« Prev Chapter XXXII. The Persons Denounced in the… Next »



"For there are certain men crept in privily, even they who were of old set forth unto this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ."—St. Jude 4.

WE have here the occasion of the letter stated very plainly. St. Jude was meditating a letter on a more general subject, when the grave peril created by the anti-Christian behaviour of the persons condemned in the text constrained him to write at once on this more urgent topic. An insidious invasion of the Christian Church has taken place by those who have no right to a place within it, and who endanger its peace and purity; and he dare not keep silence. The strong must be exhorted to withstand the evil; the weak must be rescued from it.

These invaders are in one respect like those who are condemned in the Epistle to the Galatians, in another respect are very unlike them. They are "false brethren privily brought in, who came in privily" (ii. 4); but they have come in, not "to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage," but to "turn the grace of our God into lasciviousness." The troublers of the Galatian Church were endeavouring to contract 389 Christian liberty, whereas these ungodly men were straining it to the uttermost. Both ended in destroying it. The one turned the "freedom with which Christ set us free" into an intolerable yoke of Jewish bondage; the other turned it into the polluting anarchy of heathen, or worse than heathen, licence. How utterly alien these latter are from Christianity, or even from Judaism, is indicated by St. Jude's pointed introduction of the pronoun "our" in two clauses in this verse: "turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." Jehovah is "our God," not theirs; they are "without God in the world." And Christ is "our only Master and Lord," but not theirs; they have denied and rejected Him, choosing to "walk after their own lusts" (ver. 16), rather than to "walk even as He walked" (1 John ii. 6). They have repudiated His easy yoke, that they may follow their own bestial desires.

Who are these "ungodly men"? Clement of Alexandria (Strom. III. ii. sub fin.) thinks that St. Jude is speaking prophetically of the abominable doctrines of the Gnostic teacher Carpocrates. Some modern writers adopt this view, with the omission of the word "prophetically," and thus obtain an argument against the genuineness of the Epistle. If the writer knew the teaching of Carpocrates, he cannot have been Jude the brother of James and the brother of the Lord. The date of Carpocrates is too uncertain to make this a perfectly conclusive argument, even if we admit the assumption that the writer of this Epistle is alluding to his teaching; for he is sometimes placed before Cerinthus, who was contemporary with St. John. But it may be allowed as probably correct that St. Jude 390 was dead before Carpocrates was known as a teacher of Antinomian Gnosticism. There is, however, nothing whatever to show that it is to his teaching that St. Jude is alluding. He says nothing whatever about the teaching of these "ungodly men," who perhaps were not teachers at all; still less does he indicate that they belonged to those Gnostics who, from the Oriental doctrine of the absolutely evil character of matter and everything material, drew the practical conclusion that man's material body may be made to undergo every kind of experience, no matter how shameless, in order that the soul may gain knowledge; that the soul is by enlightenment too pure, and the body by nature too impure, to be capable of pollution; that filth cannot be defiled; and that pure gold remains pure, however often it may be plunged in filthiness. No such doctrine is hinted at by St. Jude. Dorner, therefore, goes beyond what is written when he says that "the persons whom Jude opposes are not merely such as have practically swerved from the right way; they are also teachers of error" (Doctrine of the Person of Christ, Intr., p. 72, Eng. Tr.: T. and T. Clark, 1861). It is more reasonable, with De Wette, Brückner, Meyer, Kühl, Reuss, Farrar, Salmon, and others to regard these "ungodly men" as just what St. Jude describes them, and no more; libertines, who ought never to have been admitted into the Church at all; who maintained that Christians were free to live lives of gross sensuality; and who, when rebuked by the elders or other officers of the Church for their misconduct, not only refused to submit, but reviled those who were set over them. They were "teachers of error," but by their bad example, not by systematic preaching. They "screened their immoral conduct by blasphemous assumptions," 391 because they assumed that "having been called for freedom," they might "use their freedom for an occasion to the flesh" (Gal. v. 13), not because they assumed that they ought to disobey the commandments of the Creator of the material universe. And for the same reason they may be called "libertines" on principle. When St. Jude says that they "denied our only Master113113   The insertion of the word "God" into the authorities followed in the Authorized Version is one of the few instances in which it is possible that the Greek text of the N.T. has been corrupted in the interests of orthodoxy. and Lord, Jesus Christ," he means that they denied Him by their lives. It is altogether unreasonable to read into this simple phrase, which is sufficiently explained by the context, a dogmatic denial of the Incarnation. That the germs of Antinomian Gnosticism are here indicated may be true enough; but they have not yet developed into a body of doctrine. Still less have those who are tainted by these germs developed into an heretical sect.114114   See the author's Epistles of St. John in the Cambridge Greek Testament, pp. xx-xxix and 160-162.

