Most Christians probably know that Jude’s epistle is in the New Testament. Many know that it comes directly before the book of Revelation. Some have read it. A few have studied it carefully. For a long time, Jude’s epistle was basically ignored at the academic and pastoral level. Commentaries were written on it but almost always joined as an appendix with 2 Peter, if not 1–2 Peter. Recently, more critical scholars have turned attention on Jude, but they are mostly interested in its unique features which they often want to use to reject its canonicity. Admittedly, Jude contains some very striking things.
Jude is holy Scripture, so it deserves attention for our edification and sanctification. As unfamiliar as this book may seem, especially compared to John’s Gospel or Paul’s letter to the Romans, God nonetheless inspired it for our benefit. This weekly series is meant to provide reflections upon Jude’s letter—to introduce it carefully and helpfully to believers, specifically using a Reformed hermeneutic.
This series argues that Jude provides a striking example of Reformed doctrine coming directly from biblical texts. Little theologizing has to be done to reach conclusions that are part of the confessionally Reformed heritage. Rather, Jude’s epistle is a rich exegetical mine that keeps popping Reformed gold out of its walls.
Jude’s epistle is written to a congregation plagued by teachers promoting antinomianism. As Jude pleads with the congregation to be loyal to the faith that they have received from true apostles, he appeals to various Old Testament examples as well as to extra-biblical tradition to support his argument. The problem itself raises the issue of perseverance. His two primary instructions are to exhort this church “to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (v. 3) and that they “keep yourselves in God’s love” (v. 21). Surrounding these two imperatives are a series of arguments and theological points that help us unpack Jude’s fuller theology.
This issue of perseverance, even as Jude’s main ethical and theological concern, raises a stack of accompanying issues. How does God’s sovereignty relate to their need to contend for the faith and persevere in God’s love? How is it that these Old Testament examples provide such clear exhortation for God’s new covenant people? What are the ways that Christians can keep themselves in God’s love?
These questions point to a series of traditional Reformed doctrines. God’s sovereignty does feature clearly in Jude’s theology, even as he still has a place for human responsibility. The Reformed doctrine of the covenant of grace provides the necessary assumptions that must be in place for Jude’s appeals to the Old Testament to function well. A Reformed ecclesiology that distinguishes partaking of the substance of the covenant of grace from merely participating in its outward administration helps us understand how Jude can say what he does about God’s Old Testament people with his New Testament people in view for application. The means of grace, even if we must pay close attention to see them, feature prominently in Jude’s solution and as the method for believers to keep themselves in God’s love.
Some Introductory Issues
Jude is a short letter that is hard to pin down with any exactitude concerning its origins. Jude has left us no other extant writings to compare things like style, vocabulary, and other or the same theological emphases. This letter has seen its fair share of historical and critical debates about its authorship, dating, and canonicity. This blog, at least as I see the purpose of this series, is not the place to dive into all the critical debates that easily swamp our discussion with academic minutiae. The purpose here is just to assert the positions assumed throughout these expositions.
Jude is this letter’s named and genuine author. He was James’ brother, not James of the twelve apostles but James who was the biological son of both Mary and Joseph, which means that Jude was also Jesus’ half brother, according to his humanity as he descended from Mary. Several ancient documents list Jude as an early bishop of Jerusalem, including Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History 4.5.3, Epiphanius’ Panarion 66.20.1–2, and the Apostolic Constitutions 7.46. The extra-biblical testimony then confirms that Jesus had a half brother and James a full brother named Jude, who played an important role in the early church, making it very reasonable to conclude that he would have also been used by the Holy Spirit to contribute to the New Testament documents.
The dating of this book is closely related to its relationship to the letter of 2 Peter. Readers who like to collect commentaries may have even noticed that commentaries on Jude consistently seem to be tied to commentaries on 2 Peter. This is because scholars have long noticed a tremendous overlap between these letters, namely Jude 4–13, 16–18 and 2 Peter 2:1–18; 3:1–3. There is no reason to doubt that one inspired author used the writings of another inspired author as they set about writing what the Spirit prompted them to pen. The position taken in this series is that the apostle Peter used Jude’s epistle to compose 2 Peter. Jude then dates likely from the late-fifties or early-sixties, Peter writing likely in the mid-sixties. Given that James was reportedly martyred in 61 AD, Jude’s reference to him suggests that he wrote before then.
