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Richard Baxter on 2 Peter 2:1

October 18, 2008

2 Peter 2:1: Of this verse there are two main elements to the exegetical approach taken by John Owen1 and others who take his line of thought. Firstly, Owen stresses the fact that the Greek here is despotes which signifies not Christ as the mediator, but Christ as Lord, as sovereign God.2 The second key argument, Owen adduces, is the fact that where agoradzo is normally used in reference to Christ as mediator, the price of the purchase is always stated.3 For example, we are “bought” by the blood of the lamb. The third key argument is that Owen thinks it’s more likely that Peter means not that they were ransomed by the blood of Christ, but rather that they were temporarily delivered from the pollutions of the world.4 Owen makes this argument by comparing this temporal deliverance with the temporal deliverance of Israel in the Old Testament.

Against this Baxter notes that even though despotes is used, it is used of Christ as saviour-mediator. For in verse 20, they have known the Saviour Jesus Christ.5 It is not absolute Lord apart from his mediatorial office, but in and with that office. Baxter also adds that in the parallel account of this, Jude 4 identifies that they denied their master (despotes) and Lord Jesus Christ. In response to the lack of price mentioned in 2 Pet 2:1, that is, the claim that agoradzo here does not denote blood-bought redemption but something else, Baxter cites Rev 14:3, where the 144000 are said to have been bought from the earth, and yet here no price is mentioned. Thus, we are not to imagine that this redemption was not soteriological.6 Regarding the argument from analogy from the OT, Baxter asks: “what of that?”7 He asks again, were not those Old Testaments false prophets part of the “typically redeemed people, so they are truly redeemed”? He goes on: “That the typical redemption out of Egypt was not only a type, but also a fruit of Christ’s redemption, in its moral being considered.”8

It is also helpful to briefly touch on a modern exponent of these arguments. Gary Long in his little book Definite Atonement9 presents his case by asserting a series of rhetorical questions. He argues that no where is despotes used to denote Christ as mediator, “unless this be the exception.” The problem is that Peter says they denied the saviour Jesus Christ. It is hard to imagine that Peter could have made such a distinction between Christ as absolute sovereign and Christ as mediator. Rather it seems that he held both together. Long notes:

2 Peter 2:1 refers to God the Son as sovereign Lord and not as God the Son as mediator. This does not mean that Christ as mediator is not sovereign; rather it is to acknowledge the fact that when Christ is referred to as mediator, one of his redemptive titles, such as lamb of God, is always mentioned, or the redemptive price is made explicit …10

However, Long’s point is an argument from silence. Just because certain descriptive components are absent one cannot build a case that the subject being described is radically different. Regarding agoradzo, Long makes a similar argument. He notes that when it is used elsewhere to denote the redemptive work of Christ as mediator, a price is mentioned, “unless this be the exception.”11 The problem is that the converse also holds. Whenever agoradzo is used in redemptive contexts,12 that is, where Christ is referenced as saviour, this would be the only case where it is used non-soteriologically. That would be a serious anomaly. It is more probable that, seeing Peter actually identifies Christ as saviour, he means it in a soteriological sense. To argue that because a price is not mentioned, this redemption cannot be soteriological, is again to argue from silence.

In contrast, Clifford is closer to the biblical truth when he notes:

There is, however, an important point to be made about the use of agoradzo which links it with despotes. In 1 Cor., 6:20 and 7:23 Paul is highlighting not so much the freedom of the redeemed as their obligations to the redeemer. Freedom from sin’s guilt and power is not freedom to do as they wish; they are now Christ’s property. Although agoradzo does not, strictly speaking, mean ‘acquired by ransom’, it clearly presupposes redemption… Therefore, agoradzo is used in 2 Pet., 2:1 to emphasize the obligations of the redeemed teachers faithfully to proclaim the truth. Peter is thus stressing Christ’s sovereign right of ownership and the consequent obligations of those who had professed him.13

This makes better sense and is more true to sound exegetical principles, rather than basing an argument resting on ‘things not stated.’

_____________________

1And lots of unsound rhetorical arguments which I will not tackle here.

2John Owen, The Death of Death (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 1983), 250.

3Ibid., p., 251.

4Ibid. Owen bases this last point on the Old Testament, wherein it was said that some were temporarily delivered from the world.

5Richard Baxter, Universal Redemption of Mankind, Stated and Cleared by the Late Learned Mr Richard Baxter, (London: John Salsubury, 1694), 315.

6Ibid., p., 320.

7Ibid.

8Ibid. One can also apply this to Long’s attempt to connect 2 Pet 2:1 with Dt 32:6. But here Long has problems. For there in the LXX ktaomai is used. Long must weave into that a more inferential connection of agoradzo. If Peter had been consciously thinking of using this OT reference in a completely non-soteriological context why did he then not use ktaomai making his reference explicit? But that notwithstanding, why could it not be that the ‘deliverance’ is still secured by Christ as sovereign mediator? Why must his sovereignty exclude his mediatorial role? For surely, the sovereignty of Christ is grounded on his mediatorship?

9Gary Long, Definite Atonement, (no plce: Backus Books, 1988), p., 71.

10Ibid.

11Ibid., p., 72.

12A non-redemptive context would be instances where agoradzo is used in reference to buying a garment or a field.

13Clifford, Atonement, p., 159. This is where the drift of modern scholarship is heading in terms of explicating the most likely intent of Peter here.

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