The following text explaining the meaning of 2 Peter 2:1 is found in John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ, Book IV, Chapter V, Roman Numeral III.
Owen starts this discussion back in Book IV, Chapter II – “An entrance to the answer unto particular arguments.“
Two sorts of arguments against limited atonement
Owen begins by noting that there are two sorts of arguments used by those who deny limited atonement or particular redemption – the teaching that Jesus’ intention in dying was for the elect only…
Now, the objections laid against the truth maintained [of limited atonement or particular redemption] are of two sorts; the first, taken from Scripture perverted; the other, from reason abused.
So, those who believe that Jesus died for every single human being who ever lived argue in two ways – by perverting Scripture and by abusing reason.
Objections to limited atonement from Scripture
Owen begins by dealing with arguments used to deny limited atonement by perverting Scrpture…
We begin with the first, the objections taken from scripture; all the places whereof that may any way seem to contradict our assertion [of limited atonement or particular redemption] are, by our strongest adversaries, in their greatest strength, referred to three heads:—
Three heads of Scripture used to deny limited atonement
First, Those places that affirm that Christ died for the world, or that otherwise make mention of the word world in the business of redemption. Secondly, Those that mention all and every man, either in the work of Christ’s dying for them, or where God is said to will their salvation. Thirdly, Those which affirm Christ bought or died for them that perish.
It’s this third head – places in Scripture which seem to affirm that Christ bought or died for those who end up perishing where Owen will discuss the meaning of 2 Peter 2:1.
Hence they draw out three principal arguments or sophisms, on which they much insist. All which we shall, by the Lord’s assistance, consider in their several order, with the places of Scripture brought to confirm and strengthen them.
Christ bought or died for those who ultimately perish
Owen then goes on to deal with passages in Scripture where God speaks of the world and where he speaks of all and every man.
Then he comes to passages where it speaks of God buying people who ultimately perish (Book IV, Chapter V, Roman Numeral III).
I come, in the next place, to the third and last argument, drawn from the Scripture, wherewith the Arminians and their successors (as to this point) do strive to maintain their figment of universal redemption; and it is taken from such texts of Scripture as seem to hold out the perishing of some of them for whom Christ died, and the fruitlessness of his blood in respect of divers for whom it was shed.
In other words, if those for whom Christ actually died end up perishing, then Christ’s blood is fruitless for the vast majority of those for whom is was supposedly shed.
And on this theme their wits are wonderfully luxuriant, and they are full of rhetorical strains to set out the unsuccessfulness and fruitlessness of the blood of Christ in respect of the most for whom it was shed, with the perishing of bought, purged, reconciled sinners.
So, Arminians go to great lengths to advocate for the uselessness of Christ’s blood in the lives of those for whom it was shed.
Who can but believe that this persuasion tends to the consolation of poor souls, whose strongest defence lieth in making vile the precious blood of the Lamb, yea, trampling upon it, and esteeming it as a common thing?
But, friends, let me tell you, I am persuaded it was not so unvaluable in the eyes of his Father as to cause it to be poured out in vain, in respect of any one soul.
Owen is convinced that Christ’s blood wasn’t so worthless in the eyes of God the Father so as to pour it out for no reason on those whom he never intended to save.
But seeing we must be put to this defence, — wherein we cannot but rejoice, it tending so evidently to the honour of our blessed Saviour, — let us consider what can be said by Christians (at least in name) to enervate the efficacy of the blood-shedding, of the death of him after whose name they desire to be called. Thus, then, they argue:—
The Arminian argument: Christ died for those that perish
“If Christ died for reprobates and those that perish, then he died for all and every one, for confessedly he died for the elect and those that are saved; but he died for reprobates, and them that perish: therefore,” etc.
The Arminians arguethat Christ died for all and every person – for the elect who are ultimately saved and for the reprobate who are ultimately condemned.
An answer to the Arminian argument for universal redemption
Ans. For the assumption, or second proposition of this argument [that Christ died for the reprobate and those who end up perishing], we shall do what we conceive was fit for all the elect of God to do, — positively deny it (taking the death of Christ, here said to be for them, to be considered not in respect of its own internal worth and sufficiency, but, as it was intended by the Father and Son, in respect of them for whom he died).
So, Owen clarifies that he’s not denying that the worth and sufficiency of Christ’s death is unlimited, but rather that the intention of the Father and Son is Christ’s death was selective for only his people.
It was not Christ’s intention to die for reprobates
We deny, then, I say, that Christ, by the command of his Father, and with intention to make satisfaction for sins, did lay down his life for reprobates and them that perish.
So, Owen denies that Christ laid down his life for those who will end up in hell.
