What is Apostasy? By Jack Kettler
In this study, we will seek to understand the biblical teaching on apostasy. Can a true believer commit apostasy and lose his soul is a question that enviably comes up in a study of this nature. We will look at several of the most cited apostasy passages. As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, commentary, lexical, and confessional evidence for the glorifying of God in how we live.
A question to ask at the beginning, is it possible for a false believer to commit apostasy?
The abandonment or renunciation of a profession of the Christian faith. *
The falling away from the faith. It is a revolt against the truth of God’s word by a believer. It can also describe a group or church organization that has “fallen away” from the truths of Christianity as revealed in the Bible. **
From the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia on Apostasy:
a-pos’-ta-si, a-pos’-tat (he apostasia, “a standing away from”):
I.e. a falling away, a withdrawal, a defection. Not found in the English Versions of the Bible, but used twice in the New Testament, in the Greek original, to express abandonment of the faith. Paul was falsely accused of teaching the Jews apostasy from Moses (Acts 21:21); he predicted the great apostasy from Christianity, foretold by Jesus (Matthew 24:10-12) which would precede “the day of the Lord” (2Thessalonians 2:2). Apostasy, not in name but in fact, meets scathing rebuke in the Epistle of Jude, e.g. the apostasy of angels (Jude 1:6). Foretold, with warnings, as sure to abound in the latter days (1Timothy 4:1-3; 2Thessalonians 2:3; 2Peter 3:17). Causes of: persecution (Matthew 24:9, 10); false teachers (Matthew 24:11); temptation (Luke 8:13); worldliness (2 Timothy 4:4); defective knowledge of Christ (1John 2:19); moral lapse (Hebrews 6:4-6); forsaking worship and spiritual living (Hebrews 10:25-31); unbelief (Hebrews 3:12). Biblical examples: Saul (1Samuel 15:11); Amaziah (2Chronicles 25:14, 27); many disciples (John 6:66); Hymeneus and Alexander (1Timothy 1:19, 20); Demas (2Timothy 4:10). For further illustration see Deuteronomy 13:13; Zec. 1:4-6; Galatians 5:4; 2 Peter 2:20, 21.
“Forsaking Yahweh” was the characteristic and oft-recurring sin of the chosen people, especially in their contact with idolatrous nations. It constituted their supreme national peril. The tendency appeared in their earliest history, as abundantly seen in the warnings and prohibitions of the laws of Moses (Exodus 20:3, 4, 23; Deuteronomy 6:14; 11:16). The fearful consequences of religious and moral apostasy appear in the curses pronounced against this sin, on Mount Ebal, by the representatives of six of the tribes of Israel, elected by Moses (Deuteronomy 27:13-26; 28:15-68). So wayward was the heart of Israel, even in the years immediately following the national emancipation, in the wilderness, that Joshua found it necessary to re-pledge the entire nation to a new fidelity to Yahweh and to their original covenant before they were permitted to enter the Promised Land (Joshua 24:1-28). Infidelity to this covenant blighted the nation’s prospects and growth during the time of the Judges (Judges 2:11-15; 10:6, 10, 13; 1Samuel 12:10). It was the cause of prolific and ever-increasing evil, civic and moral, from Solomon’s day to the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Many of the kings of the divided kingdom apostatized, leading the people, as in the case of Rehoboam, into the grossest forms of idolatry and immorality (1Kings 14:22-24; 2Chronicles 12:1). Conspicuous examples of such royal apostasy are Jeroboam (1Kings 12:28-32); Ahab (1Kings 16:30-33); Ahaziah (1Kings 22:51-53); Jehoram (2Chronicles 21:6, 10, 12-15); Ahaz (2Chronicles 28:1-4); Manasseh (2Chronicles 33:1-9), Amen (2Chronicles 33:22). See IDOLATRY.
