a strong argument for unlimited atonement (the view that Christ died for everyone) and against limited atonement (the view that Christ died only for those whom He would later save).13
The problem is that this writer’s conclusion is found nowhere in the text. The direct object of “bought” is not redemption but “them.” In fact, as the writer himself argues, the term agorasanta (bought) to the writer means redeem. Yet, you can read it over and over again and the “them” is still the object (Greek, English, Spanish). To this glaringly non-Reformed conundrum the writer has no logical response. How then could the writer advance such a statement? It is my contention that he, like so many other non-Reformed believers, is simply reading his presupposition into the text.
A Closer Look
Let us now look more in-depth at the text itself:
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. (2 Peter 2:1)
A couple of terms that need special attention in the understanding of the text are: Master (despo,thj despotes) and bought ( avgora,zw agorazo). The traditional non-Reformed interpretation is that the Master refers to “Jesus” and bought means “purchased” or “redeemed.” Hence, according to their view, what we have is a redemptive context wherein Christ died for these men but they rejected Him as evidenced by their false teaching and hence brought condemnation to themselves.
On the surface the assumed interpretation sounds plausible but in actuality is it? Is it not more important to understand what Peter meant as opposed to what the non-Reformed person believes to be the “simple” reading of the text?
As an illustration, could not a Jehovah’s Witness say with reference to John 14:28, “is not the passage much easier to understand if we simply take it as it is written (which means as “I understand it”) as therefore affirming that the Son is inferior to the Father?” Proof-texting, particularly in apologetic conversations, is not good argumentation. This is especially so when such proof-texting is detached from contextual exegesis, such as the Witnesses do by divorcing John 14:28 from 14:1-27.
Of course, Peter did not write his epistle in English, but in Greek. It is necessary, then, to listen to him as he originally spoke by studying his own words in his own context. This is not to say that an understanding of Greek is essential to the understanding of the text (as the earlier discussion underscored). It is to say, however, that all assumed understandings of the English text must be consistent with the terms the writers themselves used originally. Hence a knowledge of the Greek14 language may not be absolutely essential but it is surely very helpful.
Finally, I reiterate that if we assume the allegedly “simple” meaning of the text as it is often portrayed, we must deny eternal security and embrace the interpretation put forward by historic Arminianism. Allow me to explain. The text, as it is written, states that these false teachers were not potentially bought (as the questioner initially assumed) but bought. They were “denying the Lord who bought them.” The normal objection seems to present the idea that bought or purchase and redeem are distinct concepts. The implication is that bought or purchase has to do with intent (died to purchase) and can be extended to all men indiscriminately while redeem is restrictive to those who appropriate the work of Christ. It should be noted, though, that the biblical terms redeem (15lutro,w lutroo) and bought (avgora,zw, agorazo), when used redemptively, have believers as their objects and hence function synonymously.16 Therefore, if the non-Reformed believer is to be consistent with his position of a redemptive context, then redeem and purchase17 are synonyms and not distinct concepts. Is it not the position of even non-Reformed folk that all who are redeemed are also obviously saved? Can one provide a New Testament text that supports the position that Christ has redeemed someone who is not saved (unless 2 Peter 2:1 be the lone exception)? This text does not say He “died for” them, but that he “bought” them.
The position of general (non-specific) atonement maintains that there are multitudes for which Christ died whom He does not actually redeem. However, the position does not assert that there are multitudes Christ redeemed that He actually does not save.
The Problem of Ownership
I sell parts for Chevrolet in my secular employment. It would be far fetched to suggest that someone could come into my store and “purchase” or “buy” a part and then leave my store without acquiring ownership of it. To buy necessitates subsequent and inevitable ownership of that which is purchased. Moreover, it is equally important to underscore that ownership is not contingent upon physical possession. Again, someone can purchase a part from my store, leave without possession of it, but this does not relinquish his ownership of the product, nor does it give the store the right to sell what rightfully belongs to him. Changing the perspective makes the same point. I may be making the payments to my vehicle, have actual physical possession of it, but until I make that last payment, the vehicle legally belongs to the bank; and, are we not constantly reminded of that each time we receive that wonderful statement in the mail?
“But the objects of Christ’s sacrifice are human beings, not impersonal items,” said one objector. Of course, no one has suggested that human beings are equivalent to “auto parts” or vehicles, for that matter. I am addressing the principle of ownership; for, one cannot purchase something or someone (if one wants to use a NT example, slaves come to mind) without acquiring subsequent ownership. Consider someone like Onesimus; was he not as much Philemon’s slave when he was on the run as he was when he labored in Philemon’s household?
Indeed, those who sing the “new song” of the redeemed are owned by their Savior; we are not our own, we have been bought with a price. Certainly, we recognize that the principle of ownership is present here with regards to redeemed human beings, is it not?
Is this relevant to our discussion? Yes, for can it be said that the Master bought them (i.e., the false teachers) but does not own them? The concepts of buying and ownership18 are inseparable. This can be demonstrated biblically by appealing to passages that use the term agorazo (buy) whether the term is being used redemptively or not.
Consider the following:
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44-46)
The parable is familiar. Our Lord is describing the value of true salvation. Once a person is awakened spiritually they will give up everything they have to posses it. Relevant to our point is the way in which “bought” (our term agorazo) is used in the parable. Note that the object of the purchase is impersonal, thus establishing a non-redemptive context. It is the field that is purchased. The buyer purchases the field in order to obtain the hidden treasure therein. He did this after selling all that he had. Secondly, note the obvious question, did he take ownership of the field or not? Could it be possible that he sold all that he had, went and “bought” the field, and then failed to take ownership of it? Such is obviously absurd. In the parable he bought it, and subsequently owned it. Hence, this text underscores two elements: 1) that agorazo can be used in a non-redemptive context, and 2) the result of the purchase is ownership.
In other New Testament passages (the Gospels in particular), the writers frequently present the contrast between “selling” and “buying” within the same text. The reason is obvious as “selling” is relinquishing ownership and “buying” is assuming ownership possession. Conceptually where you have one you have the other. I believe one can easily see the significance in the contrast. Can one sell something and still retain ownership? More important to our discussion, can one buy something and not take ownership? In other words, can the Master be said to have “bought them” and yet not “own them?”
To further emphasize this please notice these words by Paul:
and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; (1 Corinthians 7:30)
The Apostle Paul provides a series of important perspectives to be maintained in our Christian walk. “Those who weep” as though they did not, “those who rejoice” as though they did not, and “those who buy” (agorazo) as though they did not…possess. Purchase involves ownership. Paul’s point is that buying implies ownership, and we are to conduct ourselves as though we owned nothing. Our knuckles are not white as we seek to lay hold of earthly gain at the expense of losing our focus on things heavenly.
Even in a redemptive context like 1 Cor. 7:23, the aspect of absolute ownership is unmistakable. Note the following insight:
The almost verbal repetition of 1 C. 6:20: hvgora,sqhte ga.r timh/j, in 7:23: timh/j hvgora,sqhte, and the rather abrupt way in which the phrase is introduced in both cases, shows that it is a kind of slogan of Paul’s. In both verses the main point is that Christians are not free (6:19) but are the possession of Christ (7:23).19
Hence, once again, with reference to 2 Peter 2:1, is it possible that the Master could purchase men and yet not own them? Or, as it is often suggested, did He purchase them with the intent20 of owning them if they follow whatever means of appropriation put forward? If we are seeking to support a redemptive context, then such is an issue for us to carefully consider. Therefore, the concept of ownership cannot be overlooked in the understanding of the passage. The Master owns them, not potentially, but actually. This brings us to our next question: how exactly does He own them?
