Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness. – 2 Peter 2:10-16 ESV
Who were these false teachers? What were they like? Peter gives us a rather unflattering portrayal of them, and wastes no time trying to hide his real feelings about them. He refers to them as “irrational animals creatures of instinct.” Like animals, they are driven by their base instincts. Their behavior was motivated by their own self-satisfaction. Jude makes a similar accusation in his letter, saying, “these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively” (Jude 1:10 ESV). It seems that they were guilty of blaspheming the fallen angels, those angels who followed Satan in his rebellion against God and were cast out of heaven. The word Peter and Jude both used is βλασφημέω (blasphēmeō) which means “to speak reproachfully, rail at, revile” (“G987 – blasphēmeō (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). Peter speaks of them blaspheming “the glorious ones,” using the term, δόξα (doxa) that almost always refers to angels. In this case, Peter seems to be talking about those angels who fell from their once glorious position in heaven and were cast down by God. These false teachers were evidently belittling these fallen angels or denying their existence altogether. But as a way of contrast, Peter indicates that angels – ἄγγελος (aggelos) – “though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord” (2 Peter 2:11 ESV). Here he appears to referring to those angels who still reside in heaven. These “good” angels do not speak reproachfully to God about those angels who have fallen. But these men do. Jude explains that they blaspheme all that they do not understand. They discount or dismiss what they do not know. Peter says they blaspheme “about matters of which they are ignorant.” Blasphemy, at its root, refers to “stupid speech.” It is to speak authoritatively, yet ignorantly about things you do not understand.
These false teachers were evidently spouting their opinions about a wide variety of matters. They also lived lives that were inconsistent with that of true believers. Peter accuses them of wrongdoing, of reveling in the daytime, having eyes full of adultery, and an insatiable appetite for sin. They were hedonistic, driven by their sinful desires and addicted to the finer things in life. Peter’s reference to their eyes being full of adultery would seem to indicate that their minds were overflowing with thoughts of unfaithfulness to God. While it could mean that they were involved in literal adultery, it makes more sense within the context to see this as an indictment of their faithfulness to God and His Word. Their unfaithfulness was deceiving and leading astray those who had “unsteady” or unstable souls. The spiritually immature were especially susceptible to the teachings of these individuals.
Jude’s description of them is quite revealing.
These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. – Jude 1:12-13 ESV
They were like waterless clouds. They appeared to bring much-needed rain, but were simply blown by the wind, never delivering what they seemed to promise. They were like fruitless trees, dead and uprooted, capable of providing nothing in the way of real nourishment. They were like crashing waves, loud and impressive, but ultimately destructive. And like wandering stars, they were unreliable as guides to those who were lost. You could not use them to find your way in life because they were inconsistent and constantly changing their opinions.
Both Peter and Jude accuse them of following “the way of Balaam.” This refers to the Old Testament story of the people of Israel, when Balaam, a false prophet, was hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to curse them. When God prevented Balaam from doing so, he counseled Balak to invite the people of Israel to join the people of Moab in a feast to honor their false god. The book of Numbers records what happened: “Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord” (Numbers 31:16 ESV). The Moabites were known for their practice of prostitution as part of the worship of their god. The Israelites, under the deceptive influence of Balaam would find themselves participating in the immoral festivities associated with the worship of the false gods of Moab.
While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. – Numbers 25:1-3 ESV
So the false teachers, like Balaam, were guilty of leading the people of God astray. He “loved gain from wrongdoing.” He had been in it for personal gain. And in the same way, the false teachers were doing what they were doing it for what they could get out of it. And like Balaam, these false teachers would obstinately walk in their own sinful state of delusion, refusing to listen to the words of God and the warnings of His prophets. False teachers develop a false sense of security, ultimately believing that what they are saying is true. Their greatest danger seems to be the sincerity and sense of authority they evoke. They appear to believe what they teach. They come across as confident and sure of themselves. But as Jude describes them, they are like “hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves” (Jude 1:12 ESV). They are dangerous. They are subtle and seductive. They are self-serving and focused only on satisfying their own desires. They are to be avoided at all costs. They are to be exposed and expelled from the church. They are not bad teachers. In fact, most of them are very good at what they do. They are influential and inspirational. They are persuasive and their teaching comes across as reasonable and right. But that is where the danger lies. We must heed the words of Jude, when he warns that they are “ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4 ESV).