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The Epistle of Jude: Against Gnosticism

Jesus' brother, Jude, wrote a letter to the Jewish Christian congregations in the first century, warning them about Gnosticism and also urging them to stand firm in faith against their Jewish critics.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Chapter 1

Introduction to Jude

Jude, or Judas, was one of Jesus’ younger brothers, not to be confused with Judas Iscariot who betrayed Him. He identifies himself in his salutation in Jude 1 and 2, saying,

1 Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ. 2 May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you.

Verse 1 identifies the author under the Greek name, Ioudas, or Judas. He was referenced again in Matt. 13:55, 56 where we read of the questions the people of Nazareth had about Jesus,

55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?

This is repeated in Mark 6:3, which gives us the same story from a different gospel writer. From this we find that Jesus had four brothers and at least three sisters. If Jesus had had only two sisters, the wording would have been, “And His sisters, are they not BOTH with us?” But in using the term “all,” it is implied that He had more than two sisters. In other words, Jesus was the first-born son in a fairly large family of eight brothers and sisters. Judas, being listed last, was no doubt the youngest brother.

One might compare Jude to the family of his forefather, David, who was the eighth brother (1 Sam. 16:10, 11). However, David was the youngest, while Jesus was the oldest, and we know that David had just two sisters, Zeruiah and Abigail (1 Chron. 2:16).

Paul tells us in Gal. 1:19 that James was “the Lord’s brother,” and Jude tells us that he was the “brother of James.” That would make Jude the Lord’s brother as well, although, for other reasons that we will see shortly, he did not make such a claim in his epistle.

Eusebius, the Father of Church History, quotes Hegesippus, a Roman bishop who wrote about 200 A.D. concerning the grandsons of Jude a century earlier. In commenting on this, Eusebius says,

“The same emperor [Trajan] ordered the execution of all who were of David’s line, and there is an old and firm tradition that a group of heretics accused the descendants of Jude—the brother, humanly speaking, of the Savior—on the ground that they were of David’s line and related to Christ Himself” (Eccl. Hist., III, 19).

Hence, Eusebius recognized Jude to be Jesus’ brother, “humanly speaking.” Jude’s reluctance to claim Jesus as his brother ought not to be taken as a disavowal of their earthly relationship but as a gesture of humility and a change in their post-resurrection relationship.

The Conversion of James and Judas

Very little is known about Judas himself. He is believed to have written his epistle in Judea, perhaps from Jerusalem, for he wrote against the Gnostics that had been infiltrating Christian circles. Gnosticism was founded by Simon Magus, who was confronted in Samaria by Peter (Acts 8:9, 18-23). Peter admonished Simon to repent, but he did not do so, preferring to establish a counterfeit version of Christianity that merged Greek religion with elements of Christianity.

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, John 7:5 says, “not even His brothers were believing in Him.” However, after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to James (1 Cor. 15:7), and this revelation confirmed him in the faith, preparing him to lead the church in Jerusalem a few years later when the other apostles were forced to flee from Jerusalem.

Judas may have seen Jesus as well after the resurrection, but if so, we are not told. At the very least, his older brother, James, would have testified of his personal experience, and Judas would have believed his trusted brother’s account.

Their view of Jesus after His resurrection changed dramatically. No longer was Jesus their older brother, for they had to learn a new truth. Resurrection makes one legally a new creation—that is, a different person. So Paul tells us in 2 Cor. 5:16 and 17,

16 Therefore from now on we recognize no man according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. 17 Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

So also Jude introduced himself not as Jesus’ brother but as “a bond-servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James.” He was still the brother of James, but his relationship with Jesus had changed. He claimed no blood relationship with Jesus, for Jesus had ascended to a greater position as the Master of all who believe. He is now a brother to the whole Church (Heb. 2:12) and a near kinsman to all who are made of “flesh and blood” (Heb. 2:14).

James called himself “a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1). Similarly, Paul identified himself as “a bond-servant of Christ Jesus” (Rom. 1:1). Thus, Judas, James, and Paul were equally bond-servants of Jesus Christ.

A bond-servant is a slave, but the New Testament writers use this term to refer to voluntary love-slaves, who have been set free but who have returned to have their spiritual ears nailed to the door of the Master’s house (Exodus 21:5, 6). They are no longer slaves sentenced to work off their debt to sin (Exodus 22:3), for Jesus paid their debt and set them free. Instead, they are voluntary slaves who return because they love their Master and desire to share in His inheritance as part of His household. Hence, they have said (as in Psalm 40:6-8),

6 … “My ears Thou hast opened… 7 Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me; 8 I delight to do Thy will, O my God, Thy law is within my heart.”

In other words, being a bond-servant of Jesus Christ is not a matter of compulsion but of love. They do the will of God, not because they are forced against their will, but because they are in agreement.

Dating Jude’s Epistle

Dr. Bullinger dates the epistle from 41-46 A.D. Others date it a bit later. The Wycliffe Bible Commentary says in its introduction to Jude,

“Though the date of composition cannot be fixed with certainty, it would not be inaccurate to assign it to the latter half of the first century. It is listed in the Muratorian Canon (second century), and mentioned by Tertullian, Clement, and Origen (third century).”

The Muratorian Canon is dated 170 A.D., being the first to list Jude’s epistle in a New Testament canon listing. Jude’s epistle was accepted quite early, showing its authenticity. Though only a fragment exists today, the document mentions Pius as a recent bishop of Rome ((157-170 A.D.). Hence, it is dated around 170 or shortly thereafter.

Jude’s concern about the rising Gnostic influence in the Church also helps to date it, as this was an important issue at that time.

The Catholic Encyclopedia notes the similarities between Jude and the second letter of Peter. It appears that 2 Peter quoted and embellished Jude, causing those scholars to conclude that Jude was written before 2 Peter. Peter’s epistles must be dated prior to his death in 67 A.D., and hence, Jude too would have to be dated earlier. This would explain why Jude did not mention the destruction of Jerusalem. The Catholic Encyclopedia says,

“Jude seems on the other hand to have written before A.D 70; otherwise in vv. 5-7 he would have spoken of the destruction of Jerusalem. In those verses St. Jude mentions the different punishments of prevaricators, and therefore in this exhortation to Hebrew Christians he could not have passed over in silence so dire a calamity.”

In his salutation, Jude also writes about his brother James as if he were yet alive. James was martyred in 62 as he emerged from the temple, where he had been interceding for Jerusalem. So it appears that Jude’s epistle was written prior to 62 A.D.

The Structure of Jude’s Epistle

Jude uses a typical Hebrew literary style known as a chiasm, or Parallelism. In this common literary style, there is a parallel between A and A1, between B and B1, C and C1, and D and D1.

Dr. Bullinger gives us the structured outline as follows:

A Salutation (v. 1, 2)

B Exhortation (v. 3)

C Ungodly. Denying (v. 4)

D Remembrance (v. 5)

E Retribution (v. 5-16)

D1 Remembrance (v. 17)

C1 Ungodly. Separating (v. 18, 19)

B1 Exhortation (v. 20-23)

A1 Doxology (v. 24, 25)

In such chiasms, the most important thought is put in the center, in this case, “Retribution” (E). It is clearly a warning to the Church, lest they come under divine judgment.

Jude’s Salutation

Jude 1 addressed the epistle to “the called,” “the beloved,” and those “kept for Jesus Christ.”

Jude 2 says, “May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you.”

Those who are called (kletos) are greeted in the Hebrew manner by peace (shalom). The beloved, of course, are loved. Those who are kept (tereo, “guarded”) for Jesus Christ are given mercy.

Jude’s salutation is similar to Paul’s greeting in 2 Tim. 1:2, “grace, mercy, and peace from God.”