JUDE, LETTER OF. One of the General Epistles included in the earliest-known list (probably second century a.d.) of NT writings, although not otherwise cited or even mentioned by any of the early church fathers until Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-c. 215). It was regarded in the following generation by Origen as “of but few verses yet full of mighty words of heavenly wisdom.”
I. Authorship and Date. The opening verse describes the author as “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James.” This may be the same person as “Judas,” brother of James and Jesus (Matt.13.55; Mark.6.3; see Brothers of the Lord). Nothing more is known about him or about his place of writing, nor is precise dating of the letter possible. We do know that the problems it discusses were common during the last quarter of the first century when heresy was increasing.
II. Purpose. Here there is no doubt: The writer is directing to his readers an urgent appeal “to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude.1.3). The very basis of Christianity was in jeopardy.
III. Content. Jude goes on to deal with the new heresy threatening the churches from within. What it was, and who its supporters were, is not clear; but we are told something about their appalling lifestyle and its baneful influence on the church. Jude reminds Christians of the inevitability of opposition, of the need for compassion toward sinners, and of the ineffable attributes of God. As he denounces those who would undermine the true faith, his voice seems to rise in righteous anger: this was a time for holy intolerance. There is no place in the church for those who divide the people of God (Jude.1.4-Jude.1.16). The Christian ranks had been infiltrated by “certain men” who held that those who became Christians were no longer under law and could behave as they wished (cf. Rom.6.1-Rom.6.2; 1John.3.6). Gnostic heretics held that morals and religion were different things, but this teaching misunderstood the true nature of Christian liberty and degraded it to the level of pagan license (2Pet.2.2). Using the most striking images (rainless clouds, blighted trees, wandering stars), Jude warns against those who pretend to piety but are rotten at heart and leave the trace of the mire behind them. Jude reminds his readers of God’s punishment in the OT (Gen.6.1-Gen.6.4; Gen.19.24; Num.14.29, Num.14.37) against people, angels, and cities that should have known better, and he leaves them in no doubt that God still punishes sin.
Jude 17-25 exhorts to continued perseverance. There is a reminder that the apostles had foretold the coming of the “scoffers” (cf. 2Pet.3.3) who love worldly things and sow dissension among believers. Watchful, prayerful, expectant Christians had, however, nothing to fear from such renegades. Jude obviously knew too well the tensions and temptations, the awfulness of sin. He knew that some cases called for stern rebuke, others needed compassion and a right concern. The letter ends with a firm ascription of glory to the One to whom alone it belongs and who will bring his whole family at last, cleansed and complete, into his own presence forever.
Bibliography: R. Wolff, A Commentary on the Epistle of Jude, 1960; E. M. B. Green, The Second Epistle General of Peter and the General Epistle of Jude, 1968; J. N. D. Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and of Jude (HNTC), 1969; R. J. Bauckham, 2 Peter and Jude, 1983 (on the Greek text).——JDD