"The Last State is Worse Than the First"


Doesn’t this statement found in 2Peter 2:20 refuse to fit into a universalistic interpretation of Scripture? Universalism teaches the opposite, do it not- that the last state will be better that the first? I was hoping that universalm was true, but my hopes they do sink…


Depends on what you think universalism is. As like most people who come to universalism, most people don’t understand that God didn’t save you from the consequences of stupid actions, he just saved you a life of perpetual death with the hope of resurrection in Christ Jesus. Fulfilling and releasing Israel from the Old Covenant and encompassing all humanity into the New Covenant. That is all, if you do evil, you should not expect good in return. So what happens with those who know the truth and then use this to their personal gain (ie: I am saved, let’s go do what the Law called sin now, because now I am free from that law!) will be worse off for doing such things and even sent over to a depraved mind.


If the First State’ is ignorance then all Christians are in the Last State. ‘Entangled with sin’? Who knows it better?


It’s just a statement of temporary being. It’s not meant to mean the “last” in any technical sense. This is how the language of scripture operates for the most part. It’s modern man that’s tried to make it overly universally applicable.


Hey Roofus,

All I see is that the judgment of those who know Christ and subsequently turn away will be worse than their judgment would have been had they never known Christ at all. That much makes good sense.

The “last” here is the plural “eschata” (“last things”), so one could make a case that what’s worse here is the whole series of events that constitutes the person’s end (her “finalities” you might say) and not some absolutely final single state beyond which there is no further hope of change or improvement. It’s not necessarily a single, unalterable and final “state” in a series that’s in view with “eschata” here, but rather a series of events constituting an apostate’s judgment and suffering. These final events or things will be more severe than they would have been had that person never known Christ at all. Whatever it is, it’s compatible with UR. There are more and less severe roads to final reconciliation.



Thanks, Tom.
At this point, I quite honestly think that the prima facie reading is hard to escape, but I’ll keep my mind open in case I’m just conditioned to see it one way…


TGB’s point about the phase being plural in Greek is a good one!

It also fits with how the notion is deployed (multiple times) by the Hebraist in his Epistle, climaxing in the second half of chapter 10 (although he does have more to say on the topic afterward in various ways as well.) There are various indications that he isn’t talking about a hopeless punishment, including his special references to the finale of the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy (where the punishment of backsliding Israel isn’t at all hopeless but is aimed at eventually “vindicating” them!)

It’s also probably worth noting that the phrase and concept here are echoed in the story of the deaf-mute demented man healed by Christ as told in GosMatt 12:45 and GosLuke 11:26. The Matthean narrative contexts are especially important, because there are indications that this was the same fellow who had been brought to Christ earlier to be healed of the same affliction. Notice the similarity of wording and description in Matt 9:32-34, particularly the result: “The Pharisees were saying ‘He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.’” The similarity is so strong that some scholars have tried to explain it as a ‘doublet’, where the author relates the same scene in multiple places of his narrative.

However, in context with Jesus’ eventual moral, it makes a lot more sense to me that at some time recently previous to the chapter 12 scene, Jesus exorcised the man once and then he backslid and had to come back for healing again. (Which in turn would give His opponents some immediate ground to try to charge Him with some kind of faulty healing involving demons.) Notice that in chp 9 the man is described as mute, but in chp 12 he is blind and deaf: his latter condition is worse than his first!

Nevertheless–and this is the important point–Jesus does heal him anyway. :slight_smile:

For those following along at home, here is the sequence of events:

Matt 9:32-34 – a mute demonized man is exorcised and healed, reported as part of a general swatch of healing anecdotes, but in specific chronology of GosMatt time/place cues (which can be kind of loose but in this case is very specific) it happens as He is returning home to Capernaum after having left the town where He had healed the daughter of Jairus (close by, and per other harmonization contexts apparently to the south, so most likely in Magdala. Matthean language is loose enough here, though, that 9:27 can be read as a reference to where that event had happened, in comparison with other details reported in other Gospels.) Jesus has gotten back to His house but was followed by two other men (from outside Jairus’ town) begging for healing; Jesus heals them but angrily warns them not to tell anyone. Which they go out and do anyway. (For prior narrative contexts, Matt 9:18-31.) Somehow in relation to this healing, some of Jesus’ Pharisee opponents start claiming Jesus casts out demons by the ruler of demons.

Matt 12:22-24 – sometime after the incident of the man with the withered hand in the synagogue (used by local rulers as a test case for the question of whether it is lawful to heal non-life-threatening conditions on the Sabbath, Matt 12:9-13), “then” there is brought to Jesus a blind and mute demon possessed man who is healed by Jesus “so that the mute man spoke and saw” (Matthew goes out of his way to emphasize this). The crowds think this is amazing and Messianic. Worse (from some perspectives), they’re using the militant-messianic title “Son of David”. When the Pharisees hear this, they say in retort that Jesus casts out demons only by the ruler of the demons.