Arminian proof texts that Christ died for reprobates
This, then, they prove from Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:11; 2 Peter 2:1; Hebrews 10:29.
Now, that no such thing as is pretended is proved from any of the places alleged, we shall show by the consideration of them in the order they are laid down in.
Owen then deals with Romans 14:15 and 1 Corinthians 8:11 before taking up 2 Peter 2:1.
Three uncertainties for Arminians in 2 Peter 2:1
The next place is much insisted on, — namely, 2 Peter 2:1, “There shall be false teachers, denying the Lord that bought them, and bringing upon themselves swift destruction.”
All things here, as to any proof of the business in hand [attempting to prove that Christ died for the reprobate], are exceedingly dark, uncertain, and doubtful.
Uncertain, that by the Lord is meant the Lord Christ, the word in the original being Δεσπότης, seldom or never ascribed to him [once in Jude 4 out of ten uses in the New Testament];
uncertain, whether the purchase or buying of these false teachers refer to the eternal redemption by the blood of Christ, or a deliverance by God’s goodness from the defilement of the world in idolatry, or the like, by the knowledge of the truth, — which last [deliverance and not redemption] the text expressly affirms;
uncertain, whether the apostle speaketh of this purchase according to the reality of the thing, or according to their apprehension and their profession.
So, Owen identifies three uncertainties in this text when one tries to use 2 Peter 2:1 to prove that Christ died for every person who has ever lived.
He says that it’s uncertain that the “Lord” or master (Δεσπότης) referred to is even speaking of Christ. That Greek word is used ten times in the New Testament. Five times it’s used of a human master of slaves or servants (1 Timothy 6:1,2; 2 Timothy 2:21; Titus 2:9; 1 Peter 2:18). Three times it’s used of God the Father (Luke 2:29; Acts 4:24; Revelation 6:10). Once it’s used of Jesus Christ (Jude 4). And then there’s this passage, which Owen argues doesn’t even refer to Jesus.
Also uncertain from the text is whether the false teachers being bought is a reference to eternal redemption by Christ’s blood or rather some sort of deliverance from some of the defilements of the world (and Owen thinks the latter is right). He’ll give more defense for this claim later.
Finally, Owen asserted that it’s not as though Christ actually bought these false prophets, but that rather that they think and claim that he did and that others assume the same about them.
Two certainties about 2 Peter 2:1
Owen then moves on from uncertainties to certainties concerning this passage of Scripture…
On the other side, it is most certain, —
First, That there are no spiritual distinguishing fruits of redemption ascribed to these false teachers, but only common gifts of light and knowledge, which Christ hath purchased for many for whom he did not make his soul a ransom.
Secondly, That, according to our adversaries, the redemption of any by the blood of Christ cannot be a peculiar aggravatio[n] of the sins of any, because they say he died for all; and yet this buying of the false teachers is held out as an aggravation of their sin in particular.
Owen goes on to elaborate on the uncertainties which he previously laid out before progressing later to explain what the truth is concerning 2 Peter 2:1…
Of the former uncertainties, whereon our adversaries build their inference of universal redemption (which yet can by no means be wire-drawn thence, were they most certain in their sense), I shall give a brief account, and then speak something as to the proper intendment of the place.
Uncertainty that “Lord” refers to Christ the mediator
For the first, It is most uncertain whether Christ, as mediator, be here intended by Lord or no.
There is not any thing in the text to enforce us so to conceive, nay, the contrary seems apparent, —
Two reasons why “Lord” doesn’t speak of Christ in 2 Peter 2:1
First, Because in the following verses, God only, as God, with his dealings towards such as these [false teachers], is mentioned; of Christ not a word.
This is the case in 2 Peter 2:4-19.
God is mentioned in verse 4 as casting angels into hell, in verse 5 of not sparing the ancient world but preserving Noah through the world-wide flood, in verse 6 of judging Sodom and Gomorrah, and in verse 7 of rescuing Lot.
In verse 9 it’s the Lord who rescues the godly and keeps the ungodly under punishment until the day of judgement. Angels dare not blaspheme “the glorious ones” before the Lord in verse 11.
It’s not until verse 20 that Jesus Christ is named – where he’s said to be the one by whom “those who are barely escaping from those who live in error” “have escaped the defilements of the world” and are “again entagled in them and overcome…” And in this case, Jesus is not mentioned with reference to the false teachers themselves – but rather to those whom the false teachers deceive.
Secondly, The name Δεσπότης, properly [in Latin] “Herus,” attended by dominion and sovereignty, is not usually, if at all, given to our Saviour in the New Testament [the only exception out of ten instances is Jude 4]; he is everywhere called Κύριος, nowhere clearly Δεσπότης, as is the Father, Luke 2:29, Acts 4:24, and in divers other places.
