“Now I desire to remind you, though you were once for all fully informed, that he who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels that did not keep their own position but left their proper dwelling have been kept by him in eternal chains in the nether gloom until the judgment of the great day; just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. Yet in like manner these men in their dreamings defile the flesh, reject authority, and revile the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, disputed about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him, but said, "The Lord rebuke you." But these men revile whatever they do not understand, and by those things that they know by instinct as irrational animals do, they are destroyed. Woe to them! For they walk in the way of Cain, and abandon themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam's error, and perish in Korah's rebellion. These are blemishes on your love feasts, as they boldly carouse together, looking after themselves; waterless clouds, carried along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars for whom the nether gloom of darkness has been reserved for ever. It was of these also that Enoch in the seventh generation from Adam prophesied, saying, "Behold, the Lord came with his holy myriads, to execute judgment on all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness which they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him." These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own passions, loud-mouthed boasters, flattering people to gain advantage.” (RSV)
NT Wright acknowledges a number of difficulties when reading this section from Judah. As he suggests, one of the main issues is coming to grips with the fact that “things could have been, or could be again, quite as bad as he (Judah) is making out (199).” In this context, particularly with the harsh and direct tone that Judah takes, it can be tempting to accuse Judah of “demonizing people” as Wright suggests some may do today. But as he points out, distancing themselves (ourselves) “from what Judah has perceived as the enormous danger facing the church, opening up in front of the little community like a huge hole in the road into which, unless they watch out, they will stumble to their doom (199).”
I begin with this wisdom from Wright because it captures the reality of what is at stake in the mind of Judah as he writes his letter to this young Christian community (and to us). This section of Judah (5-16) focuses on the false teachers/ungodly people in the midst of this community. There are a lot of unique references to the Old Testament (as well as apocryphal literature) in this section. While often the discussion on this section turns to either the unnatural lust of the ungodly or Judah’s use of apocryphal books (which I am sure will occur in the comments), I am going to focus on verse 5.
In verse 5, Judah begins: “I wish to remind you, although you know all things, that [the] Lord who once saved a people from the land of Egypt later destroyed those who did not believe (NABRE).” (I should note that “Lord” in verse 5 is attested to in some ancient manuscripts, while others read “he” or “Jesus” or God”.) Judah sets the tone for the rest of this section by pointing out that even those who had seen the Lord free them from bondage in Egypt, and brought them safely to Mt. Sinai, quickly fell away and were “destroyed.” Their lack of faith is a warning to this new community of Christian believers. Like the ancient Hebrews, our call is to remain faithful, knowing that our journey with God will not always be easy. This is not only for the new believer, like the community to which Judah writes, but also to those who have remained steadfast throughout their lives. It is important to remember Judah’s charge at the very beginning of this letter to “contend for the faith.” All are called to remain, in a truly active sense, faithful and to trust in the Lord. May we not be like the Hebrews, who in Exodus 16:16-21, did not trust that the LORD would provide each day the manna that they (and we) need. Lack of faith and trust can lead us down a road to where we begin to act like the ungodly, which inevitably brings about judgment.
The verses that follow provide a series of examples of ungodly actions done by both man and angel. Judah sites Old Testament passages and the writings from OT apocrypha (1 Enoch and Assumption of Moses?) to show that those who remain unfaithful and engage in wickedness are condemned. Of note, verse 12 mentions abuse at “love feasts” which indicates that there were liturgical abuses even back in the first century (see also 1 Corinthians 11). The Navarre commentary notes that “these false teachers are quite happy to attend Christian assemblies, but they end an immoral life and cause scandal (650).” Again, this small letter is not only useful to the original readers, but also to us in 2011.
Verses 17-25 will conclude this letter with additional warnings, but also with an important exhortation and benediction. We’ll look at that in the coming days. But for now, I open the comment box to you for your thoughts and wisdom, particularly in the middle section of this portion of Jude.