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Bible Commentaries

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible


- Jude

by Albert Barnes

Introduction to Jude

Section 1. The Author of this Epistle

Little is known of the author of this brief Epistle. He styles himself Jude 1:1 “the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James;” but there has been some difference of opinion as to what “James” is meant. He does not call himself an “apostle,” but supposes that the terms which he uses would sufficiently identify him, and would be a sufficient reason for his addressing his brethren in the manner in which he does in this Epistle. There were two of the name of “James” among the apostles Luke 6:14-15; and it has been made a question of which of them he was the brother. There were also two of the name of Judas, or Jude; but there is no difficulty in determining which of them was the author of this Epistle, for the other had the surname of Iscariot, and was the traitor. In the catalog of the apostles given by Matthew Matthew 10:3, the tenth place is given to an apostle who is there called “Lebbaeus,” whose surname was “Thaddeus;” and as this name does not occur in the list given by Luke Luke 6:15, and as the 10th place in the catalog is occupied by “Simon, called Zelotes,” and as he afterwards mentions “Judas the brother of James,” it is supposed that Lebbaeus and Judas were the same persons. It was not uncommon for persons to have two or more names. Compare Robinson’s Harmony of the Gospels, Section 40; Bacon’s Lives of Apostles, p. 447; and Michaelis, iv., 365.

The title which he assumes, “brother of James,” was evidently chosen because the James referred to was well-known, and because the fact that he was his brother would be a sufficient designation of himself, and of his right to address Christians in this manner. The name of the elder James, who was slain by Herod Acts 12:2, can hardly be supposed to be referred to, as he had been dead some time when this Epistle is supposed to have been written; and as that James was the brother of John, who was then living, it would have been much more natural for him to have mentioned that he was the brother of that beloved disciple. The other James - “James the Less,” or “James the Just” - was still living; was a prominent man in Jerusalem; and was, besides, known as “the brother of the Lord Jesus;” and the fact of relationship to that James would sufficiently designate the writer. There can be little doubt, therefore, that this is the James here intended. In regard to his character and influence, see the introduction to the Epistle of James, Section 1. If the author of this Epistle was the brother of that James, it was sufficient to refer to that fact, without mentioning that he was an apostle, in order to give to his Epistle authority, and to settle its canonical character.

Of Jude little is known. His name is found in the list of the apostles, but, besides that, it is but once mentioned in the Gospels. The only thing that is preserved of him in the Evangelists, is a question which he put to the Saviour, on the eve of his crucifixion. The Saviour had said, in his parting address to his disciples, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me; and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father; and I will love him, and will manifest myself unto him.” In regard to the meaning of this remark, Judas is said to have asked the following question: “Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?” John 14:21-22. To this question the Saviour gave him a kind and satisfactory answer, and that is the last that is said of him in the Gospels.

Of his subsequent life we know little. In Acts 15:22, he is mentioned as surnamed “Barsabas,” and as being sent with Paul and Barnabas and Silas to Antioch. Paulinus says that he preached in Lybia, and that his body remained there. Jerome affirms, that after the ascension he was sent to Edessa, to king Abgarus; and the modern Greeks say that he preached in that city, and throughout Mesopotamia, and in Judea, Samaria, Idumea, Syria, and principally in Armenia and Persia - Calmet’s Dictionary. Nothing certainly can be known in reference to the field of his labors, or to the place and circumstances of his death. On the question whether the Thaddeus who first preached the gospel in Syria was the same person as Jude, see Michaelis, Introduction iv., 367-371.

Section 2. The Authenticity of the Epistle

If this Epistle was written by the apostle Jude, the brother of James and of our Lord, there can be no doubt of its canonical authority, and its claim to a place in the New Testament. It is true that he does not call himself an apostle, but simply mentions himself as “a servant of Jesus Christ, and a brother of James.” By this appellation, however, he has practically made it known that he was one of the apostles, for all who had a catalogue of the apostles would know “that Judas, the brother of James,” was one of them. At the same time, as the relation of James to our Lord was well understood Galatians 1:19, his authority would be recognized as soon as he was known to be the author of the Epistle. It may be asked, indeed, if he was an apostle, why he did not call himself such; and why he did not seek to give authority and currency to his Epistle, by adverting to the fact that he was the “Lord’s brother.”

