This Sunday’s sermon will be the first of two sermons from the sometimes overlooked Epistle of Jude. Here are some introductory facts about this letter.
Our author, according to the opening verse, is the “brother of James.” There is only one James in the early church who both (a) was so well-known that one could refer to him simply as “James;” and (b) had a brother named Jude (“Jude” is a variant form of the Hebrew name, Judah; the Greek form is Judas). This James was a brother of Jesus and an early leader of the church in Jerusalem. James’ leadership role is evident in Acts 15:13-21; Acts 21:18; and Gal. 2:9; the fact that he is one of Jesus’ brothers is mentioned in Gal. 1:19. James and Jude are both listed among Jesus’ brothers in Matt. 13:55 and Mk. 6:3. Prior to Jesus’ resurrection his brothers did not believe in him (e.g., John 7:5), but afterwards they did, as one can see in Acts 1:14 and 1 Cor. 9:5. So why doesn’t Jude refer to himself as a “brother of Jesus?” James doesn’t either in James 1:1. Both would have seen their position as bond-servants of Jesus as being their most meaningful relationship to the Messiah.
Jude wrote this letter to a particular congregation, but the location of that congregation is unknown to us. He wrote upon hearing of false teachers that had infiltrated the church there. Heretics were twisting the gospel of grace into an argument for leading immoral lives. Jude recognized that the congregation needed a wake-up call lest they succumb to this false message and fall away from true Christian faith and practice.
We cannot be certain as to when Jude was written; commentators cite various subtle pieces of evidence and lines of argument. One factor is that there are numerous similarities between Jude and 2 Peter. The evidence suggests that Jude was written first and that Peter used the Epistle of Jude as a source when he wrote his second epistle. Given that Peter was martyred in the mid AD 60s, some scholars believe that Jude may have been written in the late AD 50s or early 60s.
Jude follows the standard format of a letter in his day: first an opening greeting (vv 1-2), then the body of the letter (vv. 3-23), and finally a concluding benediction (vv. 24-25). Slightly unusual is the lack of a thanksgiving after the greeting, and the lack of personal greetings at the end of the letter.
One unique feature of Jude’s epistle is his use of two extra-biblical Jewish writings. In verse 9 he makes reference to an account found in The Assumption of Moses. In verses 14-15 he quotes from 1 Enoch. Jude treats this particular quotation as a divinely inspired word of prophecy, but it would be going beyond the evidence to suggest that therefore the entire book of 1 Enoch should be considered canonical. It may be the case that Jude quoted from these books both because (a) they cohered well with the main thrust of his epistle (that is certainly the case with the Enoch quotation) and (b)they were important in the cultural background of his readers.
Something to Think About
It may be inconvenient to change our plans and (as Jude did — see v 3) to shift gears from encouragement to exhortation, but if we care enough to confront, we will not let false teachings in our churches go unchecked but contend for the faith once for all delivered to believers. — Köstenberger, Kellum, Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown, p. 770.