Overview of the Book of Jude

Overview of the Book of Jude

Question

Overview of the Book of Jude

Answer

Overview of the Book of Jude

Author: The author is Jude, the brother of Jesus.

Purpose:

To combat the false teaching that Christian liberty and salvation by grace give believers license to sin.

Date: Before A.D. 65-67

Key Truths:

  • Terrible judgment awaits those who rebel against God and Christ.
  • False teachers in the Church must be strongly resisted.
  • Christian liberty and God's free grace do not give believers license to sin.
  • Believers are responsible to actively pursue good works and spiritual growth.

Author:

The author of this epistle identified himself as "Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James" (Jude 1:1). Jude was a common name (Greek - "Judas"; Hebrew - "Judah") among first-century Jews. At least eight different Judases are mentioned in the New Testament (including two of Jesus' disciples; Luke 6:16). The author cannot, therefore, be identified on the basis of his name alone.

The best clue to his identity is the description "a brother of James" (Jude 1:1). The only James known well enough in the early Church to be referred to in this unqualified way was James of Jerusalem, who was a prominent Church leader (Acts 12:17; 15:13), the author of the epistle that bears his name (Jas. 1:1) and the half brother of Jesus (the son of Mary and Joseph, begotten by the Holy Spirit; [Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3; Gal. 1:19]). If this identification of James is correct, the author of this epistle is Jude, the half brother of Jesus (Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3), who along with his other brothers did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah until after Jesus' resurrection (Mark 3:21; John 7:5; Acts 1:14). This conclusion is strengthened by the following evidence that the author was Jewish: his many allusions to the Old Testament (although he includes no direct quotations), his familiarity with Jewish Apocryphal traditions, and his strong ethical concern. The only possible mention elsewhere in the New Testament of Jude's activity as a Christian is Paul's reference to the itinerant ministry of the Lord's brothers and their wives (1 Cor. 9:5). The probable explanation for Jude's decision not to mention his familial relationship with Jesus in Jude 1:1 is his humility (note the similar reserve in Jas. 1:1).

Several objections to the authenticity of Jude have been raised, but they all rest on questionable assumptions and/or exegesis. Most are linked with postulating a date too late for Jude's lifetime ((see "Introduction: Time and Place of Writing"). Some have argued that the quality of the Greek used in this epistle is better than one might expect of a Galilean author, but Galilee was bilingual (Greek and Aramaic) in the first century, and too little is known about Jude's Greek to conclude that he could not have written as this author did. There is little reason, therefore, to assume that the author is someone other than Jude, the brother of Jesus.

Despite its brevity, the epistle was widely studied in the early Church because of its obvious orthodoxy and value. Questions about the epistle's canonical status arose largely because of its references of Apocryphal literature (see notes on Jude 1:9, 14-15; see also "Introduction: Purpose and Distinctives"). In addition to possible allusions to Jude in works by the Apostolic Fathers (e.g., Clement of Rome and the writers of the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas - all prior to A.D. 150), Jude was listed in the Muratorian Canon (c. 200) and was accepted as authentic by Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-c. 215), Tertullian (c. 160-c. 225), Origen (c. 185-c. 253), and Athanasius (c. 296-373).

Time and Place of Writing:

Neither internal nor external evidence provides any indication of the place of origin of Jude's epistle, and the only evidences for the date of Jude are inferences from Jude's probable life span and from the heresy he combated. If Jude was the younger brother of Jesus and James (as his position in the lists of brothers in Matt. 13:55 and Mark 6:3 suggests), he could easily have survived well into the last quarter of the first century. Assuming Peter's authorship and probable use of Jude in writing 2 Peter, Jude would have been written before A.D. 65-67, the likely date for 2 Peter.

Some have argued for a second-century date on the supposition that the book of Jude combats Gnosticism. While the teachings Jude opposes may well have been early precursors of Gnosticism, they cannot be identified with the fully developed Gnostic heresies of the second century (see "Introduction to 2 Peter: Purpose and Distinctives").

Original Audience:

Nothing in the epistle indicates the location or specific identity of the recipients. While some believe that Jude's use of the Old Testament and Jewish Apocryphal literature points to a Jewish-Christian audience, this material is more an evidence of Jude's background than of that of his readers. Perhaps Jude intended his epistle to be a circular letter to a number of churches about whose conditions he was aware due to an itinerant ministry among them (cf. 1 Cor. 9:5).

Purpose and Distinctives:

Jude's main concern in this letter was to denunciate false teachers. He confronted a threat similar to that opposed in 2 Peter: false teachers who used Christian liberty and the free grace of God as a license for immorality (Jude 1:4 and see notes on 2 Pet. 2:2, 14). Most of the epistle (Jude 1:4-19) is devoted to stern condemnations of the false teachers in order to impress the readers with the seriousness of the threat. Jude's strategy was more than one of mere negative opposition however. He also urged his readers to grow in their knowledge of Christian truth ("build yourselves up in your most holy faith"; Jude 1:20), to bear a firm witness for the truth ("contend for the faith"; Jude 1:3) and to seek to reclaim those whose faith was wavering ("snatch others from the fire" Jude 1:23). This prescription for confronting spiritual error is as timely and relevant today as it was when it was first written.

Jude is also noteworthy for its use of non-Biblical and Apocryphal materials. While allusion to and citation of extra-Biblical materials are relatively rare in the New Testament, such occasional use is not surprising, especially given the currency of Apocryphal religious works during the period and the desire of the New Testament writers to communicate the gospel message in language and terms familiar to their readers. Other examples include Peter's use of similar apocalyptic literature (2 Peter) and Paul's use of the Jewish tradition (i.e. see his elaboration of Exod. 7:11 in 2 Tim. 3:8) as well as his quotations of pagan poets (Acts 17:28; 1 Cor. 15:33; Tit .1:12). The use of such materials for illustrative purposes or as a subsidiary appeal to conventional wisdom implies neither the inspiration of such Apocryphal and non-Biblical documents nor the accuracy of all the materials contained in them.

Notes from the NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Dr. Richard Pratt, ed. (Zondervan, 2003).

Introduction Material:

The Epistles of the New Testament

Copyright:

Copyright, Authors, and Theological Editors of the SORSB

Answer by Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. is Co-Founder and President of Third Millennium Ministries who served as Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary and has authored numerous books.