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Epistle of Jude




The Epistle of Jude is one of the shortest books in the Bible, containing only twenty-five vv. and considerably less than 1,000 words in the original Gr. text. As all of the NT epistles, it originated as a personal letter from one of the leaders of the Apostolic Church to one or more of the congregations dispersed throughout the Rom. empire. As the Early Church developed and grew, its historical situation changed, and the officers had to meet new challenges, opportunities, and draw out further applications of the Gospel message. The alterations in the church’s relationship to the pagan world about it is reflected in the epistolary tradition of the NT. The Epistle of Jude was written during the last phase of the 1st cent. of the Church’s growth when it was represented among all levels of Hel. society and extended to every corner of the known world. The dangers facing the 2nd-cent. church were not those of outright persecution and extinction. Some areas of the Rom. empire were still to suffer extensive repression, but the threat of internal subversion and accomodation to the resurgent paganism of the times was considerably more dangerous. As the Christian Gospel involving the motive of creation-fall-redemption-restoration came into conflict with the Form-Matter notions of Gr. thought, popular among both Hellenists and Romans, the danger of syntheses arose. The latter epistles of the NT deal with this new problem which threatened both the purity of the Gospel message and the expansion of the Church.


The first v. of the epistle follows the form of Jewish and Aramaic correspondence of the Hel. age by indicating the names of both the sender and recipient of the letter. The author-sender is introduced simply as: “Jude, (Judah) a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James (Jacob).” Since the most widely known James in the Early Church was the head of the congregation in Jerusalem, the brother of Jesus Christ and the author of the Epistle of James (q.v.), Jude must have been his younger brother. Indeed such a brother of Jesus, a son of Mary and Joseph, is mentioned in Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3. The humble self-designation of the author who denotes himself only as “the brother of James” is of great significance in understanding his belief in the Messiah, Jesus. He is to the messianic figure not a brother but a servant. According to an ancient patristic tradition the grandsons of Jude were brought before the Rom. Emperor Domitian (a.d. 81-96) as descendants of King David and subjects of Christ the King. When it was discovered they were only poor farmers and that they did not plan any political revolution but were subjects of a heavenly domain, the emperor dismissed them with disdain (Euseb. Hist. III, 19 and 20). Whether or not the epistle actually was written by the hand of Jude or by one of his helpers in preaching the Gospel can not now be determined. It is also possible that it is the compendium of his teachings over many years and originally was presented in Heb. It seems certain, however, that its author was the younger brother of James and of Jesus.


The dating of this epistle is an extremely difficult problem as there is no direct evidence within the book or in the rest of the NT in reference to the time of composition. The book is not mentioned elsewhere in the NT, and rarely by the historians of the Apostolic Age. However, since the main thrust of the argument follows that of Galatians and other warnings against subversive heresies it must be placed after the initial period of missionary expansion. All the NT writings contain specific references to false teachers and their evil notions. Jude mentions them as perverting the Christian Gospel for personal gain (v. 4). Such heresies prob. made their appearance at the end of the age of the Apostolic Church. Such a date would fall about a.d. 80-90 during the reign of the Emperor Domitian, a period of incitement by paid schismatics seeking to bring the latent power of the church closer to the political leadership of the senate and people of Rome.

Origin and destination.

The Epistle of Jude contains no geographical references from which its place of origin may be known. Since it was written well after the fall of Jerusalem and the age of the Rom. conquest under Titus, it must have been penned outside of Pal. Some authorities insist on the Alexandrian production of the work. The recipients are addressed simply as, “those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ” (v. 1). This designation denotes two divine activities of which the readers were recipients; First, they were beloved of God, a phrase entirely applicable to the Jew (Rom 11), and applied to these readers also. Second, they were kept for Jesus Christ, as though they once were partakers of the Old Covenant and had later accepted the Messiah. Although suppositional, it is safe to assume the readers were Jews of the Diaspora who had joined the church. This assumption is further strengthened by the numerous references in the epistle to obscure persons and events in the OT and several allusions to the Apoc. and Pseudep. Such readers already separated from Judaism and aware of the non-rabbinical writings of the time would be open to the heretical appeals which they had received. By properly interpreting the OT on these points the author was no doubt attempting to turn them again to the truth.

Occasion and purpose.

In the NT it is clear that the message of the apostles is based on the Messianic blessing promised in the OT. Jude applies the OT imprecations to those who pervert the new covenant. In this negative sense the author connects the old and the new revelations. The purpose of the epistle is threefold: (1) It identifies the false doctrine and its adherents as one with the infidels of all ages. (2) It demonstrates the full extremity of their perversion and the degradation to which they have sunk in their twisting of the truth. (3) The faith of the true believer is pointed toward the longsuffering of God and the maintenance of His promises. Each of these three aspects is presented as centered in the Apostolic teachings and demonstrable from the OT text. The purpose of the epistle is to warn, to commend, and it succeeds admirably.


