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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Jude 1

 

 

Verse 1

THE GENERAL LETTER OF JUDE

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ:

For the significance of this verse in understanding the authorship and date of the epistle, see in the introduction.

James ... One of the brothers of Jesus Christ (Matthew 13:55), and therefore, at first, not a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ whom he here acknowledges as his Lord (John 7:2-5).

Servant ... The word for "servant" here is (Greek: [@doulos]),[1] meaning one "born into slavery," thus witnessing to the fact of Jude's being "twice born," having experienced the new birth. Although the meaning of this word in the Greek is "slave," the translators have wisely rendered it "servant," because of the degrading associations connected with the other word.

And brother of James ... This is added by way of identification, and also as a basis of his expecting to be heard. "It is almost impossible that an apostle should have urged such a claim, and yet not have stated the much higher claim of his own office."[2] The powerful inference, of course, is that the writer of Jude was not an apostle.

Called ... in the New Testament always has the sense of a call accepted and obeyed.

Beloved in God ... Here we have "a parallel to the Pauline in Christ."[3] One's being either "in God" or "in Christ" being automatically equivalent to his being in the other, it is clear that here is another New Testament witness to the conception reaching back to the Lord himself of the "corporate body" of God's people.

And kept for Jesus Christ ... Wallace noted that, "The verb here translated kept points toward Christ's return."[4]

[1] Delbert R. Rose, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 10 (Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), p. 428.

[2] Alfred Plummer, Ellicott's Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 508.

[3] David H. Wheaton, The New Bible Commentary, Revised (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 1275.

[4] David H. Wallace, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 1040.


Verse 2

Mercy unto you and peace and love be multiplied.

Jude's fondness for triads is evident throughout the letter. In these first two verses we have: (1) three names: Jude, Jesus Christ, and James, then (2) three forms of relation: servant, Lord (Master), and brother, then (3) mercy, peace, and love. In Jude 1:1:5-10, we have three examples of apostasy: (4) Israel of the Exodus, the rebel angels, and the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah. There follows: (5) a three-fold characterization of the evil men as walking in the ways of Cain, Balaam, and Korah.

Grace, mercy, and peace ... This follows closely the sentiment of Paul's "grace, mercy, and peace" (2 Timothy 1:2).


Verse 3

Beloved, while I was giving all diligence to write unto you of our common salvation, I was constrained to write unto you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints.

While I was giving all diligence ... means that Jude was actually engaged in writing a treatise on "our common salvation." For possible reasons why this might have been overruled by God, see in the introduction.

Common salvation ... This has the meaning of the salvation which is offered to all people alike, upon the same conditions, from the same source, and entailing the same obligations. This salvation is not common in the sense of being ordinary, being on the other hand the most precious treasure ever made available to the sons of earth.

I was constrained to write unto you exhorting you ... Not further instructions, but exhortation to heed the truth already received was the great requirement of the day; and Jude accepted the challenge. As to the incident that might have led to this change in his plans, we are not told; but it may be surmised that news from churches in which he was vitally interested might have been the decisive factor.

Beloved ... The only other example of a New Testament book beginning with this particular word is 3 John 1:1:2. "As Jude's subject was a very unpleasant one, he hastens to assure his readers of his affection for them, to prevent his strong language from offending them."[5]

Exhorting you to contend earnestly ... There are very important deductions which are mandatory in such a declaration, the first being the possibility of apostasy. As Mayor put it, "It is possible (as shown by the following examples) for spiritual blessings once given to be lost unless we use every effort to maintain them."[6] Another deduction is that hostility to the truth exists and will continue to exist throughout history. What is meant is that Christians shall vigorously fight for and defend the truth. Barclay pointed out that the Greek word used here "contains the root of our English word agony. The defense of the faith may well be a costly thing; but that defense is a duty which falls on every generation of the church."[7]

For the faith ... What is this? We reject the notion of some, like that of Dummelow, to the effect that the faith as used here applies merely to the fact "that our common salvation is the work of Christ."[8] While true enough as far as it goes, much more than that is meant here. "It means that alone which is contained in the Bible."[9] "It means the sum of that which Christians believe."[10] "The faith here implies a recognized body of teaching such as we know emerged from Peter's early sermons."[11] Therefore, Caton is correct in including in the meaning all of the basic New Testament requirements of faith, repentance, confession, and baptism into Christ of all who would be saved initially, and the ethical, moral and religious obligations of Christians, including their faithful observance of the Lord's Supper, along with the reception and cherishing of the earnest of the Holy Spirit, as necessarily manifested in their subsequent lives.[12]

Here again, in the New Testament usage of faith, it means, as so frequently in other New Testament passages, as Alford put it: "Faith means the faith which is believed, not the faith by which we believe."[13]

Once for all delivered ... The use of the Greek word [hapax] carries the meaning of "once only and forever." The gospel delivered to mankind was not a piecemeal revelation, "here a little and there a little" as in the Old Testament, but the full message in its entirety and completeness as delivered through Christ to the apostles. The word ([Greek: hapax]) is the same as in such New Testament expressions as "appointed to man once to die," "Christ offered himself once," etc. See fuller comment on this word in my Commentary on Hebrews, p. 164. Russell's comment on this phrase was: "The gospel was delivered not in part, but as a complete whole."[14]

There is hardly any other message of the New Testament that has greater relevance for our own times than this. The revelation of Christ through the apostles is complete, inviolate, sufficient, eternal, immutable, and not subject to any change whatever. Jesus made his sayings to be the dogmatic foundation of Christianity as evident in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 7:24-25) and in the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20). People who desire to know God, walk in the light, have eternal life, etc., should heed such passages as 2 John 1:1:9, always remembering that the truth was "first spoken by the Lord" (Hebrews 2:3), and that all of those religious doings which cannot pass the test of having been "first" spoken by Jesus Christ should be rejected.

