Articles Archive -- Topical Index -- Textual Index

by Al Maxey

Issue #863 -- March 15, 2023
"The most fatal form of selfishness is the
selfishness which takes advantage of religion,
and which assumes the cloak of spirituality."

The Pulpit Commentary {vol. 22 - Jude, p. 18}

Supping with Stains and Stones
Reflecting on Jude's Striking Metaphor

Daniel Defoe (1660-1731), the English author, trader, and spy, most famous for his novel Robinson Crusoe, made the following astute observation in his work titled The True-Born Englishman, "Of all plagues with which mankind are curst, ecclesiastic tyranny's the worst." He has a point, and I'm sure we can all relate to some degree through our own individual experiences. One would think that within the ranks of the redeemed one would never find such unrighteous behavior, but, sadly, we know that is not the case. "The teaching of the Lord's great parables gives us no warrant to look for a perfect Church till the end. Popular ideas of the purity of the primitive Church are far from being borne out by fact" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 22 - Jude, p. 18]. There have always been, from earliest times, individual blights upon the dignity of humanity; tares among wheat; false brethren, deceitful disciples, perverse pastors and self-serving shepherds. Such people are presented to our view in both OT and NT writings, but in the epistle of Jude we find some particularly powerful metaphors employed to describe such treacherous men "who have crept in unnoticed" among us: "ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and who deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ" (Jude 4). These men "defile the flesh and reject authority" (vs. 8); they "revile the things which they do not understand" (vs. 10). "They have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah" (vs. 11). They are "ungodly" in every aspect of their being (vs. 15). "These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage" (vs. 16). They are "mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts" (vs. 18). They are "worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit," and the very "ones who cause divisions" (vs. 19). Thus, Jude wrote to the people of God, appealing to them to "contend earnestly for the faith" (vs. 3), "building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, and keeping yourselves in the love of God" (vs. 20-21). These are striking, and even shocking, statements by Jude, and the reality they depict should concern each of us who long for greater purity in the One Body.

And then we come to Jude 12-13, one of the most intriguing passages in this tiny treatise. Some scholars have characterized it a metaphorical masterpiece, a wondrous "woe oracle" of the type that "was used with great frequency by the OT prophets, although it may have Wisdom origins" [Dr. Richard Bauckham, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 50 - Jude, p. 77]. Such oracles in the course of time "developed an increasingly imprecatory character, becoming a prophetic pronouncement of judgment on sinners" [ibid]. Jude adopts this form and "then applies it to the false teachers in verses 12-13" [ibid, p. 78]. In so doing, Jude makes it clear to his readers, both then and now, just how seriously God views the perversity that was/is being evidenced within the Body of Christ, especially by those professing to be its spiritual leaders. The Pulpit Commentary describes these two verses as "a running fire of epithets and figures, short, sharp, and piercing, corresponding also at certain points with 2 Peter 2:13-17" [vol. 22 - Jude, p. 10]. Although there are several very graphic figures within this passage, my concern in this current study will be solely with the first one, in which the ungodly men are characterized by Jude as "spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear" (Jude 12a, King James Version). The American Standard Version reads: "These are they who are hidden rocks in your love-feasts when they feast with you, shepherds that without fear feed themselves."

Just from these two well-known, beloved versions alone, we see there are some translation and perhaps even textual issues: are these spots and stains, or are they hidden rocks and reefs? Are we talking about "regular" members of the church who are behaving in an ungodly way, or is Jude referring to pastors and shepherds? And what is this "feast of charity" or "love feast" of which he speaks? And what specifically is the sin of these individuals which Jude regards as so reprehensible? Let's look at these a bit more closely, beginning with the setting itself, which most translate: "love feasts." In the Greek text it is simply referred to as the "Agape," a term that "was used of the love feasts in the early Christian Church, a fellowship meal eaten by the Christians when they came together for worship. It was eaten at the local church, which in the first century always was in a person's home. There were no church edifices until much later" [Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, vol. 2, p. 249]. These love gatherings were special times of food and fellowship among the faithful, and times when they would also take bread and wine from the table and remember the Lord Jesus in the "Lord's Supper" (Eucharist, Communion). A major characteristic of the early observance of the Lord's Supper was its lack of formality and ritualism. It was observed very simply and in connection with a fellowship meal (The Agape -- "Love Feast" -- Jude 12). "The disciples followed their Lord's example, celebrating a love-feast, which would be enriched with memories of their Master and teaching from His nearest disciples, and closing with the more solemn thanksgiving for the broken body and the cup of blessing which Jesus had consecrated" [Dr. James Hastings, Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, vol. 2, p. 68]. The Lord's Supper began, "we believe, as a fellowship meal - the Love Feast" [Dr. William Barclay, The Lord's Supper, p. 57]. The Didache (also known as The Teaching of the Lord by the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles, which was written sometime between 70-110 A.D.), also indicates (in chapters 9 & 14) that the Lord's Supper and the Agape meal were celebrated together.

