Jude On The Continuity Of The Covenant Of Grace

Tucked in as it is between 3 John and the Revelation, it is easy to over look the epistle of Jude but this past Lord’s Day I noticed something I had not before and that something tells us a good deal about how the apostles and the early church viewed the history of redemption and the nature of the continuity of the covenant of grace. Our pastor, Chris Gordon (Escondido United Reformed Church and Abounding Grace Radio) has been preaching through Jude in the evening service. This past Lord’s Day we read verse 5 of Jude as part of the sermon text:

Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe (ESV).

Jude identifies himself as “the brother of James” (v.1). As Donald Guthrie wrote in 1962, “[t]here can be no doubt that the author intended his readers to think of this James as James of Jerusalem, the Lord’s brother.1 Guthrie continues, “[i]f we assume this identification is correct, we may suppose that Jude, as some of the other brothers of the Lord, engaged in itinerant preaching (1 Cor ix.9). It may well be, therefore, that the people whom Jude has in mind in this letter are those among whom he has been intinerating.”2

This is God’s Word and we receive it as canon, the rule of Christian faith and practice.

He begins the epistle by noting that he had originally intended to write to them about “our shared salvation” (v. 3; κοινῆς ⸂ἡμῶν σωτηρίας) but that circumstances had changed in the lives of the Christians such that he was forced to address the problem created in their congregation by doctrinal and moral error. Certain people had, as the ESV has it, “crept in” (παρεισέδυσαν) to one or more congregations with the intent of leading people away from Christ and from a godly life. Jude quite plainly describes them as reprobate, eternally condemned (v.4). They were “long ago designated for condemnation” (οἱ πάλαι προγεγραμμένοι εἰς τοῦτο τὸ ⸁κρίμα). This is the doctrine of reprobation.

In v. 5 he reminds his readers that there have always been, as Caspar Olevianus regularly wrote, “reprobates and hypocrites” mixed in the visible covenant community. His prime example of the mixed nature of the visible church is the church as it was delivered out of Egypt. He reminds (Ὑπομνῆσαι) them of something they “once knew completely” (εἰδότας ⸂ὑμᾶς ἅπαξ πάντα), “that Jesus saved (σώσας) a people out of Egypt” but later destroyed (ἀπώλεσεν) those who were unbelieving (μὴ πιστεύσαντας). The entire visible church was delivered through the Red Sea, as the Psalmist says, “on dry ground,” by the sovereign power and grace of God. Nevertheless, as Jude reminds us and history of redemption shows, there were those in that assembly who were saved from Pharaoh, who nevertheless did not actually believe. Going through the Red Sea, which Paul calls being “baptized into Moses” (1 Cor 10:1–4), was an initiation into the visible covenant community (of adults and their children) but it did not save them all from the wrath of God. For Jude, as for Paul, there is a distinction between the sacrament (the sign) and the thing signified. Contra the Papists and the Federal Visionists, the sacraments have never worked ex opere (by their working). There has always been two ways of being in the one visible, covenant community.

As it was then, so it is now. The first thing to note here is how easily Jude appeals to the OT people as if Jude’s readers (and hearers) are in fundamentally the same covenant of grace. Pace my Particular Baptist friends, the covenant of grace was not merely “revealed,” “exhibited,” “established” or “inaugurated” in the OT. It was also administered. The Israelites who went through the Red Sea participated in the external (outward) administration of the same covenant of grace in which New Covenant believers participate. The covenant of grace did not actually first enter into history in the New Covenant or else Jude’s warning is emptied of its force.

The second thing to notice here is the person of the Trinity Jude named as the Savior of those Old Testament believers. Some accounts of the discontinuity of the Old Testament and the New are so strong that more than one believer has been given to think that we had to do under the OT with the Father and only in the gospels do we meet the Son. The book of Hebrews begs to differ with this reading of redemptive history but let us focus for a moment on Jude 5 where Jude wrote that “Jesus saved them.” What a marvelous thing to say. It is striking, of course, because it is somewhat unexpected. After all, God the Son had note yet become incarnate when the Israelites were delivered from Egypt. When we say “Jesus” we are thinking of God the Son incarnate but his point is that the same Son who became incarnate was already saving his people long before the incarnation.

To be sure there are some textual-critical questions. Some readings say “the Lord” (κύριος or ὁ κύριος) and so many English translations read “Lord” rather than Jesus. According to the UBS Textual Commentary (2nd edition, 1994) “the weightiest attestation” supports the reading “Jesus” (Ἰησοῦς) rather than Lord. The committee however, chose “[ὁ] κύριος” (the Lord) for the UBS as did the Nestle-Aland 27th edition. The NA28, however, chose “Ἰησοῦς” (Jesus), which the ESV (quoted above) followed. The UBS committee was not terribly confident, however, about their choice. They even observe that “critical principles seem tor require the adoption of Ἰησοῦς, which admitted is the best attested reading among Greek and versional witnesses.” The chief reason they went with “Lord” instead of “Jesus” is, essentially, that “Jesus” is just too unusual. I submit that Jude intended to be striking. The committee notes that Paul says essentially the same thing in 1 Corinthians 10:4. Jude wanted to be pointed and provocative.

