In my last post I discussed the formation of our New Testament canon, in this post I would like to examine one specific book of the canon. The Epistle (or Letter) of Jude.
The Letter of Jude is one of the shortest entries of the New Testament, and as such is often overshadowed by the Book of Revelation which proceeds it. As referenced in my previous post, the very short composition of this letter, which consists of only one chapter, was a stumbling block for some in viewing it as authoritative. Nonetheless, it appears on the earliest known Christian canonical list (called the Muratorian canon) and ultimately became a part of our New Testament. So what about this brief letter made it so important to early Christian communities that many viewed it as scripture? Obviously, the letter was written by a man named Jude — but who was he? And how is it that of all the numerous well known Apostles and believers of the early Church, a short letter written by this man named Jude came to be included in the New Testament of our Bible? Therefore in this post I will pose the question: Who was Jude?
Jude provides us with a clue to his identity, giving us some personal information about himself in the introduction to his Letter, “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James” (Jude 1:1). While we all know who Jesus Christ was, who was this brother James he spoke of? Obviously this James must have been a very well-known figure to the early church, since all Jude needs to do is simply mention his name with no other explanation, expecting that everyone will know who he is. So just who was this James? There were three such well-known men named James during the time of Jesus.
The first was the James, who along with his brother John, were among the Twelve Disciples of Jesus, and later Apostles. They are also called the sons of Zebedee. However, it is extremely unlikely that our Jude was referring to this James, the brother of John, because that James was killed (or martyred) as recorded in the book of Acts long before Jude was ever written. Once more, this James is explicitly identified as being the brother of John and not of Jude.
The next James is also among the Twelve Disciples (and later Apostles) of Jesus. However this James is not listed as the brother of Jude either, but as the brother of Matthew (who was also known as Levi). These two brothers were the sons of Alphaeus. In total, there were three sets of brothers among the Disciples of Jesus, i.e. James & John, James & Mathew (Levi) and Peter & Andrew. In fact, the only Jude among the twelve was Judas Iscariot whom betrayed Christ and shortly thereafter took his own life. Therefore our Jude and his brother James, from the evidence, were not among the original Twelve Disciples of Jesus.
Finally we come to our third James, who became leader of the Jerusalem church, and is almost certainly the brother that Jude speaks of. How can we know? Because the Gospels actually explicitly identify them as brothers. From Matthew 13:53-56,
“When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas (Jude)? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?”
Jude I should note, is the short for Judas. Therefore, when our Jude in his introduction to his letter merely references himself as the “servant of Jesus Christ,” and “a brother of James,” he is in fact being humbly devout and reverent. Because the evidence would suggest that our Jude, and his brother James, were in fact actual brothers of Jesus Christ too. This revelation explains why that despite its very short length and critics, the Letter of Jude came to be viewed as authoritative to so many. So when was it written? Though the range of dates widely varies, the general consensus among scholars is that it was written between the years 75-90 AD. One of the early Apostolic Fathers, Clement of Rome, alludes to Jude’s Letter in his own writings in 96 AD.
So what other biographical notes can we discern about Jude. If you are from the Protestant and Evangelical community, we know that Jude was the youngest son of Joseph and Mary. His older brothers were Jesus, James, Joseph (Josses) and Simon. That he likely had at least three sisters, i.e. note the phrase “all his sisters” as used in Matthew 13:56 instead of “both sisters”. Therefore, taking into account the size of the family, and allowing for 2-3 years between children, we can estimate that Jude was anywhere between 8 to 21 years younger than Jesus. Assuming the latter end, this explains why his letter is much older than most of the other NT epistles/letters, and why he is reminding readers what the Apostles foretold (as many have since died). We also know that Jude, like his other brothers, did not originally believe that Jesus was the Christ (John 7:5) until after the resurrection; where all his brothers are together with Mary and the disciples, waiting for the arrival of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14). Additionally, we can also say that Jude was married (and likely a father) from the letters of the Apostle Paul (1st Cor. 9:5). Beyond these biographical excerpts from scripture, very little else is known about Jude. Where he ministered, to whom he was writing, or even how he died? We simply do not know the answers to these questions. There is no early Church tradition on Jude, as there is with James. However, there is interestingly an account from an early Church Father named Hegesippus that mentions descendants of Jude (grandchildren) whom escaped death under the reign of Domitian. But no other traditions on Jude himself.
Concerning the actual Letter that bears his name. As mentioned earlier it is only one chapter long, 25 verses in total, and was written between the years 75-90 AD. The purpose of his letter was to address many ungodly people trying to deceive believers (the Church), and reminding the readers that these things will also occur in the last days. His advice is for believers to watch out for each other so that no one is misled, and to focus on Jesus Christ through whom ones salvation is always secure.
“To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy — to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.” (Jude 1:24-25)
In our own modern times with such widespread skeptical cynicism and deceptions around almost every corner, we would all do well to remember those inspired words from Jude. Thank you for reading. I hope some may have found this post insightful.