Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bible Study Series: Judah 1-4

“Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, to those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: 2 May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you. 3 Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. 4 For admission has been secretly gained by some who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly persons who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (RSV)

“From Jude, servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James; to those who are called, to those who are dear to God the Father and kept safe for Jesus Christ, 2 mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance. 3 My dear friends, at a time when I was eagerly looking forward to writing to you about the salvation that we all share, I felt that I must write to you encouraging you to fight hard for the faith which has been once and for all entrusted to God's holy people. 4 Certain people have infiltrated among you, who were long ago marked down for condemnation on this account; without any reverence they pervert the grace of our God to debauchery and deny all religion, rejecting our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (NJB)

Verses 1-4 contain the salutary greeting and the occasion for the writing of this letter. The writer of this letter identifies himself as Judah (Jude or Judas). (We discussed in the introductory post about the issue of authorship, so I will direct you here for more info.)

(1-2) It can be tempting to quickly pass through the opening salutations in many of the NT letters, which is a shame since examples like this one prove to be quite beautiful and rich. As the compact Navarre New Testament point out: “In the way he describes his addressees, the writer provides a description what a Christian is: his life starts with a call from God, it develops thanks to the grace of God, and reaches its culmination in Jesus Christ (649).” Indeed, it is a striking description, which should bring great solace to all those who are “kept safe for Christ” no matter if you are living in the first or the twenty-first century. As many early Christian letters offer the reader “grace and peace” this one is more expansive in bestowing “mercy, peace, and love” in abundance to those who are “beloved in God.” We will see this again in the concluding remarks (Perkins 147). Hahn and Mitch suggest that this is an expanded form of the “Jewish greeting of shalom (ICSBNT 485).”

(3-4) The need to be “kept safe” is due to the infiltration of false teachers into the community to which Judah writes. Judah clearly sensed the vulnerability of these Christians against those false teachers, hence his quick transition from the opening greeting to immediately addressing the problem at hand. These false teachers, or intruders, “pervert the grace of our God” through immoral living (debauchery) and by proposing a false understanding of Jesus. (More will be revealed about this in subsequent verses.) That is why Judah encourages them to “contend for the faith”, because as NT Wright suggests: “The very heart of the Christian faith is under direct attack, and unless those who are grasped by the truth of the gospel do their best to maintain it those who are heading in another direction are going to take a lot of people with them (Wright 195).”


Theophrastus said...

I just received yesterday the new Oxford Jewish Annotated New Testament -- so here is a nice chance to try it out. It uses the NRSV translation:


Author and Date

The last letter of the New Testament claims to be written by Jude (or Judas) "brother of James." Mark 3.6 lists both Judas and James as brothers of Jesus. By the second century, Judas Didymus Thomas (Didymus and Thomas meant "twin" in Greek and Aramaic, respectively) was associated with extra-canonical documents such as the Gospel of Thomas and Acts of Thomas (the latter sees him as Jesus' twin brother; e.g. 11, 23, 45). By refering so obliquely to a Judas who may be Jesus' brother, this letter's authority may have been attempting to reclaim the figure of Jude from other Christian groups who claimed his authority. some scholars suggest that the epistle may actually have been written Jesus' brother in the 50s. Others insist that the letter is later (perhaps early second century) and pseudonymous; the reference (v. 17) to "the apostles" as established authorities suggests institutional hierarchies already in place.


The letter warns of immoral "intruders" who laxity challenges institutional authority. Echoes of Paul's opponents in Corinth (see 1-2 Cor) and Gnostic libertine groups suggest ongoing conflicts over how to understand God's gift of salvation from sin ("grace," v. 4). Some Christians taught that, thanks to God's salvation, they were no longer bound to earthly authority and morality. Thus they could not imperil their salvation by any action, since spiritually they were safe.

It is also possible that vague and stereotypical accusations of "licentiousness" rhetorically echo prophetic literature, which equated sexual license with impiety generally (see, in a well-known passage, Ezek 16).

