Q&A: "Long ago were designated" (Jude 4)

"Long ago were designated" (Jude 4)

Question

In Jude 4 the Greek word that is rendered 'designated' or 'were designated' in the ESV is ?????????????? which in my New Testament Interlinear Bible to be rendered something like 'previously written.' What does it mean that some are 'previously written' to this condemnation? I think John Calvin regarding this subject says in his commentary, at least from the resource I have from studylight.org, says, "But the metaphor is taken from this circumstance, because the eternal counsel of God, by which the faithful are ordained unto salvation, is called a book: and when the faithful heard that these were given up to eternal death, it behooved them to take heed lest they should involve themselves in the same destruction." Is he right? Some might even say that the 'previously written' is referring to the prophecy in the book of Enoch, which Jude mentioned in his epistle. Do you know what it means?

Answer

Jude 1:4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (Jude 1:4).

In context, Jude is describing "certain people," which of course refers to specific persons — false teachers and/or false professors of the faith. Paul similarly wrote about the Judaizers who infiltrated the church to spy out and destroy the liberty of those committed to the gospel of Christ (Gal. 2:3-5). Peter also wrote about opponents of the faith who secretly introduced destructive factions (2 Pet. 2:1). So, all three of these verses take on a common theme that concerns certain types of persons.

Jude also informs us of five specific things about these persons: (1) they were in the visible church; (2) their judgment was predicted a long time ago; (3) they’re ungodly; (4) they treat grace as an opportune license to sin; and (5) they deny the Lord God, including the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

After this brief foundational background, we come to the phrase that you asked about. The NIV clarifies the meaning more smoothly than the ESV. It reads, "they were written about in advance long ago." So, their condemnation, or judgment, was written about or "prescribed" (Greek, progegrammenoi) long ago.

God knew these people would appear on the scene (Jude 1:14, 17), so he wasn’t taken by surprise. Proverbs 16:4 states, "The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble." Hell and its eternal fire were prepared for the Devil and his "sent ones" long ago (Matt. 25:41). (Please see, "Wasn't hell made for the Devil and his angels and not real people?" below.) So, these unwelcomed visitors were expected, and ultimately they will be judged by God.

Judgment of these false teachers is also predicted in 2 Peter 2:1-3:4. Though related, it's very doubtful, however, that "long ago" refers to this text because both Jude and 2 Peter were written at about the same time, which was A.D. 65-67. With the use of the Greek adverb palai (long ago) and the verb progegrammenoi (prescribed), it suggests that prophecies are from even longer ago (i.e. Isa. 37:26; 48:5, 7; Matt. 11:21; Heb. 1:1). Jude may have been referring to the judgment of the opponents prophesied by Enoch, foreshadowing the reference to Enoch later in Jude 1:14-15. It's possible 1 Enoch 67:10, which reads, "For the judgement shall come upon them, because they believe in the lust of their body and deny the Spirit of the Lord," is in view.

This is debatable, but all this seems consistent with Calvin's comments:

He calls that judgment, or condemnation, or a reprobate mind, by which they were led astray to pervert the doctrine of godliness; for no one can do such a thing except to his own ruin. But the metaphor is taken from this circumstance, because the eternal counsel of God, by which the faithful are ordained unto salvation, is called a book: and when the faithful heard that these were given up to eternal death, it behooved them to take heed lest they should involve themselves in the same destruction. It was at the same time the object of Jude to obviate danger, lest the novelty of the thing should disturb and distress any of them; for if these were already long ago ordained, it follows that the Church is not tried or exercised but according to the infallible counsel of God. (Calvin’s Commentary, Jude 4)

I really like Calvin’s mention of a book because books normally contain writing and this should remind the reader of Revelation 20:12: "And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done." This judgment was known in eternity past, that is, before time and creation itself (cf. John 3:18, 36; 5:25).

In summary, God's judgment is foreseen, and "this condemnation" in Jude 4 would seem to refer to the anticipated judgment explained in Jude 1:5-16.

Related Topics

Wasn't hell made for the Devil and his angels and not real people?
Overview of the Book of Jude
Overview of the Book of 2 Peter

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).