Introduction to Jude

Authorship of Jude

According to the normal conventions of ancient Greco-Roman and Semitic letter writing, the Epistle of Jude begins by naming the author “Jude” (Ἰούδας, Ioudas). The first line of the letter also includes qualifiers that allowed the readers of the letter to identify him more precisely. He calls himself “a slave of Jesus Christ and brother of James” (Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ δοῦλος, ἀδελφὸς δὲ Ἰακώβου, Iēsou Christou doulos, adelphos de Iakōbou). The first reason the author would need to include such additional identification would be to distinguish himself from the many others who went by the name “Jude.” In her catalog of names known to us from Palestine, Ilan (2002: 112-25) records 179 occurrences of the name ‏יְהוּדָה‎ (Yĕhûdâ, Judah), which is transliterated into Greek as Ἰούδας. “Jude” was a very common Hebrew name because of its patriarchal (Matt. 1:2-3) and tribal (Matt. 2:6) roots. The author is Jewish since in ancient literature and inscriptions “Jude” never appears as the name of a gentile. Ἰούδας is variously rendered as Jude, Judas, Judah, and Judea (Luke 1:39), a point that occasionally surprises readers of the English Bible.

In the NT, the name Ἰούδας appears forty-five times, occasionally as the tribal name Judah (Matt. 2:6; Heb. 7:14; 8:8; Rev. 5:5; 7:5) or the region Judea (Luke 1:39 uses it imprecisely referring to all Palestine, including Galilee). The individuals who bear the name include the patriarch Judah, son of Jacob and father of Perez and Zerah, who appears in the Jesus genealogies (Matt. 1:2-3; Luke 3:33-34) along with Judah the son of Joseph and father of Simeon (Luke 3:30). The most famous ʼΙούδας in the NT is Judas Iscariot (Matt. 10:4; 26:14, 25, 47; 27:3; Mark 3:19; 14:10, 43; Luke 6:16; 22:3, 47, 48; John 6:71; 12:4; 13:2, 26, 29; 18:2-3, 5; Acts 1:16, 25). The others are the revolutionary Judas the Galilean (Acts 5:37; Josephus, J.W. 2.17.8 §433; Ant. 18.1.1 §§1-10; 18.1.6 §23); Judas of Damascus, in whose house Saul lodged (Acts 9:11); and Judas called Barsabbas, a Jerusalemite prophet in the early church (Acts 15:22, 27, 32). Only these last two are possible candidates for authorship, but it is unlikely that either of them penned the book since the author designates himself as “the brother of James.” Another of the Twelve is also named Jude, “son of James” (Luke 6:16; John 14:22; Acts 1:13). But this apostle could not be the author of the book since he was a son of someone called James and not his brother.

“Jude... the brother of James” is most likely the same person who is named, along with James, as one of the siblings of Jesus (Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3). The fact that Jude is named at the very end of the list of Jesus’s brothers, along with Simon, may indicate that he was the youngest or the next to the youngest male in the family (Jesus’s sisters are also mentioned in Mark 6:3, without any indication of their number or names). At various points in the Gospels and Acts, reference is made to Jesus’s siblings (Mark 3:32, as his “brothers and sisters”; John 7:3, 5, 10, with a note that they did not believe in Jesus during his ministry; Acts 1:14, gathered with the disciples before Pentecost). Occasionally these family members are said to be in the company of Mary (Matt. 12:46; Acts 1:14), suggesting an earlier death of their father, Joseph. The “brothers of the Lord” were known widely in the early church, alongside the apostles, and appear to have engaged in missionary activity (1 Cor. 9:5).

Since Jude mentions James with no further qualification, we should likely identify this James with “the Lord’s brother” who was one of the “pillars” of the Jerusalem church (Gal. 2:9; and see Bauckham 1995a). He was a witness of the resurrection, according to Paul (1 Cor. 15:7), and became the principal leader of the Jerusalem church after Peter “went to another place” (Acts 12:17). James appears as the head of the church both at the time of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:13; and see Gal. 2:12) and when Paul returned to Jerusalem after his missionary journeys (Acts 21:18). James had become so prominent a figure in the early church that in the epistle that bears his name he is simply identified as “James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1). Given the prominence of James, the lesser-known Jude could easily secure his own identification by styling himself as the “brother of James.” Since honor in the Mediterranean world is shared among members of a family (Neyrey 1993: 3-7; Bartchy 1999; Malina 2001: 37-38), the honor ascribed to James as the leader of the Jerusalem church would enhance the status of Jude in the eyes of his readers. In other words, by identifying himself as the “brother of James,” Jude makes a claim to authority that parallels Paul’s affirmations of his apostleship (Gal. 1:1), although Jude’s familial honor and authority are not identical with apostleship.

Some confusion existed in the early church regarding the identification of Jude. While a number of the fathers understood him to be the brother of the Lord, others also identified him with Jude the apostle. The opinion also circulated that he was the apostle otherwise called Thaddeus (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18). Still others said Jude was one of the other names of Thomas. In his Comments on the Epistle of Jude (1-4), Clement of Alexandria not only states that Jude is the Lord’s brother, but also comments on the author’s reluctance to identify himself as such: “Jude, who wrote the Catholic Epistle, the brother of the sons of Joseph, and very religious, whilst knowing the near relationship of the Lord, yet did not say that he himself was His brother. But what said he? ‘Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ,’—of Him as Lord; but ‘the brother of James.’ For this is true; he was His brother, (the son) of Joseph.” Jerome (Lives of Illustrious Men 4) likewise comments that the person who wrote the book is “Jude, the brother of James.”

In his discussion of Jesus’s siblings, Origen confirms this identification (Commentary on Matthew 10.17). On the other hand, Jude is sometimes called “the apostle Jude” (Tertullian, The Apparel of Women 1.3; Origen, On Opposing Powers 3.2; Augustine, City of God 15.23; 18.38). In the Western church, this member of the Twelve (Luke 6:16) was considered to be the same person as the brother of the Lord called by that name (ODCC 907). Bede (Hurst 1985: 241), on the other hand, stated that “the apostle Jude, whom Matthew and Mark in their Gospels call Thaddeus, writes against the same perverters of the faith whom both Peter and John condemn in their Letters.” The Syrian church forwarded another possibility by occasionally conflating the tradition about Jude with that of Thomas, the supposed author of the Gospel of Thomas. This work begins: “These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas recorded.” Eusebius (Eccl. Hist. 1.13.10) is aware of this tradition and states, “To these epistles there was added the following account in the Syriac language. ‘After the ascension of Jesus, Judas, who was also called Thomas, sent to him Thaddeus, an apostle, one of the Seventy.’”

The name Jude also appears in the lists of bishops of Jerusalem enumerated by Eusebius (Eccl. Hist. 4.5.3) and Epiphanius (Pan. 66.20.1-2). Epiphanius identifies Jude as the third bishop of Jerusalem, after James and Simeon. The Apostolic Constitutions (7.46) concurs with this identification: “Now concerning those bishops which have been ordained in our lifetime, we let you know that they are these: James the bishop of Jerusalem, the brother of our Lord; upon whose death the second was Simeon the son of Cleopas; after whom the third was Judas the son of James.” Eusebius, on the other hand, says the third bishop was Justus, although he concurs that the first two were James and Simeon.

Which of these identifications of the third bishop is accurate is difficult to assess. The names of James, Simon, and Jude are familiar to us as members of the sibling circle of Jesus. But the Apostolic Constitutions’ identification of Jude as the “son of James” appears to associate him with James, one of the Twelve (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13), and Simeon is named as the son of Cleopas. However, since the confusion between Jude the member of the Twelve and Jude the brother of Jesus was common in the early church, we may still assume that the names refer to Jesus’s relatives. Moreover, under the Hieronymian (Jerome’s) view of Jesus’s family (see below), Simeon was known as the son of Cleopas and the cousin of Jesus. In other words, despite the respective identifications in the bishop list of the Apostolic Constitutions, James, Simeon, and Jude may still be identified by the unknown author of this work as Jesus’s relatives. Both Epiphanius and Eusebius agree in naming yet another Jude as the last of fifteen Jewish bishops in the city. It is sheer speculation that the fifteenth and final Jewish bishop of Jerusalem was the author of the epistle since no biblical or early church evidence points to such an association. However, the naming of James, Simeon, and Jude as the first bishops of the city is another indication of the way the early church recognized the family of Jesus.

Whichever way the evidence is understood, we cannot draw from it any conclusions regarding the authorship of the epistle. The internal evidence from the NT, however, favors identifying Jude as the brother of Jesus and James, known to us from the Gospels (Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3).

There was considerable discussion in the early church about the siblings of Jesus and whether they were a product of the union of Joseph and Mary or whether their family line was different. Bauckham (1990: 19-32) summarizes the three views that have found voice in the church, each “known by the names of fourth-century proponents of each, as the Helvidian view (sons of Joseph and Mary), the Epiphanian view (sons of Joseph by his first marriage) and the Hieronymian view (cousins).” In the Hieronymian view, James and Judas should be identified with “James the younger and of Joses,” sons of Mary (Mark 15:40), who is “Mary the wife of Clopas” (John 19:25 NRSV), the sister (or more likely, the sister-in-law) of Mary, mother of Jesus. This view also identified Clopas with Alphaeus, father of James, one of the Twelve (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18). However, since James and Jude are mentioned in the circle of nuclear family relationships (Matt. 13:55—father/son, mother/son, brothers/sisters), the most accessible reading would be that they were children of this union, and as such half brothers of Jesus. Origen (Commentary on Matthew 10.17) mentions the position that came to be known as Epiphanian and explains, “But some say, basing it on a tradition in the Gospel according to Peter, as it is entitled, or ‘The Book of James,’ that the brethren of Jesus were sons of Joseph by a former wife, whom he married before Mary. Now those who say so wish to preserve the honour of Mary in virginity to the end” (cf. Infancy Gospel of James 9.8). While this view is more likely than the Hieronymian, it is less probable than the Helvidian. At best we can say that it is possible but not probable. But Origen’s claim that those who held it did so “to preserve the honour of Mary” should be given full weight. This view is distinctly theological.

The other question that has occupied both ancient and modern commentators is whether Jude is an authentic or pseudepigraphic work. Writing under the name of another was well known and practiced in the ancient world for a variety of reasons, including the desire to gain financial profit, to discredit the opinions of an opponent, to augment the authority of a writing by an unknown author, or to show love for a teacher under whose name one writes (Baum 2001: 42-48). Should Jude be classified as a pseudepigraphic letter?

Serious questions about the book’s authenticity were raised in the ancient church. While the letter was accepted widely in the West and in Alexandria, the Syrian churches were slow to acknowledge its canonicity. This is in line with the general tendency of the Alexandrian and Syrian churches. While Alexandria took a “maximalist” approach, allowing a wider variety of books at the beginning and then culling the list, Syria adopted a “minimalist” approach, which meant accepting those twenty-two books that were secure and slowly admitting others (Metzger 1987: 284). The ancient fourth- or fifth-century Syriac version of the NT, known as the Peshitta (or Peshito), excluded Jude along with 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Revelation (Murdock 1851: 495-96). But eventually it was included in the early sixth-century edition of Philoxenus (AD 507/508). Eusebius commented that Jude was one of the “disputed” books (Eccl. Hist. 2.23.25; 3.25.3; 6.13.6; 6.14.1), although he recognized that it was read publicly in many churches. Origen (Commentary on John 19.6) mentions that doubts existed about the authenticity of Jude, but apparently he did not share them since in his Commentary on Romans (3.6) he quotes Jude 6 and classifies the text as “Holy Scripture.” He comments that Jude “wrote a letter of few lines, it is true, but filled with the powerful words of heavenly grace” (Commentary on Matthew 10.17).

What doubts did arise about the authenticity of Jude can be traced primarily to the epistle’s use of 1 Enoch (Jude 14-15). Jerome (Lives of Illustrious Men 4), who accepts the book as authentic, says, “Jude, the brother of James, left a short epistle which is reckoned among the seven catholic epistles, and because in it he quotes from the apocryphal book of Enoch it is rejected by many. Nevertheless by age and use it has gained authority and is reckoned among the Holy Scriptures.” Didymus of Alexandria (fourth century) likewise accepted Jude despite the sources it used. Over against Jerome’s comment about those who rejected Jude, the citation was also read as a confirmation that 1 Enoch should be regarded as Scripture since the canonical book of Jude quotes it. Tertullian interjects a rather lengthy discussion of 1 Enoch in his On the Apparel of Women, concluding his argument in favor of its acceptance in the church by saying, “To these considerations is added the fact that Enoch possesses a testimony in the Apostle Jude” (The Apparel of Women 1.3). Augustine, on the other hand, later admitted that while Jude is canonical, Enoch should not be accepted by the church. He asks, “Does not the canonical epistle of the Apostle Jude declare that he prophesied?” (City of God 18.38). Yet he concludes of Enoch, “But the purity of the canon has not admitted these writings, not because the authority of these men who pleased God is rejected, but because they are not believed to be theirs” (see also 15.23). Whatever doubts were entertained about the authenticity of Jude did not appear to have any other root cause apart from its use of apocryphal sources. Jerome’s comment about its antiquity and apparently wide use was enough to secure its authoritative place in the church. No clear voice was raised in antiquity about the possibility that Jude did not write the book, although some confusion did exist about the identity of this Jude.

On the positive side of the ledger, Jude was known and read early in the church and was accepted in the second-century Muratorian Canon and that of Athanasius in the mid-fourth century. The comment in the Muratorian Canon frames Jude over against those books, such as the Epistle to the Laodiceans, “which cannot be received into the catholic church, for it is not fitting that gall be mixed with honey” (66-67). Jude along with two Epistles of John were accepted because they were used in the catholic church (68-69). Clement of Alexandria esteemed Jude highly enough to write a commentary on it, explaining to his gentile audience the meaning of this letter, which exudes the strong flavors of Palestinian Judaism (see below on Jude’s place of writing).

Jerome’s testimony of the book’s early use in the church may possibly be supplemented with the allusions to Jude in other fathers. Bigg and Chaine (Bigg 1901: 306-8; Chaine 1939: 261-62) have assembled lists of references or echoes of Jude in the writings of the fathers, including the second-century Theophilus of Antioch, Athenagoras, Polycarp, and Clement, as well as the Martyrdom of Polycarp, the Didache, Hermas, and the Epistle of Barnabas. The parallels produced are not compelling (Chaine even calls them “vague,” and Bigg counts the evidence as “scanty and shadowy”). Many of them could derive from the common liturgical language of the church rather than being evidence of the use of Jude in the church. At best we could say that Jude fits neatly into the conceptual and linguistic frame of the fathers, but this is hardly compelling reason to affirm the book’s authenticity.

However, the earliest and strongest testimony of Jude’s acceptance comes from 2 Peter. The second chapter of 2 Peter reproduces much of Jude, a phenomenon that can be adequately explained only if we suppose that Peter used Jude (see the introduction on the sources of 2 Peter). The weight of this evidence will vary depending on one’s view of the authorship and date of 2 Peter. If Peter truly wrote that book, then we have solid testimony of the early date and use of Jude. But even if we suppose that 2 Peter is an early second-century document, we would still have strong evidence concerning Jude’s early date and use. While the arguments concerning Jude’s date and use are not decisive in determining authenticity, they demonstrate that within a significant sector of the church few doubts were entertained about Jude’s provenance. Those that did arise can be accounted for by reference to Jude’s use of apocryphal literature and the Syrian church’s cautious approach to questions of canon.

