Who wrote the letter?
The letter opens with the bare facts about the writer. He is by name, Jude; by birth, brother of James; and by calling, a servant of Jesus Christ. Tradition has ascribed the letter to Jude, the brother of Jesus, mentioned in Mt. 13:55 and Mk. 6:3. This would have been a younger son of Mary, born to her and Joseph, together with James, Joseph and Simon. Some have argued that he was an older son of Joseph by a former marriage. Jesus’ brothers refused to believe in him during his lifetime (Jn. 7:5), but James was later converted, possibly through a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:7). Subsequently, he became a leader in the Jerusalem church (Acts 12:17). This James has also been traditionally regarded as the author of the NT letter of James and in view of his eminence it would be natural for Jude to refer to himself in this way as James’ brother. The two may be referred to together in 1 Cor. 9:5.
It has been suggested that the writer could have been Jude the apostle, the ‘Jude of James’ as the Greek of Lk. 6:16 and Acts 1:13 describes him (the Thaddaeus [Lebbaeus] of Mt. 10:4 and Mk. 3:18). Two difficulties with this view are that an apostle would hardly have written v 17 and normal Greek usage requires the word to be supplied in Lk. 6:16 to be ‘son’ rather than ‘brother’.
The theory that Jude is a pseudepigraph (see the Introduction to 2 Peter) has been put forward, but if that were the case one would have expected that the writer would have chosen a less obscure personage after whom to name the letter or, in claiming Jude, he would have used the relationship with Jesus to gain acceptance for his writing. The humility which avoided this description must be regarded as a mark of genuineness, matched by his more eminent brother (Jas. 1:1).
Where and when was the letter written?
Jude gives us no evidence, nor even clues, as to where he was at the time of writing. We know from 1 Cor. 9:5 that the Lord’s brothers traveled around in the service of the gospel, and so any suggestion can only be speculative.
Comparison of this letter with 2 Peter quickly reveals that much of it (vs 4–19) is paralleled in that letter (2:1–19). (See the Introduction to 2 Peter and comparisons in the Commentary.) It is interesting that Jude refers to apocryphal as well as biblical illustrations of those who wander from God’s way and oppose him (vs 5, 7, 9, 11, 14). Peter restricts his references to biblical incidents (2 Pet. 2:5, 6, 7, 15, 16).
Some who question the traditional authorship do so on the grounds that the letter itself bears the marks of having been written at a late date. Vs 17–18 speak of the apostles as if their generation had already died out, although the recipients of the letter would appear to have been instructed by them. V 3 suggests that the faith was already becoming a systematic body of doctrine.
Neither of these arguments is conclusive, and if we are prepared to accept Jude the younger brother of the Lord as the author then we can date the letter within his assumed lifetime. Eusebius relates a story from Hegesippus about Jude’s grandsons being brought before Domitian when the latter was Roman Emperor (ad 81–96). He also says that they were bishops in the time of Trajan (ad 98–117), and this would make it reasonable for their grandfather to have still been alive well into the latter part of the first century. Bearing in mind the arguments for the priority of 2 Peter (see the Introduction to that letter), it would have been perfectly possible for Jude to have written this letter in the late sixties of the first century. Some argue that the absence of a reference to the fall of Jerusalem in v 5, where it could have been relevant, points to a date before ad 70.
To whom was the letter written and what is it about?
Again, Jude gives no clues as to where his original readers lived, or who they were, apart from the fact that they were Christian people (1) and dear friends (3, 17, 20). V 3 suggests that he had intended to write a more formal statement on doctrine and Christian living (more like 1 Peter?). Instead, the appearance and spread of false teaching had led him to respond by writing a warning of the consequences of following those who propagate heretical ideas and a call to hold fast to the apostolic faith.
A feature of the letter is that it makes use of Jewish apocryphal literature, and is unique among the NT books in doing so. Some argue from this that Jude must have been writing for a Jewish readership, but the quotations would spring from the writer’s background which need not be that of his readers. Jude’s quotations from the Assumption of Moses and the Book of Enoch in vs 9 and 15, and possibly other apocryphal works in vs 6 and 8, brought this letter under suspicion when the church was drawing up its canon (or list of books to be included in the NT). A high doctrine of inspiration does not, however, preclude the biblical writers from quoting from sources outside the Bible. Paul himself does this in 1 Cor. 10:7; 2 Tim. 3:8 and Tit. 1:12 (cf. Acts 17:28). While some queried the letter before accepting it into the canon, quotations from early writers show that it was in use in the church at least from early in the second century. (See the article on Apocrypha and Apocalyptic.)
What is Jude’s message to us?
Like us, Jude lived in an age which preferred toleration to truth, and regarded all religions as equally valid aspects of the quest for a supreme being. So he gives a call to stand up for a faith which is both unique and revealed (3–4). He does this in four ways:
1. He exposes the danger, the fruitlessness and the final destiny of false teachers (5–16).
2. He urges God’s people to go on growing in their Christian faith and its expression (20–21).
3. He reassures them of God’s sure purposes (24).
4. He calls them to lose no opportunity for evangelism (22–23).
These directions are as helpful for today’s Christian as they were for Jude’s original readers.
See also the article Reading the letters.
J. N. D. Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and Jude, BNTC (A. and C. Black, 1969).
C. E. B. Cranfield, 1 and 2 Peter and Jude, TBC (SCM, 1960).
E. M. B. Green, 2 Peter and Jude, TNTC (IVP/UK/Eerdmans, 1968).
R. Bauckham, Jude and 2 Peter, WBC (Word, 1983).
NT New Testament
BNTC Black’s New Testament Commentaries
TBC Torch Bible Commentaries
TNTC Tyndale New Testament Commentary
WBC Word Biblical Commentary
Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible commentary : 21st century edition. Rev. ed. of: The new Bible commentary. 3rd ed. / edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970. (4th ed.) (Jud 1). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.