Biblical Studies Preview

Mercy on the Wavering in Jude 22-23


I’m reading Peter Davids’ 2 Peter and Jude volume in the PNTC series on Logos. In dealing with the false teachers (FT) in the church, Jude tells his readers to show mercy to the followers. Mercy? Shouldn’t the followers be kicked out of the church? Shouldn’t the FT too?

How should his readers handle the false teachers and heir followers? “Are they to be hated, fought, feared, or simply shunned? Jude implicitly rejects all of these approaches (so common in contemporary attitudes toward teaching considered to be false and misleading) and argues for a much more positive response” (98). While Jude has already condemned the FT’s (v5-16, v12 showing that the FT’s are still in the church, feasting with the community at the Lord’s Supper), “their followers are to be rescued rather than ostracized” (100).

3 Groups

  1. “Those who doubt” (v22)
  2. Those close to “the fire” (v23)
  3. Those whose “garments“ are “stained by the flesh” (v23)

Here, the goal is rescue and the attitude is one of “mercy mixed with fear,” even if some seem to be “beyond hope” (103).

1. Be merciful to those who doubt (v22)

Jude 2 reads, “May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.”

Jude 21 reads, “keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.”

These (and all) Christians are wished mercy and are expected to receive mercy. Since we have seen the Lord’s mercy we are expected to show mercy too rather than pronounce judgment on all who annoy us. “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (Jas 2.12-13).

They are to show mercy to those who doubt. While sometimes doubting can mean “arguing/disputing” (Jude 9), and other times “discerning/discriminating” (Matt 16:3), when “used without the disputant with whom to argue or the object to judge or discern, the term means that the argument is going on inside the person, and he or she is in inner conflict or doubt, as in Acts 10:20; 11:13; Rom 14:23; Jas 1:6…. It is to [these] people in such inner turmoil that one is to show mercy” (100).

In Jude “some are doubting, not sure who is right. Rather than condemning them for their uncertainty about the truth or their entertaining the possibility that the teachers whom Jude opposes could be right, Jude calls for mercy, being gracious toward them and showing the same type of acceptance and love that God shows” (101).

2. Save others by snatching them out of the fire (v23)

While some weren’t sure who was right and may not have participated in lewd (or in righteous) practice, “some were already getting involved with the practices of the teachers Jude is opposing (101).

Some are so close to the fire they need to be snatched away.

Zechariah 3.1-5

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.  The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.” Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by.

Davids says that this scene is “a judgment scene [with] the Lord refusing to condemn but rather choosing to remove the impurity of the priest” (101). Following John the Baptist (Matt 3.10), Jesus (Matt 5:22), and other NT writers (Heb 10:27), the ‘fire’ here is one of judgment. This second group is not yet in hell, but they’re already looking over the edge of the cliff that leads to this fiery grave. Or, rather, Christ will return and there will not be a second chance to repent (Heb 9.27-28). “In Jude’s picture the flames of judgment already lap around their feet; one must snatch them away before they are fully in flame and lost forever” (102).

Yet, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to us. This is the basic NT attitude towards sin in the church. Often times when it comes to judgment and sin, we (myself included) think of 1 Corinthians 5, where the incestuous/adulterous man is to be excommunicated (with the purpose of him being brought back to the believing community, v5). Matt 18:15–17 is more focused on restoring the brother/sister than kicking them out of the church. “It is only when all attempts to appeal to them have been rejected that the church reluctantly recognizes that they are on the outside, not the inside, of the community of Jesus. Luke 17:3–4; Gal 6:1–2; 2 Thess 3:14–15; 1 Tim 5:20; Titus 3:10 all show the church more ready to restore the erring than to exclude them, although boundaries must be drawn for those who insist on their error” (102).

The purpose of James’ letter is seen in Jas 5.19-20, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” That desire to bring salvation is probably the purpose of James as a whole. In our text we find the same attitude in Jude” (102).

3. Those whose “garments“ are “stained by the flesh” (v23)

“…to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (v23b)

This third group is most likely involved in the sins accepted by the teachers. The image of “clothing stained by corrupted flesh” may  refer back to Jude 8 (Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones). Yet even they are not beyond hope. “Jude says, ‘Show mercy’” (103).

To make this quick, “mercy” mixed “with fear” likely means showing the offenders mercy with a fear of being seduced by the same sins that has seduced them. Some of these sins are probably sexual (Jude 6-7, though in total they include a host of others).

“The “clothing” referred to by Jude is a specific article of clothing, the chitōn, the inner of the two articles of clothing in everyday use. Since it was worn constantly and next to the skin, it was quite likely to be stained by the body, as is a T-shirt today…. In Zechariah the high priest is delivered from judgment with the order to change his clothing. Here people are also to be rescued, and their ‘clothing,’ meaning their sins, are to be ‘hated’ and left behind. Such an image combines well with that of showing mercy ‘mixed with fear’” (105).

So out “mercy mixed with fear,” does it mean to distance ourselves from the sinner? Especially when we read “hating the clothing“? Hate the sin, hate the sinner? We think of some “limited-contact“ verses from the Bible:

  • Matt 18:17, “…treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
  • 1 Cor 5:11, “…you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.
  • Titus 3:10, “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.”

Yet these verses all have to do with one who is excommunicated from the church. Meaning, after the church has confronted the person about their sin and the person has refused to stop, then they are excommunicated from the church. The offender is disrupting the community. He/she is living in complete disregard to the teachings (and commands) of Christ. What is the church to do but to let them go, praying and hoping that the person will repent and come back.

Here, Jude can’t be suggesting that his readers should have no contact with the FT followers. “If we are correct that Jude has little hope for the teachers, but can conceive of the rescue of their followers, then these followers would be even less likely to be excommunicated than the teachers (105-06). As it follows,

“one should attempt to persuade such people to reject the teaching of the false teachers and return to the orthodox standard of behavior. Yet at the same time one should have nothing to do with their sins and must in fact, as part of the rescue process, [work to] separate the people from their sins…. One cannot rescue people without personal contact, but one must also be cautious that what seduced them does not seduce you. It is quite possible to remain in positive contact and accept a person without at the same time condoning or accepting the person’s sin. This appears to be Jude’s position, a merciful one indeed” (106).

As always, this was longer than I originally expected, but if you’ve made it this far you’ve seen that Jude is interested in “turning wanderers” back to the truth and “saving souls from death” (Jas 5.19-20). Jude, James, Peter, Paul, and Jesus were all interested in saving sinners. They aren’t hard-liners in the sense that once somebody sins they are chucked out of the church. No! Here Jude allows the followers of the FT’s to remain in the church (for the time being). But he asks the church to show them mercy and what?

  • Let them live their life?
  • Be tolerant towards those who have different ideals, even if it opposes the teachings of Christ?
  • Turn a blind eye and wait for someone else to confront the sinner?

No, Jude tells his readers to be merciful, to snatch, and to save. Get them away from their sin, and do it with mercy, in truth and in love.
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A look at how Davids’ commentary appears on Logos software


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