Preliminary notes on Jude

These notes are just some rough thoughts ahead of tomorrow’s Bible study session with some friends at Sugar Creek Baptist Church. I post notes like these in advance and then the other guys don’t have to sit and listen to me drone on and on at the Bible study itself.

Jude is a book whose target audience was Jewish Christians steeped in Jewish tradition and literature, both Biblical and extraBiblical. His letter has four main parts: introduction, talking trash about the Bad Guys (that is, the heretics he assails), encouraging the good guys (that is, the faithful Christians to whom he is writing), and a doxology that is arguably the greatest doxology in all the Bible.

Most of the letter is trashing the Bad Guys. The structure here is not so obvious if you aren’t Jewish, but it basically works like this: these people were “written about long ago” in two different ways, and Jude wants Christians to grasp the lessons of the past and thus avoid lurking catastrophe in the present. Arguably the key phrase in the whole letter is, “I want you to remember…”

The two ways in which Jude attacks the Bad Guys are these:

  1. There are stories in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition that show how bad things happen to sinners like these modern-day Bad Guys; so they were being talked about in analogies, as it were. (If you’re familiar with the theological term “types,” well, that’s where Jude is going with this.)
  2. Some things that were prophesied in the past were prophesied about these guys in particular.

The sources Jude uses are best laid out in a table. From this it is obvious that Jude thinks that his readers will be familiar not only with the Old Testament, and with the teachings of the Apostles (that is, the closest thing Christians of Jude’s time had to the New Testament), but also with non-Biblical Jewish tradition – which we ourselves aren’t familiar with, and which therefore makes it hard for us to catch Jude’s point.

Think of it this way: up until fifty years ago, every child in England knew who Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar were – they were the Three Kings of Orient who visited Jesus at His birth, the Magi. So imagine that, say, C. S. Lewis is writing a letter to a British friend and he wants to make some point using the Magi as an illustration. But he knows his friend knows the Bible exhaustively, and also his friend is English; so Lewis knows that all he has to do is mention the name “Balthazar” to remind his friend of the whole story. So Lewis says, “I think, frankly, that God has given you a fairly clear warning; I hope you may be as heedful as Balthazar.” This would make no sense at all to people unfamiliar with the English tradition of the names of the Three Kings – they wouldn’t even recognize it as a reference to Matthew 2 at all, because while the story of the Magi is Biblical, the names of the Magi are merely traditional.

(I would also point out that you would be rather unwise to think, on the basis of that letter, that C. S. Lewis was silly enough to think that the Magi were in real life actually named Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar – the shorthand reference would very succinctly and efficiently make his point, which would be that his friend should pay attention to God’s warning, not that people who think we don’t really know the names of the Magi are wrong. In the same way, Jude can refer to Jewish tradition as a shorthand to remind his Jewish Christian readers of stories that can serve as analogies for the behavior and fate of the Bad Guys, without necessarily having troubled to ask himself to what extent the traditions were perfectly accurate.)

Verse Text of Jude Ancient source
5b Jesus at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe Exodus (pretty much the whole book), Numbers (esp. 14:11-12)
6 And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling – these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. Genesis 6:1-4, as interpreted by…

…Jewish tradition about “The Watchers,” all over the place, at least ten or fifteen sources just that we know of such as:

1 Enoch, “Book of the Watchers,” especially 6-11

Jubilees 4:15, 22, 5:1-2

2 Baruch 56:10-16



Lots more

Note that 1 Peter 3:18-22 appears to accept this interpretation as well. (2 Peter was written using Jude as a source; so 2 Peter 2:4 could just be taking Jude’s word for it rather than being an independent source.)

