The Missouri Baptist Convention has published a new resource called The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith. The 275-page book is available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon, and in print from the MBC. But we also want to make each of the 16 chapters available online. This post features the last portion of Chapter 6: Who Are Those Guys? How Apologists Identify False Teachers.
For certain men, who were designated for this judgment long ago, have come in by stealth; they are ungodly, turning the grace of our God into promiscuity and denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 4)
A doctrinal gem often overlooked in Jude is a reference to the deity of Christ. In verse 4, Jude describes “certain men” who are guilty of “denying our Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” Immediately after this warning, he offers examples from Jewish history, beginning with the rebellion of the Israelites in the wilderness: “Now I want to remind you, though you know all these things: the Lord, having first of all saved a people out of Egypt, later destroyed those who did not believe” (v. 5).
Note that Jude calls Jesus “Lord” in verse 4, and then he refers to the “Lord” of the Israelites in the very next verse. The Lord who delivered the Israelites out of Egypt and then destroyed the apostates can be none other than the Lord Jesus.
In fact, many of the earliest manuscripts of Jude actually say “Jesus” instead of “the Lord” in verse 5, and this is most likely the original meaning. Several modern translations, including the New Living Translation (NLT), English Standard Version (ESV), and the NET Bible all refer to “Jesus” rather than “the Lord” in this passage.
Putting Jesus in His place
Robert M. Bowman Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski, in Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ, write that three principles of textual criticism, when considered together, point to that conclusion.
First, all other things being equal, the earlier and more widely attested reading is to be preferred. In this case both “Lord” and “Jesus” are found in the earliest writings, but “Jesus” is more widely attested, especially among early translations of the New Testament into other languages such as Coptic, Ethiopic, and Latin.
Second, all other things being equal, the harder or more difficult reading – “the one that sounds the strangest, to put it crudely” – is more likely to be original. That’s because a copyist is more likely to change a text from something that sounds strange to something that doesn’t, rather than the other way around. This gives “Jesus” a decided edge over “the Lord,” since it’s strange to picture Jesus in the wilderness with the ancient Israelites.
Third, whatever reading is more likely to have given rise to the others as alterations is probably the original reading. Thus, “Jesus” is probably original because it’s more likely that copyists would change “Jesus” (the more difficult reading) to “the Lord,” but not the other way around.
Bowman and Komoszewski write, “According to Jude, the Lord Jesus not only existed during the time of the Exodus but was the one who both delivered Israel from Egypt and then destroyed the unbelieving Israelites in the wilderness.”12
What are false teachers like?
Lastly, we should take note of how Jude summarizes the character traits of the false teachers who plague his beloved readers. In verse 4, he lists five such attributes.
(1) First, they were designated for judgment long ago. The word “designated” in the Greek is prographo and means “to write beforehand” or “ordain,” a reference no doubt to Enoch’s prophecy (see vv. 14-15). This does not mean God fatalistically selects these false teachers and forces them to oppose the early church. Rather, in His sovereign foreknowledge, He writes out their death sentences in eternity past. He is fully aware that their determination to oppose His Son and His Son’s Bride will not prevail. Further, He sets a day of reckoning for them before the great white throne, at which He confirms their desire to live independently of Him, and from which He sends them into the lake of fire (see Rev. 20:11-15).
While God has every right to create vessels of honor and of dishonor – and does so (Rom. 9:21) – this does not mean He crafts robot-like creatures to be wound up and set loose for pre-programmed good or evil. It seems more biblically faithful to see God creating us with a certain capacity for making choices for which He holds us responsible. The false teachers Jude writes about have so abandoned the wooing of God in creation, conscience, canon, and Christ that they have passed a point of no return. Thus, their future in outer darkness is fixed – not by God’s lack of mercy or grace but by their continuous, willful rejection of His call to salvation.
