Introduction to the Epistle of Jude
This letter has been referred to as “Acts of the Apostates”. In this letter many of the apostates, better known as Gnostics, were infiltrating the church with their corrupt doctrine. These Gnostics embraced the doctrine of antinomianism—the idea that since a person is saved they can choose to live anyway they please even if it directly violates God’s word. As a result of these teachers, the church was being persuaded to reject authority, follow immorality and pursue all their passions.
As a result of false teaching from heretics who had penetrated the church, the body of Christ was divided and weakened. Jude desired to write about our “common salvation” (v. 3); however, due to the large influx of these false teachers in the local churches, he was compelled to address his readers to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (v. 3). Jude is commanding all believers to defend the Christian faith and stand for the truth.
Even though this letter was debated for its canonicity, most of the church fathers accepted that Judas, the half-brother of Jesus, penned this letter. Athenagoras, Hermas and Polycarp refer not only to this letter, but also to Jude’s use of Enoch (MacDonald 1153). Like second and third John, once the early church fathers included this epistle in the canon of scripture, very few people have disputed it since.
The Hebrew name Yehudah (Jude, Judas, and Judah) was very popular among the Jewish people. While there are seven Yehudah mentioned in the New Testament, there are only three legitimate candidates:
Judas surnamed Barsabas (Acts 15:22). It is possible that Barsabas authored this letter, however, there is no textual evidence that can be directly linked to this man. Thus, most Bible commentators have discarded this possibility.
Judas the apostle (Thaddaeus), not Iscariot (John 14:22). However, since Thaddaeus had apostolic authority, why would he not affirm his authority by writing an introduction like Paul did when he wrote, “Paul, an apostle…” (1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, first and second Timothy)? After all, wouldn’t the author strengthen his position by insisting on his authority? This is the primary reason why Thaddaeus was not credited with authorship.
Judas, the brother of James and the half-brother of the Lord (Matt 13:55). In Jude 1 the author mentions the fact that he is also the brother of James. After looking at the different James in the New Testament, this one is also likely the author of the epistle and the half brother of Jesus as well. Also since the letter does not make mention of any apostolic authority but rather refers to himself as simply the “servant of Jesus Christ” (1), we can conclude that the author was probably Judah, the half brother of Jesus. Most Christians accept this view.
Even though Jude was the half-brother of Jesus, he realized that the spiritual bond is far more important than any blood relationship here on earth (Matt 12:50; Luke 11:27-28). Jude did not become a Christian until he was an adult. Since Jude was not saved until after the resurrection, he demonstrates his humility by referring to himself as “the servant of Jesus Christ” (v. 1) rather than as a relative. Because he did not come to faith until after the resurrection (John 7:5, Acts 1:14), he has had the time to carefully examine the details to be able to stand for the faith. 1 Corinthians 9:5 mentions that he was married and traveled around preaching the word.
Date and Destination
There is no sure way of being able to date this document accurately except that it was written between A.D. 65 to 80. It probably occurred after second Peter was written. Furthermore, since Jude identifies himself as the brother of James, it is likely that this epistle was written after his letter. Thus, it is our position that it was penned in the mid 70’s to 80 A.D.
Since there is no group mentioned in the letter, it is very difficult to determine just exactly to whom the author was writing. The epistle is addressed to “them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ” (v. 1b). It is likely that Jude wrote to Hebrew Christians since he made numerous references to the Old Testament. Of course the letter applies to all believers since all they are chosen and set apart by God and kept safe in Christ. Because of the specific references to “you”, “yourselves”, “beloved”, etc., we can conclude that Jude was addressing a specific body of people with whom he was very intimate.
Bold and Compassionate
In this epistle the author is very straightforward. He doesn’t sugar coat anything. He is very bold in his plea to defend the faith. The descriptions of the apostates are very vivid and the illustrations are accurate. He describes the apostates as “filthy dreamers” (v. 8) and “spots” in their love feasts. Jude is not just warning believers to be discerning, but he even warns the apostates by proclaiming “Woe unto them!” (v. 11).
