Lessons from Jewish (and Christian) mythology.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 September

Jude 1.5-8.

Jude 1.5-6 KWL
5 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.
6 Including the angels!—who didn’t keep their original authority, but abandoned their own dwelling.
For their judgment on the Great Day: Kept in indestructible chains, in the dark.

Jude isn’t the only apostle who finds it fascinating that God judges angels. (And apparently we Christians judge ’em too. 1Co 6.3) Simon Peter brought ’em up, 2Pe 2.4 and Christ Jesus himself taught the everlasting fire was constructed for them. Mt 24.41 The apostles liked to point out God doesn’t spare angels when they sin, and he’s mighty close to them… so why do we presume he’ll spare us humans when we sin? Grace is awesome, but it’s still not a free pass.

Irritatingly, popular Christian theology has made the apostles’ idea meaningless. How? Because we teach angels don’t get judged the same way as humans. Different species, different rules.

We point out the bible says nothing about atonement for angels. ’Cause it doesn’t. Jesus died to make humanity right with God. Not angels. Jesus became human to die for us. He didn’t become angel. He came to save the world, Jn 3.17 not the heavens. Angels can go take a flying leap.

“Jesus didn’t die for angels” gets repeated in pulpits, in seminaries, everywhere. Humans get grace; angels don’t. Humans sin and get forgiven; angels sin and never, ever do. Because, it’s explained (and this explanation doesn’t come from bible), angels see God. Up close. So when they sin it’s a billion times worse: They of all people should know better than sin. Consequently when they sin, it’s one strike and you’re out: They fall from grace and go to hell. Do not pass the cross; do not collect atonement.

This strikes me as entirely inconsistent with God. He’s love, remember? 1Jn 4.8, 16 So how would his love evaporate when an angel sins? Why are humans of such value he gave us his Son, but angels are as disposable as a ripped ketchup packet? Even if God loves us humans way more than he does angels, it’s still really contrary to grace to imagine God has none for them.

And inconsistent with what the apostles taught. They were trying to make a logical comparison between angels and us: If angels get in trouble, so do we.

Now maybe we’re not on an equal plane. Maybe God does love humans more. Fine. Then what the apostles were doing was a Pharisee logical argument, a קַל חֹמֶרוְ/qal v’khomér, “light and heavy” comparison. “If this light thing is true, how much more likely is this heavy thing to be true?” Jesus used the same line of reasoning. Lk 12.24, 28 So basically if God punishes lesser beings like angels, how much more will he punish infinitely valuable beings like humans? (Or vice-versa, if you think humans are the lesser beings. Either way.)

Point is, Jude’s point, “If God did such-and-so to angels,” doesn’t work on today’s Christinas because we figure of course God’d do such-and-so to angels: Jesus didn’t die for them. God doesn’t forgive them. God tosses angels into hell left and right. But we get grace, ’cause Jesus died for us.

Nope. I believe God forgives angels too. And anyone else who repents. It’s only the unrepentant angels who are in deep doo-doo at the End. The repentant angels? Restored same as any repentant human.

The apostles’ warnings that God doesn’t spare angels, don’t work otherwise.

Now what was God punishing angels about?

When angels sin, apparently God doesn’t want ’em running amok on earth, striking down humans for the pure evil fun of it. So he sticks them in the φρέαρ ἄβυσσος/fréar ávyssos, “deep well” or “bottomless pit” (KJV) a prison for fallen angels, and eventually Satan. Lk 8.31, Rv 9.1-11, 20.1-3 This is what Jude meant by “in the dark.” It may be fire (’cause it sure makes smoke), Rv 9.2 but it’s dark fire.

In Christian mythology—the stories we tell which aren’t in bible (seriously, they’re not; this is all based on scripture, but not from it) at the beginning of time, the devil and dark angels went rogue. Satan and its groupies decided they no longer cared to be subservient to God. Some myths say God was gonna make Satan subservient to humans, and its response was, “I, the mightiest spirit in heaven, have to answer to animals?” and balked. Supposedly this is why God had to toss them from heaven, Rv 12.9 and now they swarm the earth, Rv 12.12 trying to get worshiped like gods, peevishly tripping up us humans lest we turn to God, and possessing some of us for fun.

Christians assume Jude was speaking of our myths. Nope. When the apostles referred to myths, the foundational stories which are found neither in history nor bible, they weren’t getting ’em from the same places we Christians do.

Our myths come from the 20 centuries of Christian literature after the New Testament was completed. Christian fanfiction. Stories the church fathers heard and shared. Clever inventions of Christian poets and authors and playwrights. Guesses and extrapolations by clever or foolish preachers. Conjecture based on personal experience (i.e. dreams, visions, and near-death experiences). But that’s us. The apostles didn’t know our stories. Their myths came from Pharisees.