[5] Alfred Plummer, op. cit., p. 508.

[6] J. B. Mayor, Expositor's Greek New Testament, Vol. V (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 255.

[7] William Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 179.

[8] J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 1063.

[9] James MacKnight, MacKnight on the Epistles, Vol. VI. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, reprint, 1969), p. 191.

[10] Delbert R. Rose, op. cit., p. 428.

[11] David H. Wheaton, op. cit., p. 1275.

[12] N. T. Caton, Commentary on the Epistles of James, Peter, John and Jude (Delight, Arkansas: Gospel Light Publishing Company, 1897), p. 202.

[13] Delbert R. Rose, a quotation from Alford, op. cit., p. 432.

[14] James William Russell, Compact Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1964), p. 612.


Verse 4

For there are certain men crept in privily, even they who were of old written of beforehand unto this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God unto lasciviousness, and denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

There are certain men crept in privily ... These evil persons were the reasons for Jude's writing this letter. Just how he came to have this information is not specified; but presumably, he had received either some letter regarding it, or had been visited by one who knew the facts. It would appear that such people were apostate Christians, rather than rank outsiders. "In New Testament times, many of the enemies of the church were an emergence from within, rather than an intrusion from without."[15]

Whatever had been their beginnings, the evil men were at that time "ungodly," a favorite word with Jude. The Greek word [@asebeia] (ungodly) "is found 4 times in Romans 3 times in Timothy and Titus 1 time in 1 Peter 2 times in 2Peter, and 6 times in Jude."[16] "They had corrupted the concept of the grace of God so as to make it a cover for blatant immorality."[17] These heretics are here indicted in four charges: (1) they entered secretly; (2) they were prophetically consigned to doom; (3) they are ungodly; and (4) they deny Christ. As Wallace said, "To deny is positively to disbelieve what Christ testified about himself."[18]

Lasciviousness ... "This implies Gnostic antinomianism, which connotes sexual debauchery."[19] Such errors were clearly connected with the abuse of Paul's teachings regarding the grace of God; and the urgency with which Jude here undertook the refutation of it indicates that no great time had lapsed since Paul's letters of Romans, Galatians and Ephesians had appeared, thus corroborating the approximate date we have assigned to this letter.

Who were of old written of ... Macknight explained the meaning of this thus:

Jude means that the Scriptures relating the doom of Sodom, the punishment of angels, etc., whose sins were the same as those of these wicked men, were to be understood as examples of the punishment God would inflict upon them.[20]

[15] Alfred Plummer, op. cit., p. 509.

[16] Delbert R. Rose, op. cit., p. 432.

[17] Ibid.

[18] David H. Wallace, op. cit., p. 18.

[19] Ibid.

[20] James MacKnight, op. cit., p. 192.


Verse 5

Now I desire to put you in remembrance, though ye know all things once for all, that the Lord, having saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not.

Though ye know all things once for all ... Here again is (Greek: [@hapax]), indicating that the Christian knows the whole message once and for all, finally, before he is even converted. In the sense of its basics, the Christian faith is not an exploration, but an acceptance, but not so much after that acceptance a learning, as it is a doing. Barnett defended the RSV as superior in their rendition of this as, "Learn one lesson, and you know all."[21] This applies to the "common salvation" and the "faith once for all delivered" rather than to the Old Testament examples Jude was about to cite.

Saved a people out of... Egypt ... By bringing up the example of the Israel of the Exodus, Jude taught that, "The goodness of God will not hinder him from punishing the wicked under the new dispensation, any more than it hindered him from punishing them under the old."[22]

The information which Jude states in this verse as being known "once for all," according to Wheaton, is "catechetical instruction given prior to baptism,"[23] which corresponds with the meaning suggested in discussion of it above.

Afterward destroyed them that believed not ... Here the New Testament habit of using "belief" to cover a whole family of related things is clear enough. The Israelites were destroyed for idolatry in worshipping the golden calf, their fornication with the Midianites, their murmuring and complaining, etc.; but all of this is summed up as "they believed not."

[21] Albert E. Barnett, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. XII (New York and Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1956), p. 326.

[22] James MacKnight, op. cit., p. 194.

[23] David H. Wheaton, op. cit., p. 1275.


Verse 6

And angels that kept not their own principality, but left their proper habitation, he hath kept in everlasting bonds under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.

It is disgusting that some so-called Christian commentaries read like an exegesis on the apocryphal book of Enoch, rather than a discussion of the sacred New Testament. There is not any reference whatever in this place to Genesis 6:1ff and the wild and speculative tales about angels having intercourse with women, producing a nation of giants, and a lot of other fembu which is not even hinted at in this verse. For the moment, we shall leave it at that, but a fuller discussion will be given under Jude 1:1:14.

