Weird things happen when you teach several different things at once. Since I am teaching a Bible survey for a Men’s Bible study at my church and a Pauline Lit, I found myself reading about Jude but thinking about Paul, especially the early years before the Jerusalem council.
While I have always thought of Jude as rather late (post 70 at least, if not in the 90’s), In his WBC volume on Jude and 2 Peter, Richard Bauckham argues that the letter is very early, perhaps as early as A.D. 50. This reading is based on the use of Jewish apocalyptic style found in the letter. He finds three elements of the book which lean toward the earlier date: There is a lively hope for the return of Jesus (14-15). Secondly, the style of the letter is a Jewish midrash which draws together texts from the Hebrew Bible to argue that the false teachers will face judgment at the Coming of the Messiah. Finally, there is no hint of church offices in the letter – elders, deacons or bishops, nor is there any appeal to human authority. The institution of the church is limited when the letter was written.
One serious challenge to this early date is the nature of the opponent. They seem to be libertine, or even antinomian, which has always made me think that the letter must therefore be written later, after Paul’s death at the very least. But if the letter is written at the time of Paul’s first missionary journey and the controversy of which led to the Jerusalem council, the issue is quite a bit different from Galatians or James. In Galatians, Gentiles are discouraged from keeping Law (Paul says “gentiles, your are not converting to Judaism”) and in James Jews are encouraged to continue keeping the Law (James says, “Jews, you are not converting away from Judaism.”)
Jude might give witness to some people who took Paul’s gospel of freedom from law to an extreme and lived a life that was not bound by law at all. These libertines are not really an issue in Acts 15, but they are in Philippians, perhaps in 1 Thess 4, and certainly a problem in Corinth and Romans 6. That Paul has to answer the objection, “should we sin that grace may abound” implies that someone was in fact sinning so grace might abound!
What made me wonder is the fact that Jude seems clearly Jewish – it is a midrash constructed from various texts from the Hebrew Bible. If Jude is writing to Jewish Christians who have antinomians in their midst, it seems like these might very well be Jewish Libertines not Gentiles. If that is the case, then Paul’s gospel of freedom from the Law for Gentiles might have had some traction among Hellenistic Jews which led to a rejection of the Law. Perhaps this is the source of James’ concern in Acts 21, that some think that Paul has rejected the Law.