Jude informs his readers that there were some present at these Agapes that were conducting themselves in such a manner that they were both a source of defilement of the feast and a danger to the feasters. "These fellows are a disgrace, actual eyesores (and filth-spots) at the agapes of Jude's readers" [Dr. R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistles of Peter, John, and Jude, p. 635]. This begs the question: Who were these individuals who were such an embarrassment? We are given a clue as to the answer within the statement itself, "they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear" (vs. 12, KJV). That may not seem like much of a clue in this translation, but the actual word used for "feeding" gives us the clue. It is the Greek word "poimaino," which "refers to the whole process of shepherding: guiding, guarding, folding, and providing pasture. It means to act as a shepherd; to tend, feed as a shepherd" [Dr. James Strong, The New Strong's Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words, p. 1322]. It is the same word used by Jesus when He told Peter to "tend" or "feed" His lambs and sheep (John 21:15-17). Peter was being commissioned to "shepherd" the flock of Jesus. This word used by Jude denotes "the activity of shepherds, and the metaphor of shepherding for Christian leadership was so common in early Christianity that it must be implied here" [Dr. Richard Bauckham, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 50 - Jude, p. 87]. These were the pastors, shepherds, spiritual guides of the flock/church, and their only thought was for themselves. Thus, they fearlessly fed off the flock, rather than feeding, tending, caring for the flock. They were a disgrace and a danger to those lambs and sheep entrusted to their care. The Greek scholar Dr. Marvin Vincent, in commenting on this verse in Jude, says these men were "literally shepherding themselves ... shepherds that feed themselves; furthering their own schemes and lusts instead of tending the flock of God" [Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 1, p. 718].

Peter, using this same word at the beginning of his following statement, writes to his fellow elders in the church, "Be shepherds of God's flock (note: the KJV reads, "feed the flock of God") that is under your care, serving as overseers - not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away" (1 Peter 5:2-4, NIV). The shepherds Jude presents to our view had no fear of the coming Chief Shepherd, and thus they shamelessly and fearlessly fed themselves, using their position over the flock as a source of personal gain. This is also seen in the phrase by Jude: "they feast with you," which is actually a single word in the Greek: "suneuocheo" = "to fare well, or feast; to revel; to entertain sumptuously" [Dr. James Strong, The New Strong's Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words, p. 1395]. "They wronged the poor, whom they suffered to fast while they were feasting" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 22 - Jude, p. 28]. One cannot help but think of the Lord's message of condemnation in Ezekiel 34 - "Prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?!'" (vs. 2). Such were those mentioned by Jude! They "care only for themselves; they come to the love feasts not to share communion or fellowship, but only to feed themselves" [Dr. Paul Cedar, The Communicator's Commentary - James, 1-2 Peter, Jude, p. 253]. Drs. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown write, "What they look to is the pampering of themselves, not the feeding of the flock" [Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 1520]. The Amplified Bible renders this passage this way: "...they boldly feast sumptuously (carousing together in your midst), without scruples providing for themselves alone." Notice a few other versions:

The godless have always supposed that there is earthly profit to be made from religion, thus one will inevitably find false shepherds and teachers and brethren seeking to "fleece the flock." I came across one comment on the internet where someone observed that some such persons "are making a good living out of the church." Nothing new there, sadly! The apostle Paul spoke of those with "depraved minds and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain" (1 Timothy 6:5). When a body of believers is being shepherded by such persons, that flock is in danger: not only with respect to their reputation and standing in the community, but also in danger of being led into similar ungodliness. For this reason, these false shepherds are often viewed as "hidden reefs/rocks" in their "love feasts" (for they try to hide their true nature from those with whom they associate) and "spots" or "stains" upon the beauty and purity of the local church and their fellowship. It is exactly here, in Jude's characterization in verse 12 of his epistle, that we find a bit of textual confusion, for some translations have "hidden reefs," while other translations have "spots." I have access to scores of versions and translations, and after consulting them all I found that 30 of them characterized these men as "spots" or "stains" on "your love feasts," and 22 of them characterized these men as "hidden reefs" or "rocks" in "your love feasts" - the former smearing the purity of their gatherings, the latter threatening to make utter and deadly shipwreck of their faith (cf., 1 Timothy 1:19).

There are well-respected versions siding with each of these two views. A few of those which favor "hidden reefs" are the American Standard Version, the English Standard Version, the New American Standard Bible, the New Living Translation, the Orthodox Jewish Bible, and Young's Literal Translation. A few of those favoring "spots" or "stains" or "blemishes" are the King James Version (and the New King James Version), the Living Bible, the New Catholic Bible, the New Century Version, the New International Version, and the Revised Standard Version. A few other interesting renderings are: "These men are a menace to the good fellowship of your feasts" (J.B. Phillips New Testament), "These people are eyesores at your love feasts as you worship and eat together; they're giving you a black eye" (The Message), and "These men are cold stones on the warm hearth of your love feasts" (The Voice). The problem lies in the fact that some of the ancient Greek manuscripts use the word "spilas" (a sharp, jagged rock/stone) and some use the very similar looking/sounding word "spilos" (a spot, stain, blemish). Complicating the matter further is the fact that in a few cases one will find in ancient secular writings the former word taking on the meaning of the latter (e.g., "a spot on the sea" = a rock or reef). We discover a hint of this perception in Dr. James Strong's definition of "spilas" - "A spilas is a rock or reef over which the sea dashes (Jude 12), spots metaphorically stressing the quick, unsuspecting, and pointed destruction upon the life of a believer, rendered by men whose conduct is a danger to others" [The New Strong's Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words, p. 1375].

Most biblical and Greek scholars take the view that "spilas" (rock) is the word Jude actually used, and that it had reference to those rocks or reefs in the sea that were so dangerous (although the adjective "hidden" is not actually in the text). This would also seem to fit better with the other metaphors used by Jude in the passage: waterless clouds, strong winds, uprooted trees, wild waves of the sea, and wandering stars (all being familiar events of nature ... a "spot/stain," on the other hand, doesn't fit in this group as well). "I agree with Bishop Wordsworth and Dr. Chase in thinking that the metaphor of the sunken rocks is more in harmony with the context" [The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 5, p. 267]. The argument for the other side is that Peter, in the companion passage to this text from Jude (which is found in 2 Peter 2) does use the Greek word "spilos" (spot/stain) when referring to such men (2 Peter 2:13), as well as using a metaphor from nature (2:17). A number of scholars feel that later scribes, when making copies of the early Greek manuscripts, may have "corrected" Jude's use of "spilas" to the word "spilos" so it would fit with the word used by Peter (the more prominent of the two men). This "correction," then, found its way into a number of manuscripts upon which were based some of our more recent English versions. Other versions, feeling this was a scribal error, chose to remain with "spilas" as the word Jude actually employed in his text.

