Sunday, 29 July 2012

The New Testament Epistle of Judas

Anthony van Dyck's St. Jude
     The book entitled "Jude" in our English Bibles begins with these words in the Greek New Testament: Ioudas Iēsou Christou doulos, adelphos de Iakōbou, meaning, "Judas, a slave of Jesus Christ and brother of Jacob" (author’s own translation). The abbreviated "Jude" serves to distinguish this particular Judas from the infamous betrayer of the Lord, and the one designated "Jacob" is better known to us by the Middle English equivalent "James" (see NT Epistle of Jacob).
     There are at least five men in the New Testament named Ioudas (Mark 6:3; Luke 6:16; Acts 5:37; 15:22), a common moniker among first-century Jews presumably due to the influence of Judas Macabaeus, the leader of the Maccabean revolt of 167-160 BC. Since the author of this epistle is the brother of James, it follows that he is also the half-brother of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3).
     The epistle of Jude has early attestation, including the Muratorian Canon (ca. 170), Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-215), and Tertullian of Carthage (ca. 160-220). Eusebius of Caesarea (ca. 263-339) observes that even though not many of the ancients mention the epistle, it was counted among the so-called "General Epistles" and was publicly used in most churches at the time (Eccl. Hist. 2.23.25; cf. 3.25.3).
     One of the arguments against Jude’s authorship concerns the references in v. 3 to "the faith once delivered to the saints" and in v. 17 to "the words previously spoken by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ," which sound like a much later stage of Christianity when apostolic tradition was more firmly set (see Biblical Authorship: Challenging Anti-Conservative Presuppositions Part 2). But "the faith" was well established much earlier than many critical scholars are prone to concede (cf. Acts 6:7; 13:8; 14:21-22; Galatians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 16:13), and Jude’s allusion to the apostles’ words is applied to their predictive teachings rather than established tradition.
     The occasion of the epistle is the simple fact that ungodly men had secretly "crept in" among the disciples to whom Jude writes (vv. 3-4). His initial intent was to convey a positive message about "our common salvation," but his focus abruptly switches to the urgency of his readers to "contend for the faith" in view of the present intrusion. Since the agitators closely resemble those depicted in 2 Peter, the same general movement may be in view.
     By comparing Jude 4-18 with 2 Peter 2:1-18; 3:1-3, it would appear that the two documents share a literary affinity. While the majority opinion in scholarly circles is that the parallel material in 2 Peter was copied from Jude, it seems more likely that Jude borrowed from 2 Peter. For one thing, Jude 17-18 appears to be a quote from 2 Peter 3:1-3 rather than vice versa. Some may object by pointing to the fact that Jude’s statement alludes to "the apostles" (plural) rather than the solitary author of 2 Peter. However, reference is made in 2 Peter 3:2 to "the words having been previously spoken by . . . your apostles." It is noteworthy that the ESV places the warning of Jude 18 in quotation marks and cites 2 Peter 3:2 in the margin. Another reason for maintaining the priority of 2 Peter is the predictive nature of the future tense in 2 Peter 2:1-3 and 3:3 (i.e. false teachers are coming), as compared to the apparent fulfilment implied by the present tense of Jude 4, 16-19 (i.e. false teachers are here).
     A plausible scenario is that 2 Peter was written to reprimand false teachers in a particular community (north-central Asia Minor) and was then shared with Jude, who was dealing with a similar form of heresy in his own area. Jude adapts the portions of 2 Peter that were pertinent to the situation with which he was immediately concerned. While the possibility of literary collaboration or use of a common source cannot be discounted either, the involvement of the Holy Spirit is another common denominator (cf. 2 Peter 1:19-21).
     "To [the] only God our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord [be] glory, majesty, power and authority before all time and now and forever. Amen" (Jude 25).
--Kevin L. Moore

Related Posts: Jude's Use of Pseudonymous Sources, Epistle of Jacob

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