COMPANION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT - The New English Bible. By A E Harvey. - © The Delegates of the Oxford University Press, The Syndics of the Cambridge University Press. 1970. - Prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2014.


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Bodmer papyrus P72 of Jude.


The danger of false belief

From Jude ... brother of James (1). What has been said above about JAMES applies equally to JUDE: the writer is evidently claiming to be that Jude (so called in English Bibles, presumably to distinguish him from Judas the traitor, though in the Greek the names are the same) who appears in Mark 6.3 and Matthew 13.55 as the brother of Jesus. With his eye, possibly, on the opening of the letter of James, he identifies himself discreetly as the brother of that James who became the leader of the Jerusalem church.

Like the author of James, this writer was probably a Christian of Jewish origin, writing in idiomatic Greek but drawing freely on the stock of a Jewish education. This is hardly the background to be expected of a native of Galilee; moreover the situation to be combated—The danger of false belief—and the arguments used are characteristic, not of the first generation of Christians, but of the church as we get to know it through the later writings of the New Testament. Indeed, the injunction to remember the predictions made by the apostles (17) points to a time when the apostles themselves were dead. The period around a.d. 100 is the one which seems to fit the letter best; and it must be assumed that it was written under the name of Jude in order to give wide circulation and weighty authority to the contents.

To those whom God has called (1). The address is quite general, and there is no salutation at the end. Evidently the document is a "letter" only in the literary sense; it is intended for any Christian who may read it. One of the conventions of such writing was to begin with the imaginary circumstances which caused the letter to be written. So here: I was fully engaged in writing to you about our salvation ... when it became urgently necessary to write at once (3). Nevertheless, this letter appears to have been
inspired by particular circumstances. Certain persons had wormed their way in (4), the church was being influenced by the views of a certain group, and the writer saw in this influence such an insidious danger to the faith that he felt moved to warn his fellow-Christians at large about the real nature of this movement.

What was the movement? We are badly placed to discover, for the author's concern was not to describe it accurately, but to caricature it. His readers knew whom he was attacking; his task was to portray these people in such dark colours that faithful Christians would no longer be tempted to yield to their influence; consequently his language is allusive and probably exaggerated. (The distinction between spiritual and unspiritual persons (19) may be an allusion to Paul's psychology or to distinctions made by "gnostic" thinkers; but the Greek is very obscure.) Certain features stand out from his attack: they could be accused of licentious sensuality, and of disowning Jesus Christ (4). At first sight, it seems difficult to imagine how such people could have called themselves Christians at all. But similarly radical heretics crop up in other parts of the New Testament, and it looks as if the movement attacked here is one form of a tendency that must have been widespread during the first century of the church's existence: the tendency to try to incorporate Christ in an elaborate metaphysical system which would lead to a more perfect "knowledge" of God. This often involved an indifference towards the world of the senses, and took the form, either of extreme asceticism, or of frank immorality. The name subsequently given to the exponents of such beliefs was "gnostics".

The writer does not attempt to argue with them—and this is one of the features of this letter which betray a comparatively late date for it. The church now possessed the faith which God entrusted to his people once and for all (3); it was no longer something to be explored and developed, but something to be defended against all attempts to adulterate it. The church was the community of people to whom this faith had been entrusted. As members of it, Christians were assured of salvation; and some might have thought that (as was broadly speaking the case with the Jewish religion) so long as a man complied with the demands and the profession of the church in essentials it did not matter if he held somewhat unorthodox beliefs. But this was not so: Christians were not safe regardless. If their belief and their behaviour were not worthy of their calling, they would still be exposed to God's judgement; indeed, such an eventuality was allowed for in the providence of God. There existed men whom Scripture long ago marked down for the doom they have incurred (4).

