Translation commentary on Jude 1:6

Quoted with permission from Arichea, Daniel C. and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on The Letter from Jude. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1993. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Jude now gives a second example, namely, that of the rebellious angels. Some scholars identify these angels with the “sons of God” in Gen 6.1-4. It is, however, more accurate to take this account of the rebellious angels as an expansion or development of the Genesis account. Using this account as the starting point, later Jewish writers created various stories about angels who rebelled against God and consequently were punished by him. It is possible that Jude may have been influenced by these stories and also by some accounts included in a non-biblical work called the Book of Enoch or 1 Enoch. While this book was not included in the Bible, there is evidence that it was widely used by Jews and Christians alike, and in fact was accepted as authoritative by some church authorities in the second century. The fact that Jude uses information from this writing shows how much it was valued in the early church, particularly by the Christian communities to whom Jude addressed his letter. In this case Jude alludes to certain passages in 1 Enoch where the angels were punished because of pride and disobedience (for example, 1 Enoch 12.4-13.1; 18.13 and following; 21.2 and following). Jude’s purpose is to show that even spiritual beings are not exempt from God’s punishment. There may be a hidden reference here to the people who claimed to be “spiritual” in contrast to others they regarded as “carnal.” Angels in a number of languages may be expressed as “heavenly messengers,” “messengers from heaven,” or “messengers from God.”

The word for position is literally “rule,” “dominion,” “domain,” “sphere of influence,” “authority.” Did not keep on the other hand means “lose,” or “fail to hold on to.” The verse is saying that these angels were given a certain status or sphere of authority by God, but they were not content with such a position. Instead they left their proper dwelling, that is, they aspired to a higher status and left the place where they lived. In the book of (1 Enoch 12.4; similarly 15.3, 7), the dwelling place of the angels is described as “the high, holy, and eternal heaven.” A major component of the meaning of “heaven” is the very presence of God, and the angels abandoned that also. The word for left is more properly translated “abandoned” (Good News Translation), “deserted.”

The passage does not say why the angels rebelled or why they were banished. The verb for left is active, which means that the angels were not expelled by God, but that they willfully abandoned their place of abode. Furthermore the sin of the angels is not identified in this verse; however, it is made clear in verse 7 that the angels engaged in sexual immorality, and it is possible to bring this information forward to verse 6.

As a result of their rebellion, the angels received the punishment they deserved. The one who punishes them (by him) is the Lord in Jude 1.5 (see the discussion there on “he who saved”). The word for kept is the same word as in the first part of the verse (that is, in did not keep). One of the rhetorical features of Jude’s letter is that of using repetition of words and sounds. Sometimes this is a way of emphasizing or focusing on something, but at other times it is simply a stylistic device. Here there is a play on the word “keep,” using it to describe an evil act as well as its punishment. Furthermore, the play on words carries a sense of irony: the angels were too proud to “keep” their God-given position, therefore God has “kept” them in eternal chains. It should also be noted that, in other parts of Jude’s letter, the word “keep” is used as a catchword (see for example verses 1, 13, and 21). The angels are contrasted with God’s people, who are exhorted to “keep” their position in God’s love (verse 21), and whom God will “keep” safe, not for punishment but for salvation at the end of the world (verse 1). It is of course difficult to retain these rhetorical features in translation. However, an awareness of these features opens the possibility for translators faithfully to retain the function of such features in the translation, either by retaining the features themselves where it is possible and natural, or by substituting equivalent devices as necessary.

The word for chains is often used in stories regarding the fallen angels, and again Jude may have been influenced by these writings. The chains are described as eternal, which does not seem to fit the context, since, as Revised Standard Version has it, these angels are only chained until the judgment on the last day. A translation like Revised Standard Version will therefore make little sense in some languages. In such cases the restructuring in Good News Translation will help tremendously, where the angels are represented as being chained eternally and continue to be chained even during the final judgment. Another aspect that needs to be noted is that the expression have been kept by him in eternal chains does not mean that God himself chained the angels. Rather it is likely that he had other agents who actually did the chaining. This point needs to be expressed in many languages; for example, “God had them bound with eternal chains” or “God caused them to be bound with chains eternally (or, forever).”

The nether gloom is literally “darkness” or “gloom” and is used in Greek poetry to refer to the underworld. This is also the case here, where it refers specifically to Sheol, that is, the world of the dead. Good News Translation‘s “darkness below” is an accurate translation; there may be a problem, however, if for example “below” is understood in a good sense. In such cases the focus can be put on “darkness,” since in most languages darkness is considered bad. New Revised Standard Version has “deepest darkness.”

The great day is here used as a technical term for the day of final judgment, that is, the time at the end of the world when God will judge all creation. Day of course should not be understood as equivalent to our day of twenty-four hours, but as a short definite period of time. Judgment is “punishment” or “condemnation” (Good News Translation). It is not that the angels will be brought before the court to determine their innocence or guilt, but since they are already guilty, they will at that time receive the punishment appropriate to their guilt. Have been kept … until the judgment of the great day must be restructured in certain languages; for example, “God is keeping them for that great Day when he will judge them.”

The purpose of the whole verse is to show what it means if angels, spiritual though they be, are not exempt from God’s punishment if they do evil; in the same way even members of God’s people will also be punished for their evil deeds. There is of course a great deal of similarity between the angels and the godless people, particularly in their rebellion against God and in their indulgence in sexual immorality, as verse 7 shows.

An alternative translation model for this verse is:

• You should also think about the angels (or, heavenly messengers) who were not content with the authority (or, position) that God had given them, but abandoned their home in heaven; God had them bound with eternal chains in the darkness below, where he is keeping them for that great Day on which he will condemn them.

Quoted with permission from Arichea, Daniel C. and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on The Letter from Jude. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1993. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .