Jude 12, speaking of wicked men who had crept in among God’s people, reads:
These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you
without fear, serving only themselves…
What is a “love feast”? Commentators differ on what the love feast is. Some affirm that in the early church, the richer members would provide an occasional meal to share with the poor saints (Geneva Bible Notes, Adam Clarke Commentary). Other say this refers to the Lord’s Supper (Barnes’ New Testament Notes) or an abuse of it (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown, Robertson’s Word Pictures). Still others believe it is simply the pure lifestyle and assembly of the Christians (Family Bible Notes, William Burkitt’s Notes). Some, perhaps wisely, have chosen not to comment (John Wesley’s Notes, People’s New Testament).
There is no agreement among commentators, nor is there consensus among writers of antiquity. Ignatius mentions the love feast, but his reference to it could simply be another name for the Lord’s Supper (letter to the Smyrnaeans, ch. 8). When Clement of Alexandria speaks of a love feast, he speaks of feeding the “poor, maimed, lame, blind” (Luke 14:12-14), NOT a sumptuous feast (Instructor, I, ch. 1). In Tertullian’s Apology (ch. 39), the agape is referred to as a supper to benefit the needy.
I’ve hears some use love feast to defend church hosted potlucks and fellowship meals. I’ve even been told that it is sinful if we do not host such potluck meals. As there is no firm Bible instruction, and in the absence of agreement among Christians in the first few centuries (who were much closer to Jude’s day that we), to claim that we must host a “love feast” else we are sinning is not only presumptuous, but divisive.
Every translation I have seen refers to a “love feast” in Jude 12. If we look at the Greek text, we’ll see this is not a translation, but rather speculation. It reads:
outoi eisin en taiv agapaiv umwn spiladev suneuwcoumenoi
afobwv eautouv poimainontev (Online Interlinear)
Literally rendered, that means:
these are in the love of you spots feast fearlessly themselves shepherding
How someone could get a potluck or social meal out of this is beyond me. Jude describes how wicked these ungodly men are—they are a corrupting influence in the midst of God’s people. The word feast here could otherwise be rendered carousing, to fare well, or to revel together. These wicked men are not eating more than is right at a social event; they are flaunting their evil and compel others to join in their dark ways. They reject godly leadership, happy to govern themselves and all who would accept their path of lewdness and lust.
So, what is the “love” or “love feast” which Jude wrote about?
Only someone with an agenda would conclude that Jude 12 authorizes the church to engage in social activities. A literal rendering of the text identifies the wicked as those who are feasting or carousing, not the faithful children of God.
Feast for the poor?
It’s entirely possible the rich provided occasional meals for the poor in the early church. Such is no violation of any Bible text, in fact, we’re told to remember the poor (Galatians 2:10). Is that what Jude 12 is about? Unlikely.
The Lord’s Supper?
Is the love feast Jude speaks of the Lord’s Supper? It is a feast shared by the Christians, and the presence of these wicked men would certainly be spots among them.
Paul warned of a wicked man in Corinth,:
Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump.
(1 Corinthians 5:6)
Jude’s warning could be the very same, as these wicked men were with the faithful of God. Beware of the influence the wicked will have upon you—they can corrupt those who are seeking to walk in God’s way.
NOTE—I am all for Christians gathering together socially. Getting together in one another’s homes for meals, sharing potlucks as a group, having opportunities to socialize and visit, occasions to play games, etc. are all wonderful ways to get to know one another and to build our relationship to one another. However, let me stress, such activities (social activities) are not a work of the church—these are functions of the home, of individual Christians. The church is to save souls, to minister to spiritual needs, not to social endeavours.