It is with the verse before us that the marked resemblance between the Epistle of St. Jude and the central portion of the Second Epistle of St. Peter begins; and it continues down to ver. 18. In this short letter of twenty-five verses, only the first three and last seven verses, i.e. about a third of the whole, have no intimate relations with 2 Peter. The last word has not yet been spoken upon this perplexing subject. The present writer confesses that he remains still uncertain as to the true relation between the two, and that he has inclined sometimes to the one, and sometimes to the other of the two rival hypotheses. 392 Thus much of what he wrote on the subject more than ten years ago may be repeated now:—

"The similarity, both in substance and wording, is so great that only two alternatives are possible—either one has borrowed from the other, or both have borrowed from a common source. The second alternative is rarely, if ever, advocated; it does not explain the facts very satisfactorily, and critics are agreed in rejecting it. But here agreement ends. On the further question, as to which writer is prior, there is very great diversity of opinion. One thing, therefore, is certain, that whichever writer has borrowed, he is no ordinary borrower. He knows how to assimilate foreign material so as to make it thoroughly his own. He remains original, even while he appropriates the words and thoughts of another. He controls them, not they him. Were this not so, there would be little doubt about the matter. In any ordinary case of appropriation, if both the original and copy are forthcoming, critics do not doubt long as to which is the original. It is when the copy itself is a masterpiece, as in the case of Holbein's Madonna, that criticism is baffled. Such would seem to be the case here; and the present writer is free to confess his own uncertainty."115115   N.T. Commentary for English Readers, edited by Bishop Ellicott (Cassell and Co. 1879), iii., p. 506.

Other persons are able to write with much more confidence. Dean Mansel says, "Some eminent modern critics have attempted, on the very precarious evidence of style, to assign the priority in time of writing to St. Jude; but there are two circumstances which appear to me to prove most conclusively that St. Jude's Epistle was written after that of St. Peter, 393 and with express reference to it. The first is, that the evils which St. Peter speaks of as partly future St. Jude describes as now present. The one says, 'There shall be false teachers among you' (2 Peter ii. 1; the future tense being continued through the two following verses); the other says, 'There are certain men crept in unawares.' The other circumstance is still more to the point. St. Peter, in his Second Epistle, has the remarkable words, 'Knowing this first, that in the last days mockers (ἐμπαῖκται) shall come with mockery, walking after their own lusts' (iii. 3). St. Jude has the same passage, repeated almost word for word, but expressly introduced as a citation of Apostolic language: 'But ye, beloved, remember ye the words which have been spoken before by the Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; how that they said to you, In the last time there shall be mockers (ἐμπαῖκται), walking after their own ungodly lusts' (vv. 17, 18). The use of the plural number (τῶν ἀποστόλων) may be explained by supposing that the writer may also have intended to allude to passages similar in import, though differently expressed, in the writings of St. Paul (such as 1 Tim. iv. 1, 2; 2 Tim. iii. 1), but the verbal coincidence can hardly be satisfactorily explained, unless we suppose that St. Jude had principally in his thoughts, and was actually citing the language of St. Peter" (The Gnostic Heresies of the First and Second Centuries, Murray, 1875, pp. 69, 70). Hengstenberg puts forward the same arguments, and considers the second to be decisive as to the priority of 2 Peter.

Not less confident is Archdeacon Farrar that exactly the opposite hypothesis is the right one. "After careful consideration and comparison of the two documents 394 it seems to my own mind impossible to doubt [the italics are Dr. Farrar's] that Jude was the earlier of the two writers.... I must confess my inability to see how any one who approaches the inquiry with no ready-made theories can fail to come to the conclusion that the priority in this instance belongs to St. Jude. It would have been impossible for such a burning and withering blast of defiance and invective as his brief letter to have been composed on principles of modification and addition. All the marks which indicate the reflective treatment of an existing document are to be seen in the Second Epistle of St. Peter. In every instance of variation we see the reasons which influenced the later writer.... The notion that St. Jude endeavoured to 'improve upon' St. Peter is, I say, a literary impossibility; and if in some instances the phrases of St. Jude seem more antithetical and striking, and his description clearer, I have sufficiently accounted for the inferiority—if it be inferiority—of St. Peter by the supposition that he was a man of more restrained temperament; that he wrote under the influence of reminiscences and impressions; and that he was warning against forms of evil with which he had not come into so personal a contact" (The Early Days of Christianity, Cassell and Co., 1882, i., pp. 196-203).

