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Access over 100,000+ Sermons from Ancient to Modern : Christian Books : CHAPTER XXIV THE GENERAL EPISTLE OF JUDE

The Books Of The New Testament by Leighton Pullan


[Sidenote: The Author.]

|Judas, a servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James.| We can be sure that the James here mentioned is the James who acted as the first bishop of the Church at Jerusalem. The author's designation of himself would not be intelligible unless he meant that he was related to a very prominent man of that name. The writer cannot be the Apostle Jude. He does not claim to be an apostle, and he seems indirectly to repudiate the authority of an apostle by describing himself only in relation to his brother and by referring to |the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ| in a manner which seems to distinguish them for himself. If the Apostle Jude was the son of James (as many scholars think), this Jude was clearly another man. If the Apostle was the brother of James (as the English Authorised Version holds), then his identification with this Jude is still doubtful.

Jude was a son of St. Joseph. At first he did not believe in our Lord (John vii.5), but was convinced by the Resurrection (Acts i.14). He was married (1 Cor. ix.5). Hegesippus, a writer of the 2nd century, tells us that two of his grandsons were taken before the Emperor Domitian as being of the royal house of David, and therefore dangerous to the empire. He found them to be poor rough-handed men, and dismissed them with good-humoured contempt when they described the kingdom of Christ as heavenly. Philip of Side, about 425, says {266} that Hegesippus gave the names of these two men as Zocer and James.

The Epistle was known to Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian, and is in the Muratorian Fragment.

The chief objections to the authenticity of this Epistle fall under three heads. It is said that (a) a late date is indicated by the allusion to the teaching of the apostles in ver.17. But the allusion seems to correspond exactly with a late date in the apostolic age, for vers.17 and 18 assume that the readers remember what the apostles had said. It is said that (b) the phrase in ver.3, |the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints,| indicates that a definite body of doctrine was recognized by the Christians of the period, and that the Christians of the apostolic age did not use the word |faith| in this sense. But it is not difficult to suppose that the word would be soon extended from the act of believing to the facts believed. And in such early passages as Gal. i.23 and Rom. x.8 we find the word closely approximating to the latter sense. It is said that (c) the heresy which is described is a heresy of the 2nd century, and implies a definite Gnostic system. But the fact that the Epistle does not describe such a definite system is convincingly shown by the inability of certain critics to determine who the heretics are. The Balaamites of Asia Minor, the Carpocratians of Egypt, and some obscure sects of Syria, are all suggested. There is no evidence to show that the errors here described could not have grown up in apostolic times, and the Epistles of St. Paul contain several passages which point to similar perversions of Christianity. The word |sensual| in ver.19 was an insulting term applied to ordinary Christians by the Gnostics of the 2nd century, but St. Jude's use of it betrays no consciousness of this later application.

The style of the letter makes it practically certain that it was written by some one who had been a Jew. The Greek is forcible. It shows a considerable knowledge of Greek words, {267} including various poetical and archaic expressions. But the manner is stiff, and the sentences are linked together with difficulty. Several phrases come from the Septuagint, some of them being taken from the Book of Wisdom. It is probable that the author was acquainted with the Hebrew Old Testament, as ver.12 (from Ezek. xxxiv.2) and ver.22 f. (from Zech. iii.2 f.) suggest this.

[Sidenote: To whom written.]

The Epistle is simply addressed |to them that are called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ.| It seems that these Christians must have been natives of Palestine or Syria. They had been personally instructed by the apostles (ver.17), which makes this region probable. No place seems more likely than Antioch and its neighbourhood. The libertinism which was endangering the Church would not be likely to arise except in a district where the Christians were in close contact with heathenism. Extreme critics now usually maintain that it was written either in Asia or in Egypt. If written in Asia, it can hardly have been written by the Lord's brother, as we know that his descendants lived in Palestine. If written in Egypt, it can hardly belong to the age of the apostles. These two sceptical theories as to the place where the Epistle was written contradict one another effectively.

[Sidenote: Where and when written.]

The style and contents of the letter show that it was probably written in Palestine and at Jerusalem. The date is probably soon after the martyrdom of St. James in A.D.62. St. Jude was dead before his grandsons had their interview with Domitian. The Epistle must therefore be before A.D.81.

[Sidenote: Character and Contents.]

The Epistle is remarkable as containing references to two Jewish books of an apocalyptic character which are not mentioned in the Old Testament. This caused some writers in early days to hesitate to ascribe the Epistle to a brother of St. James, and in recent times the same argument has been revived in a new {268} form. But these quotations seem quite compatible with a belief in the genuineness of the Epistle. The books quoted were in existence in the apostolic age, and would be likely to be valued by a devout Jew. In ver.9 there is reference to Michael, which Origen says was derived from the Assumption of Moses, a Jewish work written at the beginning of the Christian era. In 2 Pet. ii.11 the allusion to Michael is so modified, that the origin of the reference is no longer obvious. In vers.4, 6, and 14, there are quotations from the Book of Enoch, a Jewish book composed of sections written at various dates, the latest being written in the century before Christ.

The purpose of the Epistle is to warn the Church against certain depravers of God's grace who denied |our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ| (ver.4). The author sees fit to remind his readers of ancient examples of unfaithfulness and impurity, and shows that they must be compassionate towards the wavering, and try to save the worst by a desperate effort. It is plain that the false teachers were guilty of gross and unnatural vice, that they were greedy, and destitute of godly fear. They also, like the evil Christians at Corinth, brought discredit upon the Agape (ver.12), a social meal which the Christians were first wont to partake of before the Eucharist, and at a later date after the Eucharist. The licence which is rebuked by St. Jude probably arose from a perversion of the doctrine of justification by faith which had been taught by our Lord. Christians who had been taught that they could be saved without observing the Jewish ceremonial law, imagined that they could be saved without any self-discipline or self-restraint. Many parallels to such errors have been found in modern times, the worst example being that afforded by the Anabaptists, who arose in Germany at the time of the Reformation. It is worth noticing that, in spite of the untheological character of this Epistle, the writer shows his belief in the Holy Trinity by the manner in which he refers to the Father {269} and Jesus Christ (ver.1) and the Holy Ghost (ver.20). The Epistle gives no encouragement to the theory that the first Jewish Christians were Unitarians.


Salutation and charge to maintain |the faith| (1-4). Warnings from the punishment of the Israelites, of the angels, of Sodom and Gomorrha (5-7).

Railing at dignities rebuked (8-10).

Denunciation of those who imitate Cain (murder), Balaam (encouragement of impurity), Korah (schism), and spoil the Agape (11-13).

These sectaries foretold by Enoch (14-16).

And by the apostles (17-19).

Duty of edifying believers, and saving sinners (20-23).

Doxology (24, 25).

Eusebius, H. E. iii.20.


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