Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Hey, Which Jude? (Jude 1:1)

How many letters did Jude write? One

The Epistle of Jude is one of the seven catholic (or general or ecumenical) epistles of the New Testament. It is the penultimate (next to last) book in the Bible. It is so closely related to II Peter that commentaries often group the books together.

Jude was composed as an encyclical letter, meaning it was a general letter meant to be circulated to various churches as opposed to being written with a specific church in mind. The book is brief, comprised of only one chapter of 25 relatively short verses. The tract addresses apostasy (Jude 1:3-4).

Have you ever read Jude? Have you ever heard a sermon preached on Jude?

Like ancient form dictated, the letter begins with a salutation:

Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James,
To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ: (Jude 1:1 NASB)
Exactly which Jude wrote the epistle, if any, has long been subject to debate. The first documented doubts as to Jude’s authorship are found in the writings of Origen (184-253), though he only recorded the skepticism of others rather than asserting his own.

The debate concerning the author’s identity has continued ever since. The usual suspects are Jude the apostle (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13), Jude the brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3), both, and neither (someone using the pseudonym “Jude.”). Some have argued that since the author did not identify himself as an apostle and actually distances himself from them in Jude 1:17, he cannot be identified with the Jude who is listed as one of the Twelve. Conversely, others have supposed that an apostle would not have made that claim on his own behalf. (That never stopped Paul...)

Others have supposed that it was written by Jesus’ brother as the notation of being “brother of James” would make Jude also the half-brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3; Galatians 1:19). (The reference to brother James has actually created more confusion than clarity.) Since information on Jude is scarce, it would explain the need to identify himself in reference to his more prominent brother.

Those who believe that the letter is pseudonymous note that the epistle’s references to the apostles, tradition, and opposition to Gnosticism fit a later period.

The one consensus is that Jude was not written by the Jude who betrayed Jesus, Judas Iscariot (Matthew 10:4, Mark 3:19, 14:10; Luke 6:16, 22:48; John 6:71, 12:4, 13:2, 18:2, 18:5).

Since the material was deemed worthy to be in the Bible, does it matter to you who wrote Jude? If it was not written by a man named Jude, would you discredit it? Supposing the letter was written by, Jesus’ half-brother, why would the author not include this in his greeting? If you had to write a letter about your sibling, what would it say?

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