THE EPISTLE OF JUDE
A Brief Commentary
In our Introduction to the Book of Jude, we provided an overture which included essentials about the author, a brief survey, historical background and timelines, purpose and themes, key verses, and other general information. In this article therefore, we’ll dive right into the text in order to provide a brief exposition and attempt to answer a few common questions, concentrating primarily on subject matter that was not covered in the aforementioned document.
Jude - A Commentary
After the opening salutations in the first two verses, Jude immediately moves to his purpose and the foundation for his epistle in verses 3 and 4. In verse 3, we learn that Jude’s original intention was to write about salvation, but was led to urge his readers to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints”. From this phrase, we first notice the urgency of defending the Faith, even trumping the critical doctrine of salvation in this instance. In the NT, “the Faith” refers to the true content of Christian belief, including all aspects of the gospel, which was delivered by revelation from God.
Next, the statement that the Faith was “once for all entrusted to the saints” speaks of the sufficiency, completeness, and unalterable nature of the inspired apostolic teaching that had already been established in the early church (see also 1Tim 6:20-21 and 2Tim 1:13-14). Although the NT had not yet been assembled into its final form, many NT documents were already in circulation throughout the churches (Col 4:16, 2Pe 3:15). Thus, this verse also clearly repudiates the foundation of almost all cults. Almost without exception, a cult originates with a self-proclaimed prophet's claim of receiving additional authoritative doctrine from God (usually in secret). Over the centuries, we've seen many that consider their founder's writing and/or statements to be on the same authoritative level as (or even greater than) the Bible. The verse also conflicts with the belief of many Roman Catholics that later church traditions (and certain pronouncements by the Pope) are of equal authority to Scripture. On the other hand, others tend to minimize the authority of the Church and her historical interpretation of the doctrines. It is our belief that the historic Church Council's statements of Christian doctrine (Creeds, Confessions, Catechisms etc) possess more authority than many modern churches credit to them; however, they are always subordinate to the absolute authority of Holy Scripture.
We’re introduced to the false teachers in verse 4. Although we’re not told the exact nature of their heresies, we can discern that they are libertines, turning God’s grace into a license to deny any accountability for their depravity, and rejecting the deity and authority of Jesus Christ. We also note that their appearance doesn’t take God by surprise, but that He had foretold of their coming and impending condemnation beforehand.
Jude then draws an analogy of the Lord delivering His people from Egypt in verse 5. Here, “the Lord” refers to the pre-existing Jesus Christ. Some Greek manuscripts read “ho Kyrios” (the Lord), but the oldest and most reliable ones read “Iēsous” (Jesus). Although the name “Jesus” is not applied to the pre-incarnate Christ in the OT, Jude relies upon his Holy Spirit inspired apostolic understanding. Paul also confirms the presence of Jesus during the exodus and wilderness wanderings (1Cor 10:4,9).
Jude’s second analogy, found in verse 6, compares the false teachers to the fallen angels who were unsatisfied with their given positions and rebelled against God. Jewish tradition (1 Enoch 6-10) and many Bible scholars ascribe these angels to the “sons of God” in Genesis 6, whose wicked actions were the final straw that brought on the flood.
In verse 7, Jude offers the final OT analogy, that of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Likewise, as with the other analogies, the false teachers would also face judgment. Some quote this verse in arguing for a literal fire in hell. This is certainly possible, but “fire” is also used figuratively to represent the wrath of God.
After giving historical examples of past apostates, Jude proceeds in verses 8-13 to record some traits of the false teachers threatening the Church in his day. The blasphemers had no respect for authority, yet claimed they had visions from God. The story of the archangel Michael disputing with the devil over the body of Moses in verse 9 comes from a Jewish extra-biblical work called Assumption (or Testament) of Moses. By quoting this work, Jude was not affirming it as being divinely inspired. He was merely using the story as a helpful illustration. Verse 10 assets that the apostates have no understanding of true biblical doctrine, so instead of being guided by the Spirit, they were left to subjectively follow their own warped instincts. In verse 11, we learn that they are primarily motivated by greed. In verses 12 and 13, Jude uses six metaphors to further describe the false teachers as offering unfilled promises and misleading direction for selfish reasons. He again confirms their eternal destination, describing it as blackest darkness.
Moving to verses 14 and 15, we find reference to a second Jewish extra-biblical source, this time quoting from 1 Enoch 1:9. The inclusion of material from these sources resulted in delaying the inclusion of the book of Jude in the NT canon. After sufficient debate however, it was determined that Jude is citing this particular statement from 1 Enoch to be true rather than confirming the entire works (there’s also a 2 Enoch) to be divinely inspired, and Jude was accepted without reservation. Note also that Paul quoted extra-biblical sources on occasion in his epistles. Jude then lists some final character traits and misconducts of the false teachers in verse 16, referring again to their motivation of greed.
In verses 17-19, Jude reminds his readers that the apostles foretold of the coming of these apostates in “the last times (or days)”. Since the first coming of Jesus as the Messiah initiated the final stage in God’s plan of redemption, Jude applies their prediction to his current time. In the NT, “the last days” generally refer to the time from Jesus’ resurrection to His second coming, while the end times are often called the “Day of the Lord”, the “Day of God’s Judgment”, or similar phrases. Jude then encourages his readers in verses 20 and 21 to stand firm in their beliefs, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and remain in God’s love while they wait for the full consummation of their eternal salvation.
In verses 22 and 23, we find Jude’s final instructions to his readers who have remained faithful to the faith. He commands them to be merciful to those whose faith is vacillating, and to rescue others that are in danger of suffering judgment. He also instructs his readers to show mercy to even the apostates while at the same time, keeping a distance in order to avoid being lured into their corrupt ways. This undoubtedly also involved praying for them (Mt 5:44).
Jude then closes his letter (verses 24 and 25) with an inspiring and powerful doxology that is often quoted in our worship services today. To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy -- to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.
[Top of Page]