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 Chapter 12: Wild Waves and Wandering Stars: The Doom of False Teachers.
But you, dear friends, remember the words foretold by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; they told you, “In the end time there will be scoffers walking according to their own ungodly desires.” These people create divisions and are merely natural, not having the Spirit. (Jude 17-19 HCSB)
William MacLeod Raine (1871 – 1954) was a newspaper man and author of a number of western adventure novels. In a feature about Dodge City, Kansas, Raine wrote that practical jokes fueled the city’s “good spirits” in the late 19thcentury – and the wilder the joke, the better.
Enter “Mysterious Dave,” also known as Dave Mathers, one of the nastiest characters to walk the sawdust trail. Raine called him “the worst of bad men and a notorious scoffer.”
It so happened that an evangelist known as Brother Johnson came to town and led a series of meetings so successful that the crowds outgrew the church and adjourned to a local dance hall, thus attracting Mysterious Dave. He listened to Brother Johnson preach several times, admiring the evangelist’s fiery sermons against sin. Perhaps, the preacher thought, there was hope for this Dodge City scoundrel.
So, Brother Johnson preached directly at Dave, leveraging the full weight of his message against the sinner’s stubborn resistance. And then it happened. Dave buried his head in his hands and sobbed. The preacher boldly exclaimed that he was willing to die if he could convert this one vile sinner. The deacons in the congregation agreed that they, too, would not resist going straight to heaven if Mysterious Dave were converted.
At last Dave rose to his feet and said, “I’ve got yore company, friends. Now, while we’re all saved I reckon we better start straight for heaven. First off, the preacher; then the deacons; me last.” Dave pulled out his “whoppin’ big gun” and started shooting.
The preacher dove through a window to avoid the gunfire. His deacons scattered in search of cover. Raine concluded, “Seemed like they was willin’ to postpone taking that ticket to heaven. After that they never did worry any more about Dave’s soul.”
Notorious scoffers like Dave Mathers eventually reveal their true character. They are incorrigible and unrepentant. At some point, people may fairly conclude that they have passed the point of no return. Nothing successfully prompts a change in their behavior because their character is fully corrupted.
But scoffers in the Old West are nothing new. First-century false teachers honed the art of ridicule long before the first brigands rode into Dodge City. Jude reminds his readers that the apostles warned us of such people. We should be on guard but not surprised.
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 middle portion of Chapter 8: Principles of Biblical Interpretation.
Previously: Kept With Eternal Chains: When Angels Desert
In the same way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them committed sexual immorality and practiced perversions, just as they did, and serve as an example by undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 7)
As we wrestle with the identity of Jude’s angels, it may help to consider some basic principles for interpreting Scripture. Biblical hermeneutics is “the science and art of understanding, translating, and explaining the meaning of the Scripture text,” according to Wayne McDill, author of 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching. In 2 Tim. 2:15, Paul commands Timothy to engage in hermeneutics: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.”
McDill offers seven principles for “rightly dividing” (KJV) the Word of God:
(1) Identify the kind of literature your text is for insight into its meaning.
Bible scholars call this the genre of the text. Is the text law, history, wisdom, poetry, narrative, epistles, prophecy, apocalyptic, or something else? All genres are not created equal when it comes to conveying divine revelation. Carefully discerning the genre of a passage, or an entire book, is key to understanding. The genre of Jude is that of an epistle – a letter written to a general or specific audience conveying greetings and instruction.
(2) Consider the context of the passage for a better understanding of its meaning. What is the historical setting of the passage? Who is the intended audience? What are the social, political, and religious situations that the Holy Spirit and the human author seek to address? Jude likely is written in the mid 60s A.D., when Israel is about to experience God’s wrath at the hands of the Romans, and when the early church is on the cusp of great dangers from false teachers.
(3) Read the text for its plain and obvious meaning. “A common and persistent myth about the Bible is that its real meaning is hidden behind the surface message,” writes McDill. “Even though the Bible uses symbolic or figurative language, most of it is clear to the reader. Even when you do not know about the people, places, and events in question, you can grasp the point of the text.” While Jude alludes to apocryphal books and employs graphic images to describe the lifestyles of false teachers, his message is plain to the reader: Now is the time to take a stand for the Christian faith.
(4) Try to discern the writer’s intentions when he wrote the text. Luke, for example, tells us he has “carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed” (Luke 1:3-4). In the case of Jude, the author makes it clear that he intends to warn his readers about false teachers who have infiltrated the church, and to spur them to earnestly contend for the faith.
(5) Look carefully at the language of the text for what it reveals about its meaning. The words of the text are all we have of the writer’s thoughts, says McDill. If he hadn’t written it down, we wouldn’t know what he was thinking. So we should carefully examine the author’s words and phrases, and how he constructs his message. Jude uses strong language to characterize false teachers. It may help if we study these terms in the original language using lexicons and word-study books. In addition, Jude often organizes his thoughts in groups of three. For example, in calling his readers to remember how God judges the wicked, he lists three lessons from history: unbelieving Israelites, fallen angels, and the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah.
(6) Notice the various theological themes in the text. Though a text generally has one intended meaning, it can have a number of significant theological themes – and a variety of applications. When Jude writes about false teachers denying their only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (v. 4), we might draw from this the urgency of knowing sound doctrine concerning the person and work of the Messiah.
(7) Always take a God-centered perspective for interpreting your text. The “theological interpretation” arises from the assumption that the Bible is really God’s means of making Himself known to us, notes McGill. What it says about Him always is central to every text. “The Bible was not given by God to tell us about ancient religious people and how we should all try to be like them,” he writes. “It was given to tell us about the faithful God whom they either served or denied. Their response is not the central message; God’s will and his involvement with his creation are. Even texts that give instructions as to how we should behave reveal something about God.” Jude’s epistle, while warning of false teachers and calling believers to contend for the faith, ultimately points to a sovereign God who is holy, loving, faithful, and just.
Next: Eternal chains in darkness
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 first half of Chapter 7: The Lessons of History: Remembering the Past to Defend the Faith
Previously: Jude and his divine half-brother
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; and He has kept, with eternal chains in darkness for the judgment of the great day, angels who did not keep their own position but deserted their proper dwelling. In the same way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them committed sexual immorality and practiced perversions, just as they did, and serve as an example by undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 5-7)
In The Life of Reason, Vol. 1 (1905-06), George Santayana famously wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Many others have fashioned their own versions of this quip to make the point that our past does not have to determine our future – as long as we’re careful to learn the lessons of history.
Not everyone agrees. Author Kurt Vonnegut once offered this pithy response, “I’ve got news for Mr. Santayana: we’re doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That’s what it is to be alive.”
Both men have a point. Santayana implores us to learn from past mistakes, while Vonnegut reminds us that the depths of human depravity virtually guarantee that, if given the chance, we’ll repeat the same bad choices.
The Bible speaks to both sides of the issue. God and His servants often instruct us in Scripture to remember. Moses tells the Israelites to remember their slavery in Egypt, and God’s mighty deliverance with a strong hand and an outstretched arm (Deut. 5:15). Jesus instructs the apostles to observe the Lord’s Supper – particularly the symbolism of the bread and cup – in remembrance of Him (Luke 22:19). And in visiting the church at Ephesus – a hard-working congregation whose members have cooled in their passion for Christ – Jesus urges them to remember how far they have fallen (Rev. 2:5).
Other passages could be cited, but the point remains that remembering the goodness of God, and rehearsing the acts of obedience He has given us to honor Him, lead to blessings, while neglecting the things of God invariably results in a downward spiral of sinful patterns.
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 first half of Chapter 6: Who Are Those Guys? How to Identify False Teachers.
Previously: The last half of Chapter 5: Why Is Contending for the Faith Necessary?
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)
In the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a relentless posse interrupts the legendary duo’s run of train robberies. Fleeing across rivers, plains, and rocky outcroppings, Butch and Sundance engage in playful, but increasingly annoyed, banter about the skilled men tracking them. At one point, Butch tries to assure Sundance that their escape tactics are working. Sundance is not convinced and keeps looking back over his shoulder.
“Ah, you’re wasting your time,” says Butch. “They can’t track us over rocks.”
“Tell them that,” Sundance replies, nodding toward the horizon.
Butch looks for himself and sees that the trackers indeed are still hot on their trail. “They’re beginning to get on my nerves,” he says. “Who are those guys?”
Who indeed. “Who are those guys?” becomes a running gag line throughout the film.
Butch and Sundance eventually discover their pursuers’ names, as well as the identity of the railroad executive bankrolling the posse. The news forces them to flee to South America, where they revive their nefarious careers before meeting a bloody end.
Like Butch and Sundance, Jude can’t seem to shake the posse on his trail. Rather than pistol-packing bounty hunters, however, these are false teachers doggedly determined to bring down the infant church. Jude avoids calling them by name, choosing instead to describe them as “certain/some men” (HCSB, NIV, KJV), “certain people” (ESV), or “certain persons” (NASB). In a parallel passage, Peter simply refers to them as “false teachers” (2 Peter 2:1).
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 5: I Found it Necessary: Going from Good to Better in Defense of the Faith.
Dear friends, although I was eager to write you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write and exhort you to contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all. (Jude 3)
Jude expresses great concern with these words: “I found it necessary to write and exhort you to contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all” (v. 3b). He places on hold his plans to write about the common salvation grounded in the person and work of Christ in order to address an urgent matter. “Circumstances had arisen that demanded immediate action, thus presenting an emergency situation. Jude addressed himself to a recognized problem, and exhorted the believers to respond with positive determination.”
The Greek word translated “necessary” is anagke and means by constraint, compulsion, distress, or hardship. In other New Testament passages, the term is used to describe the influence of other persons, circumstances, or a sense of obligation or duty.
For example, in urging the Corinthians to share their financial resources, Paul writes, “Each person should do as he has decided in his heart – not out of regret or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7 – emphasis added). In his appeal to Philemon to welcome back a runaway slave, Paul remarks, “But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that your good deed might not be out of obligation, but of your own free will” (Philemon 14 – emphasis added).
The writer of Hebrews addresses his audience with an appeal to consider the superiority of the new covenant ministry in Christ. About the law’s requirements for the shedding of blood, he writes, “Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves to be purified with better sacrifices than these” (Heb. 9:23 – emphasis added).
And in regard to a Christian’s duties to the state, Paul remarks, “Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience” (Rom. 13:5 – emphasis added).
For Jude, the necessity to write an urgent exhortation comes not from peer pressure or an obligation to fleshly authority. Rather, it appears the Holy Spirit has stirred Jude’s heart and caused him to grieve over the manner in which his beloved friends are allowing false teachings to seep into the church. They must not sit idly by while interlopers undermine the first-order doctrines established by the eyewitnesses of the life of Christ.
Warren Wiersbe comments, “I must confess that I sympathize with Jude. In my own ministry, I would much rather encourage the saints than declare war on the apostates. But when the enemy is in the field, the watchmen dare not go to sleep. The Christian life is a battleground, not a playground.”