Commentary on Jude 11-13

Notes (NET Translation)

1:11 Woe to them! For they have traveled down Cain’s path, and because of greed have abandoned themselves to Balaam’s error; hence, they will certainly perish in Korah’s rebellion.

A “woe” (ouai) is an expression of terror or pain in the face of misfortune or misery. In this context it is a prophetic pronouncement of judgment on those who have forsaken God (G. Green 88-89).

The murder of Abel by Cain is narrated in Genesis 4:1-16. There is nothing in Jude suggesting the heretics were violent so the allusion should not be taken to imply that the heretics were murderers. Rather, it should be taken to mean that, like Cain in Jewish tradition of the time (Philo, Posterity 11 §38; Josephus, Antiquities 1.2.1 §61), the heretics were corrupt and enticed others into their pattern of misdeeds (Jude 19-23).

The main story of Balaam can be found in Numbers 22-24. In Numbers 31:16 the sexual enticement of the Israelite men by the Moabite women (Num 25) is said to have arisen from Balaam’s advice. In Jewish tradition he was said to be motivated by greed (Philo, Moses 1.54-55 §§295-304; Josephus, Ant. 4.6.6-9 §§126-140; Tg. Ps.-J. on Num. 24:14, 25; Ps.-Philo, L.A.B. 18.13-14; m. Abot 5:22). This is why Jude says the heretics have abandoned themselves “because of greed.”

The destruction of Korah is told in Numbers 16. In Jewish tradition Korah became the classic example of the antinomian heretic (Tg. Ps.-J. on Num 16:1-2; Num. Rab. 18:3; Ps.-Philo, L.A.B. 16.1). He is also remembered as having caused strife and division (Tg. Neof. on Num 16:1-3; 26:9; Tg. Ps.-J. on Num 26:9). The heretics of Jude’s day were linked to Korah because they distorted the gospel (Jude 4) and opposed divinely instituted authority (Jude 8).

While Jude may have intended for his readers to draw out these inferences based on their knowledge of the traditions surrounding the Korah story, he directs his readers’ interpretation by referring to Korah’s rebellion and compares the heretics’ judgment to that of Korah and his followers (apolonto, have perished; cf. v. 5). The fact that Korah and his followers had been swallowed up by the earth alive became the source of considerable comment on this story as this judgment became archetypal (Num. 26:10; Sir. 45:18-19; Ps.-Philo, L.A.B. 57.2), so much so that one need only mention the judgment to evoke the whole story (Josephus, J.W. 5.13.7 §566; 1 Clem. 51.4). These went straight to Sheol (1 Clem. 51.4). This judgment anticipated that of the last day (Ps.-Philo, L.A.B. 16.3), as it apparently does in Jude’s reading as well. Previously Jude referred to the destruction of the exodus generation (v. 5), and there, as here, Jude likely understands this temporal judgment as a type of the eternal ruin (Matt. 10:28; 21:41; Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34; Rom. 14:15; James 4:12) that the heretics will face because of their sin. In describing their end, Jude uses the aorist tense in a perfective sense (apolonto, have perished), indicating that their doom is already a certainty. Their judgment is sure. (G. Green 92-93)

1:12 These men are dangerous reefs at your love feasts, feasting without reverence, feeding only themselves. They are waterless clouds, carried along by the winds; autumn trees without fruit – twice dead, uprooted; 1:13 wild sea waves, spewing out the foam of their shame; wayward stars for whom the utter depths of eternal darkness have been reserved.

The opponents are present at the church’s “love feasts” (agapais), the feasts where the Lord’s Supper was celebrated. The heretics were dangerous to the community like a reef to a ship trying to make safe harbor. The Greek phrase heautous poimainontes (“feeding only themselves”) literally means “shepherd themselves.” The verb is commonly used to refer to leadership in the church and therefore implies the heretics were in some leadership positions (G. Green 95). The point is that they are using their position for their own interests and not out of reverence for God. As the following metaphors make clear, the heretics have not fulfilled the function they have assumed. They do not yield what they promise.

The waterless clouds and trees without fruit imply that the opponents bring nothing of value. The tree is “twice dead” because it does not bear fruit and because it is uprooted. That the tree is “uprooted” may allude to the judgment on the heretics. Like the sea, the heretics are morally untamed. The foam is a metaphor for their shameless deeds or words. The “wayward stars” (asteres planetai) are either what we know as planets or shooting stars (by Jude’s day ancient astronomers knew the planets followed a predictable course but the name stuck; Cicero, De natura deorum 2.51). The point is that the heretics have wandered from the truth and toward error. The place of darkness is where the heretics will be judged (“darkness” need to be taken literally but merely refers to how bad the judgment will be; cf. Schreiner 468).


Bauckham, Richard J. Jude, 2 Peter. Word Books, 1983.

Davids, Peter H. The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006.

Green, Gene. Jude & 2 Peter. Baker Academic, 2008.

Green, Michael. 2 Peter & Jude. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.

Schreiner, Thomas R. 1, 2 Peter, Jude. Holman Reference, 2003.


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