Angels that kept not their own principality ... These were the angels of Satan mentioned by the Saviour in Matthew 25:41. There is nothing in this verse that might not be inferred from what Jesus said there, especially by a person who had been reared in the same home with Jesus! That those angels of the devil had indeed rebelled is clear from the fact of their belonging to the devil; and these words are a legitimate statement of such an inference.

He hath kept in everlasting bonds under darkness ... All that we said under the preceding paragraph applies here. An apostle of Jesus Christ had already given Jude all of the authority he needed for making such a statement as this. Peter said, "God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment" (2 Peter 2:4).

Rose stressed the willingness of some to see this as a reference to the superstition that "the angels came down to earth, cohabited with women, producing a half-human, half-demonic race of beings called giants in Genesis 6:4." He firmly rejected such a view, saying that, "For this writer, Jesus sufficiently refutes the idea that angels could possibly commit fornication with humans (Matthew 22:30)."[24] Full agreement is felt with Rose; and, besides that, "angels" are not even mentioned in the Genesis passage. The commentators have simply dragged the Book of Enoch into their misunderstanding of this passage.

The judgment of the great day ... "This expression occurs in Revelation 6:17, and nowhere else in the New Testament."[25] This is to be identified with John's "last day" (John 6:39,40,44,54; John 11:24; and John 12:48). Other New Testament expressions for that great final occasion are "that day," "the day of judgment," and "the day of the Lord."

[24] Delbert R. Rose, op. cit., p. 436.

[25] Alfred Plummer, op. cit., p. 510.


Verse 7

Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them, having in like manner with these having given themselves over to fornication and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire.

Sodom and Gomorrah ... These were the wicked cities whose shameful sin is embalmed in the very name of one of them, a full account of which may be found in Genesis 18 and Genesis 19. These are a second illustration drawn from the Old Testament of once privileged people who were destroyed for their wickedness. The plain of Sodom was well-watered, evidently being one of great fertility, as indicated by Lot's choice of it.

And the cities about them ... These words are scarcely noted by some, but without this notice the next clause is unintelligible. Which were these cities "round about" Sodom and Gomorrah? They were "Admah and Zeboim, the two being mentioned along with Sodom and Gomorrah in Deuteronomy 29:23."[26]

Having in like manner with these ... has the meaning that all four of those wicked cities including Zeboim and Admah were guilty of "fornication" and the deviations associated more generally with Sodom and Gomorrah. Jude reveals here that Zeboim and Admah were similarly guilty with Sodom and Gomorrah. Failure to note this has led some commentators to interpret this as meaning that they committed fornication and went after strange flesh (Sodomy) like the angels![27] Of course, Jesus said that, "In heaven the sons of God shall be as the angels of heaven who neither marry, nor are given in marriage," (Matthew 22:30), indicating that angelic life is utterly different from life on earth.

Suffering the punishment of eternal fire ... That this verse is not a reference to the angels is clear in the distinction of the two punishments. That of the angels was their reservation "under darkness" until the judgment; that in this verse, being the punishment of the wicked cities, is "suffering ... eternal fire," a plain reference to the divine visitation against Sodom and Gomorrah. Such a punishment suggested to Jude the "eternal fire" mentioned by Jesus as the punishment of the wicked, of which the physical destruction of the cities was but a preliminary type of the ultimate overthrow of the wicked in hell.

[26] James MacKnight, op. cit., p. 196.

[27] Alfred Plummer, op. cit., p. 510.


Verse 8

Yet in like manner these also in their dreamings defile the flesh, and set at naught dominion, and rail at dignities.

In their dreamings ... Any, or all, of a number of things could have been meant by this. "Idle speculations,"[28] impractical and unrealistic thoughts, "certain visions they had received,"[29] divine revelations they claimed to have had, or simply that, "their thoughts, whether awake or asleep, were impure, sensual, evil."[30] Whatever the exact meaning, all of their activity was directed to a single objective, that of defilement, whether self-pollution, or the corruption of others, or both.

Set at naught dominion ... All dominion belongs to God, as stated in the benediction; and the evil teachers rejected God's authority. Their sins were threefold: they defile, reject, and revile.

Rail at dignities ... The New Catholic Bible states that this word dignities "is understood as referring to angels."[31] There could be a clue in this reference to their speaking evil of angels as to the type of heresy current when Jude wrote. On the surface, it seems incredible, almost, that any person, no matter how evil, would indulge in blasphemous remarks against the holy angels; and yet evil men today speak evil of the Son of God who is higher in glory and power than any angel. The style of evil speaking has changed a bit, but the sin is the same as always. The word Jude used here is also translated "majesties" or "glories"; and the sin is covered by the prohibition, no matter which "glory" is reviled. The theory behind their reviling angels could have been Docetism. "Docetists held all angels in contempt because they supposed angels helped God in creating the material universe, and that they (the angels) were thereby spiritually defiled."[32]

[28] Alfred Plummer, op. cit., p. 511.

[29] David F. Payne, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 627.

[30] N. T. Caton, op. cit., p. 206.

[31] New Catholic Bible (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1949), New Testament, p. 322.

[32] Albert E. Barnett, op. cit., p. 328.


Verse 9

But Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing judgment, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.

Barclay's summary of the meaning of this whole verse is excellent: "If the greatest of good angels refused to speak evil of the greatest of evil angels, even in circumstances like that, then surely no human being may speak evil of any angel."[33]

It is absolutely unnecessary to suppose that Jude was here quoting from Philo, or the apocryphal book of Enoch, or Josephus, or "The Assumption of Moses," nor any one of half dozen alleged "sources." The last clause of this verse is a quotation from the Old Testament book of Zechariah 3:2; and we may be certain that the rest of this verse is just as authentic as the last clause. It is helpful to remember that the writer of this epistle had been reared in the same family with Jesus Christ our Lord, having had more than a quarter of a century of the most intimate association with the Lord, and that such a statement as is found in this verse undoubtedly reflects the Saviour's own supernatural wisdom. It should not disturb anyone that the kernel of truth mentioned here was endlessly vulgarized and extended in an apocryphal book. See under Jude 1:1:14.

Michael the archangel ... If Jude had been thinking of the book of Enoch here, he would certainly have written, "Michael, one of the archangels," for that book names seven: "Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Saragaej, Gabriel, and Remiel."[34] The word "archangel" occurs only in this verse and in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 in the New Testament; and it is quite likely that there is only one archangel, namely, Michael. "There can be properly only one archangel, one chief, or head of all the angelic host."[35] Other glimpses we have of Michael in the Bible always show him as the head singular of the holy angels, as in Daniel 10:13,21, and Daniel 12:1, and also in Revelation 12:7. Jude's usage of the term "archangel" is fully in keeping with this view, being certainly opposed to the apocryphal notions of a whole order of archangels. All of the diligence of scholars to find the source of Jude's letter in the shameful book of Enoch (not even in the Apocryphal section of the Catholic Bible) border very closely upon a denial of his inspiration.

What is indicated in Jude's words here is that there was conflict between Michael and Satan over the body of Moses; we may surmise (and it is only that) that perhaps Satan wanted to use the body for purposes like the worship of relics in succeeding ages. At any rate, the lesson is, THE archangel did not bring a railing accusation against the devil himself, saying, "The Lord rebuke thee" (Zechariah 3:2). How strange it is that mortal, weak, ignorant, vile and sinful men would rail against heavenly beings, a thing which the archangel would not do, even though apparently having the right to have done so.

[33] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 221.

[34] Albert E. Barnett, op. cit., p. 329.

[35] Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Bible, Vol. VI (London: Carlton and Porter, 1829), p. 952.


Verse 10

But these rail at whatsoever things they know not: and what they understand naturally, like the creatures without reason, in these things they are destroyed.

But these rail ... Fools rush in where the archangel did not dare to go, human stupidity in such conduct reaching some kind of a summit.

And what they understand naturally ... Far from having any superior wisdom, these licentious Gnostics were totally blind to all of the highest knowledge; and the things which they could not help knowing, such as their passions, they used only for the purpose of sinning.

They are destroyed ... This may be understood both in the present and the prophetic tenses. People engrossed in sensuality are already destroyed; and that present destruction is likewise the prophecy of eternal ruin as well.


Verse 11

Woe unto them! for they went in the way of Cain, and ran riotously in the error of Balaam for hire, and perished in the gainsaying of Korah.

Glancing above at the preceding verses, it will be noted that Jude gave three examples of apostasy: the ancient Israelites, the rebel angels, and the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Jude 1:1:5-7). Next, he indicted the licentious Gnostic heretics as just as guilty as the ancient apostates, emphasizing their sinful and ignorant behaviour by contrasting it with the restraint of the archangel Michael (Jude 1:1:8-9), these two verses being somewhat of a parenthetical note. He returned to the indictment of the wicked men in Jude 1:1:10; but in this (Jude 1:1:11), he equates and compares their conduct with the wickedness of three of the worst Old Testament apostates: Cain, Balaam, and Korah.

Cain ... Balaam ... Korah ... Jude assumed that his readers were thoroughly familiar with the Old Testament events associated with these three names of infamy; and we shall do our readers the courtesy of making the same assumption with regard to them. For those who would like to "brush up a bit," the narratives of Cain (Genesis 4), Balaam (Numbers 22-24), and Korah (Numbers 16) are among the most interesting records in Scripture. Jude's reason for the choice of these three examples might have been lodged in the spectacular punishments they received. Cain was cursed of God; Balaam was found dead with God's enemies fighting against Israel, and Korah was swallowed up by an earthquake that split open the earth, taking Korah and all of his company to their death. The lesson is that a grievous punishment will be meted out to wicked men. Another reason for the selection of these three was also probably that of their sins being similar to the sins of the wicked Gnostics. Like Cain, they were innovators with a fierce hatred of any who rejected their ideas. Like Balaam, they were greedy, covetous, and willing to do any dishonorable thing whatever for the sake of money. Like Korah, they rebelled against God's appointed authorities, the sacred apostles, prophets and teachers of the new covenant, just as Korah had rebelled against Moses. Still another possible purpose in using the example of Cain derived from the need to refute the Ophites, called also Cainites. Bruce has this on that evil system:

In the early days of Christianity there was one heretical (Gnostic) group which actually venerated Cain and his successors as champions of right, and claimed to be akin to him "and to the men of Sodom and Esau and Korah" (as Epiphanius informs us)[36]

There is further discussion of this above, under 1 John 3:12, where Cain was cited as an example of wickedness. Also see above, under 2 Peter 2:15, where Balaam was similarly cited. Apparently, all three of these, Cain, Balaam, and Korah were considered to be especially notorious sinners, and frequently referred to as examples and warnings.

ENDNOTE:

[36] F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972), p. 134.


Verse 12

These are they who are hidden rocks in your love feasts when they feast with you, shepherds that without fear feed themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots;

Hidden rocks in your love-feasts ... The metaphor appears to be a sunken shoal, or reef, upon which the unwary mariner might suffer shipwreck.

Love-feasts ... The love-feast mentioned here "still appears to be one with the eucharistic assembly,"[37] and therefore not the type which was mentioned by Tertullian as continuing into the fourth century. This, according to Robinson, suggests something near a mid-century date (61-62 A.D.) for Jude. Essential to the success of these evil poachers in the Lords' vineyard was the secret and stealthy modus operandi which attended their operations.

Shepherds that without fear feed themselves ... Like everything else in his letter, Jude here drew this from the Old Testament example of "shepherds that feed themselves" (Ezekiel 34). Ezekiel called them "fat cattle" who abuse the flock of God, fouling their food with refuse, etc.; as some would say today, "They were fat cats, living in luxury while impoverishing others."

Clouds without water ... Note that this is a metaphor drawn from the arid area of Judaea, perfectly ordinary, and universally known. Clouds without water were a terrible disappointment to people who needed rain most of the time.

Carried along by winds ... A similar cloud metaphor having the meaning of instability. Now one may see such a cloud; then he doesn't. That was the way it was with the false teachers.

Autumn trees without fruit ... The autumn trees here were those which normally bore their fruit in the autumn. Fruit time was disappointment time for those who looked to barren trees.

Twice dead, plucked up by the roots ... In a sense, an unfruitful, or barren tree, was "dead"; but, when it had already been grubbed up from the earth, it was "doubly dead." "Spiritually, these men were twice dead in having returned after baptism to the death of sin."[38] Many have likewise identified this as parallel with such passages as Hebrews 6:4-7.

[37] John A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 172.

[38] Alfred Plummer, op. cit., p. 513.


Verse 13

wild waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the blackness of darkness hath been reserved for ever.

Wild waves of the sea ... Jude, like countless others, had visited a sea shore following a storm, finding the beach littered and polluted by every kind of filth and trash. In addition to such experience which it may be assumed he had, the words of the Prophet Isaiah pronounced the metaphor for him: "But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt" (Isaiah 57:20). A polluted beach was the perfect figure of the evil Gnostics.

Wandering stars, for whom the blackness of darkness hath been reserved for ever ... The "wandering stars" here is a clear reference to meteorites which blaze a moment in the night sky and then fall into darkness forever. Yes, Jude used a word which is supposed to have meant, literally, "stars which follow no orbit" (J. B. Phillips), or "stars which have wandered off course" (New English Bible); but Jude was undeniably writing metaphorically. Trees cannot be "twice dead"; oceans do not foam up "shame"; and stars do not "wander." There is hardly anyone alive who has not used exactly the same metaphor Jude used here, in such a remark as "I saw a shooting star!" Stars do not "shoot"; in fact, neither the people who mention such observations, nor Jude in this letter, had any reference whatever to "stars" in the technical sense (although using technical terms), but to drifting fragments in space which, being trapped by the earth's atmosphere, blaze gloriously for a moment and then perish forever. Stars? No. Meteorites is the technical word. It would be just as honest to accuse one who mentioned a "shooting star" of actually believing a star had fallen upon earth, as it is to load Jude's humble and simple meaning here with a lot of Greek astronomy. One fears that the translators have been translating Enoch here, instead of the letter of Jude. We appreciate the words of J. B. Mayor who admitted that "shooting star" would "fit better" in this passage.[39] Indeed it would; for that is exactly what the passage means. Those evil men who troubled the church were just like "shooting stars" that shine a moment and then plunge to doom and darkness. Like his knowing of clouds, winds, sea shore, and fruitless trees, the knowledge of this nocturnal phenomenon was Jude's by his own personal observation and experience. It is absolutely gratuitous to drag Enoch into this verse.

ENDNOTE:

[39] J. B. Mayor, Expositor's Greek New Testament, Vol. V (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 270.


Verse 14

And to these also Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, Behold the Lord came with ten thousands of his holy ones,

And to these ... "These" are the false teachers, the evil men about whom God has already given a number of prophetic messages, in such events as his punishing the Israelites, destroying the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and in the punishments like those which befell Cain, Balaam and Korah; and, in addition to all that, "also" Enoch made a prophecy.

Enoch, the seventh from Adam ... Well, here at last we have "Enoch." This is the first and only reference to him in this letter, and this verse is the only thing in Jude that may fairly be connected with him. Jude's use of Enoch's prophecy stamps that prophecy as the gospel truth, but it does absolutely nothing for the apocryphal "Book of Enoch," rightfully rejected as having no canonical value, and being quite ridiculous, fanciful, and false. As the footnote in the Catholic Bible says, "The Book of Enoch is apocryphal. St. Jude does not here approve the entire book, but only this prophecy."[40] The false book of Enoch was widely known in apostolic times, and it was quite natural that Jude would have referred to the famous prophecy allegedly made by Enoch. It could be that Jude, by singling out this prophecy as true, meant that the Biblical character Enoch indeed uttered it, which for all anyone knows may be the truth; but that meaning is not at all mandatory. It was likely merely the manner of identifying the prophecy, which Jude attributed to its alleged source, instead of reference to a book of so many errors. Another New Testament parallel of exactly this procedure by Paul himself is that of his quoting the prophet Epimenides the pagan writer, calling him "one of your own prophets," and recalling his line that, "Cretans are always liars" (Titus 1:12). Should it be inferred, then, that Paul "borrowed" the book of Titus from the pagan prophet? It is exactly that kind of logic that ascribes two thirds of Jude to the apocryphal book of Enoch. Paul also quoted heathen poets and an inscription from a heathen monument in his famed address in the city of Athens (Acts 17), approving of neither by so doing.

Before leaving the question of Enoch's having been a true prophet of God (we are not referring to the book of Enoch), it might be well to recall that Enoch "walked with God" in a very intimate fashion, that he was translated, not even tasting of death, and that he named his son Methuselah, bearing the prophetic meaning of "he dieth, and the flood cometh."[41] Therefore, we may surely believe Jude's account of God's using Enoch to utter a prophecy of the destruction of evil men. Indeed, the name of his son is exactly such a prophecy. Beyond all these considerations, there is also the possibility that Jude's information concerning Enoch's prophecy did not depend in any manner upon the book of Enoch; either some other prior source, or his own divine inspiration, or both, may have been behind this quotation.

Behold the Lord came with ten thousand of his holy ones ... This clause, along with all of Jude 1:1:15, is the prophecy of Enoch. Caton summarized it thus:

"Here is what Enoch, inspired of God, told the people of his day. He warned them of a general judgment, when the Lord would come. He assured them that the Lord would come, accompanied by ten thousands of his saints; or, as the Syriac has it, `with myriads of his saints.'"[42]

Behold the Lord came ... The past tense in such passages is actually the prophetic tense, a frequently observed phenomenon in the Bible. God's prophecies are so certain of fulfillment that the prophet speaks of them in the past tense. The first word of this prophecy (Behold the Lord came) is Maran atha (not Marana tha), a reference in the past tense (used prophetically for the future).[43] As Macknight observed, the first word of this prophecy was widely known and used by the apostles and the early church, Paul doing so in 1 Corinthians 16:22. This is very significant with regard to apostolic use of this expression, indicating that "Maran atha" probably has the meaning of "The Lord has come" in his incarnation, instead of being an invocation looking to the Second Advent. See further notes on this in my Commentary on 1Corinthians, pp. 284,285.

[40] New Catholic Bible, op. cit., New Testament, p. 323.

[41] James MacKnight, op. cit., p. 206.

[42] N. T. Caton, op. cit., p. 209.

[43] James MacKnight, op. cit., p. 208.


Verse 15

to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their works of ungodliness which they have ungodly wrought, and of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.

This prophecy came quite early in human history; and there is no sacred writer, no apostle, no prophet, and not even the Lord himself, who exercised his ministry, except in the shadow of this promise of a day of judgment when God will settle his accounts with the wicked men who have despised him. The fact of this prophecy colors every page of the Bible; and he is a vain and willful sinner indeed who dares to order his life as if this were not the truth.

Execute judgment ... This phrase occurs "only here and in John 5:27";[44] but significantly, in John it occurs upon the lips of Jesus Christ himself.

Of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him ... There is no possibly summary of these that could be given. They are as extensive and voluminous as all the libraries of earth combined. Train loads of books pour out of great publishing houses every month, being directed in a large part, against God, against the Bible, against Christianity, against all truth and righteousness. This characteristic engagement of wicked men in speaking against God manifested itself in a particularly venomous and unreasonable degree during the personal ministry of God in the flesh, Jesus our Lord; and, in this series, we have compiled a list of some 23 vicious lies and slanders that were launched against Christ by evil men. See my Commentary on Luke, pp. 193,194.

ENDNOTE:

[44] Alfred Plummer, op. cit., p. 513.


Verse 16

These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their lusts (and their mouth speaketh great swelling words), showing respect of persons for the sake of advantage.

Bennett's comment on this verse is:

"When it was safe to do so, they blustered and bullied, and played the superior person, but they cringed to rich men, and flattered them for the sake of dinners and presents."[45]

Another analysis of this verse was given by Wallace which pointed out the numerous charges against the evil men enumerated in this single verse: (1) they are grumblers; (2) they are complainers; (3) they are malcontents; (4) their sole guide is their lusts; (5) they are noisy boasters; and (6) all that they do is directed to procuring some personal benefit for themselves. How many on earth today are described by this same analysis?

ENDNOTE:

[45] W. H. Bennett, The General Epistles (New Century Bible) (Edinburgh: T. C. and E. C. Jack, 1901), p. 340.


Verse 17

But ye, beloved, remember ye the words which have been spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ;

Jude in this may have had reference to 2 Peter 3:2, where almost the same sentiments are similarly expressed. Some have tried to make the language here mean that the age of the apostles was past when this was written; but Robinson pointed out that, "This need not imply the end of the apostolic age," going on to add that the phrase "our apostles" was used by Clement. Also, "The phrase itself is compatible with the apostolic age."[46]

The words which have been spoken ... There is no need to inquire whether this means "written words" or "spoken words"; for apostles were still living when this was written, and it could have been, and probably was, both. What is truly significant here, as it regards dating the letter, is that the apostles of Christ at the time were not contrasted with any such officials as later rose in the church; but they stand here as the only authority appealed to, a condition that points squarely at the early 60's or earlier.

