Translation commentary on Jude 1:19

The scoffers are further described in three ways: they set up divisions, they are worldly people, and they are devoid of the Spirit.

The expression set up divisions translates a rare Greek word that is used only here in the New Testament. There are two possible senses in which Jude uses it.

1. The word can mean “to define,” or “to make a distinction.” In this sense Jude may have meant that these scoffers make distinctions within the Christian community. Some scholars suggest that the people referred to are Gnostics and regard themselves as spiritual and therefore superior to other Christians, who are regarded as worldly and carnal.

2. The word can also mean “to divide,” “to separate,” and therefore to cause divisions within the Christian community. The scoffers create and cause divisions and factions within the church because of their teaching and their attitude toward others. By classifying people into spiritual and carnal, they have created a group within the church who consider themselves spiritually superior to others.

It is also possible that these people have actually separated themselves from other Christians. It is, however, preferable to understand that they have not actually started a separate group, but that they have created or caused the creation of factions and cliques within the Christian community. In certain languages we may translate set up divisions as “cause a strong difference of opinion among people,” “a strong difference between groups of people,” “cause separations” (Thai), or “cause the believers to separate into groups.”

The term translated worldly people is a Greek word that can be translated literally as “natural” or “pertaining to the soul (or, life).” In the New Testament it is used of people who put emphasis on the physical rather than on the spiritual, and who depend on their natural instincts rather than on the help of God’s Spirit. This distinction is found in Paul’s letters; for example, in 1 Cor 2.14 this word is used to refer to people who “do not have the Spirit (or, are unspiritual).” Perhaps in this context it means “people … who are controlled by their natural desires” (see Good News Translation) or “whose natural evil desires control them.” Apparently these people considered themselves spiritual and other Christians as non-spiritual or natural, but here Jude turns what they say around and applies to them the same negative term that they have applied to others.

Finally the godless people are described as devoid of the Spirit, literally “not having the Spirit.” This is directly related to the term we have just discussed. Worldly people are also devoid of the Spirit because they depend solely on their own strength and not on the power of the Spirit. The Spirit here refers to the Spirit of God. Here again Jude turns the arguments around. While these people declare themselves to be spiritual, Jude asserts the opposite: they do not have the Spirit of God, nor are they guided by the Spirit. In languages that do not use capital letters, it will be helpful to state that this is the Spirit of God.

An alternative translation model for this verse is:

• These are the people who cause the believers to divide into separate groups. Their evil natural desires control them, and they do not have the Spirit of God.

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 .