The description “strange flesh” in Jude 1:7 has two common interpretations among Bible scholars. Each interpretation is controversial in the 21st century. Both views attempt to explain the sexual desire of men in Sodom, but they disagree about the nature of those they sought as partners.
“Strange flesh” in Jude 1:7 refers to those that the men in Sodom desired for sexual relations. One view contends that the object of their affection was other men, making their offense homosexuality. The other view argues that they sought angels as sexual partners, making their offense angel-human sexual relations.
Which interpretation does the context of Jude support? Why is Jude referring to this story from Genesis? Do Bible translations render the phrase the same way? Does the original Greek provide insight? What do scholars of Jude teach about the phrase? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
What is the context and definition of “strange flesh” in Jude?
At only 25 verses, Jude is one of the shortest books of the Bible. Jude follows Third John and precedes Revelation in the conventional order of New Testament books.
In many Bibles, depending on the formatting, Jude is only one page in length. People can quickly read the book, but they can easily miss it, too.
What does Jude 1:7 say? The KJV reads, “Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” To compare popular English translations of Jude 1:7, see the third table below.
What is the context of “strange flesh”? Jude encourages readers not to repeat the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. The rebelliousness of the men in Sodom had tragic consequences, and Jude doesn’t want his readers to experience a similar fate. With regard to the phrase “strange flesh,” the question is, what was the nature of sexual immorality in Sodom?
|What is the theme of Jude?||Christians must contend for the truth (v. 3) and oppose what is false.|
|What is the main idea of v. 5-7?||God’s judgment is the theme of v. 5-7. False teachers will be judged, so Christians shouldn’t follow them.|
|What is the point of v. 5?||God punished Israel and Christians should learn from it.|
|What is the point of v. 6?||God punished fallen angels and Christians should learn from it.|
|What is the point of v. 7?||God punished Sodom and Gomorrah and Christians should learn from it.|
|What was Sodom and Gomorrah’s offense?||Most scholars argue that sexual immorality was the primary offense. Many scholars identify other offenses as well (e.g. Ezek. 16:49).|
|What was Sodom and Gomorrah’s consequence?||God destroyed the cities (Gen. 19:23-29). According to the end of Jude 1:7, their punishment was “eternal fire.”|
|What is the disputed question?||What was the nature of those that the Sodom men sought as sexual partners?|
|What are the possible explanations?||Most scholars believe the target of the men’s sexual desires was either other men or angels.|
How is the Hebrew word Nephilim translated? Though the KJV and NKJV describe the beings as “giants,” the NIV, ESV, and NASB translate the exact Hebrew word (han-nə-p̄i-lîm) into English as “Nephilim.” The NLT combines the terms into the phrase “giant Nephilites.”
“There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.” (Genesis 6:4, KJV)
Who are the Nephilim? According to Genesis 6:4, the Nephilim are the offspring of the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men.” They are further described as “men of renown” (6:4b).
Scholars debate the identity of the “sons of God.” Were they fallen angels? Were they men from Seth’s line? Were they famous kings?
They also debate the identity of the “daughters of men.” Were they human women? Were they women from Cain’s line? Were they poor women?
What is the majority view? Most conservative scholars believe that the best interpretation of the passage is that Nephilim are the offspring of fallen angels mating with human women.
Many scholars believe this view does better justice to the text than other perspectives. It’s also the interpretation that is most attested to in Judaism and in early Christianity.
What is the meaning of the Greek phrase translated “strange flesh”?
For readers to have a thorough understanding of Jude 1:7, it’s important to be aware of the original Greek words and their meanings. However, in this circumstance, understanding the meaning of the Greek words doesn’t immediately solve all the mysteries related to the phrase.
As seen in the table below, the Greek word for “flesh” describes physicality. The Greek word for “strange” describes something unusual. In this case, having insight into translation doesn’t necessarily help with interpreting the meaning of the passage.
|σαρκὸς||(noun) sarkos, “flesh”||Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance: “Probably from the base of saroo; flesh (as stripped of the skin), i.e. (strictly) the meat of an animal (as food), or (by extension) the body (as opposed to the soul (or spirit), or as the symbol of what is external…”|
|ἑτέρας||(adjective) heteras, “strange”||Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance: altered, different; of uncertain affinity; (an-, the) other or different — altered, else, next (day), one, (an-)other, some, strange.|
How do Bible translations render “strange flesh”? Some Bible translations render the phrase as close to word-for-word as possible (e.g. KJV, NKJV, NASB). Others, according to their translation philosophy, render the phrase idea-for-idea or thought-for-thought (e.g. ESV, NIV, NLT, NRSV).
The first approach, although direct, is perhaps wooden and provides little explanation. The second approach is less precise because it seeks to reflect the meaning of Greek words and translate them in a way that is less obscure in an attempt to give readers more understanding.
|KJV||“Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh“|
|NKJV||“Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh“|
|NASB (1963)||“just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these angels indulged in sexual perversion and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.”|
|NASB (1977)||“Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example, in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.”|
|NASB (1995)||“just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.”|
Why does the original NASB (1963) say “angels” in italics? In 1963, the first edition of the NASB’s New Testament translation appeared. According to NASB formatting principles, italics are not used for emphasis. Rather, they are applied to words that translators supply so the reader will know that the word isn’t in the original language of the text.
The NASB translation underwent major revisions in 1977 and 1995. The translators removed the supplied word “angels” in later revisions to allow for other interpretations.
|NIV||“Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion“|
|NLT||“Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring towns, which were filled with immorality and every kind of sexual perversion“|
|ESV||“Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire“|
|NRSV||“Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust“|
Does Jude 1:7 refer to the Nephilim?
Two of the best-reviewed Bible commentaries on the book of Jude are Thomas Schreiner’s 1,2 Peter, Jude volume in the New American Commentary series and Richard Bauckham’s Jude-2 Peter volume in the Word Biblical Commentary series.
Schreiner and Bauckham are well-respected New Testament scholars who have come to different conclusions about the phrase “strange flesh.”
Their arguments are representative of the current discussion about the phrase in modern scholarship. Contrasting their views will help readers understand the primary argument in the discussion.
|What is the role of Genesis 6:1-4 in Jude 1:7?||It doesn’t play a role. It is not the background of Jude 6-7.||It is the background of Jude 6-7.|
|What was Sodom’s offense?||Their sin was homosexuality.||Their sin was a desire for sexual relations with angels.|
|What does “strange flesh” mean?||It refers to same-gender sexual relations; “strange” refers to the flesh not being of a woman.||It refers to human-angel sexual relations; “strange” refers to the flesh not being that of a human.|
|What’s wrong with the other viewpoint?||The men of Sodom didn’t know the “men” were actually angels. All they saw were other men. Some Jewish sources and many Christian sources identified homosexuality as Sodom’s primary sin.||Human flesh doesn’t do justice to the word “strange” for Bauckham. Many interpretations of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Jewish traditions identified offenses other than homosexuality as the primary sin.|
Schreiner argues that the Sodomites’ offense was homosexuality. In Schreiner’s view, “strange flesh” refers to men’s bodies, as opposed to women’s bodies. Sodom’s sin from this perspective is homosexual behavior. He writes,
“The term more naturally refers to a desire for those of the same sex; they desired flesh other than that of women. For various reasons some are attempting today to question the view that homosexuality receives an unqualified negative verdict in the Scriptures. Such attempts have been singularly unsuccessful.” (p. 453)
How did Schreiner arrive at his conclusion? Schreiner’s argument is based on the argument that the angelic visitors to Sodom looked like ordinary men.
“The sin of Sodom was not precisely like the sin the angels committed. The most important evidence against the proposed interpretation is that the men in Sodom who had sexual desire for the angels did not know they were angels.”
Bauckham argues that the Sodomites’ offense was angel-human sexual relations. In Bauckham’s view, “strange flesh” refers to having sexual relations with angels. In his commentary, Bauckham supplies readers with his own translation of the text, which reveals his interpretation,
“Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighboring towns, which practiced immorality in the same way as the angels and hankered after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example by undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.” (Jude 1:7, Bauckham’s original translation)
It’s important to note that the word “angels” doesn’t appear in the Greek text. The reason why Bauckham includes the word in his translation is that he is convinced that the verse is referring to angels, so he supplies it himself to help the reader understanding the meaning of Jude’s teaching.
How does Bauckham arrive at his conclusion? Human flesh isn’t “strange” enough for Bauckham.
Strange flesh “cannot, as many commentators and most translations assume, refer to homosexual practice, in which the flesh is not ‘different’ (heretas); it must mean the flesh of angels. The sin of the Sodoimites (not strictly of the other towns) reached its zenith in this most extravagant of sexual aberrations, which would have transgressed the order of creation as shockingly as the fallen angels did.” (p. 54)
Excellent Bible scholars will continue to debate the phrase “strange flesh” in Jude 1:7. Some commentators speculate that the reason why Jude doesn’t elaborate is that the meaning of the phrase wouldn’t be in doubt to his original readers.
The best way to come to conclusions about issues raised in this debate, like the various manifestations of sexual immorality, is to study passages outside of Jude and Genesis for the purpose of acquiring clarity.
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