Translation commentary on Jude 1:16

In this verse Jude elaborates on verse 15, giving five examples of the evil words and deeds. With the exception of the third (“following their own passions”), these examples refer primarily to words; perhaps this is because, in the first part of the letter, he has already mentioned the evil deeds of the godless people, and now he wants to concentrate on their words or teachings.

These of course refers to the same people referred to in verse 15. The first thing mentioned about them is that they are grumblers or “murmurers.” One way of rendering “grumble” is “speaking against.” And in certain languages there are idioms that capture the meaning of this word; for example, “have a brittle mouth.”

Who are these people grumbling against? There are three possibilities: they are grumbling against God or against other people, or against both. Some translations such as Revised Standard Version translate the text literally and come out with an ambiguous rendering (in addition to RSV, also New English Bible, Translator’s New Testament “they do nothing but grumble and complain”). Other translations make other people the object (Good News Translation for instance).

A case can be made for God being the object of these grumblings. The use of this word is probably suggested by the experience of the Israelites in the desert, when they continually complained against God. This matter has already been mentioned in Jude 1.5. The complaints of the Israelites are described in both biblical and non-biblical literature as “murmurings” or “grumblings” (for example, Num 14.2, 27, 29, 36; Deut 1.27; Psa 106.25). Korah’s revolt (mentioned in verse 11) is also described in the Old Testament as “murmuring.” If it can be accepted that Jude has the desert experiences of the Israelites in mind, then “grumblings” can be related directly to “harsh things” in verse 15, and these grumblings therefore are directed more to God than to other people. Such an interpretation will also take seriously the literary style of Jude, who likes to build on things he has already mentioned.

The second description of these people is that they are malcontents. The Greek word here describes people who are “fault-finding,” “complaining,” or “discontented,” never satisfied with their state and always blaming others about their situation. The word is used only here in the whole New Testament; in non-biblical literature it is sometimes used as a term meaning the same as grumblers.

As to who this discontentment is directed against, again the possibility is either God or other people. If malcontents and grumblers are taken as being parallel terms, then their object is the same. It is possible, of course, to distinguish between the two and understand the object of “malcontents” as other people rather than God (as in Good News Translation “blaming others”). In this case we may also say “saying that others are wrong” or “finding fault with others.”

The third description of the godless people is that they are following their own passions. The Greek word translated passions can be understood either in a general sense, referring to every human desire as opposed to God’s, or in a more limited sense, referring to desires in a bad sense, “evil desires” (Good News Translation), “selfish desires” (Translator’s New Testament). The Greek word for following is literally “going the way of” and contains the elements of “living according to” or “conducting oneself.” Alternative translation models for this clause are “They give themselves over to do the evil things their hearts want them to do” or “They continuously do the evil things….”

The fourth description is that these people are loud-mouthed boasters (literally “their mouth speaks in an excessive [or, bombastic] way”). The word for “excessive” is used only here and in 2 Peter 2.18 and literally means “huge,” but it is used figuratively here to characterize boastful, bombastic, or arrogant speech. If the meaning is taken as “boastful,” then the object of the boasting is “themselves” (as in Good News Translation “they brag about themselves”). If, however, we take the meaning as “arrogant,” then this arrogance is directed toward God. Most translations render this expression in an ambiguous way, without making clear the intended object, although those taking the meaning of “boastful” can be understood as favoring the first of these two options (for instance, New English Bible “Big words come rolling from their lips,” Jerusalem Bible “with mouths full of boastful talk,” or idiomatically “big mouths”).

The fifth description of these people is flattering people to gain advantage. The Greek word for flattering people is literally “to admire (or, marvel at) a face,” and the expression does not appear elsewhere in the New Testament. As far as its Old Testament background is concerned, the expression has the following meanings:

1. It may mean to show respect to people. Used in this general sense the term is not necessarily bad; in fact it may have a positive tone.

2. It may mean to show partiality, in a bad sense. The equivalent Old Testament idiom very often refers to showing favoritism in the administration of justice, usually as a result of taking bribes.

3. It may mean to flatter people. This is another possible meaning, although there are very few examples in the Old Testament where this meaning is clearly intended.

What is clear from the context is that this expression has to be related to the words of the godless people, that is, to the content of their teaching and the way they teach. Therefore a general meaning of “showing favoritism” will not do, since that would refer primarily to deeds rather than words. What it seems to mean here is that these people show partiality in their teaching; that is, they teach in such a way so as to cater to the wishes and whims of some people. Their teaching therefore is compromised to the extent that they will change it if that will please some important people in the community. And they do this for a very selfish reason: to gain advantage. This expression can refer either to material benefits or to political gains: they cater to these people so that they, the false teachers, can have their own way (compare Good News Translation). In certain languages translators may use idioms in this context; for example, “sweet talk others” or “have sweet mouths with others in order to….”

Alternative translation models for this verse are as follows:

• These people are always speaking against God and finding fault with him; they continuously do the evil things that their hearts want to do; they have big mouths and flatter (sweet talk) other people in order to get their own way.

Or:

• These people are always speaking against other people and finding fault with them; ….

Or:

• These people are always speaking against God and finding fault with other people; ….

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 .