Translation commentary on Jude 1:12 – 1:13

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 continues his description of the godless people. In the first part of verse 12, he describes their actions during worship meetings of the Christians, particularly in the love feasts, or fellowship meals. The remainder of this verse, together with verse 13, is full of figurative language giving four pictures from the world of nature.

First of all Jude describes the behavior of these people during the gatherings of the community. In this regard he mentions three things. The first of these is that they are blemishes on your love feasts. The love feasts were evening meals in the early church, during which members came together as an expression of their close relationship with God and with one another. The “love feast” usually ended with the sacrament of holy communion. This practice of coming together for a common meal has as its primary background the common meals that Jesus ate with his disciples both before his crucifixion and after his resurrection. Mention of these common meals is found in descriptions of the early church in the book of Acts (see 2.46; 20.7, 11) and in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (see 11.20-34). However, the term “love feast” actually occurs only here and perhaps in 2 Peter 2.13. Good News Translation‘s “fellowship meals” is a more natural English translation of the term.

The word translated blemishes is a very rare word, occurring only here in the New Testament. Some of the meanings of the Greek word are:

1. “Blot,” “blemish,” “spot” (compare verse 23, which is the verbal form, meaning “to defile”). Sometimes this word can be used to describe spots and markings on rocks. This would fit the context; however, some claim that this meaning came to be popular only very much later, perhaps in the fourth century.

2. The word can be taken as an adjective that means “dirty,” or “polluted.” A similar word occurs in verse 13, where it is translated “spotted” (Good News Translation “stained”). This also fits the context, since the godless are polluted by their sexual perversity.

3. It can also mean half-submerged rocks, or coral “reefs,” which can easily cause shipwrecks. In this sense Jude is saying two things: first, that these people will destroy the love feasts, in much the same way that reefs cause ships to sink; secondly, that close association with them, especially during the fellowship meals, is dangerous and can cause other people to lose their faith. Therefore contact with these people should be avoided as much as possible, in much the same way as a pilot tries to steer clear of the dangerous reefs.

Both the first and the third of these meanings are possible and appropriate to the context.

Given these interpretations, two possible translation models are as follows:
(1) They are like dirty spots that defile you as you eat your fellowship meals together.
(2) They are like coral reefs (or, half-submerged rocks) that cause disharmony as you eat your meals together.

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 further describes what takes place during the love feasts: they boldly carouse together, and they are only looking after themselves. The Greek word translated carouse can have a neutral meaning “to eat together,” but in the present context it has a derogatory meaning: they eat together without any regard for the greater group or for the spiritual significance of the meal. This means that, instead of regarding the fellowship meal as a time for communion with the Lord and with their fellow Christians, they used it simply as an occasion for physical satisfaction. And all of this they did boldly, that is, “without reverence,” or “shamelessly” (as in Good News Translation). The sense of “shameless carousing” (Good News Translation) may be rendered as “partying uproariously with no shame.” Their whole attitude and behavior during these common meals is summarized by the statement looking after themselves, which is literally “shepherding themselves.” In other words they are shepherds who take care only of themselves and not of their sheep. This may be an allusion to Ezek 34.2, where the rulers of Israel are compared to shepherds who took care of themselves at the expense of the sheep. In much the same way, these people were supposed to be leaders and therefore servants of the community, but instead they were exploiting the community for their own benefit and selfish interests. In this sense this statement can be connected with the common meal, but at the same time it can also be understood as a more general description of the people Jude is referring to in their dealings with the Christian community.

The godless people are now further described in four metaphors or pictures drawn from nature. These figures are chosen from each of the four parts of the universe: clouds in the air, trees on the earth, waves in the sea, and stars in the sky. Nature is usually portrayed as operating according to regular laws. Jude, however, chooses examples that seem to transgress rather than follow natural laws, and these examples are pictures of the lawless behavior of these people. It has been noted by some scholars that these metaphors may have been influenced by parts of (1 Enoch 2.1-5.4 and 80.2-8; rain is mentioned in 80.2, fruits in 80.3, and stars in 80.6).

It should be noted that Revised Standard Version retains the metaphorical form, whereas Good News Bible has transformed the metaphors into similes (as, for example, waterless clouds [Revised Standard Version], “like clouds…” [Good News Translation]). Both are possible in translation, and the choice of one or the other depends on many factors, the most important of which is the ability of the intended readers to grasp, understand, and appreciate the message.

The first picture is taken from the region of the air, namely, the waterless clouds, carried along by winds. Waterless clouds are a figure of worthlessness. This may be an allusion to Pro 25.14: “Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of a gift he does not give.” Some commentaries note that, on summer days in the Middle East, clouds can sometimes be seen approaching land and giving hope of rain, but then they pass on, blown by the wind and, instead of giving rain, aggravate the already excessive heat. Carried along by winds, on the other hand, symbolizes lack of willpower. This picture of the waterless clouds carried along by the wind stands for the people who make great claims about their spirituality and the doctrines that they teach, but in the end do not benefit anyone and have nothing to offer for the spiritual growth of members of the Christian community.

The second picture from nature is taken from the earth, namely, fruitless trees in late autumn. There are two interpretations of this metaphor:

1. These are trees that are expected to have fruit, because late autumn is the end of the harvest season, when fruits become ripe. In this sense the godless people do not really do anything beneficial to anyone, although they have all the opportunity to do so.

2. These trees are really fruitless, since at the end of autumn trees shed their leaves and are really without any fruit. When applied to the godless people, this means that they don’t do anything that would contribute to the building up of the Christian community.

