We really know nothing for certain about who wrote this letter, when it was written, or to whom it was sent. All we have is what the author tells us, namely, that he is the "servant of Jesus Christ and the brother of James." Obviously, both James and Jude were so well known that such a simple statement was sufficient. Nothing more needed to be said. Because both Matthew (13:55) and Mark (6:3) refer to Jesus' brothers, named Jude and James, it's been understandable for scholars to conclude that Jude was also the brother of Jesus. Of course. the possibility also exists that the author simply attributed the letter to Jesus' brother and chose to remain anonymous. By the time this letter was written, the early church had been struggling with the effects of false teachers, and it would not have been unusual to use the name of some well-known person to bolster a particular message.
Arguments against the author being Jesus' brother are based, in part, on the realization that the letter is written in rather sophisticated Greek. The idea of a Galilean peasant having such command of the language is doubtful since most scholars believe Jesus' family language would have been Aramaic. Nor does the author indicate that he used a scribe to write the letter. Would Jesus' family have had the ability to read and write? It's an unanswerable question, but we do know from Paul (1 Cor 9:5) that Jesus' brothers were missionaries. It is not unreasonable to assume that if they were out traveling far and wide, they might have made a concerted effort to learn good Greek in order to further spread the word of the Gospel. Decisions regarding authorship directly impact the date of this letter. If it was Jesus' brother, then it would be of an earlier date – roughly from 40-80CE. But if the author is anonymous, then it could have been written as late as the mid second century. Scholars have noticed that 2 Peter (80-90CE) relies heavily on Jude, so they favor the earlier date.
The letter is addressed to an unknown church, or group of churches. Since Jude uses examples from Jewish history to make his points, it is likely that the members were Jewish Christians who would have been familiar with those teachings. Although founded by the apostles, the church had now been infiltrated by false teachers with an antinomian theology. It is believed that they were mostly Gentiles, who might have been preaching that the law was of no use because faith alone was necessary for salvation. So scholars look for places that might have had Jewish Christian churches in a largely Gentile setting. Frankly, that covers most of the area – Palestine, Asia Minor, even Egypt. Any one of those is a possibility.
Without knowing how many people were involved, Jude writes that these false teachers have "stolen in among you." They seem to have caused divisions within the congregation. If they had been itinerant preachers, they would have counted on the community offering them hospitality as their Christian duty. Once in the door, they were able to misuse their position to preach against the apostolic teachings. According to Jude, their behavior included immorality, and their very presence "tainted the love feast," which was the basis of fellowship. Jude exhorts the congregation to "contend for their faith," thereby maintaining the integrity of the apostolic teachings. He continues by reminding them that such heretics had been prophesied for the last days. This lends credence to the belief that the end is near. There do not seem to be any anti-gnostic references in this letter, which is another reason for assigning it to an earlier date.
This book of Jude is one of the few real letters in the New Testament. Its beginning follows the format of an ancient letter – author, recipients, and blessing. The body of the letter begins with his reason for writing to them (he can't be there in person). Not only does he warn them against the false teachings, but he claims that this is an indication that the last days are near. The body of this letter is much like a mini-sermon. Scholars think if Jude had been present with them, he might have given this as a short homily. Instead, he wrote it down in letter form. He ends with a doxology.
There are roughly five divisions to this letter: 1:1-2 – Salutation; 1:3-4 – The Reason for the Letter; 1:5-16 – Warnings against the Heretics; 1:17-23 – Exhortations to Steadfast Faith; 1:24-25 – Doxology.
