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New Testament: Jude

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Summary

St. JudeA 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.

So What?

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

I. Prescript (Jude 1-2)
The writer says who he is, names his audience in the language of their Christian identity, and extends to them a blessing.

II. An Appeal to Contend for the Faith (Jude 3-4)

The letter introduces its core issue: the very essence of the readers' faith is under attack.

III. Proofs and Arguments against False Teachers (Jude 5-16)
The letter offers its first line of defense: God's faithful have often been subject to precisely the sort of evil attack that the readers face, and they have prevailed. Examples are cited from the Old Testament (vv. 5-10), from prophecy (vv. 11-13), and from the apocryphal book 1 Enoch (vv. 14-16).

IV. An Apostolic Appeal to Resist and Confront False Teachers (Jude 17-23)
The letter names sources of strength amid struggle and bitter conflict.

V. Concluding Doxology (Jude 24-25)
A benediction exhorts readers to look beyond the conflict to the place of strength where their faith places them.

AUTHOR: David Stewart, Director of Library Services

The Letter of Jude was accepted by many as Christian Scripture relatively early. The early church considered it to have been authored by the brother of James, Jesus' brother. The book is included in the Muratorian Canon (a late second-century document that names and discusses Christian writings deemed authoritative by some) and was acknowledged by several influential Christian authors during the second and third centuries, including Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen. Points of affinity have been suggested between Jude and writers as varied as Athenagoras of Athens (late-second century), Polycarp (mid-second century), and the author of the Epistle of Barnabas (late-first or early-second century). The Letter of Jude has gone through periods of considerable neglect in modern times, but it is not difficult to see why (with its sense of vivid urgency) it was highly valued in the early church.

There is some overlap between this book and 2 Peter, which is commonly thought to have been written later.

AUTHOR: David Stewart, Director of Library Services

Audience--inside or outside the mainstream? One of the intriguing aspects of Jude is the way it suggests the diversity that must have characterized the early church. Much of the canonical apostolic literature is either Pauline or strongly influenced by Paul, with familiar and recurring themes and patterns of thought. But when we read a book like Jude, even in English translation, we get the feeling of breathing different air, following very different kinds of arguments and reasoning, and (especially) hearing voices and sources cited that take us into an environment different from anything else in the New Testament.


Jude's unique sources. References to Jewish apocryphal works (1 Enoch, Assumption of Moses), apparent use of a Hebrew rather than Greek version of the Old Testament, and use of Jewish forms of biblical interpretation (midrashic exegesis) in vv. 5-19 may collectively suggest a community of dispersed Jewish believers of a unique character and in a somewhat isolated location. If the letter was in fact written by Jesus' brother, Palestine is a likely setting.


Identity of the opponents or false teachers. The note of warning, of the need for this fledgling community to be both vigilant and uncompromising in the face of false teaching, is at the core of this short but energetic epistle. Because we possess very little certainty regarding the geographical or cultural setting of the community being addressed, we are left to speculate on the identity of the opponents or false teachers.


Relationship between Jude and 2 Peter. Neither Jude nor 2 Peter provides any specific details regarding the errors of false teachers. We do not know enough to be able to identify these teachers with any of the gnostic sects known to us. Nevertheless, there are similarities in how these two books speak about opponents. Parallel passages include: Jude 3 // 2 Peter 1:5; Jude 5 // 2 Peter 1:12; Jude 17-18 // 2 Peter 3:1-3; Jude 24 // 2 Peter 3:14; Jude 25 // 2 Peter 3:18. In the judgment of a majority of scholars, 2 Peter quotes Jude, rather than vice versa.

AUTHOR: David Stewart, Director of Library Services

Consequences of false doctrine. The author sees the faith of his "flock" as still being highly vulnerable. This concern invigorates his compassion for their welfare and his hostile characterization of and opposition to the false teachers (vv. 3-4, 10, 23).


Implications of the Parousia for doctrine and life. There is already a strong note of urgency in the cautions and warnings the writer issues, but these are made far more intense by the sense that the people involved are living within a short time frame as they await God's judgment. So the letter is best understood as offering counsel for the near term rather than for the long term (vv. 16, 18-19).


Jesus as Savior and Judge. The author conveys just as strong a sense of the mercy and grace at work in salvation as he does of the immanence and fearfulness of the coming judgment (vv. 7, 22, 24-25).

AUTHOR: David Stewart, Director of Library Services