The inclusion of the epistle appears to have been based largely upon the assumption that it was, in fact, written by the brother of James, the author of the epistle attributed to him, and the younger brother of Jesus. Its final acceptance, however, was quite prob. based upon its reliance upon OT quotations and points of doctrine identical to many in 2 Peter. Its inclusion of apocryphal material caused some concern about its proper place. Of special interest is the possibility that Jude had actually intended to write a more theological or pastoral treatise entitled, περὶ τη̂ς κοινη̂ς σωτηρίας, “Concerning the common salvation” (v. 3). Instead, however, events forced the author to produce this strong condemnation of certain heretics. The fact that the offenders are nameless in the book has added to the mystery about its writing and purpose. In detailed evidence the canonicity of Jude is better attested in the Early Church than that of 2 Peter and James. The one point of rejection was that by the Syrian church which also rejected 2 Peter and 2 and 3 John. Among the patristic writers who mention the book, Eusebius, writing in the year 337-338, stated, “Those (books) that are disputed, yet familiar to most, include the epistles known as James, Jude— etc.” (Euseb. Hist. III, 25). Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Jerome and the Muratorian Canon all receive the book as authoritative. Certainly by the time of the Nicene council a.d. 325, Jude was accepted as Scripture by the preponderant majority of congregations of Christendom.


The text of Jude according to Westcott and Hort and other 19th cent. lower critical scholars was one of the poorest preserved of all the NT. They elaborated four “primitive errors” in its short compass. Whether or not this is a factual observation is beyond judgment, as the book contains such a sing. set of allusions to the OT, and other lit. not mentioned in other sections of the NT. The one great exception is the epistle of 2 Peter. In all the twenty-five vv. of Jude nineteen are to some degree reduplicated by 2 Peter. The question of literary dependence has been raised many times but is not clearly answerable. It is highly probable that both made use of a common body of apostolic preaching and teaching about the heresies of the time. So far all arguments for or against the originality of the text of Jude are specious. After the initial address and greeting, the epistle leaves the traditional epistolary style and does not resort to it until the doxology at the close vv. 24 and 25. Whether or not the book as we have it is derived from a Heb. or Aram. original is impossible to determine from the text, unless the apocryphal material is thought to exclude its writing in Gr., although the more common vss. of the Apoc. and Pseudep. also were in Gr. The Gr. of the epistle is reasonably polished and flows swiftly in its short compass from one OT citation to another. These quotations and allusions are based upon the LXX. Generally the usage of terms matches that of the other pastoral epistles. There are a number of phrases peculiar to the NT. These may be stylistic variants of the author or of the tr. as the case may be. Jude also has a marked favor for triplets of all kinds, both semantic and stylistic, which may be a hint at an original Heb. text, since such a usage is known from Sem. sources of the Hel. age (vv. 2, 7, 8, et al.).

Use of Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphic books.

Relationship to the Qumran scrolls.

The greater number of the non-Biblical Qumran texts have proven to be apocalyptic in nature or to contain apocalyptic features. The character of evil and the events of the last judgment play a large part in such contexts. In Jude the same features are dominant. Quite possibly the two types of lit. even contain similar expressions and the same quotations from the OT. After the age of Alexander the Great (323 b.c.) and the rise of Rome, many Jews foresaw the end of the old order of things and the disruption of the Jewish Commonwealth. It is not surprising that the uniform historical situation should bring about the similarity of content of the sectarian and Christian writings. Further research into the lit. of the Hel. period will undoubtedly supply the answers to many of the problems of dependence raised by Jude. The Epistle of Jude looks forward to the consummation of all things in Christ and does not falter in the hope of mere military victory and establishment of a political state.



The theological teaching of the epistle seems to follow closely that of the Pauline and Petrine epistles. The fate of the wicked is described as vividly as in Revelation and in that sense it seems fitting that it should come between these two sections of the NT. It calls down upon the unbeliever and the seducer no other judgment than that meted out by God. The book contains several liturgical phrases from the earliest period of Christian worship and smoothly weaves these into the fabric of the argument. The resignation to the mercy and faithfulness of God is as clearly encouraged as anywhere in Scripture. Of special interest is the inclusion of many doctrinal assumptions. They are: perseverance (v. 3); predestination (v. 4); redemption (v. 5 et al.); judgment (v. 11); sacraments (v. 12) and glorification (v. 24). It is in its essence a book of warning and an assurance of hope.


F. Spitta, Das zweite Brief des Petrus und der Brief des Judas (1885); J. E. Huther, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the General Epistles of James, Peter, John and Jude (1887); H. N. Bate, “The Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude,” JTS, III (1902), 622-628; J. B. Mayor, The Epistle of St. Jude and the Second Epistle of St. Peter (1907); R. H. Charles, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, I-II (1913); J. W. C. Wand, The General Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude (1934); T. Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament, II (1953), 262-292; B. Reicke, The Epistles of James, Peter and Jude (1964).

See also

  • General Epistles