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What does it mean that a washed sow returns to wallowing in the mire (2 Peter 2:22)?

washed sow returns to wallowing in the mire

The apostles frequently cited proverbs from various authors, as Peter did in 2 Peter 2:22, “What the true proverb says has happened to them: ‘The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire’” (ESV). The New Living Translation renders the verse as follows: “They prove the truth of this proverb: ‘A dog returns to its vomit.’ And another says, ‘A washed pig returns to the mud.’” The first proverb is found in Proverbs 26:11, but the second is of unknown origin, but was likely a common saying in the first century. Peter employs these two proverbs to conclude a chapter on false teachers and the apostasy resulting from deceptive teachings.

Both proverbs carry a similar significance and directly pertain to the nature of the false teachers Peter describes. The proverb of the washed sow wallowing in the mire specifically highlights the necessity of a transformed nature to break free from sin. Attending church services has its benefits—especially if the church is sound and gospel-centered—but that does not automatically make one a genuine follower of Christ. Eventually, just as a washed sow returns to the mud, an unregenerate individual returns to a sinful lifestyle, especially under the influence of false teachers. Scripture often refers to true believers as sheep, so the terms dogs and pigs signify the unaltered nature of those who depart the faith and embrace sin. There’s a big difference between a sheep and a washed pig. Just as pigs thrive in mud and readily return to it even after being cleansed, so might an unregenerate individual relapse into a sinful lifestyle despite his initial encounter with Christ.

False teachers put on a show of righteousness, at least for a while, as they use religion to clean up their act: “They have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 2:20). However, they had no true, life-changing faith, and they “are again entangled in [corruption] and are overcome” (2 Peter 2:20). The result is “they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning”; “it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them” (2 Peter 2:21–22). A sow can be washed, but it’s still a sow, and the pull of the mire is strong.

Second Peter 2:22 can be applied in numerous ways to our modern context. First, every professing Christian should ensure that he or she is truly a “sheep” and not a “sow” at risk of returning to the mire. Our assurance of salvation must be founded on God’s Word, and we must begin there. We must place our trust in Christ alone for our salvation, not in our good works or good intentions. True Christians rely solely on Jesus’ redemptive work as the reason for their assurance of being in God’s presence.

In addition to the assurance of salvation, regeneration provides evidence that distinguishes between sheep and washed pigs and dogs. One proof is a change in affection. We no longer live for God because we are forced to, but because we want to. Love for others, walking in the light, eagerness to do good, and a hunger for sound teaching are all markers of authentic faith. While genuine sheep may stumble into the mud, they won’t revel in it, nor will they find it comfortable. Many Christians describe experiencing profound sadness, guilt, shame, and even depression when ensnared in sin. Upon restoration to fellowship, life takes on a different quality, akin to awakening to clear skies after a stormy night.

Furthermore, we should beware of false teachers. Jesus warned against false prophets with these words: “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16). Peter uses a different metaphor: “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud” (2 Peter 2:22). Both descriptions emphasize that a teacher’s conduct, and not his words only, determines the soundness of his teaching.

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What does it mean that a washed sow returns to wallowing in the mire (2 Peter 2:22)?
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This page last updated: May 9, 2024