The distinction between natural and special revelation shows up first in verse 3, where Jude explains that the church is to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Note here that the revelation was passed down (via preaching & teaching, as well as via the transmission of Scripture). It was not known to the church by any other means but the Word of God itself as proclaimed in our hood. In light of this, note that it passed down to the saints, i.e. The people of God as a whole. God’s intention in giving us His Word is that we would know Him, every one of us from the least to the greatest — is a clear demolition of the Romanist lies concerning the Word of God.
The distinction is drawn out further when the apostle states that the unregenerate blaspheme all that they do not know and destroy themselves with what they understand instinctively. What knowledge do these unregenerate men possess? Gill identifies this knowledge as being theological (properly speaking), natural, civil, moral, and sensitive (i.e. sensory, or sensorial). Gill writes:
…man originally had a large share of natural knowledge, and there is in man still, notwithstanding the fall, by which his knowledge is impaired, a natural knowledge of God, and of things natural, civil, and moral; and there is a sensitive knowledge in man, which he has in common with the brutes, and which is here meant…1
Calvin draws his attention to the sensual aspect of what these unregenerate men understood. He rightly explains that these unregenerate men were
…like beasts…carried away to those things which gratified the senses of the body, they observed no moderation, but gorged themselves excessively like the swine which roll themselves in stinking mud. The adverb naturally is set in opposition to reason and judgment for the instinct of nature alone rules in brute animals; but reason ought to govern men and to bridle their appetites.2
Whereas Gill interprets that which these men understand as including sensory knowledge (which he does not define), Calvin correctly draws out the intended antithesis. The lost are irrational and driven by instinctual desires, particularly sensuous desires; the righteous, however, are driven by Spirit-sanctified rationality. Contrary to the contemporary quasi-epistemologists, the mind is privileged over the body in Scripture, represented as maintaining primacy over all of the affairs in which man is involved. Jude explains that “these people…[rely] on their dreams…”3 This indicates that the foundation of their reasoning is not “the faith once for all delivered to the saints,” but their own imaginations.
Thus, the Holy Spirit draws an antithesis in Jude’s epistle between believer and unbeliever. Believers are recipients of the Truth (v.1b, 3, 5, 17-18), by which they are saved and kept for Christ, and for which it is their duty to contend. Contrarily, unbelievers reject the Truth and instead depend upon “dreams” (it would seem) for the justification of their behavior (v.8), they do not understand the Truth about special revelation (in particular, the Truth about Christ, the final judgment, & angelic beings, v.10a), and the natural/general revelation which they have received they destroy themselves with as they behave irrationally, completely giving themselves over to sensuous passions (v. 10b).
Man was created a reasoning/rational being, this is one of the ways in which he differs qualitatively from the animals. Gordon H. Clark explains:
The non-rational animals were not created in his image; but God breathed his spirit into the earthly form, and Adam became a type of soul superior to the animals.
To be precise, one should not speak of the image of God in man. Man is not something in which somewhere God’s image can be found along with other things. Man is the image. This, of course, does not refer to man’s body. The body is an instrument or tool man uses. He himself is God’s breath, the spirit God breathed into the clay, the mind, the thinking ego. Therefore, man is rational in the likeness of God’s rationality. His mind is structured as Aristotelian logic described it…4
Note, then, man’s descent into animality when the use of reason is abandoned. This is not to say that men never reason, but it is to say that the unregenerate are not driven by the right use of reason (i.e. The ministerial use of reason, as opposed to the magisterial use of reason). Instead, whatever knowledge they do have is put in the service of sin, self-destruction, and worsening their own record before the Lord of Hosts.
Christian Epistemological Responsibility
In light of the foregoing exposition of Jude’s epistemology, it must be understood that the Christian is called to be rational, and by this he shows that he is the image of God. Jude commands the church to (i.)contend for the faith (i.e. To provide an apologetical defense of the Truth), (ii.)remember the Word of God (cf. vv.5-7 & 17-19), and (iii.)build themselves up in the faith (vv. 20-21). Between tearing down opposition and building up the church, we are commanded to “remember” the Word of Christ. This effectively places the Word of God at the center of our entire Christian lives – when facing enemies of the faith, we are called to remember the Word, and when facing our brethren in the faith we are called to remember the Word of God. This is, for all intents and purposes, the doctrine of sola scriptura, but it is also an epistemology that understands the Word of God to be the Highest Authority over our relationship with the world and with the Church.
John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible, Jude v.10
Commentary on the Catholic Epistles, <http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/calvin/cc45/cc45031.htm>
God and Logic, <http://trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=16>
John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible, Jude v.10