Sunday, May 19, 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.  In the second installment, I weighed the arguments on authorship and decided the best evidence points in the direction of the Judas/Jude who is the brother of Jacob/James and Jesus. 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 the third installment, I examined the salutation, verses 1-2, in which I studied the letter itself, the reasons the letter was sent, and the goals of the letter. In the fourth installment I studied the “Reason for Writing” in verses 3-4, a part of the letter typically called the “Thanksgiving,” but in Jude lacking that element. In the fifth entry, verses 5-7, I studied the first three charges Jude makes against the “intruders.” In the sixth entry, verses 8-10, I looked at how Jude applies the charges made against the intruders. For the seventh entry, I considered the further charges against these intruders and “dreamers” taken from the Old Testament, and an actual charge made regarding their behavior in the community.  We encountered some prophetic charges against the intruders in the eighth entry, but in the ninth installment we found Jude focused on exhorting and building up the recipients of the letter and encouraging the Church to reach out to those who are estranged.In this, the tenth entry, we look at the Conclusion and the Doxology which makes up the Conclusion and then offer some final thoughts on the letter of Jude for readers today.

6. The Letter of Jude:

To see the breakdown of a typical Greco-Roman letter, the category into which Jude fits, please consult the first entry in the commentary.   There we see that following the Body of the Letter there is a section called variously the Closing or the Conclusion. We can break the conclusion of a Greco-Roman letter into a number of parts. For instance, John Ziesler breaks it down into greetings, doxology and benediction.  Calvin Roetzel divides it into the peace wish, greetings, kiss, grace and benediction. This does not mean that every element is always present in each conclusion and that is the case with Jude. In Jude, we find only the Doxology and it is a beautiful closing to this short letter.

e) Conclusion: Doxology in Praise of God : verses 24-25

24 Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, 25 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. (NRSV)

Daniel Keating makes an excellent point about how the Body of the letter of Jude ends: “in a letter full of sharp denunciation, mercy in action has the final word” (217). When we come to the Conclusion, this positive focus is maintained, but mercy is transformed into a paean of praise for the glorious attributes of God. The initial stress is on what God does for his faithful followers; it is God “who is who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing” (v.24). This sounds remarkably similar to other epistolary language in early Christian letters, particularly Paul’s 1 Thessalonians.  In the Conclusion to 1 Thessalonians, Paul’s earliest extant letter, he writes,

23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. (1 Thess. 5:23-24)

Paul stresses that God will sanctify the congregation “entirely,” which I would compare to Jude’s promise that God will keep the congregation from “falling.” And as Jude promises that God will “make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory,” so Paul claims that in keeping oneself “sound and blameless” it is actually God, who is “faithful,” who “will do this.” The comparisons here are not exact, but the parallelism is strong: 1) it is God’s action which will keep the Church from 2) falling (sanctify it) to present it 3) without blemish (blameless) at the 4) eschaton. These four elements concentrate us not on the human dimension of faith, which is not insignificant, but God’s supernatural care of his followers which will ultimately allow us to live in the presence of God.

The final verse, then, is Jude’s soaring stanza of praise for God,  “the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord,” in whom is found “glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (v.25). It is a fitting ending for a letter which has spent most of its time detailing God’s action in bringing the unrighteous to account, but in the final verses turns its attention to those who need to be brought back into community with those who have remained faithful so that they too can experience the saving action of God. Keating draws our attention to the nature of this prayer as offering praise both to God and Jesus Christ, which makes it a typical early Christian prayer, both persons receiving adoration (219).

He makes another key point, too, about the qualities of God located in v.25, those of “glory, majesty, power, and authority,” which parallel David’s hymn of praise to God in 1 Chronicles 29:11: “Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all” (Keating, 219). This draws our attention fully to the fact that the only one worthy of such praise is not a human ruler, either in the Church or a human king, but God alone. It also allows us to pay proper attention to the fact that in stressing the eschatological Judgment to come, Jude is actually stressing the divine Kingship of God, for the result of the establishing of God’s Kingdom is the fact that God’s Kingdom is eternal, it will never end. This ought to force us to focus on God’s Kingdom as the key to our earthly lives and our behavior.

7. Some Closing Thoughts:

Jude is not an apocalyptic text as such, that is, it does not fit in the genre of apocalyptic literature, such as Revelation of John, but it is thoroughly imbued with the sense of the coming of the end and the Judgment that accompanies the end. So real and imminent was this coming Judgment to the ancient Christians that it seems sometimes that the emphasis of much early Christian writing is an unhealthy concentration on doom and gloom. Jude fits in this camp. I would not call this “doom and gloom,” however, but a sense of imminence of the end combined with a healthy recognition that it was necessary for those in the Church to remain steadfast in their faith in light of temptations offered by some unnamed “intruders” and “dreamers.” The language is so stark because the outcomes are so stark: life with God or life separated from God, which do you prefer?

Nevertheless, I do think that we today find the language of Judgment so harsh because we attribute this harshness to God and not to human choices, as some ancient texts indeed seem to do. The language of apocalyptic thought is also mythic in character, too, such as the passage Jude cites from 1 Enoch, “See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (vv.14-15). Judgment in this kind of mythic apocalyptic passage is often pronounced in a sort of “military” language, which states that God will “execute judgment on all.” There is also a pronounced emphasis on “the deeds of ungodliness,” but not the deeds of goodness which human beings perform. As a result, we come to see God as a harsh military commander just waiting to execute Judgment on all of those who have gone astray. God’s love does not seem present; in fact, love seems absent.

This does, I think, point to both a genre issue – this is how apocalyptic thought discussed the coming end, in sharp black and white terms – and the fact that moderns are moved more by a stress on God’s love than God’s punishment. Jude suggests a couple of things in this context. One is that we should not overlook that we can through our actions distance ourselves from God’s love and that it is usually a series of choices that we make which move us farther and farther from God’s love. It is not God’s wish for us. When I think of the horror in Cleveland in which a man (or men) kept three kidnapped young women in slavery for numerous years, I find it hard to think that evil is not real and that those who choose it over and over, day by day, have not turned their back on God’s love, some so entirely that we can see that only God’s grace can heal them and that if they choose not to respond to God’s grace here on earth, it is difficult to see how God can welcome them into the presence of eternal love. We cannot forget evil and apocalyptic imagery, in its black and white bluntness, makes us confront it, not just in others, but in ourselves. Jude makes its first readers and us think seriously about our choices and our behavior.

Finally, even in a letter as clearly centered on the “intruders” and their (final) judgment, ultimately the letter turns its attention to winning back these very people who are troubling the community and those tempted by or entranced by their teaching! Mercy does win the day, that is, God’s mercy as channeled through the Church. The “intruders” are causing divisions, but the Church is to concentrate on unity through faith and prayer (vv.19-20).  They are called not to get angry with the “intruders,” but to maintain themselves in God’s love and to “look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (v.21). The language regarding the troublemakers at the end of the letter does not turn to condemnation and mockery, but to mercy and salvation (vv.22-23). Love does win the day and the letter. Jude’s hope is that it will also win those who have been attracted by faulty teaching and behavior and those who are even engaged in it. One must respond to God’s call, but God is there to help all of us to the end and it is an end which is intended to be filled with God’s love. Jude says, it is God who “is able to keep you from falling” (v.24) and this was true in Jude’s day and today. However much some of Jude might sound foreign to us, this love of God transcends all cultural differences and beckons us to change our ways, not so that we can be condemned, but so that we might rest in the presence of mercy. As Jude says, “Amen.”

John W. Martens

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This entry is cross-posted at America Magazine The Good Word


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