The term “ungodly” was widely used in secular Greek for irreligion and profanity, and Jude would have been aware of that. But as a Jew, he would also know of its use in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures where it describes “the wicked” in Israel whose “way” showed that they had no “fear of the Lord,” in contrast to “the righteous,” who were so motivated and governed (Prov. 4:17–20). That was the kind of situation that existed in the church addressed where foes “pervert[ed] the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). The picture is of God’s grace being so grossly abused by “sensuality,” which is the unharnessed expression of “their own sinful desires” (Jude 16), that His saving governance was being blatantly denied.
Jude then gives six examples of such ungodliness from the Old Testament era. The first three involve groups—namely, Israelites, angels, and the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah—and the second, individuals—namely Cain, Balaam, and Korah. We will look at each grouping and how Jude makes use of it.
The first three displayed an ungodliness that ranged from unbelief after deliverance to unbridled and unnatural sexual activity. The generation of Israelites that came out of Egypt tested God time and again, finally refusing to enter the promised land out of fear of its inhabitants. When forbidden to do so by the Lord, they made an assault on it. The angels who refused to remain in the place assigned to them sought a sexual liaison with human women, and the Sodomites sought union with angels. God manifested His displeasure against them all in fearful ways. Jude makes a link between them and the false teachers by the expression “in like manner” (Jude 8), which means that the same spirit was displayed. Whether there was a closer correspondence in terms of the sexual sins committed is open to question.
What Jude said about them was related to dreams, defilement, and defamation (Jude 8). The first of these is the dominant feature as it introduces the rest. Jude wrote “dreaming . . . they defile . . . reject . . . and blaspheme.” Dreams were probably the medium by which they acquired (and authenticated?) what they taught and how they lived. In the Old Testament, the “dreams” of false prophets served as the opposite of “the word” that true prophets received (Deut. 13:2, 4, 6; Jer. 23:16, 25–32). “Defiled flesh” refers to sexual immorality—whether of the kind exemplified by fallen angels or the Sodomites or not. It was regarded as having no serious bearing on their version of Christianity. They despised all government, whether of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, or their angelic representatives and unlike the archangel Michael, they had no temerity about their own opinions. They were filled with self-importance and recognized no one as greater than themselves. They had no reverential love for “the only God” or the “Master” Jesus Christ whom they knew something about. The secret knowledge to which they laid claim led them to debased and depraved living, more in keeping with instinct than reason (Jude 10). Free thinking was becoming free living with a vengeance.
Whereas the relevance of the former triad to the situation in hand was grounded on general resemblance (“like manner” in Jude 8), this second triad is more specific. “Woe to them for they” is a pronouncement of judgment on the false teachers for the sins for which Cain, Balaam, and Korah were regarded as notorious in Jewish tradition. Cain exhibited defiance of the divine word by building a city when he had been consigned to be a wanderer (Gen. 4:18). Balaam added seduction to avarice when he was prevented from cursing Israel (Num. 22–24; 31:1–20). Korah led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron’s leadership and authority (Num. 16). They were all dangerous, avaricious, useless, and unstable and untrustworthy like dirty blemishes or hidden reefs, greedy shepherds, empty clouds, barren trees, stormy waves and wandering stars (Jude 4, 8–16). Enoch prophesied about them, and so did the Apostles of the Lord. Like the unbelievers in Israel, they were perennial dissidents—grumblers and loud-mouthed boasters (Ex.16:1–12). They were the ones who were disrupting the fellowship, making much of others but to no good purpose (Gal. 4:17–18) and were “devoid of the Spirit” (Jude 19) as they pursued their program of self-aggrandizement to their own destruction and that of others. They were no real friends of the faith—or of the church.
Battle lines are therefore being clearly drawn, but the “location” of the battlefield must be borne in mind. It is the church and so the danger of collateral damage must be minimized. A fight for the faith in the church must not turn into a free-for-all, no-holds-barred conflict, as Jude goes on to show. The Apostle Paul recognized that the church was not immune from dissension or heresy but envisaged that in such crises there would be some in the fellowship who would show that they were more capable at handling such matters than others (1 Cor. 11:18–19). These “leaders” should always be looked for and followed and orderly procedures observed until there is no alternative to secession. A church without “the faith” is not a church—but that does not mean that its members are not Christians.
Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series on Jude. Previous post.