Jude has been described as “the most neglected book in the New Testament” (Douglas J. Rowston, NTS 21 (1975) 554-563). Perhaps because the letter is so short, or possibly because of the book’s close relationship to 2 Peter, the book is rarely preached on, and few people turn to the book in devotional reading. It is, however, an important witness to the way the early church responded to false teaching. While the book is brief, it is a very “dense” book, in that nearly every line is packed with allusions to the Old Testament or laced with colorful metaphors to described the false teachers.
Why do many scholars deal with 2 Peter along with Jude? One factor is the is the similarity between the two letters – virtually the entire book of Jude appears in 2 Peter, with the exception of the two allusions to non-biblical books. For this reason scholars wonder if Jude used 2 Peter, or vice versa, or if both letters used a third source, perhaps a standard statement against false teachers who abuse their freedom in Christ. Either way, there are some strange things in Jude that are easier to ignore than sort out.
I have preached out of Jude a few times, mostly because it is so obscure. But there is a great deal in the book which ought to be a warning to the modern church. There is a great deal of tolerance for weak teaching in American churches, so much so that the Scripture is not all that important. “Practical sermons” are far more important than using the Bible to address the issues of our day.
This was the problem in the first century – individual teachers with visionary experiences were more important than the Scripture. Jude tells us to have nothing to do with these sorts of teachers. Jude calls the false teachers “blemishes at the love feast,” perhaps I can update this a bit and paraphrase the line as “zits on the face of your communion service.”
Here are a few of the vivid metaphors used for these false teachers:
- Waterless clouds
- Fruitless trees in autumn
- Wild waves on the sea
- Wandering stars
In each case, there is something intended for good: a could brings rain, a tree gives fruit, a star ought to give guidance. A “wandering star” is a planet, which is in a different position every night and may not even be visible at some times in the year. If you were trying to navigate by the planet Venus, for example, you would be lost. To navigate, you need the Pole Star. These teachers claim to be guides, but in the end the obscure the truth and people get lost. There are some obvious implications to present teachers who attain a level of authority without really providing any real spiritual leadership.