Though often blind to it, we are all influenced by our religious traditions. If we aren’t careful, these traditions may cause us to see things through an inaccurate lens. An example is the way we interpret certain words in the Bible, without considering how those words are being used.
Take, for example, the word condemnation in Jude 4. Many Christians hear that word and automatically think of the lake of fire. We have heard many preachers speak of being condemned to hell. In Jude 4, the Lord’s half-brother writes about “ungodly men.” To many, this supports the common view that Jude is referring to people’s being cast into an eternal hell. Some even point out that Jude is talking about false teachers who were living ungodly lives. The lake of fire is where ungodly people, especially ungodly false teachers, go.
Some would take this even further, reflecting another religious tradition. Jude says, in the same verse, that God had “marked out” these men for this condemnation “long ago.” This supports the mistaken view that God chooses—even before they are born—those who will be in the kingdom and those who will be cast into the lake of fire. These ungodly people are, to use a religious term, “predestined” to the condemnation of eternal hell.
It’s amazing that, based upon a person’s religious traditions, one’s interpretation of a single word can lead to these various understandings. Jude, however, is not saying any of these things. This should be a warning to all of us to be more careful students of the Bible. We must all take care not to not to uncritically allow our preconceived traditions to determine how we interpret the Bible.
Anyone can do a quick search of the Greek word for condemnation in Jude 4 (krima). It is a common NT word, and it’s clear that most of the time it does not refer to “going to hell. ” Just a few verses in which it appears—1 Cor 6:7; 11:29, 34; and Jas 3:1—will bear this out. These passages will give any student a sense that the word is perhaps better translated “judgment.”
So, what kind of “judgment” does Jude have in mind? Clearly, it is “judgment” in this life. He gives three examples in verses 5-7. The Jews who disobeyed God at Kadesh Barnea were judged and died in the wilderness. In Genesis 6, fallen angels who sinned were judged and thrown into prison—, which cannot mean hell, since no creature is currently in the lake of fire. These angels are there now. The men of Sodom and Gomorrah were judged and killed by God because of their sexual sin.
Jude’s point is that God has determined in eternity past that He would punish men for their sins in this life. Men or women who engage in sinful activities open themselves up to that judgment. This is true for both believers and unbelievers. The false teachers Jude speaks about are in danger of facing a terrible judgment. It could fall at any moment. In the case of the Jews at Kadesh, many of them were believers. Their gross rebellion against God resulted in years of wandering—and ultimately dying—in the wilderness. They did not get to enter into the blessings of the Promised Land.
What a difference it makes to see what Jude means by the word “condemnation”! Our ears, trained by our traditions, could take that word and make it a theological monstrosity. We could teach that God has chosen certain people for an eternal lake of fire and that there is nothing they can do about it.
At the same time, those traditions can cause us to miss the actual point Jude wants to make. Sin in the lives of both believers and unbelievers, invites the judgment of God. This has nothing to do with entering the kingdom. Entering the kingdom is a gift, given to all who believe in Jesus for it. Jude is speaking about another issue. He is reminding all who would listen that God is a holy God.
May Jude 4 remind us once again to let the Word of God itself dictate how we interpret it.