Introduction to the Bible - 65 - Jude

The General Epistle of Jude

by Louis Berkhof  


 The writer begins his Epistle with the regular address and apostolic  blessing, 1, 2. He informs his readers that he felt it incumbent on him  to warn them against certain intruders, who deny Christ, lead  lascivious lives and will certainly be punished like the people  delivered from Egypt, the fallen angels and the cities of the plain,  3-7. These intruders are further described as defilers of the flesh and  as despisers and blasphemers of heavenly dignities, and the woe is  pronounced on them, 8-11. After giving a further description of their  debauchery, the author exhorts the readers to be mindful of the words  of the apostles, who had spoken of the appearance of such mockers,  12-19. Admonishing them to increase in faith and to keep themselves in  the love of God, and giving them directions as to the correct behaviour  towards others, he concludes his Epistle with a doxology, 20-25.


 1. This Epistle is characterized by its very close resemblence to parts  of II Peter. Since we have already discussed the relation in which the  two stand to each other (II Peter), we now simply refer to that  discussion.

 2. The letter is peculiar also in that it contains quotations from the  apocryphal books. The story in verse 9 is taken from the Assumption of  Moses, according to which Michael was commissioned to bury Moses, but  Satan claimed the body, in the first place because he was the lord of  matter, and in the second place since Moses had committed murder in  Egypt. The falsity of the first ground is brought out by Michael, when  he says: "The Lord rebuke thee, for it was God's Spirit which created  the word and all mankind." He does not reflect on the second. The  prophecy in verses 14, 15 is taken from the Book of Enoch a book that  was highly esteemed by the early church. According to some the  statement regarding the fallen angels, verse 6, is also derived from  it. The latest editor of these writings, R. H. Charles, regards the  first as a composite work, made up of two distinct books, viz, the  Testament and the Assumption of Moses, of which the former, and  possibly also the latter was written in Hebrew between 7 and 29 A. D.  With respect to the Book of Enoch he holds, "that the larger part of  the book was written not later than 160 B. C., and that no part of it  is more recent than the Christian era." Quoted by Mayor, Exp. Gk. Test.  V p. 234.

 3. The language of Jude may best be likened to that of his brother  James. He speaks in a tone of unquestioned authority and writes a  vigorous style. His Greek, though it has a Jewish complexion, is fairly  correct; and his descriptions are often just as picturesque as those of  James, f. i. when he compares the intruders to "spots (R. V. `hidden  rocks) in the feasts of charity;""clouds without water, carried along  by winds," "autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the  roots," "wild waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame ;" etc.,  12, 13. Like James also he employs some words that are otherwise  exclusively Pauline, as ai'dios, churiotes, oicheterio, prographein.  Moreover the letter contains a few hapax legomena.


 Tbe Muratorian Canon accepts Jude, but indicates that it was doubted by  some. Clement of Alexandria commented on it, and Tertullian quotes it  by name. Origen acknowledges that there were doubts as to the  canonicity of Jude, but does not seem to have shared them. Didymus of  Alexandria defends the Epistle against those who questioned its  authority on account of the use made in it of apocryphal books.  Eusebius reckoned it with the Antilegomena; but it was accepted as  canonical by the third council of Carthage in 397 A. D.

 The author designates himself as "Jude the servant of Jesus Christ, and  brother of James." There are several persons of that name mentioned in  the New Testament, of which only two can come in consideration here,  however, viz. Jude, the brother of the Lord, Mt. 13:55; Mk. 6:3, and  Jude the apostle, Lk. 6:16; Acts 1: 13, also called Lebbeus, Mt. 10: 3,  and Thaddeus, Mk. 3:18. It appears to us that the author was Jude, the  brother of the Lord, because: (1) He seeks to give a clear indication  of his identity by calling himself, "the brother of James." This James  must have been so well known, therefore, as to need no further  description; and there was but one James at that time of whom this  could be said, viz. James the brother of the Lord. (2) It is  inconceivable that an apostle, rather than name his official position,  should make himself known by indicating his relationship to another  person, whoever that person might be. (3) Though it is possible that  the writer, even if he were an apostle, should speak as he does in the  17th verse, that passage seems to imply that he stood outside of the  apostolic circle. - In favor of the view that the author was the  apostle Jude, some have appealed to Lk. 6:16; Acts 1 :13, where the  apostle is called Ioudas Iachobou but it is contrary to established  usage to supply the word brother in such a case.

 Very little is known of this Jude. If the order in which the brethren  of the Lord are named in Scripture is any indication of their age, he  was the youngest or the youngest but one of the group; compare Mt.  13:55 with Mk. 6: 3. With his brothers he was not a believer in Jesus  during the Lord's public ministry, John 7:5, but evidently embraced him  by faith after the resurrection, Acts 1:14. For the rest we can only  gather from I Cor. 9:5 respecting the brethren of the Lord in general,  undoubtedly with the exception of James, who resided at Jerusalem, that  they traveled about with their wives, willing workers for the Kingdom  of God, and were even known at Corinth.