The Term despotes
The Greek word despotes ( “master, lord,” used ten times in the NT) is central in establishing whether we have here a redemptive or non-redemptive context. The common assumption is that “Master” is a reference to Jesus (though it could very well be referring to the Father21). For the sake of argument, however, let us assume that “Master” is a reference to Jesus. This is the position that Gary Long himself presents in his work, Definite Atonement. Long writes:
But to say that II Peter 2:1 is speaking of Christ lends absolutely no weight to the modified Calvinist position, for it must be established whether despotes can rightly refer in this verse, or any verse for that matter, to Christ as mediator.22
He goes on to say:
…despotes is used about thirty times in the whole of Scripture-twenty times in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament and ten times in the New Testament. But never does it refer to the Father or the Son as mediator unless II Peter 2:1 be the exception. And if this be the case, the burden of proof rests upon those who wish to make it the exception, does it not?23
He concludes this point by saying:
Rather the dominant use of despotes in both the Old and New Testaments is of God as “absolute sovereign,” that is, as “sovereign Lord” and owner (emphasis mine) of each member of the human race.24
To this Andrew Chang, responds by referring to Jude 4:
Considering Jude 3 and 4 together, one can reasonably conclude that Christ is the Master by virtue of His being the Savior. In other words the word despo,thj is used in a soteriological context. Another ascription of despo,thj to Christ is found in 2 Peter 2:1. Whether despo,thj here refers to God the Father or God the Son is debated, but most scholars agree that it refers to Christ primarily because of its close parallel to Jude 4. A plain reading of the passage seems to indicate that Jesus Christ paid the price to redeem even the false teachers who will surely perish. Thus the idea of slave owner is also present in this passage.25
Notice an error in Chang’s reasoning. While he rightly draws a parallel (as Long also noted) to Jude 4 and agrees with Long as to the basic definition for despotes, he nonetheless implies that the text of 2 Peter 2:1 is referring to the price that was paid to redeem these false teachers. In other words, the implied object purchase is redemption. In seeking to establish a redemptive context for Jude 3-4 Chang writes:
It has already been mentioned that Jude 4 is in parallel with 2 Peter 2:1. To understand Jude 4, one must go back to verse 3 because of the presence of the causal ga,r (“for”) in verse 264. In verse 3 Jude mentioned the common salvation which now all Christians participate in, and the faith in Jesus Christ which was delivered to the saints by the apostles.27
But is this what the passage is saying?
Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master (emphasis mine) and Lord, Jesus Christ.
It is true that the postpositive gar in verse 4 refers back to verse 3, but it is incorrect for Chang to suggest that it is referring back to “our common salvation” when in fact it refers back to contending for the faith. As the reader can clearly see, Jude’s desire was to write to the believers “concerning our common salvation,”; however, the rising threat of apostasy mandated that he write to them concerning something else. Namely, they were being exhorted earnestly to contend for the faith in the presence of false teaching. Furthermore, note that Chang refers to the “faith in (emphasis mine) Jesus Christ” as that which was delivered. However, the text is not referring to subjective faith or belief, but the need to defend the faith i.e. the objective truth of God (literally “the once for all delivered to the saints faith”). Hence, this is not a redemptive context at all, but, to use the common phrase, it is an apologetic context for defending the faith.
Chang states further:
As already noted, the general meaning of the word despo,thj is owner or lord, especially in a master-slave relationship. When the word is used of men, it denotes quite obviously the slave owner. When it refers to God the Father, it seems to emphasize God’s absolute sovereignty and ownership probably by virtue of His work in creation. When it is used of Christ, the context seems to show that Christ is the slave owner by virtue of His redemption (emphasis mine).28
Once again Chang is here assuming something he has yet to prove. For no exegetical effort is made to prove that Jude 4, and its reference to Christ as despotes (Master), is in point of fact a redemptive context in the first place! Secondly, Chang fails to demonstrate the assumed ownership of Christ over false teachers by means of His redemptive work. It is clear that Chang recognizes the need to establish Christ as “owner” in some way over these false teachers. They are owned, he claims, on the basis of His redemptive work in their behalf. However, if all men indiscriminately are owned in this way, then in what way are the redeemed owned differently? There seems to be some implicit equivocation here. On the one hand Christ is the Master of all men on the basis of His atoning work, but on the other hand there is a difference between how He owns one group over against the other group. It may be said that one group appropriates the work of Christ while others do not. But this does not answer the question, it only creates a new one: does He own one group savingly and one group non-savingly? If He owns one group non-savingly,29 then I say that is no different than His owning them on the basis of Him being their sovereign Creator and Master which can be applied to all men indiscriminately.
Finally, Chang does make an interesting concession. Gary Long stresses the distinction between Christ as Mediator, thus establishing a redemptive context, and Christ as Sovereign, establishing a non-redemptive context. This is an important distinction when considering 2 Peter 2:1. Note Chang’s response:
Long also did an extensive word study on despo,thj. His whole point was to determine whether the word can refer to Christ as the mediator. No scholar argues that the word despo,thj is used of Christ as the mediator, and Long is right in this regard (emphasis mine). However, the fact that despo,thj does not denote the mediatorship does not lend any support to the limited atonement position.30
But isn’t that the point with reference to 2 Peter 2:1? It cannot be stressed enough that we are not seeking to support “limited atonement” by way of 2 Peter 2:1. In fact, it can be easily argued that Chang is seeking to support unlimited atonement by way of this passage. The aim of both positions should be to establish whether the context is redemptive or not. Hence, the distinction between Christ as Mediator and Christ as Sovereign is most necessary in establishing Peter’s meaning with reference to this passage. He concludes by saying:
The emphasis in 2 Peter 2:1 is not on the mediatorship of Christ, but ‘on the redemption as a change of ownership.’ By paying the ransom, Christ purchased all men including the false teachers. The same idea seems to be present in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. Just as God the Father claims the ownership of the whole universe by virtue of His work in creation, so does Christ claim the ownership of the whole human race by virtue of His work of redemption.31
I hate to sound redundant but Chang is here assuming again his conclusion. If the term despotes refers to sovereign ownership, as Chang himself admits, then how is it that he can unreservedly assert that He is owner by means of redemption when a redemptive context has yet to be established? In fact, it could be rightly argued that to this point all the information suggests a non- redemptive context. Now let me quickly qualify that I am not suggesting that the elect are not “owned” by Christ by way of His redemptive work in their behalf. But it begs the question to assert that the non-elect is “owned” in the same way when that is the very thing being argued.
The Term agorazo
As noted earlier agorazo is the other term that is central to the discussion of 2 Peter 2:1. In fact, in the Greek text this is the first of the two terms mentioned. Nearly every lexical source defines the term as “to acquire,” “to buy,” “to purchase,” and even “to redeem.” While these definitions bear the basic meaning of the term it must be said that all words are defined by their context. Hence, both particularists and general redemptionists have the same textual burden: to demonstrate how this term is being defined in this specific context. For it will not do to simply assume a meaning that is consistent with one’s theological perspective; rather, a meaning must be determined on the sole basis of New Testament exegesis, which seeks to ascertain the intended meaning of the original author.
