The Epistle of Jude is written to a Jewish community of believers in Christ to persuade people to reject antinomian (“against Law”) teachers and to maintain the moral implications of their faith as taught by the apostles.

Canonical Status.

Jude is the twenty-sixth book in the New Testament. It was classified as a “General” or “Catholic Epistle” (with James, 1 and 2 Peter, and 1, 2, and 3 John), suggesting that the author wrote to all Christianity; modern scholars believe that Jude wrote to a specific community.

By the end of the second century C.E., Jude was accepted as scripture in North Africa by Tertullian (ca. 160–ca. 220 C.E.) and in Alexandria by Clement (d. ca. 215 C.E.) and Origen (185–232 C.E.). Some later questioned its authorship (Eusebius, ca. 260–ca. 341 C.E.) and Jude's use of 1 Enoch was an issue (Tertullian, de Cult. fem. 1.3; Jerome, de Vir. ill. 4). Despite these questions, Jude was listed in the Muratorian Canon (second–fourth c. C.E.), in Athenasius's list in 367 C.E., and in Philoxenus's Syriac Bible in the sixth century C.E. and all future canon lists.

Authorship.

The name “Jude” is an English form of the Greek Ioudas from the Hebrew Yĕhûdâ, one of the sons of Jacob/Israel and the name of the southern kingdom that had Jerusalem as its capital. These Greek and Hebrew words are elsewhere rendered “Judas” or “Judah.”

The author indirectly presents himself as Jesus' brother (cf. Mark 6:3; Matt 13:55). He is “a slave of Jesus Christ and the brother of James” (v. 1). Jude expects his audience to know James, most likely as brother (or perhaps the half-brother) of Jesus. Modern scholarship is divided on whether Jude is genuine (Bauckham 1983; Green 2008) or pseudonymous (Kelly 1969; Neyrey 1993).

There is broad agreement that the author comes from a Jewish background. He is a Semitic speaker who knew the Hebrew scriptures, noncanonical Jewish traditions, and 1 Enoch in Aramaic. He is capable in Jewish exegesis and adept in Greek rhetorical technique. He knows of prophecies given by Jesus' apostles.

Date and Context.

The date of Jude and the location of its author and initial audience are controversial and only educated guesses are possible. Scholars date Jude between 50 and 110 C.E. and locate its initial audience in Palestine, Asia Minor (western modern Turkey), or Alexandria, Egypt.

The date of Jude depends on one's perspective about its authorship and opponents. If authentically written by Jesus' brother, it dates as early as 50–60 C.E. If written by someone using the name of Jesus' brother, it could be dated up to the time when used by 2 Peter, perhaps 110 C.E. Some scholars in the twentieth century associated Jude's opponents with Gnosticism and dated it late. Recent scholarship has demonstrated that Jude lacks references to Gnostic cosmology or anthropology.

Jude is writing to a community in which some teachers are persuading believers to disregard certain moral consequences of faith, especially expressed by the Jewish Law. Jude accuses them of perverting “the grace of God into licentiousness” (v. 4). Jude understands faith to include both piety and morality so that to deny the moral implications is to “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (v. 4). Their licentious behavior rejects Christ's lordship over their lives and insults the “glorious ones,” the angels who mediated the Law (v. 8).

The location is difficult to determine, but Palestine seems likely (so Bauckham 1990 and Green). Jude assumes his audience has heard the apostles' prophecies and is familiar with the Jewish traditions expressed in 1 Enoch, the Testament of Moses, as well as noncanonical interpretations of the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah, Cain, Balaam, and Korah.

Literary History.

The literary unity of Jude has never been challenged. It is taken to be a single letter. Despite its unity, Jude has a complex textual history (see Wasserman 2006).

Alongside the Hebrew Bible (especially Genesis, Exodus and Numbers), Jude drew on two noncanonical Jewish sources: the Testament of Moses and 1 Enoch. In verse 9, Jude alludes to a lost ending of the Testament of Moses, which Bauckham argues contained a trial between the devil and the archangel Michael. Jude uses this tradition to argue that if Michael did not directly rebuke Satan then Christians certainly should not rebuke angels who bring the Law (see Gal 3:19; Jub.).

First Enoch was composed and enlarged between the third century B.C.E. and the first century C.E. Enoch was given special status by some Jews because he was a righteous man (Gen 5:22–24). Enochic traditions develop the story of the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:1–5 whose actions led to the wickedness of humanity that was cleansed by the Flood. These sons of God (called “Watchers” in 1 En.) took human wives. These are the “angels who did not keep their own position” in Jude 6 and who, like the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, had “unnatural lust” (Jude 7), that is, desiring sexual intercourse between angels and humans. Jude 14–15 is the only New Testament writing to directly quote 1 Enoch (1:9).

Structure and Contents.

Jude fits the expectations of a Greco-Roman letter, beginning with an address and greeting (vv. 1–2). A proem states the letter's purpose and functions as the body opening (vv. 3–4). The body middle (vv. 5–19) presents four sets of “texts” from the Hebrew Bible, other Jewish literature, and Jesus' apostles. They are interpreted to persuade the audience that the antinomian teachers fit ancient types and fulfill prophecy. The body closes (vv. 20–23) with an exhortation to treat the antinomian teachers and their followers with mercy and fear. The letter ends with a fitting doxology (vv. 24–25).

