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.

11 thoughts on “Who was Jude?

  1. “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.”(P.Long)

    I wonder if the sons of Joseph were better off than the average carpenter’s son? What if Joseph was a rich man able to send his son’s off to be trained under respected rabbis? Or if they had some connection with the Essenes. It just seems that apart from the skills of their respective secretaries, James and Jude, have considerable knowledge of the Old Testament, and Jude specifically has knowledge of 2nd temple literature. “Not only does Jude display astounding economy of thought, ti also demonstrates a thorough acquaintance with and calculated use of Jewish literary sources.” (FttE, 223) Not only is he familiar with these sources he seems to be an expert in written rhetoric. “The modern reader becomes witness to a literary-rhetorical artist at work, as graphic symbolism, word-play, frequent alliteration, parallelism, the use of triplets, typology, midrash and woe-cry in a tightly-packed “word of exhortataion”-all this with the remarkably brief span of only twenty-five verses of text.”(FttE, 224) In fact, I would propose that James and Jude have more features in common in that they both write in the style of the OT prophets. One is reminded of the word-play in Micah 1, as well as the theme of righteous judgment against the unrighteous. If Jude, the brother of Jesus, was the original author of Jude, and James, the brother of Jesus, was the original author of James, then it would seem consistent that the brothers would write in similar fashion, as prophets.


    • I would argue that is did not matter if Jesus’ family were rich or not. Every good Jew would send their kids to a Jewish ‘school’ to learn the scriptures. Even today many Jews in the middle east send their children to ‘Jew’ schools. Usually by the end of the schooling each child has memorized the entire Pentateuch. If this is how Jewish Children were all trained than it is not surprising that Christ’s brothers would be so knowledgable with the Scriptures. It is also possible that Christ’s brothers excelled in their training and were eventually moved on to higher levels of Jewish academic training. The answer can not simply be that Joseph was rich.


      • I would have to agree with you Jon. Every good Jew of Jesus day studied the scriptures regularly. Even the disciple Peter found himself constantly sticking his foot in his mouth as he rebuked Jesus with his knowledge of the scripture. Little did he know that his knowledge of the scripture was just a bit out of balance. I believe that just as muslims of our day are trained from infancy up to believe in Allah, a majority of Jews living around Jesus lifetime and during the apostolic period had a firm grasp on the holy scriptures. I would even think many of Jews of that time period learned how to read from the Bible. They most likely did not have Dr. seuss books in Jerusalem and the cities surrounding it.


  2. I think it is very interesting that Jude introduces himself as “a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James” (Jude 1). For one he must be very well known in order to be just known as the brother of James. He must have been well traveled and well known in churches around the country to send out a letter introducing himself with so little of a title. We are obviously expected to know who James is as well. I think it is interesting that Jude may have been one of the brothers of Jesus Christ but that he introduces himself as a servant of Jesus Christ. I like that he does that because it shows us that Jude respects the ministry of Christ and that he values him as a spiritual leader rather than just a brother.


  3. I really do not know who Jude is. I do not know if he is the brother of Jesus or some random guy. But when he said that he is a servant of Jesus, that could mean a lot of different things, but even though I do not know what it means, I would assume that it means that he is the brother of Jesus. It does help explain why a letter like this would be in the canon, but I also think that it is a powerful piece of writing that a man wrote. Whoever Jude is, I think that we should assume that he wrote Jude and not some other person. But I do think that we have to hold fast that when he said that he was the brother of James, that we assume that he was the brother of a James. We do not know what James, but it would be easy to say that it was the same James as the brother of Jesus also.


  4. “We do not know what James…” Jessica – I think this is an interesting observation, especially when combined with the observation at the very beginning of the post, “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.” I agree that with such a simple title, this person must have been well known, or at least have assumed that his brother James would be well known enough for people to recognize that name. It reminds me of when siblings go to the same school. When my sisters would meet people that I might know, they would say, “I’m Holly, Casey’s sister.” It may be the same sort of thing.
    However, is there any evidence that any of the ‘eight’ NT Judes had siblings, and is there any suggestion as to what their names are. It seems very unlikely that each of these eight men would have had a brother named James. Like I said, the simple introduction doesn’t necessarily mean that Jude was extremely well known, but it could just mean that James was a very recognizable person in the Christian movement, which only solidifies more strongly the thought that it would be Jude, the brother of James, the brother of Jesus.