With that in mind, then, agorazo is used some thirty times in the New Testament, with twenty-four of the uses restricted to either a literal or metaphorical non-redemptive context. It is used five times in what are clear redemptive contexts. This leaves only 2 Peter 2:1 as the debatable text. The majority of references in the New Testament are non-redemptive; in other words, the objects purchased are impersonal or material (land, (land, oxen, food,32 etc.) obviously such things require no divine redemption). Therefore, we will focus instead on those few passages that clearly bear a redemptive sense. For it is enough to simply establish the fact that a non-redemptive context is a valid category to which the term agorazo can be found (cf. Mt. 21:12; Mk. 15:46; Mt. 25:9; Luke 22:36; John 6:5 and Rev. 13:17).
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
In the midst of rebuking the Corinthian believers concerning sexual impurity, Paul, as he frequently does, exhorts these believers to moral purity by reminding them of the cross. He reminds them that they are no longer their own but they belong to another. They belong to Christ. Why? Because He has bought them, purchased them, and they now belong to Him. The term Paul uses here is the same term (agorazo) used by Peter (here as an aorist passive verb, there as an aorist active participle). The basis upon which believers are to be holy is the fact that they are no longer “their own.” They have been bought with a price. Ownership, therefore, belongs to the One Who has “bought” them. Hence, here we have believers as the objects of the term agorazo, underscoring a redemptive context, and we further have the inevitable ownership; they belong to the One Who purchased them. (cf. 1 Cor. 7:23).
The last text I will cite is Rev. 5:9 (cf. Rev. 14:3-4; 18:11). In this passage the same verb agorazo is translated “purchased,” but the meaning is clearly the same:
And they sang a new song, saying, ‘ Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.’ (Revelation 5:9)
Here we have, together with chapter four, our first glimpse of heaven and what will be going on in the eternal state. Notice that the very first thing that John sees in his heavenly vision is the corporate worship and praise by the angelic host. Before we get to the “streets of gold,” we fall before the throne of God. Listen to the angels as they cry:
“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!”
Thankfully, the angelic hosts are not alone in their worship, for as we enter the fifth chapter we see the redeemed giving equal praise, blessing, honor, and power “to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever, and ever” (Rev. 5:13). Relevant to our study, though, please note the unique expression addressed to the Lamb:
‘Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased (emphasis mine) for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”
Clearly we have a redemptive context for our term agorazo. Notice some added features to this redemptive use. First what is the implied object33 of the verb agorazo? People. Are these a mixture of saved and unsaved? The answer is rather obvious. These are all the elect, the purchased bride of Christ. They belong to Him and to no other. Why? Because He “bought” or “purchased” them redemptively and such of necessity means they belong to Him in the same way.
Furthermore, it bears reminding that the non-Reformed position implicitly seeks to argue that “bought” refers to the work of Christ in much the same way as other NT expressions: “gave Himself up” “delivered Himself,” “through His blood,” “crucified,” etc. The problem one must deal with, however, is that the term agorazo, when used redemptively always refers to the result (which involves ownership) and not the intent which they seemingly are suggesting. Moreover, in redemptive contexts the means (purchase price) is always noted. No such means (the purchase price) is found in 2 Peter 2:1. There is no, “denying the Master who bought them with…” This is very important and must be dealt with by any person suggesting 2 Peter 2:1 is intended to be a redemptive passage.
Notice two of the examples previously cited:
For you have been bought with a price (emphasis mine): therefore glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:20)
The Corinthians were bought with a price (means). What was that price? The price was His death. He was the ransom for our redemption. No ransom…no redemption. No price—no purchase—no ownership.
And they sang a new song, saying, Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood (emphasis mine) men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. (Revelation 5:9)
The Lamb purchased for God a people.34 How? With His blood, i.e., through His death (means). No death, no being slain, no shedding His blood…no purchased people. Gary Long states:
…of its thirty occurrences in the New Testament, agorazo is never used in a salvation context (unless II Peter 2:1 is the exception) without the technical term “price” (times– a technical term for the blood of Christ) or its equivalent being stated or made explicit in the context (cf. I Cor. 6:20; 7:23; Rev. 5:9; 14:3,435).36
Most non-Reformed interpretations suggest that the term itself implies the purchase price. As Charles Ryrie notes in his Study Bible: “The price for the sins of all men (including these false teachers) was paid by the death of Christ.”37 So in their estimation when the term is being used it suggests the price which was paid. However as Long again notes:
…a word study of agorazo in both the Greek Old and New Testaments, reveal that the word itself does not include a payment price. When it is translated with a meaning “to buy,” whether in a salvation or non-salvation context, a payment price is always stated or made explicit by the context. …in contexts where no payment price is stated or implied, agorazo may often be better translated as ‘acquire’ or ‘obtain.’38
Further, the text provides no purpose clause or infinitive denoting “condition” or “intent.” The term agorazo is an aorist participle. Literally, the text reads: “denying the One who bought them Master.” The insertion of implicit meanings like “to purchase,” “in order to redeem,” “Jesus died to purchase (bought them) them,” or “Jesus died for their salvation (potentially),” is textually untenable. The result is eisegetical (reading into the text) and not exegetical (drawing out from the text).
Is There a Redemptive Sense in 2 Peter?
Having considered, then, some of the basic features that underscore a redemptive sense for our term, agorazo, one more consideration needs to be observed as we seek to ascertain the sense that Peter is using.
In discussing a redemptive or non-redemptive sense, in needs to be noted that I am being very nuanced in my distinctions. In other words, while some have pointed to references where Peter does use soteriologial language (1:3, 10, 11; 3:15), I do not believe these are relevant to the text at hand. First, because the noted references are directed in the second person to those Peter is writing. This is unlike the use of the third person, which Peter uses in his warning concerning the false teachers. Paul does a similar thing in making a distinction between the Galatians and those “false brothers” who were promoting the Judazing heresy. Hence, there is no exegetical connection to the soteriological references cited, and the specific context found in 2 Peter 2:1.
Moreover, as I indicated, I am being more nuanced in the establishment of a redemptive sense than the point being argued for with those references. That is, while there may be many similarities between terms that bear a soteriological sense, and those that bear a redemptive sense, many of the key terms are simply not synonyms. I believe redemptive and mediatorial designations are much more restrictive, more in line with the opposite argument, and hence I place more emphasis on their implications relevant to 2 Peter 2:1.
One need only consider what is being assumed from the other perspective: Christ died for these men. At issue is not election, regeneration, calling, perseverance, etc. Terms that all bear a certain soteriological sense, but in themselves do not bear, necessarily, the mediatorial, redemptive sense associated with the work of Christ; the very sense being argued for by the general redemptionist. Hence, my definition (and that of Reformed writers who argue this same point) is co-extensive with the sense for which the opposing view is arguing. And when we consider those more restrictive categories, prompted by the very argument established by general redemptionists, we see that no such sense can be found, not only in 2 Peter 2:1, but in the entirety of Peter’s letter. For there is nothing in the whole letter that addresses the atonement at all (unless 2 Peter 2:1 is the lone exception). For all the key terms normally associated with the work of Christ (apolutrosis-redemption, stauros-cross, aima-blood, lutroomai-redeem, hilasmos-propitiation) are never mentioned even once in the entirety of Peter’s letter. This is certainly no small detail to ignore.
