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 to them.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)It had been better for them not to have known.—There are many things of which the well-known lines.
“’Tis better to have loved and lost,
Than never to have loved at all,”
do not hold good. To have loved a great truth, to have loved a high principle, and after all to lose them, is what often causes the shipwreck of a life. To have loved Jesus Christ and lost Him is to make shipwreck of eternal life.
The way of righteousness.—The life of the Christian. That which from a doctrinal point of view is “the way of truth” (2Peter 2:2), from a moral point of view is “the way of righteousness.” So also “the faith delivered to the saints” of Jude 1:3, is the doctrinal equivalent of “the holy commandment delivered unto them” of this verse.Matthew 26:24. It would have been better for them, for:
(1) then they would not have dishonored the cause of religion as they have now done;
(2) they would not have sunk so deep in profligacy as they now have; and,
(3) they would not have incurred so aggravated a condemnation in the world of woe. If people are resolved on being wicked, they had better never pretend to be good. If they are to be cast off at last, it had better not be as apostates from the cause of virtue and religion.
turn—back again; so the Greek.
from the holy commandment—the Gospel which enjoins holiness; in opposition to their corruption. "Holy," not that it makes holy, but because it ought to be kept inviolate [Tittmann].
delivered—once for all; admitting no turning back.It had been better for them not to have known; their sin had been less if they had not known the truth, but now they sin against knowledge, and therein their apostacy is much worse than their ignorance would have been.
The way of righteousness; the way of obtaining righteousness by Christ, and of living godly in Christ, 2 Timothy 3:12, prescribed in the gospel; the same which is called the right way, 2 Peter 2:15, and the way of truth, 2 Peter 2:2.
The holy commandment; the same in other words. It is called holy, not only as proceeding from God, who is holy, but as teaching nothing but what is holy, and being the means God useth in making men holy, and as being opposed to the pollutions of the world before mentioned.
not to have known the way of righteousness; the same with "the way of truth", 2 Peter 2:2, and "the right way", 2 Peter 2:15, the Gospel, which points out the way and method of a sinner's justification before God, which is not by the works of the law, but by the righteousness of Christ imputed to them, and received by faith; and which teaches men to live soberly, righteously, and godly; and a large, notional, though not an experimental knowledge, these apostates had of the word and doctrine of righteousness, and indeed of the whole of the Christian religion, which may truly go by this name:
than after they have known it; owned, embraced, and professed it:
to turn: the Vulgate Latin version, and some copies, as the Alexandrian and others, add, to that which is behind; to their former lusts, or errors, or worse, which they had turned their backs upon externally:
from the holy commandment delivered unto them; by the commandment is meant the Gospel also, see 2 Peter 3:2; called holy, because of its nature and influence, and in opposition to the pollutions of the world; and which is the faith once delivered, Jde 1:3, and which they received, as delivered to them; and, particularly, the ordinances of it, which they once submitted to, kept, and observed, as they were delivered to them, but now relinquished, or corrupted: wherefore, it would have been better for them to have been in their former ignorance, either in Judaism, or in Gentilism, since proportionate to a man's light is his guilt, and so his punishment, see Romans 2:12.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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)2 Peter 2:21. κρεῖττον γὰρ ἦν αὐτοῖς] The same use of the imperf. where we should employ the conjunct., Mark 14:21 : καλὸν ἦν αὐτῷ; cf. on the constr. Winer, p. 265 [E. T. 352].
μὴ ἐπεγνωκέναι τὴν ὁδὸν τῆς δικαιοσύνης] ἡ ὁδὸς τῆς δικαιοσ. is not: “the way to virtue,” or “the way of salvation which leads to the moral condition of righteousness” (Schott), but a designation of Christianity in so far as a godly righteous life belongs to it; cf. 2 Peter 2:2.
ἤ ἐπιγνοῦσιν] The dat. instead of the accus., dependent on αὐτοις; by an attraction not uncommon in Greek.
ἐπιστρέψαι] is to be taken here in the sense of: “to turn back to the former things;” cf. 2 Peter 2:22, as in Mark 13:16; Luke 17:31, where it is connected with εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω; in Luke 8:55, nevertheless, it is used in the same sense without adjunct; see critical remarks.
ἐκ τῆς … ἐντολῆς] With παραδοθείσης αὐτοῖς, cf. Judges 1:3.
ἡ ἁγία ἐντολή is the law of the Christian life, cf. 1 Timothy 6:14; here mentioned because the passage treats of the moral corruption of the false teachers.
 In Steinfass’ observation: “By the δικαιοσύνης of the ὁδὸν δικαιοσύνης righteousness is understood as being not the end, but the wayfarer,” the first is right, but the second wrong.2 Peter 2:21. ὁδὸν τῆς δικαιοσύνης. Also called “the way of truth,” 2 Peter 2:2, “the straight way,” 2 Peter 2:15. ἐντολῆς. Elsewhere in N.T. the singular is used to mean a particular precept. Cf. Romans 7:12, 1 Timothy 6:14. It is characteristic of this writer to emphasise the aspect of Christianity, not only as faith, but as the moral law ἁγίας ἐντολῆς. Cf. 2 Peter 1:5. ἐν τῇ πίστει ὑμῶν τὴν ἀρετήν. A strong ethical note pervades the teach-of 2 Peter.21. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness] The verb for “known” is, like the noun in the preceding verse, that which implies the fullest form of knowledge, as in 1 Corinthians 13:12; 2 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 4:3. The “way of righteousness” is like the “way of truth” in 2 Peter 2:2, a comprehensive description of the religion of Christ as a whole, regarded here in its bearing on life, as there in its relation to belief.
to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them] The word “delivered” implies, as in Luke 1:2; 1 Corinthians 11:2; 1 Corinthians 11:23; 1 Corinthians 15:3; Jude, 2 Peter 2:3, the oral teaching of the elements of Christian faith and life which was imparted to all converts prior to their baptism. Stress is laid on the “commandment” because the Apostle is contemplating chiefly the sins of impurity of which the heresiarchs had been guilty rather than their dogmatic heresies as such.2 Peter 2:21. Ἢ ἐπιγνοῦσιν, than when they have known it) Understand it is, from it had been.—παραδοθείσης, delivered to them) Judges 1:3.Verse 21. - For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness; better, as in the Revised Version, for it were better. (For this use of the imperfect indicative, see Winer, 3:41, 2, a.) The verb ἐπεγνωκέκαι, "to have known," here, and the participle ἐπιγνοῦσιν, "after they have known," in the next clause, correspond with the noun ἐπίγνωσις of the preceding, and, like that, imply that these unhappy men once had the full knowledge of Christ. (For "the way, of righteousness," compare "the way of truth" in verse 2, and note there.) Than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. The manuscripts exhibit some slight variations here: the Sinaitic and Alexandrine give "to turn back." By "the holy commandment" St. Peter means the whole moral Law, which the Lord enforced and widened in his sermon on the mount; from this the false teachers turned away. For the word "delivered" (παραδοθείσης), comp. Jude 1:3. Like the corresponding word παράδοσις, tradition (2 Thessalonians 3:6), it implies the oral transmission of Christian teaching in the first ages (comp. also 1 Peter 1:18).
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