Sunday, March 24, 2013

In the first installment, I set out the traditional Greco-Roman letter format and looked at the “Judases” and “Jameses” in the New Testament. There seemed to be 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.  In the second installment, I weighed the arguments on authorship and decided the best evidence does indeed point in that direction. I then looked at what this means for the date of the letter and the location, or place, in which the letter was written.  In this, the third installment, I begin to examine the content of the letter itself, the reasons the letter was sent, and the goals of the letter.

6. The Letter of Jude:

The letter of Jude appears in the NT just before the book of Revelation, so if you are suddenly coming across a dragon that attempts to devour a woman and her son, and beasts from the sea and land, you have gone too far. Turn back, although when you get to Jude you will find that there are a number of apocalyptic elements in this letter as well as in John’s Apocalypse.

a) Salutation: verses 1-2

1 Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, who are beloved in God the Father and kept safe for Jesus Christ: 2 May mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance. (NRSV)

A salutation in a Greco-Roman letter consists of the sender, the recipients, and a greeting. The sender, Jude, has already been discussed in the first two installments, as is his relationship to James, and which James it is, so we need not rehash that here. He also describes himself as a doulos of Jesus Christ, which might be better translated as “slave” instead of “servant,” though both are possible.  This seems to have been a fairly common appellation in early Christianity, since Paul calls himself a doulos of Jesus Christ in Romans 1:1 and Galatians 1;10, as do James and  2 Peter. Kelly sees Old Testament  origins in this language (241) and Hartin draws the same connections,  as with Moses in 1 Kings 8:53 and David in 1 Kings 8:66, where both are called a “slave of God” (51). Kelly says that the “underlying thought is that, having been rescued from slavery to sin and death, Christians now belong wholly to him as His slaves. As a self-designation, however, the title has specialized significance: it connotes one who is charged to labour in his service.” (242)

The letter is sent “to those who are called,” which indicates a letter that could have been sent to many churches. This is argued by many scholars, who believe the letter is general or “catholic,” such as Reicke (194-95) Brosend (14) Catherine Gunsalves Gonzalez, 1 & 2 Peter and Jude, 215 and Daniel Keating, First and Second Peter, Jude, 197. Kelly (242-43) and Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 429 believe that the letter is sent to specific churches because of the particular theological problems that they see the letter addressing, which means it was sent to some churches, but not the whole of the Church. Finally, Hartin, due to the authorship and the connections of Jude and James to Jewish Christianity, states the letter was sent specifically to Jewish Christians.  

“Those who are called” definitely includes all Christians, indeed, it was another way to say “Christian” in the early Church, so I opt for this letter being a general, “catholic” letter. It is true, as we shall see, that the letter is addressed to specific errors or problems in the Church, but even when problems only occur in one branch of an organization, it is often taken as an opportunity to warn the whole corporation about problems or the threat of problems and an attempt to forestall such a problem appearing elsewhere. This is what I see taking place with Jude’s letter. It might have been, in the first order, sent to Jewish Christians, since these were the Christians with whom the Jerusalem church was most in contact, but since the “called” are inclusive, I take the recipients to be inclusive of the whole Church.

“Those who are called” are also described in two other ways:  “beloved in God the Father” and “kept safe for Jesus Christ.” There are two interesting aspects to these descriptions: one is that there is an “eschatological,” or end of the world, sense to these descriptions; and two is that they reflect the elements of the Servant is described in Isaiah. The first element has to do with the description of those who are called being “kept safe” (Richard Bauckham, Jude and 2 Peter, 26). The verb, têreô, found as a participle in Jude, has the meaning of “kept safe,”  “to take care of” or “guarded.” So the Christians, the called, are being “kept safe” or “guarded” for Jesus Christ. This could mean being kept safe or guarded from error, but it could also indicate that they are being protected and guarded for the coming end when Jesus returns. I think this is a clear sense of the “guarding,” being protected until the return of Jesus.

Both Bauckham (25-27) and Keating (197) believe that the threefold description of “called,” “beloved,” and “kept safe” might be borrowed by Jude from the servant songs in Isaiah 40-55, which is possible. It also seems to me that the Christians, like Israel, understood themselves as called, and a part of this call was God’s love and protection, which is seen throughout the Old Testament, not only in Isaiah.  I have nothing against the suggestion that Isaiah might have influenced Jude, I just see this as possibly a broader influence and a natural understanding of the experience of God. It is, obviously, a Christian innovation to attribute the protection to Jesus Christ himself.

I should mention, too, that some scholars do not approve of the translations “beloved in God the Father” and “kept safe for Jesus Christ.” Schreiner particularly offers these translations (from the NIV): “who are loved by God the father” and “kept by Jesus Christ” (427). He has a fairly long discussion of these translations (427-431) in which he argues for the symmetry of being “loved by” and “kept by,” but the bottom line is that the NRSV does a better job of translating the Greek itself, especially the en, which means in, in “beloved in.” Now translation discussions are important, sometimes very important, but however one translates these phrases, it seems quite clear that those who are called are loved by God and protected by Jesus Christ. I do prefer the NRSV translation, since it is truer to the original text, and those who are beloved in God and kept safe for Jesus Christ are being kept safe and beloved by God and Jesus Christ. There is no other agent than God.

 The greeting to thee churches, “may mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance,” also garners some attention, though the Greek is clear and simple, as are the wishes the greeting calls forth, because many early Christian letters have a twofold greeting. The most common twofold greeting in Christian letters is “grace and peace” (Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, Galatians 1:3, etc.), although 1 Timothy 1:2 and 2 Timothy 1:2 have “grace, mercy and peace.” The most interesting aspect of this is actually that “grace” is missing from the greeting, but the word “mercy” must include aspects of “grace.” Besides, why should every early Christian letter have the same or identical greeting?  “Mercy and peace” are found in some Jewish letters (2 Baruch 78:3) and that Jude would add “love” (agape) to this makes sense. It is fairly Christian, is it not?

So, here is the beginning of the letter, sent to Christians, who are loved and protected by God, wishing them mercy, peace and love. It’s a beautiful start to the letter!

John W. Martens

I invite you to follow me on Twitter @Biblejunkies


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  2. First of all, I wanted to comment on your blogs regarding Jude’s epistle.

    Prior to reading your discussion on the differentiation between ‘letter’ and ‘epistle,’ I must admit, I have always believed that they meant the same thing. I found it interesting that letters are private, while epistles are overt. I have recently studied the format of Paul’s Letter (or Epistle) to the Romans, so I appreciated your comparison of Jude’s epistle to Paul’s letters. In my view, your blogs are very helpful in affirming what I have learned from my research. They truly can help someone, who is interested in reading or studying the epistles, as you provide us with a solid foundation from which to base our understanding.

    Also, I found your analysis of who the real Jude was to be quite interesting. Again, I am ashamed to admit that I had no idea about the controversy regarding its authorship. Your conclusion logically follows that the author Jude was the brother (or half-brother) to Jesus. This is because Jude’s epistle is short and is attributed to a less famous author, unlike St. Paul. Six of Paul’s epistles fall under the category of pseudonymity, in which his pupils probably just ascribed their work to him to honor his legacy. As you note, this does not seem to be the case with Jude’s epistle. To answer your final question, I think our inability to preserve the document has forced us to accept authorship prior to dating the document. If we had the document, we could subject it to carbon dating. But given our current situation, the best we could do is investigate its possible author and then place the author in biblical history.

    On the second blog post, I want to comment on your inspection of the arguments for and against Jude’s authorship. About your arguments for Jude’s authorship, I would like to suggest something (maybe) a little radical. Perhaps, a dejected member of the community wrote the document and wanted to keep her or his identity a secret so she/he wrote the epistle in Jude’s name. It is understandable that the literary features of a particular piece of writing help in establishing its authorship. This is very evident with regards the letter of Jude.

    In fact, the literary features could have been tweaked from its original document by someone who wished to “improve” upon the original work. When you weighed the evidence, I agree with your conclusion that the author was probably Jude. It makes sense that its dating would be around 70 AD, approximately forty years after Jesus’ demise. It also sounds logical that the document was addressed to Jewish Christians. If Jude was Jesus’ brother, then Jude was probably part of the Jesus Movement within Judaism and would address this document to his fellow, emerging Christians.

    1. Continued...

      Regarding your third blog, I wanted to comment on the salutation found in Jude’s epistle. Since the epistle was addressed to “those who are called,” this letter must have been addressed to a wider audience, just like the rest of the Catholic Epistles. I enjoyed how you exposed the controversy regarding the words, “called,” “beloved,” and “kept safe,” which many perceive having been taken from Isaiah. It is also interesting to note that “grace” was excluded from the greeting. Grace is the free, unmerited assistance of God given to human beings for their salvation. Perhaps, the author realizes that repeating this point would be moot. I concur with you that every epistle does not necessarily have to have the same exact greeting. This is analogous to the many ways we greet each other in modern society. We do not have to always abide by the prescribed “hello,” and we can instead opt to greet each other with “What’s new?” or “How are you?”

      Overall, your blog is very helpful for students who are faced with the task of understanding this seldom-read epistle. Your investigation made us look more closely into the controversial issue behind the character of the biblical writer, Jude, as well as provided us with a historical lens through which we could interpret this ancient text. I also enjoyed the humor you added to your blog and your valuable asides. Thank you for contributing to my theology education through your insightful blogs.

    2. Thanks so much for your comments. I appreciate it very much. I will go back and read them again later, to see if I need to comment more fully on what you said. At this point, I just wanted to thank you for well thought out reflections.