Studies in Jude: The Example of the False Teachers (v. 5-16)

jude-part-1-1-728Arrogance, self-promotion, greed, and promiscuity. Hopefully these are not the hallmarks of your pastor. Throughout the Scriptures these are the characteristics that often define false teachers. These are characteristics unbecoming of any Christian but they are particularly disastrous in spiritual leaders. As Jude writes to the church he warns them of the false teachers among them, points to these characteristics, and predicts their future judgment. In this regard the false teachers serve as an example, not of what we should be, but of what happens to those who rebel against God.

This is the largest portion of Jude’s small epistle. It aims to describe and condemn the false teachers that are harassing the church. Douglas Moo explains Jude’s method as citing Old Testament or Jewish traditional material that applies to the sinfulness of these false teachers. He writes:

Jude’s strategy is obvious: By identifying the false teachers with traditional examples of notorious sinners, he moves his readers to reject these infiltrators and, indeed, to regard them with horror. (2 Peter, Jude, 239).

It is a guilt-by-association formula that allows the readers to see the sinfulness of the false teachers with more clarity. We can break this section down into three parts, as most English translations do.

Section one (v. 5-10) looks at three Old Testament examples of rebelliousness: the Exodus generation, the rebellious angels, and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jude begins recognizing that his readers would have been familiar with all these accounts: Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it (v. 5a). He wants to capitalize on their familiarity with these stories to draw a parallel to the false teachers that they have let slip in “unnoticed” (v. 4). He begins with the Exodus generation, noting this generation died off in the wilderness wandering because they would not trust God when he commanded them to seize the land of Canaan (Num. 14). Jude speaks of God saving a people from Egypt, whom he “afterward destroyed.” His grace in the one instance did not mean they could presume upon His mercy in latter instances. Despite His rescue their rebellion still had consequences.

His second example looks to the angels, “who did not stay within their own position of authority” (v. 6). There’s a great deal of debate about this reference. I believe that this is actually a reference to the “Sons of God” found in Genesis 6:1-4. Jewish commentators from the time of Jesus had developed a rather elaborate story revolving around this exact parallel (see 1 Enoch). Jude’s allusion to the sexual immorality of the angels, combined in the next example with Sodom and Gomorrah leads me to believe that the false teachers were sexually promiscuous. Jude even says that these teachers “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality” (v. 4).

The final example from this section looks at Sodom and Gomorrah, the infamous Old Testament cities that God destroyed for their wickedness and immorality. The cities serve as an example, a warning, “by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire” (v. 7). Moo observes a “crescendo in punishment – from physical death (v. 5) to binding in darkness (v. 6) to the ‘punishment of eternal fire’” (243).

Verses 8-10 make direct application to the false teachers. Jude notes three parallels between his examples and these teachers: (1) they pollute the flesh; (2) they reject authority; and (3) they blaspheme the glorious ones. If their sins parallel these famous Old Testament examples we may be sure their end will parallel them too.

In Jude’s second section (v. 11-13) he points to three more Old Testament examples: Cain, Balaam, and Korah. Many will know the story of Cain and Abel from the Old Testament. Cain murdered his brother out of envy. But that does not seem like a likely reference in this context. Rather, Jude is probably alluding to Jewish tradition regarding Cain at this point. In Jewish tradition Cain became an example of skepticism. So, the Jerusalem Targum has Cain claiming that “There is no judgment, no judge, no future life; no reward will be given to the righteous, and no judgment will be imposed on the wicked.” It is likely that Jude has this in mind to again reiterate his point that the false teachers are blasphemers and reject authority.

“Balaam’s error” refers to an incident in Numbers 22-24. Though Balaam eventually refuses to curse the people of Israel for the wicked King Balak, a tradition grew up around him that presented Balaam as one who was willing to lead Israel into sin for the sake of financial gain (see Revelation 2:14). The application to the false teachers seems obvious, then: they were seeking nothing but their own financial comfort, and were willing to lead the church into sin to get it.

The final example in this section refers to Numbers 16. There Korah led 250 Israelites in rebellion against Moses’ leadership. Almost immediately after the rebellion was squelched Korah became a warning to any and all who would rebel against the Lord’s appointed leader. Another example of those who reject authority is used. The references were well-known to Jude’s original audience and would have been created disturbing parallels for the church.

Jude continues with his descriptions of them in verses 12-13 with nothing good to say. They are a hidden hazard that threatens to rip the apart their church. They eat at the communal love feasts, but clearly they have no real love for the people. They only care to feed themselves and promote themselves. He makes mention of their eternal destination in verse 13, probably referring back to the angels kept in darkness. Their end is certain and terrible.

Finally, verses 14-16 give us the last citation. Here he gives no example, but rather quotes the prophetic prediction of Enoch. Though 1 Enoch is not an Old Testament book, Jude recognizes that the man spoke prophetically and he feels no hesitancy to quote him here. God will judge and condemn these false teachers for their ungodly living, and their ungodly speech. In fact that is exactly what will happen when Jesus returns, he comes to judge (2 Tim. 4:1). This is Jude’s final warning. The false teachers will have to stand before God and give an account, and they will be found guilty and condemned. These last verses serve as the cherry on the top of Jude’s already compelling argument. The church should heed this warning: these false teachers will be condemned by God and all who follow them will find the same end.

Jude gives us a detailed explanation of these false teachers in order that they church might avoid them. Though many teachers seem to prosper financially, gaining fame and recognition, and are often rewarded with big ministries their end is certain destruction. Jude does not want us to be deceived by the glitz and glamor, by the dynamic personalities and sweet smiles. False teachers have no place in the Kingdom of God and they are to be removed from the church.

We should not merely read this and conclude that false teachers are out there. We should read this and be forewarned ourselves. We who teach – weather from the platform on Sunday mornings, or in the children’s classrooms – carry a great responsibility. James warns us, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). Jude’s warnings, then, serve to keep us close to sound doctrine and submissive to God’s authority.

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