Introduction to the Letter of Jude
Julian Spriggs, M.A.
The author identifies himself as, "Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James" (Jude 1). The name Jude is short for Judas, which is in the Greek text.
There are five Judas's in the NT. The most well-known is Judas Iscariot, the betrayer. It would be unthinkable for any writing by him to be included in the NT. There was another Judas, to whose house in Damascus Paul went to after his conversion (Acts 9:11), but nothing else is known about him. There was a Judas Barsabbas, who took the letter from the Jerusalem Council to the Gentile churches, along with Silas (Acts 15). Another of the twelve disciples was called Judas (Lk 6:16), carefully distinguished from Judas Iscariot (Jn 14:22), also known as Thaddaeus (Mt 10:2-4), but there is no tradition for him writing the book of Jude. The most likely author was Judas, brother of Jesus, who is mentioned in the list of Jesus’ brothers (Mt 13:55, Mk 6:3).
In his letter, Jude introduces himself as the brother of James (v1). Only James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the church in Jerusalem, was well-known enough to be referred to simply as James. Jude was content to be known as James' brother, as he was not so well known himself.
Before the resurrection, Jesus' family did not believe who he was (Jn 7:5), and tried to seize him because they thought he was crazy (Mk 3:21-22). After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to James (1 Cor 15:7), who became the leader of the Jerusalem church, presiding over the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). There is no other mention of Jude (Judas) except a vague reference when Paul says that the brothers of Lord have the right to be accompanied by a wife on their travels for the gospel (1 Cor 9:5).
Jerome spoke about Jude and his letter, as follows:
“Jude the brother of James, left a short epistle which is reckoned among the seven catholic epistles, and because in it he quotes from the apocryphal book of Enoch it is rejected by many. Nevertheless by age and use it has gained authority and is reckoned among the Holy Scriptures.” (Lives of Illustrious Men - chapter 4)
Origen wrote this about the letter of Jude:
"And Jude, who wrote a letter of few lines, it is true, but filled with the healthful words of heavenly grace, said in the preface, "Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ and the brother of James." (Commentary on Matthew 10 - chapter 17)
Eusebius, quoting writings of Hegisippus, says that Domitian (AD 81-96), while persecuting the Christians in AD 96, was looking for the people of the royal line of David, and ordered the arrest of the grandsons of Jude the brother of Jesus, but they were dismissed when he found them to be humble farm workers uninterested in politics. Jude was probably one of the youngest sons of Joseph and Mary, perhaps being born around AD 10. His sons could be born around AD 35 and grandsons around AD 60, who would then be around 25 years old by AD 96. According to Hegisippus, these men later became bishops in the church in the time of Trajan (AD 97-117).
Concerning the relatives of our Saviour.
“There still survived of the kindred of the Lord the grandsons of Judas, who according to the flesh was called his brother. These were informed against, as belonging to the family of David, and Evocatus brought them before Domitian Caesar: for that emperor dreaded the advent of Christ, as Herod had done. So he asked them whether they were of the family of David; and they confessed they were. Next he asked them what property they had, or how much money they possessed. They both replied that they had only 9000 denaria between them, each of them owning half that sum; but even this they said they did not possess in cash, but as the estimated value of some land, consisting of thirty-nine plethra only, out of which they had to pay the dues, and that they supported themselves by their own labour. And then they began to hold out their hands, exhibiting, as proof of their manual labour, the roughness of their skin, and the corns raised on their hands by constant work. Being then asked concerning Christ and His kingdom, what was its nature, and when and where it was to appear, they returned answer that it was not of this world, nor of the earth, but belonging to the sphere of heaven and angels, and would make its appearance at the end of time, when He shall come in glory, and judge living and dead, and render
to every one according to the course of his life. Thereupon Domitian passed no condemnation upon them, but treated them with contempt, as too mean for notice, and let them go free. At the same time he issued a command, and put a stop to the persecution against the Church. When they were released they became leaders of the churches, as was natural in the case of those who were at once martyrs and of the kindred of the Lord. And, after the establishment of peace to the Church, their lives were prolonged to the reign of Trajan.” (Eusebius History 3:20)
Many of the other church fathers wrote about this book, identifying Jude as the brother of Jesus, including Clement of Alexandria, who wrote comments on the Book of Jude, as well as Tertullian.