The church which Jude addressed and its location is hard to determine. It does have a general applicability that makes it easily a circular letter but, at the same time, also seems to have very specific false teachers in view. Jude may well have been addressing a church with a certain set of false teachers but also intending his letter to be useful to congregations more widely. Some have denied that Jude’s letter should be named as one of the “catholic epistles,” but the rationale is that it lacks an appeal to the office bearers as the solution to the woes addressed. This claim is inadequate, however, on many points. First and foremost, the teachers were the problem in this congregation. Jude had to address the congregation as such because their office bearers were the ones infecting the church with error. Second, Jude was clearly named as a bishop in Jerusalem, making it unlikely that he lacked a sense of church officers. Finally, given the first two observations, there is no reason to believe that Jude had any other ecclesiology than what Paul outlined in the pastoral epistles, which he wrote roughly in the same timeframe as Jude’s letter.
Jude’s letter is useful for all Christians today because we live out the Christian life in the church. Jude’s point was roughly to take care that our church life is properly oriented to the truth of the Christian faith. There was a problem in the church, namely false teachers leading some Christians toward antinomianism, which the members of this church needed to tackle before it proved disastrous. Inasmuch as every Christian needs to be exhorted to pay attention to what is happening in their church, minding that the Scripture’s truth is being faithfully heralded, Jude’s letter resounds through the ages to encourage us all.
As cliché as it might sound, Jude’s letter is about two kinds of people. Within the first section, namely verses 1–4, he identified these groups clearly. He addressed his letter “to the called ones, who have been loved by God the Father and are certainly kept for Jesus Christ.” Then, in verse 4, he told them he wrote to contend for the once-delivered faith “because certain men have weaseled in, those who long ago had been marked out for this condemnation, ungodly ones, altering our God’s grace into sensuality and are denying our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ.” Several features here warrant some comments.
First, the division of these two groups is by no means coincidental. Commentaries have not flagged nor explored the parallel, but Jude clearly composed his description of these two groups to mark their significance for his purpose in writing. The supporting details are slightly technical, so feel free to skip to the next paragraph if you are willing to take my word for it. The groups are marked in distinct parallel by the use of a defining head noun accompanied by two descriptive participles. So, Jude addressed “the called ones” (τοῖς κλητοῖς), whom he described as those “who have been loved by God the Father” (ἐν θεῷ πατρὶ ἠγαπημέμοις) and “are certainly kept for Jesus Christ” (Ἰησοῦ χριστῷ τετηρημμένοις). Although these descriptions already are loaded with theological implications, we must limit our present observations to the grammatical structure, picking up the points about God’s sovereignty and ecclesiology later in the series. This description is paralleled with the description of the certain ones who weaseled into the church. In contrast to the called ones, these are “ungodly ones” (ἀσεβεῖς), whom he described, again using doubled-up attributive participles, as “altering our God’s grace into sensuality” (τὴν τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν χάριτα μετατιθέντες εἰς ἀσέλγειαν) and “denying our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ” (τὸν μόνον δεσπότην καὶ κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν χριστὸν ἀρνούμενοι). Jude did use a highly polished Greek, so, unsurprisingly, he crafted even his opening statement to clarify his leading concerns about the distinction between these two kinds of people.
Second, Jude’s concern over these two kinds of people already takes us to the heart of Reformed ecclesiology. Notice that both groups are in the church to which Jude wrote, and the problematic group was even the office-bearing group. But Jude addressed specifically the called ones within the church to which he wrote, noting how he was at least aware of the composite nature of this church. Nowhere did he claim that the church is made of strictly regenerate believers. Rather, he repeatedly appealed to how God’s Old Testament people included “those who did not believe” (v. 5) as a way to exhort this new covenant people. The problem Jude saw being so predominant for this church was that the leaders, the officers, had clearly departed from the faith once-for-all delivered to the saints. In other words, Jude understood that the church contains those who partake of the substance of the covenant of grace alongside those who participate merely in its external administration. Jude then will provide us rich exegetical fodder for developing the Reformed doctrine of the covenant of grace both in terms of the doctrines of salvation and the church.
