2 Peter 2: How to smell a rat!

Bible Study from 2 Peter 2:10-22

How to smell a rat!

by I Gordon

I was listening recently to a tape by Billy Strachen in which he was talking about spiritual gifts. He said that while a lot of people are talking about the gifts, the one gift that is being mentioned the least is the one most needed in our age - the gift of discernment. He said that what we need in our churches are people that have the God given ability to be able to smell a rat at fifty paces! I had to laugh... and agree. This study then, from 2 Peter 2:10-22 is about that very thing and I have stolen his phrase for my title... How to smell a rat! Instead of doing a verse by verse analysis of this passage, I am going to divide the study into the following three sections - the rat's characteristics, the rat's prey, and the rat's end.

The Rat's Characteristics

2 Pet 2:10-16 This is especially true of those whofollow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority. Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings; yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord. But these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish. They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed - an accursed brood! They have left the straight way and wandered off tofollow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness. But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey - a beast without speech - who spoke with a man's voice and restrained the prophet's madness.

Amongst others, the following characteristics are mentioned above.

 1) They follow the corrupt desire of their sinful nature -  Or, as another version states it, they indulge the flesh. If a person is not lead, controlled, and taught by the Spirit of God, then the only other alternative is to be influenced by their own fleshly desires. Major Ian Thomas, in his book 'If I perish, I perish', has a great chapter on this called 'Pig is Pig'. In it, he shows that you can tidy a pig up, throw a dress on it if you like, and even allow it to eat at your dinner table! But the fact remains that pig is pig and before long that pig will be heading back to what it enjoys the most... the mud! Well, these false teachers of 2nd Peter 2 are just like that. They might change their appearance for a while, but pig is pig and before long their desire to follow and indulge their fleshly nature will become evident. So, enough 'Christianese'. What does the Bible mean by 'indulge their fleshly nature'? Probably the best definition is given in 1 John 2:16-17  [1] 

 'For everything in the world - the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does - comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.' 

2) They Despise Authority -  The second characteristic is that these people despise authority. Or, as Jude 8 says they 'reject authority  [2]  '. Devoid of reverence for God and God ordained authority, false teachers aren't willing to submit to others because they need control. They have to be the top dog and have the final say  [3]  . How different this is to what Jesus taught concerning leadership -

 Matt 20:25-28 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.' 

3) Boastful, while lacking knowledge -  In short, the false teachers are talkers, they have the gift of the gab, but are simply masters of the bluff  [4]  . And, as John Darby said 'the devil is never more satanic than when he quotes the Bible.' 2 Peter 2:18  [5]  states they  'mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people...' 

4) Sexual Sin -  As we have said, pig is pig, and despite fine sounding words, a pig will return to the mud. It says above that ' with eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning.' How many ministries have fallen into sexual sin lately? More than we need mention.

5) Greed for money - '  They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness  .' Balaam is a very interesting case. Read about him in Numbers chapter 22-24. He certainly consulted the Lord at times. He certainly prophesied correctly at times. And yet, there is nothing good written about him in the New Testament for he had a heart that loved money and what he could get out of his gifts. What is even scarier than this, is the fact that greed and a love for money is openly taught in many churches as Biblical.  [6]  It was certainly considered biblical in the church of Laodicea but Jesus wasn't overly impressed with them now was he? (Rev 3:14-21)

The Rat's Prey

Just quickly, it is important to have a look at what 2nd Peter 2 says about the prey of these false teachers. We read above that '  they are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish... they seduce the unstable.'   Peter likens these false teachers to animals. In the animal kingdom, predators go after the young and the weak. I'm sure you've seen the documentaries. Not pretty! Well, it's the same here. They go after and seduce the unstable. Paul speaks about this as well in Eph 4:14 saying that some are '  tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming  .'

So what is the result of this preying on the unstable? The prey are 'just escaping from those who live in error.' But some don't escape. And even those that do escape seldom do it without scars. Stay alert young Christian! For not all that you see and hear within 'Christianity' is well for your soul.

The Rat's Evil End

 Vs 12 'They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done.' 

Vs 17 'Blackest darkness is reserved for them.'

 Vs 20 'If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.' 

While these false teachers may think that they can get away with whatever they like, the reality is that no one gets away with anything. The Phillips translation of vs 13 says 'their wickedness has earned them an evil end, and they will be paid in full.'


We live in difficult times. The false abound and will, according to the word of God, only increase. So we should know their methods. We should know their ways. But always remember that the best way to know that which is false, is to be intimately aware of that which is true. After speaking about the false in 1st Timothy 6, Paul's words to Timothy seem relevant for us all.

 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called. 


[1] ↩  In Pilgrims Progress, Faithful is met by 'Adam the first' from the town of deceit and is offered his daughters in marriage! As Faithful recounts his experience to Christian - '  He said he had but three daughters: The Lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, and that I could marry them all if I liked. Then I asked him how long he wanted me to live with him, and he said as long as he himself lived. At first I was somewhat inclined to go with this man... but looking at his forehead as I talked with him, I saw written "Put off the old man with his deeds." 

Unfortunately many have accepted Adam the first's offer and have married his daughters and have gone to be his heir down in the town of deceit. Faithful knew better... "Put off the old man with his deeds."

[2] ↩  Jude also goes on to classify false teachers into three categories. The way of Cain, Balaam, and Korah. The way of Cain is at the heart of man made religion - works righteousness. The way of Balaam is greed and the love of money. And finally, the way of Korah is rebellion against God's appointed authority. Which, obviously enough, is what Peter is talking about in point 2 above when he says that false teachers 'despise authority'. They have to be the top dog. Beware of those that exhibit these characteristics.

[3] ↩  What is scary, if I am seeing things clearly, is that there seems to be a move within the church at the moment away from the plurality of eldership and more to a one man dictatorship. It's not the way it's meant to be and is a very worrying trend.

[4] ↩  As an extreme example, let it be remembered that most of the German church was deceived by Adolf Hitler even though his goal was to destroy the church. I recently read a very interesting book called 'Hitler's Cross' and the following are a couple of quotes -

'Privately Hitler prepared for war, while publicly he gave speeches about his desire for peace. He revealed in his ability to deceive.' (Hitler's Cross - page 16)

'Hitler believed in lies. He said that 'the magnitude of a lie always contains a certain factor of credibility since the masses... more easily fall victim to a big lie than a small one.' (Hitler's Cross - page 113)

[5] ↩  Commenting on 2 Peter 2:18, The Believers Bible Commentary says 'they use fine phrases that have no meaning... As an example, here is a quotation from a well known theologian of our day:

'It is not a relationship of either parity or disparity, but of similarity. This is what we think and this is what we express as the true knowledge of God, although in faith we still know and remember that everything that we know as 'similarity' is not identical with the similarity meant here. Yet we also know and remember, and again in faith, that the similarity meant here is pleased to reflect itself in what we know as similarity and call by this name, so that in our thinking and speaking similarity becomes similar to the similarity posited in the true revelation of God (to which it is, in itself, not similar) and we do not think and speak falsely but rightly when we describe the relationship as one of similarity.'

Oh my goodness! What on earth is this person talking about? Fine sounding words that have no meaning at all!

[6] ↩  A local pastor where I live was recently teaching a series on 'You need more money'. I pointed out to him that the Apostle Paul didn't say that 'having more money' was the great secret, but that 'contentment' was the great secret. (Phil 4:12) 'You need more money' might be a normal title for a finance seminar, but to put it across as biblical??? Hmmmm.