ENDNOTE:

[46] John A. T. Robinson, op. cit., p. 179.


Verse 18

that they said to you, In the last time there shall be mockers, walking after their own ungodly lusts.

As we noted, the apostle Peter likewise prophesied of the scoffers who would make light of the truth; and, from what Jude wrote here, it may be inferred that all of the apostles gave the same teaching.

In the last time ... Carl Henry, writing in Christianity Today, understood the New Testament to teach that in the years immediately before the Second Advent, the true faith, "once for all delivered" will be "boycotted as if it were heresy, and the sole surviving heresy at that."[47] Rose stressed that for people committed to godlessness in their personal lives, who made light of all authority, who foamed out their own shame, and spoke blasphemously and contemptuously of heavenly persons" - Such as they, would naturally laugh at the idea of a judgment to come."[48]

[47] Carl F. H. Henry, The Decline of Theology (Christianity Today) (Washington, D.C., 1966), Vol. X, p. 428.

[48] Delbert R. Rose, op. cit., p. 445.


Verse 19

These are they who make separations, sensual, having not the Spirit.

Who make separations ... They make separations, by separating themselves from the true church, and by inducing others to do so likewise. The rest of the verse means that, "They live as brute beasts, guided simply by their lusts and passions, their Bible being the manifold devices and covetousness of their own hearts."[49]

Having not the Spirit ... The blessed Spirit, long having been grieved, insulted, resisted, lusted against, and at last "quenched" by themselves, such men were no longer capable of any goodness whatever. This capacity for evil men to become, in some vital sense, actually sub-human was discussed in my Commentary on Romans, pp. 39-45; and we cannot but be impressed with this further evidence of such a phenomenon. Mayor observed it in these comments:

"The false teachers were so absorbed in the lower sensuous nature that they no longer possessed, in any real sense of the word, that element in man's compound being, which is itself spiritual, and capable therefore of communion with the Divine Spirit."[50]

[49] Adam Clarke, op. cit., p. 955.

[50] J. B. Mayor, op. cit., p. 273.


Verse 20

But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,

Building up yourselves ... If we followed the pattern in works of this kind, three or four pages should be inserted here explaining how "there is not anything you can do to be saved," "it is all of grace, and none of works," "no man can be his own Saviour," etc., etc. While such views certainly have a kernel of truth in them, provided it is properly understood, this is certainly the wrong place to rally a corpus of teaching designed to undercut and nullify what the sacred writer said here. And what did he say? That Christians are to build themselves up on their most holy faith! No New Testament author was afraid to stress what people must themselves do if they hope to receive salvation. On Pentecost, Peter said, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation." Paul wrote that people should "work out their own salvation." All such teachings, including this before us, have the effect of stressing the things people are commanded to do, with the sacred implication, that if they refuse to comply with the instructions upon which God's grace is to be appropriated, their failure to comply is a forfeiture of the grace. The need on the part of humans to obey God's teaching is in no manner incompatible with the conception that no man can earn salvation. Of course he cannot; but neither can the willfully disobedient enter heaven. When one thinks of it, what possible use could God have for any soul that refuses to do the things God commanded?

On your most holy faith ... Either way this is understood, whether subjectively as Christian's trust/faith, or objectively as the Christian religion, there is a human response factor in salvation.

Praying in the Holy Spirit ... Prayer as a vital means of Christian growth and security is in sight here, including the blessed promise of the holy earnest that aids prayer. Neglect of this vital duty may prove fatal to the neglector.


Verse 21

keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

Keep yourselves in the love of God ... Again the human response factor is stressed, the meaning here being exactly what it was in Jude 1:1:20, "keeping oneself in the love of God" being one and the same thing with obeying God's commandments, as extensively taught in the Johannine literature, above. Summarizing the admonitions of these verses, what Jude commanded, or rather pleaded that the faithful should do, we have this: (1) work at your faith; (2) give constant attention to prayer; (3) receive, cultivate and cherish the indwelling Spirit; (4) keep yourselves in God's love through strict obedience to his will; and (5) wherein one is frustrated or discouraged by failures (and there will be failures); (6) look unto the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ who will save the last unworthy one of us if we give him half a chance to do so!

Eternal life ... Notice that this is preceded by "unto," indicating that in some vital aspects of it, we do not now have eternal life; but this is not to deny John's great promises regarding this; because they may be fully understood as our actual possession of eternal life, in the sense of having the blessed promise of it, the assurance of it, the earnest of it, and the vital, living hope of it.


Verse 22

And on some have mercy, who are in doubt; and some save, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.

The difficult Greek of this passage has challenged scholars for ages; and, even today, there is no unanimity on how it should be rendered. The problem is the exact arrangement of the clauses so as to convey the right meaning, and the difficulty of understanding exactly how the word [Greek: diakrinomai] should be translated, whether "make a difference" (KJV), or "be in doubt" (the English Revised Version (1885), New English Bible (1961)). Our own version (ASV) chooses one of three other possible renditions. The importance of all this lies in the number of classes of people in view. In KJV, and ASV, it seems that there are three; but only two are visible in English Revised Version and New English Bible.

In such cases as this, there is no certain manner of being absolutely right about it; but Bruce's opinion would appear to be sound:

"I think that most probably two classes are envisaged. Those who are responsible for maintaining due order in the churches must use different methods toward those who persist in inculcating subversive and immoral doctrine and those who have been misled by false teachers."[51]

The following rendition from New English Bible (1961) is based upon the same view:

"There are some doubting souls who need your pity; snatch them from the flames and save them. There are others for whom your pity must be mixed with fear; hate the very clothing that is contaminated with sensuality.

