The Epistle of Jude, apart from the mode of its opening, resembles an urgently penned tract rather than an ordinary letter. It does not appear to have been directed to any particular group of Christians; it is addressed without closer qualification “to them that are called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ” (v. 2). It thus seems to have been intended for Christians everywhere, since it dealt with a situation which was not confined to any single locality. Therefore it is rightly listed as one of the “general” or “catholic” epistles of the New Testament.

The Author

The author of the little tract identifies himself as “Jude (Judas), a servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James” (v. 1). In the early Church—at any rate after the martyrdom of James the son of Zebedee in A.D. 44 (Acts 12:2)—there was only one James who could be referred to in this absolute way without the need of further specification; that was James of Jerusalem, “James the Lord’s brother” as Paul calls him in Galatians 1:19; “James the Just” as his contemporaries called him because of his exemplary piety. If the writer of this document was the brother of this James—and there is nothing that forbids the identification—then he was in all probability the Judas who is enumerated among the brothers of Jesus in Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3. He is to be distinguished from the apostle Judas (the “Judas not Iscariot” of John 14:22), because it is evident from John 7:5 that the brothers of Jesus did not believe in him before his crucifixion, although they do appear among his followers on the morrow of his resurrection and ascension (Acts 1:14). But, like his brother James, Jude does not claim any authority by virtue of his natural relationship with the Saviour; he is but “a servant of Jesus Christ” (cf. Jas. 1:1).

The second century Christian traveler and narrator Hegesippus tells a story about two grandsons of Jude, which has been preserved for us by the fourth century writer Eusebius in the second book of his Ecclesiastical History. Some ill-disposed persons reported to the Roman Emperor Domitian (A.D. 81–96) that these two men belonged to the royal house of David, and were therefore potential rivals for the imperial authority in Judea, being in fact closely related to one who had been executed as a messianic claimant in Jerusalem two generations previously. Domitian was naturally suspicious, and moreover his attitude to the Jews was markedly unfriendly. It might therefore have gone hard with Jude’s two grandsons; but when the emperor summoned them to his presence, and discovered that they were poor peasants with no royal pretensions, and that the Kingdom in which they were interested was not of this world, he dismissed them as being unworthy of his concern. They lived on into the second century.

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The Date

The date of this epistle cannot be fixed with certainty. But if we are right in our conclusions about the author, it must belong to the first century A.D.—possibly to the second half of that century, after the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70. It is included in the Roman list of New Testament books called the “Muratorian Canon,” which belongs to the closing years of the second century. About the same time it is quoted by Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian of Carthage; but there are probable allusions to it much earlier in the second century, in the Syrian document called The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, and in the allegorical work called The Shepherd, written by a Roman Christian named Hermas. Although there was some dispute in the third and fourth centuries whether it should be included among the canonical writings or not, we may well be glad that its place among them was at last securely established, for (as Origen puts it) “while it consists of but a few verses, yet it is full of mighty words of heavenly grace.”

The Occasion

This was not the treatise with which Jude intended his name to be associated. He tells his readers that, when he had it in mind to write to them on the subject of “our common salvation” (v. 3), he found himself constrained to take up a more controversial line in vigorous defence of the true faith. We need not doubt that this constraint which came suddenly upon him was the constraint of the Spirit by whose inspiration he wrote the short treaties bearing his name.

The early Church was seriously troubled by a fashionable way of thinking and teaching which we know as Gnosticism. The Gnostics, who propagated it, took this name because they believed themselves to be in possession of the true gnosis, or knowledge. The faith and practice of ordinary Christians might be good enough for the rank and file, but for the spiritual elite there were deeper mysteries to penetrate. The full flowering of Gnosticism belongs to the second century, but incipient forms of it can be traced in the first century and are rebutted by such New Testament writers as Paul, John, and Jude.

Gnosticism viewed the material order as being either unreal or inherently evil. This view undermined the biblical doctrine of creation, for obviously something unreal or inherently evil could not have been created by God. It also undermined the doctrine of the Incarnation, for the Eternal Word of God could not have taken to himself a real body according to Gnostic principles; Gnostics therefore could not avoid “denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (v. 4)—denying him, that is to say, in the sense in which he is presented in the true Gospel.

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The ethical consequences of this false conception revealed themselves in one or the other of two opposite ways. Many Gnostics thought that spirituality was best attained by subjecting the body to a severe ascetic discipline, imposing prohibitions on it like the “Handle not, nor taste, nor touch” of the Colossian errorists (Col. 2:21). Others argued that, since everything material is transient and worthless, the body, which belongs to the material order, is morally neutral; its desires might therefore be indulged at will without doing any harm to the life of the spirit. Some of these may have tried to find support for this position in Paul’s teaching about Christian liberty, misinterpreting that liberty as licence and using it “for an occasion to the flesh” (cf. Gal. 5:13). Jude charges them plainly with “turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness” (v. 4).

