The Letter of Jude Online Commentary (5)

In the first installment, I set out the traditional Greco-Roman letter format and looked at the “Judases” and “Jameses” in the New Testament. There seemed to be only one good option for whom the Judas/Jude to whom this letter is attributed could be, the Judas/Jude who is the brother of Jacob/James and Jesus.  In the second installment, I weighed the arguments on authorship and decided the best evidence does indeed point in that direction. I then looked at what this means for the date of the letter and the location, or place, in which the letter was written.  In the third installment, I examined the salutation, verses 1-2, in which I studied the letter itself, the reasons the letter was sent, and the goals of the letter. Lastly, in the fourth installment I studied the “Reason for Writing” in verses 3-4, a part of the letter typically called the “Thanksgiving,” but in Jude lacking that element. In this, the fifth entry, I look at the first three charges Jude makes against the “intruders…who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (vv.3-4).

6. The Letter of Jude:

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If you look at the first entry in the commentary, some scholars speak of an “Opening of the Body of the Letter,” while others just speak of the “Body of the Letter.”  This labeling is, in many ways, simply a matter of preference, since the body is the largest part of the letter and takes on its shape and form according to the needs of the recipients and the style of the author(s). But an “opening” often does announce the concerns of the author and the type of argument to be used. As a result, I identify verses 5-7 as opening of Jude, announcing the manner in which the intruders have strayed.

c) Opening of the Body of the Letter: Three Reminders: verses 5-7

5 Now I desire to remind you, though you are fully informed, that the Lord, who once for all saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. 6 And the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great day. 7 Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.(NRSV)

The body of the letter opens with a “reminder” of what they already know from Scripture and tradition. Jude uses this opening as “a marker identifying the beginning of the argument based on past examples” (Hartin, 52). In addition, it is a way of affirming their understanding of Scripture and their present situation and have them immediately align themselves with Jude as people “in the know.”

The second clause is interesting, though, as in Greek it is literally “although you know all things,” while the NRSV has “though you are fully informed.” It would help to know what the overarching concern of this verse is. What is the knowledge/information which they have? Is it only about the examples which Jude will subsequently give? Or is it about the ways of God and the Scripture as a whole? The manner in which it is translated matters to some extent, but even more is how the clause is understood grammatically. The NRSV sees this as a complete clause and ends it with a comma after “fully informed” (translating panta  -“all”- and the participle eidotas – know – as “fully informed”); what they have been fully informed of is all that is essential to their spiritual understanding. William Brosend (172) keeps the NRSV translation, “though you are fully informed,” but does not have a comma after the clause, so that it reads:  “though you are fully informed that the Lord… afterward destroyed those who did not believe.” It is a subtle change, but it places the stress more fully on their information or knowledge being concerned with this one incident and their knowledge of “all things” is limited. My sense is that Jude is making a more general statement, though, about their understanding of the spiritual realities which arise from their knowledge of the Scripture and inform their ability to understand the situation they are now in and the applicability of all the Scripture which is relevant to them.[1] I like the NRSV’s addition of the comma, but think that a more literal “although you know all things” is preferable (see Hartin, 52). Whatever the case, the first example is included in what they know.

The first example concerns the Israelites who were saved by God out of Egypt “once for all” (hapax) and “afterward (to deuteron) destroyed those who did not believe” (v.5). The delivery out of Egypt is clear, but what about those who were “destroyed”? The word translated “afterward” means literally “the second time.” To what “second time” does this refer? Does it indicate those Israelites who were destroyed before being able to enter the Promised Land? Or does it refer to all those who subsequently disobeyed even up to the present day? Since it is an example from the past, and specific examples can be gained from the Old Testament (Numbers 14:27-30; Exodus 32:25-35) regarding those rescued from Egypt who subsequently fell,  I do think Jude’s point is to indicate by past example: those who were in the past saved from Egypt did not all gain entry into the Promised Land; in the same way, if the Christians do not continue to remain faithful, they will not necessarily share in the final salvation. It is intended to reflect on the current “intruders” and is a promise that if present behavior and belief continues, they will not be saved (see Keating, 203 for a similar interpretation). [2]

The second example concerns the “angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling,” who as a result God “has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great day” (v.6).  This verse concerns the angels of Genesis 6:1-4, who fell by having sexual relations with women, and the later expansion of this story in 1 Enoch, a Jewish Hellenistic text which is cited later in this letter (vv.14-15). In 1 Enoch 10:4-6, 12-13, for instance, we are told of the punishment which these angels (‘watchers” in 1 Enoch) received which was to be cast into pits and chained to await the final judgment at the end of time. The expansion of the story in 1 Enoch included these “watchers” coming to earth and not just having sexual relations with women and creating the “giants” or Nephilim, but teaching human beings all the ways and secrets of evil. This story in Genesis and its  much longer counterpart in 1 Enoch are fascinating tales which will be examined when we look at the citation from 1 Enoch later in the letter (vv.14-15).