To the first of these questions, it may be replied, that to have called himself “Judas, the apostle,” would not have designated him so certainly, as to call himself “the brother of James;” and besides, the naked title, “Judas, the apostle,” was one which he might not choose to see applied to himself. After the act of the traitor, and the reproach which he had brought upon that name, it is probable that he would prefer to designate himself by some other appellation than one which had such associations connected with it. It may be added, also, that in several of his epistles Paul himself does not make use of the name of the apostle, Phi 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; Philemon 1:1. To the second question, it may be replied, that “modesty” may have kept him from applying to himself the title, the “Lord’s brother.” Even James never uses it of himself; and we only know that he sustained this relation from an incidental remark of the apostle Paul, Galatians 1:19. Great honor would be attached to that relationship, and it is possible that the reason why it was not referred to by James and Jude was an apprehension that it might produce jealousy, as if they claimed some special pre-eminence over their brethren.

For the evidence of the canonical authority of this Epistle, the reader is referred to Lardner, vol. vi., pp. 304-313, and to Michaelis, Introduction vol. iv., p. 374, following Michaelis, chiefly on the internal evidence, supposes that it is not an inspired production. There were indeed, at first, doubts about its being inspired, as there were respecting the Epistle of James, and the Second Epistle of Peter, but those doubts were ultimately removed, and it was received as a canonical epistle. Clemens of Alexandria cites the Epistle under Jude’s name, as the production of a prophetic mind. Origen calls it a production full of heavenly grace. Eusebius says that his predecessors were divided in opinion respecting it, and that it was not ranked among the universally acknowledged writings. It was not universally received among the Syrians, and is not found in the Peschito, the oldest Syriac version of the Scriptures. In the time of Jerome, however, it came to be ranked among the other sacred Scriptures as of Divine authority - Hug, Introduction, Section 180.

The principal ground of doubt in regard to the canonical authority of the Epistle, arose from the supposed fact that the author has quoted two apocryphal writings, Jude 1:9, Jude 1:14. The consideration of this objection will be more appropriate in the notes at those verses, for it obviously depends much on the true interpretation of these passages. I shall, therefore, reserve what I have to say on that point to the exposition of those verses. Those who are disposed to examine it at length, may consult Hug, Introduction, Section 183; Lardner, 6:309-314, and Michaelis, Introduction, iv., 378ff.

Section 3. The Question when the Epistle was Written, to Whom, and its Design

Nothing can be determined with entire certainty in regard to the persons to whom this Epistle was written. Witsius supposed that it was addressed to Christians everywhere; Hammond, that it was addressed to Jewish Christians alone, who were scattered abroad, and that its design was to secure them against the errors of the Gnostics; Benson, that it was directed to Jewish believers, especially to those of the western dispersion; Lardner, that it was written to all, without distinction, who had embraced the gospel. The principal argument for supposing that it was addressed to Jewish converts is, that the apostle refers mainly for proof to Hebrew writings, but this might be sufficiently accounted for by the fact that the writer himself was of Jewish origin.

The only way of determining anything on this point is from the Epistle itself. The inscription is, “To them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called,” Jude 1:1. From this it would appear evident that he had no particular classes of Christians in his eye, whether of Jewish or Gentile origin, but that he designed the Epistle for the general use of all who had embraced the Christian religion. The errors which he combats in the Epistle were evidently wide-spread, and were of such a nature that it was proper to warn all Christians against them. They might, it is true, be more prevalent in some quarters than in others, but still they were so common that Christians everywhere should be put on their guard against them.