Prophecy originated as a Divine and imperative protest against this historic tendency to defection from the religion of Yahweh. In classical Greek, apostasy signified revolt from a military commander. In the Roman Catholic Church, it denotes abandonment of religious orders, renunciation of ecclesiastical authority, defection from the faith. The persecutions of the early Christian centuries forced many to deny Christian discipleship and to signify their apostasy by offering incense to a heathen deity or blaspheming the name of Christ. The emperor Julian, who probably never vitally embraced the Christian faith, is known in history as “the Apostate,” having renounced Christianity for paganism soon after his accession to the throne. An apostate’s defection from the faith may be intellectual, as in the case of Ernst Haeckel, who, because of his materialistic philosophy, publicly and formally renounced Christianity and the church; or it may be moral and spiritual, as with Judas, who for filthy lucre’s sake basely betrayed his Lord. See exhaustive articles on “Apostasy” in the Jewish Encyclopedia. Dwight M. Pratt (1)
“They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.” (Luke 8:13)
From the Puritan commentary, Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible on Luke 8:13 we learn:
“They on the rock are they, which when they hear … The seed that fell upon the rock, or stony ground, signify such sort of hearers,
Who receive the word with joy. The Ethiopic version reads, “with joy of heart”. But, this sort of hearers receive not the word into their hearts, or with their hearts believe it, and from their hearts obey it, only into their heads; and have only, an historical faith of it; nor with hearty, spiritual, solid joy, or joy in the Holy Ghost: for their hearts remain like a rock, unbroken by the word; but with a flash of natural affection, which quickly goes off.
And these have no root; neither “in themselves”, as the other evangelists say, they have no true grace in them; nor have they any root in Christ, nor in the love of God:
Which for a while believe: their faith is a temporary one, like that of Simon Magus; which shows it is not true faith; for that is an abiding grace, Christ, who is the author, is the finisher of it, and prays for it, that it fail not. The Persic version renders it, “in the time of hearing they have faith”; and such sort of hearers there are, who, whilst they are hearing, assent to what they hear, but when they are gone, either forget it, or, falling into bad company, are prevailed upon to doubt of it, and disbelieve it. The Arabic version renders it, “they believe for a small time”; their faith do not continue long, nor their profession of it, both are soon dropped:
And in the time of temptation fall away: “or go back”, as the Vulgate Latin version, they draw back unto perdition; or “forsake that”, as the Arabic version reads, the word, they have heard, and received, their faith in it, and profession of it: “and soon become apostates”, as the Persic version renders it. By “the time of temptation”, is not meant any particular and sore temptation of Satan, but a time of affliction and persecution, as appears from the other evangelists; which is a trying time to professors of religion, and when those who have not the root of the matter in them, fall away.” (2)
“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.” (1Timothy 4:1)
Theologian William Hendriksen’s comments on this passage in Timothy are helpful:
“But the Spirit expressly says that in later seasons some will depart from the faith by giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 (embodied) in (the) insincere utterance of those who speak lies, whose own conscience is seared, 3 forbidding (people) to marry, and (enjoining them) to abstain from foods which God created in order that those who believe and acknowledge the truth may partake of them with thanksgiving. 4 For, every creature of God is good, and nothing is fit to be thrown away if it is received with thanksgiving; 5 for it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
Though the church be ever so glorious, reflecting the radiance of its precious Lord and Savior (1Tim. 3:15, 16), apostasy is just around the corner, for not all who belong outwardly to the church belong to it inwardly.
The present chapter deals with this apostasy.
1. But the Spirit expressly says that in later seasons some will depart from the faith.
“The Spirit says,” that is, “is now saying.” To whom was the Spirit speaking? Acts 20:29, 30 leads me to think that the apostle meant “to myself” (perhaps also to others). The Spirit, then, is saying that “in later seasons” — eras of this new dispensation, eras definitely marked out in God’s foreknowledge — some will depart or apostatize from the faith (objective sense), the body of redemptive truth, the Christian religion.
The Spirit was saying this expressly (“in stated terms”). There was neither doubt nor vagueness about it. A half dozen years ago Paul, addressing the elders of the churches located in the very region where Timothy was now laboring, had spoken as follows: “I know that after my departure grievous wolves will enter 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.” A few years after that speech recorded in Acts 20, the apostle, writing to the Colossians from his first Roman imprisonment, had warned them against accepting the error that faith in Christ’s atoning work has to be supplemented by ascetic beliefs and practices (Col. 2). And now, writing to Timothy from Macedonia, he is distinctly informed by the Holy Spirit that the error, already present in its incipient form, will grow and develop in the manner indicated in verse 3.
