23 December 2015

Rebellion against God’s authorities. Not his angels.

How one little misdirection throws off the whole letter.

Jude 1.8-13

Previously I brought up the people whom Jude disputed with in his letter: The folks who were going their own way, embracing their favorite myths instead of Christianity, going astray, and leading others with them.

And I suspect the reason Jude kept referring to Pharisee mythology throughout his letter, was because these ancient Christianists were likely also referring to myths. ’Cause Christians still do it, y’know. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard non-biblical stories about the devil, used as proof of how the devil behaves, or what it’s up to. Preachers like to claim it gives us insight into devilish behavior. More like insight into how little homework they do before they get behind the pulpit and claim to teach God’s word.

In my experience, when a person’s quoting myths instead of bible, not only do they take bible out of context, but they usually take the myths out of context too. So what I believe Jude did here (and yeah, I admit I’m biased in favor of this interpretation ’cause it’s what I’d do—isn’t that how bias works?) was find out what the myths really taught, then turn ’em around on the heretics. Like so.

Jude 1.8-10 KWL
8 Of course these people who dream of flesh stain themselves.
They reject authority. They slander the well-thought-of.
9 When the head angel Michael was debating with the devil over Moses’s body,
it didn’t dare bring a charge of slander, but said, “Lord rebuke you.”
10 These people don’t understand such things, and slander them.

We don’t have a copy of where this Michael-debating-Satan story comes from. The early church father Origen said it’s from a book called The Ascension of Moses, De Principiis 3.2.1 and though we have, we think, a copy of that book, it doesn’t include that story. Maybe Origen was wrong; maybe we have the wrong book, or we’re missing that bit of it. Doesn’t matter. Plenty of Pharisee myths include heavenly courtroom cases, with Satan as adversary and other popular angels as defenders. Some of our own, too; like “The Devil and Daniel Webster.”

So when these misbehaving Christians claimed, “It’s okay to tear Christian leaders a new one when they’re wrong—after all, Michael ripped Satan a new one in The Ascension of Moses.” Jude came right back at ’em with, “Nope; you read that story wrong. Michael didn’t ‘rip Satan a new one.’ Satan fought dirty, but Michael behaved itself, and resisted the temptation to act like an ass. You have not.”

A lesson plenty of Christians nowadays have definitely not followed. Ever read the comments on certain Christian websites? For a lot of them—especially the unmoderated ones—I can’t recommend it at all. Those people are awful. And they claim to be Christian. But they’ve fallen for the common false belief that all’s fair in war. It’s okay to borrow the devil’s tactics when you fight the devil and its imps. It’s okay to treat human beings, Christians or not, with any and every way other than love. Tough love, fr’instance: Go ahead and be vicious and offensive, ’cause you’re trying to keep people away from hellfire by any means necessary.

Fact is, the works of the flesh, Ga 5.16-21 even when we claim we’re using them for good, for the kingdom’s sake, are still fleshly. Those who do them, no matter their intentions, still don’t inherit the kingdom they claim they fight for. Their lack of the Spirit’s fruit proves they’re not subjects of the kingdom.

Which is kind of Jude’s point as he continued through his letter.

Oh yeah… the usual misinterpretation.

Yeah, okay, Christians tend to interpret this passage very differently. That is, when they bother to read Jude at all. And it really doesn’t help that a lot of English translations don’t help us understand it properly.

Jude referred to the dóxas/“well-thought-of” in verse 8. The word tends to refer to glory—namely the glory of God. Pp 2.11 Since it’s not describing the glory of anything in this verse, translators recognize it’s substantive—it means glorious beings. Which beings? Well, Jude didn’t get specific… but because he referred to Michael and the devil in the next verse, interpreters immediately leapt to the conclusion Jude was writing about angels. (Or fallen angels, like Satan.)

So while you’re gonna find some bibles which translate dóxas for what it means and no more (“dignities” in KJV, “glorious ones” in ESV, GNT, and NRSV) you’re also gonna find some bibles which conveniently interpret it as angels for ya (“supernatural beings” in NLT, “celestial beings” in NIV, “angelic majesties” in Amplified and NASB). Gee, thanks translators.