The “design” for which Jude wrote the Epistle he has himself stated, Jude 1:3. It was with reference to the “common salvation” - the doctrines pertaining to salvation which were held by “all” Christians, and to show them the reasons for “contending earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.” That faith was assailed. There were teachers of error abroad. They were insinuating and artful men - men who had crept in unawares, and who, while they professed to hold the Christian doctrine, were really undermining its faith, and spreading corruption through the church. The purpose, therefore, of the Epistle is to put these to whom it was written on their guard against the corrupt teachings of these men, and to encourage them to stand up manfully for the great principle, of Christian truth.

Who these errorists were, it is not easy now to determine. The leading charge against them, both by Jude and Peter 2 Peter 2:1, is, that they denied our Lord Jude 1:4; and yet it is said that they were numbered among Christians, and were found in their assemblies, 2 Peter 2:13; Jude 1:12. By this denial, however, we are not to suppose that they literally and professedly denied that Jesus was the Christ, but that they held “doctrines” which amounted to a denial of him in fact. Compare the notes at 2 Peter 2:1. For the general characteristics of these teachers, see Introduction to 2 Peter, Section 4.

At this distance of time, and with our imperfect knowledge of the characteristics of the early erroneous sects in the church, it is difficult to determine precisely who they were. It has been a common opinion, that reference is had by Peter and Jude to the sect of the Nicolaitanes; and this opinion, Hug remarks, is “neither improbable nor incompatible with the expressions of the two apostles, so far as we have any certain knowledge concerning this sect.” “The statements of the ancients, in regard to their profligacy and their detestable course of life, are so consonant with each other and with the charges of the apostles, that the two epistles may be pertinently considered as referring to them.” - Introduction, Section 182.

It is not possible to ascertain with certainty the time when the Epistle was written. There are no marks of time in it by which that can be known, nor is there any account among the early Christian writers which determines this. Benson supposes that it was written before the destruction of Jerusalem, a few weeks or months after the Second Epistle of Peter; Mill, that it was written about 90 a.d.; Dodwell and Cave, that it was written after the destruction of Jerusalem, in the year 71 or 72 a.d.; L’Enfant and Beausobre, that it was between the year 70 and 75 a.d.; Witsius and Estius, that it was in the apostle’s old age; Lardner, that it was about the year 65 or 66 a.d.; Michaelis, that it was before the destruction of Jerusalem; and Macknight, that it was in the latter part of the apostolic age, and not long before the death of Jude. All this, it is manifest, is mostly conjecture. There are only “two” things, it seems to me, in the Epistle, which can be regarded as “any” indication of the time. One is the striking resemblance to the Second Epistle of Peter, referring clearly to the same kind of errors, and warning those whom he addressed against the arts of the same kind of teachers, thus showing that it was written at about the same time as that Epistle; and the other is, that it seems to have been written “before” the destruction of Jerusalem, for, as Michaelis has well remarked, ‘As the author has mentioned Jude 1:5-8 several well-known instances of Divine justice in punishing sinners, he would probably if Jerusalem had been already destroyed, not have neglected to add to his other examples this most remarkable instance of Divine vengeance, especially as Christ had himself foretold it.” - Introduction iv. 372. As there is reason to suppose that the Second Epistle of Peter was written about 64 or 65 a.d., we shall not probably, err in supposing that this was written not far from that time.

