SummaryA pastoral leader in the early church delivers a constructive but firm warning to a community under his care to be prepared and vigilant in confronting false teachers. Selfish in their motivations, distorters of sound doctrine, and immoral in character, these teachers are to be vigorously opposed and resisted, rather than listened to or welcomed. Vivid examples of similar challenges from the past are cited from both canonical and noncanonical literature, with the aim of providing models of constancy, faithfulness, and resilience within the community. The author lifts up the love, mercy, and steadfastness of God as a foundation for hope and celebration.
The Letter of Jude offers an unusually vivid and unique snapshot of the dynamics of life in an early Christian community: everything is still in the formative stage; everything is at the same time fresh and vulnerable. In the same way, the energies and passions of the writer in expressing both his protective instincts of the flock and his resolute opposition to the false teachers are unfiltered by decorum or the accumulated wisdom of experience. This is raw conflict and pastoral care as practiced "in the arena." As we read, there is no avoiding the sense that everything is on the line.
Where Do I Find It?
The Letter of Jude is the twenty-sixth book in the New Testament. It is the last in the section of books typically referred to as the "Catholic Letters" (James through Jude)--"catholic" in the sense that they are generally applicable.
Who Wrote It?
There are two views: either the author is in fact the brother of Jesus (following a literal reading of the letter's first verse) or a pseudonymous writer who felt it necessary to employ the authority and name of Jude in dealing with doctrinal conflict.
When Was It Written?
If the author is (according to the letter's first verse) "Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James," a likely date of authorship is between 50 and 60 C.E. If this is a case of pseudonymous authorship, the date could be later.
What's It About?
An early Christian community receives an urgent warning to be on its guard against false teachers, to heed the warnings and examples from the past, and to rely on the grace and steadfastness of God to prevail against falsehood and immorality.
How Do I Read It?
As with any correspondence, in reading a New Testament letter we are being permitted a glimpse into someone else's life, times, and circumstances. We have no way of knowing whether this letter constitutes part of a longer sequence of correspondence, or whether it stands on its own. Likewise, we are left to wonder how (if at all) the recipients responded to the content of the letter. But we have enough in this short letter to impress upon us something of the relationship between writer and recipients and the issues at hand for this community in its formative stages.
AUTHOR: David Stewart, Director of Library Services