The Letter of Jude Online Commentary (7)

In the first installment, I set out the traditional Greco-Roman letter format and looked at the “Judases” and “Jameses” in the New Testament.  In the second installment, I weighed the arguments on authorship and decided the best evidence points in the direction of the Judas/Jude who is the brother of Jacob/James and Jesus. 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.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 studied 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 the sixth entry, verses 8-10, I looked at how Jude applies the charges made against the intruders. In this, the seventh entry, I look at further charges against these intruders and “dreamers” taken from the Old Testament, and an actual charge made regarding their behavior in the community.

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: Further Charges against the Intruders: verses 11-13

11 Woe to them! For they go the way of Cain, and abandon themselves to Balaam's error for the sake of gain, and perish in Korah's rebellion. 12 These are blemishes on your love-feasts, while they feast with you without fear, feeding themselves. They are waterless clouds carried along by the winds; autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the deepest darkness has been reserved forever. (NRSV)

These verses continue the surge of charges made against the group of people that Jude has designated as “intruders” and “dreamers.”  Verse 11 begins with a “Woe” pronounced against them, which William Brosend, in an excellent section on these verses, compares to the “woes” Jesus pronounces in the New Testament 29 times (176). Apart from these uses of the word, it only appears once in 1 Cor 9:16 and 14 times in Revelation, Brosend says. I would want to add one more text into this discussion, however, which will become more significant when we examine verses 14-15. The text of 1 Enoch, already alluded to in Jude, a Jewish apocalyptic text, has many more occurrences of woes pronounced against evildoers at the end of time than the New Testament as a whole.   But when we combine Revelation and 1 Enoch with Jesus’ own uses of “woes,” the vast majority of all of these occurrences are pronounced on people in the context of the coming Judgment at the end of time. This is Jude’s context too.

Their behaviors are placed in the context of notorious Old Testament sinners, such as Cain, Balaam and Korah. Cain we know from the murder of his brother Abel when his sacrifice, for unknown reasons, was not acceptable to God (Genesis 4). I suspect that “going the way of Cain” has more to do with his attitude towards God and sin in general that Jude is rhetorically comparing to the intruders rather than an actual charge of murder. J.N.D. Kelly says that in Hellenistic Judaism Cain had become the model of “godlessness, moral irresponsibility and ultimate damnation” (10-11).  Once again, though, the actual charge is vague.

This vagueness is the case with Balaam, too, who appears in Numbers 22-24 as someone called by Balak son of Zippor King of Moab to curse the Israelites. Instead, Balaam listens to God, and his talking donkey, and does curse them, gaining the ire of Balak. How is this an apt comparison for the intruders? The full charge in Jude against the intruders is that they “abandon themselves to Balaam's error for the sake of gain” (v.11) and this offers a clue. Both Brosend and Kelly offer that the OT scenes in Numbers 22-24 paint Balaam in a fairly positive light, but that Jewish tradition in the time of Jesus and following saw Balaam as a figure that actually did give in to the desire for money and cursed the Israelites for profit. Even more he was seen as the false prophet whose advice to the Midianites caused the Israelites to commit idolatry.

Korah’s rebellion is easier to piece together, since it appears clearly in Numbers 16 that Korah and two of his friends, Dathan and Abiram, challenged the leadership of Moses and Aaron. They were swallowed up by the earth and sent straight to She’ol along with their families for defying God’s authority as established in Moses and Aaron. Jude uses a past tense (aorist) to describe what has already happened to these intruders– “perished” (apôlonto) - though the English translates this as “perish.” While this suggests that the condemnation of the intruders might already have taken place, far more likely is that Jude writes in the past tense to stress that they have already been judged by God; their fate is indeed a fait accompli.

It is now in v. 12 that we find a straightforward charge against them, though, and that is that they are “blemishes on your love-feasts, while they feast with you without fear, feeding themselves.” This English translation, however, smooths over a couple of issues. The “blemishes” in Greek is spilades, which usually means “rocks” or “reefs” (as Reicke, 207). When translated as “blemishes” it is meant to indicate that these intruders function as “immoral” reefs or perhaps “stumbling stones” at the “love-feasts.” The love-feasts (agapê) are early Christian meals which were held in conjunction with the Eucharist and a sign of the unity, fellowship and love of the early Church. The intruders are present at these meals “without fear,” which perhaps indicates that though they do not belong, they are making themselves welcome. Included in this is that they are “shepherding themselves,” the literal Greek for “feeding themselves, and this points to a self-contained group, who see themselves as beyond the authority or discipline of the Church. Whether they are not submitting to the authority of the Church or simply making themselves present where they do not belong, they are taking care of themselves and not a part of the broader Church community.

Jude then continues to pile up imagery, this time again vague in terms of actual content of behavior, but vivid and evocative in terms of imagery:  “they are waterless clouds carried along by the winds; autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted” (v.12).  For me, these images need not be grounded in actual agricultural images from ancient Palestine, for instance, but simply examples of their uselessness: a cloud without water, a tree without fruit is like a lamp under a bushel. These things cannot produce what they ought to produce, which in these cases ought to refresh and give sustenance.   

 

The final verse in this section, verse 13, concentrates on the chaotic nature of their behavior and beliefs, casting the intruders as “wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame.” The final description, however, casts them as truly chaotic, with the proper punishment for such chaos. They are “wandering stars, for whom the deepest darkness has been reserved forever.”  The word “stars” is actually modified by the adjective planêtai, which gives us a sense of what Jude is getting at even in transliteration. Planets were “wandering stars” and “stars” and planets were often personified as angels or holy ones (see Daniel 12:3), but wandering stars could also refer to either fallen angels or to the fallen angels who controlled them (see Kelly, 274). And this image takes us to the looming text of 1 Enoch, in this case 1 Enoch 18:13-16 and 21:1-10 in which the “watchers” or fallen angels are said to be placed in the pit until the Judgment at the end of time.

The next verses will take us directly to the text of 1 Enoch.

John W. Martens

 

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This entry is cross-posted at Bible Junkies

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