What threw these translators off is the word blasfimúsin/“they slander,” which tends to get translated “they blaspheme.” Few Christians understand what blasphemy is, and regularly interpret it wrong. Our culture claims it means to say anything insulting or disparaging about God. And only God. And maybe angels and spirit-beings which work for God. But not humans; you can “blaspheme” any human you want. They’re not holy.

But blasphemy doesn’t mean lèse-majesté, treating a king as less than kingly. It means slander: You lied, or spread malicious gossip, about someone. (In print it’s called libel.) And of course you can slander human beings. Gossips do it all the time. Those who wanna knock down the authority of Christian leaders also do it all the time. They’ll slander anyone and everyone.

“Glory” doesn’t only describe heavenly beings, like Michael. Jesus used it to describe Solomon, Mt 6.29, Lk 12.27 and noted how the Judeans glorified one another (and him) instead of pursuing such glory from God. Jn 5.41-44, 12.43 And really, we should seek the glory which comes from God. Ro 15.7 So of course there are such things as glorious humans. Certain Christian leaders have God’s glory upon them. They have standing with God, plus his authorization and anointing and power.

Yep, Jude wasn’t writing about glorious angels, but about divinely-appointed Christian leaders. Humans. Whom these anarchistic Christian rebels were bashing and defying. As proven by what Jude wrote next.

Examples from the actual bible.

Jude 1.10-11 KWL
10 These people don’t understand such things, and slander them.
By nature they reason like thoughtless animals, and are undone by these things.
11 How sad for them! They went down Cain’s road.
They make Balaam’s mistake, giving themselves up for a salary.
They’re destroyed, repeating Korah’s dispute.

More evidence Jude wasn’t talking about angelic authorities: Only one of the examples he selected out of the bible interacted with any angels.

The authority Cain struggled with was the LORD:

Genesis 4.6-8 KWL
6 The LORD told Cain, “Why are you hot?
Why is your face down?
7 If you’re doing good, won’t you be lifted up? If you’re not doing good, sin sits by the gate:
It may desire you, but you take charge of it.”
8 Yet Cain spoke to his brother Abel,
and while they were in a field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.

The authority Balaam took on was also the LORD:

Numbers 22.9-12 KWL
9 God came to Balaam and said, “Who are these men with you?”
10 Balaam told God, “King Balaq ben Chipor of Moab sent for me:
11 ‘Look, the people which came from Egypt cover the land’s eye!
Go curse them for me, and maybe I can fight them and drive them out.’”
12 God told Balaam, “Don’t go with them. Don’t curse the people, for they’re blessed.”

When God let Balaam later go with them—but not prophesy anything other than what he decreed—likely God figured his money-hungry prophet might go rogue on him, and sent his angel to oppose him. Nu 22.22 But the instant Balaam saw an angel was involved, he submitted to the angel’s authority. Nu 22.31 It’s only later Jesus revealed Balaam finally did go rogue, and advised the Moabites to corrupt the Hebrews. Rv 2.14 Still, we don’t see angelic authority disregarded. Much less slandered.

Okay, now Korah.

Numbers 16.1-3 KWL
1 Korah ben Icher (ben Qohat, ben Levi)
took Dathan and Abiram ben Eliab, and On ben Pelet, descendants of Reuben.
2 They, with other descendants of Israel, rose up against Moses’s face:
250 chiefs of the nation, appointed rulers, famous people,
3 assembled against Moses and Aaron, telling them,
“You have too much power.
The whole nation, all of us, are saints. The LORD’s in our midst.
Why do you get to lift yourselves above the LORD’s nation?”

(By golly, that sounds an awful lot like a democratic revolution.)

Moses and Aaron tried to negotiate with them, then threw it over to the LORD, who proceeded to rip open the earth and suck the ringleaders down into it, burn up the 250 chiefs, Nu 16.31-35 then inflict a plague on 14,700 other people who had a problem with the way he took out the rebels. Nu 16.41-50 ’Cause though he’s really slow to anger, God had enough of these [insert favorite naughty word] naysayers.

Again: Did Korah slander any angels? No? Just Moses and Aaron? Hmm; maybe they’re the well-thought-of folks Jude meant in verse 8.

Various other things Jude slams ’em with.

Jude 1.12-13 KWL
12 They’re rocks in your stew, fearlessly having fun with you.
Waterless clouds, led by the shepherding winds.
Shriveling, fruitless trees, also dying from the roots.
13 Roaring waves of the sea, dredging up their own embarrassing behavior.
Bright planets going into gloomy shadow during the age God has preserved.