The main arguments in favour of the view that the Second Epistle of St. Peter was used by St. Jude, besides those stated by Dean Mansel, are the following:—

(1) If 2 Peter is genuine, it is more probable that St. Jude should borrow from St. Peter than that the chief of the Apostles should borrow from one who was not an Apostle at all.

If 2 Peter is not genuine, it is improbable that the 395 forger would borrow from a writing which from the first was regarded with suspicion, because it quoted apocryphal literature.

(2) St. Jude tells us (ver. 3) that he wrote under pressure to meet a grave emergency, and therefore he would be more likely to make large use of suitable material ready to his hand, than one who was under no such necessity.

The main arguments on the other side are these:—

(1) It is more probable that the chief portion of a short letter should be used again with a great deal of additional matter, than that one section only of a much longer letter should be used again with very little additional matter.

(2) It is more probable that the writer of 2 Peter should omit what seemed to be difficult or likely to give offence, than that St. Jude should insert such things; e.g. "clouds without water" (Jude 12) is a contradiction in terms, and therefore is naturally corrected to "wells without water" (2 Pet. ii. 17); the particular way in which the angels fell (Jude 6), the allusion to certain Levitical pollutions (ver. 23), and the citations from apocryphal books (vv. 9, 14, 15) are either entirely omitted by the writer of 2 Peter, or put in a way much less likely to seem offensive (ii. 4, 11). And Jude 9 has been so toned down by the writer of 2 Peter that without St. Jude's statement respecting Michael and the devil we should scarcely understand 2 Peter ii. 11.

Besides these points, there are two arguments which are used on both sides of the question:—

(i) There are certain elements in St. Jude's Epistle of which the writer of 2 Peter would probably have made use, had he seen them; e.g. the ironical play 396 upon the word "kept" in "the angels which kept not (μὴ τηρήσαντας) their own principality.... He hath kept (τετήρηκεν) in everlasting bonds;" the telling antithesis in ver. 10, that what these sinners do not know, and cannot know, they abuse by gross irreverence; and what they know, and cannot help knowing, they abuse by gross licentiousness; and the metaphor of "wandering stars" (ver. 13), which would fit the false teachers, who lead others astray, in 2 Peter, much better than the ungodly men, who are not leaders at all, in Jude. As the writer of 2 Peter makes no use of these points, the inference is that he had never seen them.

But, on the other hand, there are certain elements in 2 Peter of which St. Jude would probably have made use, had he seen them; e.g. the destruction of "the world of the ungodly" by the Flood; the "eyes full of an adulteress;" and the explanation of the "great swelling words" as "promising them liberty," which would exactly have suited St. Jude's purpose in condemning those who turned liberty into license. As St. Jude makes no use of these points, the inference is that he had not seen them.

(ii) St. Jude, as will be shown presently, groups nearly everything in threes. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that wherever he can make a threefold arrangement he does so. Is this artificial grouping a mark of originality or not? Some would urge that it is the writer who is using up another's material who would be likely to add this fanciful arrangement, and that, therefore, St. Jude is the borrower. Others would urge that such triplets would be just the things to be overlooked or disregarded by the borrower, and that, therefore, St. Jude is the original.

397 About the existence of the triplets in Jude, and their absence in 2 Peter, there can be no question, whatever view we may hold as to their significance. They begin in the very first verse of our Epistle, and continue to the last verse, although those at the close of the letter are lost in the Authorized Version, owing to the fact that the translators used a faulty Greek text. It will be worth while to run through them. (1) Judas, a servant ... and brother. (2) To them that are called, beloved, ... and kept. (3) Mercy unto you and peace and love. (4) Ungodly men, turning, ... and denying. (5) Israelites, angels, cities of the plain. (6) Defile, ... set at nought, ... and rail. (7) Cain, Balaam, Korah. (8) These are.... These are.... These are.... (9) They who make separations, sensual, having not the Spirit. (10) Building up yourselves, ... praying, ... looking for the mercy, (11) On some have mercy; ... and some save; ... and on some have mercy with fear. (12) Before all time, and now, and for evermore.