While being firm, Jude’s exhortation to the brethren came out of an attitude of love and humility. This letter is not merely a letter of stern rebuke for the false teachers, it is a compassionate plea to protect as well as restore the fallen believers. This is why he exhorts them to build themselves up in the faith, abiding in the love of God and having compassion on the spiritually wounded (vv. 20-22).
Similarities to 2 Peter
Both Jude and 2 Peter not only deal with false teachers, but also use many of the same Old Testament illustrations to strengthen their points. (c.f. Jude 4-18 vs. 2 Peter 2:1-3:4). Many biblical commentators feel that one author borrowed their material from the other. If this is true, then the question that remains is: which author borrowed from the other?
Two commentators feel that “Peter anticipates the future rise of apostate teachers (2 Peter 2:1-2; 3:3) while Jude records the historical fulfillment of Peter’s words (vv. 4, 11-12, 17-18)” (Wilkinson and Boa 502). Thus, 2 Peter primary warns of the heretics and apostates that will infect a healthy congregation; Jude, on the other hand, is already warning believers about these contemporary heretics. It is very plausible that Jude may have been familiar with the writings of 2 Peter.
Jude was the only New Testament author to quote from the Apocrypha. He referred to the Book of Enoch as well as another extra biblical source, the Assumption of Moses. While God did not inspire these two works, Jude, being led by the Holy Spirit, is able to quote from these works to illustrate his point. Before being critical of Jude’s use of extra biblical literature, one must keep in mind that Paul used secondary sources such as a heathen poet (Acts 17:29), a Cretian poet (Titus 1:12) and a Hebrew Targum on Exodus 7:11 (when naming Jannes and Jambres, 2 Tim 3:8) (Rose 425).
Contend Earnestly for the Faith
As a result of the persecution of the early church, Jude was originally going to write about the doctrine of soteriology—a letter about salvation. However, because there were false teachers that were threatening the unity of the church, he felt that it was necessary to “write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (v. 3).
What exactly is the faith for which we are to defend? The faith is “The body of revealed truth as it pertains to God, sin, humanity, Christ, and eternal things” (Swindoll 1387). Since the faith was “once delivered unto the saints”, it is a complete body of truth than no one can either add to or take away from. The truth has already been declared in His word, and we are called to rigorously defend the truth from any opposition no matter the cost.
The Greek word for “earnestly contend” is epagonizomai, which is where we get our word agony. The word “signifies to contend about something as a combatant” (Vine 235). The picture is that that two people are fighting—and there can only be one winner. We are to struggle for and even agonize for the faith that we have been entrusted with. Like combat, our defense may cost us our friends, our jobs and even our lives.
Why was there an urgent need to defend the faith? “For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (v. 4, NIV).
This person will not only deny the fundamental Christian doctrines, but also will insert deceptive lies in their place. One important point to consider is that these apostates were not backslidden; they were never regenerated. Like Peter, many disciples have denied the Lord in both word and deed. However, a true follower will always repent and continue to follow Christ. An apostate is a person who has been exposed to the gospel and the things of God but has never made a true commitment toward Jesus Christ. The apostate is described perfectly in Hebrews 6:4-6: “for it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame”. Consequently, since they “deliberately keep on sinning after [they] have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (Heb 10:26-27, NIV).
These people treated the grace of God as a license to do whatsoever pleased them. Furthermore, they denied the deity of our Lord. This epistle is a call to the church to resist these deceivers and to stand for the faith. It is also a stern warning of God’s judgment toward the apostates (vv. 5-7).
The Spiritually Wounded
As previously mentioned, these false teachers had penetrated the local churches like a computer virus penetrates the hard drive on a computer. As the virus begins to corrupt the data on the storage disk, their teaching of antinomianism and the denial of the incarnation were eroding the core of fundamental Christian doctrine. This of course had a devastating effect on the Christians. As a result of the erroneous teaching, some believers doubted the truth of God (v. 22) and others turned from the fundamental truths to follow these teachers (v. 23).
How do believers attend to the spiritually wounded? In verses 20-23 Jude gives the church practical steps in helping those who have been deceived. The most important thing we can do is build ourselves up “in the most holy faith” (v. 20) and pray in the Spirit. When Christians pray to the Father and abide in the word of God (v. 17), they are able to keep themselves in God’s love (v. 21).