I -- 1:1-2 – Salutation
- The author identifies himself as "Jude…the brother of James"
- Most think he was also the brother of Jesus
- Like James, he makes no claims to be a relative
- He is also a "slave" to Jesus Christ
- That means he belongs to Jesus
- Jude refers to his readers as "called…loved…kept"
- Those who are "called" have great privileges, but also great responsibilities
- They are also "loved" by the Father
- They are "kept" by Jesus Christ
- Both "loved" and "kept" are perfect participles
- This loving and keeping is ongoing
- Jude wants to assure his audience that they will always be safe in God's arms
- He prays that they may know "mercy, peace, and love"
- These are gifts of divine grace: mercy = compassion; peace = quiet confidence; love = generosity in meeting our needs
- If people are being influenced by the opponents, they will need these three gifts
II – 1:3-4 – The Reason for the Letter
- Jude had always planned to write to them about their common salvation, but he feels great urgency under the present circumstances
- By addressing them as "beloved," he indicates his close relationship to this audience
- It also means there's probably no one else to step in and do this
- He has heard that heretics have infiltrated their congregation
- He urges them to "contend earnestly for the faith"
- The word "urge" means to "call alongside"
- Obviously, he would prefer to be there in person, but a letter will have to do
- "To contend" is an athletic metaphor – they should be fit, ready for action
- "Faith" here means the body of Christian teachings – it is the truth
- This information had been handed down from generation to generation
- It should be handed on to others unchanged
- The bad news is that "certain men…have secretly slipped in among you"
- These people have crept in unawares, like stealthy spies
- They are described in three ways
- They are godless: God has no place in their lives so they despise His laws
- They substitute immorality for God's grace: they lead a libertine lifestyle
- They deny Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior: their actions deny the Lord
III – 1:5-16 – Warnings against the Heretics
- Three examples of God's judgment in history
- Jude acknowledges that they already know all this
- He reminds them that God delivered the Israelites out of Egypt
- Yet, only two of them entered the Promised Land
- The others turned their backs against God and bore the consequences
- The next warning comes from the fallen angels
- Despite their positions of authority, they abandoned their own homes
- They left their rightful positions to cavort with women on earth
- Lust was their downfall
- They have been kept in darkness, bound with chains for judgment
- This does not refer to an "angel prison"
- Rather it indicates the misery of their lives
- Whereas they were once angels, now they are bound and in darkness
- Their misery will continue until the final Day of Judgment
- The third warning involves Sodom and Gomorrah
- Those cities became a symbol of God's judgment
- They were renowned for their decadence
- They became an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire
- It describes utter desolation – nothing can live/grow there
- Description and indictment of the false teachers
- Like the three examples, these "dreamers" pollute their bodies, reject authority, and slander celestial beings
- These "dreamers" falsify prophetic visions to justify their actions and teachings
- (Later he will say that they expect to be paid for their work)
- They polluted their bodies by engaging in sexual license
- They obviously did not submit to anyone's authority on the matter
- Likewise, they slandered celestial beings
- Perhaps, they compared themselves to angels – in a superior way, of course
- Since "angel" really means "messenger," they might have put themselves higher
- Here, they are on shaky ground because not even Michael, the archangel, slandered Satan when they did battle
- The greatest angel did not presume to slander the worst of all angels
- Instead, he called on God to judge
- Yet, the heretics have no such scruples
- They speak abusively against that which they do not understand – spiritual matters
- They only know things by instinct – in that they are no better than the animals
- Ultimately, this will be their downfall
- God's judgment is inevitable
- Three more examples of wickedness
- Woe to them – this is lament language, not a threat
- Those who finagled their way in are like Cain who killed his own brother
- They are also like Balaam who was motivated by greed
- Finally, they will be destroyed as in Korah's rebellion, which took place against Moses
- Those who rebelled were swallowed by the earth and perished (See Numbers 16)
- Prophesy of doom for false teachers
- They are "blemishes at your love feasts"
- (This could also be translated "rocks washed by the sea")
- If the first, it means they pollute the meal by their very presence
- The second could mean they are as dangerous as treacherous rocks
- The bottom line is that their presence ruins the fellowship meal
- They are like shepherds who only feed themselves – greedy and filled with self interest
- Then Jude uses four images to describe false teachers – clouds, trees, waves, and stars
- These are four aspects of the physical world
