1Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: 2May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.
This past week we began a study on an oft-neglected book, the Epistle of Jude. This book is overlooked for many reasons, including its short length and the cryptic issues raised within the central portion of the letter. If we are careful, though, there is a lot to learn from this little epistle, and I think we will find it almost startlingly applicable.
First, a point that will make the study of Jude a little easier is that it is a close cousin to the longer 2 Peter. We will find that many of the issues raised in Jude in an almost shorthand fashion will be expounded upon in 2 Peter. The two letters are so close, that many scholars believe one letter borrowed from the other. There is much discussion about which came first, but generally it is believed that Jude was the original of the two.
Another point that will aid in our understanding of Jude is its relatively late date of authorship. Many evangelical scholars place the writing of Jude between the mid 60s A.D. to the mid 70s A.D. This little fact is helpful given the occasion and burden of Jude’s letter. He clearly states from the beginning that he is writing to encourage the believers to “earnestly contend for the faith” and be on guard against false teachers. Just a decade or two before, we know that there were false teachers following Paul and the other apostles corrupting the church. By the time we get to Jude and 2 Peter, it may be the case that the false teachers have become more organized and the need to consciously oppose them has become more pressing for the church.
Who were these false teachers? In our study we will discover plenty about these people, but we should make one point here. Part of what Jude may be dealing with is the very inception of the earliest and most predominant contender to Christianity-Gnosticism. As a systematized way of looking at the world, Gnosticism really won’t come into its own for a few decades, but it appears to be on the rise in the early church. Part of what make Jude so surprisingly applicable is that Gnosticism is still one of the most predominant religious contenders to Christianity. Its latest standard bearer is the philosophy behind The Da Vinci Code. The claims Dan Brown makes in that book are among the oldest contentions against Christianity on record. As our study progresses, we will get a chance to look more closely into the early Gnostic claims.
Before we finish, I want to make two points about the opening two verses. First, the author is most likely the half-brother of Jesus, and yet he does not identify himself as such. Among those who openly mocked Jesus during his earthly ministry, one of the identifiable groups is his brothers. More than likely, Jude (as well as James) were powerfully transformed by the death and resurrection of Christ and subsequently did not see fit to call themselves his brother. Instead, he calls himself a “bondservant” of Christ. What a powerful transformation must have taken place for one brother to see things this way!
Secondly, Jude makes use of the concept of “mercy” instead of the more familiar Pauline “grace” in his opening. Mercy, as the concept of “a loving act of forgiveness” will become an important concept for Jude before the book is through. This is important not to miss-though Jude is fascinating for its cryptic OT references and citations, that is not what Jude is after. He is after a sense of mercy and love pervading the church.
Jude has something profound and powerful to tell the Church even today.