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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Chapter 1

Book Overview - Jude

by Joseph Exell



THIS short Epistle holds a singular place among the New Testament books. Its authorship, its date, the circle of its readers, the evils against which it is directed, and indeed almost all points connected with its literary history, are the subjects of keen dispute. The most opposite verdicts have been pronounced, and continue to be pronounced, on its title to a position in the canon, on its doctrinal value, on its worth as a mirror of the condition of the primitive Church. There are things in it which have no proper parallels in the canonical Scriptures. It is not too much to say that the New Testament nowhere else presents so many strange phenomena, or raises so many curious questions within so narrow a space. It has a character which makes one feel how different it is even from writings like the Second Epistle of Peter, which it seems most to resemble. Its style is broken and rugged, bold and picturesque, energetic, vehement, glowing with the fires of passion. In the build of its sentences it is more Aramaic than Greek, but it has at the same time a considerable command of strong, varied, and expressive terms. Hebrew phrases and idioms betray the Jewish training and Jewish standpoint of the writer. It combines some of the peculiar features of Old Testament prophecy with those of the Jewish Apocalyptic literature. Its general character is given with sufficient point by Origen, in a well-known sentence. "Jude wrote an Epistle," he says, in his Commentary on Matthew, "consisting of few lines, indeed, but filled with the vigorous words of heavenly grace."


The title of the Epistle appears in a variety of forms, and these are of some interest. The older the document, the simpler the title. The two most ancient and valuable manuscripts, the Sinaitic and the Vatican, give nothing more than the single word "Jude." The Codex Alexandrinus, with some others of high quality, is content with the heading, "The Epistle of Jude," and leaves the question of the author's identity untouched. Later the title expands into such forms as these: "The Epistle of Jude the Apostle," "The Epistle of the Holy Apostle Jude," "The Catholic Epistle of Jude," "The Catholic Epistle of St. Jude," "The Catholic Epistle of the Apostle Jude," "The Catholic Epistle of the Holy Apostle Jude," "The Epistle of Jude the Brother of James." One very late manuscript ventures to give Jude the designation , ἀδελφοθεο ì<sup>ς</sup>, "brother of God."

The order of thought is clear enough. The Epistle begins with an inscription (verses 1, 2), which resembles in some respects the introductions to the Epistles of Peter and Paul, but has at the same time its own peculiarities. This is followed by an explanation of the object and occasion of writing (verses 3, 4). The writer next indicates the gravity of the circumstances to which he is to call attention, by setting in the foreground three exceptional instances of the Divine vengeance (verses 5-7). He then describes, in scathing terms and by contrast with archangelic reserve, the character and conduct of the men he combats (verses 8, 9). The description breaks for an instant into a vehement denunciation (verse 11). It is at once resumed and connected with declarations made by most ancient prophecy on the subject of the Lord's judicial advent (verses 12-16). Next comes an appeal to the readers to be mindful of former apostolic warnings (verses 17, 18); which appeal is followed by yet another description of the men in question — short, sharp, and penetrating to the radical evil (verse 19). The Epistle then turns to counsels to the readers on the two great questions — how to protect themselves against the perversion which has seized others, and how to conduct themselves towards the men in whom that perversion in different degrees has appeared (verses 20-23). The whole is brought to a solemn and tranquil conclusion by a doxology which touches once more both the danger and the security (verses 24, 25).


In addition to the traitor Judas Iscariot, another Jude appears in the lists of the apostles. In the Gospel histories he is entirely in the background, there being, indeed, but a single occasion on which he is reported to have taken an active part even in speech. That is during our Lord's discourse previous to his going forth to meet his betrayal; when this one of the twelve breaks in with the question, "Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?" (John 14:22). But in the apostolic lists he is introduced along with James the son of Alpheus, Simon Zelotes, and Judas Iscariot. He is generally identified with Lebbeus and Thaddeus, although some have attempted rather to make Levi one with Lebbeus. He is also called "Jude of James" (Luke 6:16) — a phrase which the Authorized Version renders, "Jude the brother of James," but which has on the whole a better title to be taken as "Jude the son of James."