  5. Many good comments made by all. I too am pretty confident that Jude was probably Jesus’ half brother. James would have been well known. I like Casey’s idea of familarity- identifying yourself with somebody with a reknown reputation. This idea fits in well with Jude being accepted as canonical. Jacob Rodger’s idea of Jesus’ family as being slightly more sucessful than most people thought of and thus accounting for the mastery and knowledge that both James and Jude show is intriguing as well but speculative. Another important, less so now, is it the early church tradition of Jesus’ brothers evangelizing Palestine that Phil Long makes. Taking all these points together makes a pretty solid case for Jude being Jesus’ half brother, the brother of James. It would have been nice however if Jude just came out and said he was Jesus’ half brother. His humility prevented him from doing so and everybody at the time knew it. To mention it would have been seen as bragging- unspiritual. Something his epistle speaks against: “. . .and they mouth great swelling words. . .” (16).


  6. I would have to agree that Jude the author of the book of Jude was Jesus half brother. The most interesting thing about Jude is his conversion after the resurrection of Jesus. His denunciation of false teachers would lead a reader to believe that he had been well established as a believer for the larger portion of his life. He wrote that “They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (Jude 4). This comes across as a very bold statement for the half brother of the Son of God who denied the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ himself. If Jude was written by the half brother of Jesus, the book most definitely displays the power of God to change even the most hardened hearts.


  7. P.Long, it seems to me that you do not sufficiently defend against these objections. You seem to shrug them off, but just because James was well instructed in Scriptures does not quite necessitate or even demand that Jude had the same education. What evidence is there from the first century that Jews (or any one from any ethnicity) had the money to send all their children to be educated in the Law and Prophets? Especially a family from Nazareth.

    I suppose you could argue that a man who is rich enough to take his family (and servants?) to Egypt and then back again to escape persecution would have money enough to educate his children. However, he himself is from Nazareth, and Nazareth is known for being a back water “hick” town, so that when Jesus begins ministering he almost seems laughable when those around him find that he is from Nazareth. With Galilee, and Nazareth particularly, having such a reputation it would seem unlikely (apart from divine help) that even if he owned a carpentry company in town that he would have that kind of money.

    Formal education would have been done in Jerusalem and that it quite the hike to send all his children to be educated there while trying to maintain a practice (or a single job) by himself.

    It would seem that a better choice or at least an equally plausible option would be that Jude is written as an alias and that, even though these words may still be inspired, the author would be someone who wrote with Jude as an authority at best. This is most certainly not unheard of in the ancient world and with Hebrews being anonymous, it doesn’t seem like it would be too out of the realm as affecting the canonicity of the book.

    (How was that P.Long? I was bored so I gave your suggestion a try.)


    • Jude’s education, whether he is the brother of Jesus or not, is in the Hebrew Bible and clearly represents Palestinian Judaism of the first century. He cites the Hebrew Bible, not the LXX, he alludes the Pentateuch (exclusively? VandeVrede point this out in class), and the non-canonical material is of interest to the Jews only (1 Enoch was popular at Qumran). All of this could point to an education at the feet of a teacher, perhaps a Pharisee but maybe even an Essene. This could take place in Galilee as much as any place.

      If Jude is the brother of Jesus, there is no reason to think he was stuck in Nazareth his whole life!

      I also think that there is some evidence that Galilee is not the backwater that we make it out to be, since there is evidence of wealthy homes using stoneware (as opposed to pottery), and at least one large administrative archive has been found.


  8. After reading through Jude again, I begin to think that Jude had a humble spirit when he labeled himself as a servant of Jesus Christ. This view may not carry much weight with most theologians, but I tend to believe that the title he gave himself gives credit to his brother Jesus Christ. I believe he is humbly acknowledging the Lordship of Christ with a repentant spirit for his unbelief before the resurrection.


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