Who are the people in II Pet 2:20 described as escaping the world but then returning to it?

Are these people former believers who were once born again, or did they only formerly experience the blessings because of the believers? Was their first escape from the world a real escape from sin or a just a surface level change of appearance?

2 Peter 2:20

NKJV - 20 For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.

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Closeup Jennifer Rothnie Supporter Housewife, Artist, Perpetually Curious
The people described in II Pet 2:20-22 were former believers, as the unambiguous Greek word-use and context show.

Context: Paul is warning a mixed church of Jews/Gentiles of the dangers they will face from false teachers. These false teachers will mock the idea that Christ is returning and will try to entice believers away from God by appealing to the lusts of the flesh.

Text II Pet 2:20-22: "For if indeed having escaped from the corruption of the world by the true knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ are again entangled in these and are overcome, they become worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It were better for them not to have truly known the way of righteousness, than to have truly known it and then turned back from the sacred commandment handed over to them. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit," and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.”"

Word studies:

Escaped: apopheugo; to flee from or escape. The Greek word emphasizes a full break-away from a previous undesirable condition.

Corruption: miasma; pollution or stain

True knowledge: epignosis; full knowledge/true knowledge; first hand, experiential knowledge 

This Greek word is perhaps the clearest that these were once believers, as epignosis speaks of a knowledge gained through personal relationship - not a mere head knowledge.

The popular phrase "Christianity is not a religion, it's a relationship" sums up the importance of epignosis in the Christian life, as without that relationship with Jesus Christ we could only have surface-level intellectual knowledge of what to do/not do which would lead to a works-based religion, not a relationship bearing out in fruit such as in II Pet 1:3-11.

Again entangled: palin empleko; once more entwined

Overcome: héttaomai defeated; made inferior

Have become: ginomai; I come into being, am born, become

This word refers to 'becoming' - transitioning to a new state, with a figurative sense of new birth.

Worse off: cheirón; more severe

Truly Known: Epignosis, once more, showing they knew Jesus personally and this wasn't mere head knowledge of the gospel

Turned Back: epistrepho; revert, return back again, convert
(This is also the term used for 'returns to his vomit' in I Pet 2:22)

Washing: louó; full washing

This term refers to a full or complete washing of the body, ceremonially or literally, often with the figurative meaning of being cleansed inside and out such as with baptism in Heb 10:22

While a few of these terms on their own might have been ambiguous as to whether these were people who had merely pretended to convert or who had only joined the church at an intellectual surface level, taken together the passage is very clear.

These false teachers had once escaped their former condition of corruption from sin through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But then, they were overcome and returned to the corruption of the world they had once escaped. This last condition is worse than if they had never escaped the world and known Jesus to begin with! Peter argues that it would have been better for them to have never truly known Jesus to begin with than to have converted only to convert back to the world.

Another example from the chapter that shows they once believed is "deny the lord who bought them" in II Pet 2:1. They could not repudiate/disown the Master who bought them if they had never once been bought/transferred to Christ.

March 26 2018 4 responses Vote Up Share Report

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