Another way to look at it is that the false teachers themselves were predicted long ago, and thus their everlasting punishment was fixed by divine decree. Kenneth Wuest’s translation of Jude renders this part of verse 4, “For certain men … were of old predicted with reference to this judgment.”13
(2) Second, the false teachers have come in by stealth. Put another way, they have slipped in through an unlocked side door, feigning brotherhood, flattering God’s people, eager to gain a hearing. But they are not in the church to become disciples of Christ; they are here to gain a foothold, an advantage. Their teachings are not so contrary to that of the apostles that they are rejected out of hand, but in tiny increments they twist the Scriptures so that their listeners are more comfortable with easy believism, sexual immorality, and the mingling of pagan practices until it’s nearly impossible to separate truth from falsehood.
In a parallel passage, Peter says these false teachers “secretly bring in destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1). Paul writes that these interlopers – following Satan’s lead – disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:13-15). The Greek metaschematizo, rendered “disguise” in the HCSB and “be transformed” in the KJV, “refers to the act of an individual changing his outward expression by assuming an expression put on from the outside, an expression that does not come from nor is it representative of what he is in his inner character.”14
(3) Third, the false teachers are ungodly. The Greek word is asebes and means “destitute of reverential awe of God.” A careful examination of their lifestyles and teachings demonstrates that they are tares in God’s wheat field (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43), bad fish in the kingdom’s dragnet (Matt. 13:47-50). Despite their apparent eloquence, persuasiveness, and attractiveness, they are whitewashed tombs, filled with vile doctrines and destructive lifestyles. The early church fathers use the term asebes to refer to atheists and heretics. In preparing his readers for “difficult times” to come, Paul warns of those who hold to the form of religion but deny its power (2 Tim. 3:1-5).
(4) Fourth, they turn the grace of God into promiscuity. Also rendered “lasciviousness” (KJV), the Greek word aselgeia describes a person who “acknowledges no restraints, who dares whatever his caprice and wanton petulance may suggest.”15
God’s charis – His unmerited favor – offers us great freedom. We are no longer bound to the law, which only served as a school teacher to show us our depraved condition and need of a Savior. But these false teachers have twisted grace into a license to live immorally. They celebrate the words of Paul – “where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more” – and thus advance the notion that deep sin helps plumb the depths of God’s unfathomable grace, without heeding the apostle’s follow up: “What should we say then? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may multiply? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 5:20; 6:1-2). Nevertheless, the false teachers are well pleased to indulge their fleshly desires under “the tyranny of their unredeemed passions.”16
(5) Finally, these false teachers deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. By this, Jude probably does not mean these people are teaching “another Jesus” (2 Cor. 11:4) – that is, denying His deity or His full humanity, doubting the efficacy of His work on the cross, or redefining the meaning of His resurrection. More likely, Jude is describing the manner in which they throw off the authority of Christ over every facet of their lives.
Just as Jude describes himself as a “slave” of Jesus (v. 1), Christians likewise must recognize the Lordship of Christ – His authority not only as our Mediator and Intercessor at the Father’s right hand, but His right to define an appropriate response to His grace, and His power to correct our bad behavior. The false teachers have decided that Christians, being under grace, are free to call the shots in their lives, including the right to mingle sexual immorality and pagan practices with the disciple’s daily walk.
The word for “Master” in this text is despotes, which speaks of one who is an absolute owner, wielding uncontrolled power over another. It is nearly always used of God the Father in the Greek New Testament, but here Jude applies despotes to Jesus, perhaps to underscore the fact that He is co-equal with the Father, and that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him (Matt. 28:18; John 10:30).
John MacArthur writes of the false teachers, “Thus they deny Christ His rightful position as God (John 5:23), as King (Matt. 25:34; John 1:49-51; 12:13; 18:37), and as Messiah (Matt. 2:4-6; Mark 8:27-29; Luke 2:25-35; John 4:25-26). In so doing, they confirm that they are counterfeits; ‘they profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed’ (Titus 1:16).”17
Jude’s urgent wake-up call to his beloved readers is designed to signal the impending threat of slick, smooth-talking false teachers who by nature are crafty, ungodly, promiscuous, and unrepentant. Many in the church may be clueless, but the exalted Christ is fully aware of their devilish schemes. They won’t get away with it, as Jude makes clear in the verses to come, reminding us of God’s sovereign reach over human affairs and into the unseen realm.
Next: Chapter 7: The Lessons of History: Remembering the Past to Defend the Faith