“Others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire” — Does Jude 23 relate to Domestic Abuse?
[October 18, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]
Jude 22-23 seems to tell us that we must make a difference between the weak and the wilful. The weak we must treat with tenderness. But in seeking to save the wilful we use fear. Abusers are a class of people who can be aroused only by the terrors of the Law. Their conduct is loathsome and contagious. We must admonish them with sharp reprehensions and severe language, setting before them God’s judgments against obstinate sinners.
Why do I say that Jude 22-23 only ‘seems’ to teach this? Because we need to be a little cautious with those two verses since there is uncertainty about the Greek text.
The ancient manuscripts of Jude differ
One difference is the main verb —
The manuscripts differ on the main verb in verse 22. Some use a word that means ‘have mercy’, while others use a word that means ‘reprove’.
….one must determine if the main imperative verb should be “have mercy” (eleeite) or “reprove” (elenchete)?…. (Source) [Emphasis original.]
Another difference is the number of classes of people being referred to —
When you come to Jude 22-23 you realize that the conservative Greek scholars don’t agree on the original manuscript. One scholar notes “The most striking feature of the textual tradition is that some witnesses divide the text into two clauses, while other witnesses divide into three.” That is a somewhat significant variant. (Same source.)
I will indicate each clause with a bullet point.
The King James version has two clauses, indicating two classes of people:
- And of some have compassion, making a difference:
- And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.
The NASB1995 has three clauses, indicating three classes of people:
- And have mercy on some, who are doubting;
- save others, snatching them out of the fire;
- and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.
The New Matthew Bible is William Tyndale’s translation gently updated for modern readers. It has seems to indicate two classes of people and by my reading it gives a third clause that pertains only to the second class of people — the ones whose vesture / garments are heavily polluted by them being so hard-hearted in their sins.
- And have compassion on some, separating them;
- and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire;
- and hate the spotted vesture of the flesh.
And then there’s the question of how to translate diakrino
The word diakrino at the end of verse 22 can be translated as ‘doubters’. Or as ‘disputers’ (those who contend against the doctrines of the faith). Or it can be translated ‘discern’ (make a difference between, distinguish between).
Please don’t get too hung up on the textual variants.
I asked Ps Sam Powell for his thoughts on this post and he urges us not to despair of ever being able to read and understand the Scripture on our own, even when there are textual variants. He doesn’t think that there are as many variants as most modern scholars seem to suggest, and he thinks that in most places the overall point is clear. I’ll share more of Sam’s thoughts at the bottom of this post.
So bearing in mind Sam’s helpful words, I can tell you that scholars and translators have not been able to decide which of the existing ancient manuscripts of Jude is correct. And they differ over how to render diakrino. Let us look at what some of the commentaries say. All bold emphasis in the following quotes has been added by me.
Sensual men separate from Christ, and his church, and join themselves to the devil, the world, and the flesh, by ungodly and sinful practices. That is infinitely worse than to separate from any branch of the visible church on account of opinions, or modes and circumstances of outward government or worship. Sensual men have not the spirit of holiness, which whoever has not, does not belong to Christ. The grace of faith is most holy, as it works by love, purifies the heart, and overcomes the world, by which it is distinguished from a false and dead faith….
….We must watch over one another; faithfully, yet prudently reprove each other, and set a good example to all about us. This must be done with compassion, making a difference between the weak and the wilful. Some we must treat with tenderness. Others save with fear; urging the terrors of the Lord. All endeavours must be joined with decided abhorrence of crimes, and care be taken to avoid whatever led to, or was connected with fellowship with them, in works of darkness, keeping far from what is, or appears to be evil.
And others….Save with fear — That is, by appeals adapted to produce fear….It is undoubtedly true, that while there is a class of persons who can be won to embrace religion by mild and gentle persuasion, there is another class who can be aroused only by the terrors of the law….
Pulling them out of the fire — As you would snatch persons out of the fire; or as you would seize on a person that was walking into a volcano. Then, a man would not use the mild and gentle language of persuasion, but by word and gesture show that he was deeply in earnest.
Hating even the garment spotted by the flesh — ….By “the garment spotted by the flesh” there may be an allusion to a garment worn by one who had had the plague, or some offensive disease which might be communicated to others by touching even the clothing which they had worn….While the utmost effort was to be made to save them, they were in no way to partake of their sins; their conduct was to be regarded as loathsome and contagious; and those who attempted to save them were to take every precaution to preserve their own purity. There is much wisdom in this counsel. While we endeavor to save the “sinner,” we cannot too deeply loathe his “sins;” and in approaching some classes of sinners there is need of as much care to avoid being defiled by them, as there would be to escape the plague if we had any transaction with one who had it. Not a few have been deeply corrupted in their attempts to reform the polluted….
And others— those that are further gone, not so easily reducible, and in great danger.
Save — i.e. labour to save them, as instruments under God.
With fear— by more severe courses, sharper reprehensions, setting before them God’s judgments against obstinate sinners, 1 Corinthians 5:5.
Pulling them out of the fire — it is a proverbial speech, Zechariah 3:2: the sense is, that as they that are in the fire, and like to be destroyed by it, must not be gently exhorted to come out of it of themselves, but speedily and forcibly pulled out, in consideration of their eminent danger; so they that are more stubborn sinners, being in apparent danger of being destroyed by the fire of their lusts, and being as it were in the mouth of hell, must be more harshly and severely dealt with, by setting the Lord’s terrors before them, 2 Corinthians 5:11, and inflicting church censures on them.