Besides, if it should appear that this name were given our Saviour in any one place, doth it therefore follow that it must be so here? nay, is the name proper for our Saviour, in the work of redemption?
Δεσπότης is such a Lord or Master as refers to servants and subjection; the end of Christ’s purchasing any by his blood being in the Scripture always and constantly expressed in other terms, of more endearment.
It is, then, most uncertain that Christ should be here understood by the word Lord.
Uncertainty that buying is a reference to Chris’t blood
[Secondly], But suppose he [Christ] should [be identified as Δεσπότης], it is most uncertain that by buying of these false teachers is meant his purchasing of them with the ransom of his blood; for, —
Three reasons that “bought” isn’t referring to ransoming through Christ’s blood
First, The apostle insisteth on a comparison with the times of the Old Testament, and the false prophets that were then amongst the people, backing his assertion with divers examples out of the Old Testament in the whole chapter following.
Now, the word ἀγοράζω, here used, signifieth primarily the buying of things; translatitiously, the redemption of persons; — and the word פָּדָה in the Old Testament, answering thereunto, signifieth any deliverance, as Deuteronomy 7:8, 15:15, Jeremiah 15:21, with innumerable other places: and, therefore, some such deliverance is here only intimated.
Secondly, Because here is no mention of blood, death, price, or offering of Jesus Christ, as in other places, where proper redemption is treated on; especially, some such expression is added where the word ἀγοράζω is used to express it, as 1 Corinthians 6:20, Revelation 5:9, which otherwise holds out of itself deliverance in common from any trouble.
Thirdly, The apostle setting forth at large the deliverance they had had, and the means thereof, 2 Peter 2:20, affirms it to consist in the “escaping of the pollutions of the world,” as idolatry, false worship, and the like, “through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ;” plainly declaring that their buying was only in respect of this separation from the world, in respect of the enjoyment of the knowledge of the truth; but of washing in the blood of the Lamb, he is wholly silent.
Plainly, there is no purchase mentioned of these false teachers, but a deliverance, by God’s dispensations towards them, from the blindness of Judaism or Paganism, by the knowledge of the gospel; whereby the Lord bought them to be servants to him, as their supreme head.
So that our adversaries’ argument from this place is this:— “God the Lord, by imparting the knowledge of the gospel, and working them to a professed acknowledgment of it and subjection unto it, separated and delivered from the world divers that were saints in show, — really wolves and hypocrites, of old ordained to condemnation: therefore, Jesus Christ shed his blood for the redemption and salvation of all reprobates and damned persons in the whole world.” Who would not admire our adversaries’ chemistry?
The purchase is not real but supposed
Thirdly, Neither is it more certain that the apostle speaketh of the purchase of the wolves and hypocrites, in respect of the reality of the purchase, and not rather in respect of that estimation which others had of them, — and, by reason of their outward seeming profession, ought to have had, — and of the profession that themselves made to be purchased by him whom they pretended to preach to others; as the Scripture saith [of Ahaz], “The gods of Damascus smote him,” because he himself so imagined and professed, 2 Chronicles 28:23.
The latter hath this also to render it probable, — namely, that it is the perpetual course of the Scripture, to ascribe all those things to every one that is in the fellowship of the church which are proper to them only who are true spiritual members of the same; as to be saints, elect, redeemed, etc.
Now, the truth is, from this their profession, that they were bought by Christ, might the apostle justly, and that according to the opinion of our adversaries, press these false teachers, by the way of aggravating their sin. For the thing itself, their being bought, it could be no more urged to them than to heathens and infidels that never heard of the name of the Lord Jesus.
The truth of the matter
Now, after all this, if our adversaries can prove universal redemption from this text, let them never despair of success in any thing they undertake, be it never so absurd, fond, or foolish.
But when they have wrought up the work already cut out for them, and proved, —
first, That by the Lord is meant Christ as mediator;
secondly, That by buying is meant spiritual redemption by the blood of the Lamb;
thirdly, That these false teachers were really and effectually so redeemed, and not only so accounted because of the church;
fourthly, That those who are so redeemed may perish, contrary to the express Scripture, Revelation 14:4;
fifthly, Manifest the strength of this inference, “Some in the church who have acknowledged Christ to be their purchaser, fall away to blaspheme him, and perish forever: therefore, Christ bought and redeemed all that ever did or shall perish;”
sixthly, That that which is common to all is a peculiar aggravation to the sin of any one more than others;
— I will assure them they shall have more work provided for them, which themselves know for a good part already where to find.