 The authenticity of the Epistle has been doubted, because: (1)The  author speaks of faith in the objective sense, Ths a fides quae  creditur, 3, 20, a usage that points to the post-apostolic period; (2)  He mentions the apostles as persons who lived in the distant past, 17;  and (3) he evidently combats the second century heresy of the  Carpocratians. But these grounds are very questionable indeed. The word  faith is employed in the objective sense elsewhere in the New  Testament, most certainly in the Pastorals, and probably also in Rom.  10:8; Gal. 1:23; Phil. 1:27. And there is nothing impossible in the  assumption that that meaning should have become current in the time of  the apostles. The manner in which Jude mentions the apostles does not  necessarily imply that they had all passed away before this letter was  composed. At most the death of a few is implied. But we agree with Dr.  Chase, when he judges that the supposition that the apostles were  dispersed in such a way that their voice could not at the time reach  the persons to whom this letter is addressed, meets all the  requirements of the case. Hastings D. B. Art. Jude. The assumption that  the heretics referred to were second century Carpocratians, is entirely  gratuitous; it rests on a mistaken interpretation of three passages,  viz, the verses 4b, 8, 19.


 Jude addresses his Epistle to "those that are sanctified by God the  Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called." On account of the  very general character of this designation some, as Ewald, regard the  Epistle as a circular letter; but the contents of the Epistle are  against this assumption. Yet we are left entirely to conjecture as to  the particular locality in which the readers dwelt. Some scholare, e.  g. Alford and Zahn, believe that the Epistle was written to Jewish  readers, but we are inclined to think with Weiss, Chase, Bigg, Baljon  e. a. that the recipients of the letter were Gentile Christians, (1)  because the letter is so closely related to II Peter, which was sent to  the Christians of Asia Minor; and (2) since the heresies to which it  refers are known to have arisen in Gentile churches. Cf. especially I  Corinthians and the letters to the seven churches in the Apocalypse.

 Many expositors are inclined to look for the first readers in Asia  Minor on account of the resemblance of the heresies mentioned in the  Epistle to those referred to in II Peter. But possibly it is better to  hold with Chase that the letter was sent to Syrian Antioch and the  surrounding district, since they had evidently received oral  instruction from the apostles generally, and were therefore most likely  in the vicinity of Palestine. Moreover Jude may have felt some special  responsibility for the church in that vicinity since the death of his  brother James.

 In the condition of the readers there was cause for alarm. The danger  that Peter saw as a cloud on the distant horizon, Jude espied as a  leaven that was already working in the ranks of his readers. False  brethren had crept into the church who were, it would seem, practical  libertines, enemies of the cross of Christ, who abused their Christian  liberty (Alford, Salmon, Weiss, Chase), and not at the same time  heretical teachers (Zahn, Baljon). Perhaps they were no teachers at  all. Their life was characterized by lasciviousness, 4, especially  fornication, 7, 8, 11, mockery, 10, ungodliness, 15, murmuring,  complaining, pride and greed, 16. Their fundamental error seems to have  been that they despised and spoke evil of the authorities that were  placed over them. They were Antinomians and certainly had a great deal  in common with the Nicolaitans of the Apocalypse.


 1. Occasion and Purpose. The danger to which these Christians were thus  exposed, led to the composition of this Epistle. Apparently Jude  intended to write to them of the common salvation, when he suddenly  heard of the grave situation and found it necessary to pen a word of  warning, 3. In the verse from which we draw this conclusion, the author  also clearly states his aim, when he says that he deemed it imperative  to write to them that they should earnestly contend for the faith which  was once delivered to the saints. In order to do this, he pictures to  them the disobedient and immoral character of the ungodly persons that  had unawares crept into the fold and endangered their Christian faith  and life; reminds them of the fact that God would certainly punish  those wanton libertines, just as He had punished sinners in the past;  and exhorts them to stand in faith and to strive after holiness.

 2. Time and Place. We have absolutely no indication of the place where  this Epistle was written; it is not unlikely, however, that it was at  Jerusalem.

 With respect to the time of its composition we have a terminus ad quem  in the date of II Peter, about A. D. 67, since that Epistle is  evidently dependent on Jude. On the other hand it does not seem likely  that Jude would write such a letter, while his brother James was still  living, so that we have a terminus a quo in A. D. 62. A date later than  62 is also favored by the Pauline words employed in this letter, in  some of which we seem to have an echo of Ephesians and Colossians.  Moreover the great similarity between the conditions pictured in this  letter and those described in II Peter is best explained, if we date  them in close proximity to each other. We shall not go far wrong in  dating the Epistle about the year 65.

 The older critics of the Tubingen school dated the Epistle late in the  second century, while more recent critics, as Pfleiderer, Holtzmann,  Julicher, Harnack, Baljon, think it originated about the middle or in  the first half of the second century. They draw this conclusion from,  (1) the way in which the writer speaks of faith, 3, 20; (2) the manner  in which he refers to the apostles, 17; (3) the use of the apocryphal  books; and (4) the supposed references to the doctrines of the  Carpocratians. But these arguments can all be met by counter-arguments,  cf. above.


 In the early Church there was considerable doubt as to the canonicity  of this epistle especially because it was not written by an apostle and  contained passage from apocryphal books. There are allusions more or  less clear to the Epistle in II Peter, Polycarp, Athenagoras and  Theophilus of Antioch. The Muratorian Canon mentions it, but in a  manner which implies that it was doubted by some. It is found in the  old Latin Version, but not in the Peshito. Clement of Alexandria,  Tertullian and Origen recognized it, though Origen intimates that there  were doubts regarding its canonicity. Eusebius doubted its canonical  authority, but the council of Carthage (397) accepted it.

 In the Epistle of Jude we have the Christian war-cry, resounding  through the ages: Contend earnestly for the faith that was once  delivered unto the saints! This letter, the last of the New Testament,  teaches with great emphasis that apostacy from the true creed with its  central truths of the atonement of Christ and the permanent validity of  the law as the rule of life, is assured perdition; and clearly reveals  for all generations the inseparable connection between a correct belief  and a right mode of living.