Section IV. The Resemblance between this Epistle and the Second Chapter of the Second Epistle of Peter

One of the most remarkable things respecting this Epistle, is its resemblance to the second chapter of the Second Epistle of Peter - a similarity so striking as to make it quite certain that one of these writers had seen the Epistle of the other, and copied from it; or rather, perhaps, adopted the language of the other as expressing his own views. It is evident, that substantially the same class of teachers is referred to by both; that they held the same errors, and were guilty of the same corrupt and dangerous practices; and that the two apostles, in describing them, made use of the same expressions, and employed the same arguments against them. They refer to the same facts in history, and to the same arguments from tradition; and if either of them quoted an apocryphal book, both have done it. On the resemblance, compare the following places: - Jude 1:8, with 2 Peter 2:10; Jude 1:10, with 2 Peter 2:12; Jude 1:16, with 2 Peter 2:18; Jude 1:4, with 2 Peter 1:2-3; Jude 1:7, with 2 Peter 2:6; Jude 1:9, with 2 Peter 2:11. The similarity between the two is so striking, both in the general structure of the argument and in the particular expressions, that it cannot have been accidental. It is not such a resemblance as would be likely to occur in two authors, if they had been writing in a wholly independent manner. In regard to this resemblance, there is but one of three ways in which it can be accounted for: either that the Holy Spirit inspired both of them to say the same thing, without the one having any knowledge of what the other said; or that they both copied from a common document, which is now lost; or that one copied from the other.

As to the first of these solutions, that the Holy Spirit inspired them both to say the same thing, it may be observed that no one can deny that this is “possible,” but is by no means probable. No other instance of the kind occurs in the Bible, and the supposition would not be in accordance with what seems to have been a law in inspiration, that the sacred writers were allowed to express themselves according to the bent of their own genius. See the notes, 1 Corinthians 14:32.

As to the second of these suppositions, that they both copied from a common document, which is now lost, it may be observed, that this is wholly without evidence. That such a thing was “possible,” there can be no doubt, but the supposition should not be adopted without necessity. If there had been such an original inspired document, it would probably have been preserved; or there would have been, in one or both of those who copied from it, some such allusion to it that it would have been possible to verify the supposition.

The remaining way of accounting for the resemblance, therefore, is to suppose that one of them had seen the Epistle of the other, and adopted the same line of argument, and many of the same expressions. This will account for all the facts in the case, and can be supposed to be true without doing violence to any just view of their inspiration. A question still arises, however, whether Peter or Jude is the original writer from which the other has copied. This question it is impossible to determine with certainty, and it is of little importance. If the common opinion which is stated above be correct, that Peter wrote his Epistle “first,” of course that determines the matter. But that is not absolutely certain, nor is there any method by which it can be determined. Hug adopts the other opinion, and supposes that Jude was the original writer. His reasons for this opinion are substantially these:

  1. That there is little probability that Jude, in so brief an epistle as his, consisting of only 25 verses, would have made use of foreign aid.

(2)That the style and phraseology of Jude is simple, unlabored, and without ornament; while that of Peter is artificial, and wears the appearance of embellishment and amplification; that the simple language of Jude seems to have been moulded by Peter into a more elegant form, and is embellished with participles, and even with rhetorical flourishes.

(3)That there is allusion in both Epistles 2 Peter 2:11; Jude 1:9 to a controversy between angels and fallen spirits; but that it is so alluded to by Peter, that it would not be understood without the more full statement of Jude; and that Peter evidently supposed that the letter of Jude was in the hands of those to whom he wrote, and that thus the allusion would be at once understood.

It could not be supposed that every reader would be acquainted with the fact alluded to by Peter; it was not stated in the sacred books of the Jews, and it seems probable that there must have been some book to which they had access, where the information was more full. Jude, however, as the original writer, stated it more at length, and having done this, a bare allusion to it by Peter was all that was necessary. Jude states the matter definitely, and expressly mentions the dispute of Michael with the devil about the body of Moses. But the language of Peter is so general and indefinite, that we could not know what he meant unless we had Jude in our possession. See Hug’s Introduction, Section 176. It must be admitted that these considerations have much weight, though they are not absolutely conclusive. It should be added, that whichever supposition is adopted, the fact that one has expressed substantially the same sentiments as the other, and in nearly the same language, is no reason for rejecting either, any more than the coincidence between the Gospels is a reason for concluding that only one of them can be an inspired document. There might have been good reasons why the same warnings and counsels should have proceeded from two inspired men.