"But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves." -2 Peter 2:1
On one occasion my significant other and I spent over an hour arguing about this passage. We were both misinterpreting very key words in the text and it resulted in us being slightly miffed at one another. Such is the case with a great many whenever discussion of 2 Peter 2:1 ensues. It is usually assumed that "Master" refers to Christ, and that "bought" is a reference to the atonement. Hence the interpretation follows that Jesus bought the "false teachers" in a redemptive fashion but they denied "the Master who bought them" by teaching heresy and were lost despite Christ's redemptive work. The interpretation of this passage just cited is then used to support the idea that Christ's atonement was made on behalf of every single individual and not specifically for His elect. It is assumed that Jesus can die for someone, and yet never see redemption. If this "Master" is not Christ, and "bought" does not refer to the atonement, then the interpretation cited above does not fit the text. So then to whom and what do "Master" and "bought" refer?
In 2 Peter 1, Peter urges those that have obtained a faith of equal standing to make their calling and election sure. He also gives an account for the veracity of the prophetic word, that it is of the Holy Spirit. Peter does this so his readers can have confidence in what they have been taught, and so they can be aware of false teachers. Then Peter says this in 2 Peter 2:1 "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves." 2 Peter is filled with OT imagery, he refers to Noah, Lot, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Balaam. In 2 Peter 2:1, he makes a parallel between the false prophets that arose in OT Israel and the false teachers in the NT church, when he says "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you." The phrase "the people" is a clear reference to OT Israel. The "false teachers among you" are the false teachers that the NT church had to strive so much against. It makes sense that Peter would write using OT phraseology since he is referring to the people of the OT, this is important especially when we turn to the phrase "bought". But first who is the "Master who bought them"? There are two Greek terms that can be translated "Master" or "Lord," depending on the context, kyrios or despotes. The normative Greek word applied to Jesus throughout the NT is kyrios for Lord. That word isn't used here, instead Peter uses the Greek word despotes for the word "Master." So why doesn't Peter use the normative phrase kyrios? Although Jude verse 4 uses despotes translated "Master" to refer to Jesus, despotes usually refers to God the Father (Luke 2:29, Acts 4:24, Revelation 6:10).
As for the phrase "bought," there are two Greek terms that are used, ktaomai and agorazo. In 2 Peter 2:1, Peter uses agorazo for "bought." Luke uses ktaomai for the word "acquired" in Acts 1:18, "Now this man acquired a field..." In Deutoronomy 32:5-6 ktaomai is used for "bought" in the Septuagint.
"They have acted corruptly toward Him,
They are not His children, because of their defect;
But are a perverse and crooked generation.
Do you thus repay the LORD,
O foolish and unwise people?
Is not He your Father who has bought you?
He has made you and established you"-Deuteronomy 32:5-6
Here we have parallel phraseology with ktaomai in Deuteronomy 32:6 and Peter's use of agorazo. In both instances they refer to ownership not redemption, especially since not all OT people were saved in virtue of being "bought." All of Israel would have thought to have been purchased by God out of Egypt in the Exodus account. By rebelling against God the OT Jews were "denying the Master who bought them" after being "bought" out of Egypt. Peter is comparing the rebellious Jews of the OT, to the false teachers in the NT. He is saying that the false teachers of the NT are in the same place as the OT people, and that by denying who God is they are "bringing swift destruction upon themselves." Just like the OT people denied the sovereignty and ownership of God over them, the NT false teachers were acting in the same way, they were "denying the Master who bought them," by their false teaching. As I pointed out above, Peter is using OT phrases to communicate his message, Peter's reference to Deuteronomy 32:5-6 defines how "bought" should be interpreted in 2 Peter 2:1. It should also be mentioned that everywhere in the NT where it mentions bought, purchase, obtain, acquired in a redemptive sense, a price is always mentioned. Revelation 5:9 "...and purchased for God with Your blood...." In 2 Peter 2:1, Peter never mentions a purchase price. The lack of mentioning the purchase price points us to the fact that Peter is not using "bought" in a redemptive sense.
Given the analysis above it is safe to say that "Master" does not refer to Christ, but to the Father, and that "bought" refers to sovereignty/ownership and not redemption. The normative word for Jesus isn't used and a purchase price isn't mentioned. All of these factors make sense given Peter's OT allusion. They make no sense on the general atonement position. The idea that Jesus' death paid for the false teachers and yet were lost does not fit the text. I agree with Wayne Grudem when he refers to 2 Peter 2:1, "Christ's specific redemptive work on the cross is not in view in this verse" (Systematic Theology 600). The context in 2 Peter 2:1 is about false teachers not the atonement. For clear passages about the atoning work of Christ we must turn to Hebrews 7-10 and Romans 8-9 where the atonement is the main topic of discussion.