The Letter of Jude Online Commentary (6)

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 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) in verses 5-7. In this, the sixth entry, verses 8-10, I look at how Jude applies the charges made against the intruders.

6. The Letter of Jude:

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To see the breakdown of a typical Greco-Roman letter, the category into which Jude fits, please consult the first entry in the commentary.  Last entry, I wrote about the “Opening of the Body of the Letter,” in which Jude announced the ways in which the intruders into the Church have strayed by comparing current bad behavior to examples of sinfulness from Scripture and the non-canonical 1 Enoch. In the next verses in the Body of the Letter, Jude directly outlines the behaviors of which he claims the intruders are guilty.

d) Body of the Letter: Applying the Charges against the Intruders: verses 8-10

8 Yet in the same way these dreamers also defile the flesh, reject authority, and slander the glorious ones. 9 But when the archangel Michael contended with the devil and disputed about the body of Moses, he did not dare to bring a condemnation of slander against him, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!" 10 But these people slander whatever they do not understand, and they are destroyed by those things that, like irrational animals, they know by instinct. (NRSV)

This section is a clear comparison to the verses which precede them since the first word in Greek is homoiôs, which means “likewise” or “in the same way.” The intruders are now called “these dreamers,” which Bo Reicke translates as “hypnotized as they are” (201). The participle translated here is from the Greek verb enupniazomai and it does have the regular sense of dream. Perhaps Reicke is thinking that the way they are behaving gives the sense of being transfixed by their dreams, but I think Catherine Gonzalez captures this better when she says that Jude probably intends that the “dreamers” base their behavior on what they consider divinely revealed revelations or visions (218-19).

They are accused of three things in v.8: defiling the flesh; rejecting authority; and slandering the glorious ones. These three charges match exactly with the behaviors outlined in vv.5-7.  “Defiling the flesh” is comparable to the behaviors in Sodom and Gomorrah (v.7); “rejecting authority” is similar to the Israelites who complained against God during the Exodus (v.5);[1] while “slandering the glorious ones” matches the angels (v.6) who did not maintain proper boundaries between heaven and earth (Patrick Hartin, 52-53). “Defiling the flesh” and “rejecting authority” are clear, even if we do not know their specific manifestations, but how did they” slander the glorious ones” and are the “glorious ones” definitely angels?

First, the Greek for “slander” in vv. 8-10 is blasphêmeô/blasphêmia, which does have the sense of “speak impiously” or “speak profanely of divine things” and so the “slander” could also be translated as “blasphemy,” though the content of such slander is not clear. “Blasphemy” also fits more clearly with angels. Bo Reicke translates “glorious ones” as “dignitaries” whom he considers either human or angelic (201-02), but it seems most likely that the “glorious ones” of v.8 are angels. This is not just because this is a fair reading of “glorious ones” and a fair description of angels in the Judeo-Christian tradition, but because they have been “blasphemed,” which is more proper in a description of divine beings. Also the archangel Michael is noted in v.9 and ancient authors in the biblical and rabbinic traditions are often “attracted” to a topic by a previous notice of it in the text. But how were the angels slandered? How is it possible to slander angels? On the basis of v.8, this is not possible to know, but vv.9-10 might help us understand the basis of this charge.

Verse 9 is important on a number of levels. If you do not remember the story about Michael contending with the devil for the body of Moses it is because it is not in the Bible but in an apocryphal work known today as The Testament of Moses. In the past it was often called The Assumption of Moses. While this text is found in a number of editions today, the story of Michael and the devil is missing from our editions.  Scholars are certain the account was there, however, since ancient Christian writers mention it. I will cite Bo Reicke at length:

According to well-known authorities of the early church like Clement of Alexandria, Origen and others, the reference to Michael’s contention with the devil comes from an apocryphal intertestamental book entitled “The Assumption of Moses.” This apocalyptic work has been preserved and may be read in modern editions, but unfortunately the narration about Michael and the devil is missing in all extant manuscripts. Extracts from older Greek commentaries and the Slavonic legend of Moses, however, seem to have preserved the haggadic midrash for posterity. According to these fragments the devil had reviled Moses and called him a murderer, because he had killed the Egyptian overseer. The significant detail is that the devil’s slander was directed at Moses. Jude uses this as the key to his analogy: The slanders of the false teachers are parallel to those of the devil, and the dignitaries reviled by them are comparable to Moses, here as elsewhere the representative of legally constituted authority. (Reicke, 202)

Once again, Jude has demonstrated a fluid conception of “canon” as he cites here a non-canonical text for authority, as he did 1 Enoch in v.6, which makes this a significant verse in understanding early Christianity and its notion of authority.

I think, though, that Reicke has misunderstood part of the connection between v. 8 and v.9, which also makes this verse significant. Jude is not comparing the intruders and dreamers to the devil and placing the “glorious ones” (human “dignitaries” for Reicke) in the place of Moses; instead, he is saying that even Michael, an angel, did not slander the devil, who is most deserving of it if any being is, but referred his judgment to God by saying, “The Lord rebuke you!” Jude, I believe, is claiming that slander is never proper and that in this apocalyptic letter, in which judgment is understood as imminent, one should allow God to judge one’s wickedness. That is, these intruders and dreamers assume the arrogance of the devil in slandering the “glorious ones,” while Michael the archangel would not even slander the devil, but referred the judgment to God. Here is the parallelism: these intruders, mere men, slander angels, but an angel would not even judge the devil! This heightens Jude’s charge and the hubris of these people (see J.N.D. Kelly, 263-64). What, though, does it mean that these dreamers blaspheme angels? Anything at this point would be a guess, not even a hypothesis, but somehow they have transgressed the speech that is proper to describe the spiritual world. Gonzalez and others have wondered if the “blaspheming “of angels (v.8) and “condemnation of slander” (v.9) could be related to Paul’s claim in 1 Corinthians 6:1-4 that Christians will judge angels, and that perhaps the intruders have already started this process, but there is not enough evidence for this claim or any sense of how they would do such a thing (220).

Though in v.10 the same word “blaspheme” appears, it is not possible to get a specific sense of their behaviors. They are described as “blaspheming” or “slandering” what they do not know or understand. On the other hand, they are “destroyed” by the things which they know “by instinct” (literally: physikôs “naturally” or “by nature”), as if they are “irrational animals” (aloga zôa). This last clause might fit with the previous claims of “defiling the flesh” and “rejecting authority,” since these charges could be seen as representative of “irrational animals” or “instinctual” behaviors. Taken altogether, though, we only have general charges made against these people in the Church, although that does not mean that those who received the letter were not clear about the precise issues. What it does mean is that we cannot put a finger on the particular issues, except that the dreamers had renounced the authority of the Church and acted contrary to its teachings in a number of ways.

Hypotheses will be offered at the end of the commentary as to what the behaviors might have been. More importantly, I will consider what is the importance for us today of this ancient letter with its apocalyptic accusations that are so difficult to figure out. What can it teach us today?

The next entry will examine even more charges made by Jude applies against the “intruders” and “dreamers.”

John W. Martens

I invite you to follow me on Twitter @Biblejunkies

This entry is cross-posted at Bible Junkies



[1]Patrick Hartin translates “reject authority” more literally as to “scorn lordship” (52).

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