By John C. Carpenter
The apostle Peter wrote to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Pet 1:1), But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not (2 Pet 2:1-3). What did Peter mean when he said that there were false prophets and teachers who would make merchandise of believers?
As Peter warns, some believers in the early days of the Christian church were being treated as merchandise, simply treated as objects for the purpose of making money. Many of these believers in Christ were not aware that they were being used by false ministers of the gospel, to the gain of the false ministers, and to their own destruction. These believers included new converts, as well as established believers who were unperceptive, gullible, naive, needy, or just plain ignorant of the scriptures and God. It is sad that some Christians are being subjected to this same kind of deception and abuse in today's contemporary Christian church.
Because these false prophets and false teachers are such a threat to genuine and meaningful Christian faith, Peter thought it necessary to warn his fellow believers, and us, about the characteristics and motivations of these deceptive, selfish, and greedy individuals.
Peter gave his first description of these false teachers when he wrote, But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily [quietly, deceptively, secretly] shall bring in damnable [ruin, loss, damnation] heresies [a choice resulting in a bad outcome], even [specifically] denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction (2 Pet 2:1). In 2 Peter 2:1, the words “false prophets” is translated from the Greek word “pseudoprophetes,” which means “a spurius prophet, a pretended foreteller, or religious imposter.” The Greek “pseudoprophetes” is derived from the Greek word “pseudes,” which means “untrue, erroneous, deceitful, wicked, false, or liar.” In the early church, false prophets were individuals within the church who had come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, but were also wicked, false, and manipulative liars that were cunningly and deceptively teaching error for their own hidden purposes and gain. The words “false teachers” is translated from the Greek word “pseudodidaskalos,” which means “a spurious teacher, or a propagator of erroneous Christian doctrine.” False teachers were likewise saved individuals within the church who were teaching untruths and error, and were also intentionally deceiving believers for their own hidden purposes and gain. In verse 3, the word “merchandise” is derived from the Greek word “emporeuoai,” which means “travel in a country as a peddler, to trade, buy and sell, make merchandise.” The word “merchandise” is defined in the Websters New Collegiate Dictionary as “the commodities that are bought and sold in business.” The reason that a peddler trades, buys and sells, is to make a profit. The reason commodities are bought and sold in business is to make a profit. When the apostle Peter wrote that false teachers were making merchandize of his fellow believers, Peter was saying that these false teachers within the church were treating believers as items or objects of merchandise to be used for the purpose of making a profit. Peter warned that these false individuals had another characteristic: they were bringing into the Christian church “damnable heresies,” or teachings full of error that would result in damnation. Furthermore, these false individuals were bringing these damnable teachings into the church deceptively and secretly. Many believers in the early church were not aware of, for various reasons, what was happening, or what these false ministers were up to, or how they were accomplishing their purposes. Many in the contemporary church are being deceived and used today, and are likewise unaware of what is happening to them.
In his warning, Peter went one step further. He also described one specific, and highly dangerous, heresy that was being taught. Peter wrote that these false individuals were even denying the Lord that bought [paid the price for]them. Imagine what was happening. These false individuals were actually within the church, were fellow believers, were individuals who had come to a saving knowledge of the Lord, individuals who had themselves been bought by the suffering and death of Christ. We know they were initially true believers who had turned from their faith and the Lord because, referring to the false prophets and teachers of our subject verses, Peter later said, For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire (2 Pet 2:20-22). Yet, they were now, for their own deceptive purposes, denying the Lord that bought them, actions which would bring upon themselves swift destruction (2 Pet 2:1). Peter then added a shocking statement:many shall follow their pernicious [damnable, destructive] ways; by reason of whom [because ] the way of truth [the glory of Christ and the salvation available through faith in Him] shall be evil spoken of (2 Pet 2:2). In addition to denying the Lord Jesus Christ who had bought and saved them, these false prophets and teachers were even speaking evil things about the saving death of Christ. These heretical teachings would be believed and followed, as Peter said, by “many,” thereby resulting in the damnation of them all. It is a dangerous thing when men listen to other men, rather than to God; the results are usually catastrophic.
