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by Joseph Benson
GENERAL EPISTLE OF JUDE.
WE learn from the inscription of this epistle, that the writer of it was Judas, the “brother of James;” not of James the son of Zebedee, and brother of John, but of James the son of Alpheus, the author of the epistle that bears his name. Jude was therefore an apostle. Indeed we find his name mentioned in two catalogues of the apostles given us by St. Luke; namely, Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13. In the catalogue, however, given Matthew 10:3, in the place of Judas, we find “Lebbeus, whose surname was Thaddeus;” and in Mark 3:18, “Thaddeus,” simply. But as all the evangelists agree that there were only twelve apostles, we must suppose that Judas, the brother of James, was surnamed Lebbeus and Thaddeus. The reason why he is styled “brother of James” probably was, because James was the elder brother, and because, after our Lord’s ascension, James became a person of considerable note among the apostles, and was highly esteemed by the Jewish believers. This Judas, being the brother of James, was, consequently, the brother, or kinsman, of Christ: see preface to the epistle of James. Accordingly, we find James, Joses, Simon, and Judas, expressly called the brethren of Jesus, Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3. Of his election to the apostleship, see Luke 6:13.
As it is certain, then, that Judas was an apostle, no other proof is wanted of the divine inspiration and authority of his epistle. Accordingly, we find the matters contained in it, in every respect, suitable to the character of an inspired apostle of Christ. For the writer’s design in it was, evidently, to characterize and condemn the heretical teachers, who in that age endeavoured, by a variety of base arts, to make disciples; to reprobate the impious doctrines which they taught for the sake of advantage, and to enforce the practice of holiness on all who professed the gospel. In short, there is no error taught, nor evil practice enjoined, for the sake of which any impostor could be moved to impose a forgery of this kind on the world. Hence, although the authenticity of this epistle was doubted of by some in the early ages, yet, as soon as it was understood that its author was Judas, the brother of James, mentioned in the catalogues of the apostles, it was generally received as an apostolical inspired writing, and read publicly in the churches as such. The evidence of these important facts is stated and proved at large by Lardner, in his “Credibility of the Gospel History;” to which the reader, who desires full satisfaction on the subject, is referred.
The inscription of this epistle leads us to believe that it was written to all, without distinction, who had embraced the gospel; and, from its contents, we plainly see that the design of the apostle was, “by describing the character of the false teachers, and pointing out the divine judgments which persons of such a character had reason to expect, to caution Christians against listening to their suggestions, and being thereby perverted from the faith and purity of the gospel.” Indeed, Jude’s design seems to have been the same with that of Peter in writing his second letter, between the second chapter of which, and this epistle of Jude, there is a remarkable similarity; which, as was observed in the preface to that epistle, was probably owing to this circumstance, that both the apostles drew their character of the false teachers, against whom they cautioned their readers, from the character given of the false prophets, in some ancient Jewish author. Or, as Bishop Sherlock observes, Jude might have the second epistle of Peter before him when he wrote; a circumstance which, if admitted as probable, will give us light as to the date of this epistle. That of Peter was written but a very little while before his death; whence we may gather, that Jude lived some time after that event; and saw that grievous declension in the church which Peter had foretold. But he passes over some things mentioned by Peter, repeats some, in different expressions, and with a different view, and adds others; clearly evidencing thereby the wisdom of God which rested upon him. Thus St. Peter cites and confirms St. Paul’s writings, and is himself cited and confirmed by St. Jude.
Mill hath fixed the date of this epistle to A.D. 90; but Dodwell, who is followed by Cave, supposes, with a greater appearance of probability, that it was written soon after the destruction of Jerusalem; namely, about A.D. 70 or 71. L’Enfant and Beausobre also thought it was written about the same time; namely, between the years 70 and 75. There are various other opinions respecting its date, among the learned. But, upon the whole, though the precise date of it cannot be determined, it is highly probable that it was written in the latter part of the apostolic age, and not long before Jude’s death.
the First Week of Advent