And others save with fear — Meaning false teachers, who lead others into errors, and such as give themselves over unto sin, whether teachers or hearers, and who are obstinate and irreclaimable; even [with] such [people] as these, means should be used to save, if possible, by sharp admonitions and severe language; by denouncing the awful judgments of God, which threaten them; by inflicting on them church censures in a terrible manner; by declaring the terrors of the Lord, and of hell, and of everlasting damnation.
pulling them out of the fire — of their soul destroying doctrines, and of their filthy and unnatural lusts, and as it were out of the fire of hell, of which they are in great danger:
hating even the garment spotted, by the flesh — by which may be meant the conversation [conduct] of those men, even their filthy conversation, which is to be hated, though their persons are not; but all ways and means should be used to save them; and this is one way, by showing a dislike unto, and a resentment at their wicked way of living, excluding them from church communion for it, and shunning all conversation with them. The allusion is not to garments defiled by profluvious persons [those who have a copious discharge of a bodily fluid], or menstruous women, as some think, but to garments spotted with nocturnal pollutions, or through unnatural lusts, which these persons were addicted to….
Calvin’s Commentaries — Calvin on Jude 22 and 23
….to the meek and teachable we ought to use kindness; but others, who are hard and perverse, must be subdued by terror….
….if we wish to consult the well-being of such as go astray, we must consider the character and disposition of every one; so that they who are meek and tractable may in a kind manner be restored to the right way, as being objects of pity; but if any be perverse, he is to be corrected with more severity. And as asperity [harshness of tone or manner] is almost hateful, he [Jude] excuses it on the ground of necessity; for otherwise, they who do not willingly follow good counsels, cannot he saved.
….When there is a danger of fire, we hesitate not to snatch away violently whom we desire to save; for it would not be enough to beckon with the finger, or kindly to stretch forth the hand. So also the salvation of some ought to be cared for, because they will not come to God, except when rudely drawn….
Hating even the garment — ….He would have the faithful not only to beware of contact with vices, but that no contagion might reach them, he reminds them that everything that borders on vices and is near to them ought to be avoided: as, when we speak of lasciviousness, we say that all excitements to lusts ought to be removed….we should hate not only the flesh, but also the garment, which, by a contact with it, is infected….
hating even the garment spotted by the flesh — The “garment” is the inner tunic worn next to the flesh, and therefore thought of as contaminated by its impurity, and it serves accordingly as a symbol of all outer habits of life that are affected by the inner foulness of the soul that is in bondage to the flesh. As men would loathe the touch of a defiled garment, bearing the stains of a cancerous ulcer, so they were to hate whatever was analogous to it in conduct (compare Isaiah 30:22)….
I asked Ps Sam Powell for his thoughts on this post and he kindly sent them to me.
Pastor Sam Powell’s advice and comments —
Dear readers, please do not despair of ever being able to read and understand the Scripture on your own, even when there are textual variants. And I don’t think that there are as many variants as most modern scholars seem to suggest, I think in most places the overall point is clear.
In Jude, for example, however you come down on the variants, the overall point is that there are different classes of people that must be handled differently. It takes wisdom to see the difference between them. Wisdom takes humility and prayer. Pastoral wisdom isn’t a matter of checking off lists, but of listening and evaluating.
I think that the commentaries and even the texts don’t vary in the overall message – and I say that with trembling. The point is, in the context of the whole — that there are those who follow the doctrine of Balaam, who are spots in the feast — and they are hardened (Proverbs has a lot to say about them as well). They need to be snatched out of the fire with fear, while others need a more gentle approach.
I think that Jude isn’t really giving us specific instructions, such as “First, determine which category they fall in to, then, second, do this….” You don’t find that approach in Scripture very often.
I think that Jude is rather telling us that the work of rescuing people from false doctrine and deadly sins of pride, greed, abuse, etc. is difficult work, that must have different approaches. It is long, gruelling, and must be undertaken with fear and trembling – and with a great deal of prayer for wisdom.
- Difficult passages are to be read in light of clearer passages. Whichever side you come down on in the questions of the text must be compared to the whole of Scripture.
- There aren’t as many difficult variants as modern scholars would have us believe, but that is a textual criticism question. I put almost NO weight in the Sinaiticus or the Vaticanus. I think both are hopelessly corrupt and I give them very little weight in my studies. [The Siniaticus and Vaticanus are two old texts of the Bible; they are not the only old texts, another important text is the Textus Receptus.]
- The differences in Jude 22-23 text aren’t very great. Commentaries are on the whole agreed, and the overall thrust is the same. Whether the word is “rebuke” or “have mercy”, the point is the same and the difference negligible.
- But I am one of the rare birds who holds to the Textus Receptus — with some reservation….
Practically speaking – what everyone is agreed on is this. Some people, you speak to gently and kindly. Others you must snatch rudely from the fire….there might be a third category….
Either way, to know the difference, you need wisdom. Study Scripture with much prayer and humility so that you might know the differences between people and how best to rescue them.
[October 18, 2022: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to October 18, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to October 18, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to October 18, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (October 18, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]
Snatched from the fire — This post gives another application of Jude 22-23.