Occasion of the letter
Jude was eager to write a letter about their common salvation to edify his readers, but this letter was never written. Perhaps he felt that there was need for some basic teaching about the Christian faith in the church. He interrupted this when he heard about false teachers, and instead wrote this letter of warning to the churches (v3).
He exhorted his readers to "contend for the faith" (v3) which was delivered through the original apostles. They were called to recognise the false teachers who had infiltrated the church (v4). Also he calls his readers to build themselves up in the faith, pray, and keep themselves in the love of God (v20-21).
He devotes most of the letter to denunciation of the false teachers, finishing with some positive exhortations to snatch people from the fire of false teaching (v23). He makes no attempt to prove the false teaching to be wrong, that is obvious from his description of their behaviour. The false teaching needed to be exposed, Jude did not see it enough simply to set out the truth and expect the church to see the difference.
Nature of the false teachers
Jude piles on the dreadful descriptions of these false teachers who have infiltrated the church, using vivid metaphors and examples from the OT,. He gives twenty-five descriptions in twenty-give verses! They are, ungodly men (v4), who pervert the grace of God into licentiousness (v4). They deny Christ (v4) and are like Sodom and Gomorrah. They act immorally, indulge in unnatural lust (v7), defile the flesh (v8), reject authority (v8), revile the glorious ones (v8) and revile what they do not understand (v10). They destroy themselves as irrational animals (v10), walk in the way of Cain (v11), and fall into Balaam's error (v11). They are blemishes on your love feasts (v12) and boldly carouse together (v12). They are waterless clouds (v12), fruitless trees (v12), wild waves casting up foam of shame (v13), wandering stars (v13), grumblers and malcontents (v16). They follow their own passions (v16), being loud-mouthed boasters (v16). They flatter people to gain advantage (v16) and are scoffers, following ungodly passions (v18). They set up divisions (v19) and are worldly people (v19), devoid of the Spirit (v19).
Jude summarises their teaching in verse 4. Their basic doctrine is to deny the person of Christ. This is the most usual heresy, as in Colossians and all of today's cults. Their basic behaviour is licence, presuming on God's grace. As Paul would say, they "sin so that grace may abound". They received their 'revelation' from dreams rather than from God, and caused division and trouble in the church, being full of self and pride.
Jude saw the rise of these false teachers as fulfilment of apostolic prophecy (v17-18), perhaps from 1 Tim 4:1 or 2 Pet 3:3. These teachers were outwardly members of the church and there was danger of them destroying it from within. Jude is extremely severe against them. It is clear that he is shocked by their immoral behaviour, saying that they are like irrational animals. Peter speaks about the same group of people in his second letter, but not quite so strongly.
It is difficult to identify the false teachers exactly, but there are some clues. The reference to Balaam may show some connection with the heresies in the church in Pergamum (Rev 2:14), which involved false teaching and immorality. Most probably, Jude is addressing an early form of gnosticism, which was not fully developed until the second century. There seemed to be two basic extremes of gnosticism, asceticism and licence. These teachers were teaching licence, "using their freedom as an opportunity for the flesh" (Gal 5:13).
Date of writing
We have no certain idea. Dates from AD 60 to AD 140 have been suggested. The evidence for early date is that since Jude was a half-brother of Jesus, he would have lived possibly until AD 80 at the latest, assuming that he was younger than Jesus. He refers to what "the apostles said to you" (v17), which would suggest a reasonably early date. If Peter used Jude in writing 2 Peter, Jude must have been written before Peter’s death around AD 67.
The evidence for later date is that if the false teaching was a form of gnosticism, which did not develop fully until the second century, the letter must have been written them. More recent evidence has shown that at least the roots of early forms of gnosticism developed from the middle of the first century and Jude may be addressing these. Also, the apostles are referred to in the past (v17), which would argue for a later date, but this argument is not conclusive.
