(2 Pet. 2:1) Do false teachers lose their salvation?

CLAIM: Peter writes that these false teachers will undergo judgment, because they denied “the Master who bought them” (2 Pet. 2:1). How can it be possible that these men are “bought” by Christ, and yet, they are judged as the rest of the passage teaches (v.9, 17, 20-21)?

RESPONSE: In our view, Jesus died for all people, whether they were believers or unbelievers (Jn. 1:29; 1 Jn. 2:2; 2 Cor. 5:19; 1 Tim. 4:10; Heb. 2:9; Titus 2:11). Therefore, it is possible that these false teachers were indeed “bought” by Christ, but they were never true Christians. Christ died for them, but they never really had saving faith.

By contrast, this passage serves as a considerable difficulty for the five-point Calvinist who holds to the doctrine of limited atonement. Under this view, Jesus only died for the elect, and he didn’t die for those predestined to hell. Yet, if this is true, then how could Jesus have “bought” false teachers who go to hell?

To explain this difficulty, five-point Calvinists typically argue that these false teachers merely claimed to be bought by Christ, but they really weren’t actually believers. For instance, five-point Calvinist James Montgomery Boice writes, “The best approach is to think of this as describing what the unbelieving teachers claimed rather than what they had actually received from Jesus.”[1] Likewise, five-point Calvinist Thomas Schreiner argues that Peter is using “phenomenological language.” That is, Peter “described the false teachers as believers because they made a profession of faith and gave every appearance initially of being genuine believers… Peter said that they were bought by Jesus Christ, in the sense that they gave every indication initially of genuine faith.”[2]

But this twists the grammar of this passage. The passage doesn’t say that the teachers claimed to be bought by Christ; instead, Peter states that they were bought by Christ. This response would only work if Peter stated what the false teachers were claiming. But instead, here we have an inspired author making the claim that the false teachers were indeed “bought” by Christ—not that the false teachers were merely making this claim. Therefore, this is an instance where someone is bought by Christ’s blood, but since they reject him, they never have salvation.

Consider an example from history. In April of 1830, President Andrew Jackson gave a presidential pardon to George Smith—a man who was guilty of robbery. Yet, Wilson refused the pardon, and he was hanged in July of the same year. The Supreme Court ruled on the case and concluded that they couldn’t force a person to accept a pardon. They wrote: “A pardon is a deed, to the validity of which delivery is essential, and delivery is not complete without acceptance. It may then be rejected by the person to whom it is tendered.”[3] Similarly, Jesus paid for the salvation of all people—even false teachers—on the Cross. But these false teachers had rejected this costly gift. Consequently, this serves as good evidence against five-point Calvinism (see “Limited Atonement: A Critique”).

[1] Emphasis mine. James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2002), 129.

[2] Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 331.

[3] Lorraine Boissoneault, “A Brief History of Presidential Pardons.” Smithsonian Magazine (August 2, 2017).