Who Wrote the Book of . . . Jude?

 

Posted by Clark Bates
September 17, 2016

The epistles of 2 Peter and Jude are closely intertwined within the early church and the New Testament.  Because of this, it is often viewed that if one can be deemed pseudepigriphical in nature, the other must necessarily follow suit.  In this series on New Testament authorship, it has been my desire to not only provide an accurate overview of the issues, but to communicate an adequate defense for the traditional view of New Testament authorship.  It is my conviction that, given the available evidence, it is reasonable to ascribe the existing canon of Scripture to the authors by which they are named or assigned.  In our last article, the defense was laid for the second epistle of Peter, so we must now turn our sites to its companion piece, the epistle of Jude.

Internal Evidence           

In keeping with ancient Greco-Roman conventions, the Epistle of Jude begins by naming the author, “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James. . .” (Jude 1).  This opening identification serves to distinguish this “Jude” from others that would have been known at the time.  The name “Jude” is Semitic in origin and a very common name in the Palestinian region, given it’s Hebrew equivalent “Judah”.[1]  In the New Testament there are several men named Jude:

1.  Judas Iscariot (Matt.10:4)

2.  The revolutionary Judas the Galilean (Acts 5:37)

3.  Judas of Damascus ( Acts 9:11)

and

4.  Judas called Barsabbas (Acts 15:22-32)

Of these four, only the last two are plausible candidates for authorship, however the additional identifier, “brother of James” eliminates them as potential authors.  There is one of the Twelve identified as “Jude, son of James” (Lk. 6:16), but the use of the Greek adelphos in Jude, in opposition with the lack of designation in Luke, suggests that these are not the same individual.  The only man named in the New Testament that would be comparable with this identifier is Jude, brother of Jesus, listed alongside James (Matt. 13:55).  His being listed last in the grouping may also suggest that he is the youngest of Jesus’ siblings.  This Jude also feels confident in mentioning his relationship with an undefined “James”.  Given that they appear together without qualification, it is reasonable to identify this James as “the Lord’s brother”, a “pillar” of the Jerusalem church (Gal. 2:9).  Since honor in the Mediterranean world is shared among members of a family, the honor ascribed to James would enhance the status of Jude in the eyes of the reader.[2]

In the early church, some disagreement circulated regarding the identity of this particular “Jude”.  Some of the fathers identified the author as Jude, the apostle, while others believed him to be the one also known as “Thaddeus” (Matt. 10:3), but the majority of the church agreed with his familial link to the Lord Jesus.  Clement of Alexandria (c.150- 215) wrote,

“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.”[3]

This is seconded by the Muratorian Canon (A.D. 180-200?), Tertullian (c. 155-240), and Origen (184-254).  While it is true that these same men, and others, refer to Jude at times as “the apostle Jude” it must be recognized that, in the Western Church, the apostle Jude of Luke 6:16 was believed to be the synonymous with the biological brother of Jesus Christ.[4]

Pseudepigraphical Challenges 

As has been discussed many times in this series, even in the last article, the practice of writing under the name of another, well-known figure (pseudepigraphy) was common and practiced in the ancient world for a variety of reasons.  Serious questions in the ancient church were raised regarding the epistle’s authenticity in spite of its wide acceptance in the Western and Alexandrian churches.  The Church of Alexandria adopted a “maximalist” approach, adopting a wider array of books at first, but culling them later, whereas the Syrian church adopted a “minimalist” approach, slowly admitting any contested texts.[5]

The church historian Eusebius also acknowledged that Jude was one of the “disputed” books, but also recognized that it was read publicly in many churches.[6]  Much of the disputes regarding the book can be traced to its use of the apocryphal text 1 Enoch (Jude 14-15).  This, according to Jerome, who wrote, “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.”[7]  Because of its wide use in antiquity and no clear voice raised in opposition to the possibility that the Lord’s brother wrote this text, it remained canonical and authoritative.

The greatest confirmation of the authenticity of Jude, while not conclusive on the grounds of pseudepigraphy, is its reproduction in 2 Peter.  As was discussed in the last article, if it can be concluded that 2 Peter is authentic, the only plausible answer to this reproduction is that the apostle Peter borrowed from the existing epistle of Jude in his writing.  If this is the case, the author of Jude is a first century Hebrew of note within the Christian church, and not a pseudepigriphical concoction.

