The Letter of Jude Online Commentary

In January 2012, I began blogging a commentary on the Gospel of Mark, available at the Bible Junkies blog and now at America Magazine, which I completed just last week. My somewhat ambitious goal is to write an online commentary on every New Testament document, though I have given myself the equally ambitious time period of 15-20 years to complete the task. I hope the internet is still with us in 15 years as I do not know if I will be up to a shift in medium one more time.

The second online Bible Junkies Commentary, which begins with this post, will be going in a new direction, which is not difficult to do when it is only the second text to be commented upon. The text that will be explored is Jude, a short letter which belongs to that category of letters in the New Testament known as “catholic” or general epistles.

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In terms of the epistle of Jude, we have a letter that is often ignored, though not so much in scholarship as in reading by ordinary Christians. My comments on Jude, which will take many fewer weeks than those on the Gospel of Mark, will take the form of a more traditional commentary, spending some time on the introductory questions of authorship, date and the location in which the letter emerged. Then the letter will be “broken” down into parts, which is not too difficult given the length of this correspondence, and comments made on the meaning and the purpose of this letter. Finally, some comments will be made on how a letter like Jude speaks to the Church today and what its message might be for us today. Not everyone will be attracted to this sort of study, but if you are, you might have to consider yourself, here and now, a Bible Junkie. It is the best sort of addiction.

1. Introductory Matters:

The catholic epistles form a group of letters and what binds them together today is that most of them are not read very often.  Another way to describe them is that they are “non-Pauline Epistles.” They are the Johannine Epistles (1, 2, 3 John), 1 and 2 Peter, James, and Jude. They are actually called “catholic” because they seem to be “circular” letters, that is, not sent to any one community as situational or occasional correspondence, as Paul’s letters were, but sent to many Christian communities for general Christian teaching. On the other hand, many scholars see 1 Peter as an exception to this rule and the Johannine letters also. Yet, when we look closely at this, 1 Peter does seem to be sent to a number of churches in what is modern day Turkey, not just one. The Johannine letters do seem to be addressed, quite clearly, to problems within the Johannine community, but they too seem to have been sent to a number of churches around Ephesus.

A short aside: Hebrews is more difficult to place. It does not seem to belong with the catholic letters, but modern scholarship, noting the absence of Pauline letter form and the different theology and style, is (almost) unanimous in thinking this to be a letter by someone other than Paul.  It was considered a letter of Paul’s for many centuries, though there were many questions about this even in the ancient church. (The letter itself does not contain a claim to be written by Paul.) Is it catholic, though, in terms of to whom and where it was sent? Was it sent to a particular community of Jewish Christians? Or was it sent to all Jewish Christians? Though some scholars believe it could have been sent to Jews who were not Christians, it seems Hebrews was sent particularly to Jewish Christians on the basis of numerous passages which indicate that the recipients have been a part of the faith for some time (2:1, 3:1, 14,4:1-4, 14-15, 5:11-14, 6:1-6). It is, therefore, neither a Pauline letter nor a catholic letter, but no less important for lacking an epistolary home.

A word should be said about the language of “epistle” and “letter.” This distinction goes back to the work of Adolf Deissmann (see New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 769).  A letter in this categorization is defined as a private, non-literary correspondence, while an epistle is a communication that is more literary in character, not necessarily occasioned by a particular event or situation and intended for a public audience. I will be using the terms interchangeably, since I consider that all of the letters in the New Testament, including the Pastoral epistles, were intended for public, not just private reading and that there is no definable difference between the literary character of “letters” and “epistles” in the New Testament.

Letters (or epistles) in the wider Greco-Roman world basically had four parts, though these can be sub-divided in numerous ways. The four basic parts are as follows:

1)      Salutation (name(s) of writer(s) and recipient(s); greeting)

2)      Thanksgiving

3)      Body of the Letter

4)      Closing: greeting.