- They are like clouds without rain – a major disappointment
- Such clouds do nothing but blow about with the wind (much like the verbiage of the false teachers)
- They are like autumn trees that should be filled with fruit
- Instead they are barren/dead – and are cut down
- They are like "wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame"
- It's like having a bad storm wash up debris along the shore – disgusting
- Lastly, they are like wandering stars
- Such stars are useless for navigation
- All four examples extol their uselessness – much like the teachings of the false teachers
- Way back when, Enoch prophesied about such as these
- This quote is found in the Book of Enoch
- Enoch is the "seventh from Adam" – seven (complete) generations separate them
- This would give additional weight to his words
- Jesus will return with thousands upon thousands of followers
- The image is one of a heavenly army
- They will come to judge the "ungodly…ungodly…ungodly…ungodly…"
- The repetition emphasizes the finality of the judgment
- These men are "grumblers" and "faultfinders"
- They are no better than the Israelites who grumbled against God in the wilderness
- They do what they want, i.e. they reject divine authority
- They boast about themselves hoping to make an impact and would not hesitate to flatter others if they thought it would accomplish their goals
IV – 1:17-23 – Exhortations to Steadfast Faith
- Turning to believers, Jude reminds them what the apostles foretold
- They had warned of such false teachers
- These teachings should be a source of comfort now since heretics are present
- Things are working out as the apostles said they would "In the last times there will be scoffers…"
- The scoffers have arrived
- This also made them think that they were living in the "last times"
- According to the apostles, scoffers would be a sign of the "last times"
- Scoffers would be people who do not accept the orthodox belief
- They follow their own natural desires and do not have the Spirit
- In so doing, they draw boundaries, keeping some in and others out
- Their intent is to split church memberships, divide congregations
- They set themselves up as the most spiritual but are, in fact, the least spiritual
- Believers, therefore, should build up their faith and pray to the Spirit
- This is what he means by "contending for their faith"
- They should pray to better understand what God did in Jesus
- "Building up" usually involves the whole community, not just the individual
- They should also keep themselves in God's love
- Even though God called them, reached out to them, they have a responsibility to respond
- They should stay close to God as they wait for the final judgment
- It is the Lord Jesus Christ who will bring them to eternal life
- The practical application of these teachings includes being merciful to those who doubt
- They might have been tempted by the false teachers, but have yet to embrace them
- Those who have strayed should be "snatched from the fire"
- Believers should show "mercy mixed with fear"
- While it is good to reach out to those who have been corrupted, there is a danger in the believer also succumbing to those false influences
- Therefore, believers must always be on their guard
- "Hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh"
- This passage from Zechariah suggests that God can replace the dirty garments with clean clothes – another example of His great mercy
V – 1:24-25 -- Doxology
- Jude offers a doxology of praise to the God who can keep them safe
- Despite the influences of the false teachers, God is "able to keep you from falling"
- God will protect them from attack; their only job is to stay in God's love
- He will keep from stumbling
- Despite our shortcomings, God will have us stand "before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy"
- He is the only God – our Savior
- God's attributes are "glory, majesty, power, and authority"
- Glory refers to His radiance; power reflects His dominion
- Majesty is always used of the Father; whereas authority means He is able to do what is necessary
- "Before all ages, now, and forevermore" covers the past, present, and future
- God is simply in control of everything – always has been and always will be Amen = "so be it!"
Ultimately, the issue raised in Jude is foundational to Christianity. If all moral constraints are of no consequence, what is left? An "anything goes" mentality? Is this what Christ taught? Is this what the apostles passed on to them? Hardly! Jude strongly believes that the last days are near and will be accompanied by divine judgment. At that time, those who have been faithful will be saved; those who teach false doctrine will be held accountable for that.
Bauckham, Richard. "Jude, 2 Peter." Word Biblical Commentary. New York, NY: Word, Incorporated. 1983.
Elliott, John. "I-II Peter/Jude." Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing. 1982.
Gaebelein, Frank. "Jude." Expositor's Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing. 1985.
Hillyer, Norman. "1 and 2 Peter, Jude." New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson. 1993.
Keck, Leander, ed. "Jude." The New Interpreter's Bible. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1998.
Sidebottom, E.M. "James, Jude, 2 Peter." The New Century Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans. 1982.