As is the case with all contemporary debate regarding authorship, much of the protestation surrounds the use of Greek style, sub-apostolic outlook and identification of the heretics mentioned.  The use of Greek in this epistle is clearly by one who has mastered the language, which, just as it has for the Petrine epistles, raises doubts as to whether a Galilean might accomplish such a task.  Much in the same way that Origen saw in the epistle, “powerful words of heavenly grace”[8], so too have modern scholars seen “a relative purity of Greek style and prose. . . suggest[ing] both careful composition and deep Hellenization,”[9] and concluded that, “while a Galilean like Jude must have spoken Greek fluently, it is not easy to imagine him handling the language with such art.”[10]

Given the assessment that linguistic ability of the ancient world was closely tied with one’s social status, a Galilean son of a carpenter is unlikely to be so skilled in the language of Scripture.  However, there are two factors that work to mitigate the negative assessment of traditional authorship.  First, Jude, along with other brothers of Jesus, engaged in itinerant ministry, which presupposes a fluency in Greek.  As Green mentions, “They hardly traveled with a phrase book as a modern tourist might do.”[11]  Secondly, very little weight is ever afforded its due regarding the use of secretaries in the writing of these epistles, especially from critical scholars.  It is an established fact that those 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.”[12]  Because of this, Jude should not be rejected on stylistic grounds.

With yet more similarities to the disputes over 2 Peter, it is argued that the Judean Epistle speaks of the apostolic community as having since passed.  If this is the case, then the letter must have been written after the first century and could not have been authored by the traditional Jude of the early church.  In vv. 17-18 the author writes, “remember the words previously spoken by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ” suggesting to some that this emerges from a post-apostolic era.  However, this argument flounders in v. 18 in which the author then writes, “they said to you. . .” suggesting that the readers of this epistle heard the words of the apostles in their own lifetime.

Lastly, the identification of the heretics the author seeks to combat has become troubling for some.  If they can be identified as Gnostics, the epistle is second century at best and subsequently pseudepigraphical.  The profile of these heretics as presented in the epistle is that they have distorted the gospel of grace as to promote a theology where one is freed from moral constraint (v.4).  They were familiar with the church and even participated in the “love feasts” suggesting they were seen as disciples of the church (v.12).  They denied the Lord (v.4).  They appear to have rejected any authority over their conduct (v.8) and could be understood as having rejected apostolic authority (v.17).  Finally, they also claimed to have divinely inspired revelation in dreams (v.8).  If this assessment is correct, the heretical profile finds more in common with first century antinomianism, rather than second century Gnosticism.[13]  The lack of any mention of Gnostic cosmology and anthropology only furthers this position, allowing for clear credibility of traditional authorship.

While the debate over this epistle’s authorship will likely continue into perpetuity, the absence of compelling arguments against the traditional authorship leave the reader with no credible reason to reject it.  Yes, it certainly can be asserted that the brother of the Lord required scribal assistance in its composition, but the issues raised in opposition fail to account for the other specific details of the text.  The weight of internal evidence and the support of the early church stand in favor of its authenticity.  Jude continues to exist as a representative of non-Pauline Christianity and gives us valuable insight into the character of the early church.  It is invaluable to all who read it and profitable for training and instruction in righteousness.

[1]Tal Ilan, Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity, part 1: Palestine 330 BCE – 200 CE, (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2002), 112-25.

[2]Gene L. Green, Baker Exegetical Commentary Series: Jude & 2 Peter, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 2.

[3]Clement of Alexandria, Comments on the Epistle of Jude.

[4]The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 907.

[5]Bruce Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development and Significance, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987), 284.

[6]Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2.23.25;3.25.3; 6.13.6; 6.14.1.

[7]Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, 4.

[8]Origen, Commentary on Matthew, 10.17.

[9]J.P. Oleson, “An Echo of Hesiod’s Theogony vv.190-2 in Jude 13,” New Testament Studies 25 (1979):495.

[10]J.N.D. Kelly, A Commentary on the Epistles of Peter and Jude, (London: Black, 1969), 233.

[11]Green, Jude & 2 Peter, 8.

[12]James L. White, Light from Ancient Letter, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 216.

[13]Simply put, antinomianism is the belief that the grace of God frees the believer from moral requirements.

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