1–2 Address and greeting (prescript)

3–4 Occasion and theme (epistolary proem and body opening)

3 Appeal

4 Background of the appeal

5–19Four “texts” and interpretations (body middle)

5–10 Exodus, watchers, Sodom & Gomorrah

11–13 Cain, Balaam, Korah

14–16 Prophecy of Enoch

17–19 Prophecy of apostles

20–23Appeal (body closing)

24–25Closing doxology (letter closing)

Interpretation.

Jude is written to a Jewish believing community in order to persuade them to reject antinomian teachers and to encourage one another to live out the moral implications of faith in Jesus Christ as Master and Lord. For Jude, the Jewish Law as mediated by angels (the “glorious ones”) describes how a Christian should behave, especially sexual behavior. Neither dreams by Christian prophets nor the preaching of grace (v. 4) overrule Christ's lordship.

Jude interprets Jewish literature typologically. He presents Israelites, angels, and nonbelievers who were punished as types that fit his contemporary situation (vv. 5–10). In noncanonical interpretations, the archetypal sinners Cain, Balaam, and Korah taught others greed, sexual immorality, and rejection of the Law (vv. 11–13). Enoch's prophecy indicts teachers who indulge their lusts (vv. 14–16).

The phrase “But you, beloved” (v. 17) signals that the prediction of the apostles is closer to the audience than the other “texts.” It also anticipates the elaboration of the appeal in vv. 20–23.

Jude elaborates his appeal in four imperatives (vv. 20–21). First, “build yourselves up” includes living the moral implications of faith. Second, “pray in the Holy Spirit” indicates true inspiration will come in prayer not dreams. Third, “keep yourselves in the love of God,” means that their behavior reflects their status as “beloved.” Last, they “look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Lest they think their future relationship with God depends solely on their actions, Jude exhorts them to count on Jesus' mercy.

Jude also urges his audience to be merciful to the antinomian teachers and their followers (vv. 22–23). They should “have mercy on those who are disputing” (not “wavering” as in NRSV), which may refer to the teachers. They should “save some by snatching them out of the fire,” that is, act swiftly to help people avoid the eternal fire of judgment (v. 23). Finally they should “have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies.” People may be tempted by the antinomians even as they extend mercy. Jude does not ask them to cut off relationships (cf. 1 Cor 5:1–5) but encourages relationships guided by mercy and concern.

Hope is the final word in Jude. The doxology (vv. 24–25) trusts that God is able to keep the audience from falling into the antinomian teaching and the prophesied condemnation.

Reception History.

An early interpreter of Jude is 2 Peter. Jude 4—18 are creatively recast in 2 Peter 2:1—3:3 (compare also 2 Pet 1:12 and Jude 5). Second Peter uses Jude's typology to denounce opponents who scoffed at Christ's return and final judgment. Second Peter omits references to the Testament of Moses and 1 Enoch, perhaps unacquainted with the source material.

Later interpreters also used Jude to denounce opponents. Martin Luther (1483–1546) correlated his Roman opponents to Jude's heretics, saying that they deny Christ by proclaiming fasts, pilgrimages, and the like as the way to salvation. Catharinus (1484–1553) identifies Luther, Oecolampadius, Zwingli, Calvin as the antinomians denounced by Jude.

In the twentieth century, Jude was called the “most neglected book in the New Testament” (D. J. Rowston). Bauckham (1983) reinvigorated interest in this short epistle, especially as a window into early Jewish Christianity.

[See also 1 ENOCH; LETTERS; and 2 PETER.]

Bibliography

  • Bauckham, Richard J. Jude, 2 Peter. Word Biblical Commentary 50. Waco, Tex: Word, 1983. The definitive (and yet unsurpassed) historical-critical commentary on Jude and 2 Peter.
  • Bauckham, Richard J. Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1990. An expansion of critical issues discussed in his commentary (listed above).
  • Chester, Andrew, and Ralph P. Martin, The Theology of the Letters of James, Peter, and Jude. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University, 1994. A distillation of Jude's theology with integration of scholarship up to 1994.
  • Green, Gene L. Jude and 2 Peter. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2008. A recent synthesis of scholarship, especially including epistolary and rhetorical criticism.
  • Kelly, J. N. D. A Commentary on the Epistles of Peter and of Jude. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1969. An older commentary with fine discussion of patristic and scholarship to date.
  • Neyrey, Jerome H. 2 Peter, Jude: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Bible 37C. New York: Doubleday, 1993. Introducing social-science criticism to Jude and 2 Peter.
  • Preston, Patrick. “Ambrosius Catharinus' Commentary on the General Epistle of St. Jude.” Reformation and Renaissance Review 4, no. 2 (2002): 217–229. An example of the reception of Jude in Reformation controversies.
  • Wasserman, Tommy. The Epistle of Jude: Its Text and Transmission. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 2006. A detailed investigation into the manuscripts and text-critical analysis, with important articles on the relationship between Jude and 2 Peter, and the use of Jude in the Bodmer Codex and in a magical amulet (P78).
  • Watson, Duane F. Invention, Arrangement, and Style: Rhetorical Criticism of Jude and 2 Peter. Atlanta: Scholars, 1988. A groundbreaking rhetorical analysis of Jude and 2 Peter.

Peter S. Perry