Contend for the Faith
Jude tells us that he was interested in writing to his audience about their salvation, the one they shared. Instead, some men had snuck into their congregation, became teachers, and taught unbiblical truths. Because of these ungodly men, Jude instead writes to them to contend for their faith that was given to them. As we mentioned in the introduction to Jude, this is the purpose section of the letter (we call this in our modern terms, a thesis statement). Now, the questions being raised are: what did Jude mean by the salvation they shared; who were these ungodly men, and finally, what does he mean by contending for their faith? To answer these questions a deeper look at these two verses, as well as looking at the whole letter, will help. Basically, what Jude is telling his readers is that because of the ungodly men, he has to write them in contending for their faith, which is done by recognizing who these men are and showing them, at the same time, that they need to show mercy, peace, and love to them (hint: we will see this as we go through the rest of the letter, especially at the exaltation portion).
What does Jude mean by “our common salvation” (Jude 3a ESV)? In the GNB, the HCSB, and the NJB hemeis (hemon) koinos soteria is translated as the salvation we share. The more literal translations (ESV, LEB, Mounce, and the NASB) translates the sentence, literally as “our common salvation.” Though both translations, one saying “salvation we share” or “our common salvation,” is appropriate and completely understandable. However, the problem is in more the meaning of the word soteria, salvation, first, then followed by what Jude means by koinos, common/share. We must first remember that the audience of Jude’s letter were Jewish-Christians. That means that a view of salvation will be a bit more complicated than our current understanding. First, we believe that salvation is the death of Christ for our sins and His resurrection back to life, hence our forgiveness from those sins by God. This is true, we do have our salvation in this way, however, there is more to the understanding of this use of the word in Jude’s letter.
To understand the Jewish knowledge of salvation, we have to look at the Exodus story (Ex 12:40-14:31). The Jews saw their God as one who saved (Walters and Milne 2003, 1047). This is why Jude, in verse 5, tells them that though they know, they needed to be reminded of the Exodus as God’s salvation for them (Jude 5). The exodus showed the Israelites that their God was involved in their welfare, throughout their earthly life (Walters and Milne 2003, 1047). Yet, at the same time, the exodus was replayed in most of Israel’s religious practices, ie., worship (Ps 66:1-7), retold (Dt 6:20-24), and re-enacted during feasts (Ex 13:3-16); because of this deep entrenchment in their understanding of God as saviour, the exodus became the stamp of God’s work in salvation (Walters and Milne 2003, 1047). The notion of salvation, in the Old Testament period, was one of a physical nature (Walters and Milne 2003, 1047; Morrison 2016). This physical understanding of salvation, exemplified through the exodus, began to change throughout the prophetic periods in Israel. Because of their past understanding of God as savior, Israel saw their future salvation to be played out by God Himself—vanquishing His, as well as their, foes—Is 43:11-21; Dt 9:4-6; Ezk 36:22-23 (Walters and Milne 2003, 1047). There is still a notion of physical deliverance during the prophetic period, which is based in the restoration of Israel to her once glorious state as under King David (Morrison 2016). It’s under the Prophetic period that Israel gets the knowledge of a Messiah as a saving agent and that God would save Israel from their sins—Ezk 37:23 (Morrison 2016). It is by the New Testament period that Judaism’s understanding of salvation is an afterlife notion (Morris 2016; Walters and Milne 2003, 1047). For Jude’s congregation, this salvation that is common to them is the one found in Jesus—”expecting the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life—(Jude 21 HCSB; Morrison 2016). It is also in Jude’s congregation that Jesus is known to be the one who saved Israel from Egypt (Jude 5 LEB; Morrison 2016; more on that next time).
Now we come to the question of what does “our common salvation” mean to the original audience of Jude’s epistle. The Greek word, koinos, can be translated as common/in common. Paul uses the same word, in Titus 1:4 (HCSB) when he addresses his letter to Titus in their koinos (common) faith. This is the notion that they share in something, something that is not common with everyone. It is only the called, as he proclaimed them to be, the new Israel, that share in salvation together. At this point, though, Jude changes his direction and begins to talk about why he did actually write. Jude wanted them to contend for their faith.
The first thing that should strike us is that something happened to change Jude’s mind on what to write. When we look at verse 4 we see that “certain people have crept in unnoticed” (Jude 4 ESV). He continues to tell his congregation that these are men who are ungodly, who pervert the grace of God through promiscuity and do not accept the authority of Jesus Christ as Lord (Jude 4 ESV). Jude then tells them that these men were spoken of long before hand (Jude 4 GNB). Where Jude felt the desire to write about their salvation, the Holy Spirit changed his mind. This is where the understanding of “occasional writing” comes in (Fee and Stuart 2014, 60). Jude had learned of these ungodly men slipping into the congregation, which we do not know how he knew this, there is nowhere of any mention of Jude being warned; however, we can acknowledge that the Holy Spirit did, indeed, inspire Jude to write about this. This is what Jude wants from his congregation, to exhort them to contend for their faith (Jude 3 HCSB).