Revised Standard Version can be interpreted either way. Most commentaries, however, favor the first of these alternatives. In this sense it provides a clear parallel to the waterless clouds: just as the clouds promise rain but only contribute to the heat, so the trees promise fruit but produce nothing.

The word for autumn in many languages is “season when leaves drop from trees.” But in cultures that recognize only two seasons, namely, “cold” and “hot” or “hot” and “rainy,” it may be helpful to say “they are like trees at the end of the hot season that bear no fruit.” A more basic problem is that in many parts of the world the season when trees bear their fruit is not the time when they drop their leaves. Therefore a better translation may be “they are like trees that bear no fruit in the fruit-bearing season.”

As a result of the fruitlessness of the trees, they are described as twice dead and uprooted. Twice dead refers more to the people than to the trees and can be understood in two ways. It may refer to the apostasy of these people. Having returned to the state they were in before they became Christians, they are in a sense twice dead, the first death being the time before they accepted the Christian message. Or it may be a reference to the second death, that is, to the fate of evil people at the last judgment (see, for example, Rev 2.11; 20.6, 17; 21.8).

The term uprooted is a figure that is still related to the fruitless tree. In much the same way that a dead, fruitless tree is uprooted, so also these people will be uprooted, that is, they will be judged, pronounced guilty, and then given the punishment due them. Some suggest that “uprooting” may mean that these people are no longer members of the Christian community, an interpretation that seems unlikely. But even though they remain members, their relationship with Jesus Christ has been broken, and this ultimately leads to their separation from Christ.

In Good News Translation “twice dead” and “uprooted” are put in reverse order, which makes the relationship between the two much clearer. It is when trees are uprooted that they die; therefore “uprooted” is the cause, and “twice dead” is the result. So this may be expressed as “people have pulled them up by the roots, and they are completely dead.”

Alternative translation models for verse 12 are as follows:

• These people are like dirty spots. They defile you as they carouse shamelessly while you eat your fellowship meals together. They are like clouds that the wind blows along, but bring no rain (or, have no rain). They are like trees that bear no fruit in the season for bearing fruit. They are completely dead, for people have pulled them up by the roots.

Or:

• These people are like coral (or, rock) reefs that will ruin your fellowship meals as they carouse shamelessly….

The third picture, beginning in verse 13, is taken from the sea, namely wild waves … casting up the foam of their own shame. This is probably an allusion to Isa 57.20: “But evil men are like the restless sea, whose waves never stop rolling in, bringing filth and muck” (Good News Bible). The figure of waves is also used in James 1.6, although we cannot be sure whether Jude knew James. Wild can also be translated “stormy,” and the word for casting up can also mean “cause to splash up.” When the waves dash against the shore, they toss up dirt and filth; these are collected in foam and are cast up and left on the seashore. In much the same way the godless people scatter their abomination everywhere, resulting in the confusion of Christians and causing them to doubt the truth of the Christian message.

The expression casting up the foam of their own shame refers more to the godless people than to the waves; the waves can of course produce foam, but they do not experience shame, nor can they produce shameful deeds. The actions and erroneous teachings of these people, on the other hand, can be considered shameful in that these bring shame and disgrace on themselves.

In certain island cultures where waves of the sea are ever present, translators can simply say “wild waves (or, storm waves).”

Alternative translation models for the beginning of verse 13 are:

• These godless people are like wild waves, casting up the foam (or, dirt) of their shameful deeds on the beach.

Or:

• These godless people are like storm waves of the sea tossing up dirt and filth on the shore like their shameful deeds.

The fourth picture is taken from the sky, namely, wandering stars. This term is understood by some commentaries to refer to shooting stars or meteors that fall rapidly from the sky and quickly disappear in the darkness. There are a number of scholars, however, who argue that the wandering stars refer to planets, which according to modern astronomy are not actually “stars.” In fact the name “planet” in English comes directly from the Greek word planētoi, which is the word translated wandering here. In the ancient world the planets were always a mystery because of their irregular movements, which seemed to violate the orderly rules of movement in space. These irregular movements were explained as originating from the disobedience of the angels who controlled these planets, and who were punished by imprisonment. This is referred to in some parts of 1 Enoch (see especially 18.13-16; 21.1-10). At any rate, whether these wandering stars are planets or shooting stars, the important thing to note is they are assumed to have strayed from their proper course. They are therefore an appropriate figure for the people who have also gone off course.

The punishment of the wandering stars is confinement in the nether gloom of darkness, which refers to the place of future punishment, which is often described as a place of intense darkness. The more popular way of speaking of the last judgment is punishment by eternal fire. Jewish thought, however, also knows the idea of imprisonment in eternal darkness (see, for example, 1 Enoch 63.6; Matt 8.12; 22.13; 25.30). The image of darkness is much more appropriate for stars. When applied to the godless people, this focuses on the fact that they have wandered from the way of truth and can therefore be described in some way as giving forth light that misleads themselves and others as well. As a result they will be confined to darkness forever, where they will receive their just punishment.

The expression has been reserved is one of the so-called divine passives, with God as the unnamed agent—a fact that is made clear in Good News Translation.

Alternative translation models for the last part of verse 13 are:

• They are like stars that have strayed from their proper course (or, path). So God has reserved a place for them forever in darkness where there is no light at all (or, where everything is completely black).

Or:

• They are like stars … forever in the completely dark place of punishment (where they will be punished, or where God will punish 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 .