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2 Peter 2:20 Conditionally Speaking

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Word Biblical Commentary

The false teachers are in “the state of definite apostasy described in vv. 20-22
Conditional element: is neither addressed nor even acknowledged.
“They” refers to the false teachers

“They” are most naturally understood as the false teachers themselves, rather than their followers

The false teachers are in “the state of definite apostasy described in vv.20-22

ἐπιγνώσει τοῦ κυρίου καὶ σωτῇρος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

This refers to conversion to Christianity

Believers Church Bible Commentary

Conditional element: neither mentioned nor addressed
Believers Church Bible Commentary: 1 and 2 Peter, Jude Peter’s Opponents: A Closer Look 2:10b–22

In relative terms, ignorance of the way of righteousness, according to the apostle’s logic, is better than apostasy from it (Green: 130). Apostasy is extremely serious business.

This is a (fairly) accurate statement but the logic of the conditional element is still missing (and significantly so.

Bible Knowledge Commentary

Conditional element is neither acknowledged nor addressed

Whether they in verse 20 refers to the teachers or their victims, both groups had available to them knowledge about Jesus Christ, which could produce liberty and life. But when that knowledge was rejected, their end was deeper corruption (again entangled in it and overcome) and presumably a more severe degree of punishment.

Black’s NT Commentary

Conditional element is addressed
Conditional element is viewed as pointing this passage to the unstable believers of vs. 19 (and not the false teachers), thus avoiding this hypothetical applying to the false teachers.

the language of 20 f., cast as it is in a hypothetical form, reads exactly like a deterrent to people who are exposed to severe temptation but have not yet succumbed, whereas we know that ‘Peter’ has already given up the heretics as irretrievably lost;

His warning is direct and to the point: if Christians revert to pagan moral standards, their final state is worse than the first (this will be more fully explained in the next verse).

the writer defines conversion as ‘escaping from’ the pollutions of the world, and as being brought about (cf. 1:2; 3; 8) through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Lapsed Christians are in a more tragic plight than unconverted pagans because they have rejected the light (cf. Lk. 12:47 f.).

The writer has already (2:2) defined the Christian message as ‘the way of truth’, and there is no suggestion (any more than in 2:5 or 1 Pet. 2:24) that righteousness (dikaiosunē) has a legalistic connotation; it is the pattern of well-ordered, righteous behaviour which issues from the Christian’s knowledge of Christ, in the profound sense that that knowledge has in the epistle. Again, because the opponents he is criticizing have antinomian tendencies, he castigates apostasy as turning one’s back on the holy commandment (entolē, as in 3:2: often used in the singular of the law of Moses, as in 4 Macc. 13:15; 16:24; Rom. 7:8–12; Heb. 7:18; 9:19; in the singular or plural of the commandment or commandments of Christ, as in Jn. 13:34; 14:15; 21; 1 Cor. 14:37; 1 Clem. xiii. 3; 2 Clem. iii. 4; vi. 7).

Expositor’s Greek NT

Conditional element is neither acknowledged nor addressed
Very odd for a supposedly expository commentary based on the Greek NT.
The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Volume V (1 Peter–Revelation): Commentary Chapter 2:1–3. The False Teachers and Their Judgment

γὰρ loosely introduces the subject of the victims allured by the false teachers away from their former faith.

“they” refers to the “victims” of the false teachers
“they” refers to the “victims” of the false teachers
The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Volume V (1 Peter–Revelation): Commentary Chapter 2:1–3. The False Teachers and Their Judgment

It is characteristic of this writer to emphasise the aspect of Christianity, not only as faith, but as the moral law ἁγίας ἐντολῆς. Cf. 1:5. ἐν τῇ πίστει ὑμῶν τὴν ἀρετήν. A strong ethical note pervades the teach-of 2 Peter.

Handbook on the 2nd Letter from Peter

Conditional element is addressed!

The word if is used here not to mark a condition that is contrary to fact, but rather to mark a conditional statement that is true. In other words Peter is not questioning or doubting the initial faith of the false teachers (or, recent converts) but is asserting the fact that they had at one time left their heathen loyalties and become members of the Christian community. It will be helpful in certain languages to place the word if before the second sentence rather than the first and say “These false teachers (or, recent converts) have escaped … So, if they are caught …”

As in 1:4, conversion to Christianity is defined as escaping the defilements of the world.

This understanding is significant. It implies that non-Christians cannot escape wordly defilements except through Christ. Whereas, (in reality) some non-Christians can be morally influenced in a good way (and thus escape at least some defilements). This can be seen in their personal growth in areas such as marriage and family life. Even Richard Dawkins give Christianity moral credit (note source!!).
If this escaping is taken to mean complete (total escape from wordly defilements), then these young Christians would not be struggles. It is possible to be a Christian and struggle with the defilements of the world (, the immoral brother).

