Lesson 4 of 6
In Progress

Introductory Issues in Jude

rev. by Matthew L. Skinner (03/2023)

Audience—inside or outside the mainstream? 

One of the intriguing aspects of Jude is the way it suggests the diversity that must have characterized the early church. Much of the canonical apostolic literature is either Pauline or strongly influenced by Paul, with familiar and recurring themes and patterns of thought. But when we read a book like Jude, even in English translation, we get the feeling of breathing different air, following very different kinds of arguments and reasoning, and (especially) hearing voices and sources cited that take us into an environment different from other parts of the New Testament.

Jude’s unique sources

References to Jewish apocryphal works (1 Enoch, Assumption of Moses), apparent use of a Hebrew rather than Greek version of the Old Testament, and use of Jewish forms of biblical interpretation (midrashic exegesis) in vv. 5-19 may collectively suggest a community of dispersed Jewish believers of a unique character and in a somewhat isolated location. If the letter was in fact written by Jesus’ brother, Palestine is a likely setting.

Identity of the opponents or false teachers

The note of warning, of the need for this fledgling community to be both vigilant and uncompromising in the face of false teaching, is at the core of this short but energetic epistle. Because we possess very little certainty regarding the geographical or cultural setting of the community being addressed, we are left to speculate on the identity of the opponents or false teachers.

Relationship between Jude and 2 Peter

Neither Jude nor 2 Peter provides any specific details regarding the errors of false teachers. We do not know enough to be able to identify these teachers with any of the gnostic sects known to us. Nevertheless, there are similarities in how these two books speak about opponents, choosing to criticize their character rather than identifying or refuting their teachings. Parallel passages include: Jude 3 // 2 Peter 1:5; Jude 5 // 2 Peter 1:12; Jude 17-18 // 2 Peter 3:1-3; Jude 24 // 2 Peter 3:14; Jude 25 // 2 Peter 3:18. In the judgment of a majority of scholars, 2 Peter quotes Jude, rather than vice versa.

The Identity and Authority of Jude

The Greek word Ioudas can be rendered in English as either Jude or Judas. Traditionally English translations have chosen the former for the name of this book, which is the name the author uses to introduce himself in verse 1. The translation Jude helps distinguish him and the book from the several men in the New Testament referred to as Judas, including the notorious Judas Iscariot (see Matthew 10:4; Luke 6:16; Acts 5:37; 9:11; 15:22; cf. 1 Maccabees 2:4). In two places (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3) we learn that Jesus had a brother or perhaps half-brother named Ioudas. The New Testament reveals nothing else about him. The book of Jude refers to “the apostles” in multiple places, suggesting that the author—whether it is Jesus’ brother Ioudas or not—wanted to bolster the document’s authority by placing it in line with people who were close to Jesus. The letter describes authentic Christian belief and practice as something that has been passed down; it is “the faith,” which has been “entrusted” (verse 3).

Danger Ahead

Numerous New Testament writings advise their audiences to expect challenging times ahead. One of the dangers they speak about is teachers with self-serving agendas (e.g., Matthew 7:15-20; Acts 20:29-30; 2 Timothy 3:1-9). In Jude 17-18 the author quotes “the predictions of the apostles” and provides a warning that is similar to those statements but not quoted from any known document.