Men will depart from the faith by giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons. As the context indicates (and see also 1John 4:6 where “the spirit of seduction” is contrasted with “the Spirit of truth”), these spirits are not men but demons. Like planets that seem to wander back and forth among the constellations, these spirits wander; moreover, they cause men to wander. They seduce, lead astray. By giving heed to them one is giving heed to doctrines of demons (cf. 2Cor. 4:4; Rev. 13:11, 14).” (3)
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. For the earth, which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.” (Hebrews 6:4-8)
Regarding the persons mentioned in Hebrews 6:4-6 the Puritan John Owens says:
“And it appears, yea is evident, —
1. That the persons here intended are not true and sincere believers, in the strict and proper sense of that name, at least they are not described here as such; so that from hence nothing can be concluded concerning them that are so, as to the possibility of their total and final apostasy. For,
(1.) There is in their full and largo description no mention of faith, or believing, either expressly or in terms equivalent; and in no other place in the Scripture are such intended, but they are mentioned by what belongs essentially to their state. And,
(2.) There is not anything ascribed to these persons that is peculiar to them as such, or discriminative of them, as taken either from their especial relation unto God in Christ, or any such property of their own as is not communicable unto others. For instance, they are not said to be called according to God’s purpose; to be born again, not of man, nor of the will of flesh, but of God; nor to be justified, or sanctified, or united unto Christ, or to be the sons of God by adoption; nor have they any other characteristical note of true believers ascribed to them.
(3.) They are in the following verses compared to the ground on which the rain often falls, and beareth nothing but thorns and briers. But this is not so with true believers. For faith itself is an herb peculiar to the enclosed garden of Christ, and meet for him by whom we are dressed.
(4.) The apostle afterwards discoursing of true believers, doth in many particulars distinguish them from such as may be apostates; which is supposed of the persons here intended, as was before clared. For,
[1.] He ascribeth unto them in general “better things, and such as accompany salvation,” verse 9.
[2.] He ascribes a “work and labor of love,” as it is true faith alone which worketh by love, verse 10, whereof he speaks not one word concerning these.
[3.] He asserts their preservation; —
1st, On the account of the righteousness and faithfulness of God, verse 10;
2dly, Of the immutability of his counsel concerning them, verse 17, 18. In all these and sundry other instances doth he put a difference between these apostates and true believers. And whereas the apostle intends to declare the aggravation of their sin in falling away by the principal privileges whereof they were made partakers, here is not one word, in name or thing, of those which he expressly assigns to be the chief privileges of true believers, Romans 8:27-30.” (4)
The Puritan John Gill on Hebrews 6:4-6 writes:
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come; if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.—Heb. 6:4-6.
This Scripture is often used to contradict the final perseverance of the saints: and it is said, that “The doctrine of the possibility of the final departure of true believers and penitents from the faith, is fully contained in these words; that it is evident they are spoken of such, from the word, enlightened, used by the same apostle, speaking to the same persons, in Heb. 10:32, who were so enlightened as to know they had an inheritance in heaven; and from the words, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, which imply, that they had once truly repented, and were once truly in that state to which they were to be renewed, and their loss of it; and that these must fall totally and finally, because the apostle doth pronounce it a thing impossible to renew them to repentance, and on this account, that they crucified to themselves afresh the Son of God, and put him to an open shame. But,
1. Admitting that these words are spoken of true believers, they will bear such a version and sense as will be so far from furnishing out an argument against the saints’ perseverance that they will conclude one for it; for they may be rendered thus; it is impossible that there should be any who have been once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, etc., and yet fall away, that is, it is impossible that such should fall away; agreeable to which is the Syriac version of the words; it is impossible, etc., that they should sin again; so as to die spiritually, or lose the grace of God, and stand in need of a new work of grace upon them; which would require the crucifying of Christ again, and a re-exposing him to public shame; which latter things are impossible: and therefore the former, namely, that they should sin in such a manner; for, according to this version, the several other things mentioned, are connected with the word impossible; as it is impossible that they should be renewed again to repentance; that they should again crucify the Son of God, and put him to shame. This sense of the words is also confirmed by the Arabic version. Moreover, should we read the words, if they fall away, they do but at most contain a supposition of the saints falling; & suppositio nil ponit in esse, a supposition puts nothing in being, proves no matter of fact; nor can it be concluded from hence, that any such have fallen away; and are, at most, only expressive of the danger they are in, and of the difficulty of restoring them when fallen even partially; a total and final falling away, being prevented by the grace and power of God.
2. It is not evident, from the characters of those persons, that they were true believers; they are said to be once enlightened, which some understand of their being once baptized; and it is certain, that illumination, were used by the ancients, for baptism; and, enlightened once, for baptized persons: accordingly, the Syriac version reads the words thus, who once, have descended into baptism; the Ethiopic, after they are baptized; and it will not be denied, that some such, as Simon Magus, may totally and finally fall away; but not to insist on this sense of the words. There are two sorts of enlightened persons; some who are savingly enlightened by the Spirit of God, to see their lost state and condition, their need of salvation by Christ, and their interest in it, who shall never perish: others are enlightened only into the doctrines of the Gospel, and some to such a degree, as to be able to preach them unto others, and yet entirely destitute of the grace of God; and when such fall away, they are no proofs, nor instances, of the apostasy of real saints. The enlightened persons in Heb. 10:32, are not the same with these here mentioned; for the believing Hebrews are manifestly distinguished from these, verse 9; But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak; and therefore, though the Hebrews were so enlightened as to know that they had an inheritance in heaven, it does not follow, that these were enlightened in the same manner, and so sincere Christians and true believers. They are also said to have tasted of the heavenly gift; by which, whether we understand eternal life, or any of the blessings of grace, as a justifying righteousness, or with the Greek fathers, the remission of sins; the meaning is, that they had some speculative notions about these things, and some desires after them, arising from a natural principle of self love; or should Christ himself be intended by it, tasting of it, stands opposed to eating his flesh, and drinking his blood, which is proper to true believers, who feed upon him, internally receive him, and are nourished by him; while hypocrites, and formal professors, only taste of him, have a superficial knowledge of him, and gust for him. In the same sense are they said to have tasted the good word of God, the Gospel, in the bare form and notion of it, and the powers of the world to come; meaning either the state of the church, and the glorious things relating to it, after the first resurrection, which they might have some notional apprehensions of; or the joys and glories of heaven, on which they might be able to make some natural and pleasing reflections; or rather, the miracles and mighty works in the former part of the Gospel dispensation, or times of the Messiah, the Jews, world to come; which many, as Judas and others, were able to perform, who were not sincere Christians, nor true believers, and yet might be said to be partakers of the Holy Ghost; not of his person, nor his grace, but of his extraordinary gifts; in which sense not only Dr. Hammond, but Dr. Whitby himself, understand the phrase. Now it may be observed, that here is nothing said of these persons but what may be applied to hypocrites, nor any thing that is peculiar to true believers; these are not said to be regenerated, nor sanctified, nor justified, nor adopted, nor sealed by the Holy Spirit of God, all which are true of real saints. Besides, true believers are in the context, manifestly distinguished from them, and are compared to the fruitful earth, when others are only likened to the barren land, verse 8-9; their case is mentioned with a view to stir up the saints to industry and diligence, verse 11-12; and so be the means of their final perseverance; which they had reason to expect and believe, from the immutability of God’s counsel, the safe refuge in Christ, the nature of hope, the anchor sure and steadfast, and the entrance of Christ, their forerunner for them, into heaven, verse 17-20.
3. The phrase, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, does not imply that they had once truly repented, and their loss of true repentance; that cannot be lost, it is inseparably connected with life and salvation, and therefore is called repentance unto life, and unto salvation. The repentance of these persons, like that of Cain, Pharaoh, and Judas, was only a shew of one, a counterfeit one; and consequently, the renewing them again to repentance, designs a renovation of them to that which they only seemed to have, and to make pretensions to.
4. It will be granted, that these persons might, and such as these, may fall finally and totally; but inasmuch as it does not appear that they were true penitents and believers, they are not to be mentioned as, nor allowed to be, instances of the final departure of such from the faith.” (5)
“For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, the dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.” (2Peter 2:20-22)
Simon J. Kistemaker is very helpful in understanding this passage from Peter:
In the last three verses of this chapter, Peter sums up the final destiny of the false teachers by stressing that they have returned to their former way of life. In effect, they affirm a proverbial truth: as a dog returns to its vomit and a pig to its mud so the apostates revert to their sinful lifestyle.
