While preparing to write in general about the salvation we share, a crisis motivated Jude to exhort saints to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to them. Pistis (“faith”) has several possible meanings. Faith is trust in Christ (Ro 5:1), an assured attitude toward the future (Heb 11:1), or a spiritual gift (1Co 12:9; 13:2). In Jude 3 faith is that which is believed, a system of belief. Like Paul in 1Co 11:3 and 15:3, Jude's language evokes images of a reliable tradition delivered and received. V. 20, when translated objectively rather than as an instrumental dative, reinforces Jude's concept of “the faith” as authoritative doctrine linked to the apostolic era (v. 17). Jude's appeal to a belief system sets doctrinal boundaries for his offensive against false teachers. Ironically, Jude does not spell out the content of the opponents' creed, except for charging them with denying Christ (v. 4).
In v. 4 Jude attacks the opponents' practices. He accuses them of being subversive, of being impious (also in v. 15), and of using Christian liberty as a license for disregarding accepted norms and behavior. Not content merely to pronounce judgment, Jude emphasizes their condemnation by citing three OT examples of persons whom God judged because they rebelled after having known God's grace: (1) The rebellion in the wilderness was complaining against God's grace (Nu 14). (2) The angels of Ge 6:1-4 abandoned their heavenly order and became sexually involved with women. Ge 6:1-4 does not mention God's judging and binding the angels, although the commentary on Ge 6 in 1En 12-13 does. Evidently Jude was familiar with and valued 1 Enoch. (3) The men of Sodom desired to transcend their natural order and have sexual relationships with the two angels visiting Lot.
The last two examples from v. 7 set the stage for three more accusations. “Dreamers” (v. 8) refers to the opponents' ecstatic visions, which led to the defilement of their flesh. Two other charges dealt with the rejection of spiritual authority. Such charges are similar to Paul's accusations against the incipient Gnostics of 1 Corinthians.
V. 9 requires knowledge of the apocryphal Assumption of Moses. That text speaks of a dispute between the Devil and the archangel Michael. Rather than revile or judge the Devil, Michael left it to the Lord to rebuke the Devil. But Jude's opponents discredit the reputations of spiritual beings. Jude blames them for rejecting basic spiritual realities for which they have no experiential basis for understanding because they are devoid of the Spirit (v. 19).
Three more comparisons to OT malefactors appear in v. 12: Cain (Ge 4), Balaam (Nu 22-24), and Korah (Nu 16). The Balaam incident seems puzzling because in Numbers Balaam is a faithful prophet. However, some later Jewish interpreters depicted Balaam as an unprincipled prophet who caved in to Balak's offer of money (see Philo, Vitae Moses 1.268; Josephus, Antiquities 4.118).
Although v. 6 hinted at Jude's knowledge of 1 Enoch, in v. 14 Jude explicitly uses a prophecy from 1En 1:9 to pronounce judgment on the antagonists. First Enoch was a Jewish apocalypse from the Maccabean era. Jerome reports that some leaders did not consider Jude worthy of canonization because it cited 1 Enoch.
In his final polemical sketch (vv. 18-19) Jude chastizes the rivals as arrogant complainers and faultfinders who flatter people to gain an advantage.
The false teachers claim that their experience in grace elevates them above the necessity of moral discipline. They lack sexual restraint. They parade as leaders while lacking the fruit and discipline characteristic of leaders. They are faultfinders and manipulators who use the church to their own advantage.