Scholars of Paul, the letters which are most often studied, often offer a number of other subdivisions and I will give a couple of examples to make this clear:

1)      Salutation (name(s) of writer(s) and recipient(s); greeting)

2)      Thanksgiving

3)      Opening of the Body of the Letter

4)      Body of the Letter (usually in two parts, theoretical and practical)

5)      Closing of the Body of the Letter (often with the promise of a visit)

6)      Ethical Instructions (‘Paraenesis’)

7)      Closing: greetings; doxology; benediction (John Ziesler, Pauline Christianity, 7)

And:

1)      Salutation: a) sender; b) recipient; c) greeting

2)       Thanksgiving: (Prayer)

3)      Body of the Letter (Paraenesis: Ethical Instruction and Exhortation)

4)      Closing commands

5)      Conclusion: a) peace wish; b) greetings; c) kiss; d) close (grace; benediction) (Calvin Roetzel, The Letters of Paul: Conversations in Context, 53-54)

 

As we look at Jude, I will keep the basic and more complex categories in mind as we attempt to understand the letter and its form.

Jude is an intriguing letter because not much is known about it and it is not considered today of great importance. Nevertheless, “this little letter was used heavily but without acknowledgement by the author of 2 Peter (cf. 2 Pet. 2:1-18 and Jude 4-16), writing around 140(?). Otherwise, Jude is attested only late in the second century by Clement of Alexandria (Eusebius, H.E. 6.14.1), Tertullian (De cultu feminaraum 1.3) and the Muratorian list (line 68), but the geographical diversity of these witnesses suggests that Jude must have had some broad currency in the preceding period” (Harry Y. Gamble, The New Testament Canon, 48). The first question, then, ought to be regarding authorship.

2. Who is Jude?

Jude 1 in the NRSV says that the letter is written by “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,” except even in this translation two changes are made according to conventional translation techniques into English: Jude in Greek is actually Judas; and James in Greek is actually Jacob (how we get to James from Jacob is an interesting study in how names change: Jacobus to Jacomus to James). Both names, of course, are originally Hebrew names. The names are so common, in fact, that Judas/Jude appears 36 times in the New Testament and Jacob/James is found 42 times. In numerous cases these names belong to the same person, but still there are a number of Judases in the New Testament and a number of Jameses. Here is a list of both names:

Judas:

a) Judas Iscariot occurs over 20 times in the NT;

b) Judas of James, one of the Twelve apostles (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13);

c) Judas Barsabbas (Acts 15);

d) Jesus is called the “brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon” (Mk. 6:3; Mt. 13:55);

e) Judas (not Iscariot) (Jn. 14:22);

f) Judas, at whose house Paul stays (Acts 9:11);

g) Judas “the Galiean” who led a revolt (Acts 5:37).

James:

a) James, “son of Zebedee,” one of the Twelve apostles, is mentioned over 20 times and is last mentioned in Acts 12:2 where his death is noted;

b) James, “son of Alphaeus,” one of the Twelve apostles, is mentioned 4 times (Mk. 3:18);

c) James, father of Judas, one of the Twelve apostles (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13);

d) Jesus is called the “brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon” (Mk. 6:3; Mt. 13:55);

e) James (the younger), son of Mary and brother of Joseph (Mk. 15:40, 16:1; Mt. 27:56; Lk. 24:10);

f) James, brother of the Lord (Gal. 1:19; also in 2:9, 2:12 and in 1 Cor. 15:3);

g) James, slave of Jesus Christ (James 1:1);

h) James, brother of Judas (Jude 1);

i) James, identified in no other way (e.g., Acts 12:17, 15:13).

We can be certain that our Judas is not an apostle, or he would have used that designation, which rules out a), b) and e), though Judas Iscariot could be ruled out on many other grounds! I think it is simple enough to rule out g) and f), one of whom is not a Christian and the other who is mentioned in passing, which leaves only c) and d).  Judas Barsabbas is sent out with Silas by the Jerusalem council, so he is a major figure in the early Church (Acts 15:22), but the reason for opting for d) is that only this Judas is said to have a brother named James, which is how the author of the letter identifies himself.