Cultural Influences

The letter draws heavily on popular, late Second Temple Jewish cosmic narratives (e.g., 1 Enoch) to shape its understanding of the moral order of the universe. The Torah was elaborated in this period by creative narratives filling in the words and deeds of the patriarchs and great leaders of the Israelites (for instance, in Jubilees, which consists mostly of instructions to Moses from an angelic presence on the mountain at the time of the giving of the Torah.) The author refers, for instance, to a story of the angel Michael and the devil battling over Moses' corpse. Particularly the focus on angels as historical and moral agents (vv. 6, 8-9) ties this letter to patterns of thought common among first-century Jews. The vast collection of stories known as 1 Enoch, cited directly in v. 14, created an elaborate angelology and promoted apocalyptic expectations. This book interpreted the "sons of God" in Gen 6.2 as fallen angels whose interactions with humanity initiated a division between godly and godless humans, which would last until the end of the world. The author of Jude couplese this Jewish apocalyptic worldview with the more stabilizing "predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ" (v. 17), thereby linking it to Christian tradition. Nonetheless, the prophetic language and angelic outlook of this letter attach it closely, almost intimately, to the Jesus movement's Jewish roots.

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Theophrastus said...

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The author of 2 Peter used substantial portions of Jude, particularly the idea that present-day religious divisions are simply the latest act in a cosmic drama pitting the pious against their devious and immoral opponents. Jude and 2 Peter remain certain that, as in the past, present, and future, participants in this struggle will receive appropriate rewards and punishments.


1-2: Salutation. Jude (Heb "Yehudah"), lit. "Jewish man" or "Judean," the name of several NT figures, including Judas Iscariot (Mk 3.19) and another "Judas" who, along with James, is listed as one of the brothers of Jesus (Mk 6.3). Lk 6.16 and Acts 1.13 refer to "Judas son of James"; although this phrase is normally understood as "son of James" it could also be translated as brother of James, if James is a sufficiently well-known figure. The letter writer refers to himself only as the servant (lit. "slave") of Jesus; yet since James was well known as "the Lord's brother" (Gal 1.19) and the leader of the Christians in Jerusalem (Gal 4; Acts 15), it is likely the author is also indirectly claiming to be Jesus' brother. Beloved ... kept safe ... love, the standard letter salutation is expanded with blessing and prayers for well-being of the recipients.

3-4: Reasons for the letter. An otherwise commendable community must be warned against devious intruders. The community is "saved" from being ungodly and from licentiousness, but also for the faith ... entrusted to the saints. Salvation we share, communal salvation was a hope shared in this period by Jews (whose covenant bound them through history and followers of Jesus (who understood God's saving acts as binding them together as a new people.) Long ago ... designated for this condemnation, as in many apocalyptic communities, like that at Qumran (which divided humanity into "children of light" and "children of darkness," 1QS 1.9-11), humanity has already been divided into camps of saved and condemned. Licentiousness, accusations against the intruders are vague but suggest sexual immorality.

Timothy said...


I like the inclusion of a possible connection with Qumran in verses 3-4. Have you found this commentary referring to the DSS often?

Theophrastus said...

I just received this volume yesterday evening, so I have only dipped into it.

However, the strong relationship between Jude and Qumran is immediately suggested by the discussion of 1 Enoch. The theory of a link between Jude and Qumran was perhaps most popularized by Richard Bauckham (now at Cambridge University). He wrote at least two books dealing with the subject: his commentary and Jude and the relatives of Jesus in the Early Church.

If you want a short exposition of his ideas, you can look at his article on the Epistle of Jude in the Anchor Bible Dictionary. He starts his article as thus:

A careful analysis of the structure of Jude is essential to an adequate understanding of it.... This analysis should make clear that in form Jude is a letter which contains (in vv 4–19) a “midrash” or section of formal exegesis.... Further explanation of the structure of the “midrash” (vv 4–19) is needed. This is a very carefully composed piece of scriptural commentary which argues for the statement made in v 4. Though the form of argument will be strange to modern readers, its hermeneutical presuppositions and exegetical methods were widely accepted in contemporary Judaism and can be paralleled especially from the Qumran commentaries on Scripture (the pešarı̂m), as well as from some other parts of the NT (e.g. 1 Pet 2:4–10).

If there is interest, I can quote Bauckham or paraphrase his theory. However, in all fairness, I should say that although Bauckham became famous in part for this theory, and although it has received wide attention since 1980, there are also many scholars who dispute parts of it.