“But there were also false prophets among the people,

just as there will be false teachers among you” (2Peter 2:1).

Introduction

In an environment where the cessation of revelatory gifts is viewed as a “strange” and “new” teaching, the need to demonstrate that the apostles themselves anticipated the cessation of revelatory gifts becomes imperative.

In the passage before us, the apostle Peter warns his readers about the spiritual dangers that lay ahead of them. The particular sect they needed to watch out for because of its enormous potential for harm was the soon-to-emerge sect of false teachers. This noxious sect would have the strategy of shrewdly introducing destructive heresies. In biblical history, these subtle teachers can be likened to the false prophets in Old Testament Israel’s time (cf. Jer. 23:16-21).

Peter’s abrupt change of subjects from false prophets to false teachers is an important observation that must delay us here, in this all-important comparison. The question is, “Why does the apostle refrain from warning his readers about the dangers of false prophets in future?” Surely, false prophets were to be there always. And since he is comparing past false prophets with their kind in latter times, a comparison of the same species would have served his purpose best. In fact, the surest way of persuading his readers to prepare for future deceivers would have been to highlight the danger of false prophets rather than false teachers, for the gift of prophet was higher than that of teacher (1Cor. 12:28) and so had greater capacity for harm. However, Peter opts for the simple truth, however unintimidating.

So, was there a practical difficulty in saying, “There were false prophets among the people, just as there will be false prophets among you”? Or indeed, “there were false teachers as there will be false teachers”? Why substitute false prophets for false teachers?

An arbitrary phrasing is very unlikely. Peter was too purposeful to blurt out vanities. Neither can it be because there were no false teachers in former times, nor is it because there were to be no false prophets in latter times. False prophets are the curse of every age. Even Peter’s age had them (cf. 2Cor. 11:13; 1Jn. 4:1), although he does not use them to illustrate his point. An age without false prophets and teachers is either without true prophets and sound teachers to be counterfeited, or it is an unusually blessed age. Very brief must be such an age here on earth.

The reason for this change in subjects, in my judgement, is this; carried in the Spirit, Peter foresaw the complete redundancy of the ministry of false prophets, and hence their replacement by false teachers. False prophets presuppose the presence of true prophets. The adjective “false” speaks of insincerity or counterfeiting. A false prophet is one who counterfeits a true prophet or pretends to be one, and that with sinister or subversive motives. The Lord described false prophets as persons that come with the innocent appearance of the genuine, but are in fact ferocious wolves (Mt. 7:15).

If false prophets presuppose the existence and activity of true prophets (to be counterfeited), it should follow that the absence of false prophets meant the total inactivity of true prophets. Indeed, the only reason and occasion the false prophet would have no purpose to carry on his deceit is when the real gift (of prophet) he exists to antagonise has vanished.

Peter foretells the redundancy of the false prophet by replacing him with the false teacher. In effect, he is foretelling the cessation of the prophetic ministry which involuntarily gives rise to the false. The two come and go together. The fact that Peter talks of false teachers instead of false prophets is testimony that “sound teaching” was the gift of the Spirit to continue when true prophecy terminated. Satan would foolishly expose himself if he countered teaching with false prophecy and prophecy with false teaching. Even Pharaoh’s magicians were wise enough to know that the surest way to undermine God’s miracles by Moses was to counterfeit the miracles. Therefore, the only reason false prophets were to be substituted for false teachers is because no true prophets would be in existence to be counterfeited.

An important question must be asked: when will this cessation of the true and redundancy of the false prophet be? This cessation was not to occur in heaven, for no false teachers are expected there. It would not occur at Christ’s second coming either, because no time will be accorded for the functioning of either true or false teacher then, as this will be time for the destruction of the earth and the restoration of all things (2Pet. 3:10 cf. Acts 3:21). Peter unveils the days in which false teachers will actively attempt to drown the church in heresies (2Pet. 2:1-3), and it points to a time when the church will coexist with the heretics. His strong suggestion is that all this would come to pass not too long after his death (2Pet. 1:13-15).

The tone of the apostle is interestingly that of one who assumes that his readers would be or are aware of an impending cessation of the gift of prophecy. This is why he simply goes straight on to state the result of such a state of affairs, which will be the simultaneous redundancy of the function serving to undermine true prophecy (i.e. false prophecy), and its replacement by false teachers. In the mind of Peter, it is as if the danger of the near future’s false prophets was academic. He cares less to even say a word about them although they were to be found even in days under discussion (that is why I have preferred the term redundancy to cessation of “false” prophets). To Peter, it is as if anyone who would be bold enough to speak in the name of the Lord in prophetic diction would simply and blatantly expose their spiritual redundancy. False-revelations in a time of no new true-revelations speedily expose their falsehood.

