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.
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.
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.
Jude is the shortened form of Judas, a very common in the first century. Jesus had a brother named Judas as well as two disciples, and there are several others mentioned in the New Testament. Why was the name so popular? Judas Maccabees was one of the great heros of the Jewish people. He was the “Hammer” who led the rebellion against Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Judah was also the name of the founder of the tribe of Judah, the tribe to which King David belonged.
It was therefore a very patriotic name which brought to mind two very important times in Israel’s history: the founding of the Kingdom of David and the restoration of the kingdom under the Hasmoneans after the Maccabean revolt. Jesus ‘s own name evokes another great moment in Israel’s history, YeShua, the Lord Saves, is translated as Joshua in most English Bibles. Like Judas Maccabees, Joshua drove the Canaanites from the Land when Israel first arrived in the land promised to Abraham. Jesus’ other brother James would be better Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. That there were so many men named Judas might tell us something about Jewish expectations for a rebellion against Rome.
Yet the evidence is thin that the Jude who wrote this short letter was the brother of Jesus. 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.