Reading Jude


  • Content: a pastoral letter of exhortation, full of strong warning against some false teachers who have "secretly slipped in" among them
  • Author: Jude, who modestly describes himself as "the brother of James" (thus of Jesus), but does not consider himself an apostle (v. 17)
  • Date: unknown; probably later in the first Christian century (after A.D. 7O), since the apostolic "faith" seems to be well in place (vv. 3, 17)
  • Recipients: unknown; probably a single congregation of predominantly Jewish Christians somewhere in Palestine who were well acquainted with both the Old Testament and Jewish apocalyptic literature
  • Occasion: the threat posed by some itinerants who have turned grace into license and who have "wormed their way in" (NEB) to the church
  • Emphases: the certain judgment on those who live carelessly and teach others to do so; the importance of holy living; God's love for and preservation of his faithful ones


OVERVIEW OF JUDE

    Jude begins and ends on the note of God's call and preservation of his people (w. 1-2; 24-25). The body of the letter is in two parts: Verses 3-19 warn against the false teachers; verses 20-23 offer exhortations to perseverance and advice on how to help those who have been influenced by the false teachers.

    The warning against the false teachers is sandwiched between descriptions of their ungodly behavior (w. 3-4, 17-19). The meat of the sandwich (w. 5-16) is a midrash (a kind of Jewish commentary) on some Old Testament and Jewish apocalyptic passages similar to 2 Peter
2, which offer precedents both as to the lifestyle of and God's sure judgment on the false teachers.


SPECIFIC ADVICE FOR READING

    You can hardly miss the fact that the false teachers are the crucial matter. Fortunately, enough is said about them that we can piece together a picture of sorts. They have been accepted within the community as Christians (v.4) and participate in their love feasts (v. 12). Very likely they are itinerant "prophets" (well known to us from other early Christian sources like the Didache), described as dreamers (v. 8) who in fact "follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit" (v. 19).

    Their teaching appears to be some form of libertinism: They have perverted "the grace of our God into a license for immorality" (v.4) and follow their own evil desires (vv. 16, 18) like "unreasoning animals" (v. 10). That they "pollute their own bodies" in the "very same way" as Sodom and Gomorrah ("sexual immorality and perversion," w. 8, 7) probably points to at least one dimension of their license. They also "reject authority and heap abuse on celestial beings" (v.8, the latter is an indication of a Jewish Christian milieu with its reverence for angels), being "grumblers and faultfinders" (v. 16) who would divide the community (v. 19).

    The fact that such people are destined by biblical decree to come under God's judgment and Jude's obvious concern for those who have been influenced by them (v. 23) indicate the seriousness of the problem.


A WALK THROUGH JUDE 

 1-2Salutation 
    You may wish to compare Jude's salutation with that of James; note that neither of the Lord's brothers capitalize on that relationship in order to write with authority; they are, rather, his "servants." The salutation itself emphasizes the believers' calling and security in God.
 3-4The Cause of the Letter 
    Here you find Jude's reason for writing and the initial description of the false teachers; their denial of Christ is probably in terms of how they live rather than a theological issue.
5-7 Three Warning Examples  
    Note how the three examples of God's judgment (Israelites in the desert; angels [from Jewish apocalyptic]; Sodom and Gomorrah) serve two purposes, namely, to warn the readers and to point to the certain judgment on the false teachers.
 8-10Second Description of the False Teachers 
    Here the emphasis is on the false teachers' rejection of authority so as to go their own licentious way. The example given is from a Jewish apocalyptic work, The Assumption of Moses (early first century A.D.).
 11-16Further Warning Examples 
    Observe how eloquent Jude is as he now describes the false teachers-first in terms of three Old Testament examples (v. 11), and then with four examples from everyday life and nature (vv. 12- 13), emphasizing their inability to make good on promises and their instability.
    After citing from another Jewish apocalyptic work, 1 Enoch (second century n.c.), as to their certain judgment (vv. 14-15), Jude concludes with a final description of their ungodly lifestyle (v. 16).
 17-19The Apostolic Warning 
    Note that Jude's final indictment of the false teachers comes from apostolic prophecy.
 20-23A Call to Persevere and to Help Others  
    These concluding exhortations indicate Jude's concern for the believers themselves. He first offers advice on how to persevere (vv.20-21) and then urges them to help those who have been influenced by the false teachers (vv.22-23).
 24-25Benediction 
    The emphasis in this beloved benediction is on God's preserving his people; note especially how it responds to verse 21. It is our responsibility to "keep [ourselves] in God's love," but in the end it is God's to "keep [us] from stumbling and to present [us] . . . without fault."

Although very brief and focused, this letter's role in the biblical story
lies with its emphasis on the importance of holy living, as well as on
our perseverance and God's preservation.