A careful reading of the apostle’s message reveals that his supreme concern for his readers was a thorough grasp of what he called “prophecy of scripture” (v.20). This being his concern, he was not only pointing to the future irrelevance of “prophetic words” (or continuing revelations), but the absolute necessity of a thorough teaching ministry that would withstand the imminent sect of powerful false teachers. It is hard to fail to see, from 2 Peter 1:16 to 2:1 that Peter is concerned to help his readers acquire rooted convictions about the authority and dependability of scripture. Their doctrine of scripture needed to be firmly established because the battles ahead were to be waged on the battlefield of doctrine, or simply teaching.

This is how Peter approaches the matter. First, he recognises that primarily there is need for him to reinforce the legitimacy of his own prophetic office and that of his fellow apostles. He is determined to prove to his readers that he and the other Spirit-borne writers (old and new) are not false prophets that cleverly concocted their prophecies (verses 16-19). He argues that their prophecies are from God and inspired by God. Readers, therefore, have a duty to pay attention to them “as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises” (v.19) in their hearts.

What the apostle is doing here is to polish the apostles’ doctrine of the written Word or Scripture as a basis for his lifelong teaching ministry. Is it not curious that while vouching for past and present prophets, Peter made no effort to come to the defence of future prophets? Given the tense and perilous times ahead one would have thought Peter should have been saying, “The Lord your God will raise up for you prophets like us from among your own brothers. You must listen to them” (as was said in Deut. 18:15). It is extraordinary that Peter spoke as if he was among the last prophets of God on whose word future issues were to be settled.

Only after preparing ground for the future role of the teaching function does Peter reveal why he spoke as if he was among the last prophets of God. This he did by cautioning his readers that, like in former days, the latter days (after the apostles), were to abound with false teachers infiltrating the church (2Pet. 1:2). Until then the controversy was over prophecy. After the passing of the apostles, it was going to be over the interpretation of “prophecy of scripture.” Carefully observe the apostle’s anxiety:

“So I will always remind you of these things even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty… And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies…” (2Pet. 1:12-2:1).

Clearly, the apostle’s concern surrounded “prophecy of Scripture” (v.20). He knew that the real battle over oral prophecy was almost over. No longer was it to be a battle over prophetic utterances, but Scripture or the written Word. The clear warning therefore was, “beware of what will be the real threat to church stability. For as long as prophecy has been the lawful channel of receiving God’s Word, the false prophet is the archenemy of the church. But when Scripture is complete, to remain the sole basis for faith and obedience, false teachers shall be your archenemies. Therefore, watch!”

Peter was not alone in carrying this anxiety. Paul shared it with him. One cannot but feel this anxiety as one reads his warning to the Ephesian elders: “For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God… I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number, men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard” (Acts 20:27, 29-31a). He gave this warning, like Peter, in his last communication to them before his death (Acts 20:38).

To his beloved young pastor-friend, Timothy, Paul gave the charge: “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths… For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure” (2 Tim. 4:2-4, 6).

Before giving this charge, Paul had laboured to consolidate the pillars of Timothy’s doctrine of Scripture when he said, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2Tim. 3:14-17).

The resemblance between Peter and Paul’s warnings is striking. Both wrote as if their prophetic ministries were to mark the close of special revelations of God’s Word. Both spoke as dying men to endangered men; both saw teaching—not prophecy—as the lethal weapon of the day ahead. Consequently, both ensured they dug trenches of a sound bibliology for the safety of their hearers. These men knew very well that a people whose doctrine of Scripture is settled are a people with an unassailable basis for authority in all religious disputes. They knew that their followers would later be relentlessly bombarded, of first importance, with the questions: Are the Scriptures authentic? Are they truly God-breathed? Are they without error? Are they reliable? Are they authoritative? Are they sufficient? The most dangerous error the church can ever make is the one of questioning the authority of Scripture. This is the mother of all heresies.

Evidently, Peter’s prophecy has come to pass in our day as liberals take up their swords to cut off the plenary inspiration of Scripture. Liberalism has had damning effects on the lands that have imbibed it. The sorry state of Europe today is testimony to this.

My conclusion on 2Peter 2:1 therefore, is that such concentrated emphasis on the written Word before the warning about false teachers should eloquently speak of the relegated place of prophecy and all other revelatory channels in the times being foretold. In my judgement, this a posteriori was a prophecy on the imminent cessation of the gift of prophet not too long after the apostle Peter’s death.