Who was Jude?

The author of Jude identifies himself simply as Jude, brother of James and servant of Jesus Christ.  There are eight New Testament persons with the name Jude (Greek, Judas, or Hebrew, Judah), but the most likely is Jude the brother of Jesus.  Of the various persons named Jude in the New Testament, only the brother of Jesus and James would be well known enough to identify himself so simply.

If Jude was the brother of Jesus, why does he not say so in his letter?  Why use the title “servant of Jesus?”  The fact that Jude and the other brothers of Jesus were unbelievers until after the resurrection, the title “servant of Jesus” can be seen as a humble acknowledgment of Jesus’ Lordship.

Objections to this identification center on the language of the book, which seems too Hellenistic for an author who grew up in Galilee. The vocabulary is obscure and is full of rare words, including thirteen words not found elsewhere in the New Testament. This objection does not carry much weight since the author is familiar with at least two popular apocryphal texts, indicating some degree of education and sophistication.

We know virtually nothing about Jude, the brother of Jesus, in the New Testament. Jude is listed in Matt 13:55 and Mark 6:3 simply as a brother of Jesus. He likely was not a believer during the ministry of Jesus, (Mark 3:21, 31).  He would have become a believer after the resurrection (Acts 1:14), but we know nothing of his conversion, whether he was a witness to the resurrection, etc. The “brothers of Jesus” are mentioned in 1 Cor 9:5 as having taken believing wives, although it is not clear whether this is literal brothers or not.

According to tradition reported by Julian Africanus, the brothers of Jesus were involved in missionary activity.  Eusebius. (Hist. Eccl. 1.7.14) says that the family of Jesus evangelized Palestine.  In another section (Hist. Eccl., 3.19.1 – 20.8) the grandsons of Jude are arrested during the reign of Domitian.  Since they are in the line of David, they are potential messianic pretenders.  Domitian allegedly interview them but they claimed to be farmers – as evidenced by their calloused hands!  This story has always struck me as legendary, since I cannot imagine Domitian rounding up potential Jewish rebels from Palestine.

It is somewhat intriguing that a brother of Jesus should write a book which is so much dependent on the Hebrew Bible.  Perhaps, like his brother James, Jude was well trained in the Hebrew Bible and able to use the scripture to argue against a false teaching within Jewish Christian communities.

It is not critical that the Jude of the letter of Jude is a brother of Jesus.  This tradition helps explain how a letter like this was accepted as canonical, but it is not required by the text since it does not state that the writer is the brother of Jesus.

The Most Neglected Book in the New Testament

Jude has been described as “the most neglected book in the New Testament” (Douglas J. Rowston,  NTS 21 (1975) 554-563).  Perhaps because the letter is so short, or possibly because of the book’s close relationship to 2 Peter, the book is rarely preached on, and few people turn to the book in devotional reading.  It is, however, an important witness to the way the early church responded to false teaching. While the book is brief, it is a very “dense” book, in that nearly every line is packed with allusions to the Old Testament or laced with colorful metaphors to described the false teachers.

Why do many scholars deal with 2 Peter along with Jude?  One factor is the is the similarity between the two letters – virtually the entire book of Jude appears in 2 Peter, with the exception of the two allusions to non-biblical books.  For this reason scholars wonder if Jude used 2 Peter, or vice versa, or if both letters used a third source, perhaps a standard statement against false teachers who abuse their freedom in Christ.  Either way, there are some strange things in Jude that are easier to ignore than sort out.

I have preached out of Jude a few times, mostly because it is so obscure.  But there is a great deal in the book which ought to be a warning to the modern church.  There is a great deal of tolerance for weak teaching in American churches, so much so that the Scripture is not all that important.  “Practical sermons” are far more important than using the Bible to address the issues of our day.
This was the problem in the first century – individual teachers with visionary experiences were more important than the Scripture.  Jude tells us to have nothing to do with these sorts of teachers.  Jude calls the false teachers “blemishes at the love feast,” perhaps I can update this a bit and paraphrase the line as “zits on the face of your communion service.”