The issue, then, as it relates to 2 Peter is clear: since the bulk of textual evidence strongly suggests that a non-redemptive sense is the sense being utilized by Peter, then why should we understand it any differently? Unless, of course, there are external considerations not specifically derived from the text itself.
Therefore, having established two legitimate categories for the term agorazo (redemptive and non-redemptive), which is the sense that Peter used? If one wishes to dismiss the exegetical evidence that seemingly militates against a redemptive sense (though such evidence would need to be dismissed on exegetical grounds and not simply a theological commitment), then it would seem that such a one is also bound to defend the following conclusions:
1. These men were men bought/redeemed but have fallen away i.e. they have lost their salvation.
2. These were men who professed faith in Christ but gave evidence that they were not redeemed after all.39 In other words they claimed to have been redeemed (bought) but were lying so as to gain a greater hearing among the people.
3. Remembering the Jewish context,40 the Old Testament allusion to false prophets (eudoprofh/tai), the “them” (auvtou.j) in the text is not a reference to the false teachers (yeudodida,skaloi) but to the people (tw/| law/|). Hence the false teachers denied their sovereign God who delivered or redeemed the people (lao,j).
Which is it? Whatever else Peter may be saying, what he is not saying is that these were men who were potentially bought and hence did not belong to the Master at all. Does the passage, then, suggest that though Jesus died to purchase these men (who became false teachers) they will not be redeemed after all? Does it actually support the position that there are those for whom Christ died who will ultimately perish? A carefully study of the issues, as just observed, strongly suggests otherwise!
To summarize this argument, then: in the thirty New Testament occurrences, where the Greek term agorazo is used, only five texts are clearly and indisputably redemptive (2 Peter 2:1 being the lone exception). Furthermore, in these five instances, there are seemingly three undeniable contingencies or features that strengthen the redemptive contexts. Namely, a) the purchase price or its equivalent is stated in the text (i.e., the blood, the Lamb; cf., 1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23; and Rev. 5:9), or the purchase price is implicit in the immediate context (Rev. 14:3, 4); b) redemptive markers or language is used, and b) in every case the context is restrictive to believers (cf. 1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23; 5:9; and 14:3, 4). None of these features or contingencies are to be found in 2 Peter 2:1.
What is it Saying?
It has been demonstrated that the term “Master” (despotes) refers to an owner in a master- slave relationship. The meaning here is not of Christ as Savior or Mediator (despotes is never used as a redemptive title), but to Christ (or the Father) as Sovereign. It has also been demonstrated that the term “bought” (agorazo) in the New Testament is most frequently used in non-redemptive contexts. When used redemptively there are specific pointers that are conspicuously absent in 2 Peter 2:1 (such as the purchase price, believers as the lone object, or the presence of other mediatorial or redemptive features). Since this is so, it of necessity eliminates the assumed non-Reformed interpretation, at the very least, as the only viable interpretation of 2 Peter 2:1. In point of fact, not only is the non-redemptive sense equally viable, but there is far more to commend this sense than the redemptive sense, for which the general redemptionist argues. This does not mean, of course, that the Reformed view becomes the view by default; rather, that the Reformed view cannot be simply dismissed as a viable and exegetically sound interpretation.
Now, at this point someone may say, “You have told us what it is not saying, but you have yet to offer an understanding of what it is saying.” Let us then provide a possible understanding having dismissed the possibility of a redemptive context. It is my contention that Peter is not addressing the extent of the atonement but is providing an OT example (similar to Deut. 32:5-641) of a sovereign master (despot) who had purchased slaves and hence commanded their allegiance.
They have acted corruptly toward Him, They are not His children, because of their defect; But are a perverse and crooked generation. Do you thus repay the LORD, O foolish and unwise people? Is not He your Father who has bought (emphasis mine) you? He has made you and established you.
The Greek term used to translate the Hebrew word hnq’ (qanah) is kta,omai (ktaomai) and is interchangeable42 with our term agorazo. It means to “obtain” or “acquire.” The basis then for which this ownership is set forth is the fact that God “bought” them from Egypt, “made”43 them, and “established”44 them. They had been afforded external blessings as a nation through their deliverance from Egypt, and the provision and protection of God to them as His national people. This mercy of special blessing ought to have compelled them to faithfulness and obedience (Romans 2:4-5), but instead they became “perverse” and “crooked” (v.5), they “corrupted themselves” (Deut. 32:5), became “foolish and unwise” (v.6), forgot that God was their Sovereign Owner and Master (v.6), turned to idolatry (v.16-21) and brought judgment upon themselves (22-43).
Referring to Deuteronomy 32:6 Wayne Grudem writes:
‘Is not he your Father who has bought you?’…Peter is drawing an analogy between the past false prophets who arose among the Jews and those who will be false teachers within the churches to which he writes…From the time of the exodus onward, any Jewish person would have considered himself or herself one who was ‘bought’ by God in the exodus and therefore a person of God’s own possession.45…So the text means not that Christ had redeemed these false prophets, but simply that they were rebellious Jewish people (or church attenders in the same position as rebellious Jews) who were rightly owned by God because they had been bought out of the land of Egypt (or their forefathers had), but they were ungrateful to him.46
Looking again at our text we read:
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.
Similar to Paul’s final exhortation to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:17-38, Peter exhorts and warns the people of God of the presence of false teaching. The parallels are striking. Paul was uncertain of what lay ahead for him in Jerusalem:
And now, behold, bound in spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. (Acts 20:22-23)
Peter sensing that his death was immanent writes:
Knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind. (2 Peter 1:14-15)
Paul therefore provides this sobering warning:
I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20:29-30)
Peter offers the same warning:
Just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies. (2 Peter 2:1)
Please notice that both Paul and Peter in the midst of such warning provide the believer with a refuge, the only refuge and source of truth against all enemies of the faith. Paul writes:
For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:27, 32)
Peter reminds his audience of the same:
So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:19-21)
Hence we have an established context. Peter, like Paul, is exhorting and warning the people of God what the church has come to know so well since that day: that in the sanctification of His people God has ordained the presence of false teaching and false teachers as an ever present enemy with which the church must struggle. Christians are to be alert and diligent in the defense of the truth. This is the context47 in which Peter is writing.
Peter quickly alludes to Old Testament48 imagery all too familiar particularly in a Jewish context. Just as there were “false prophets”49 among the people of Israel so there will be false teachers evn umi/n (among you).50
In Matthew 7:15-20 Jesus said to beware of false teachers who come in sheep’s clothing. The only way to distinguish them is by “their fruits.” Peter is quick to delineate some of that fruit51 in this context. The first manifestation is false teaching. Peter tells us that they “will secretly introduce” destructive heresies (literally “teachings of destruction”). They even deny the Master. Perhaps the thrust of this is Christological heresy (if we assume Christ is the referent). The presence of Gnosticism and other movements were certainly a present threat to the apostolic teaching concerning the Person of Jesus Christ.
In either case (whether the Father or the Son is the referent) they were denying52 the Lordship of their Sovereign Master. The same Master who owns them on the basis of His being their Sovereign creator. The same Master who has provided them external blessing by their attachment to the national people of God through their purchase in the exodus and then by exposing them to the privileges of the gospel and the fellowship of the true Israel in the church.
Contextually then, these “professing believers,” surrounded by gospel light and truth, the fellowship of the people of God, rose up from among the people (distinguishing themselves from the people of God), and used their leadership and teaching within the Church to spread damnable heresies. In doing this they denied and rejected their Sovereign Master (not Savior) and brought swift destruction53 upon themselves.
We are left then with two possible understandings to the text:
1. The term is being used redemptively. Hence these were men who were bought by Christ (purchased, redeemed) but lost their salvation when they became apostate.
2. The term is being used non-redemptively; hence Peter is not addressing the extent of the atonement, but is providing an OT example (similar to Deut. 32:5-6) of a sovereign master (despot) who had purchased slaves and on that basis commanded their allegiance.
Since Scripture is consistent with itself it would seem that the only viable option is that the text is to be understood non-redemptively. The preservation of the saints is a clearly revealed truth, and is maintained on the basis of Scripture’s teaching on the nature of the atonement (Heb. 7-10), and the resultant preservation of the saints (John 6:37-44). It is our contention, therefore, that a non-redemptive sense is not only consistent with sola scriptura (scripture alone) and tota scriptura (all of scripture), but it is the only sense that is established by the context itself. For when one considers, 1) the problem of ownership, 2) despotes and agorazo contextually defined, and 3) the absence of redemptive and mediatorial features in the very passage under dispute, then one will likewise see that the textual and exegetical data communicates a non-redemptive sense, perfectly consistent with the specificity of the atonement that the Bible so clearly presents.
To be sure, there are many passages in Scripture that require effort on our part to fully study and examine. Some are indeed difficult to interpret; such difficulty, however, is not an excuse for failing to do our homework. We are to “search the Scriptures” diligently, that we may grow in grace and knowledge of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Hence, after all the exegetical considerations have been observed, it would appear that the only people that can appeal to this text exegetically and contextually are those who understand it non-redemptively, or those historic Arminians who believe you can lose your salvation. Those who believe in eternal security (whether Reformed or non-Reformed) may not nor cannot appeal to this text with a redemptive sense. To do so imposes a view on the text that is more eisegetical than exegetical. It is inconsistent to say that the Master bought them, but does not own them in order to maintain the general atonement position. In fact, I would argue that this text is not a battleground between Reformed and non-Reformed over the extent of the atonement at all; rather, it is a battleground between those who believe in eternal security, and those who do not. If one desires to object to particular redemption, then one will have to appeal to another text, for one cannot consistently do so on the basis of 2 Peter 2:1.
1 When I use the term non-Reformed I am specifically alluding to those who are evangelical, believe in eternal security, and yet reject the five points of Calvinism. This is not to exclude historic Arminians (those who deny eternal security) but it is to establish the particular perspective to which I am seeking to address.
2 Some excellent works on the subject are: John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988); Arthur W. Pink, The Satisfaction of Christ, (Forest City: Truth For Today Publications, [Reprint] 1996); A.A. Hodge, The Atonement, (Memphis: Footstool Publication, [Reprint] 1987); Gary Long, Definite Atonement, (Rochester, New York: Backus Book Publishers, [Reprint] 1988); James White, The Potter’s Freedom, (Amityville, NY: Calvary Press, 2000); James White, God’s Sovereign Grace, (Southbridge, MA: Crowne Publications, 1991); John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, [Reprint] 1995); Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998). These works carefully define the nature and extent of the atonement and the common objections that face it.
3 In this work Long addresses primarily three views. The Arminian view, the Modified Calvinist view, and the “five point” or “consistent” Calvinist view (p.67). I say this so as to underscore (given Norman Geisler’s use of these terms) the difference in meaning. Modified Calvinist, as Long implies, are those who are “four pointers” and inconsistently hold to an Almyraldian view of the atonement. They are not to be confused with the “Moderate Calvinist” of Geisler’s Chosen But Free, who is nothing more than an Arminian in Calvinistic clothing.
4 Andrew Chang, Second Peter 2:1 and the Extent of the Atonement (Bibliotheca Sacra. V142 #565, Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, [electronic edition] 1998), p.53.
5 Chang unreservedly sates:
The Cross itself actually does not save anyone…The provision is for all [every individual], but the appropriation is only for those who believe. Andrew Chang, Second Peter 2:1 and the Extent of the Atonement, p.60.
In other words, as I have argued against in another article, the cross did not save anyone it only made men salvable. Hence Chang is presenting his position of limited atonement. The limit then is in the efficacy the scope is universal. If efficacy is contingent upon human appropriation, then that efficacy is insufficient in-and-of-itself to accomplish its intended purpose.
6 Chang seeks to maintain the biblical truth of substitutionary atonement. He chides Gary Long for seeking to demonstrate the illogic of affirming substitionary atonement on the one hand (Long, p. 78) and yet functionally denying it on the other (by suggesting that those for whom Christ died may still perish). Ironically Chang does not respond to the illogic of his position but seeks instead to establish illogic in Long. He writes:
It is just as illogical (emphasis mine), or more so, to say that the all-merciful and all-just God made provision for only some people, leaving the majority out. (Chang, p. 60).
Hence Chang does not respond to the internal contradiction within his view of substitutionary atonement but rather creates a straw man argument by redirect that is easily refuted. That is, his unproved presupposition, namely, that for God to be truly merciful He must be merciful to all. Paul himself refutes this idea in Romans 9:18 where he states without apology,
” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.”
God is free to discriminate in His bestowment of mercy. Obligated or demanded mercy is a contradiction in terms. For further insight on this issue see James White’s, The Potter’s Freedom.
10 A term that has gained some popularity especially in its use by such men as Dave Hunt and his anti-Reformed polemic.
12 This common non-Reformed expression is to again beg the question, for “in what way is it sufficient?” Both non-Reformed and Reformed Christians agree that the value of Christ’s death was sufficient to merit the salvation of an infinite amount of people. This, however, is not what is being disputed. It is one thing to say that the atonement was sufficient in worth, however, it is quite another thing to say that it is sufficient in-and-of-itself in effect.
13 This was provided from a secondary source referencing: The Bible Knowledge Commentary written by John F. Walvoord & Roy B. Zuck.
14 Dr. White debated a non-Reformed Baptist Fundamentalist on definite atonement some years ago (see White vs. Barker debate). In the cross-examination Dr. White sought to establish the parameters of the text denoting the term despotes. His opponent (a KJV Only advocate) dismissed the reference implying it had no significance.
15 Used in the middle or passive form in the NT (lutro,omai lutroomai)
16 The compound form evxagora,zw (exagorazo) is translated redeem in Gal. 3:13; 4:5.
17 Some of the most avid opponents of Definite Atonement are KJV Only advocates. It is interesting to note that the KJV rendering for agorazo at Rev. 5:9; 14:3,4 is “redeem.”
18 Some non-Reformed apologists sensing the weight of this argument suggest that Christ does in fact own them on the basis of His atoning work. However, the “owning” here is theoretical not actual since such does not effect an actual redemption.
19 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume 1 edited by Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, Reprinted 1999), p. 125.
20 There are some passages that only express an “intent” or “desire” to buy (always in a non-redemptive context). In this case the buyer has yet to purchase and hence take ownership of that which is to be bought. This appears to be the way in which most non-Reformed folk interpret 2 Peter 2:1.