7 In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and foreign flesh. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. Genesis 18, 19. Note that the Watchers were angels who had sexual relations with human women, while the Sodomites were human men who tried to have sexual relations with angels (this is the main point of the phrase “strange/foreign flesh,” I think). I am pretty sure Jude is not primarily referencing the homosexual aspect and we can’t assume that the “Bad Guys” were engaging in homosexuality just because Jude compared them to the Sodomites. (I don’t mean by this that homosexuality is fine as long as everybody involved is human, of course – I’m only pointing out the rhetorical tactic I think Jude is actually using).
8 In the very same way, on the strength of their dreams these ungodly people pollute their own bodies, reject authority and heap abuse on celestial beings The Bad Guys: the first two accusations look backward to Jude’s first three examples and says the Bad Guys are like to OT Bad Guys; the last looks forward to his next one to say the Bad Guys are NOT like the OT good guys
9 But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” It is highly likely (based on things said by Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Gelasius Cyzicenus) that Jude was quoting the last part of The Assumption of Moses, which was a first-century retelling of the Jewish tradition that the Archangel Michael had personally buried Moses; but in this version Satan shows up and insists that he is the rightful owner of the body due (presumably) either to the same sin that caused Moses to forfeit the right to enter the Promised Land (cf. Deut. 32:48-52), or else to Moses’s murder of the Egyptian (Ex. 2:11-15). We don’t know how far back the tradition of the dispute over the body goes. Unfortunately our only manuscript of The Assumption of Moses is incomplete, and if Jude was quoting from it, he was quoting from the part that was lost. At any rate, this is the Jewish tradition to which Jude is referring.
10 Yet these people slander whatever they do not understand, and the very things they do understand by instinct – as irrational animals do – will destroy them The Bad Guys are NOT like Michael
11a Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; Genesis 4

In some strains of Jewish tradition, Cain is notable for having actively encouraged others to sin

Perhaps more relevantly to Jude (but we can’t be sure because we don’t know how far back this tradition goes), there was a strain of Jewish tradition (reflected in some early Christian writers as well, such as Tertullian’s rather strained and hyper-literal exegesis of 1 John 3:12) that held that Cain was not Adam’s son, but was instead the product of sexual intercourse between Eve and one of the fallen angels (either by seduction or rape).

11b they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; Three charges were laid against Balaam:

1.       He took money to curse Israel, though in the end he blessed Israel instead (Numbers 22-24). This is the part we remember because we like the story about Balaam’s donkey. It was not what Jewish tradition focused on, though; that was…

2.       Having been unable to curse Israel, he sabotaged Israel by advising the Moabites and Midianites to use sex to defeat the Israelites, by having their women seduce them into unfaithfulness to God at Peor (Numbers 25, Balaam’s role in which is revealed in Numbers 31:16). Note that the Moabites specifically invited the Israelites to join them in their sacrificial feasts (Numbers 25:2), which every Christian would instantly have connected to the Christian love-feasts that Jude accuses the Bad Guys of polluting in v 12.

3.       He practiced divination (Joshua 13:22), but this doesn’t seem to interest Jude

11c they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion. Numbers 16

In later Jewish tradition Korah was obscenely rich, which would fit well with Jude’s denunciations of the Bad Guys’ greed; but we don’t know how far back that tradition started so can’t be sure Jude is referring to it

12-13 These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm – shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted – twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever. They are bad guys

The “wandering stars,” by the way, are planets (“astér planétes,” “wandering star,” is the Greek word for “planet” and is obviously where our own word “planet,” literally “wanderer,” comes from). Ancient thought revered the stars because they were so orderly and (unlike all the chaos and randomness that makes life on earth so unpleasant) never left their appointed places – except for the planets, which wandered around the heavens. Given Jude’s focus on what a bad thing it is to “not keep to your own proper place,” as it were, he no doubt was of the school that thought rather badly of the planets for their irresponsible behavior, and thus this is an insult in keeping with that particular Judean motif. Compare James 1:17, where “in whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” is Greek astronomical language referring precisely to the contrast between the inconstancy of the moon and planets, and the noble constancy of the everlastingly unchanging stars.

14-15 Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all of them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness, and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” 1 Enoch, the “Book of the Watchers” section, 1:9. So far as we can tell this is a direct quotation.
16 These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage. They are bad guys
17-18 But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” This is, in effect, a New Testament quote – that is, it is an appeal to the teachings of the Apostles.
19 These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. They are bad guys and not Christians

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