Here are a few of the vivid metaphors used for these false teachers:

  • Waterless clouds
  • Fruitless trees in autumn
  • Wild waves on the sea
  • Wandering stars

In each case, there is something intended for good: a could brings rain, a tree gives fruit, a star ought to give guidance.  A “wandering star” is a planet, which is in a different position every night and may not even be visible at some times in the year.  If you were trying to navigate by the planet Venus, for example, you would be lost.  To navigate, you need the Pole Star.  These teachers claim to be guides, but in the end the obscure the truth and people get lost.  There are some obvious implications to present teachers who attain a level of authority without really providing any real spiritual leadership.

John and Messianic Expectations

John is described in the Gospels as actively looking forward to the reign of the Messiah.  Two stories illustrate this fact.  First, when Jesus was refused by a Samaritan village, James and John offer to call down fire from heaven to destroy the unbelieving village (Luke 9:51-56).  Context in critical in this short story.  Luke 9:51 is the major transition in the book of Luke, at this point Jesus begins a journey to Jerusalem which will result in the crucifixion, He is absolutely aware of what he is about to do, and it is possible that this “resolution” was communicated to his disciples. James and John therefore see this as the time of the Messiah coming – Jesus is going to Jerusalem to judge those who are not living in accordance with the Law and to establish True Israel (with the disciples a s new twelve tribes, James and John on the right and left, etc.)

Why call down fire from Heaven?  These Samaritans have rejected Jesus and the truth that he is the Messiah.  James and John see themselves as re-enacting Elijah’s ministry.  Elijah was the prophet who confronted Baalism in Samaria and called fire down form heaven in order to judge those who had already rejected the Lord.  James and John, therefore, should be seen as preparing for the kingdom to come immediately, or perhaps, they believe that it has already come in the person of Jesus when he “resolutely set out” toward Jerusalem.

James and John request to sit on either side of Jesus when the kingdom is established (Mk 10:35-45).  In this well known story, James and John were so zealous for the Lord that he was willing to ask Jesus for the highest place in the kingdom, along with his brother John.  Presumably they were both there when their mother made the request.  This request as necessarily a bad thing, at least it was better than seeking the last possible seat in the Kingdom for fear of having to really do any work.  They were zealous for the Lord’s work, although it expressed itself badly. At that time, Jesus told the brothers they would in fact drink from the same cup as he would.  James was the first of the Lord’s disciples to be martyred (Acts 12).  John, on the other hand, lived a very long life, probably into the 90’s .  It is possible he was quite young during the ministry of Jesus, maybe even a young teen, but to live into the 90’s indicates he was quite old at that time.

In Acts, Luke describes Peter and John as a kind of ministry team (Acts 2-4 and 8:14-25).
They were the pair of disciples who preached the imminent kingdom in the Temple.  But as far as Luke describes it, Peter is the spokesperson, John is silent. The pronouns used to describe Peter and John in chapter four indicate that they are both considered bold, despite Luke only giving us the words of Peter.   The last time John appears in the narrative of Acts in 8:14-25. Like chapters 2-4, he is only mentioned alongside Peter as the two disciples who went to Samaria to investigate Philip’s ministry there.  Both returned to Jerusalem after Peter rebuked Simon Magus, and there is no indication in Acts that the apostles had much to do with Samaritan ministry.

While Luke has no interest in tracking the ministry of John, this does not mean he was inactive after Acts 8. In fact, we know he was very active from the body of literature which he produced in the New Testament.

Lukan Authorship of Hebrews

Here is a new book from Broadman & Holman by David Allen which argues that Luke is in fact the author of Hebrews.  It is not out until June, but I am already looking forward to hearing what Allen has to say.  (I saw the announcement originally on Polumeros, a blog devoted to all things Hebrews.)

What I think is most interesting is that B&H lists this book as part of the NAC Studies in Bible and Theology series. I have enjoyed the NAC series and highly recommend most it as a reflection of good Evangelical scholarship.  A supplement series with the same attention to quality is much appreciated.