In order to give his fellow believers further insight as to what what being done to them, Peter went on to explain why these false teachers did what they did [and incidentally why false ministers do what they do today]. Peter wrote, And through covetousness [greediness which uses fraud and deceit to obtain its goals] shall they with feigned [intentionally molded to be artificial and false] words make merchandise of you [use you as objects for their own benefit, profit, or gain]: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not (2 Pet 2:3). Peter gave us further descriptions of these false individuals when he wrote they shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you; Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children: Which have forsaken the right way, and aregone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness (2 Pet 13-15), and These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever. For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage (2 Pet 2:17-19). In order to fulfill their own lusts for money, and other things, these false prophets and teachers spoke carefully planned and molded false words and doctrines in order to deceive and manipulate their intended victims. Fellow believer in Christ, the same thing is happening today in much of Christendom. However, Peter warned at the end of the verse that God's judgment of these false prophets and teachers was neither forgotten, nor would it be delayed (2 Pet 3:3, also Luke 3:9).
Since the scriptures warn believers about the prevalence of false prophets and teachers, we must ask, then, how do we as believers in Christ know if we are listening to and being influenced by a false prophet or teacher. There are several things that are helpful.
First, the Scriptures tell us that Jesus went up into the temple, and taught, and that the Jews were puzzled by the Lord's knowledge of the Law, because they knew that Jesus was not a formally educated man. They wondered where Christ got his spiritual knowledge and understanding. Jesus clarified the issue for them:My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him (John 7:16-18). False ministers often draw attention to themselves by talking about themselves, their family, acquaintances, possessions, or life experiences. They often promote themselves by speaking of and subtly flaunting their expensive clothes, homes, cars, their “get away cabins,” or even their airplanes. Believers should listen carefully to the minister in question, and determine who he or she speaks of and glorifies. The true minister of the Gospel of Christ will glorify Christ, while the false minister will glorify self.
Secondly, false ministers are often obsessed with riches, increase, wealth, prosperity, and money, and are consistently speaking about it. They offer free “love” gifts to believers who voluntarily send in an “offering.” They hold camp meetings, telethons, and fund raisers. They talk about prosperity and increase, all in the supposed name of advancing the spread of the gospel, but their true motivation is their lust for money. Despite the numerous biblical warnings about the dangers of lusting after money and riches, false ministers purposely ignore these warnings in order to continue fulfilling their lusts and agendas. Conversely, Jesus Christ instructed His disciples about the eternal danger of worldly riches when he said, ...a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God (Mat 19:23-24). Christ further warned His disciples that riches would result in grief when He said, But woe [resulting grief] unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation (Luke 6:24). Christ described the individual as a fool (Luke 12:20) who ...layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God (Luke 12:21). Look at what the apostle Paul wrote about riches: ...they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted [lusted after, longed for, desired] after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness (1 Tim 6:9-11). Paul clearly taught, Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but [trust] in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy (1 Tim 6:17). James initially warned that the rich will be made low, or humiliated (James 1:10), and then added Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you (James 5:1). Christ warns that ...the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the [gospel] word, and he becometh unfruitful (Mat 13:22), while Moses esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the [spiritual and eternal] reward (Heb 11:26). Prosperity is mentioned only three times in the entire New Testament: Romans 1:10, 1 Cor 16:2, and 3 John 1:2. None of these verses specifically refer to or teach Christians to lust after financial or material prosperity, yet prosperity doctrines are continuing to be erroneously taught in today's contemporary church.