20. If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.
Who is the subject of this verse? Some writers say: “The false teachers.” Other commentators assert: “The new Christians who are led astray.” The arguments advanced to defend either position are cogent. For instance, the use of the conjunction for (omitted in the) as a first word in verse 20 forms a bridge to the immediately preceding verse (v. 19). Because the two texts form one unit, they have the same subject: the false teachers. On the other hand, the verb to escape appears in verses 18 and 20. The subject of this verb appears to be identical in both verses. But the argument on the use of a particular verb must be balanced by the observation that the verb to master, overcome in verses 19b and 20 refers to the false teachers. And last, in the light of the preceding verses that feature the apostates as the dominant subject, many commentators apply the last three verses to these teachers. Granted that convincing evidence has been presented by both sides, I am persuaded that in view of the flow of the entire chapter the subject is the false teachers.
a. “If they have escaped the corruption of the world.” This is a factual statement, even though it appears in a conditional sentence. The element of probability is missing and the experience of what has happened in the past becomes evident. In the Greek, the verb form indicates that the false teachers on one occasion departed from the corruption of the world. “They had once escaped the world’s defilements” (; also see). The difference in the verb form (in v. 18) is evident: “[They] have barely begun to escape” (). This variation in the use of the verb form shows that Peter was thinking of the new converts who were in the process of breaking with their past. Here in verse 20, however, he is describing the heretics who at one time forsook their world and its corruption. “There can be little doubt that the false teachers had once been orthodox Christians.” In the past, these people were members of the church and they became acquainted with the teachings of the Christian faith.
b. “By knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Did the false teachers at one time know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? The answer is yes. For example, when Jesus commissioned his disciples two by two, he sent out Judas and another disciple. “They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them” (Mark 6:12–13). Obviously, Judas knew Jesus; in the name of Jesus he preached and performed miracles. Yet Judas betrayed his Master.
The apostates had a knowledge of Jesus Christ, but their knowledge lacked the intimacy that characterizes the relationship of the true believer with Christ. Observe Peter’s personal touch in the phrases our knowledge of him (1:3) and your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (1:8). These people had professed the name of Christ as their Lord and Savior but in time fully disclosed that their knowledge was merely intellectual knowledge (compare Matt. 13:20–21). Also note that Peter refrains from using the terms faith and believer in this context. The teachers never put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Because they lacked a personal relationship with Christ, they fell away.
c. “And are again entangled in it and overcome.” The Greek actually indicates that these teachers were again woven into the fabric of the world’s corruption. This matter is an accomplished fact: although they left the world momentarily, they returned and defiled themselves again with its sordid sin. The result is that they are no longer free; they are slaves of sin (v. 19). Any resistance to the corruption of the world is out of the question, for they are overcome by sin and serve as slaves.
d. “They are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.” Here is the conclusive statement in Greek that Peter borrows almost verbatim from the teachings of Jesus. About casting out a demon who returns to a former demon-possessed person with seven other spirits, Jesus says, “And the final condition of that man is worse than the first” (Matt. 12:45; Luke 11:26; and compare Matt. 27:64).
Peter writes descriptively about the destiny of the apostates. Yet his words contain an urgent warning to the believers not to follow the path of the heretics that leads to irrevocable and everlasting destruction.
Doctrinal Considerations in 2:20
Within the church of Jesus Christ are true believers and pseudobelievers. Scripture tells the church members to make a clear distinction between these two groups. They live alongside each other much the same as the wheat and weeds in the same field. When the pseudobelievers depart on their own accord, they demonstrate that they never belonged to the body of Christ. Writers of Scripture, therefore, distinguish between the two groups by using the pronouns we and us over against they and them.
Peter differentiates between the members of the church and the false teachers with the use of the personal pronouns. In verse 20, for instance, he refers to the teachers with the plural pronoun they. In the last three verses of this chapter (vv. 20–22), he speaks only of the teachers and not of the believers. The exception is that Peter uses the possessive pronoun our in the phrase “our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
In these verses, then, Peter never calls these teachers believers or children of God. Throughout these verses he describes them as people who deliberately sin against God and his Word. He repeatedly declares that these people face God’s judgment and destruction (vv. 3, 9, 12, 17).
Did these false teachers ever know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? By listening to the words of Jesus we receive an answer. Jesus says that only the person who obeys his Father in heaven will enter the kingdom. “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ ” (Matt. 7:22–23).
21. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.
a. Unfulfilled duty. What Peter communicates about the false teachers is the opposite of what was expected of them. If their faith had been genuine and their knowledge had been true, they would have developed spiritually to teach others the way of salvation. If they were true Christian teachers, they would have taught others the gospel of Christ. However, they refused to follow “the way of righteousness” and they denied Jesus Christ as sovereign Lord (v. 2; Jude 4). Their lives were contrary to fact.
b. Apostasy. “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness,” says Peter. But alas, although they were instructed in the Christian faith, they fell away from God and his Word. Because they deliberately have turned against God, they face eternal judgment. Scripture clearly and repeatedly warns against the danger of apostasy. Here are two passages:
“That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows.… From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” [Luke 12:47–48]
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. [Heb. 10:26; also see Heb. 6:4–6; Prov. 21:16]
At this point we must distinguish between intentional and unintentional sins. The person who deliberately sins against God expresses open rebellion that in Old Testament times resulted in capital punishment (Num. 15:30). The writer of Hebrews, commenting on the destiny of an apostate, says: “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:31).
c. Comparison. If they had not known the way of righteousness, the teachers would have been able to claim ignorance. Not now. They have known “the way of righteousness” that John the Baptist already revealed to the people of Israel in preparation for the coming of Jesus (Matt. 21:32). Moreover, the expression the Way served as a synonym for the Christian faith in the first half of the first century.
The false teachers not only have known the Way, but also have turned “their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.” What is this “sacred command”? It is equivalent to the message of Christ’s gospel. In the parallel passage, Jude calls this commandment “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (v. 3, italics added). In other words, the command of Peter and the faith (Christian doctrine) of Jude are the same.
Peter writes that this commandment, namely, the gospel, was passed on to them. The expression passed on is a technical term that refers to receiving the gospel for the purpose of teaching it and thus handing it on to the hearers (see especially 1Cor. 11:2, 23; 15:3; Jude 3). Peter calls this gospel tradition sacred, which means that it must be kept intact, obeyed, and taught. The false teachers, however, broke the chain of receiving and transmitting the gospel of Christ. They altered its content, rejected its teachings, and perverted its truth (compare vv. 1–3). By doing so they committed the unpardonable sin, that is, the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:32; 1John 5:16).
22. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.”
Peter concludes his descriptive analysis of the false teachers with two proverbs. The first one he takes verbatim from the Old Testament. Proverbs 26:11 has this reading:
As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.
The Jews treated dogs with contempt and not as man’s best friend. According to the Old and New Testaments, Jews treated dogs as unclean animals. A dog “lived on refuse of all kinds and thus was a potential carrier of many diseases.” As a scavenger, a dog would return to its own vomit and thus fulfill the proverb. Peter uses this proverb to compare the natural habit of a dog with the practice of false teachers who return to living in sin.
The second proverb seems to have been a common saying in the ancient world, for it appears in various manuscripts. The truth of this proverb is self-evident. A pig seeks relief from pesky insects and the heat of the sun by wallowing in the mud. Although the sow is washed, by nature the pig returns to the mud from which it has come. It rolls around in slime and grunts contentedly. Once again, the application to the apostates is graphic and descriptive. As the pig enjoys wallowing in the mire, so the heretics take pleasure in revelry and immorality.
Jesus mentions dogs and pigs in the same sentence when he says, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs” (Matt. 7:6). He instructs his disciples to distinguish between people who are receptive to the message of the gospel and those persons who trample underfoot that which is sacred. Such people are similar to dogs and swine.
Here is a conclusive observation: By vomiting, the dog relieves itself of internal impurities; the sow, when it is washed, is cleansed from clinging external mud. Nevertheless, both animals return to the selfsame filth.
Greek Words, Phrases, and Constructions in 2:20–22
εἰ—the simple-fact condition with the indicative mood in both the protasis and apodosis clauses denotes reality.
ἀποφυγόντες—the aorist active (compare the present tense in v. 18) seems to indicate that Peter wants to designate a group of people different from those mentioned in verse 18.
τοῦ κυρίου—Peter employs one definite article for more than one noun: “Lord” and “Savior” (see 3:2).
ἐμπλακέντες—from ἐμπλέκω (I entangle, involve in), this participle is the aorist passive. The aorist signifies single occurrence of an action; the aorist also means that it precedes the action of the main verb in the clause. The passive implies an agent, namely, the devil.
ἡττῶνται—Peter uses the present passive form of the verb, which appears as the perfect passive in verse 19. The present serves as a perfect.
ῆ̓ν—the imperfect indicative is translated as a “potential imperfect.” It expresses the idea “of an obligation which comes over from the past and is not lived up to.” The particle ἄν is absent.
ἐπεγνωκέναι—as a perfect active infinitive from the verb ἐπιγινώσκω (I learn to know), this perfect tense shows lasting effect. The context of the infinitive reveals, however, that the apostates refused to teach the Christian gospel. The dative plural of the aorist active participle ἐπιγνοῦσιν relates to the pronoun αὐτοῖς (for them).
συμβέβηκεν—the perfect active tense of the compound verb συμβαίνω (I meet, happen, come about) stresses continuity.
κύων—this is an independent nominative featured in a proverbial expression. It is equivalent to a nominative absolute. The word κύων refers not to a house dog, but to a stray dog that is wild.
τό—without the accompanying noun, the definite article in the neuter singular has a substantival sense.
λουσαμένη—from λούω (I wash), this middle aorist participle has a passive meaning. (6)
“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” (1John 2:19)
Again, we will utilize Simon J. Kistemaker’s insights into this passage from 1John:
Antichrists Went Out 2:19
19. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
Five times in this verse, John uses the word us. In the original, John writes “from us” four times and “with us” once. He wants to make sure that the reader understands that those whom he calls antichrists have left the church because they really did not belong to the church. The antichrists leave but the members of the church remain. Not those who deny the Christ are important, but the believers. And for this reason, John stresses the pronoun us at the end of every clause.
a. “They went out from us.” John omits the details, but we assume that the original readers knew the situation and had vivid memories of the tension that eventually caused the departure of the unbelievers. The writer of Hebrews sketches the picture when he writes,
It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. [6:4–6]
b. “But they did not really belong to us.” John says that these people were not from within the Christian circle. They were not true Christians because they did not belong to the source, namely, Christ. They attended the worship services for some time, but they were never in Christ (compare John 15:1–6).
c. “For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us.” This is a conditional statement with a negative implication. Note that in the first clause John implies that the people he designates antichrists never really belonged to the church because they deny the Christ. In the second clause, John indicates that true believers remain, whereas the antichrists leave the fellowship of the church. Believers belong; deniers depart.
d. “But their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” The New International Version differs from a more literal translation by giving the intent of a Semitic idiom. Here is the verbatim text: “that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (). A literal translation of this idiom fails to convey the meaning John expresses. He is not saying that there are exceptions. On the contrary, the idiom means that “none of [the antichrists] belonged to us.”
Doctrinal Considerations in 2:19
This text teaches the doctrine of perseverance. The unbelievers who denied Jesus’ divinity or humanity were never part of the church because they did not belong to Christ. Their presence in the visible church was temporary, for they failed in their perseverance. If they had been members of the invisible church, they would have remained with the body of believers. As F. F. Bruce observes, “The perseverance of the saints is a biblical doctrine, but it is not doctrine designed to lull the indifferent into a sense of false security; it means that perseverance is an essential token of sanctity.”
Greek Words, Phrases, and Constructions in 2:19
ἐξῆλθαν—the aorist active of ἐξέρχομαι (I go out) shows that at one time these people were part of the church and then left. The tense indicates that the departure had taken place. They left, presumably, on their own accord.
εἰ—this is a contrary-to-fact conditional sentence. Instead of the aorist tense, the past perfect μεμενήκεισαν (from the verb μένω, I remain) appears. (7)
The Westminister Confession of Faith Chapter XVII. Of the Perseverance of the Saints:
Section I.–They whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.
Section II.–This perseverance of the saints depends, not upon their own freewill, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ; the abiding of the Spirit and of the seed of God within them; and the nature of the covenant of grace; from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.
Section III.–Nevertheless they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalence of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their perseverance, fall into grievous sins; and for a time continue therein: whereby they incur God’s displeasure, and grieve his Holy Spirit; come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts; have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded; hurt and scandalise others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves.