One of the Pharisees’ more popular myths, which you might’ve seen in Darren Aronofsky’s movie Noah, is based on the Noah story in Genesis. The LORD ordered Noah to load his big wooden box with two of every animal, and seven of every clean animal. Ge 7.2-3 Here’s the thing: Ritually clean animals weren’t defined till Moses handed down the Law. Lv 11 So how’d Noah know which critters were clean and which weren’t?

Uh… er… (Okay, my guess: Whoever last edited Genesis also edited Leviticus, knew what “clean” and “unclean” meant, and put the word in the LORD’s mouth because the editor felt it best described what God wanted Noah to do.)

The Pharisees’ explanation: Angels must’ve taught Noah what “clean” meant. So that’s the myth they told. God sent an עִיר/yr, “watcher” Da 4.10, 14, 20 (or maybe even a whole team of them) to teach the Law to the pre-flood humans. In Aronofsky’s movie the watchers look like rock monsters. And thus was the Law handed down by angels, as the scriptures elsewhere say. Ac 7.53, Ga 3.19, He 2.2

Clearly the watchers sucked at their job: The LORD was later obligated to destroy everyone but Noah’s family. The Pharisees had an explanation for this too. Instead of training people in the Law, the watchers started banging the humans.

No I’m not kidding. There’s this odd little bible story about “sons of God” and “daughters of men” Ge 6.1-4 and the Pharisees claimed the watchers were these “sons of God.” Once God found out what these pervy angels were doing, he threw ’em into the pit, where they’re chained for eternity—or till they’re sicced on humanity during the End Times. Rv 9.1-12 Either way.

Now, when I tell Christians about this myth, their typical response: “I’ve never heard that story before.” Well of course you haven’t. You heard the Christian myth. The familiar story, the one found all over Christian popular culture, comes from John Milton’s 1667 epic poem Paradise Lost. Christians teach it as if it came straight from Revelation (and a really out-of-context bit of Isaiah), and forget it came from Milton. That’s the real story, and has to be what Jude refers to. If people are gonna embrace a myth, we tend to go with our favorites.

Christians worry if Jude refers to a Pharisee myth, it’s bible—and therefore the Pharisee myth must automatically be true. And if Jude is gonna embrace any myth, Christians would rather it be the Paradise Lost version of events. ’Cause that myth, they believe. Watchers teaching Noah the Law? They don’t even like the Law, and can barely imaging God wasting Moses’s time with it, much less Noah’s. (Which is a whole other misconception I’ll have to deal with elsewhere. I’ve only got time for this one today.)

Firstly: Does referencing a myth mean it’s true? Nah. I refer to pop culture all the time: Shakespeare plays, Star Wars, Monty Python, superhero movies… stuff I know is fiction, and so do you, and it gets your attention ’cause it jogs your memory. (Or not. But because I swipe my ideas from clever people, people might assume I’m the one who’s clever.) The stuff of our popular culture is our culture’s mythology, and who says we have to believe it’s true?

So relax. You (and Jude) don’t have to believe all his illustrations are nonfiction. Unless an apostle quotes bible, or refers to people they know, it’s okay to assume they’re speaking hypothetically, or making cultural references just like we do. Pay attention to Jude’s points and conclusions. That’s what’s important.

Sodom and Gomorrah.

Jude 1.7 KWL
Like Sodom, Gomorrah, and the cities round them with this same lifestyle: Fornicators and deviants, chasing other flesh.
They set an example of eternal fire, the punishment they suffer.

Just as there are popular Christian myths about fallen angels, so there are myths about Sodom, Gomorrah, and Lot. More precisely popular false teachings.

The LORD destroyed the Dead Sea cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Ge 19.24 The Sodomites got a bit rapey when visitors came to visit them, Ge 19.4-5 but for some reason most people use “Sodomite” to describe, not rape, nor even homosexual rape, but homosexuals in general. That’s what they’ve reduced homosexuality to.

Contrary to popular belief, God didn’t condemn and destroy Sodom ’cause of the homosexuality. Nor even the raping. He did so because the Sodomites and Gomorrhans did nothing for the needy. No really; it’s in the bible!

Ezekiel 16.49-50 KWL
49 “Look, this is the evil of Sodom, your sister:
She and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, prosperity, and rest.
But her hand did little for the poor and needy.
50 They were proud, and committed abominations in my face.
So I got rid of them. As you’ve seen.”

