Since they “secretly introduce destructive heresies” (2.1) they do not evidence any physical distinctives. In fact, this group resides inside the church, and is not even distinguishable from those of the true faith to the untrained eye.1 One of the purposes of the letter is to highlight the true nature of these heretics, and warn steadfast believers of their certain future (judgment and destruction, 2.1; 3.7).
Greedy (2.3, 14), unrighteous (2.9), indulge the flesh (2.10), despise authority (2.10), self-willed (2.10), reviling (2.12), eyes full of adultery (2.14), forsaking the right (2.15), speak arrogantly (2.18), mockers (3.3), unprincipled (3.17)
The antagonists are not unsaved. In fact, the readers probably did not question the salvation of these false teachers until this letter was read. The Apostle’s harsh language does not serve to condemn these heretics as unbelievers, but rather to highlight the severity of their unorthodox faith. Peter is practicing church discipline here, not unlike Paul commanded in 1 Cor 5.11, where believers are referred to as immoral, covetous, idolaters, revilers, drunkards, and swindlers. There are three passages in 2 Peter—inserted into a letter filled with talk of judgment and destruction—in which the Apostle reminds his readers that these dissenters are nonetheless saved. First, in 1.9 Peter contends that one may be blind or short-sighted, and thus forget “his purification from his former sins.” This appears to be directed toward the false teachers. Second, in 2.1 the heretics are said to be “bought” by the Master.2 In no other New Testament passage is an unsaved individual said to be bought by Christ. Finally, in 2.20 the author attributes true knowledge—ejpignwsi"—to these antagonists.3 Throughout his letter, this word has been reserved for certain believers. Now it is applied to wayward ones.4
Physical traits are not evident.
The readers are undoubtedly believers: “Those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours” (1.1), “your faith” (1.5), “brethren” (1.10), “beloved” (3.14, 17), “your own steadfastness” (3.17). Furthermore, it seems inappropriate to identify a sub-group of “unstable” believers together with these steadfast ones. This theory stems from passages such as 1.95, 2.146, 2.187, 2.20-228, 3.169, where a group of less mature believers is under consideration. In each of these passages, the third person is employed by the writer, suggesting that those spoken of are not among the readers, but among the antagonists.
The writer is identified as Simon Peter the Apostle (1.1). He claims to have eyewitnessed the majesty of Jesus (1.16). He is further described as the one accompanying Jesus on the mount of transfiguration (1.17-18). He apparently had written another letter to these same readers sometime before (3.1), yet it would be speculating to identify this previous letter as the one we call 1 Peter.
The author refers to himself as “a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ” (1.1). He is a fellow believer with those he is writing to, who “have received a faith of the same kind as ours…” (1.1). He is labeled an Apostle, and as such acknowledges the purity of his message as originating with the Father and mediated through the Holy Spirit (1.20-21).
1 The phrase “ejn uJmi`n” is appropriately rendered “from among you.” Furthermore, in 2.15 we read “forsaking the right way they have gone astray.” This clearly suggests they at one time followed the right way.
2 Peter’s criticism that these false teachers deny their Master should not be regarded as a deliberate or explicit turning away from following Him. If this were so, the steadfast believers would have no need for the Apostle to write to them, since their enemies would have marked themselves out clearly. Rather, being “among you,” they “secretly introduce” false doctrine and (in so doing) they deny their Master…
3 This passage will be thoroughly examined in the Appendix.
4 Another possible evidence that these antagonists were indeed among the saved is the label “children” given to them by the Apostle in 2.14.
5 “For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.”
6 “. . . having eyes full of adultery and that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls (yucaV"
7 “. . . those who barely escape from the ones who live in error.”
8 Again, these verses will be examined in the Appendix.
9 “. . . which the untaught and unstable (ajsthvriktoi) distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.”