Even, however, should we adopt the reading “Lord,” the point stands. Clearly the early church understood “Lord” to be a reference to the pre-incarnate Christ. Thus, even if “Lord” is the correct reading we are meant to understand the verse as the strongest possible affirmation of continuity between the Old Covenant and New Covenant believers. We have the same God, the same Savior, the same grace, the same faith, the same hope, the same justification by grace alone through faith alone, and the same problems. Jude treats the Old Covenant assembly as the church. He treats those who are corrupting the NT church as if they are substantially the same as those whom the Lord punished in Exodus. Paul’s doctrine of “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:5) covers more than just the NT church. There is one Savior: Jesus. There has always been only one Savior, whether under the types and shadows of the OT or the realities of the NT.


1. New Testament Introduction, 3.227.
2. Ibid.


On covenant theology and baptism

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. With these passages, I struggle with what false morals and doctrinal teachings were coming in. I know Paul gives us glimpses as do Peter and John. But it’s still quite general. Gnosticism was only in its infancy around this time as well. Obviously there were issues in both sides of the Gospel. There were the legalistic individuals (Judaizers and aescetics) but also the antinomian individuals. As I’m fairly new in my reformed journey (coming out of pietism) I often struggle if I’m teaching and preaching antinomian things even though I stress that there should and will be evidence of the working of the Spirit. Perhaps it’s that deep rooted pietism that causes me to worry, though I find Scripture affirms the covenant of grace and imputed righteousness repeatedly, but I always wrestle with not including more “law.” And when that happens I begin to wonder if I’m preaching/teaching leading people away from the LORD down the deadly road of antinomianism. To be sure, I am big on doctrine and knowing it. And I also don’t believe or teach we should be out freely living lawlessly. Admittedly, I have an over active concience that plagues me too (ala Bunyan, Lither, and even Spurgeon), so perhaps that is my dilemma. But I guess my thoughts and questions are basically what would these heretic teachers and reprobate members of the visible community be teaching/believing? For me, I hold imputation and orthodox views. Christ alone is my only hope. Any words or council or resources you could offer Dr. Clark would be appreciated. There could perhaps even be the issue of assurance creeping in, which, Undoubtedly stems from the pietistic background. I’m just tired of feeling unsettled so much. Yet I realize, many of our faithful brothers before us have lives that contained this very tension often. Thanks in advance!

    • Drew,

      Remember, we’re talking about the covenant of grace, which means that believers are freely accepted for Christ’s sake alone. Full stop.

      On assurance, start here.

      It’s not clear from the context exactly what the errors were against which Jude was writing. There were those pre-Gnostic ideas floating about but assuming (and it’s just an assumption) that he’s writing in or to a Jewish-Christian context, I’m not certain to what degree they were facing that. There were, among other things, some pre-Gnostic problems afflicting the Colossians. So, I wouldn’t speak of “Gnostic” ideas until the 2nd century.

      Antinomianism is the denial of the abiding validity of the third use of the law. If we’re calling believers to express their gratitude by seeking to die to self and to live to Christ and to live according to the moral law, then antinomianism isn’t an issue.

      The errorists are more likely nomists than they were antinomians. After all, it is the nomists whom we see consistently in Scripture putting others under the law for salvation but refusing themselves to keep the law at all. It was nomists who crucified our Lord. It was nomists who corrupted the Colossian congregation, whom Hebrews battled, whom Paul battled in 2 Cor, and whom Paul sought to refute in Romans.

      There are right and wrong uses of the law. Refusing to put believers back under the law (were it possible) is nomism. It’s not antinomian to refuse to be a nomist.

  2. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever. Hebrews 13: 8 That is no small part of our assurance, that salvation has always been through the Son. We can depend on it. God’s people have always been those who trust in God our Savior. The Lord is the name of our triune God, and as such always refers to Christ. This seems to be thee point Jude is making in vs. 5.

  3. Drew, by coincidence I have been listening to a wonderful series of sermons on the book of Romans by Sinclair Ferguson, available on Sermon Audio. Two points that he makes over and over might be helpful for you to consider. First, faith may be very weak and small, but the object of that faith is Almighty God, Christ our redeemer! It is Christ, the object of our faith that makes it not just strong, but invincible, as in nothing can separate the believer from Christ. Second, Christ did not come to save anyone but sinners, those who have come to see their need of Him. It is the Holy Spirit alone that can enable us to see this. No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit, who has regenerated and indwells them forever as the down payment that guarantees their acceptance with God. If this is true of them, they will want to demonstrate their gratitude and love to God by their obedience to His commands by loving God and neighbor, demonstrated by good works. Good works and obedience are the work of the indwelling Spirit, even they are not our own. It is all of grace.

  4. Drew, there is no cure for an overactive conscience when confronted with the law, which should provoke such feelings of guilt, shame, and regret. But there is relief when the law is read in tandem with faith. So, when confronted with your own burden of wanting to live right, does not that drive you to consider that, maybe, there is another way, other than struggling to keep the law?

    • Luther’s breakthrough came when he realized that God justifies the ungodly, faith is credited as righteousness. That cured Luther’s anxiety and made him love and strive to serve God. Rom.. 4:5

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