Matt 12:25-29 – Jesus launches into a counter-riposte about how silly and contradictive it is, in several ways, to claim someone uses demonic authority to exorcise demons. (Plus a short version of His pun about the “Plunder-Lord” nickname for the chief of demons.)

Matt 12:30-32 – GosMatt’s version of the unpardonable sin denouncement (aimed at these opponents).

Matt 12:33-37 – Jesus complains that they ought to have judged by His character, but are selectively ignoring the evidence in order to judge unfairly. Bad news for them!

Matt 12:38-42 – Some of the scribes and Pharisees answer this by demanding to see a sign from Jesus. Jesus retorts with the sign of Jonah (which either He or GosMatt’s author connects to Jesus’ forthcoming burial, prior to His resurrection), stating that notorious pagan nations and people would have believed Him already and will therefore fare better in the coming judgment.

Matt 12:43-45 – Jesus explains that when an unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless wastes seeking rest it cannot find, and then tries to go back to the man; and if it finds the “house” swept clean but unoccupied, it goes out and brings along seven other spirits more wicked than itself to go in and live there, “and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first”. (“That is the way it will also be with this evil generation,” He concludes.)

In case anyone is wondering, yes the phrasing is the same as in 2 Peter, “last things” plural.

Matt 12:45b, kai ginetai ta eschata tou anthopou ekenou cheirona ton proton.
2 Peter 2:20, gegonen autois ta eschata cheirona ton proton.

Luke 11:14 – At some indistinct time (but maybe after one of His disciples asked Him to teach them to pray as JohnBapt taught His disciples, Luke 11:1-4; and possibly after Jesus gave them parables on persistence in prayer, Luke 11:5-13), Jesus is casting out a mute demon at which the multitudes marvel.

Luke 11:15-16 – Some people in response to this claim instead Jesus casts out demons by the ruler of demons; and others demand Him to produce a sign from heaven as a test.

Luke 11:17-23 – Jesus launches into a counter-riposte about how silly and contradictive it is, in several ways, to claim someone uses demonic authority to exorcise demons. (Plus an extended version of His pun about the “Plunder-Lord” nickname for the chief of demons, which takes that idea and runs with it in a comically heroic fashion!)

Luke 11:24-26 – Jesus explains that when an unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest and doesn’t find any; then it tries to go back to its home, and finding it put in order but unoccupied it brings along seven other spirits even more evil than itself to go and live there, “and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.”

And yes, same exact phrase as GosMatt in the Greek, with the same grammatic similarities to 2 Peter.

This is one of those cases where if we didn’t have multiple accounts, we wouldn’t be able to piece together some important contexts: if we only had GosLuke, we wouldn’t have some information from which we can put together pieces pointing toward the re-fall and re-salvation (in at least some real fashion each way) of the man whose end was worse than his first. In GosLuke, Jesus might only be warning the guy (as He does elsewhere for various people, including in GosJohn), to shape up or worse things would happen to him. In GosMatt, worse things have apparently already happened to the guy after Jesus healed him!–which in turn explains a lot of why the nearby narrative happens.

Anyway, Jesus in GosMatt (at least, if not in GosLuke) demonstrates directly that the phrase from 2 Peter doesn’t necessarily involve a hopeless end for the backslider. The end result isn’t necessarily the final end for the man.

Hope that was at least a little helpful! :slight_smile:


Roofus: At this point, I quite honestly think that the prima facie is hard to escape.

Tom: What’s prima facie about your reading (the reading you think precludes UR)?

I mean, the obvious or ‘at first sight’ meaning of a passage ought to be what’s most compatible with its original (pre-translation) version (Greek). What “first sight” English phrases communicate is important from a translation point of view perhaps, but it doesn’t ultimately determine the text’s meaning; only the Greek text can do that. And given the Greek text, there’s nothing threatening to UR in the passage whatsoever.



For that matter, even in English we use the word “last” to indicate “the latest” rather than the “the very final ending of something,” especially as we usually don’t know what the latter would be in most scenarios.


Good points, Tom. I wondered about that when I typed it but I just wanted to get something on record. It seemed to me the most natural reading when I first encountered it, that’s all.


Posting to remind myself to check back here, as I recently asked a related question about this very passage in general.


Down in this thread?

(I haven’t gotten around to reading that one yet, mainly because I thought it was an older thread I had already looked through…)


Yep, that’s the one!