But the Gospels also speak of a Jude, or Judas, who was one of the brethren of Jesus. Both Matthew (Matthew 13:55) and Mark (Mark 6:3) represent the men of our Lord's "own country" as mentioning him by name. Of this Jude we know extremely little. The historical books of the New Testament indicate that these brethren of Jesus were at first unbelievers (John 7:5), and that afterwards (probably not till the Resurrection was accomplished) they were of the company of disciples (Acts 1:14). This will apply, we have every reason to think, to Jude as well as others. But beyond what these passages suggest, we have nothing from the New Testament itself. Neither does early ecclesiastical history furnish us with much. There is, however, one statement of great interest, which has come down to us from Hegesippus, the father of Church history, who flourished perhaps about the middle of the second century. It has been preserved for us by Eusebius, and is of such importance that it may be given in full. "There were yet living of the family of our Lord," the narrative says, "the grandchildren of Judas, called the brother of our Lord, according to the flesh. These were reported as being of the family of David, and were brought to Domitian by the Evocatus. For this emperor was as much alarmed at the appearance of Christ as Herod. He put the question whether they were of David's race, and they confessed that they were. He then asked them what property they had, or how much money they owned. And both of them answered that they had between them only nine thousand denarii, and this they had not in silver, but in the value of a piece of land containing only thirty-nine acres, from which they raised their taxes, and supported themselves by their own labour. Then they also began to show their hands, exhibiting the hardness of their bodies, and the callosity formed by incessant labour on their hands, as evidence of their own labour. When asked, also, respecting Christ and his kingdom, what was its nature, and when and where it was to appear, they replied 'that it was not a temporal nor an earthly kingdom, but celestial and angelic; that it would appear at the end of the world, when, coming in glory, he would judge the quick and dead, and give to every one according to his works.' Upon which Domitian, despising them, made no reply; but treating them with contempt, as simpletons, commanded them to be dismissed, and by a decree ordered the persecution to cease. Thus delivered, they ruled the Churches, both as witnesses and relatives of the Lord. When peace was established, they continued living even to the times of Trajan" (Eusebius, 'Eccl. Hist.,' 3:20: Bohn). As Domitian reigned from A.D. 81 to 96, this passage helps us so far to determine the limit of Jude's life.

The question of the authorship of our Epistle has been for the most part question as to which of these two Jades is the writer. The necessity of making a choice has been superseded, it is true, by some who have contended that the apostle and the Lord's brother were one and the same person. This identification, however, rests upon the two suppositions that "Jude of James" means "Jude the brother of James," and that the sons of Alpheus were brothers of Jesus. But the former supposition is, as we have said, less probable than another, and the latter has against it the distinct statement in John 7:5. The theory has also been propounded that the author is the Judas surnamed Barsabas of Acts 15:22, etc. But this has met with little favour. With most, therefore, the question is still this — Which of two Judes is the writer of this Epistle? Is it the apostle with the three names, or is it the non-apostolic brother of Jesus?

With many, both in ancient and in modern times, the opinion has prevailed that the apostle is the author. But the difficulties in the way of this are considerable. Besides the argument drawn from the circumstance that the Jude who belongs to the twelve is represented rather as the son than as the brother of James, there is the fact that the writer of our Epistle nowhere calls himself an apostle, or even hints at his being so, and there is no apparent reason why he should have avoided mention of his real position. Further, if he was an apostle, it is difficult to see why he should have appealed to his relationship to James rather than to the weightier fact of his official dignity. And again, the manner in which he refers to "the words which have been spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ" (verse 17) leads us most naturally to the same conclusion. For he appears there to distinguish himself from them, and to appeal, in support of his exhortations, to an authority higher than his own.

This being the case, the decision must be in favour of the Lord's brother. It has been strongly urged by some that, if the writer had held this relationship to Christ, he would have found in it his most direct and obvious claim upon the attention of his readers, and would not have failed to make use of the title. But this is sufficiently met by the explanation which was given in very ancient times. The death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus had produced such a change on the position and the ideas of those who had been most intimately connected with him on earth, that religious feeling would restrain them from preferring any claim on the ground of human relationship or asserting the ties of nature. On the other hand, the designation, "brother of James," and other peculiarities of the Epistle, are easily understood if the writer is not the apostle, and if the James referred to is the well-known head of the mother Church of Jerusalem.


Both these questions remain unsettled. As regards the question of place, materials for a decision entirely fail us. So far as a decision has been attempted, it has Been in favour of Palestine. This is held to be supported by the Jewish-Christian tone of the Epistle, and the tradition regarding the residence of the descendants of Jude. But there is nothing of a more positive kind to appeal to. The case is somewhat different with the question of date. While external testimony is lacking, there is a certain measure of internal evidence to fall back upon. But even that is unfortunately very indeterminate. Little or nothing can be made of the references to apocryphal writings, the date of these writings themselves being so far from certain. Neither can any reliance be placed upon forms of expression which have been supposed to indicate an acquaintance with some of the Pauline Epistles. We should be on surer ground if it were possible to pronounce decisively on the relation in which Jude stands to 2 Peter. The resemblances between these two Epistles, in matter and in style, are numerous and striking. They are also of the kind to suggest that the one Epistle is indebted to the other, rather than that both borrow from a common stock. But it is extremely difficult to say which is prior. In support of the priority of Jude, for example, it is said that his style is so much more nervous, original, and concentrated than that of 2 Peter, that the latter seems a weakened amplification of the former; that it is more likely that a short Epistle should be extended by a later writer than that a longer Epistle should be condensed, and so forth. But then, with at least equal reason, it is argued, on behalf of the priority of 2 Peter, that that Epistle presents, in the form of predictions, certain evils which appear in Jude as actualities; that the arrangement of the matter is less artificial than in Jade; that there is a richness of imagery, antithesis, and the like in the latter which makes it strange that 2 Peter, if later and dependent, should borrow so little of it and pass by so many of the finest points.

In these circumstances it is no wonder that very different dates have been accepted. Renan, who discovers anti-Pauline feeling in the Epistle, would carry it as far back as A.D. 54. Lardner puts it between 64 and 66. Others would place it somewhere between 70 and 80, and some take it to have been written after all the apostles, save John, had died. The most probable conclusion seems to be that it was composed before A.D. 70, but how long before that year it is impossible to say. This idea of the date is supported by the general view which it offers of the state of the Church, the nature of the evils dealt with, and the allusion to the teaching of the apostles, but more especially by the absence of all reference to the destruction of Jerusalem. For if an event of such moment and one so pertinent to the subject in hand had taken place before this Epistle was written, it is hard to believe that the writer could have failed to notice the fact, or have missed the opportunity of adding it to the list of the warnings which he takes from the dread judgments of God.


No doubt appears to have been entertained by the early Church as to the genuineness of the Epistle. Opinions might waver for a time as to the position assignable to it in the Church, and as to the particular Jude who wrote it. But there was no dispute about its being the work of a Jude, the genuine work of the man from whom it professed to proceed. Even in later times few have been found to pronounce it fictitious or spurious. It is true that some recent critics have attempted to make it out to be a product of the post-apostolic age, and that several scholars of considerable authority have regarded it as a protest against the Gnosticism of the second century. But its direct and unaffected style, the witness which it bears to the life of the Church, the type of doctrine which it exhibits, and, above all, the improbability that any forger would have selected a name comparatively so obscure as that of Jude under which to shelter himself, or indeed would have thought of constructing an Epistle of this kind at all, have won for it general acceptance as genuine. "Whatever may be our opinion as to Second Peter," it is justly remarked by Dr. Plummet, "sober criticism requires us to believe that Jude was written by the man whose name it bears. To suppose that Jude is an assumed name is gratuitous."

It is otherwise with its canonicity. It won its way to ecclesiastical rank by slow and uncertain steps. Doubts overhung its claims in early antiquity, and these have been revived from time to time with an access of force, notably at the period of the Reformation and in our own day. On the one hand, it was not included in the Peshito Syriac Version. It was known, indeed, to Ephraem, the most distinguished name in the Syrian Church of the fourth century. But there is little or no evidence of its use in the Asiatic Churches up to the beginning of the fourth century. Eusebius classes it with the books which, though well known to many, were disputed. In another connection he speaks of it thus: "Not many of the ancients have mentioned the Epistle of Jude, which is also one of the seven Catholic Epistles. Nevertheless, we know that these, with the rest, are publicly used in most of the Churches." On the other hand, it is found in the Muratorian Canon, and in the Old Latin Version. It is referred to as the work of an apostle, or as Scripture, by such early writers as Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian of Carthage, Origen, and Malchion of Antioch. It also obtained a place in the Laodicean Canon, the Carthaginian Canon, and subsequent lists. Some of these witnesses, however, indicate that its position was not quite certain, and Jerome mentions the fact that it quotes the apocryphal Book of Enoch as a reason for its being rejected in some quarters. Its brevity, its peculiar contents, and the circumstance that it makes no claim to apostolic authorship, would no doubt also stand in the way of a rapid, extensive, and unhesitating acceptance.


It has been alleged that there is nothing in the Epistle to limit it to any particular Church or Churches, but that it deals with dangers to which all branches of the Church were exposed. The inscription certainly is in the most general terms, and the errors are such as may have prevailed more or less in different parts of the Church. But even when it is held to be a Catholic Epistle in the broadest sense of the term, it is usually admitted that the writer, while he meant it for all Christians without distinction, may have had some particular circle in his eye, and this is very largely taken to be the Christian community in Palestine. The definiteness of the terms strongly favours the idea that a definite Church or group of Churches must have been in view. But the question remains — Where are these to be found? In Palestine, say Credner, Keil, and others, because the Epistle, abounding as it does in allusions to events in the history of Israel, presupposes Jewish-Christian readers, and only in Palestine itself were distinctively Jewish-Christian Churches to be found at the period. In Syria, say others, or in the licentious Corinthian territory, or even in Egypt, in which land the physical phenomena are supposed to correspond remarkably with those appearing in the imagery of this letter. The question is really one between Jewish-Christian and Gentile-Christian readers. There is undoubtedly much to favour the idea that the former are in view, the books and conditions referred to, as well as the historical incidents, being all Jewish. But, on the other hand, it may be said that the Jewish colouring of the Epistle is sufficiently explained by the fact that the writer was originally a Jew, without making it necessary to suppose that the readers must have been the same. Further, the evils dealt with are of the kind to which converts from heathenism would be more liable than converts from Judaism. Hence there is some probability in the supposition that the Churches of Asia Minor are particularly in view. On these Churches Paul had expended much labour. In these he had set forth with great definiteness his doctrine of grace. In these he had had cause to defend the liberty of the gospel against gainsayers, and to meet a variety of errors. And these were the Churches in which such immoral perversion of the Pauline doctrine of grace, and such perils alike to truth and to life, as are dealt with in this Epistle, might most naturally arise. In this case Jude's Epistle would be a companion, not to that of his brother James, but to the Epistles of Peter, to the second of which it exhibits so many points of resemblance as at once to suggest that the same circle of readers and the same evils were in the view of both.


It is a question of great interest who are meant by the men who "crept in unawares." Their entrance into the Church is the occasion of Jude's writing, and it is against them that he hurls so many terms of terror. It is obvious, therefore, that the view taken of what these men were, whether doctrinal heretics, practical libertines, or what else, will affect our whole reading of the Epistle.

Many, both in ancient and in modern times, have been of the opinion that these insidious enemies of the Church were some kind of heretical teachers; but there has been no unanimity in identifying the particular kind. For the most part they have been regarded as one and the same with those referred to in 2 Peter. This was the view of Luther and Melanchthon, and it is still the view of many competent scholars; but the basis on which it rests is by no means secure. Not to speak of arguments, evidently of a very precarious kind, which are taken from one or two phrases (such as the clause, "the words spoken before," in verse 17, and the "separate themselves" in verse 19), that basis is the likeness between Jude and 2 Peter. This likeness, it is said, extends not only to the broad outlines of the descriptions, but to many remarkable figures and turns of expression; and as Peter certainly speaks of false teachers, Jude must be understood to do the same. But this is met by the contention that a more careful inspection of the two lines of description shows that they have distinctions at least as remarkable as their resemblances. It is pointed out, for example, that the outstanding feature of the statement in 2 Peter 2:1 is not found in Jude, and that in 2 Peter 3:2 we have something quite different from what appears in the smaller Epistle. Hence some, frankly recognizing these differences, hold that the errorists of Jude are to be identified rather with those of the Pastoral Epistles — the "false teachers" of 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 3:1, etc. Others would fain discover them in the men who are in view in the Epistle to the Colossians; while one influential school asserts that they are Gnostics of the second-century type. The absence, however, of any definite indication of the doctrines supposed to be taught, the difficulty of identifying the teachers with any known class, and the doubtful construction put upon two or three sentences which seem to favour some such view, are serious objections to this theory in any of its forms.

Hence a considerable number of interpreters have been driven to conclude for the opposite view — that the errorists in question are men of a certain manner of life, not of a certain type of doctrinal belief and teaching. But here again we have more than one form of the theory. Some take the men to have been libertines pure and simple — men who allowed themselves the utmost license of an immoral life, despising rule and authority, and corrupting the Church by their evil example and seductive influence. Thus put, however, the theory is too absolute, and it overlooks some notable features of the Epistle. For such statements as those in verses 4, 10, 18, 19, appear to point to men of the kind referred to in Romans 6:15 — men who made the doctrine of grace an excuse for lasciviousness, and a plea for holding themselves subject to no external law of life, whether that of the Old Testament or that of Christ. Hence the safest conclusion is probably the intermediate position adopted by Weiss. These insidious foes to the purity of the Church were not indeed doctrinal theorists or wild speculators like the Gnostics, or professed teachers. They were in the first instance libertines in conduct, but at the same time men whose libertinism in life had its root in perverted views of Divine grace and Christian liberty.


Among the older commentaries or treatises on Jude may be mentioned those by Manton; Jenkyn; Witsius; Schmid; Semler; Hasse; Hanlein; Jessien; Schneckenburger; De Wette; Stier; Arnaud; Rampf; Gardiner, Wiesinger; Schott; Bruckner. More recent are the following: Holmann's Commentary; Huther's; Keil's; Spitta's; Kuhl's; Burger's. The expositions in the following commentaries on the whole New Testament also deserve notice, namely, those by Webster and Wilkinson, Alford, Wordsworth, and Reuss; those in Schaff's 'Popular Commentary,' the 'Speaker's Commentary' (by Lumby); Cassell's 'Commentary,' edited by Bishop Ellicott (by Plummer); Lange's 'Commentary' (by Fronmuller); and the 'Cambridge Series' (by Plumptre).

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Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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