“But look, it says right there they committed abominations!” Yeah, I know; I translated it. But the LORD defined what he found abominable in verse 49: They didn’t care for the poor and needy. They exploited them. Visitors became victims. That’s what the LORD couldn’t abide. Ge 18.20-21

When I quote the Ezekiel passage to Christians, they tend to do the very same thing as when I tell ’em about the Pharisee myths: “I’ve never heard that story before”… and they reject it outright. They don’t care that it comes from bible. Their prejudices are more important than revelation.

Because Christians have hangups about homosexuality, that’s the only lens we see Sodom and Gomorrah through. Peter described Lot as righteous, 2Pe 2.7 but when we teach on Lot from Genesis, so many of us describe Lot as a sellout who lived in Sodom because his greed for greener pasture Ge 13.8-11 let him ignore all the sin around him. I’ve heard preachers even blame Lot for letting his own daughters roofie and rape him; Ge 19.30-38 how could he not notice what they did to him? Someone who suffered that much misfortune must have something wrong with him. And thus we devilishly blame the victim.

Peter called Lot righteous because he was. The LORD told Abraham he wouldn’t destroy these cities if there were as few as 10 righteous people there. Ge 18.32 Pity there was just the one. And God got the one out of there. Still, part of the reason Lot was there was because he was one of the many, many chances God gave Sodom to repent. Every culture is given many chances to repent. The LORD is patient and slow to anger, Ex 34.6 and wants to save everyone he can. 2Pe 3.9 But the Sodomites preferred their lifestyle to God’s warnings. Rape was simply the outward manifestation of their selfish, exploitative, rotten souls. Rape was what Lot’s daughters learned from their upbringing in that toxic city.

Hopefully we Christians aren’t that far gone. But a number of us are certainly working our way down. Jude brought up fornication ’cause promiscuity is an obvious work of the flesh. Ga 5.19 Loads of Christians indulge in it anyway, ’cause it’s fun, everyone does it, God forgives all, and it’s an “act of love”—and God is love, right? 1Jn 4.16 Actually it’s not an act of love, but romance and lust, and Paul warned us those who indulge in promiscuity won’t inherit God’s kingdom. Ga 5.21 If we can’t tell the difference between God’s love and carnal pleasure, we know neither love nor God.

Back to the libertarians.

Jude 1.8 KWL
Of course these people who dream of flesh stain themselves.
They reject authority. They slander the well-thought-of.

As I discussed when I was analyzing verse 4: The reason these folks are lawless, are sinning, are doing their own thing instead of following God, are rejecting the proper interpretation of scripture and the scriptures themselves in favor of their favorite myths, is because they answer to no one. They’ve warped “freedom in Christ” into libertarianism. They answer to Christ when they feel like answering to him. Like Sodom and Gomorrah, their desires take priority.

But more than just rejecting God’s authority, or the authority of anyone who preaches his gospel: They βλασφημοῦσιν/vlasfimúsin, “slander,” anyone who does so. They mock authority. As libertarians will.

You notice how political libertarians exhibit no respect for government and politicians. Not just corrupt politicians, who don’t deserve respect anyway: Libertarians respect no leader. Sometimes they grudgingly respect fellow libertarians, but that’s as far as they’ll go.

Now in the case of spiritual libertarians, they have no respect for spiritual leaders. Watch ’em sometime. They mock pastors, bishops, popes, evangelists, biblical scholars, Christian colleges—anybody with a pulpit. Christians, they insist, are all on an equal plane in the eyes of God; nobody’s better’n them but Jesus. They take it upon themselves to take every spiritual leader down a few notches. They take glee in it.

I know a few bloggers who take it upon themselves to analyze every famous preacher, and judge whether or not they’re heretic. Some pass muster; lots don’t. And we’re not talking actual heresy, i.e. they don’t believe in the trinity, or that Jesus is God. Nope, it’s whether these preachers are Fundamentalist like them. Or whether they’re politically conservative like them. Or whether they’re anti-gay, anti-Catholic, anti-feminist, anti-Muslim, anti-prosperity gospel, anti-government, anti-pagan, anti-everything like they are. Otherwise they’re anti-you.

If they’re anti-you, it opens up the floodgates: They feel they now have license to call you every nasty thing they can get away with. They won’t question any rumors about you; they’ll accept them all as truth, ’cause you’re the enemy and all’s fair in war.

Jude goes on about this in the next verses. It’s safe to deduce Jude was writing about particular individuals he knew, who did this sort of thing in their churches. You know the overzealous sort. Quick to condemn, slow to accept? Yet at the same time, hiding a really active sin life underneath a steaming load of fake piety? Yeah, there are a lot of ’em in Christendom. I used to be one. Bashing Christian leaders was how we kept them off our backs.

But if God didn’t spare his own angels when they chose rebellion, 2Pe 2.4 what on earth makes us humans think we’re exempt? …Oh yeah, we answer to nobody. Well let’s see where that takes us.