The author of this short letter was Jude, “a servant of Jesus Christ,” and he was writing to “those who are called, who are beloved in God the Father and kept safe for Jesus Christ” (Jude 1). Like John, he was addressing a church in conflict, and he spoke with concern about intruders “who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). He warned his fellow Christians about false teachers who made the case that God’s grace could be used as an excuse to practice “licentiousness,” immoral living, which he saw as a denial of the lordship of Christ. Jude grounded his thoughts in Scripture, which for the him and members of the early church was the whole Hebrew Bible. In similar manner, Christians today are challenged to be attentive to the Bible in its entirety, which is why this series of Stay-at-Home Scripture Studies contains what I consider to be the top 66 passages from all of Scripture, Genesis to Revelation.
“Now I desire to remind you,” wrote Jude, “though you are fully informed, that the Lord, who once for all saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 5). He was reminding them of the Bible’s greatest hit from the Book of Exodus, chapter 14, which showed the power of God to overcome oppression and lead people to new life. Jude also said that the Lord “afterward destroyed those who did not believe,” reminding his readers of the disbelief and disobedience of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. He may have been referring to stories from the Book of Numbers, including the greatest hit of chapter 21, in which the people spoke against God and Moses, causing God to send poisonous serpents among the people, leading to many deaths. New Testament scholar Duane Watson points out that Jude was teaching that Christians, “like the wilderness generation, can lose their salvation and become the object of judgment for their unbelief and disobedience.”
Jude then told the story of “the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling” (Jude 6). These angels were mentioned in the Book of Genesis as the “sons of God [who] went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them” (Gen 6:4), creatures who left their proper place in heaven to have sex with humans on earth. Jude condemned this sexual activity and said that God had kept them “in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great Day” (Jude 6). In his mind, this story was a strong warning about intruders in the church “who long ago were designated for this condemnation as ungodly, who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness” (Jude 4). Continuing this theme, Jude reminded his fellow Christians of how “Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7). Again, he went back to the Book of Genesis to find an ancient story that could guide his fellow Christians.
Stories have been a powerful teaching tool through the history of our faith. Remember King David and the Bible’s greatest hit from 2 Samuel? After David committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged for her husband to be killed, God sent the prophet Nathan to David. He said to the king: “There were two men in a certain city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. … Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” Then David, feeling tremendous anger toward the man, said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die.” Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” (2 Sam 12:1-7). The prophet did not condemn David with a quotation from the Ten Commandments, accusing him of breaking the rules against murder and adultery. Instead, he told him a story which acted as a mirror, helping David to see himself clearly.
We are story-telling animals. In his book After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theology, philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre wrote that a human being is “a teller of stories that aspire to truth.” The Bible is just such a set of stories, and its narratives reveal to us what is true about our faith, our community and ourselves. This passage from Jude is one of the Bible’s greatest hits because it gives Christians guidance about how they should act, based on stories from Holy Scripture. Because the recipients of Jude’s letter knew the Bible well, they understood his warnings about false teachers, “Woe to them! For they go the way of Cain, and abandon themselves to Balaam’s error for the sake of gain, and perish in Korah’s rebellion” (Jude 11). By rooting ourselves securely in the stories of Scripture, we avoid their fate as “waterless clouds carried along by the winds; autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame” (Jude 12-13).
1. What is the value of looking at the whole Bible instead of individual verses?
2. Where do you find guidance for sexual morality in Scripture?
3. Why are stories, as opposed to commandments, such powerful teaching tools?
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