11 December 2015

All right, let’s plow through Jude.

And now we’re going through Jude.

Jude 1.1-5

A few months ago I was going through Jude, and then I started Christ Almighty!, and some people were wondering whether I’d ever go back to it. And some others didn’t care at all, ’cause Jude is an obscure little letter which makes no sense to them, and they don’t want me to analyze books of the bible so they can understand them; they just want me to reconfirm all the things they believe already, and teaching ’em new stuff doesn’t do that.

My mini-rant aside, yeah I dropped the ball, but here I pick it back up.

Jude 1.1-2 KWL
1 Judah, slave of Christ Jesus, Jacob’s brother,
to those in God the Father, those whom Christ Jesus loves,
those whom he watched over, those whom he called.
2 May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you all.

Jude: This’s be Judah of Nazareth, brother of Yakóvu/“Jacob,” which most New Testaments translate “James,” Ju 1.1 ’cause that’s what happened after English-speakers mixed up the Latin names Iacobus and Iacomus. This’d be the James who was bishop of Jerusalem, who wrote the letter we call James, who’s therefore Christ Jesus’s brother. Mk 6.3 Jesus’s brothers didn’t really believe in Jesus Jn 7.5 till he was resurrected; then they joined his followers Ac 1.14 and led some of his churches. He’s called Jude instead of Judah ’cause “Jude” was how you spelled Judah back when English-speakers still pronounced those silent E’s.

Protestants and some Orthodox figure Jude is the biological son of Mary and Joseph, Jesus’s mom and adoptive dad. Roman Catholics insist Jesus’s mom stayed a virgin, so either she was Jude’s stepmom, or that adelfós/“brother” Mt 13.55 actually means “cousin.” (As it grew to after Catholics started claiming that.) Now, Jesus did have a cousin named Judas, “Judas of James,” whom he made one of his Twelve. Lk 6.16, Ac 1.13 In other gospels, Judas’s name is swapped with Thaddaeus, Mk 3.18, Mt 10.3 which is why Catholics often call him “Jude Thaddaeus”—figuring he’s that Jude. Brother or cousin, he’s family either way.

We don’t know where Jude wrote from, or to, or precisely when, ’cause he didn’t say. Considering all the references Jude made to the bible and to Pharisee myths, it’s a good bet he wrote to Pharisees. Just as James wrote his letter to Jews scattered all over the Roman Empire, Jude likely had the same audience in mind. (As James’s brother, if you’re gonna listen to the one, you’ll likely listen to the other.) So, same as James, Jude’s letter applies to us Christians today when we go through the same things. It’s why we kept it.

So let’s get to it.

(I should mention: Jude has no chapters, just verses. But I refer to the whole letter as chapter 1, lest people—or the Bible Gateway links I’ve programmed into the site—assume when I refer to, say, Jude 7, I mean the seventh chapter instead of the seventh verse. So I’ll just call it Jude 1.7.)

Fight to keep the original beliefs.

Jude 1.3 KWL
Beloved, in planning to write you about our common salvation—with all speed—
I needed to write you to encourage you
to fight for this holy belief which was at one time transmitted to you.

In verse 4 below, Jude told his readers why he wanted ’em to fight for what they believed—and in the context of this verse, it’s about what they believed about our salvation. The next verses will indicate some folks had strayed pretty far from what the apostles taught about how God saves us through Jesus.

We humans are creatures of extremes. We tend to either embrace old things—and cling to them way too tightly—or ditch every old thing in favor of every new thing. Seldom for the right reasons. Usually it’s because the old things give us comfort—or they don’t and never did, but the new things offer us comfort, so we’ll try them instead. Whatever’s least burdensome.

Same with Christianity. When we first come to Jesus, it’s all new. It’s all sunshine, lollipops, rainbows, and Vicodin. We embrace everything and everything. Once we’ve been Christians for a bit, we learn which parts we really like and practice regularly… and which bits we don’t care for so much, and we try to weasel out of those things, and find a church which’ll let us get away with not doing them. Don’t wanna deny yourself when you follow Jesus? Mk 8.34 Don’t wanna develop self-control? Ga 5.23 Don’t wanna think of certain sins as “sins,” but want Jesus to have “done away with all that”? There’s a preacher for that.

So we’ve turned Christianity into a large cafeteria, where we can pick and choose which things to put on our trays, and which things to ignore. We don’t want organized religion, which tells us what Jesus expects of us, what his apostles passed down, what our fellow Christians are struggling to do. We wanna do this on our own, and do Christianity our own style, with nobody to tell us what to do. Not even Jesus… although we’ll pretend he’s totally cool with everything we’re doing. ’Cause grace. We call it “freedom in Christ.”

It’s really not grace; it’s cheap grace. And it’s not just a rejection of Fundamentalism and legalism; it’s a rejection of Jesus. ’Cause such folks aren’t following him. They redefined him till he commands them no longer. It’s not his voice they hear when they pray; it’s their own. Conveniently, it lets them do as they like.

As you notice, this isn’t our common salvation. Isn’t our common belief. It’s highly individual. It’s as if each Christian works out our own special arrangement with God. And plenty of Christians actually teach this. I grew up hearing it from all my youth pastors: Jesus needs to be your personal savior. But the way they taught it, it sounded like Jesus should become my personalized savior: He died for me, individually, and this being the case we work out our own arrangement. It’s because that church was independent and democratic: A lot of individualism had crept into the church’s theology. As it has throughout American churches.

At its core this “personal savior” talk is a correct idea: Though Jesus died to save the whole world, and not just Christians, 1Jn 2.2 he still wants an individual relationship with individual humans. God wants us to be his daughters and sons. Jn 1.12 It’s a highly personal relationship. But it doesn’t mean I get to define its parameters. Jesus is Lord. I am most definitely not.