Greek uses a few ways in which to demonstrate “intent,” “purpose,” or a conditional clause (if A, then B). Normally, this is communicated when the verb stem is in the infinitive such as “to purchase,” “to buy,” or when the verb is in the subjunctive mood like “might purchase,” or “might buy.” Some examples of these are: Mat.14:15; Mk.6:36 (Subj.); Mt. 25:10 (Inf.). This, however, has no bearing on 2 Peter 2:1 which provides neither a conditional clause nor an infinitive.
In Greek when a verb stem (such as our verb agorazo) appears in the infinitive, “to buy” avgora,zein (agorazein) such can denote purpose. However, in our case, please notice that the text of 2 Peter 2:1 does not say, “denying the Master who died (implied) to purchase (agorazein) them” hence Peter is not using this word to denote “intent” or “purpose.” In other words, Peter does not say that the Master purchased, or bought with the intent of owning them.
Greek can also denote a conditional clause by having the verb appear in the Subjunctive mood. In English this is best described by comparing “what is” (“I buy”) to what “might be” (If I make enough money then I might buy). “Might buy,” in my example, is a statement of condition, if A then B. Relevant to 2 Peter 2:1, the text does not say, “denying the Master who might buy (avgora,sh| agorase) them” or “denying the Master who might purchase them.” Interpretively this may be seen by the following concept, “he died that He might buy so as to own.”
What we actually have in 2 Peter 2:1 is the participial form of our word “agorazo.” In our case the participle avgora,santa (agorasanta) is functioning adjectivally, which means it is modifying the “Master.”
In our text we have a participle that is attributing something about the “Master.” It is describing the “Master” as the “the One Who bought them.” The way in which Peter uses this word seems to negate any possibility of an “intended” redemption. He is not using it to demonstrate “purpose,” “intent,” or “condition” but descriptively to denote what the Master has already done. He is the One who “bought” them; therefore, in some sense He owns them.
21 The term, despotes, is used ten times in the entire NT. In three of those places, the referent is clearly the Father (Luke 2:29; Acts 4:24; Rev.6:10). In four other places, the referents are other than either Christ or the Father. In one case, the referent is most likely the Father, leaving 2 Peter 2:1 and Jude 4 as the other examples (2 Peter 2:1 is debatable, and Jude 4 is most likely Christ). In none of those examples is the term ever used to describe its referent with a mediatorship sense; the “sovereign owner” meaning is consistent throughout.
22 Gary Long, Definite Atonement, p.71.
23 Ibid. p.71.
25 Andrew Chang, Second Peter 2:1 and the Extent of the Atonement, 54-55.
26 He concludes this point by saying:
In verse 4 Jude explained the reason he was compelled to write the epistle. Certain ungodly men had denied the Master. The context clearly indicates that the Master here is the Master of the common salvation and faith described in the previous verse (p. 60).
I trust that the reader has seen that Jude makes no such connection since he himself makes the distinction between what he wanted to write and what he now must write.
If this is the correct understanding of Jude 4, and Jude is in parallel with 2 Peter 2:1, it seems logical to say that Peter is speaking of the same kind of Master. In other words the Master in 2 Peter 2:1 is the Master as Savior, not the Master as Creator (p. 60).
If, on the other hand, Jude 4 is a non-redemptive context (which Chang has not adequately or exegetically proven otherwise), then it further strengthens the contention that 2 Peter 2:1 is non-redemptive. Moreover, the non-redemptive sense being asserted for 2 Peter 2 :1 is not wholly dependent on Jude 4, anyway. For exegesis must allow 2 Peter to be primarily defined within Petrine parameters, making the connection between it and Jude relevant, but certainly not binding.
27 ibid., p. 60.
28 Chang, p.55.
29 Many non-Reformed proponents suggest this hypothetical ownership is to leave the sinner without excuse. However, men are condemned because they are sinners (Rom.3:23). If a man has cancer and rejects the only cure that will take the cancer away and hence dies, what caused his death? Will the death certificate read as the cause of death, “Death by refusing to take the only cure that would have saved his life?” No, the cause of death will be listed as the particular cancer that he had. In the same way, men are condemned because they are sinners, deserving of just, eternal perdition. Their rejection of God’s Son seals their condemnation (John 3:18) because it confirms them in their sin, and hence the recipients of God’s just wrath. Furthermore, “without excuse” is found in Romans 1:18-20. There is no mention of the atonement in this passage.
30 ibid., p.55.
32 Luke 14:15-24 is a good example. It should be noted here that Chang refers to this passage as a “hypothetical” purchase based on his interpretation of the passage (p.57). However, the term is being used here metaphorically (it is a parable) and cannot be confused with the hypothetical sense Chang seemingly wants to give 2 Peter 2:1.
33 The term men is provided by the translators because of its assumed presence in the text
34 It is important to note that when agorazo is used redemptively it is restricted to believers never non-believers unless 2 Peter 2:1 be the exception. To this argument Chang responds by saying:
…Long argues that when the word avgora,zw is used in the sense of redemption, it is limited to believers. 2 Peter 2:1 refers to nonbelievers and therefore it cannot be used soteriologically. This observation is true of all other five soteriological uses of the word avgora,zw (emphasis mine), but it is wrong to impose the same conclusion on 2 Peter 2:1 without considering the passage in its own context. If one out of six uses of a word proves that its use is different, it is legitimate to establish another category. In cases of rare uses of a word even one solid reference is weighty enough to establish a new category. The use of avgora,zw in reference to Christ as the “slave owner” by virtue of His work of salvation, the use of avgora,zw as spiritual redemption when the object of the purchase is human beings, and the close parallel to Jude 4 seem to show that 2 Peter 2:1 is to be taken soteriologically (p.56).
Chang makes a valid point when he states, “If (emphasis mine) one out of six uses of a word proves that its use is different it is legitimate to establish another category” but his conclusion does not follow. If 2 Peter 2:1 is the lone exception to what Chang has himself correctly noted then is not the burden of proof upon him to demonstrate clearly this lone exception? Seeking to establish a redemptive context (which he failed to do) for Jude 3-4 so as to establish one for 2 Peter 2:1 has been less than convincing in establishing “another category.”
35 In responding to this statement in light of Rev. 14:3-4, Chang notes:
It is true that in 1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23, and Revelation 5:9 either the technical term timh, (“price”) or reference to His “death” (implying that the blood was the price) is present along with avgora,zw. However, in Revelation 14:3-4 neither references are to be found and yet the context is undoubtedly soteriological (p.56).
Yet if Mr. Chang had noted carefully Mr. Long’s words then he would have noted Long as saying, “or its equivalent being stated or made explicit in the context” (Long, 69, 72). Anyone reading Rev. 14:3,4 will note the implicit “price” by virtue of the close parallel with Rev. 5:9 and 13:8. As well please note the subject of Rev. 14…it is the Lamb. This is clearly sacrificial language (unlike 2 Peter 2:1) and is unequivocal in establishing a redemptive context. Further, as my friend and colleague Mike Porter correctly noted, the difference between to. avrni,on and despo,thj is the difference between a redemptive context and a non-redemptive one.
Finally, those who wish to use Rev. 14: 3-4 as the lone exception to the “purchase price” being mentioned have failed to remember the argument. For, the argument clearly states that the purchase price is either explicitly stated or is implied by the context. The presence of the “Lamb” in Rev. 14 certainly meets the implied, redemptive context. The one who wishes to argue otherwise must demonstrate why the “Lamb” is NOT the implied sacrificial purchase price.
