Translation commentary on Jude 1:20

In the next four verses Jude gives direct advice to his readers on how they should respond to the threat of the godless people among them. He instructs (or teaches) them first how to conduct themselves within the Christian fellowship, and then how to deal with those who have been influenced by these people.

For But you, beloved, see comments on verse 17.

With regard to living out their lives within the fellowship, Jude gives his readers four pieces of advice. First, he exhorts them to build yourselves up on your most holy faith. The use of the building (or the temple) as a metaphor for the Christian community is found frequently in the New Testament, especially in Paul’s letters, but also in 1 Peter (see 1 Peter 2.5). It is perhaps out of this metaphor that the idea of “building up” the Christian community developed. The meaning of the figure is not that each Christian should build up his or her own Christian life, but that Christians should help and encourage one another so that they may grow in their faith and collectively contribute to the growth and well-being of the church.

Your most holy faith can be connected with what is before it in two ways: either with “in” or with “on.” This is because the Greek itself does not explicitly use a preposition, and since the noun is in the dative, the prepositions “in” and “on” are both possible. If “in” is chosen, it means that Jude is exhorting his readers to help one another to grow in the knowledge and practice of their faith. If, however, “on” is chosen (as in Revised Standard Version and Good News Translation), then it means that the holy faith is the foundation upon which the Christians are going to build. This latter interpretation is quite appropriate here, since the Christians to whom Jude is writing are facing the threat of heresy and false teaching.

What does faith here mean? If the first interpretation above is chosen, then faith can mean “trust in” or “commitment to” Jesus Christ; or perhaps faith can also be understood as a Christian virtue, although this would not go very well with most holy. This is perhaps enough reason for choosing the second interpretation above (using the preposition “on” rather than “in”), in which case faith is understood either as a technical term for the Christian religion, or as a body of Christian teaching. The second alternative seems quite appropriate here, since Jude is combating heretical teaching, and it is therefore logical for him to contrast Christian teaching or doctrine with the heretical views that are being put forward. (For further comments on faith see the discussion on Jude 3.)

The word holy can also mean many things, but here it can refer to the content of the faith (that is, it is about sacred or divine matters), or the source of the faith (it is from God and therefore unique). Most is not used here with a comparative function (meaning that their faith is the “holiest”), but with an intensifying function, being understood as “really,” or “truly,” or “very very.”

The second instruction that Jude gives is that his readers should pray in the Holy Spirit. This again is a familiar command in the New Testament (see Rom 8.26; Eph 6.18). The preposition in here most probably means “in the control of,” “under the inspiration of,” “guided by,” or “by means of the power of.” In other words Jude is exhorting his readers that when they pray they should always seek and follow the guidance of the Spirit, so that by the Spirit’s power they are able to pray properly and according to God’s will. So we may also say “You should pray through the power of the Holy Spirit,” “… guided by the power of the Holy Spirit,” or “When you pray, the power of the Holy Spirit will guide you.”

The Holy Spirit is used here as a technical term referring to what Christians now understand as the third person in the Trinity. In translating this term, translators should of course use whatever term is already in use in the Christian community for whom they are translating.

An alternative translation model for this verse is:

• But you, my beloved fellow Christians, must keep on helping each other to build upon (or, grow in) the message that God has given you. You should pray guided by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Or:

• … has given you. As you pray you should let the power of the Holy Spirit guide you.

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 .