Analysis And Argument

The epistle may be divided into five parts: (1) Salutation (vv. 1, 2); (2) Jude’s purpose in writing (vv. 3, 4); (3) False teachers denounced and their doom foretold (vv. 5–16); (4) Exhortation to Christians (vv. 17–23); (5) Doxology (vv. 24, 25).

False teaching compels us to expose such for what it is; it is not enough to set the truth alongside the false in the expectation that everyone will recognize which is which. The refutation of error is an essential correlative to the defence of the faith “once for all delivered unto the saints” (v. 3). Incidentally, this “once for all” character of the Christian faith must be reckoned with as a stumblingblock to secular wisdom, although it is a foundation rock to those who take their stand upon it. This is the very feature that marks Christianity off from ethnic religions; it is firmly anchored in history at the point where God became man for man’s salvation and suffered for us under Pontius Pilate. God has, indeed, fresh light to burst forth continually from his Word; but that Word has already been uttered in Christ and recorded in Holy Writ.

The doom of the false teachers, says Jude, has been pronounced of old. And God’s judgment, though slow, is sure, and once carried out, abides for ever. This, he says, is shown by the examples of the disobedient Israelites whose carcases fell in the wilderness, of the inhabitants of the cities of the plain who were overwhelmed by fire and brimstone, and of the rebellious angels who are reserved for final judgment (vv. 5–7).

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These people set constituted authority at defiance, whereas the archangel Michael would not use insulting language to the devil himself (vv. 8–10). The reference to Michael’s dispute with the devil has given rise to much speculation; according to Clement and Origen, the incident was related in The Assumption of Moses (but it does not appear in the part of this work which has survived to our day). With the words of Michael’s rebuke we may compare Zechariah 3:2 where Satan is so addressed by Jehovah himself, “And Jehovah said unto Satan, Jehovah rebuke thee, O Satan; yea, Jehovah that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?”

The examples of Cain, Balaam, and Korah also point the lesson of doom when the sin and judgment of these Old Testament characters is recalled (v. 11).

When the false teachers mingle with Christians (vv. 12, 13), they introduce trouble and disgrace into the very love feasts of the Church; they are shepherds who feed themselves instead of the flock of God, “blind mouths” in Milton’s telling phrase; they are clouds which hide the sun but send no refreshing rain; they are trees which produce only Dead Sea fruit; they are ineffectual as roaring waves whose rage expends itself in froth and foam; they are stars wandering out of their orbits into everlasting night. The judgment which awaits them at the coming of the Lord was foretold even in antediluvian days by Enoch; the words of verses 14 and 15 can still be read in the first chapter of the Book of Enoch. That the Lord at his coming will be attended by holy myriads is taught elsewhere in both Testaments (cf. Zech. 14:5; Matt. 25:31; 2 Thess. 1:7).

True believers, however, need not be alarmed at the activity of such people whose rise and fall was foretold by the apostles. Let them safeguard themselves by being built up in the faith, by praying in the Spirit, by keeping themselves in the divine love, and by looking forward to the final manifestation of mercy and life at Christ’s appearing (vv. 17–21). While they must abhor and avoid the false teachers, they should pity and rescue those who are misled by them (vv. 22, 23).

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The treatise ends with an ascription of praise through Christ to God as the One “that is able to guard you from stumbling, and to set you before the presence of his glory without blemish in exceeding joy, to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and power, before all time, and now, and forevermore”—a fitting description in view of the subject with which Jude has been dealing.


The best commentary is that by Joseph B. Mayor, The Epistle of Jude and the Second Epistle of Peter (Macmillan, 1907). Because of its close relationship with II Peter, Jude is often treated along with it in commentaries, and frequently along with the other general epistles. Mayor’s commentary is on the Greek text, so is the volume on St. Peter and St. Jude, by Charles Bigg, in the International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh, 1902). In the Moffatt New Testament Commentary (on the English text), Jude is treated in the volume, The General Epistles, by James Moffatt himself (London, 1928). The massive Exposition of the Epistle of Jude by the seventeenth century Puritan Thomas Manton was reprinted last year by The Banner of Truth Trust, London; the patient reader will find it a mine of spiritual wealth. The volume on the epistles of Peter and Jude in the New International Commentary on the New Testament is being prepared by Professor John H. Skilton of Westminster Theological Seminary.


Professor of Biblical History

and Literature

University of Sheffield, England

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