“Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our
Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life
and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him
who called us by His own glory and excellence.
For by these He has granted to us His precious and
magnificent promises, so that by them you may be-
come partakers of the divine nature, having escaped
the corruption that is in the world by lust.”
2 Peter 1:1–4
Sunday’s reading is 2 Peter. Peter begins this letter by writing that God has already given Christians everything needed for godliness through the true knowledge of God. And He has also already given Christians the true knowledge of God. He has already given Christians His Word through which we become like Him. We have God’s precious and magnificent promises.
Why does Peter emphasize knowledge? David Wheaton writes:
“The recipients are obviously Christian churches suffering from the beginnings of the Gnostic heresy, and this was known to have been spreading early in Asia Minor.”1
The word Gnostic is from the Greek word, gnōsis, meaning knowledge. Gnosticism was thus named because it was known for its central idea of special “knowledge.”2 Although it branched into many forms, these excerpts from A. F. Walls’ summary provide an overview of some common ideas.
“The Gnostic keynote was knowledge: the possession of secrets which would ultimately serve the soul’s union with God [he is not speaking of the living God of Scripture] ….In this God’s entire separation from matter (conceived, according to Greek dogma, as inherently evil) was assumed and the drama of redemption enacted within a complex of intermediary beings. The soul of salvable man is a spark of divinity imprisoned in the body; redemption, the soul’s escape from corporeal defilement, and its absorption into it Source.
“Almost every cardinal Christian doctrine was revised by such thinking….Indeed, the view of God and man which it implied often led to the denial of the reality of Christ’s sufferings and sometimes of the incarnation. Creation was an accident, a mistake, even the malevolent act of an antigod. Resurrection and judgment were reinterpreted to to refine their ‘cruidities’….Ethics centered on maintaining purity: involving in many cases the denial of sex and other bodily appetites, in others (from the same premises) the practice of unrestrained indulgence.”3
How does Peter confront the damaging heresy? John MacArthur writes:
“It is noteworthy that Peter borrows from the terminology of mystical, pantheistic religion that called for its adherents to recognize the divine nature within them and lose themselves in the essence of the gods. Ancient false teachers (the Gnostics) and more recent ones (Eastern mystics and New Age gurus of all sorts) have often emphasized the importance of personally attaining transcendent knowledge. The apostle Peter, however, stressed to his readers the need to recognize that only by being spiritually born anew (John 3:3; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23) can anyone attain true divine knowledge, live righteously as God’s children (see Romans 8:11–15; Galatians 2:20), and thereby share in God’s nature (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17). The false prophets of Peter’s day believed that transcendent knowledge elevated people above any need for morality. But Peter countered that notion by asserting that genuine knowledge of God through Christ gives believers all they need to live godly lives (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16–17).”4
Michael Green comments on Peter’s choice of words:
“In this whole introductory paragraph of his Epistle, the writer is putting his Christian doctrine into Greek dress for the purposes of communication, without in the least committing himself to the pagan associations of the terms. Indeed, in 1:3–4 he makes a frontal assault on Stoic and Platonic presuppositions, who taught, respectively that by phusis (nature) or nomos (law) a man became partaker of the divine. No, says our author; it is by grace, by the gospel promises, that this comes about (1:3–4). Furthermore, the aorist apophugontes reminds us that we are not moving in the realms of Platonism but Christianity. We are made partakers of the divine nature not in escaping from the natural world of time and sense, but after escaping the ‘world’ in the sense of mankind in rebellion against God.5
“…taken together, the triple agency of the promises, the power and the person of the Lord Jesus regenerate a man and make him a sharer of God’s own nature, so that the family likeness begins to be seen in him….6
“Did the false teachers, Gnosticwise, suggest that their adherents became more godlike as they escaped the trammels of the material world? Far from it, says Peter. Participation in the divine nature is the starting-point, not the goal, of Christian living…
“Peter does not mean that man is absorbed into the deity; that would at the same time dissolve personal identity and render impossible any personal encounter between the individual and God. But as in 1 Peter, he speaks of a real union with Christ. If we are partakers of Christ’s sufferings (1 Pet. 4:13), and partakers of the glory that shall be revealed (1 Pet. 5:1), it is because we are partakers of Christ. What Peter is saying here, though couched in this unusual form, is just the same in content as Paul’s claim in Romans 8:9; Galatians 2:20; John’s in 1 John 5:1; and his own, in 1 Peter 1:23….To repent, believe and be baptized into Christ is, so the whole New Testament asserts, to enter into a totally new relationship with God, in which he becomes our Father and we members of his family. It is in this sense that Peter rightly claims that believers are already participants in the divine nature.
“It would be naïve, therefore, to suppose, as many have done, that this verse proves Peter’s surrender to pagan ideas of divinization current in late Platonism and the mystery religions.”7
Indeed, Peter is confronting those heresies.
Peter goes on in chapter one to describe the qualities of godliness, beginning with faith and ending with love. He then writes:
“For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.”
2 Peter 1:8–9
I realize this is a long post, but I’ve written it because I think 2 Peter has invaluable application because false teachings of mysticism are currently seeping into the church. The church needs to recognize them and confront them. I think we also have to think about their attraction. One of my thoughts is that when love among believers grows cold, people seek out false teachers. It’s a reason I’m going through Bible verses from the book “Love or Die” in 2012.
In the churches and individuals in which I have seen and known the greatest love, there has been the greatest gratitude for God’s grace and forgiveness—that remembering of their purification from their former sins—always accompanied by an earnest desire to love and obey God and a subsequent hunger for His Word, always accompanied by an earnest desire to love and obey God and a subsequent hunger for His Word. There has been within those churches faithful and fervent preaching and teaching of the Bible, and that teaching has born fruit in changed lives.
In those places in which love for fellow Christians has been thin and sparse, gratitude for God’s grace has been thin and sparse, and people no longer “in humility receive the Word implanted.” God’s precious and magnificent promises no longer seem valued as such. Sometimes the Word has not been faithfully and fervently taught by men who themselves have received it in humility.
Let us repent of our blindness and short-sightedness, and with gratitude and humility remember our purification from our former sins.
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
2 Corinthians 5:21
2 John: Walk & Watch
“Love or Die”
In Sheep’s Clothing: The Wolf of Mysticism
Isaiah 42 Photograph: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
1David H. Wheaton, “2 Peter,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, third ed., D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds. (Inter-Varsity Press, London 1970) 1250.
2, 3A. F. Walls, “Gnosticism,” New Bible Dictionary, J. D. Douglas, organizing ed., F. F. Bruce, J. I. Packer, R. V. G. Tasker, D. J. Wiseman, consulting eds. (Eerdmans 1962) 473.
4John MacArthur, Jr., 2 Peter and Jude, (Moody 2005) 31.
5, 6, 7Michael Green, 2 Peter & Jude, (Eerdmans 2007) 26, 72, 73–74.
Original content: Copyright ©2012 Iwana Carpenter