Douglas Rowston described Jude as “the most neglected book in the New Testament.” 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.

Book of JudeWhy 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.

Another major problem with the book is authorship. 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. This has been the assumption of most Bible readers until relatively modern times. Since the rise of historical criticism, Jude is usually identified as a pseudonym or simply as another Jude other than the brother of Jesus.

Bart Erhman, for example, is confident that the “historical Jude” did not write this short letter (Forged, 189). Several lines of evidence inform this opinion. First, the writer is living in a later period when the church is well established and false teachers need to be “rooted out.” While this is certainly a major theme of Jude, it is also true of Galatians, which is almost universally accepted as both early and authentic.  Second, vss 17-18 urge the readers to remember the predictions of the apostles “as if they lived a long time ago.” That seems to me to be a judgment about what “remember” means. Paul tells his readers in 1 Thessalonians (another early and usually accepted as authentic letter) to remember how he was when he was with them (2:1-12) and in 1 Corinthians he passes along two traditions from the apostles,  the Lord’s Supper (11:13-26) and the resurrection appearances (15:1-8). Third, Ehrman questions whether a “lower-class Galilean peasant” like Jude could even write, let alone write good Greek in a persuasive rhetorical style.  This is the standard sort of thing to say about Peter and the two brothers of Jesus and simply ignores evidence that implies Galilee populated with slack-jawed yokels unable to read or write, nor does it do justice to the even an illiterate person could get a letter written for them in any number of ways.

Yet the evidence is thin that the Jude who wrote this short letter was the brother of Jesus. This is in part because we know absolutely nothing about the brothers of Jesus other than James.  Karen Jobes points out that we know from 1 Cor 15:7 that Jesus appear to his brother James after the resurrection, so “possibly he appeared to others in this family as well” (Letters to the Church, 237). That is certainly possible, but not necessary from 1 Cor 15. There is a strong tradition that Jude was not only a follower of Jesus after the resurrection, but that he became a leader in the Jerusalem church after the death of his brother James. Eusebius says that the grandsons of Jude were alive during the reign of Domitian and were brought to Rome under suspicion of fomenting rebellion. The emperor questioned them but realized they were not rebels at all, but rather simple farmers (H.E. 3.20).

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.

Bibliography: Douglas J. Rowston, “The Most Neglected Book in the New Testament, NTS 21 (1975): 554-563.