When we look at the list of Jameses, there is a James who is a father of Judas, listed at c), but only one James who is said to have a brother called Judas, which is d). In fact, this James was a major figure in the Jerusalem church, named by Paul as a pillar in Galatians 1-2 and widely accepted as the James in Acts 15 at the Jerusalem council. That Jude identifies himself as “brother of James,” indicates a James who needs no further introduction. Therefore, I identify the author of Jude with the brother of Jesus, as named in Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55.

Catholics, of course, do not identify James and Jude as brothers of Jesus by Mary and Joseph, but as close relatives. Ancient tradition identifies them, in a tradition more popular among Orthodox Christians, as sons of Joseph and so half-brothers of Jesus. Protestants find no issue identifying them as full blood brothers of Jesus.

There is some ancient tradition about this Jude in Eusebius, Church History, Book III.19.1-20.8

But when this same Domitian had commanded that the descendants of David should be slain, an ancient tradition says that some of the heretics brought accusation against the descendants of Jude (said to have been a brother of the Saviour according to the flesh), on the ground that they were of the lineage of David and were related to Christ himself. Hegesippus relates these facts in the following words.

1. Of the family of the Lord there were still living the grandchildren of Jude, who is said to have been the Lord's brother according to the flesh.

2. Information was given that they belonged to the family of David, and they were brought to the Emperor Domitian by the Evocatus. For Domitian feared the coming of Christ as Herod also had feared it. And he asked them if they were descendants of David, and they confessed that they were. Then he asked them how much property they had, or how much money they owned. And both of them answered that they had only nine thousand denarii, half of which belonged to each of them.

4. And this property did not consist of silver, but of a piece of land which contained only thirty-nine acres, and from which they raised their taxes and supported themselves by their own labor.

5. Then they showed their hands, exhibiting the hardness of their bodies and the callousness produced upon their hands by continuous toil as evidence of their own labor.

6. And when they were asked concerning Christ and his kingdom, of what sort it was and where and when it was to appear, they answered that it was not a temporal nor an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly and angelic one, which would appear at the end of the world, when he should come in glory to judge the quick and the dead, and to give unto every one according to his works.

7. Upon hearing this, Domitian did not pass judgment against them, but, despising them as of no account, he let them go, and by a decree put a stop to the persecution of the Church.

8. But when they were released they ruled the churches because they were witnesses and were also relatives of the Lord. And peace being established, they lived until the time of Trajan. These things are related by Hegesippus.

Did this Jude author our NT letter? Eusebius passes along that this was disputed even in the ancient Church, writing in Church History, Book II, 23.24:

These things are recorded in regard to James, who is said to be the author of the first of the so-called Catholic Epistles. But it is to be observed that it is disputed; at least, not many of the ancients have mentioned it, as is the case likewise with the epistle that bears the name of Jude, which is also one of the seven so-called Catholic Epistles. Nevertheless we know that these also, with the rest, have been read publicly in very many churches.

The ancient tradition nevertheless did affirm that this letter was written by Jude, brother of James and Jesus, which is why, of course, the letter is known as Jude! But current scholarship – though not all scholars today – disputes this finding. Next time, I will discuss the question of the ancient attribution of this letter with Jude and the dating of the letter, two issues which go together regardless of when one dates the letter, that is, how one dates the letter influences who one considers the author to be. As so often in the study of early Christian documents, the question is, what comes first, the authorship or the date?

John W. Martens

Follow me on Twitter @Biblejunkies

 

 

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Robert Killoren
4 years 7 months ago
Thank you for this fascinating commentary. I guess that makes me a Bible junkie. I found the sorting out of names and people really interesting. Many preachers use the names rather loosely. John is always the Apostle, brother of James, as an example. Does anyone actually sort out all the people of the NT in a scholarly way in a single work? I am looking forward to more...
John Martens
4 years 7 months ago

Thanks Robert. I appreciate your support. As to your question about where to find all of this information in one place, I think a good Bible Dictionary, like the Anchor Bible Dictionary would break this all down for you. It is expensive, however, as it is 6 big volumes. The Oxford Bible Dictionary would be less expensive and it is only one volume. And yes, you are a Bible junkie. There is help: more Bible.

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