Translation commentary on Jude 1:15

The purpose of the Lord’s coming is now stated, namely to execute judgment on all people and to punish them for their evil deeds.

The meaning of judgment here depends on how we understand the word all. If all refers to all people, both good and bad, then to execute judgment means to judge all people in the sense of determining whether they are innocent or guilty. The next two clauses then refer to judgment or punishment given to the guilty. Another way of putting it is that the first part of the verse talks of universal judgment, whereas the next two clauses refer to the punishment inflicted on those judged to be wicked. This is the interpretation found in some translations; for example, Translator’s New Testament “to bring universal judgment, and to convict all the ungodly ones…”; Jerusalem Bible “to pronounce judgment on all mankind and to sentence the wicked….” In some languages to execute judgment in this sense is rendered idiomatically; for example, “to tie the words of.” In other languages people may say “to decide the right or wrong of.”

If, however, all is understood as referring to the godless, then “to execute judgment” is equivalent to bringing about conviction and punishment. This will also mean that the godless are the objects of judgment throughout the verse.

A third interpretation is to understand to execute judgment as including the punishment, and that the object of judgment for the whole verse is all of humanity. This is the interpretation followed by Revised Standard Version and Good News Translation; in both translations it is clear that the object of judgment is the same throughout the verse. While this interpretation does not seem as logical as the first alternative, it is the one that is closest to the Greek text, which can be translated literally: “to do (or, bring about) judgment (or, justice) on all and to convict every life (or, soul) concerning all their godless works that they have committed in a godless way, and concerning all the hard (or, defiant) things (or, words) that godless sinners spoke against him.”

For ungodly see comments on Jude 1.4. This word and related forms seem to be a favorite word in Jude. In the present verse it is repeated three times, and the repetition is a very effective rhetorical device, emphasizing the wickedness of the ones he is referring to. Such a device can be retained in translation, provided that it is natural in the language, and that such repetition will have the same function as it has in the biblical text, namely, to highlight and focus on the godlessness of these people. However, if repetition results in an unnatural expression, or weakens rather than strengthens the point that the verse wants to emphasize, namely, the godlessness of the false teachers, then repetition as a rhetorical device should not be used. In this case rhetorical devices with equivalent functions should be employed. For example, in some languages a series of different words of similar meaning will have such a function of emphasis and focus.

The expression which they have committed in such an ungodly way translates a single Greek verb, which is the verb form of the word “ungodliness” or “godlessness.” There seems to be no way, in English at least, of translating this in a natural way. Good News Translation has restructured the whole clause in order to make it more natural; it has translated the verb simply as “performed,” leaving the quality of godlessness to be understood from the context, since such information is also present in the previous expression “godless deeds.” Some other translations have similar solutions; for example, Jerusalem Bible “the wicked things they have done,” New English Bible “the godless deeds they have committed.” One other way is simply to omit translating the verb altogether, since the expression “godless deeds” already includes the element of doing (as, for example, Translator’s New Testament “their ungodly deeds”). While this solution results in a very natural translation in many languages, it has the problem of not retaining the rhetorical device of repetition that is employed in the Greek text, and also of not compensating for such a device through the use of an equivalent rhetorical device in the translation. One can partially retain these devices by translating “to condemn all those people who do not worship God, for all the evil deeds they have performed against him.”

The last part of this verse deals with things, which means “words.” The word translated harsh can also mean “hard,” “rough,” “stiff,” “defiant” (Jerusalem Bible), “unpleasant,” “terrible” (Good News Translation), or “insolent.” These words are spoken by “ungodly sinners,” who should be identified with the “ungodly” in the second part of the verse, except that now they are also described as “sinners.” This identification should be made clear in translation, otherwise the meaning may come out that the “ungodly” are being punished for the harsh words that other people, namely “godless sinners,” are saying. An example of identifying the two is that of Translator’s New Testament: “the harsh things which they, godless sinners, have said against him.” In all languages there is a natural way of marking old information, and this should be done with “ungodly sinners” here. One way of doing this is to say “for all the terrible words (hard to hear) that these godless sinners….”

Him refers back to “the Lord” at the beginning of the quotation in verse 14.

In many languages it is more natural to put “words” before “deeds,” and some translators may want to reverse the order here. However, there is a further consideration: the next verse (verse 16) deals primarily with words, and the connection of the two verses may be much clearer if the present order is retained. This of course does not prevent a translator from reversing the order, provided the connection between the two verses can still be established clearly.

Alternative translation models for this verse are:

• to bring judgment on all people; to condemn those godless sinners for all the terrible words they have spoken against him and for the godless deeds they have performed (against him).

Reversing the order of the final clauses:

• to bring judgment on all people; to condemn them all for the evil deeds they have performed against God and for all the terrible words that they have spoken against him.

In both these models the phrases “against God” or “against him” bring out the idea of ungodly.

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 .