So, Jude instructed his readers, fight for what you heard at the beginning. What does Jesus teach? Study it again. What do the apostles emphasize? Read their letters again. What’s God expect of us? Look it up. Never assume we have it down, or know it already. Worse, never assume we know better. We’re wrong. We trip up all the time. We make mistakes. We get complacent. We start bending things to suit ourselves. We can’t afford to do that; we’ll go heretic. Going it alone invariably goes that direction.

Grace versus libertarianism.

Jude 1.4 KWL
For certain ungodly people have slipped in—
I’d formerly written a critique about them a while ago—
who twist our God’s grace into libertarianism,
who reject our only dictator and master, Christ Jesus.

Usually asélgeia is translated “lasciviousness” (KJV), “a license for immorality” (NIV), “sensuality” (ESV), “licentiousness” (NASB, NRSV), “lewdness” (NKJV), “immoral lives,” (NLT), or “immoral ways” (GNB). Everyone’s pretty much agreed it’s immoral. But a lot of Christians assume every single time the bible talks about immorality, it’s of a sexual kind. And yeah, if you’re an immoral person, your misbehavior will usually extend to your sexual practices. But do we have to immediately go there every single time? Or is it that you immediately go there every single time?

Well, enough psychoanalyzing the translators. The word asélgeia literally means “not Selge,” referring to a Selge, a city in Pisidia, Galatia (now Turkey) colonized by Spartans. They were known for their fierce independence. The Greeks and Romans didn’t have to conquer them and sort them out, as they did with the rest of the cities in the Middle East: The Selgians already had excellent laws, a strong constitution, and that famous Spartan-style self-control. They knew what their community expected of them, and they did it.

If you’re “not Selge,” you rejected your community’s expectations: You define laws and morals however you care to. Again, we’re not talking about sexual morals, ’cause the Selgians weren’t any different from any other Spartans (or Greeks) when it came to sexual practices. We’re talking community morals. Do you act like a Selgian, or do you go it alone?

We might justify our behavior by insisting everyone oughta be as independent as we. Or that God made everyone free and independent, and it’s tyranny for anyone to obligate us to do anything we don’t wish to. Or that we have no master. Okay, maybe Jesus, but he lets us do whatever we please; he’s no despot.

Except despótin is precisely the word Jude used in verse 4, the word I translated “dictator.”

Yeah, Jude is talking about libertarianism. That’s why I translated it as I did. I know; political libertarians will hate this interpretation. Well, tough. They need to hear this, lest while pursuing their political independence, they start practicing spiritual independence, and wind up defying Jesus’s government as well as the American one.

Again, it’s people who insist they get to define what they believe, what they’ll practice, how far they’ll heed Christian leadership, which parts of the bible are valid, and so forth. And they define ’em arbitrarily: There’s no rule, no system, behind why they do as they do. It’s all about personal convenience. It works for them. When it doesn’t, they change it till it does.

Claiming asélgia only has to do with sex—after all, the other times it comes up in the bible, so does sex Ro 13.13, Ga 5.19, 2Co 12.21, 2Pe 2.7 —lets people dodge the fact it’s referring to them. After all they aren’t lascivious. So Jude must not mean them; they’re good. But asélgia refers to behavior of all sorts which goes against the community of believers. We’re not meant to go it alone. We follow Jesus together, in the church he created—or we’re not really following him at all.

Be like the people of Selge. They had a community, and didn’t abandon it, but defended it. They knew the right thing to do, and were disciplined enough to practice it no matter what. They were so steadfast, they got a word coined for them. We need to practice self-control and fellowship like that.

’Cause look at when people behaved that way in the bible.

Jude 1.5 KWL
I want to remind you—though you knew all this already:
First the Lord rescued his people out of Egypt.
Second, he destroyed those who didn’t trust him.

In the verses which follow, Jude gets into specifics about the people from the bible who didn’t trust God. Libertarian Christians assume since we’re under grace, God doesn’t function like this anymore: We’re in New Testament times, not Old Testament! God isn’t gonna punish the wicked till the End! Problem is, there’s one great big Last Day, when Jesus returns to conquer the world… and there are many smaller last days, when God decides he needs to stop evil before it destroys anyone else, and either lets people’s enemies have at them, or intervenes personally.

This is not something libertarians teach. They claim God will bail them out of every jam. ’Cause he can. And, they assume, he promised to.

But did he? Yes—when we have an active relationship with God through Christ Jesus. 1Jn 1.7 When we’re keeping his commands, 1Jn 2.3 when we’re walking as he did, 1Jn 2.6 when we’re living in the light instead of the dark, and have a relationship with one another through him. 1Jn 1.7

The Hebrews took their relationship with God for granted ’cause he rescued them from Egypt. And we Christians take our relationship with God for granted ’cause Jesus died for our sins. But did the Hebrews stay in relationship with him? For way too many of them, no. Even though they saw miracles, saw the pillar of cloud and fire, ate manna every morning—for crying out loud, they were hand-fed by the LORD like baby monkeys!—they kept threatening to bail on him and go back to the same rotten Egypt he rescued them from. Ingrates. We Christians simply disguise our ingratitude as “freedom in Christ”: Though Jesus freed us from sin, we act as though he freed us to sin.

So does God’s saving grace apply to such people? When we have a “relationship” with God—but it entirely consists of saying the sinner’s prayer once, and we haven’t obeyed him since? When we have a “covenant” with Christ, but it’s in name only, and there are neither acts nor intentions nor fruit of the Spirit? Do such people make it to the promised land heaven?

I sure hope so… but there’s nothing in scripture to guarantee it. On the contrary: There are passages like this one, where Jude brings up people who should’ve had relationships with God, and bollixed it, and were destroyed. Don’t go there.