“For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.”
Peter introduces the word “for” to explain verse twenty. These false teachers knew the truth. “They have forsaken the right way and gone astray” (2 Pe 2:15).
it would have been better
The Greek syntax conveys something that we cannot see in English. This statement (“it would have been better…”) is contrary to the fact. Peter’s argument here is invalid, although he hypothesizes it as a possibility. He states it in a simple hypothesis: “It is better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, but it is.”
We can render this phrase as “It would be almost better not to have known the way of righteousness than….” By returning to false religion, the person is more culpable to the truth—the professed essence of apostasy results in a deadly illusion.
for them not to have known the way of righteousness
To receive full exposure to Christ and yet reject him is worse than being fully culpable of that knowledge. Apostasy is worse than ignorance. Apostasy carries oneself and others into error.
than having known it,
It is one thing to know the Lord personally, and it is another thing to have mental acquiescence toward Him as non-Christians do. The proud natural man does not want to yield to God’s truth. He knows the truth, but he rejects it outright.
False teachers are double losers, both in time and eternity. They will know for eternity what they rejected in time. They are the prize fools of all history. They were exposed thoroughly to who Jesus is and yet rejected Him.
to turn from the holy commandment
The noble influence of the Bible acted as a deterrent for these false teachers. However, they persisted in the false teaching and reverted to type. Initial exposure to Jesus Christ does not mean someone fully embraces Him as the Savior.
To reject the message of Jesus Christ is the most tragic mistake anyone could make in life. It would be handy to force people to receive Jesus as their Savior. It just does not work that way. Only the Holy Spirit can change hearts and make the facts of the gospel relevant. False teachers fly in the face of the truths of the gospel.
2 Co 13:5, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.”
delivered to them
In Greek, the action of the word “delivered” precedes the action of the Greek word for “to turn from.” False teachers were taught the truth, but they turned from it. Some people can be exposed to Christianity all their lives without embracing it for themselves, just as some people can get a doctor’s degree in philosophy without being educated.
It is not enough to know the facts of the gospel; we must embrace the gospel itself.
We must know the gospel before we embrace it. We can learn about investing for retirement, but we may live like paupers if we do not invest. We may know about good nutrition. We may know about vitamins and minerals but will not be as healthy as possible if we do not take them. It is not enough to know these things; we must do something about them. It is not enough to know the gospel; we must commit to believing in Him.