Jude: A Case Study On Elusive Common Ground

One of the most obvious failures in cross-cultural communication, or any kind of communication with people who are outside of our particular in-group, is the fact that it is easily forgotten that in order to reach people we must draw our conclusions from their premises, and defend our positions with their authorities.  This is not a task that many people do well when it comes to writing.  Most often, in fact, it is easy to tell where someone stands by the authorities that they site.  But this is no new thing, and it has indeed always been the case.  Perhaps what is different is that in the past people took seriously the need to communicate with people by reading and seeking to understand those things that would be viewed as authoritative by people on the other side of various lines and boundaries and today we are under the delusion that if we speak louder and if we criticize those authorities we disdain with more contempt that we will win over those who respect that which we deride.  This is a vain quest.  Where common ground does not exist in respect and trust and good feeling, it is a very difficult task to communicate effectively, and can only be done to the extent that we respect others enough to reflect upon what they view as being authoritative.

The book of Jude is an obscure book in the Bible, but it is a book that in its short length manages to demonstrate the sort of apologetics that used to be more common but has now come into considerable disuse because of the lack of familiarity or respect that people have with writings that are popular in certain audiences but that are not well-respected.  Indeed, the book of Jude quotes at least two extrabiblical sources in an argument with those who are judged as being rebellious and proud within the general body of Christian believers and those who claimed to be Christians.  The reasons why Jude quoted these sources is somewhat obscure [1], but it makes a great deal of sense to posit that Jude was seeking to draw conclusions that were favorable to his point of view by citing from sources that his opponents viewed with great respect.  Given that the point that Jude draws related to his authority (not least as a half-brother of Jesus Christ, which he modestly does not mention) and the authorities of the church as a whole, it seems likely that Jude was citing pro-authority passages from works which have always been considered to be anti-authority works in the way that those who despise authority within churches have always been quick to promote various apocryphal and pseudographical works.

By showing that according to the Assumption of Moses even the archangel Michael did not bring a reviling accusation against Satan, Jude is making a very strong implicit point that if Satan is not to be reviled, but rather rebuked in the name of the Eternal, then there is no one in authority or otherwise whom it is appropriate to revile and treat with contempt.  This would imply that the reviling and criticizing that Jude and other godly leaders were being subjected to would be ungodly by the very authorities that the revilers claim to respect and regard.  Likewise, when Jude draws a moral condemnation of those who are rebellious against God from the book of 1 Enoch, he does so by reminding his readers that even a book like 1 Enoch, which he may not have viewed all that highly himself, was hostile to those who were rebellious against God’s authority rather than being on the side of those who were themselves rebels against legitimate authorities.  Jude’s point is not made softly or mildly, it should be noted, but it is made not by citing those authorities that Jude would recognize and respect, but rather those authorities that Jude’s intended hostile audience would respect.

And this is an example that we would do well to follow.  If we live in a conflict-ridden world, which we do, it must at least be recognized that we live in a world where even those who hold us with contempt claim to respect some people and some writers and thinkers.  If we are engaged in conversation, it is worthwhile to note and draw out what authorities are respected and to find our conclusions in those writings or sayings, whatever we happen to think about the overall value of such thinkers.  If our goal is to build a bridge between ourselves and people we talk to, we do so by connecting our way of thinking to something that they already claim to value and respect, which makes it easier for us to make an argument that will resonate with the people we are debating with.  People will not respect arguments based on authorities they do not respect, but if they are fair-minded (and that is not always easy to find), they will at least be able to take seriously arguments that are drawn from that which they already respect and highly regard.  This approach, though, demands that we respect the arguments and writings of those we may disagree with and dislike enough to make ourselves familiar with them nonetheless.

[1] See, for example:

https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/why-does-the-new-testament-cite-extrabiblical-sources

https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/2532/what-about-the-noncanonical-books-quoted-in-jude

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, History, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Jude: A Case Study On Elusive Common Ground

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    Very good point! For example, if one finds one’s self engaged in a Biblical issue with someone not of our particular belief, the proof of the Bible itself can be found within archaeology and other historical sources. Those things can be cited within the conversation to build a bridge of understanding and respect.

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