Snatch them from the flames of fire ... is metaphorical, meaning "rescue them, as you would someone from a burning building."

Pity mixed with fear ... The subversives are indicated in this. No fellow-being lost in sin is otherwise than an object of pity in the hearts of Christians; but the danger to Christians themselves who might attempt to rescue some in this group is real and threatening. Regardless of Christian pity for some of the lost, there must be fear in attempting their rescue, a fear commanded in this verse; and the omission of the words "save them" in the second clause, as well as the hatred of their very "clothing" which is enjoined, falls short of any apostolic edict that any rescue at all should be attempted in the case of some. The great words of Jesus concerning the blind guides was "Let them alone!" And there are overtones of those words in this where pity is commanded, but rescue is not. We can only pray that we have not been misled in following the New English Bible (1961) in this verse.

ENDNOTE:

[51] F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 135.


Verse 24

THE BENEDICTION

Now unto him that is able to guard you from stumbling, and to set you before the presence of his glory without blemish in exceeding joy, to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and power, before all time, and now, and forevermore. Amen.

Rose remarked that, "If Jude is known or noticed at all by churchgoers, it is because of the frequent use of Jude 1:1:24,25," [52] in such things as the benediction. To this writer, this benediction instantly brings to mind Ike Thorne (a faithful deacon from the Central Church of Christ, Houston, Texas, a retired member of Plasterers' Labor Union, and truly a wonderful person.) who frequently dismissed the congregation with his immense, stentorian voice, booming out the awesome words of this magnificent passage, using no other words except these. One feels sure that many others have similar recollections.

Unto him that is able to guard you from stumbling ... If Christians heed the instructions of their Lord and walk in the light as he is in the light, they will not stumble; and, for those who thus walk, the Lord indeed can and does guard them from stumbling.

And to set you before the presence of his glory ... This refers to the "great day" of Jude 1:1:6, the judgment day, when all nations shall be assembled before the White Throne.

Without blemish ... Payne, with others, identifies this as a metaphor "from the Old Testament sacrificial system (Leviticus 1:3, etc.)";[53] but there may also be in it another glimpse of the perfection commanded in Matthew 5:48, and promised to Christians as an actual achievement upon their behalf, not by themselves, but through Christ, according to Paul's promise that every man should be presented "perfect in Christ" (Colossians 1:28). For more on perfection see in my Commentary on Colossians, pp. 130-133.

In exceeding joy ... "This denotes a proud, exulting joy,"[54] having something of the meaning "to be proud of" in it, affording a glimpse of the triumph of God himself in his exultation because of the redemption of his people.

To the only God our Saviour ... This stress of the unity of God could have found such a prominent place in primitive doxologies and benedictions as an effective rejection of antinomian Gnostics who were infected with polytheism. Paul also referred to God as Saviour.

Through Jesus Christ ... God is not man's Saviour apart from his acceptance and obedience of his Son Jesus Christ.

Be glory, majesty, dominion and power ... All of the ultimates belong to God. "In him we live and move and have our being." All of the praise, all of the glory, all of the worship and adoration that human hearts are capable of are rightfully given only to God through Christ.

Before all time, and now, and for evermore ... "This is as complete a statement of eternity as can be made in human language."[55] Our blessed Saviour was, and is, and shall be forevermore. He is one with the Father, the eternal God who is ever and perpetually the "I AM" of all time and eternity.

Amen ... For a comment on this expression, see in my Commentary on Hebrews, pp. 360,361. It means "So be it." It calls God to witness the words which are sealed by it. It is the signal that any hymn or prayer concluded by it is held to be sacred in the eyes of God, and is a pledge of the sincerity and integrity of the petitioner.

In this series of commentaries, our studies have now brought us to the threshold of the Apocalypse; and, in this last short epistle, an immeasurable blessing has been received through the study of it. Although, in a sense, known for many years, the full impact of a certain truth was heightened and increased by this little book. Is it not a most remarkable providence that of those four little boys, all of them younger than Jesus, who grew up at Nazareth in the same room with Jesus in the home of Joseph and Mary, is it not astonishing that two of them, James and Jude, have left the legacy of two precious epistles?

Just think. Two of the sacred New Testament writers lived with Jesus practically all of his life on earth, except for the four years, during which, for the most part, they did not belong to the immediate circle of the Lord's followers, an exclusion that was doubtless also providential. These two did not at first believe in Jesus; but even their unbelief at first must be considered a testimony to the holiness of the Master. Why? Like all other Jews, they believed that Messiah would be a conquering hero who would rally the troops and chase the Romans out of Judea. They knew that Jesus was not that kind of person. But, when they came to know his real purpose of redeeming people from sin, all that they knew of him had its weight in constraining them to fall down in his presence and hail him as Lord and Saviour, leading them both also, ever afterwards, to write themselves "not as his brothers" but as "Servants of the Lord Jesus Christ!"

[52] Delbert R. Rose, op. cit., p. 448.

[53] David F. Payne, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 628.

[54] J. B. Mayor, op. cit., p. 277.

[55] Delbert R. Rose, op. cit., p. 628.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Jude 1:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/jude-1.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.


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