In the background of my childhood Christmas memories stands a shiny, aluminum tree, illuminated by a rotating color wheel—red, green, blue, and amber. The silvery tree made no pretense of being something it was not. No one ever mistook it for a real tree. No one had to ask. It unmistakably was what it was—an imitation, a man-made fabrication.
Unlike that aluminum Christmas tree of my childhood, the tree going up in our house this week has the appearance of a real tree. Except it’s not. It’s made of PVC—plastic—yet is so remarkably life-like that, at first glance, it can fool you. Plastic can do that. Plastic items often look as if they are made of something else—wood, glass, stone, or metal. Have you ever been tempted to bite a plastic apple or lean in to smell a plastic flower? Plastic can be deceptive.
In 2 Peter 2:3 we discover a warning about the deceptiveness of plastic words. Peter alerted his readers to be on guard against false teachers who “will exploit you … with deceptive words.” Used only here in the New Testament, the word translated “deceptive” (“feigned,” KJV) comes from the Greek word plastos. Our word plastic is derived from this word. It means “fabricated, false, made up.” The verb form of the term means “to mold or to shape.” So “deceptive words” refers to teaching that is not based on biblical truth, but is molded and shaped to appear biblical.
Three truths in 2 Peter 2:1-2 highlight the timeliness of Peter’s warning to be on guard against those to preach plastic words:
- False teachers have always been and will always present among God’s people (2 Pet. 2:1a). Peter pointed to the fact that there were false prophets among the people of God in Old Testament times, just as they would move among his readers. “False” in verse 1 is the Greek pseudo, meaning counterfeit. False prophets speak a counterfeit message, a man-made, plastic replica. Modern plastics have been around only a hundred years or so, plastic words have been spoken among God’s people through the ages. This is nothing new.
- The error of false teaching is subtle and not always immediately apparent (2 Pet. 2:1b). That’s the connotation of the word “secretly” in verse 1. False teachers make their teaching sound biblical by mixing truth with error, deceiving the uninformed. They are not the shiny aluminum trees, the easily-recognizable fakes; they are the green, bushy plastic trees that, at first glance, can fool you.
- False teachings will be widely accepted (2 Pet. 2:2). Verse 2 says that “many,” not a few, will follow. The popularity of a message has never been an indicator of its truthfulness. In a society that has rejected absolute truth—a culture in which truth is elastic—plastic words satisfy ears that itch to hear anything that legitimizes their sinful choices (2 Tim. 4:3).
How timely is Peter’s warning about false teachers speaking plastic words! But how are we to recognize plastic words? By becoming thoroughly acquainted with that is genuine—the living Word. Peter had already reminded his readers they had been born again “through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23). He had encouraged them to grow in their salvation through a steady diet of the Word (1 Pet. 2:2). Then in 2 Peter 1:19-21, he pointed to the Scriptures as the divinely inspired and authoritative source of truth and standard by which all teaching should be tried, and he said: “pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dismal place” (2 Pet. 1:19)
It boils down to this: the less time we spend in the living Word, the easier it is to be deceived by plastic words. The more time we spend in the Word of God, the easier it will be to recognize the plastic imitations.
Mike is a content editor at Lifeway for Explore the Bible resources.