Further, Jude appealed to some surprising sources. He regularly alludes to Scripture, of course, since it is the only ultimate authority. Additionally, he also used literature from the intertestamental period, citing it as totally true. Jude’s use particularly of 1 Enoch has made countless evangelicals holding to sola Scriptura flinch, flinch hard, or even gasp. But it need not with a solid doctrine of Scripture combined with a healthy understanding of what it means to be…confessional! Jude never claimed that his other sources are Scripture, just that they contain true teachings. Further, to the shock of some today who even want to claim the Reformation heritage, Scripture never claims to contain every true thing as if truth cannot be found also outside Scripture. The Reformation point is that Scripture alone is the only ultimate authority and that no other source of special revelation remains open today. Jude simply read the Scripture, taking on board the insights of extra-biblical material and including the points he found to be true and useful. Jude’s exegesis, hermeneutics, and applications were then highly informed by the important literature and biblical interpretation of his own day without ever compromising Scripture’s priority. We see then the biblical model and exemplary precept for also holding to sola Scriptura but within a confessional framework—namely, a highly traditioned understanding of Scripture’s meaning, prizing the wisdom of the ages, rejecting the rationalism that claims some particular individual has personal authority to overturn the entire ecumenical tradition because he read his Bible alone during his quiet time. In sum, Jude provides significant biblical exhortation for us to be confessional, implementing what we might fruitfully call traditioned exegesis.
A Fresh Translation
The following is my own translation of Jude’s letter, upon which I will be basing these expositions and reflections. I will quote from it in every part of this series but provide the translation of the full letter here.
1Jude, Jesus Christ’s servant but James’ brother, to the called ones, who have been loved by God the Father and are certainly kept for Jesus Christ. 2Let mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you.
3Beloved, although making every effort to write to you concerning our common salvation, I have necessity to write to you, so exhorting to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints 4because certain men have weaseled in, those who long ago had been marked out for this condemnation, ungodly ones, altering our God’s grace into sensuality and denying our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ.
5Now, I want to remind you, despite how you once fully knew it, that Jesus, after saving a people out from the land of Egypt, later destroyed those who did not believe, 6so too those angels who did not keep themselves in their first condition but left their proper dwelling he has kept until the great day in eternal chains under darkness, 7likewise Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which in similar manner committed sexual immorality and went after another kind of flesh, present an example by suffering the penalty of everlasting fire.
8Nevertheless in like manner also these false teachers by being dreamers, on the one hand defile the flesh, but also rebel against authority, but further blaspheme the glorious [angels]. 9Now, Michael the archangel, while deliberating with the devil, disputed about Moses’ body, yet did not dare to execute a verdict of blasphemy but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” 10But these false teachers, on the one hand, slander as much as they do not understand and, on the other hand, as much as they think naturally like unreasoning animals, they are destroyed by these things. 11Woe to them because they walked in Cain’s way and committed themselves to Balaam’s error for the sake of pay and perished in Korah’s rebellion.12 These false teachers are hidden reefs at your love feasts [of the Lord’s Supper] by feasting with you without reverence, shepherds feeding themselves, waterless clouds carried away by the winds, autumnal trees that are twice dead and uprooted, 13wild waves of the sea that are foaming their own shame, wandering stars for whom the nether gloom of darkness has been kept forever.
14Further, Enoch, the seventh from Adam, also prophesied about these false teachers, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones 15with the result of executing judgment against everyone and with the result of convicting every soul concerning all their ungodly works, which they committed in such an ungodly way, and concerning all the harsh things, which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” 16These false teachers are murmurers, discontents, ones going after their own desires, and their mouth speaks boasts, ones admiring faces to gain advantage.
