Archive for April 13th, 2010

The other day, I was musing a bit on the Book of Jude, from which I only see only one short passage (a verse and a half) quoted in the blogosphere (often as a prelude to an attack on somebody):

I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

This is pretty interesting in that a) it’s a prelude for a pretty short “book”; and b) the rest of the book is full of stuff that has made Reformed folk, in particular, dance and squirm and ignore in its literary and theological implications – often resulting in hermeneutical somersaults of a degree that they would condemn anyone else for using in most any separate section of scripture. [It should be noted that Luther wanted Jude tossed out of the canon, along with James and Hebrews, to no avail.]

[Before going any further, I should just note that I'm in about as punchy a mood as I am ever in, so don't expect any deep insights - this is, after all, just one cogitation for this diurnal cycle*.]

After reading and rereading Jude several times, I think I’ve come to really like Jesus’ brother and the short letter he penned. For such a short book, it’s got stuff to tick off folks of most every theological stripe.

Right after the “happy discernment” verse (in which 99% of its abusers fail to recognize that “contend” is not a synonym of “defend”), we’ve got this nugget to dismay the once-saved-always-saved crowd:

Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe.

And then (for the Sola Scriptura bibliolaters), this wonderful gem:

And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.

If you would, please turn your Bibles to the passage where we learn about these angels to whom Jude was referring. While you might be tempted to stop in II Peter, who makes this same reference, you need to keep going to find the story which these disciples were citing.

Give up?

They’re citing a story from I Enoch (one of those eeeeeeevil pseudepigraphal writings that some of the strange, non-westernized Christians mistakenly read in their Scriptural canon – and which Jews reject because of the obvious Christological prophecies contained within). Didn’t Jude know better than to only quote biblical literature from the canon chosen hundreds of years after his death? What was he thinking?

One of the things with I Enoch that makes it so interesting and so challenging is that it was generally treated as truth in the First Century, AD, and it is undeniable that religious Jews read and understood its teachings. In fact, most of what we traditionally believe about angelology and demonology comes from I Enoch and Jubilees – both of which are pseudepigraphal books that were held in higher regard by early Christians than orthodox Jews, but which gradually fell out of favor as the church grew more anti-Jewish in the third and fourth centuries.

I Enoch has all sorts of references to angels, the rebellion in heaven, fallen angels, etc. – fun stuff to know at parties, and far more useful than quoting dead white guys like Spurgeon, Edwards and Calvin (who some treat as canon, or – at the very least – the guardians of canon). But I digress.

Let’s see what else Jude has to say:

In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

Oh, Snap! Looks like Jude just got disinvited from dinner with Jim Wallis, or from a teaching post at Duke or any of the other flamingly liberal seminaries. All those folks who try to suggest that Sodom and Gomorrah’s sins were simply “inhospitality”, and not sexual perversion (primarily homosexual practice) do all sorts of dancing around Jude. (It’s almost as fun to watch as the hyperCal trying to decouple I Enoch from the disciples’ approved reading list).

And then he references people suffering the punishment of eternal fire, which will offend the sensibilities of the “God is all puppies and rainbows” crowd who like to pretend hell does not exist (or that it is only a temporary “time-out”).

In the very same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings. But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals—these are the very things that destroy them.

So when was Michael disputing with the devil about the body of Moses? This one’s really cool, because there are no pseudepigraphal or even Talmudic stories about Michael and the devil wrestling over the body of Moses, and we have no copies of the probably source of this story, though scholars believe they know the title of the scroll (cited in other ancient writings).

And how do you slander celestial beings? It seems like Michael didn’t even dare directly speak against Satan, but rather asked the Lord to do so. Hey Jude – what’s with all of your hate for Sola Scriptura and quoting from unapproved books? Next thing we know, Watcher’s Lamp will be writing you up for “citing mystical Jewish sources”, and that’s one step away from hell, as ODM’s go.

Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.

There is all sorts of stuff to unpack here:

  1. Cain (murdering your brother)
  2. Balaam’s error (which has far more discussion in talmudic writings than in the Scriptures. The mishna states that “The characteristics of the disciples of Balaam the wicked are an evil eye (stinginess and greed), a haughty spirit and a proud soul…. [They] inherit Gey Hinnom (Hell) and descend to the pit of destruction.”)
  3. Korah’s rebellion (which you can read about in Numbers 16, but which also has a lot more added meaning in the extrabiblical Jewish literature of the first century)

Jude, Jude, Jude – why so much love for Jewish teaching here? It’s no wonder Martin Luther wanted your letter to be recycled.

And then we jump down to vs. 14:

Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” These men are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.

This dude is just asking for trouble from Lighthouse Trails. Enoch, as described “the seventh from Adam” is being references (and then quoted) from I Enoch and not Genesis. And his book is being quoted here.

And then Jude starts rolling to his conclusion (and his other ODM-approved quote):

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.” These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.

From an amillennial standpoint, this could clearly be pointing to the type of theology that promotes “health and wealth” (or, as a friend of mine says “the Jabezites”). Anyone who promotes hedonism as biblically acceptable would fit this as well. Interestingly, while this tends to get used as a club against Emerging/Emerent folks, if the “ungodly desires” include pride, sanctimony and false piety, then this would far more often fit the quote-er than the quote-ee (or, at the very least be one of those awkward plank-speck moments).

So, really, this is a passage that should always include a mirror, lest it be misused (as it seems to be, 99% of thetime).

And then, winding it down:

But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

All that talk of mercy? Let’s just file that under “common rhetorical epilogues, known for their formality, but not to be taken literally”. Mercy just doesn’t fit with anything else in the chapter, so it must simply be rhetorical.

Seriously, though, Jude is a good read, but a challenging one, and I would highly recommend adding I Enoch and Jubilees to your reading list. Even if they are literary and not divinely inspired, the disciples knew them quite well, and integrated the cosmology espoused in them into their own writings…

Grace and peace

*Avoiding any royalty disputes with the title “Thought of the Day”

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