Paul, to make the same point, invoked an example from Old Testament history. Some of the people of Israel (5), even after their spectacular deliverance out of Egypt, showed themselves guilty of unbelief, and were destroyed. Similarly Christians, despite their own deliverance, were always liable to apostasy and punishment (1 Corinthians 10.1-12). This writer uses the same argument, and elaborates it with other examples. The myth of fallen angels, starting from Genesis 6.1-4, but worked up into a complex scheme by later Jewish tradition (see above on 1 Peter 3.20), provided another warning: if even angels, who had seen God himself, could have been not content (6) and fallen under judgement, how much more the members of the church! Thirdly, there was the example of Sodom and Gomorrah (7), which was particularly relevant to the alleged immorality of the heretics; this again was proverbial, and was much elaborated in later Jewish writings.

To defile the body, to flout authority, and to insult celestial beings (8), One might have hoped that these three charges would have been specific enough to afford a dear picture the heretics. The first item is almost certainly another allusion to sexual immorality; but the second is ambiguous. It could mean a disrespect for certain heavenly powers, or a disparagement of the Lordship of Christ (as in verse 4), or (as it is rendered here) a disrespect for the authority of church leaders. The third is equally mysterious, and can be understood only in the light of the argument in verse 9. There was a Jewish legend that, when Moses died, the archangel Michael (9) was about to take charge of his body, but was challenged by the devil, who claimed that, since Moses had murdered an Egyptian (Exodus 2.11-12), his body, like any other murderer's, belonged to the devil. This was to "insult" Moses. But such insulting words were characteristic of the devil. The archangel would not use such language, even when addressing the devil himself. Far less was it permissible for Christians to insult celestial beings (8) in this way. We have to assume that the heretics' philosophy reserved only a humble rank for beings such as angels which, according to the orthodox Jewish or Christian view, occupied a place in heaven inferior only to God and Christ. This is not improbable: demotion of angels was a feature of some "gnostic" systems in the second century A.D.

Cain (11) was now a proverbial example, not just of murder, but of every kind of wickedness (see above on 1 John 3.12). Balaam, originally guilty of disobedience to God (Numbers 22), had become a traditional model of arrogance and malice. And Korah was remembered for his rebellion against Moses and Aaron (Numbers 16), and provided in addition a stern example of the doom awaiting the heretics.

It is uncertain whether love-feasts (12) is simply another name for the Christian eucharist, or whether the church celebrated other solemn meals of a religious character to express the solidarity of its members with each other. The behaviour of the heretics, at any rate, is reminiscent of that of certain people in Corinth (1 Corinthians 11.16-22). Their actions are a caricature of Christian "shepherding". Their futility can be described in well-worn images of clouds that bring no rain to a thirsty land, or trees that bear no fruit in an orchard. Their bombastic protestations have no more substance than fierce waves of the sea (13); and their destiny is that of the planets, which some Jewish thinkers imagined to be stars that have wandered from their course and are heading for a place of punishment in blackest darkness.

Enoch (14). The quotation is from the Book of Enoch, a work which was compiled during the second and first centuries B.C., and was never accepted into the canon of the Old Testament. Much of it is in the form of a prophecy, that is, of visions which Enoch, the seventh in descent from Adam (Genesis 5.21-4) is alleged to have been given of the future. The book was evidently familiar to this writer (he alludes to it in other places besides this one); and that the heretics seemed to be fulfilling Enoch's prophecy was yet another reason for condemning them. (This reliance on a Jewish writing which was never part of Scripture was the main reason which prompted some sections of the early church to deny the letter of Jude a place in the New Testament.)

In fact, however, it did not need the dubious authority of "Enoch" to identify these men. Again and again New Testament writers told their readers to see in such heretics, not a chance hazard for the church, but a predicted and unmistakable feature of the final age. Examples of such predictions (18,17) are 1 Timothy 4.1; 2 Tim. 3.1-5; Acts 20.29. This writer betrays himself as belonging to a later generation when he cites such a warning at second hand.

It was always hard to draw the line between those who must be shunned because their heresy was irrevocable and those who might still be saved. Two other New Testament letters (James, 1 John) close with advice on this subject, and we evidently have a glance at the same topic here. But the obscurity of the writer's Greek makes it impossible to be sure what line he was taking.

Now to the One (24). The style of the ending is similar to that of Romans. Here, as there, it may be a fragment of the kind of language which was actually used in the worship of the church.