"Translators are divided on which of the usages is preferable here. Some render it 'rocks' or 'hidden reefs'; others render it 'spots' or 'blemishes.' In either case, the metaphor is a striking one. The rendering 'hidden rocks' connotes the danger of shipwreck of the faith; 'spots' or 'blemishes' parallels 2 Peter 2:13 and connotes defilement" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 392]. "The Revised Version gives 'hidden rocks' in the text, and transfers 'spots' to the margin" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 22 - Jude, p. 11]. "The idea here seems to be, not that they were 'spots and blemishes' in their sacred feasts, but that they were like hidden rocks to the mariner. As those rocks were the cause of shipwreck, so these false teachers caused others to make shipwreck of their faith. They were as dangerous in the church as hidden rocks are in the ocean" [Dr. Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. In summation, I would agree with the late Guy N. Woods, a beloved leader within the Churches of Christ, "With a wealth of imagery and in vivid detail here and in the verse to follow (vs. 12-13), Jude describes those who threatened the peace and purity of the church and against whom he wrote. They are described as 'hidden rocks' in the love feasts in which the saints participated. Like sunken reefs which could not be seen on the surface of the water, but which would inevitably wreck any ship which struck them, so these men gave no warning of the threat which they posed" [A Commentary on the NT Epistles of Peter, John, and Jude, p. 395]. He then closed, as will I, with a reference to Isaiah 56:11-12 -- "They are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough. They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, each seeks his own gain. 'Come,' each one cries, 'let me get wine! Let us drink our fill of beer! And tomorrow will be like today, or even far better'" (NIV). What a pitiful depiction of leaders more interested in their own appetites than in the loving care of those with whom they have been entrusted: a true disgrace in both spiritual and secular realms!


All of my materials (including my four books in
both paperback {2nd edition} & digital formats, my
recorded Bible classes {MP3 format}, articles, etc.),
a full listing of which can be found on my Website,
are available for purchase (all shipping is free). Just
click on the box above for ordering info. Thank You!

Readers' Reflections
NOTE: Differing views and understandings are always welcome here,
yet they do not necessarily reflect my own views and understandings.
They're opportunities for readers to voice what is on their hearts, with
a view toward greater dialogue among disciples with a Berean spirit.

From a Reader in Montana:

When I read about people only mentioned once in the Bible (as in your article "Pondering Jannes and Jambres: Paul's Reflection on a Confrontation betwixt Hebrew Deliverers and Egyptian Deceivers" - Reflections #862), I often wish I could hear the oral history of those persons. Interestingly enough, you surely found more information about those two! As an aside, what do you postulate Alexander the coppersmith did to Paul? I remember Patrick Mead preaching about battles beginning, and how there is move and countermove most of the time. We see it in the story of Jannes and Jambres: move and countermove. Thank you for this article, and also for sharing it with the Wineskins group on Facebook. I am still thinking!

From a Reader in Mississippi:

Dear Al, your comments regarding "The Lullaby Effect" (which were in the comments section of your article on Jannes and Jambres), reminded me of a Bible passage that has made me think and question beyond what is the commonly accepted interpretation. In years past, I've visited local artisan wells to gather water, and while doing so have often thought of the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at a well. My questions are these: Could it be that this woman has been wrongfully maligned? Could it be that this woman wasn't divorced, as some say, but maybe just widowed several times (perhaps like the example the Pharisees put forth to Jesus about a woman having married seven brothers)? Could it be that the woman now has a man she is living with that is her brother or some other male relative? I just don't see the repentance on her part that one sees in Mary Magdalene after being confronted with harlotry. This woman seems to be seeking God, as do her friends. I just get the impression that she walked away amazed that Jesus knew about her history. I'm just not sold on the view that her history was a life of harlotry. Keep up the great work of making us all ponder, Al. We're praying for you and Shelly.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Al, I checked your Reflections Archive and discovered that you have not written any Reflections on prayer. Would you do so? Thank you.

From a Reader in Florida:

Good Morning, Al. I hope you and your family are well. I have another question for you; it may not be worth much, but I have wondered about it, and so thought that I would ask. In almost every reference within the four gospels, Jesus refers to "Peter, James, and John" in that order ... EXCEPT for Luke 8:51. There He changes the order to "Peter, John, and James." Any thoughts on why He did this? Thank you, as always!

If you would like to be added to or removed from this
mailing list, Contact Me and I'll immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, feel free to
send them on to others and encourage them to write for
a free subscription. These studies are also offered on a
special thumb drive. Check the link below for the
details, and for all past issues of these Reflections: