Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Limited Atonement and 2 Peter 2:1

As I explained in episode 44 of my podcast, in some recent email and phone interaction with Jim Wallace of the Please Convince Me podcast, we came to agree that John 6:37 made a compelling case for the Calvinist doctrine of Irresistible Grace, which teaches that everyone whom the Father chooses for salvation will inevitably come to faith in Jesus Christ. (I understand many of you reading may disagree; please wait to comment on that passage until I get to the "I" in my "TULIP" podcast series.) But shortly thereafter, someone who commented on the PCM Facebook page linked to a debate betweeen Dr. James White and Michael Brown (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3), and in part 3 of that debate, Brown challenged Dr. White with 2 Peter 2:1 which reads,

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.

I had not realized the challenge this verse seems to present to the doctrines of Limited Atonement and/or Perseverance of the Saints, but Brown explained it well. Notice that here Peter seems to explicitly say that the "false teachers" were "bought" by "the Master," bringing destruction upon themselves. Limited Atonement and Perseverance of the Saints together assert that Jesus died only for the elect (and not every human being) and that the elect will forever remain in Christ through faith, but this verse seems to suggest that Jesus died even for those false teachers who once were among the believers but later denied Christ.

This seemed to me to be a pretty formidable challenge, and so I waited anxiously to hear Dr. White's response, and thereafter did some additional research. I no longer think this particular challenge is very persuasive, and here's why.


The first thing that needs to be pointed out in response to this challenge comes from Revelation 5:9-10, which reads,

(9) 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. (10) You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth."

Notice that Jesus is here said to have "purchased" a people from among every tribe and tongue and people and nation. Although not 100% conclusive, it is interesting to note that the text doesn't seem to suggest that Jesus purchased every person from among mankind. That aside, note what the living creatures and elders go on to say about those whom Jesus purchased: that they will be a kingdom to God and will reign. I don't think I need to exegete that in depth; it seems clear that the ones Jesus purchased are the same ones who are saved and will reign. (If someone contests that those who are the priestly and reigning ones here are saved, let me know and I'll dig more deeply.)

This alone demonstrates that Jesus' atoning sacrifice was not for every single human being, but was specifically for the elect whom He purchased with His blood out of the whole world. After all, if Jesus "purchased" a false teacher, like the ones mentioned by Peter, or any other unbeliever for that matter, then such a one would be saved. No doubt this is an argument a universalist might try to make; but that's the subject of another argument.


Back in Peter, there is one hint that perhaps the "purchase" spoken of is not the same as Jesus' atoning sacrifice. No mention is made of Jesus' blood as the means by which these false teachers were bought. Although not terribly persuasive, before dismissing this the critic of Calvinism should take a look at a few other passages.

We've already looked at Revelation 5:9 which speaks of the purchase Jesus made through His blood. Acts 20:28 similarly speaks of "the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." Ephesians 1:7 says "In Him we have redemption through His blood" (the word "redemption" is ἀπολύτρωσις and means "a releasing effected by payment of ransom"). 1 Peter 1:18-19 reads, "it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed...but with the precious blood of Christ" (the word "redeemed" is λυτρόω which means "to redeem, liberate by payment of ransom").

Some passages do speak of the Church being acquired or purchased or redeemed and do not include the "blood" language. Still, had Jesus' blood been mentioned here by Peter, the challenge to Calvinism would be much more powerful.

Nevertheless, this isn't enough to make the case. And while I began this section attempting to demonstrate that the Greek word for "Master" is never used of Jesus Christ, I discovered I was wrong. It is used once to refer specifically to Jesus in Jude 1:4. However, it is, in fact, that very passage which might begin to hint that Peter is speaking of a different "purchase."


Here are the relevant portions from Jude and Peter:

(4) 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 and Lord, Jesus Christ. (5) Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe. (6) And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, (7) just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 1:4-7)

(1) 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) Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; (3) and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (4) For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; (5) and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; (6) and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; (7) and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men... (2 Peter 2:1-7)

Notice the elements common to these two passages:
  • Both use the Greek word rendered "Master" to refer to Jesus Christ, the only two places in the New Testament where this was done
  • Both warn of those who will arise from within the visible Church to deny their "Master"
  • Both liken these to the unbelieving amongst ancient Israel
  • Both speak of judgment, condemnation and destruction
  • Both remind the reader of others whom God did not spare: angels, Sodom and Gomorrah
If these selected portions of the two epistles not convincing enough, I encourage you to go read each epistle in its entirety very carefully. You'll find the themes are incredibly similar, and boil down to this:

"Be alert, contend for the faith because false teachers will arise from among your ranks, just as they arose from within the people of ancient Israel. Just as God did not fail to punish those who arose from the people He purchased from Egypt, nor did He fail to punish others for the benefit of those who would remain, and nor will He fail to punish those who so arise from among you."

If you read that carefully, you might object to my having written, "those who arose from the people He purchased from Egypt." Am I implying that the kind of "purchase" Peter refers to is not the atoning sacrifice of Christ, but that instead he's somehow calling the rescue of Israel from Egypt a "purchase?" Yes, that's exactly what I'm suggesting.

"But wait," you might immediately object. "First, where is the rescue of Israel from Egypt called a 'purchase?' Second, Peter is saying false teachers will arise in the Church denying the Master who bought them; he's talking to professing Christians, not Israel." Let's address both those challenges.


In answering the first question above, I would turn to Exodus 15. Just prior to this chapter, the Israelites are led safely through the Red Sea, while the Egyptians who chased them perished when the walls of water fell and drowned them. And Exodus 14:30 tells us, "Thus the LORD saved Israel from the hand of the Egyptians." Notice this is the very language Jude uses when he speaks of what the Lord did "after saving a people out of the land of Egypt."

Exodus 15 begins with Moses and the people of Israel singing a glorious song of salvation, for a dozen verses praising God for destroying the Egyptians who had pursued them. And then, in verses 16 through 19 we read,

"(16) Terror and dread fall upon them; By the greatness of Your arm they are motionless as stone; Until Your people pass over, O LORD, Until the people pass over whom You have purchased. (17) You will bring them and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance, The place, O LORD, which You have made for Your dwelling, The sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established. (18) The LORD shall reign forever and ever." (19) For the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his horsemen went into the sea, and the LORD brought back the waters of the sea on them, but the sons of Israel walked on dry land through the midst of the sea.

You see, just as Jude uses the language of Exodus 14 to refer to the people whom God saved from Egypt, so, too, does Peter use the language of Exodus 15 to refer to the people whom God "purchased" from out of Egypt. This "inheritance" and "establishment" and "purchase" language is also used in Deuteronomy 32:6-8, which read,

(6) 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. (7) Remember the days of old, Consider the years of all generations. Ask your father, and he will inform you, Your elders, and they will tell you. (8) When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, When He separated the sons of man, He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel.

And in this passage from Deuteronomy 32, what does the author say about those whom God "bought" out of Egypt?

(5) They have acted corruptly toward Him, they are not His children, because of their defect; But are a perverse and crooked generation...(15) Jeshurun grew fat and kicked—You are grown fat, thick, and sleek—Then he forsook God who made him, and scorned the Rock of his salvation. (16) They made Him jealous with strange gods; with abominations they provoked Him to anger. (17) They sacrificed to demons who were not God, to gods whom they have not known, new gods who came lately, whom your fathers did not dread. (18) You neglected the Rock who begot you, and forgot the God who gave you birth. (Deuteronomy 32:5,15-18)

So just as the people of Israel were "bought" by the God who saved them out of Egypt, and yet evil men arose from within the people to follow after false gods, in the same way Peter speaks of evil men who will arise from those who were "purchased." It certainly seems as though the "purchase" to which Peter refers could be the purchase of Israel, rather than the atoning blood of Jesus Christ.

At this point one might object that the Greek word for "purchased" in Peter isn't the same word as is used by the LXX in Exodus and Deuteronomy, but that's a weak objection. My contention is not that Peter is quoting from the Old Testament, but that he's hearkening back to it. You can do the word study for yourself to see how synonymous the words are.

The word Peter uses is ἀγοράζω (agorazō), which means, basically, "to buy." The LXX uses it in 1 Chronicles 21:24 where the Hebrew uses the word קָנָה (qanah), meaning "to get, acquire, create, buy, possess." The word used by the Septuagint in Exodus 15:16 and Deuteronomy 32:6 is κτάομαι (ktaomai), which means, "to acquire, get, or procure a thing for one's self, to possess," and is often used to refer to something acquired at a price--a purchase. And sure enough, the Hebrew word used in those places is, again, qanah.

So agorazō and ktaomai are, indeed, largely synonymous. In many cases they can be used interchangeably, being used by the translators of the Septuagint to translate the same Hebrew word. Since Peter is hearkening back to the Old Testament, but not quoting the LXX, he's free to choose between these two Greek words to communicate the point.

Since, as we've seen, Revelation 5:9-10 tell us the ones who were purchased by the blood of Christ are the same ones who will be saved and will reign, the purchase of Israel is more likely the purchase to which Peter refers. But what of my hypothetical objector's second question? Isn't Peter writing to Christians, from among whom prophets will arise, and not Israel, from whom false prophets had already arisen?


In Galatians 2:7, Paul says, "I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised." Whereas Paul's ministry included a unique calling to evangelize to Gentiles, Peter's ministry was directed primarily to Jews. It's no wonder, then, that Peter opens his first epistle with the language of the diaspora, writing, "To those who reside as aliens, scattered." He then goes on in the second chapter of that first epistle to refer to his readers as "A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION," language describing Israel in the Old Testament.

So was Peter warning his readers about false teachers who would arise from within the Church? Certainly, but his readers were not only members of Christ's body; they were Jewish believers, Israelites, purchased out of Egypt. As Jude and Peter point out, God destroyed those Israelites who were so purchased by God but did not follow after Him. Likewise, Peter warns his readers, false teachers would arise among them--Jewish false teachers--who will deny the Master who bought them out of Egypt, and they will not escape destruction, either.

And so 2 Peter 2:1 serves as no challenge to the doctrines of Limited Atonement or Perseverance of the Saints, for the "purchase" in view there is not the "purchase" of Revelation 5:9-10. There, and in other places, we see that the atoning work of Christ is perfect and effectual, ensuring the salvation of the elect whom He purchased with His blood. No one for whom Jesus died will face judgment; all of them will reign forever with Him.

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