Sunday, March 17, 2013


Bible Junkies Commentary on Jude 2

In the first installment, I looked at the “Judases” and “Jameses” in the New Testament. There seems only one good option for whom the Judas/Jude to whom this letter is attributed could be, the Judas/Jude who is the brother of Jacob/James and Jesus.  Modern scholarship, however, has questioned many of the ancient attributions of authorship for texts in the New Testament, so what are the arguments for and against authorship by Jude, brother of James and Jesus? And how does the resolution of the question of authorship impact the dating of the letter?

3. Did Jude, brother of James, write this letter?  

a) Arguments for Jude:

The arguments in favor of the authorship of Jude, brother of James include, foremost, that the tradition, nearer to the time of authorship, did accept Jude’s authorship of this letter, even though Eusebius noted that there were disputes about it. Church fathers, such as Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria , and the Muratorian Canon, considered it scripture (J.N.D. Kelly, A Commentary on the Epistles of Peter and Jude (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1969) 223-24).

Another argument in favor of Jude’s authorship would be that the letter includes a direct allusion to the Assumption of Moses and a direct citation from 1 Enoch, both Jewish texts which were not (and are not) canonical, which might suggest both a Jewish author and a Palestinian origin for the letter. (More will be said about the intriguing use of these texts and the texts themselves later.)

It might also be said that the letter is not just one of the shortest NT letters, but one of the least significant, in that it is difficult to find a synthesizing threads in it or a particularly strong theological argument. Why would this letter be attributed to a relative of James and Jesus if it were not genuine?

Another point, modern not ancient, is that there is a close relationship between Jude and 2 Peter and modern commentators are almost unanimous in believing that the borrowing is done by 2 Peter from Jude and not the other way around. This would indicate the authority of Jude in the ancient Church (more will be said about this relationship and other possible solutions later on in other installments).  

Finally, if one wanted to attribute an early Christian text to someone who had not written it, why would you choose the relatively anonymous Jude when other more significant options presented themselves?

b) Arguments against Jude:

The arguments against Jude, apart from the doubts expressed in the early Church, generally have to do with the style and vocabulary of the letter.

A major argument against Jude’s authorship is that the letter is written in excellent Greek and includes 22 Greek words not found elsewhere in the NT (Patrick J. Hartin, James, 1Peter, Jude, 2 Peter (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2006) 48). This is thought to exclude a Jewish relative of Jesus, who might speak Greek, but probably is not able to write in such a fluid and literary style.

Another argument against Jude’s authorship is that the opening greeting of this letter has “May mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance.” This is not like Paul’s letters, which are early, and have “grace” and “peace.” Later letters, though, such as 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and 2 John have the similar greeting as found in Jude and so the argument is that Jude must be post-apostolic.

Finally, another popular argument against Jude’s authorship is found in vv.17-18, which read as follows:

17 But you, beloved, must remember the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; 18 for they said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, indulging their own ungodly lusts.”

Scholars argue that these verses indicate a time after the apostles and so would place this letter in a time after the apostles and the first generation Christians.

Why would someone associate a letter with an early Christian relative of Jesus if it was not written by this person? Arguments generally take the form of this offered by Patrick J. Hartin: “the writer invokes the name of Jude because he wishes to endorse his authority in settling problems that have arisen in a certain area of the Christian church” (Patrick J. Hartin, James, 1 Peter, Jude, 2 Peter, 49).

c) Weighing the evidence:

With respect to the arguments offered for the letter being pseudonymous (written by an unknown person in the name of Jude), I have always found the sort of argument that “the writer invokes the name of Jude because he wishes to endorse his authority in settling problems that have arisen in a certain area of the Christian church” troubling: how would someone’s authority be invoked if it was known that the supposed author was already dead? That is, if the authority of Jude was accepted and valued by the communities in question, would they not have a sense of whether he wrote this or whether he was even alive to write it?  I mean, if his authority is valued they would know basic information about him, I suspect, such as, is he alive or dead. Or does one bring the letter to the Church community (or communities) and claim that a long lost letter of Jude has been found which, lo and behold, just happens to speak to the present troubles in the Church even though he is dead? I have never exactly figured out how this “appeal to authority” was supposed to function in the early Church if a letter was attributed to a person no longer living.

I am not convinced either by arguments of “excellent Greek” ruling out the early followers of Jesus as authors, including even his  relatives, for three reasons: one, Jesus’ early followers might not have been as uneducated as previously thought (“Do you know Greek? How Much Greek Could the First Jewish Christians Have Known?” in J. N. Sevenster, Novum Testamentum Supplementum 19); two, Greek was a common language amongst Jews (Saul Lieberman, Greek in Jewish Palestine/Hellenism in Jewish Palestine; Martin Hengel, Judaism and Hellenism); and three, we must always allow that many letters were not written by the “authors” as such, but by scribes (William F. Brosend II, James and Jude . NCBC (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) who could have had an excellent education and superior vocabulary.

As to vv. 17-18, I am not certain if these verses suggest that the letter is written in the post-apostolic period or simply that the author does not consider himself an apostle, which by definition Jude is not and does not claim to be.

The argument that holds the most weight for me against Jude’s authorship is actually the concerns of the early Church as to whether Jude was responsible for this letter, but I do not think they outweigh the tradition accepting the letter or the arguments which suggest that Jude is a fairly anonymous letter to attribute to a fairly anonymous early Christian figure.

While this might not settle the question for some – scholars are weighted more heavily to rejecting Jude’s authorship, though many accept it as well – perhaps only a study of the letter itself can determine the issue of authorship and it might be best to examine the letter before coming to a final conclusion. One thing that can be said though is that how one answers this question determines the date to which one attributes Jude.

4. When was Jude written?

It becomes clear that if one links authorship to Jude, brother of James and Jesus, the dating will be earlier, probably before 70 A.D. (Brosend, James and Jude, 6-7). We have no dates as to when Jude died, as we do with James (62 A.D.) for instance, so we have no sense of what might be the latest date for this letter based on his lifespan, but the apocalyptic scenarios reflect the concerns of the earliest Christians and the letters of Paul. The citation of (or allusion to) the Jewish documents mentioned earlier – Assumption of Moses and 1 Enoch – indicate an early point in Jewish Christianity when these documents were still accepted as authoritative. In addition, it seems that the Temple is still standing since such an event is not alluded to in the letter.

If one states that authorship is post-apostolic and after the time of Jude himself, then we would be dating this letter into the later 1st century, such as 90-100 A.D. The great Bo Reicke, for instance, in The Epistles of James, Peter and Jude. Anchor Bible Commentary (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964) says that “political and social factors point to the years around A.D. 90 and the situation under Domitian” (192).  

5. To whom and from where was it written?

It is generally thought, and I think the letter will bear this out, that the letter is written to Jewish Christians in particular, due to the texts cited and the concerns of the letter, though this does not mean that gentile Christians could not have read the letter obviously. Most scholars would also claim that the letter was written from Palestine, which would certainly be the case if, as I believe, Jude is the author, or from Syria.

Next time, we start to actually examine the letter of Jude, its theology and arguments.


John W. Martens

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