Let’s study Jude 22-23. First we have to reconcile some textual differences. The manuscripts used as the basis of KJV and NKJV have only two groups in view:
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 (KJV).
The manuscripts used as the basis of NASB, ESV, and NIV have three groups in view:
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 (NASB).
It’s not a cause for great concern, and really comes down to a single connective, hous de, “and some,” that is omitted from some manuscripts.
There’s another wrinkle; there is also a difference in the wording of the first clause.
- Eleate diakrinomenoi, “show mercy, making a distinction” (KJV, NKJV)
- Eleate diakrinomenous, “show mercy on those who doubt” (NASB, ESV, NIV)
- Elenchete diakrinomenous, “rebuke those who doubt” (Lenski, others)
In brief, the first reading is not as well attested as the second and third readings. Of the remaining, the second is slightly better attested than the third, which is why most modern translations use it. But some believe the third makes more sense as a 1-2-3 progression (have mercy, save, rebuke) than a 1-2-1 progression (have mercy, save, have mercy), so much so that they are willing to argue that the third reading deserves to be viewed as original. I will resort to my default position on such things—I pretty well trust the editors and translators of the NASB and ESV! In any case, none of the three readings says anything controversial. I simply wanted to explain why you may have something different in your translation.
Anyway, let’s read the verse again and make some applications.
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.
Jude began the letter commanding Christians to contend for the faith against false teachers. But what to do about those victimized by false teachers? Or, those who are struggling spiritually in other ways, due to circumstances or doctrinal challenges?
Have Mercy on Those Who are Doubting. Christians can have honest questions about difficult teachings; they need a non-threatening Bible study. Some face confusing questions at school, doubts introduced by a nature show. Some are struggling to be dutiful due to suffering, grief, or persecution. Don’t overreact or scold. Struggling with doubts can be an opportunity for growth, if brethren show mercy and love; especially if you’ve experienced the same issues and can help show the way back to hope and joy.
Snatch to Save Those Who are Teetering on the Edge of the Fire. There was a cartoon short at the start of the old Roger Rabbit, called “Tummy Trouble,” in which the main character babysits an infant who keeps getting himself in dangerous situations. Roger rushes, with feet flying and eyes popping, to rescue Baby Herman, saving him at the last moment from flying knives, an open elevator shaft, explosives. When a brother in Christ is teetering on the brink of Hell, a slow and calm deliberation is not the appropriate response. This is an emergency! If you saw someone sleepwalking toward a highway, you’d run at full speed to snatch him just in time. When your brother has missed three out of four Sundays, or is experimenting with sin, now is the time to act!
Cautiously Have Mercy on Those who are Polluting Their Garments. Can there be a better place to see the old sentiment, “love the sinner, hate the sin”? Clean garments represent the righteous behavior Jesus expects of His bride (Rev. 3:4, 7:14, 22:14). Some have given in to the temptation of immorality. They haven’t left the Lord yet, but are swimming in a pool of filth. Let us do our best to reach out to them quickly, though, you can imagine with what a ginger touch we would use to extract someone who has slipped into a cesspool. We might use a pole if possible to keep our distance. Paul says in Galatians 6:1, “brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” Many have been the rescuers pulled into the same pit of adultery, pornography, or greed they were trying to rescue others from. Be careful.
There’s just not a one-size-fits-all approach to Christians who are struggling. In fact, we could find other approaches to different situations in other contexts (like Paul says in Titus 1:13, “reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith.”) Let us use wisdom to best help our struggling brethren, knowing that Satan is our enemy (2 Timothy 2:25-26), and the salvation of our brethren is our goal. —John Guzzetta