A safe guess would be anytime between AD 65 and 80, depending on whether Peter used Jude, or Jude referred to Peter. For more information about the similiarities between the two letters, please see the article on 2 Peter on the NT Books page.
Again, there is no certainty over where the letter was written to. The letter is addressed to "those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ", which really means all Christians everywhere in all times. However, it is clear that Jude is addressing a specific situation in a church, which could apply to others through the ages. The references to the OT and Jewish apocrypha would suggest a Jewish audience. Antioch is suggested on the grounds that the church knew some of the apostles (v18).
Structure of letter
The letter is in a fairly typical epistle structure. It begins with a greeting (v1-2), followed by a statement of Jude’s purpose in writing (v3-4). In the main part of the letter he denounces the false teachers and foretells their doom (v5-16). In conclusion, he exhorts his readers to remain faithful (v17-23), and ends with a powerful doxology (v24-25).
Style of writing
Jude often uses triplets, including being called, beloved and kept (v1), mercy, peace and love (v2). He gives three examples of judgement: the people saved from Egypt later destroyed, the fallen angels and Sodom and Gomorrah (v5-7). He says that the dreaming men defile the flesh, reject authority, and revile the glorious ones (v8). There are three revilings (v8-10), reviling the glorious ones, reviling judgement, and reviling what they don't understand, and three examples of rebellion in the OT: Cain, Balaam and Korah (v11). He uses a seven-fold exhortation in v20-23: build, pray, keep, wait, convince, save, and have mercy.
Use of non-canonical works
In his letter, Jude twice either quotes or refers to material in non-canonical literature. He refers to the archangel disputing with the devil over the body of Moses (v9). This is from a Jewish apocryphal book called “The Assumption of Moses”. He also gives a quotation from the Book of 1 Enoch (v14-15). Both these books are in the category of Jewish literature called the Pseudepigrapha, which were never recognised as Scripture.
These quotations have caused many to doubt the place of Jude in the scriptures, both in the early church and today. However, both these works were highly esteemed in the early church. It should be noted that Jude is not the only NT author to do this, as Paul also quoted heathen poets: He quoted Epimenides, a Greek poet, saying "Cretans are liars, evil beasts and lazy gluttons", and said it was true (Titus 1:12), and quoted Aratus, a Greek poet, in his speech to the Aeropagus in Athens, "For we are indeed his offspring" (Acts 17:28).
In the western church, Jude's use of the apocryphal writings tended to add stature to the apocryphal books, while in the eastern (Syrian) church his use of these books tended to result in the book of Jude being rejected. Jerome explained that because Jude appealed to the apocryphal book of Enoch as an authority, it is rejected by some. (Lives of Illustrious Men - chapter 4). By AD 200, the letter of Jude was accepted in Alexandria (by Clement & Origen), in Rome (in the Muratorian Canon) and North Africa (by Tertullian).
Michael contending with the devil (v9)
There are five references to Michael in the Bible. In the Book of Daniel, he is described as one of the chief princes fighting against the prince of the kingdom of Persia (Dan 10:13,21), and the great prince who has charge of your people (the Jews) (Dan 12:1). He leads his angels in the fight against the dragon (Rev 12:7). Here in Jude, he is called "the archangel", who contends with the devil about the body of Moses (v9).
It appears that he is one of God's supernatural beings, who oversees and protects God's people. In Jewish apocalyptic literature, Michael was regarded as the patron of and intercessor for Israel (1 Enoch 20:5, 89:76).
The end of the Book of Deuteronomy describes the burial of Moses in the land of Moab, and says that no man knows the place of his burial (Deut 34:5-7). So there appears to be some sort of mystery about the death of Moses. However, there is no mention of Michael's dispute with the devil about his body. Josephus says that Moses disappeared into a cloud, but that he wrote in the holy books that he died, lest people would say that he went to God because of his extraordinary virtue (Ant 4:8:48).
The Assumption of Moses describes the events when Michael was sent to bury Moses, but the devil challenged his right to the body because Moses had murdered the Egyptian (Ex 2:12). The devil also claimed to have authority over all matter. Even when provoked, Michael was not disrespectful to the devil, but simply said, "The Lord rebuke you", at which point the devil left.