“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.” – 2 Peter 2:20–21
Does 2 Peter 2:20–21 give any indication that a believer can lose their salvation? Some believe that these verses prove that those who once “escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” and “again entangled therein” have lost their salvation because “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.” Let’s examine this and see.
The context of 2 Peter 2 is speaking of false prophets. Verse 20 uses the pronoun “they,” which looking at verse 19 seems to indicate a reference to the false prophets. These false prophets “escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Is this “knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” a true saving knowledge of Christ? Or is this simply a knowledge of the doctrines and teachings of Christ? The text doesn’t specify, but the description of these false prophets given in verses 1–3, 10, and 12–14 indicates these individuals are not genuine believers:
“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 Peter 2:1–3
“But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.” – 2 Peter 2:10
“But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; And 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” – 2 Peter 2:12–14
We do know that even devils themselves have knowledge of Jesus Christ, but they aren’t saved (James 2:19). Is it possible for someone to become involved in church, lead well-behaved lives, and even teach others but still be lost? Absolutely, it happens every day.
What is meant by verse 20, “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”? One possibility is the mere fact that a religious false prophet is more dangerous than an ignorant lost sinner. An individual that is knowledgeable and teaches “damnable heresies” (v. 1) can lead multitudes astray from a true saving knowledge of Christ.
2 Peter 2:20–21 cannot be used to prove believers can lose their salvation as this would be pulling more from the text than is there.
For more information, see Is eternal security true?