The Greek statement, in the LEB Interlinear, parakaleo epagonizomai ho hapax paradidomi ho hagios pistis is translated as “encourage you to contend for the faith delivered once and for all to the saints” (Jude 3b LEB). The ESV translates it like this: “appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Mounce translates it as “encourage you to carry on the struggle for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” The NASB has it like this: “appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” Though there are variants (a really fancy word for differences in the Greek manuscripts) in the texts that the translators use, the passage is still saying the same thing—Jude wants his audience to be encouraged to contend for the faith that was already delivered to the saints. What Jude is saying here is related to that of Paul’s use of athletic language—1 Tim 1:18-19; 6:12; and 2 Tim 4:7 NASB (Watson 1998, 484-485). The word contend (epagonizomai) was used in early Christianity for the fights of the gospel against those of heresy (Watson 1998, 484-485; Keener 2014, 721). Basically, Jude wants his congregation to fight for the true faith that was preached already, not only to them but to the whole of all Christianity (Watson 1998, 485).
To unravel this verse, we need to understand some things. First, who are these men and what makes them ungodly? Second, how did they get in unnoticed? Third, how does Scripture portray them beforehand and what is their condemnation? It is safe to say that these men are false teachers. How do we know this? First off, we know that these men are ungodly, which Jude himself states (Jude 4 HCSB). What, exactly then, is a false teacher? Basically, a false teacher is one who teaches other than the true message of Christ’s salvation and the faith of the saints—keeping in context with Jude. This would make them an apostate, practicing apostasy. The Lexham Bible Dictionary defines apostasy as someone publicly denying a previous religious belief and then removing themselves from the community of said belief (Koiter 2016). It has to do with rebellion, which we find in Jude’s letter—Jude 5-8, 11, and 19 HCSB (Koiter 2016). Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology defines apostasy as abandoning the faith, rebelling against God (Karlberg 1996). This is what makes them ungodly, they become apostates rebelling against the authority of Christ and perverting God’s grace (Jude 4 ESV). Now that we know who these men were, how did they get into the church unnoticed? The phrase “come in by stealth,” (pareisdyo) has a notion that the men had something to hide (Jude 4 HCSB; Watson 1998, 485). Calvin shares this same notion, yet he also adds that Jesus expressed this same thing in the parable of the weeds among the wheat—Matt 4:24-43 HCSB—Jesus explains that Satan will sow in false teachers within the new Israel, unnoticed, causing many problems, but that God will sift them out during the Judgment (Calvin 1840-1857). The fact that they had to sneak in means that they were not part of the church proper. It is possible, then, that they were traveling teachers, which was popular in early Christianity (Watson 1998, 485). They took the teaching of God’s grace and perverted it, meaning they found an interpretation in this doctrine to have freedom in sexual sin and to be free from condemnation over it (Watson 1998, 485). Because of this evil, Jude tells his congregation that God prophesied of them and their judgment long ago (all of the condemnation and judgment given beforehand will be spoken of, beginning with Jude 5, next time). That Jude uses the word despotes, which has been translated in the ESV, GNB, HCSB, LEB, Mounce, NASB, and NJB as Master shows us how they understood Jesus as divine (this word connotes divinity in Greek). Jude also uses the word kyrios, which in all these same translations has it as Lord (which also connotes divinity in Greek). Despotes also had a master to slave notion packed into the word. Jude’s audience would have understood this word, to not only mean Jesus’ divinity but to also show his relationship to them as purchasing their redemption with His death on the cross, which would make them slaves, like Jude, to Christ (Watson 1998, 485).
Today we have men, and women, in the pulpits who are teaching incorrect doctrines about God. Some of these people are even in our seminaries. The only true way to combat these teachers, today, is to contend for our faith (Watson 1998, 486). It comes with fighting the good fight (1 Tim 1:18-19; 6:12; and 2 Tim 4:7 NASB). By fighting what Jude means, for us today, is to build ourselves up (by doing Bible studies), praying in the Spirit, remaining in God’s love, always expecting Jesus’ mercy, while we show that same mercy to those who have been deceived and doing the deceiving, and to snatch them from the fire (judgment to come), and to stay vigilant and watchful (Jude 20-23 HCSB). Finally, we need, as a community of believers, to be aware of our own faith. We need to be aware of what we believe, so we are ready to defend against false teachers. Stay in prayer and study, love others as God loves us, and build each other up in the faith, this is how we contend for our faith.
Calvin, John. 1840-57. “Commentary on Jude 1:4“. Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/jude-1.html.
Fee, Gordon D., and Douglas Stuart. 2014. How to Read the Bible for all Its Worth. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Karlberg, Mark W. 1996. “Apostasy.” In Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Keener, Craig S. 2014. IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.
Koiter, Ian W. K. 2016. “Apostasy.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Morrison, Michael D. 2016. “Salvation.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Walter, G. and B. A. Milne. 2003. “Salvation.” In New Bible Dictionary. Edited by I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, and D. J. Wiseman. Downers Grover, IL: Intervarsity Press.
Watson, Duane F. 1998. “Letter of Jude.” In New Interpreter’s Bible: General Articles and Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections for Each Book of the Bible, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books in Twelve Volumes. Volume XII. Edited by Leander E. Keck. Nashville: Abingdon Press.