The perseverance of the saints is one of the articles by which the creed of the followers of Calvin is distinguished from that of the followers of Arminius. The latter hold that true believers may fall into sins inconsistent with a state of grace, and may continue in apostasy to the end of life, and consequently may finally fall into perdition. The same doctrine is avowedly supported by the Church of Rome; for the Council of Trent has decreed “If any person shall say that a man who has been justified cannot lose grace, and that, therefore, he who falls and sins was never truly justified, he shall be accursed.” In opposition to this tenet, our Confession affirms, that true believers “can neither totally nor finally fall away from a state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.” There may seem to be a redundancy of language in this statement, for, if believers cannot fall totally, it follows that they cannot fall finally. Both terms, however, are employed with the utmost propriety. “They are intended to oppose the doctrine of Arminians, who affirm, that although a saint may fall totally from grace, he may be restored by repentance; but that since this is uncertain, and does not always take place, he may also fall finally, and die in his sins. Now, we affirm, that the total apostasy of believers is impossible, not in the nature of things, but by the divine constitution; and, consequently, that no man who has been once received into the divine favour can be ultimately deprived of salvation.”
The value of the visible invisible church distinction is helpful in understanding why a seemingly true believer departs from the church and faith is seen in the next two passages:
“Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matthew 13:30)
“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” (1John 2:19)
My comments on the 1John passage:
In the visible church, there are false believers and true believers. They both (tares and wheat) grow together until the end. The tares are part of the visible church. The wheat is part of the visible church plus the universal invisible church. Only God knows the true membership roll making up the invisible church. On a human level, we cannot read the hearts of professors of faith. That is why many are shocked when a seemingly strong member of the church departs and goes into unbelief as John explains in 1John 2:19. In other words, “they were not all of us.”
The next two passages provided supporting evidence that not everyone who names the name of Christ is truly a believer.
“Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” (2Timothy 3:5)
“Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you*: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:21-23) (Underlining and bolding emphasis mine)
* ‘I never knew
Verb – Aorist Indicative Active – 1st Person Singular
From the Strong’s Greek 1097
ginóskó: to come to know, recognize, perceive
Original Word: γινώσκω
Part of Speech: Verb
Phonetic Spelling: (ghin-oce’-ko)
Definition: to come to know, recognize, perceive
Usage: ginṓskō – properly, to know, especially through personal experience (first-hand acquaintance).
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary on Matthew 7:23:
“23. And then will I profess unto them—or, openly proclaim—tearing off the mask.
I never knew you—what they claimed—intimacy with Christ—is just what He repudiates, and with a certain scornful dignity. “Our acquaintance was not broken off—there never was any.”
Depart from me—(Compare Mt 25:41). The connection here gives these words an awful significance. They claimed intimacy with Christ, and in the corresponding passage, Luke 13:26 are represented as having gone out and in with Him on familiar terms. “So much the worse for you,” He replies, “I bore with that long enough; but now—begone!”
Ye that work iniquity—not “that wrought iniquity”; for they are represented as fresh from the scenes and acts of it as they stand before the Judge. (See on the almost identical, but even more vivid and awful, description of the scene in Luke 13:24-27). That the apostle alludes to these very words in 2Ti 2:19 there can hardly be any doubt—“Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His. And, Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” Individuals, who make profession of faith that is later abandoned, commit apostasy. Individual churches and entire denominations and even nations can and have committed apostasy.” (8)
Christ’s declaration that He never knew certain professors of faith certainly establishes the view that false believers can commit apostasy without actually ever being in Christ.
As noted in the exposition of the Westminster Confession above, the apostasy of true believers is a doctrine promoted by the Roman Church. In contrast, the final perseverance of believers is a Reformation Protestant doctrine.
1. Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1986), p. 202.
2. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Luke, 9 Volumes, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 226.
3. William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, Thessalonians, Timothy and Titus, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House, 1984), pp. 145-146.
4. John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, ed. W. H. Goold, vol. 22, Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Johnstone and Hunter, 1855), p. 84. PDF of Chapter 6. p. 101-102.
5. John Gill, The Cause of God & Truth, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House, reprint 1980), pp. 55-57.
6. Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary, Peter and Jude, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House, 1986), pp. 311-316.
7. Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary, James and 1-111 John, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House, 1986), pp. 276-278.
8. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 912.
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com
For more study:
** CARM Theological Dictionary: https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/ctd.html
John Owen Exposition of Hebrews 6