The final example concerns Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities which “indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust” and so “serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire” (v.7). As with the previous two examples, this is taken from the Old Testament and is an instance of eternal punishment.  I think it is clear with Jude’s interpretation of this passage as “a punishment of eternal fire,” that each example is intended to point to eternal punishment for all those who go astray and do not repent, even if such “eternal punishment” is not noted specifically in the Old Testament or in the judgment of those who fell on the journey to the Promised Land. Here in v.7 Jude notes it in the context of apocalyptic judgment and 1 Enoch notes eternal punishment for the fallen angels as does Jude who says they are “kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great day” (v.6).

The judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah is a challenging passage for interpreters today, for some interpreters want to use it as a general condemnation of homosexuality, while others want to focus on the lack of hospitality – at the very least! - the people of Sodom showed to their visitors. It does refer back to the behavior of the fallen angels who breached boundaries between heaven and earth through their sexual behavior, since the phrase “in the same manner as they” cannot refer to the cities around Sodom and Gomorrah or Sodom and Gomorrah themselves. All of these cities are feminine nouns in Greek, while “they” is masculine, just like the angels from verse 6. When we combine this reference to the angels with the claims of “sexual immorality” and “unnatural lust,” it is obvious that Jude is criticizing the sexual behavior of Sodom and by extension the sexual behavior of the “intruders” which was mentioned in verse 4 as “licentiousness.”

The verb that refers to “sexual immorality” here is porneuô, a word that appears often in the New Testament. This is a general word which refers to all manner of sexual behavior and is not specific in its focus. It is sometimes translated as “adultery” or “unchastity.”[3] The phrase “pursued unnatural lust” is translated from the Greek which literally reads “went after other flesh” (sarkos heteras). There are two ways to interpret this. Schreiner understands this to refer to homosexuality and reads “other flesh” as the desire for the men in Sodom (451-454). Kelly, however, understands “other flesh” as a reference to angelic beings, since verse 7 is linked back to verse 6, as we saw above, and the fallen angels who had sex with women (258-259). Why is this connection possible?  It is possible because the visitors in Sodom were themselves angels (Genesis 19:1). It is not clear which of these two options is the best possibility here, for though many ancient Jewish texts criticized homosexuality in Sodom, they also criticized the inhabitants for arrogance, injustice and lack of care for the poor. And Kelly has demonstrated a fascinating reading of verse 7which connects it to Genesis 6:1-4, 1 Enoch and the previous verse 6 in Jude.

The next entry will explore how Jude applies these examples specifically to the “intruders.”

John W. Martens

I invite you to follow me on Twitter @Biblejunkies

This entry is cross-posted at Bible Junkies



[1]J. N. D. Kelly translates this differently, “I should like to remind you – you who have been informed of all things once for all.” He understands  the word hapax to refer not to God’s salvation of Israel from Egypt, but to the Church’s knowledge of all things. He says, “the addressees ‘know everything’ (panta); their knowledge extends beyond the cautionary stories from sacred history about to be cited, and includes the fullness of God’s revelation, all that a Christian can need” (254). I am sympathetic to this interpretation, but not to the movement of the hapax here, though he advances manuscript evidence for his decision.

[2] This interpretation, which is the likeliest based on the Greek and the context of the letter, is rejected by Thomas Schreiner (447) who writes, “I would like to suggest that the conclusion that true believers can lose their salvation is mistaken, even though it appears on first glance to be convincing.” This points to how biases can drive interpretation. Most evangelical Christians see salvation as a “once for all” gift, unable to be lost, so the interpretation of this passage cannot indicate that salvation can be lost, even if it seems to be the best reading of the text. In this case, Catholic theology has no problem reading the text according to the intended sense, but since we all come to interpretation with biases we must always keep our minds open to correcting our own blind spots. It is not just something we encourage in “others,” but we must apply the medicine to our own eyes. On this issue, consult Jesus, “log in eye,” Matthew 7:3: “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?”

[3] Forthcoming this year is a book by Kyle Harper From Shame to Sin. The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity (Cambridge MA, London) which promises an in-depth study of porneia.

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