False teachers have insinuated themselves into the Christian church since its inception. They are dangerously deceptive operators with smooth speech and seductive ways. New believers are particularly susceptible to their methods. Ever the passionately protective shepherd, the apostle Peter dedicates an entire chapter to exposing these religious pretenders. In 2 Peter 2:17, he compares them to “wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever” (NKJV).
Peter wants his flock to understand how false teachers operate, learn to spot them, and avoid falling victim to their heresies. His metaphors likening them to “wells without water” and “clouds carried by a tempest” are similar to a portion of Jude’s description of false teachers: “They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever” (Jude 1:12–13, NKJV).
The word Peter uses for “well” actually means “a flowing spring” in the original Greek. When Jesus ministers to the Samaritan woman (John 4:1–26), He uses the same term to describe the soul-satisfying, living water He can supply. A thirsty first-century traveler would immediately understand the disappointment of coming upon a well that promises water but does not deliver. Instead of fresh, thirst-quenching, life-giving fountains, wells without water are hollow and useless, producing nothing but dust, mud, and unquenchable thirst. Like a dried-up spring, false teachers promise much but have zero to offer. They do not teach the gospel truth that Jesus calls “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). They preach freedom but supply bondage, they guarantee pleasure but furnish anguish, and they promise life but deliver death.
False teachers deny the gospel or distort it through human error (2 Peter 2:3; Colossians 2:8; 1 Timothy 6:20–21) or demonic inspiration (1 Timothy 4:1–2; 2 Corinthians 11:3–4; 1 John 4:1–3). Like Peter, the apostle Paul devotes much energy to exposing false teachers. Skipping the metaphor of “wells without water,” Paul states plainly, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 5:6).
Paul teaches Timothy that false teachers depart from the truth and turn to “meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm” (1 Timothy 1:6–7; see also Titus 1:10–11). He advises the Colossians, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
Peter explains that false teachers “secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves” (2 Peter 2:1). False teachers “come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves,” warns Jesus (Matthew 7:15, NLT). Paul affirms, “I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following” (Acts 20:29–30, NLT).
Comparing false teachers to wells without water is Peter’s figurative way of saying the message of false teachers is valueless, meaningless, and useless. Like the rebellious people of Jeremiah’s day, false teachers in the early church had forsaken God, “the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jeremiah 2:13). Because they reject “the teaching of the wise,” which is “a fountain of life,” they fall into “the snares of death” (Proverbs 13:14; see also Proverbs 14:27).
False teachers hold out a promise of satisfaction for thirsty souls but ultimately leave people parched and in need. Theirs is an empty hope. Their teachings are hollow and void of truth. Like wells without water, they appear to offer life, but they deliver only bondage, destruction, and death.