For example, a correspondent, “Bill,” argued that to arnion must be defined like any other New Testament term (obviously borrowing my own argument for the terms found in 2 Peter 2:1). And, in principle, “Bill’s” objection is certainly valid. However, simply forwarding an argument without considering the implication is pointless: for how then is the “Lamb” to be understood?
In an attempt to answer my question, “Bill” offered a few passages. For example: in Rev. 6:16, people are afraid of the wrath of the Lamb; in Rev. 14:10, the Lamb is standing in judgment in the condemnation of the beast; in Rev. 17:14, the Lamb wages war and overcomes his enemies; and, in Rev. 22:3, the Lamb is served. “See,” it is argued, “‘the Lamb’ is not always used redemptively. Therefore, we cannot assume that it is being used redemptively at 14:3-4.” But, do these passages actually provide a different definition for the Lamb that frustrates the implied redemptive price I have argued for in Rev. 14:3-4?
On the surface, “Bill” does make some interesting arguments; however, upon closer examination he fails to resolve the inherent problems with the objection itself. To begin with, why should I reject the contextual definition of arnion in Rev. 14:3-4 as sacrificial/redemptive? I mean if “Bill” is going to dismiss my contextual definition (the implicit redemptive price, i.e., sacrificial language), then he must provide a positive definition that is consistent with his other references, right? I mean it’s one thing to tell me that arnion may have a range of meaning that includes other categories other than redemptive, but it’s quite another thing to establish this other meaning from the very passage you are seeking to remove from the equation.
14:1 Then I looked, and here was the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him were one hundred and forty-four thousand, who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. 14:2 I also heard a sound coming out of heaven like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. Now the sound I heard was like that made by harpists playing their harps, 14:3 and they were singing a new song [emphasis mine] before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one was able to learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been redeemed from the earth.
14:4 These are the ones who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were redeemed from humanity as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb [emphasis mine], 14:5 and no lie was found on their lips; they are blameless. (NET).
Actually, I believe “Bill” has made a rather basic hermeneutical error. For he has confused what the Lamb means symbolically with what the Lamb does among men. Since John defines for us what he means when he uses the term (Rev. 5:6-13), then I believe I am on safe ground by following John’s meaning, rather than confusing it with the actions that the Lamb does.
36 Gary Long, Definite Atonement, p. 72.
37 Charles Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), p.1892.
38 Gary Long, Definite Atonement, p. 72.
39 Frank Gaebelein suggests that “some Calvinistic interpreters” hold to this view. Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: The Zondervan Corporation, 1981), p.276.
Dr. Thomas Schreiner is one such Calvinistic interpreter who seems to hold this view. He states:
I would suggest that Peter used phenomenological language. In other words, he described the false teachers as believers because they made a profession of faith and gave every appearance initially of being genuine believers. Peter did not refer to those who had been outside the community of faith but to those who were part of the church and perhaps even leaders among God’s people. Their denial of Jesus Christ reveals that they did not truly belong to God, even though they professed faith. Peter said that they were bought by Jesus Christ, in the sense that they gave every indication initially of genuine faith. In every church there are members who appear to be believers and who should be accepted as believers according to the judgement of charity. As time elapses and difficulties arise, it becomes apparent that they are wolves in the flock (Acts 20:29-30 ), that though they called on Jesus as Lord their disobedience shows that he never knew them (Matt 7:21-23 ), that they are like the seed sown on rocky or thorny ground that initially bears fruit but dries up and dies when hard times come (Matt 13:20-22 ).” ((“1, 2 Peter, Jude,” The New American Commentary, pages 331-332 )
A few things bear mentioning when considering the above comments. The view being espoused by Dr. Schreiner (“phenomenological” view, or the “false profession of faith” view) is typically a Calvinistic view, and hence it does not minimize the problems inherent in the general redemptionist view. Moreover, I am not aware of any published, non-Reformed, “non-five point Calvinist” who holds Dr. Schreiner’s view; for, 2 Peter 2:1 is typically used by general redemptionist as a “proof-text” against the definite atonement position. More often than naught, then, non-Calvinists that wish to cite Schreiner’s view as their own are simply seeking a “back door” by which to advance their general redemptionist understanding.
While there are some things that might commend the position, it is my contention that the arguments presented against the redemptive sense to the text in question are equally valid against the “false profession view,” since that view is still espousing a redemptive sense, albeit only “confessional.” Having said that, however, please remember that this view does not suggest that these men were actually bought; it simply asserts that they gave the profession that they were bought. In other words, this view is perfectly consistent with the arguments I have presented concerning the problem of ownership. Schreiner certainly recognizes that if they had been bought (assuming his meaning), and that actually, then they would have been owned, and that redemptively. The whole point of the “false profession view” is to allow for a redemptive sense without the redemptive implications (i.e., general atonement and loss of salvation).
40 Gaebelein writes:
This requires understanding the antecedent of ‘them’ to be ‘the people’ in the first part of the sentence. While this is grammatically possible, it is very unlikely because of the distance between the pronoun and its antecedent noun. The natural sense of the verse is that ‘they’ (the false teachers) deny the Lord who bought them (the false teachers) (p. 276).
41 In using this as a likely background to the text Chang responds to Long by saying:
Any student of the Bible who has compared 2 Peter 2:1 with Deuteronomy 32:6 seriously wonders how one gets the idea that Peter here was alluding to Deuteronomy 32:6 (Chang, p.59).
Once again the assumed conclusion is here evident. What Chang is implicitly stating, is that any non-Reformed student of the Bible (which of consequence holds to a general atonement) wonders how such a comparison can be made. He further states:
The Nestle-Aland Greek text (25th ed.) indicates all (emphasis mine) allusions to and quotations from the Old Testament, but it does not include any Old Testament passage in reference to 2 Peter 2:1. The United Bible Societies Greek text (3d ed.) also makes no mention of this in its apparatus. The writer has consulted more than a dozen commentaries, but he could find none that makes mention of this supposed allusion. Any argument based on such dubious ground carries no weight (p.59).
Actually, Adam Clarke (a proponent of General Atonement writing between 1810 and 1826) in his 6 volume (originally published in eight) Commentary on the Old and New Testament presents the possible allusion. Though Clarke presents the redemptive context he nonetheless cites both Exodus 15:16 and Deut. 32:6 particularly if the Father is being referenced. Adam Clarke, Clarke’s Commentary The New Testament, Volume 8 1 Thess. Through Revelation, (USA: The Ages Digital Library Commentaries, 1997).
Having noted that, however, is this a valid argument? Is this an exegetical response based on the text from both passages or is this a desperate attempt to dismiss the possible parallel by means of an implied authority in the editorial notes of the Nestle -Aland Greek text or the United Bible Societies Greek text? Do the editors themselves claim an inherent authority to their apparatus that confirms or disproves the interpretation of any passage? Simply dismissing the suggested parallel upon these grounds is insufficient in providing a valid argument against the parallel.
42 Long writes:
The two words ktaomai and agorazo are used interchangeably in two Old Testament parallel accounts (compare II Sam. 24:21, 24 with I Chron. 21:24 and II Kings 22:6 with II Chron. 34:11). These two words are also closely related in the New Testament (compare Peter’s use of ktaomai in Acts 1:18 and 8:20 where ktaomai is translated, respectively, bought and buy in the NIV and acquired and obtain in the NASB). (Long, p. 83).
