Biblical Studies (NT)/The Epistle of Jude: Religious Hypocrisy
THE EPISTLE OF JUDE
The author introduces himself as “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ, and a brother of James” (Jude 1). This Jude has traditionally been believed to be Jesus’ brother of the same name (Mt 13:55). If this is true, the greeting is a mark of humility in Jude, who mentions that he is a brother of James, the well-known leader of the church at Jerusalem and the writer of the epistle of James, but in relation to Jesus, he merely calls himself “a servant.”
If he was Jesus’ brother, he was one of a large Jewish family of the town of Nazareth in Galilee (Mt 13:55), which today is in northern Israel. His father was a carpenter and his mother was Mary, mother of Jesus. Since Jesus was Mary’s firstborn, Jude would have been a younger sibling. Although the family was not rich, they were of noble ancestry, being able to trace their blood line back to King David (Mt 1:6-16).
Other than what he had in common with Jesus, however, little is known of Jude. His epistle gives the impression that he had a leadership position in the church. It could be that he was known and respected simply on the strength of his relationship to Jesus, rather than because he held a particular office. Either way, it is unlikely that a letter of this nature would be written by someone who did not have acknowledged authority.
Some scholars have suggested that Jude’s epistle was written by another author who used Jude’s name to gain acceptance. The main reasons given against Jude’s authorship are:
- 1) The subject matter, which warns believers against false teachers who are trying to lead them astray. Some people believe that the false doctrine is Gnosticism, which was most influential late in the first century and during the second century, after Jude’s death. Passages elsewhere in the New Testament indicate that false teachers were present within the church from the middle of the first century, however, so in the absence of evidence to prove that the author is specifically referring to the Gnostics, this argument must remain an interesting hypothesis.
- 2) Part of Jude’s epistle bears marked similarities to a passage in 2 Peter, indicating that one of the authors made use of the other (compare 2 Peter 2:1-17 with Jude, verses 3-13). As noted in the lesson on the epistles of Peter, this is not so much a question of authorship as it is a question of who borrowed from whom. (See that lesson for further discussion.)
Unger's Bible Handbook (Moody 1967) says:
- The author was evidently the brother of James, who was the bishop of Jerusalem and the writer of the Epistle of James, and the (half) brother of [Jesus]... Some scholars, however, identify him as the apostle Judas, called Lebbaeus or Thaddaeus. Echoes and allusions to the epistle occur in the writings of Hermas, Polycarp, Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, and Tertullian, so that Jude has stronger external attestation than 2 Peter. (834)
The author addresses the epistle ostensibly to all who are “called, sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ” (Jude 1). Some scholars think that Jude particularly had in mind the churches in “Asia” (in western Turkey today), because he appears to address a similar situation as Peter in his second epistle. For a time, around the middle of the first century, these churches were the heart of the Christian movement. Ephesus, in particular, was a major center of Christianity. Regardless, the greeting suggests that the letter was meant for Christians everywhere, and it is likely that it was circulated among the churches.
The epistle of Jude is brief, but powerful. It continues the theme of 2 Peter and the epistles of John, that of false teachers promoting heresies within the church. Jude delivers a scathing attack on these teachers, a censure which is only surpassed in the New Testament by Jesus’ stinging rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23.
Apparently, Jude had intended to write a more general letter on the theme of salvation, for in his introduction he says:
- Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting that you should earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ. (3-4)
Jude speaks of God’s judgement upon religious hypocrites, both past and present, and he condemns them in the strongest terms, made more forceful by the poetic tone of his language:
- These dreamers defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever. (8,12,13)
Despite the highly critical tone of the letter, Jude closes by saying that even the worst of offenders can be saved. He urges Christians to make a distinction between those who are merely ignorant of the truth, and those who have deliberately rejected it or distorted it for personal gain. Believers are encouraged to beware of hypocrisy and immorality, but at the same time to love and care for those who could benefit from the Christian message.
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