Lesson 6 of 6
In Progress

Bible in the World – Jude

Jude, the Brother of Jesus

With all of the traditions and legends attached to many of the people who were close to Jesus, it may seem surprising that there are very few surviving ancient stories about Jude the brother of Jesus. The small amount of traditions may stem from the fact that some currents in Christianity simply equated, mistakenly, that person named Ioudas with a different Ioudas (son of James) who is listed as one of the twelve apostles in Luke 6:16.

There is, however, an ancient story to tell about Jude’s descendants. The ancient historian and bishop from the early fourth century named Eusebius preserved a few passages from the second-century Christian writer Hegesippus. In one of those passages, Hegesippus claims that two of Jude’s grandsons, Zoker and James, were seized and brought before Emperor Domitian, who reigned 81-96 C.E. After the grandsons (who could have been Jesus’ great-nephews) insisted that they were self-sustaining farmers and that the Jesus they followed had a heavenly and not earthly kingdom, Domitian ordered an end to a recent persecution of the church and released Zoker and James. The story contains enough implausible details to doubt its historical reliability, but it nevertheless says something about how Jude’s legacy was remembered, beyond the book ascribed to him.

Jude’s Doxology

The final two verses of Jude (24-25) are a doxology, a statement of praise that acknowledges God’s unique glory. There are doxologies in Jewish writings, as well as in ancient Christian ones (for examples of others in the New Testament, see Romans 16:25-27; Eph 3:20-21; 2 Peter 3:18). The doxology in Jude might have been composed by the author, but more likely it comes from Christian liturgy that was already in circulation when the letter was written. It provides a window, then, onto some of the early church’s language for worship.

This particular doxology is widely regarded, well composed, and theologically rich. Various worship resources produced by Christian denominations offer it as useful to recite in worship services as it is written. It also includes imagery that shows up in other liturgical forms, such as a line in the popular hymn “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less.” That hymn refers to being made “faultless to stand before the throne” of God, which resonates with the doxology’s mention of standing “without blemish in the presence of [God’s] glory.”


Jude 12 contains the earliest known reference to a Christian communal meal known as a “love-feast,” using a Greek word for love (agapē). Sometimes called “agape feasts,” these occasions were common in the lives of the early church (for another biblical example of a communal meal among believers, see 1 Corinthians 11:17-34). Later Christian authors, writing after the New Testament documents were composed (such as Ignatius of Antioch and Tertullian), mention them.

As the church grew and as worship and eating patterns changed with cultures, love-feasts eventually disappeared as regular practices of gathering and worship among most Christians. Holy Communion gradually became centered in church buildings and administered in particular ways by clergy, instead of being embedded in a communal meal around tables. Today, however, love-feasts are still a distinctive aspect of common life within the Moravian Church and Church of the Brethren, as well as other groups.

Waterless Clouds

Within a list of striking metaphors describing rebellious leaders and deceptive teachers offered in Jude 12-13 there is mention of “waterless clouds.” A cloud promises rain, relief, and sustenance, but a cloud without water cannot finally deliver what a person needs. Jude is concerned about deception and untrustworthiness.

Drawing on this meteorological image, the occultist Aleister Crowley, using a pseudonym, published a book of esoteric poetry titled Clouds without Water (1909). Crowley was a provocative countercultural figure during the 20th century and perhaps remains most famous for being the subject of Ozzy Osbourne’s memorable song “Mr. Crowley” (1980). Crowley’s strange and enduring connection to the Letter of Jude, a book with nothing good to say about people with innovative religious ideas, is rather clever or ironic, depending on one’s point of view.

Torment and Punishment

Many biblical writings anticipate divine judgment, but comparatively few include descriptions of punishment and eternal torment. Jude is one of those few. Its references to “eternal fire” and “deepest darkness” contribute to what have become popular characterizations of hell. Jude does not mention “hell,” but its imagery has fueled gruesome speculations about hell, along with books such as Matthew, 2 Thessalonians, and Revelation. Dante’s epic Inferno, with its awful depictions of nine circles of hell, offered much to popular understandings of hell and torment. Discussions of hell have ways of seizing people’s attention and raising questions about how to reconcile rhetoric about punishment on one hand and the promise of divine mercy on the other.