Before parting with this verse it will be well to put readers on their guard against a misinterpretation of the phrase, "They who were of old set forth unto this condemnation;" a misinterpretation all the more likely to be made by those who use the Authorized Version, which has, "Who were before of old ordained to this condemnation." The text is a favourite one with Calvinists; but when rightly translated and understood, it gives no support to extreme predestinarian theories. When literally rendered it runs, "Who have been of old written down beforehand for this sentence;" or possibly, "Who have been written up beforehand;" for the metaphor may be borrowed from the custom of posting up the names of those who had to appear 398 before the court for trial. Be this as it may, "of old" (πάλαι) cannot refer to the eternal counsel and decree of Almighty God, but to something in human history, something remote from St. Jude's own day, but in time, and not in eternity. Perhaps some of the warnings and denunciations in the prophets of the Old Testament or in the Book of Enoch are in his mind. "Condemnation" is a justifiable rendering of the Greek word (κρίμα), because it is manifest from the context that the sentence or judgment intended is one of condemnation, and not of acquittal; but this word when coupled with "ordained" is likely to be grievously misunderstood. "Ordained to condemnation" suggests with fatal facility "predestined to damnation"—a doctrine which has perhaps been a more fruitful cause of the rejection of Christianity than all the doctrines included in the creeds.

Probably in all ages of the Church there have been men such as St. Jude here describes—nominal members of the Church who are nothing but a scandal to it, and professing Christians whose whole life is one flagrant denial of Christ. Such persons certainly trouble Christendom now. By their luxury and licentiousness they set an evil example and create a pestilential moral atmosphere. They practise no self-control, and sneer at self-denial in others. They reject all Christian discipline, and mock at those who endeavour to maintain it. And sometimes they are not at once recognized in their true character. They are plausible and amusing, obviously not strict, but not obviously scandalous in their manner of life. It is then that such men become specially dangerous. Such may have been the case in the Churches which St. Jude has in mind. Therefore he strips off all this specious disguise, and describes 399 these profligate scoffers according to their true characters. Moreover, we must remember that there were some, and perhaps many, who, like Simon Magus (Acts viii. 13), accepted baptism without any real appreciation of the meaning of Christianity, and who remained either Jews or heathen at heart, long after they had enrolled themselves as Christians. Where dangerous material of this kind abounded, it was necessary to put the faithful on their guard about the danger; and hence the strength and vehemence of St. Jude's language. A sharp, clear statement of the evil was necessary to put the weak and the unwary on their guard against a peril to which they might easily succumb, before they were fully aware of its existence. We all of us need such warnings still, not merely to form a truer estimate of the nature and tendency of certain forms of evil, and thus keep on our guard against courting needless temptation, but also to preserve us from becoming in our own persons, through manifest self-indulgence and carelessness of life, a snare and a stumbling-block to our brethren.

Note.—On the question as to which of the two Epistles is prior, the opinion of scholars has been greatly divided; but a comparison of the following lists will show that among more recent critics the decision is commonly in favour of the priority of our Epistle:—

For the priority of 2 Peter: Bauer, Beausobre, Benson, Bloomfield, Dahl, Dietlein, Dodwell, Estius, Fronmüller, Hänlein, Hengstenberg, Heydenreich, Hofmann, Lange, Lenfant, Lumby, Luthart, Luther, Mansel, Michaelis, Mill, Œcumenius, Pott, Schaff, Schmid, Schoff, Schulze, Semler, Steinfass, Stier, Stolz, Storr, Thiersch, Wetstein, Wolf, Wordsworth, Zachariæ, and others.

For the priority of St. Jude: Alford, Angus, Arnaud, Bleek, Brückner, Caffin, Credner, Davidson, De Wette, Eichhorn, Ewald, F. W. Farrar, Guerike, Hatch, Herder, Hilgenfeld, Hug, Huther, Kühl, Kurz, Mayerhoff, Neander, Plumptre, Reuss, Salmon, Schenkel, Sieffert, Thorold, Weiss, Wiesinger, and others. Plumptre makes 400 the remarkable suggestion that St. Jude may have written both letters. He first wrote his own Epistle, then was sent with it to St. Peter by St. James, and finally acted as St. Peter's amanuensis in writing 2 Peter (Cambridge Bible for Schools, Epistle of St. Peter and St. Jude, 1879, pp. 79, 80, 88, 89).

On this point also Dr. Döllinger changed his mind (see p. 31). In The First Age of the Church (pp. 93, 108, Eng. Tr., 2nd ed.) he maintained the priority of 2 Peter. June 22nd, 1879, he wrote to me, "Its priority to the Epistle of Jude I cannot believe" (kann ich gar nicht glauben).

« Prev Chapter XXXII. The Persons Denounced in the… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection