Chapter 20: The Epistle of Jude

An Introduction to the New Testament
by Richard Heard

Chapter 20: The Epistle of Jude


The epistle claims to be written by Judas ‘a servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James’. The only pair of brothers James and Judas known to us from the New Testament are the brethren of Jesus (Mk. 6:3) and there is no reason for doubting that this Jude is intended. A story of Hegesippus (c. A.D. I80) tells of the arraignment before Domitian of two grandsons of Jude, who worked a small farm, and after their release ‘ruled the churches, as being both martyrs and of the Lord’s family’ (Eus. H.E. III 20). While Jude does not seem to have succeeded James as head of the Church in Jerusalem, he seems to have held a leading place in the early Church, as a brother of the Lord, and to have been supported by the Christian community (I Cor. 9:5). There would accordingly be nothing strange in his writing an epistle of warning against those who were corrupting the Church.

Two main arguments have been advanced against Jude’s authorship, the difficulty of reconciling the conception of ‘the faith’ which was once and for all delivered unto the saints (3) and the reference in 17 to ‘the words which have been spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ’ with authorship by a brother of Jesus, and the type of error attacked. If, however, a period late in Jude’s lifetime be assumed, both these arguments lose much of their force. In the conception of ‘the faith’ as something established from the beginning Gal. 1:23 and Eph.4:5 offer instructive parallels, and a general reference to words spoken before by the apostles could well look back on the early days when the apostles as a body shared a common teaching in and around Jerusalem without implying that they were now all dead. The type of error attacked -- an antinomian rejection of authority, coupled with immorality, heresy, and insincere respect of persons -- has been compared with some justice to the type of error especially condemned by Paul in I Corinthians, and could be expected to arise in any Christian community after the first flush of enthusiasm had passed.

The similarities between Jude and II Peter are so striking (compare especially Jude 1-19 with II Pet. 2:1-18, 3:1-2) that there must be a literary relationship between the two epistles. Besides the improbability of an author making up such a short epistle from a part only of II Peter, there is an added reason for supposing the priority of Jude in the fact that occasionally the meaning of the author of II Peter can only properly be understood from a reading of the parallel passage in Jude (compare II Pet.2: 10-11 with Jude 9). Moreover there are signs that, unlike II Peter, Jude from a very early period enjoyed a wide circulation. It was probably known to the author of ‘The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles’, which may be as early as the end of the first century A.D., and by the beginning of the third century it was included in the list of accepted books at Rome given by the Muratorian Canon, quoted by Tertullian in Africa, and commented upon by Clement of Alexandria. In view of the shortness of the epistle this widespread use and acceptance as authoritative is remarkable, although there seems also to have been a certain hesitation in later times to accept it, possibly because of its references to apocryphal books.

The Teaching of The Epistle

The clear evidence afforded by the epistle of Jude’s knowledge of Enoch,(Apart from the loose quotation in 14 from Enoch 1, 9, Chase has collected an instructive series of parallels in Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible.) and his use of the story of Michael’s dispute with the devil over the body of Moses (9), which was probably narrated in another apocryphal book, throw an interesting light on influences at work on early Palestinian Christianity. Occasional traces of such influence in passages in the Gospels, in II Thessalonians, and above all in the Book of Revelation (cf. chap. 25) suggest that from the very earliest days the literature of Jewish Apocalyptic exerted a considerable influence upon Christian teaching, and the epistle of Jude gives us a valuable glimpse at the ways in which such influence affected the presentation of the Christian gospel.

Jude’s own message is simple. While preparing a letter on ‘our common salvation’ (3) he was constrained -- perhaps as the result of receiving some special news about the situation in a community or communities unknown to us -- to write instead against the growth of troublesome and heretical errors. The weight of the epistle lies in its authorship. Jude writes as one whose authority is unquestioned, and as one who can himself remember and vouch for the original content of the gospel, departure from which is fatal. A particular situation is envisaged, but, while we can safely assume that the epistle was written from somewhere in Palestine between A.D. 60 and A.D. 80, we have no means of knowing to whom Jude was writing.