Thirdly, false ministers continue consistently to emphasize “increase” despite the fact that scriptures teach thatHe [Christ] must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30). Seeking their eternal reward, Christ's disciples asked for a different kind of increase: the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith (Luke 17:5). Paul instructed the church in Thessalonica about true, biblical increase when he wrote, Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you. And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints (1 Thes 3:11-13), and taught Corinthian believers that it is not by human effort, or praying, or having enough “faith” that men receive increase, but that it is ...God that giveth the increase (1 Cor 3:7). Referring to a type of increase rarely mentioned in the contemporary church, Paul instructed believers in Ephesus how the maturity of believers increases and edifies the body of Christ when he wrote, That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love (Eph 4:14-16). In the scriptures, we can clearly see God the Father's desired increase when Paul wrote, And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you (1 Thess 3:12). Paul continued his theme of increasing our love when he added, But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more (1 Thess 4:9-10). Believe me, false ministers are more interested in their own increase and prosperity, than yours; and, in fact, if you truthfully examine the evidence, the individuals who are experiencing the greatest material increase are the false ministers themselves, not their flocks. God the Father is interested in the increase of love, faith, and the body of Christ, not self, but false prophets and teachers continue to teach otherwise.
Fourth, false leaders often arrogantly strut themselves across their platform or stage in order to be seen by their “subjects” within the church setting, as well as on television. Their motivation for doing this is to draw attention to themselves, and to promote the idea that they are spiritually and materially “successful.” They display much pride and ego, often “dress for success,” arrive at the church or meeting in an excessively expensive and comfortable vehicle, are greeted at the door by individuals or employees who treat them like they are a god, enjoy being escorted by subservient “yes” men who glorify them, often have inflated, leavened, puffed-up titles, preach in luxurious churches or buildings from fancy pulpits which have large, plush chairs which look more like a throne than a chair, speak and preach as if they have great wisdom, and behave as if they have all the spiritual and material answers to life. In all of these displays, their true motivation is to promote themselves and flaunt their so-called spiritual and material “success,” so others will want the same success they appear to have, and continue to support their ministry. Yet, speaking of the Jewish leaders who He described as hypocrites, Christ Himself instructs all believers, take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly. And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him (Mat 6:1-8).
The true believer in Christ should be highly repulsed by false ministers who want to be seen by men and glorified by men. Unfortunately many believers are not repulsed by these behaviors because they have the same lusts as the false minister. Watch the minister in question, and if he or she strives to be seen of and glorified by men, this should concern and repulse you as a true believer in Christ.
Fifth, God the Father tells us another way to tell if ministers are false. We are to closely examine what they say to see if it is true or comes true. False prophets and teachers speak words that are not true and do not come to pass. Scriptures explain: And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him (Deut 18:21-22). Listen carefully to things your minister says, especially prophetic words or predictions, and if they do not come to pass, you should recognize him or her as false.
Sixth, and lastly, since we serve a God who is all knowing (Psalms 147:5, Job 28:24, 1 John 3:19-20, Isaiah 46:9), Who knows everything about everybody and everything, we should simply ask God to tell us if an individual is a false prophet or false teacher. In His time and in His way, he will answer. The psalmists understood the availability of God's guidance when they wrote, Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day (Psa 25:5), O send out thy light [revelation and understanding] and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles (Psa 43:3), and Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory (Psa 73:24). God also said, If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land (2 Chron 7:14). If we need to know the truth, God the Father will answer us through the speaking and operation of the Holy Spirit, if we only ask: Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come (John 16:13).
Fellow believers in Christ, do not idly and lazily sit by and automatically trust and follow every individual who preaches or teaches to you. Listen to what he or she says, and examine what he or she does. If your minister is a false prophet or false teacher, you must protect yourself. Your salvation and eternity are at stake. The apostle John instructs us, Beloved, believe [trust and follow] not every spirit, but try [test] the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world (1 John 4:1). The apostle Peter concludes his letter by exhorting, Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness (2 Peter 3:17).  AMEN.

                                                           A Judeo-Christian Bible Study
"No man that warreth entangleth himself with
the affairs of
this life; that
he may please
him who hath
chosen him to
be a soldier"
(2 Tim 2:4)

Subject-Verse Index
"Thus saith the LORD the maker thereof, the LORD that formed it, to establish it; the LORD is his name; Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not
(Jeremiah 33:2-3).
"For the time
will come when
they will not
endure sound doctrine; but
after their own
lusts shall they
heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
And they shall
turn away their
ears from the
truth, and shall
be turned unto fables”
(2 Timothy 4:3-4).