What is the meaning of 2 Peter 2:20?
“For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.” (2 Peter 2:20, ESV)
This whole chapter (2 Peter 2) concerns Peter’s discussion of false teachers in the church. These are people who profess to believe in Christ but bring all types of heresies into the church. Peter doesn’t mince words. Although the church today is reticent to address false teachers more than a used to, Peter sets the standard.
He begins by explaining that God will judge false prophets and teachers (2 Peter 2:1-3). He uses three examples from the Old Testament of God’s protection of the righteous and judgment of the wicked (2 Peter 2:4-10a). The three examples are Noah, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Lot.
Peter then describes the false teachers in the stark language that exposes them for the true nature they carry into the body of Christ (2 Peter 2:10b-16). He describes their teaching is empty, teaching that doesn’t produce anything (2 Peter 2:17-19).
Then we come to 2 Peter 2:20-22. Peter treats these false teachers and false prophets as reprobates who have lost their salvation. These are Christians who have experienced God’s greatest gift of salvation.
Verse 20 says they have escaped the defilement of the world and have a knowledge of the Savior, Jesus Christ. These two descriptions indicate a true faith in Jesus. But because they are teaching false doctrines to the church, they have reverted to the state they were in before they met Christ.
Then he says that this state they are in now as false teachers and reprobates is worse than before they met Christ. They have rejected the truth of the gospel and Jesus, the Truth. Verse 21 says it would have been better if they didn’t know Christ at all.
God’s judgment is terrible for those who don’t know Christ. But it’s worse for those who knew Christ and have turned away from him. Even worse than turning away from him is teaching contrary and ungodly doctrine to his church.
The language of 2 Peter 2 clearly teaches that a Christian can lose his or her salvation. And those who turn away from Christ will be worse off than if they had not known him. This bears striking resemblance to Hebrews 6:4-6. It has the same language as Peter uses here. But the language here is so strong I don’t know how anyone could deny the possibility of apostasy within the Christian faith.