43 It is common for the New Testament writers to cite verbatim Old Testament references. However, it is also common for them to allude apart from direct citation. The allusion to a particular passage in brief would nonetheless call to mind all that the passage set forth. (cf. The Lord’s reference to Psalm 22 on the cross; Rom.1:17 with Hab. 2:4).
44 The Greek term kti,zw (ktizo) means to create.
45 Grudem underscores in a footnote that this was also the view of John Gill in his Cause of Truth, p. 61, first published in 1735. p. 600.
46 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, (Great Britain: Inter-Varsity Press and Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), p. 600.
Relevant to the OT imagery, a strictly Reformed, “in-house” dispute has surfaced between some Reformed credobaptists (those who hold the view that I am presenting) and some Reformed paedobaptists ( I say “some” because not all Reformed paedobaptists that I have read make this argument) on yet another possible interpretation of this passage. Specifically, the argument centers on the covenantal approach that allows for these apostates to have “fallen away” from their covenantal status within the “new covenant” community. It is argued that these men were owned by virtue of their covenantal status (not in any redemptive sense) given to them when they were baptized into the “new covenant” congregation. Now, to be sure, the argument would agree with me that this is not a “proof-text” that suggests that Christ died for men who will ultimately perish; for its adherents would equally affirm the particularity of the atonement. Rather, the argument seeks to provide a basis for a view that sees men in the new covenant who will ultimately perish, making this a companion passage to other texts that might suggest the same (Heb. 6:4-6).
Furthermore, the allusion to Deut. 32:5-6 would seem on the surface to buttress this argument since the basis upon which Israel was “owned” was, seemingly, due their deliverance from Egypt, “Is not He your Father who has bought (emphasis mine) you? He has made you and established you.” Further, it is clear beyond dispute that these words were, in fact, addressed to a “covenantal” people; they were redeemed out of Egypt, and on this basis were owned by their Master.
Moreover, repeatedly, in Deut. 31 God tells Moses that this people, this covenant community, will rebel against Him. They will break “the covenant.” Yahweh, then, knowing this will indeed happen, instructs Moses to write the corresponding judgment and condemnation against this “stiff-neck and rebellious” generation. This is recorded for us in chapter 32, the context behind 32:5-6, and the very allusion that Peter is citing from.
Therefore, it is argued, since this is the historical background, then it is fair to parallel the passages by suggesting that these “false teachers,” members of the “covenant” people of God, likewise “broke the covenant” and are, therefore, another example of those within the “new covenant” community who have apostatized (Heb. 6:4-6; etc.).
Obviously, there is much in the argument that is assumed, making any effort to unpack it all beyond the scope of this article. Most significantly is an assumed nature of the new covenant that is not wholly redemptive. Treatments on the nature of the new covenant have been sensitively addressed by Reformed credobaptists, along with the so-called “apostasy” passages, and hence efforts to address that issue require its own discussion.
Having said that, though, this does not mean that we do not have an immediate exegetical response that continues to support our conclusions without suggesting that Peter is implying that these men “broke the covenant.”
Actually, a careful reading of the passage strongly suggests that Peter is purposefully avoiding making that connection. Why? Please notice the examples that Peter provides in which he defines the extent of the allusion: 1) fallen angels 2) those who perished in the flood, 3) those who perished in the cites of Sodom and Gomorrah, and most interesting, 4) the false prophet, Balaam.
Some exegetical considerations are most interesting. To begin with, Peter presents a most intriguing common denominator of each of his examples: not only were they all among the reprobate, but in the case of the those who perished in the flood, those who perished in the cites, and Balaam, NONE were a part of the Abrahamic or Mosaic covenant community! In the case of those who perished in the flood, they were outside the “ark,” and were not even a part of the Noahic covenant. In the case of those who perished in the cities, they were pagan, bearing no lineage to Abraham or the sign of the covenant. Finally, in the case of Balaam, we have a “false prophet” who was not of the seed of Abraham, was uncircumcised, was not redeemed from Egypt, and to him were not given the “law and the testimony.” In other words, Balaam was outside the covenant community in every way imaginable!
Hence, why would Peter establish meaning for these “false teachers,” who were supposedly a part of the “new covenant community,” from examples of those who were clearly outside the covenant community? In other words, exegetically, there is far more to militate against viewing the passage as a “falling away from the covenant” (which doesn’t even seem to be Peter’s point), and far more to commend the position that these men were not a part of the “new covenant” community at all.
Furthermore, if we are sensitive to allow the New Testament to drive our exegesis and understanding of the Old Testament, then our conclusions are hermenuetically justified. For Peter establishes just how his own allusion is to be understood. He sets the parameters; he defines the intent. Therefore, it would seem far more consistent with Peter’s own definitions, and in keeping with the teaching of Hebrews on the nature of the “new covenant” as wholly redemptive, to understand Peter’s meaning as simply this: these men may have been “among” the covenant community, but they were not “in” the covenant community. Like Israel of old, they experienced external blessings (the exodus from Egypt), which was all the more reason they owed allegiance to the One who created and established them; yet, in spite of this, they denied Him.
Further, the exposure to gospel light heightened their culpability. For all men owe their allegiance to their Creator and Sovereign, and no man will be without excuse. But these men were among the people of God; they experienced the preaching ministry of those within the “new covenant” community. They, and here’s the point, experienced temporal deliverance. Yet, they repudiated the truth, even to the point of denying their Sovereign; the very one who provided that temporal deliverance in the first place.
Moreover, there is no indication that these men did not intellectually know the truth; this may be behind Peter’s words wherein he says, “for if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them” (2 Pet. 2:20-21).
Peter, then, is simply using the Deut. allusion to underscore the principle of ownership (Master to slave), as well as demonstrating the heightened culpability due to their exposure to the ministry of grace. To press Peter’s allusion to include more than the specific parameters he himself provides is to abandon primary hermeneutical principles, which should govern New Testament exegesis.
47 It is an exegetical strain for some to impose a redemptive context in the face of the obvious context.
48 Peter alludes to Old Testament history throughout the chapter. (1) The fallen angels (perhaps from Gen. 6:1-3, see also Jude 6) (v. 4) (2) The judgment upon the “ancient world” during the Nohaic period (v. 5), and (3) The judgment upon the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 6).
49 The false prophet Balaam is cited in verse 15. (cf. Jude 11; Num. 22-24).
50 Chang curiously writes:
The text gives no evidence that these false teachers professed to be believers. Even if they were professing Christians, there is no logical connection between the physical deliverance from the pollutions of the world [v. 20] and the profession itself. (Chang, p. 58).
Certainly we realize categorically types of false teachers. No one would argue that a pagan non Christian movement is indeed false teaching. But there is a huge difference between false teaching outside the professing church and false teaching within the professing church. There is a major difference between the false teaching of a Robert Schuller or a T.D. Jakes than the false teaching that occurs outside of professing Christendom. Peter says that these false teachers will be “among you.” How else do they gain such a following (v.2) unless they first be professing believers who are in a capacity to lead others? (cf. Acts 20:30).
51 Their teaching (2:1); covetousness (3); walk according to the flesh, despise authority, presumptuous, self-willed, speak evil of dignitaries (10); carousers (13); adulterous (14); forsakers of the right way (15); and licentious (19).
52 The Greek term avrnou,menoi is a present participle indicating that this was the emphasis of their teaching.
53 Long suggests that their purpose is in connection to those appointed to wrath (Rom. 9:20-24). (Long, p. 77).