Since believers are focused on the imminent return of Christ (v. 21), we are able to contend vigorously for the faith and assist our fellow brothers. Believers are to bestow compassion and mercy to those who doubt the truth (v. 22). To those who believe and follow these false teachers, we are to save them “with fear” (v. 23). The entire point of restoration is to bring wayward disciples back into fellowship with God.
Structure of the Epistle
Salutation and Purpose
In verses 1-3 Jude opens up his epistle reminding followers that they are “sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called” (v. 1). He encourages his readers that God is actively working in His children to accomplish His good will and pleasure (Phil 1:6; 2:13). Jude also reminds us of our calling and our security that can only be found in Christ (John 10:28-29). Finally he desires that believers enjoy three important gifts from God—mercy, peace and love.
As previously mentioned, the primary purpose of this epistle is an exhortation to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (v. 3). The following verses in the letter relate directly to defending the faith.
The Problem: Apostates
Jude then explains the reason why we are to earnestly contend for the faith: “for certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (Jude 4 NIV). In verses 4-16 the author displays the evidence against them and why believers should not follow these teachers.
The most important reason is that they are under God’s judgment (vv. 5-7). Because God takes His truths seriously, these false teachers were under strict judgment—on the same level as the unbelieving Israelites, fallen angels and the immoral cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
These false teachers were also blasphemers (vv. 8-10). They refused to submit to all authority (divine, apostolic or otherwise) that is above them. In order to understand the seriousness of their blasphemy, Jude recounts the dispute between Satan and Michael the Archangel over the body of Moses (v. 9). Jude states that Michael did not bring a “slanderous accusation against him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’”. If Michael exercised discretion with his words, how much worse was it for the apostates to rail accusations toward the holy angels of God! Furthermore, since they did not fully comprehend the truth of God, they would criticize the doctrine and replace it with their erroneous teaching. Would to God that every believer openly embrace God’s truth, even if he cannot fully comprehend it (i.e. the Trinity, etc).
The final reason to avoid these apostates is because their spirituality is empty and their ways are ungodly (vv. 11-16). These apostates are spiritually bankrupt. They are as independent as Cain (Gen 4:1-16), thinking that their works merit favor with God rather than the substitutionary atonement of Messiah. They were in the ministry to make a profit like Balaam (Num 22:18). As Korah rebelled against God’s appointed leader Moses (Num 16:1-32), these men refused to submit to God-ordained authority. Furthermore, Jude describes their hollow spirituality in graphic terms (vv. 12-13).
The Solution: Remember and Restore
In verses 17-25 Jude proposes a solution to the problem of apostates: “remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; how that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. These are they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit” (vv. 17-19). The author is calling on the believers to remember that they were forewarned about these false teachers. Believers are always to be sober and vigilant (1 Pet 5:8). By continually watching for apostates, the Christian is not caught by surprise by their false teaching.
But what about those believers that have fallen pray to false teachers? It is important to edify one another, pray without ceasing (1 Thes 5:17) and abide in God’s love (v. 21). However, the body of Christ is to do whatever is necessary to help restore a fallen believer, having compassion and showing mercy mixed with fear (vv. 22-23). While the problem is serious, Jude reminds Christians that it is God who “is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy” (v. 24). Since the victory is ours we should praise God and echo Jude’s closing: “to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and for ever. Amen (v. 25).
1. Salutation and Purpose (1-3)
2. The Problem: Apostates (4-16)
3. The Solution: Remember and Restore (17-25)
Gire, Ken, and Bryce Klabunde. New Testament Postcards. Anaheim: Insight for Living, 1996.
MacDonald, William. Believer’s Bible Commentary: New Testament. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, Inc., 1990.
Matlack, Gary, and Bryce Klabunde. 2 Thessalonians through Revelation. Vol. 5 of God’s Masterwork: A concerto in Sixty-Six Movements. 5 vols. Anaheim: Sinclair Printing Company, 1997.
Rose, Delbert. Jude. Vol. 10 of Beacons Bible Commentary. 10 vols. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1964.
Swindoll, Charles R., ed. The Living Insights Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996.
Vine, W.E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers.
Wilkinson, Bruce and Kenneth Boa. Talk Through the Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983.
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