You’ll just have to excuse the unforgivably unimaginative title to this post, but it remains the case that Jude is indeed an obscure book for most Christians. Firstly, it’s obscure in it terms of its author. There is very good reason to think that Jude (actually Judas but the name has, it is suggested, to many uncormfortable connotations for the 1st. Century Christian), was the brother of James the leader of the Jerusalem church as well as, olong with James, the brother (or, some say, half-brother due to the difference in conception, one being immaculate, the others, well, less so) of Jesus Himself. Although there is no further mention of Jude and indeed very little by way of references to him by the first church fathers, he was by this measure, and eye witness of Christ as well as acquainted closely with the apostles as well as the events of pentecost and the early church.
Secondly, Jude is obscure becasue of the references he calls upon in his letter. The content, as I will show later, is not by any means obscure but orthodox and powerful, just pure Gospel. But the examples Jude gives to warn of false teachers and to illustrate their dangers as well as their motivations are in many cases unique to Jude.
For example, v. 6 talks of ‘angels who did not stay within their own position of authority.’, which is a reference either to Genesis 6 and the angels marrying the daughters of men or a reference to the fall of some angels more generally. For my money, I don’t think it matters for they are an example, among others, of created beings whether angels or men trangsgressing the boundaries and authority given to them by God. In v.5-7, Israel rebels against its God-given privelege to be God’s people, the angels reject the boundaries they were created within to reach for something that was not theirs and the men of Sodom and Gomorrah trample on the beauty and privelege of divinely created sexual identity and transgress their very nature.
Even more obscure is the example Jude then gives to describe the sin of another transgression or rebellion, that of the Devil himself who always and at every time seeks to subvert and disdain the will of God and His Word. The example of the dispute between the archangel Michale and the Devil over Moses’ bones is not, of course, a scriptual one, at least as far as scripture is understood now. It was a story from a much more ancient text, familiar to the Jews of the time as it had been for some period but lost to us now. Origen tells us that Jude is using a story from a text called the Assumption of Moses which told the tale of Moses final burial and his acceptence into God’s presence. The Devil disputes that Moses is fit to be admitted to paradise due to his sin, namely the murder of the man in Egypt that was never admitted or atoned for and his role in the rebellion in the wilderness. Michael, wrestling with the Devil over the bones of Moses, refuses to agree with the Devil nor, surprisingly, to condemn the Devil. Accusation and judgement are for God alone and Michael refuses to transgress the boundaries of the authority given him by God, even when it involves the Devil. The Devil remains the Great Accuser and, with Moses accepted into heaven, God is the true judge as well as saviour.
With these and other more conventionally scriptual examples, Jude makes his point. All through history the heart of sin causes men (and indeed angels) to desire to trample on their created natures and roles, to reach for what is God’s privelege alone and to rebel against the good and loving ordering of creation and salvation that God has ordained. These traits are what distinguish the false teachers and their false doctrine and this is what makes Jude for me so germane.
Jude, I believe, in highlighting this tendency to subvert not only God’s word (like Balaam), in acknowledging the seriousness of sin (‘the way of Cain’) and rebellion against God’s authority and putting ourselves in His place (Korah’s rebellion; all Jude v.11), by these and other examples, such as the men of Sodom and Gomorrah, points to the fact that it is not just sin that makes us want to shrug of our God-given nature and identity, but sin that makes us want to re-make it entirely, in our image and for our glory.
The immediate and most obvious manifestation of this currently is found in the current attempts to re-make men, women and, in fact, all human sexuality as inexhaustibly malleable but, more specifically, malleable by the individuals themselves. And this is were Jude has his finger on the pulse, because within the wider church it is primarily within the arena of human sexuality and gender identity that the re-writing, re-contextualisation and wilful capitulation of orthodox, historical interpretation of scripture to contemporary views of personhood is focused.
Contemporary Feminist views on men and women lead to new translations of key words in key texts, translations never before contemplated. In other passages, contextualisation leads to the dismissal of the plain meaning of the text. Likewise with homosexuality, where new readings that deploy again novel translations of words and the heightened prominence of local cultural contexts leads to interpretations fundamentally at odds with the historic witness of the church, not to say with the otherwise obvious meaning of the text within its own context and the context of the Bible as whole. This has, as Jude says and not to put too fine a point on it, led to false teaching, a deliberate attempt to transgress the boundaries of God’s creation, law and Word by reinterpreting His inspired word. ‘Did God really say…’
I would even go as far to say that the insidious nature of the idol of individual autonomy, which lies at the heart of feminism, the gay rights movement as well as most of our other modern pathologies, has struck at the heart of man’s relationship to God in a fallen world. As a result, the tendency to deny any aspect of atonement is astonishing if there isany fair-minded, rational reading of scripture in its totality and demands explanation.
This lies in the fact that the denial of Christ’s atonement on the cross as ‘cosmic child abuse’ is absolutely in line with a view of humanity as NOT permeated and affected by our own sin. Moreover, at the heart of this lies the assumption that, as we stand ONLY as autonomous individuals ultimately, it is abhorrent not only that an individual ultimately will lose that autonomy in hell (through God’s judgement as the only truly autonomous being), but that God Himself should die in our place, as a federal head, a second Adam so that we may not fear judgement but be reconciled to God, not as individuals alone but as a people to glorify Him.
Thus, it is that Jude is bang on the money about what leads to false teaching and the insidious way that it is nurtured within Christians and churches.