The contemporary debate about the authorship of Jude revolves around the issues of the Greek style of the epistle, the traces in the letter of a sub-apostolic outlook, and the identification of the heretics whose position the epistle counters. The Greek of Jude’s Epistle shows clear evidences of mastery of the language, raising the question of whether a person reared in Galilee could attain this level of linguistic ability in a language that is not his mother tongue, especially if he were not part of the social elite. Oleson (1979: 495) comments that “the relative purity of the Greek prose style of Jude suggests both careful composition and deep Hellenization—although not necessarily Greek racial origin,” while Kelly (1969: 233) concludes that “while a Galilean like Jude must have spoken Greek fluently, it is not easy to imagine him handling the language with such art.” In his extensive treatment of Jude’s literary strategy, J. Charles (1993: 37) says that “Jude shows a normal use of the Greek idiom with bits of artistic flair” and speaks glowingly, along with other commentators, of Jude’s “use of very good literary Greek, whether in writing flair or vocabulary.” This contemporary assessment agrees with Origen’s comment that the book was filled with “powerful words of heavenly grace” (Commentary on Matthew 10.17). Jude’s composition is replete with vocabulary found nowhere else in the NT (Neyrey 1993: 27; Bauckham 1983: 6), and his style is quite refined.

Over against this assessment of the epistle’s style is the enduring question of the linguistic skills of Galileans. Horsley’s (1996: 154-75) study of Greek and Hellenization in Galilee leads him to conclude that, as in the rest of the empire, “literacy in Judea and Galilee was concentrated among the political-cultural elite.... It seems highly unlikely that many villagers were literate” (158). While we expect Greek to be the common tongue in the gentile city of Sepphoris, “there is much less of an indication that Greek was an everyday language in the rest of Lower Galilee. Pidgin Greek may have been common, but a bilingual situation seems unlikely given evidence now available” (171). Though Nazareth was located near Sepphoris, “we cannot conclude, on the basis of their supposed contact with Sepphoris, that most Galileans had become accustomed to speaking Greek in the first century C.E.” (Horsley 1995: 247). Linguistic ability was tied closely to a person’s social status. Those of the social elite were the ones adept in Greek. If Horsley’s conclusions are correct, then the fine Greek style that J. Charles celebrates becomes distinctly problematic if we argue in favor of authenticity.

In the case of Jude, however, two factors mitigate against this negative assessment. First, we know that Jude, along with the other brothers of Jesus, engaged in itinerant ministry, which presupposes that they either had or acquired fluency in Greek (they hardly traveled with a phrase book, as a modern tourist might do). How they acquired this skill we can only surmise, but that they had gained some mastery of the tongue is hard to deny on historical grounds. Moreover, insufficient weight has been given to the role of secretaries in the composition of letters (see E. Richards 1991; 2004). At times the name of a secretary appears at the end of NT letters (Rom. 16:22; 1 Pet. 5:12), and in other cases we become aware of their presence as Paul steps out to include a final greeting in his own hand (1 Cor. 16:21; Gal. 6:11; Col. 4:18; 2 Thess. 3:17; Philem. 19). But numerous surviving ancient papyri letters show a change in penmanship at the end, indicating that the author took the pen from the secretary and added a final note, with no remark placed in the text of the letter that the pen had changed hands (Weima 1994: 119; Stowers 1986: 60-61; Deissmann 1911: 170-73, 179-80).

Jude, as others during his period, most likely made use of the services of a secretary when he composed the letter. People who did not possess a high degree of literacy “paid professional scribes to draft communication on their behalf. The practice passes undetected in private correspondence” (White 1986: 216). Only in official or legal correspondence was the inclusion of the name of the scribe required. So common was the custom of engaging scribes that such paperwork was done in the streets. In fact, the number of standardized phrases and clichés that fill ancient correspondence, including NT letters, gives evidence of the industry (White 1986: 219, index of conventions on 237). Jude should not be rejected on stylistic grounds since we have no idea how much help he would have received from either a fellow believer or professional scribe. Scribes could take dictation but in other cases would be invested with greater literary responsibilities.