17Despite all this, beloved, you must remember the words foretold by our Lord Jesus Christ’s apostles, 18since they said to you, “In the last time, there will be mockers, pursuers of ungodliness according to their own desires. 19These are the ones causing divisions, natural people, not having the Spirit.
20Despite all this, you beloved, by building yourselves upon your most holy faith, by praying in the Holy Spirit, 21keep yourselves in God’s love by waiting for the mercy of our Lord Christ Jesus that results in everlasting life. 22Further, one the one hand, have mercy on those who cause divisions, 23 but, on the other hand, save them by snatching them from the fire, and again have mercy on them with fear despite hating even the garment that has been soiled by the flesh.
24Now, to the one who has the power to protect you from stumbling and to set you blameless in the presence of his glory with gladness, 25to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and for all times. Amen.
Here is the entire series so far.
©Harrison Perkins. All Rights Reserved.
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Thank you for writing/publishing a confessional Reformed exegesis of Jude.
Jude’s letter defines our Lord’s appeal to His Church today. It iterates the necessity that we, the beloved of God, contend earnestly our common salvation as His effectually called ones in environments riddled by antinomianism.
There are challenges of Jude’s call for the beloved. These include reading and studying the Bible with the confessional Reformed hermeneutic, living in the theology, piety and practice of Grace and prayer, communicating respectfully and directly regarding the evidence of antinomianism, and showing Mercy and Compassion for ‘the unbelieving’.
How do we, the effectually called, take up Jude’s appeal?
Thanks for reading. I hope that the series will provide more practice applications as we get further into Jude’s own text. I think this series will likely have 13 installments. Rather than throw all that in one comment, I’ll just ask for patience to keep reading as the series continues.
Thank you for your responses, these are helpful and edifying.
I need to learn to actually read and understand Greek!?!
It seems late to me but probably a useful process in order to understand.
Is S.M. Baugh’s NT Greek Primer a good place to start?
I have questions about your translation.
What Greek source did you use?
How did your translation equip your understanding?
Verse 6 in the ESV: ‘And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment great day.’
Verse 6 mGNT: ‘And angels who did not keep their own domain but abandoned their proper abode He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day
Verse 6 HP Translation: 6 so too those angels who did not keep themselves in their first condition but left their proper dwelling he has kept until the great day in eternal chains under darkness,
I’ve been using the Tyndale House NT, which is based on the Tregelles text. I like it mainly for tactile reasons – the edition is very nice and good for reading. When I’ve compared it with the NA28 for variants at certain spots in Jude, I’ve not seen any differences.
I’m not sure that verse 6 is where I made the most distinct decisions about translation. But I’d say that my translation equipped my understanding by giving me insight into logical aspects of Jude’s discourse not obvious in English versions and showing me why certain phrasings are hard to translate into English and need to be interpreted to know the referent.
Thank you for identifying the Greek Bible that you use (Tyndale House NT, Tregelles text). Unfortunately I am unable to find the THNT, Tregelles text (among any of the pastors where I live) in order to borrow or copy Jude’s 25 verses. Furthermore, I cannot afford to buy it. Would you please get permission from the publisher to print these 25 verses of Jude from the Tyndale House NT, Tregelles text? Perhaps this could be an addendum to your introduction so that I, along with other lay students of the Greek NT, will be able to see the distinctions between the Greek text available (i use the mGNT on BlueLetterBible app) and the one from which you are translating.
Perhaps Dr. Clark will come to your aid. I have met him in person, heard his presentations, use several of his books as guides to understand and help recover the Reformed Confession where I live. And I always find Dr. Clark to be a very considerate Pastor and Presenter. As a Dr. Of Divinity he is kind, thoughtfully helpful and charitably forthright.
I look forward to studying the 25 verses of Jude in the THNT, Tregelles text.
The Greek text I use is not so different from the NA28 text that you need access specifically to it to understand the arguments in this series. This series is not focused on Greek details as to leave you uninformed if you have whatever Greek text you normally use on hand. In fact, it’s Greek is minimal. So, I’m sorry but I don’t have time to rewrite the whole series (which is mostly finished already) just to get Greek in the post. You are well equipped with whatever text you normally use.