Leaving the Christian faith and returning to heathen practices is described as being again entangled and overpowered by these forces. In them goes back to the defilements of the world. Entangled is “to be mixed up with,” “to be implicated,” or “to be involved in.” This pictures people who have renounced their pagan religion, but who now again involve themselves in pagan practices. However, these people do not only get entangled in these practices; they are overpowered as well, that is, they are defeated and become slaves to these evil forces from which they have been delivered in the past. The clause they are again entangled in them and overpowered may also be expressed as “So if they are trapped again by the powers of these worldly lusts …” or “So if they are trapped again by the power of this evil worldly system …” And since this is the case, then the last state has become worse for them than the first. The last state refers to their state of having been mixed up with and defeated by immoral pagan practices. The first refers to their state before they became Christians, that is, before they came to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

First, the author sees these false teachers as former Christians.
Pagan to Christian to Pagan (but worse)
Problem: the author does not say if these former Christians were false teachers before or only after become Christian. The implication is that they became false teachers after they were saved.
Second, in all of this, it sounds like the blood of Christ is only strong enough to save someone once [assuming a “lose of salvation” theology] and, additionally, not strong enough to secure that salvation.
The implication being, you can be saved “one and only one time.” An eternally scary prospect for those who struggle with eternal security (and the commentary’s title implies the Greek text says what the author says).

Alternative translation models for this verse are:

(1) If people (or, these false teachers, or, recent converts), through their coming to know our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, have escaped from the forces of the world that cause peoples’ hearts to become dirty, and if they are again trapped by the power of this evil worldly system, they are in a worse condition at the end than before they came to know Jesus Christ (believed in Jesus Christ).

(2) People (or, These false teachers, or, Recent converts) have escaped from the evil and licentious forces of the world through their knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But if they are again caught and conquered by these forces, they are in a worse condition …

This author mixes the false teachers with recent converts. (wow)
Offers up a unique alternate translations
1. The first has two “if” portions of the clause
If people…have escaped...
If they are again...
[Then] they are in worse condition...
2. People have escaped
If they are again caught and conquered...
[Then] they are in a worse condition...
Conditional element
The author presents the 1st class condition as being a statement of fact and not a statement of fact for the sake of argument. These are two very different claims.
The author is correct in noting that the conditional element is not contrary to fact (that is closer to the second class conditional clause).
However, the author does not provide any justification for taking the 1st cc as a statement of fact as opposed to a statement of fact for the sake of argument
Possibility 1: the author is unaware of this feature of the 1st cc. In this case, he does not know to take it into account.
Possibility 2: the author does not see these two as significantly different and, thereby, misses the point.
The Greeks make intellectual distinctions (concepts) like few, if any other, cultures of the era. This is most likely why God used this setting to enter in the incarnate Word. The Greek mind helped establish distinctions that made it possible for such distinctions to be made.
The Greek language, as a reflection of the Greek mind, distinguished between five different types of conditional clauses. Their goal was intellectual precision. The 1st cc carries with it some of this precision which must be accounted for. To discount it is to miss the author’s point.

This verse expands on the previous verse, asserting that it would have been much better for these people to remain heathen, rather than to become Christians and then to turn their backs on the Christian way of life. The connection of this verse to the verse before it is expressed by the connective For, which has the sense of “Because” or “It is a fact.”

Baker NT Commentary

Conditional element is addressed
Subject of passage: false teachers
Baker New Testament Commentary: Peter and Jude E. Inevitable Doom (2:17–22)

“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.

Author claims that the 1cc is a “factual statement.” That being the case, then it should (or could) be translated “since” instead of “for.”
There is little translation support for this conclusion (any English translations indicating this view)?
Author provides no exegetical support for this view. He simply asserts it.
Author claims that the element of probability is missing but provides no justification for this assertion.
Baker New Testament Commentary: Peter and Jude E. Inevitable Doom (2:17–22)

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.

False teachers were once Christians
False teachers were once Christians
Baker New Testament Commentary: Peter and Jude E. Inevitable Doom (2:17–22)

Did the false teachers at one time know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? The answer is yes.

Baker New Testament Commentary: Peter and Jude E. Inevitable Doom (2:17–22)

The apostates had a knowledge of Jesus Christ, but their knowledge lacked the intimacy that characterizes the relationship of the true believer with Christ.

Baker New Testament Commentary: Peter and Jude E. Inevitable Doom (2:17–22)

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

Baker New Testament Commentary: Peter and Jude E. Inevitable Doom (2:17–22)

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.

Baker New Testament Commentary: Peter and Jude E. Inevitable Doom (2:17–22)

“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)

Baker New Testament Commentary: Peter and Jude E. Inevitable Doom (2:17–22)

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.

Baker New Testament Commentary: Peter and Jude E. Inevitable Doom (2:17–22)

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).

Baker New Testament Commentary: Peter and Jude E. Inevitable Doom (2:17–22)

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).

His understanding of this passage is predicated upon his (mis)understanding of vs. 20.

Pillar NT Commentary

He discusses the conditional element (but butchers it)

Nor is this previous escape and later entanglement a hypothetical condition, since in Greek it is what is called a “real condition” (using the indicative rather than the subjunctive). The point our author is making is, first, that they had been true followers of Jesus Christ, that is, they had escaped the corruption of the world.

Davids views the 1st cc as a “real condition.” In essence, this would make the translation “since” and render the hypothetical moot. Of course, Peter could have done so without using a hypothetical so it must serve a great cause than merely to be dismissed.
“They” refers to the false teachers.
“They” were (formerly) “true followers of Jesus Christ”.

Apparently what is worse about this situation is that (1) they have willingly entered into it (since they were once rescued from the power of evil), (2) it entails a rejection of the authority of Jesus in their lives, and (3) it is more hopeless than their pre-Christian state (and certainly so if our author is thinking along the same lines as Hebrews 6; cf. Heb 10:26).

Here he confirms his understanding of the salvation of the false teachers (lost, saved, and lost again).
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