Really, “rocks in your stew” is en taís agápais ymón spiládes/“in your love[-feasts], reefs.” I was trying to unmix the metaphors. The “love-feasts” were meals the ancient church would have together—“potlucks,” as we often call them nowadays. But Jude described such people as the shipwreck-causing reefs near shore. We interact with them, never thinking about how their lawlessness is quietly corrupting us. And they never have to worry about us telling them to leave. After all, that’d be ungracious of us. Doesn’t Jesus love all sinners? Including people who rebel against him?

Sure; but if you’re gonna share pearls with pigs, be careful that once they’re done mashing them into the muck, they don’t turn round and come after you. Mt 7.6

Waterless clouds—a metaphor for fruitlessness, and even though the winds shepherd them around, kinda like how our church’s leaders try to shepherd us around, they’re not gonna do anyone any good.

Fruitless trees, shriveling as if winter’s coming and it’s time for them to hibernate—and keep all their resources to themselves. But really, they’re dying. And Jude pointed out they’re dying a second way: Their roots are going too. ’Cause the source of life they should be tapping, they’re rebelled against.

Roaring waves might be a metaphor for the noise they make, for all the good it does. But apparently their churning also exposes aiskhýnas/“things which shame hides.” Good Christians shouldn’t have anything to be ashamed of, Ps 119.80 but hypocrites have plenty to hide. Thing is, all the noisemaking they do tends to produce an awful lot of slip-ups, as proven when hypocritical leaders expose themselves time and again.

The ancients used to call planets astéres planítai/“wandering stars,” since unlike the other “stars,” they moved around the constellations. And sometimes we can’t see them, ’cause like the moon, sometimes we’re facing the side which doesn’t face the sun. All we see is shadow. The ancients, who figured everything rotated round the earth—planets, sun, and even the stars—sometimes realized the sun lit up the planets, and sometimes realized the planets had phases… and sometimes assumed they were in the earth’s shadow. (Earth-centered astronomy is weird like that.) But Jude imagined planets which might never come out of the earth’s shadow—that they’d be there forever, throughout the kingdom age. After all, that was where they were headed: Into the dark.

Devilish rebellion.

Jumping back to the usual misinterpretation of verse 8. The reason Jude tends to go unread, apart from all the unfamiliar Pharisee mythology, is this idea of slandering heavenly hosts. Christians don’t understand it. Isn’t God the only being we’re supposed to worship and honor? “No other gods before me” and all that? Ex 20.3 How’re we supposed to honor other heavenly beings? We don’t get it. And we have a lousy habit of skipping the parts of the bible we don’t understand, or struggle to accept, instead of dealing with them and learning from them.

Turns out the entire letter of Jude hinges upon this concept. If Jude wrote about honoring angels, and about how these wayward, rebellious people were blaspheming them… well, we kinda don’t see what the problem is. ’Cause we don’t blaspheme angels. At least we don’t think we do. We really don’t say much for or against them. When they appear to us with messages from God, we usually pay attention. When they defend us from evil spirits, and fight the devil, we appreciate them. Beyond that, they have our own thing; we have ours. And it’s kinda okay if we ignore Jude, or treat it as a weird little obscure book of the New Testament. Kinda like the NT’s own apocrypha.

But if Jude wrote about honoring God-ordained Christian leadership, if “well-thought-of” refers to God’s apostles and prophets and authors of the bible, now we’re talking a relevant lesson—and a serious problem, since quite a lot of Christians are participating in exactly this sort of rebellion.

What difference does it really make when Christians slander angels? (Assuming we even know any.) Okay, we’d be unlikely to listen to the occasional angelic messenger. God’s got an easy workaround: He could speak to us directly, or send us a human prophet. But how does angel-bashing affect our Christian lives? Our relationship with fellow Christians? Our relationship with God? Not a whole lot.

Now, if Jude’s instruction is against bashing well-thought-of humans, Christians whom God has set up as people we oughta listen to, we recognize that’s a real problem. That’s a major hindrance to Christian growth. Bashing angels: No problem. Bashing saints: No Christianity.

Y’see how a little misinterpretation becomes a big problem? You think rebellious interpreters have anything to do with it?