Many recognize the name “Jude” from the title of a song by the Beatles. But how many realize it is also the name of a New Testament book of the Bible?
It is important for students of the Bible to become familiar with Jude—a seldom-read and little-understood book.
William Barclay, in his Daily Study Bible Series, makes this meaningful observation: “When we understand Jude’s thought … his letter becomes one of the greatest interest for the history of the earliest church and by no means without relevance for today. There have indeed been times in the history of the church, and especially in its revivals when Jude was not far from being the most relevant book in the New Testament” (p. 157, emphasis added throughout).
Background of Jude
Jude is an English rendering of the name Judas. In verse 1 the author identifies himself as the “brother of James.” Most scholars agree that he was the half-brother of Jesus mentioned in Matthew 13:55.
Toward the end of the fourth century, Jude was recognized by those putting together a list of New Testament books that had been accepted as inspired. Some theologians were hesitant, due to the fact that verses from Jude are similar to those in 2 Peter, mostly in chapter 2. But this may merely be God’s way of using repetition as a tool to emphasize and establish important truths.
Purpose of Jude
Jude tells us he was planning to write a more general letter concerning “our common salvation,” when he heard the news that false teachers had infiltrated the Church (“crept in unnoticed”) and were teaching contrary to established doctrines (verses 3-4).
“The design of the epistle is clearly to guard the Christian Church against false teachers, who resolved all religion into speculative belief and outward profession, and sought to allure the disciples into insubordination and licentiousness” (Joseph Angus, The Bible Handbook, pp. 749-750).
Who were the heretics?
These heretics were denying the lordship of Jesus Christ and turning His grace (favor) into immoral and licentious practices (verse 4).
First, by denying “the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ,” they appear to be identified as early gnostics. Gnosticism became a philosophy that spread throughout the Roman Empire toward the end of the first century.
“They liked to think of themselves as intellectual—possessing a superior knowledge of God. They made a complete distinction between the spiritual (which was pure) and the material (which was evil). In practice this often led to immorality—because nothing the body did could tarnish the purity of the spirit. It also led to a denial of Christ’s human nature—which was either ‘make-believe’ or only temporary. The Christ—being spirit—could not have died” (David and Pat Alexander, The Lion Handbook of the Bible, p. 640).
Second, it appears the heretics were antinomians. Collins English Dictionary defines antinomian as “holding the view that by faith a Christian is released from the obligation of observing moral law.” They were bent on perverting grace by claiming that the law was no longer necessary for Christians. Grace was paramount; and the more people sinned, the more grace was made available. And so they became a law unto themselves, and nothing was forbidden.
Out of concern for members of the Church, Jude sets out to counter the serious threat posed by these renegade teachers.
Outline of Jude
Jude addresses the epistle to those who are:
- “Called” or the elect, as Christians are identified (Matthew 24:24, 31; Colossians 3:12; 1 Peter 1:2).
- “Sanctified,” beloved and set apart (for a purpose).
- “Preserved,” watched over in order to keep safe.
Jude expresses his desire that mercy, peace and love be multiplied to them (verse 2).
Jude interrupts a letter he was writing about the common salvation Christians share. Instead, he recognizes a more primary need, and that is to address the invasion of false teachers within the Church. The core of Christianity should be defended and guarded with resolute determination (“contend earnestly for the faith”). He is acutely aware that the foundational doctrines entrusted to the Church for safekeeping are under threat, and he proceeds to marshal the membership to unite against these false teachers.
Notice that these men who slipped into the Church were “ungodly,” known for their “lewdness” (gross immorality) and they denied both the Father and Jesus Christ. No wonder Jude was motivated by a sense of urgency to address these false and misleading teachings!
Lessons from the Old Testament: The ancient Israelites were chosen by God and given His laws. However, when they disobeyed and forsook His laws, they were punished and some were even killed. Knowledge alone is not a guarantee of salvation. It has to be accompanied by godliness (verse 5).
The angels who were given privileged positions of authority abused their office and are “in everlasting chains” waiting for final judgment (verse 6).
The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities suffered destruction as a result of their evil ways (verse 7). The law states that sin exacts a penalty, and none can escape its certainty (Romans 6:23).
Jude employs these Old Testament examples as proof of what awaits those guilty of apostasy and teaching error.
Jude gives a description of the character and mind-set of the deceivers.
Despite the Old Testament warnings, these false ministers persisted in their evil ways. These are “dreamers” who possibly were under a misguided impression that they had special knowledge revealed to them, contrary to the principles outlined in Deuteronomy 13:1-5. They corrupted their own bodies and spoke evil of and despised authority, especially within the Church (verse 8).
Jude uses the example of the archangel Michael who “in contending with the devil” refused to get drawn into a dispute with Satan (verse 9). Why? Very likely he did not want to involve himself in the spirit of accusation that is part of Satan’s nature. Satan loves to accuse, especially true Christians (Revelation 12:10). The false ministers became entrapped in the snare of the devil’s spirit of accusation (verses 9-10).
In verse 11 Jude uses three Old Testament examples of individuals who rejected God’s truths, following the ways of greed and rebellion.
- Cain was the first murderer, who killed his brother out of jealousy and selfishness.
- Second was Balaam. William Barclay states: “Balaam stands for two things. (a) He stands for the covetous man who was prepared to sin in order to gain reward. (b) He stands for the evil man who was guilty of the greatest of all sins—that of teaching others to sin” (p. 191).
- Third, there was Korah, who refused to submit to the authority of Moses and influenced others to rebel against him. Korah and the other rebels were destroyed as a result (Numbers 16).
The depraved character of these teachers is denounced by Jude as despicable and detestable (verses 12-16). Each word or phrase that Jude uses has rich meaning and exposes the base character of these individuals.
In verses 14-15, Jude quotes Enoch. This quote is also found in the apocryphal book of Enoch and refers to Christ returning to execute judgment upon the unrepentant, “ungodly sinners” who have “spoken against Him.” Though Jude recognized the authenticity of this quote, the book of Enoch itself was not recognized or accepted as inspired; and therefore it is not included in the canon of the Bible.
In verses 16-19 Jude is scathing in his condemnation of the false ministers. He describes them as:
- Grumblers and complainers.
- Flattering people to gain personal advantage.
- Mockers of God and His truths.
- Characterized by ungodly lusts.
- Lacking in God’s Spirit.
- Causing divisions.
- Driven by self-interest.
Next, Jude discusses the conduct of Christians in this critical situation.
Their conduct should be motivated by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, building up their confidence through faith and constant prayer. This they should do, keeping in mind the promise of eternal life that a loving God is offering them. The “most holy faith” may also be a reference to the body of beliefs (doctrines) of the Church.
In verses 22-23 Jude reminds the true Christians that they have a duty to those who may have stumbled due to the false teachings. Some may be close to the brink of accepting the errors, while others may have already started on the wrong path. If possible, these individuals need to be helped through compassion and understanding.
In this section, Jude encourages the Church to remain steadfast in the face of the crisis. It is God they should look to and trust, as He is able to do more for them than they could ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). God has all the power, dominion and majesty, and He will eventually secure victory over all evil (1 Corinthians 15:57-58).
Jude uses triplets (sets of three) for emphasis:
- Two sets of three in the introductory greetings: called, sanctified and preserved (verse 1) and mercy, peace and love (verse 2).
- Three examples of divine punishment: the unbelieving Israelites, the rebellious angels, and Sodom and Gomorrah and the other cities (verses 5-7).
- Three examples of wickedness: Cain, Balaam and Korah (verse 11).
- Three classes of evildoers: grumblers, complainers (discontented) and those who flatter for personal gain (verse 16).
Jude is not hesitant to use Old Testament examples as evidence against the evil deeds of the false prophets. He uses the Old to illustrate the New, evidence that Jude highly regarded the Scriptures of the Old Testament.
Focusing with faith on God’s plan
God’s desire is for all humans to have access to His plan of salvation (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). David was mindful of God’s promises: “You will show me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
Contrary to the false prophets who placed a great deal of emphasis on the present, temporary physical existence, Jude’s focus is on the promises of God that extend beyond the here and the now.
As the apostle Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 2:9, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” As our Creator, God reveals knowledge beyond the scope of what the human mind can comprehend without the Holy Spirit.
Each of us is given the opportunity to take God at His word and to claim His eternal promises that He has prepared for us. Learn more about how to believe and draw close to God in our section on “Faith.”
For a quick link to all the other books of the Bible, see “Books of the Bible” on the Learning Center.