The Epistles of Peter

By E. H. Plumptre

From the Book The General Epistles of St. Peter & St. Jude

Introduction to the Epistle of St Jude.


I. The Writer

The writer of the Epistle describes him self in a manner altogether exceptional in the Epistles of the New Testament. He is "the servant of the Lord Jesus Christ and the brother of James" The use of the former term would be, as we find from St Paul's description of himself in Phil. i. 1 and St Peter's in 2 Pet. i. 1, compatible with his holding the position of an Apostle, but there is, to say the least, a primÔ facie improbability in the thought that one who could claim attention on the higher ground of being an Apostle of Christ should claim it on the lower ground of being the "brother of James," whoever that James might be.

This antecedent probability may perhaps seem, at first, to be balanced by the fact that in our English version, a "Judas the brother of James" appears in the lists of the Twelve Apostles in Luke vi. 16 and Acts i. 13. It has, however, to be noted that the word "brother" is, as the italics shew, interpolated by the translators, and that the Greek combination would, according to the rule followed in all other cases, be naturally rendered as "Judas, the son of James" (Ἰούδας Ἰακώβου), the relationship of brotherhood being elsewhere indicated by the use of the proper word (ἀδελφός). It may safely be said that this would have been the rendering here, had not the translators been led by the impression made on them by the opening words of this Epistle, and the desire to bring St Luke's list of the Twelve into harmony with them1. So far therefore the description "Judas the brother of James" is adverse to the view that we have before us the writing of an Apostle. There were, how ever, two bearing the names of Judas and James, or Jacobus, of whose relationship as brothers there is not the shadow of a doubt. "James and Joses and Judas and Simon" are named in Mark vi. 3 as the brethren of our Lord. The first-named, and therefore probably the eldest of the four, came into prominence in the history of the Apostolic Church, as in Gal. i. 19, and an almost uniform tradition identifies him with the James who presides in the council of Jerusalem in Acts xv. and who receives St Paul with much kindness in Acts xxi. 18 - 25. Assuming him to be in some sense the Lord's brother, it follows that Judas shared that distinction, and it has been shewn, it is believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that there is no adequate ground for identifying them with James the son of Alphasus, and Judas, the son (or brother?) of James in the company of the Twelve.

It would scarcely be suitable, here, to re-open the discussion which the reader will find in the Introduction to the Commentary on the Epistle of St James in this series, as to the precise relationship of "the brethren of the Lord." It will be enough to state that of the three alternative hypotheses, (i) that the brethren were the children of Joseph and Mary, (2) that they were the children of the sister of the Virgin and of Clopas (assumed by some to be identical with Alphseus), and (3) that they were the children of Joseph by a former marriage, possibly of the levirate character, the last seems to commend itself as most probable in itself, best fitting in with all the data of the case, and best supported also by external testimony. On this view, Judas must have been born some few years before B. C. 4, and, if we are right in assigning his Epistle to nearly the same date as those of St Peter, he must have been not far from seventy at the time of writing it. There is, perhaps, no writer in the New Testament of whose life and character we know so little. We can but picture to ourselves, as in the case of his brother James, the life of the home at Nazareth, the incredulous wonder with which they saw Him whom they had known for so many years in the daily intercourse of home-life, appear first in the character of a teacher, and then of a prophet, and then of the long- expected Christ. So it was that they sought to stay His work (Matt. xii. 46, Mark iii. 31 - 35, Luke viii. 19 - 21), and were yet in the position of those who believed not when they went up to the Feast of Tabernacles six months before the close of our Lord's Ministry (John vii. 5). They were, however, converted to a full acceptance of His claims between the Crucifixion and the Ascension; probably, we may believe, by His appearance to James after the Resurrection (1 Cor. xv. 7), or by their sharing in the manifestation which was made to five hundred brethren at once (1 Cor. xv. 6).

Beyond this we know absolutely nothing. Tradition is absolutely silent, and his name does not appear even in the legends of the Apocryphal Gospels. One conjecture may, however, be mentioned, as having at least some show of probability. The names of Joses and Judas appear in the history of the Apostolic Church on two memorable occasions. In the first, "Joses (or Joseph), who is called Barsabas" and distinguished by the further name of Justus, was put forward by the hundred and twenty brethren who were assembled after the Ascension as a candidate for the vacant Apostleship (Acts i. 23), and it seems not improbable, looking to the position subsequently occupied by James the brother of the Lord, that he also may have been one of the brethren, who was able to bear his witness of the fact of the Resurrection. If the name Barsabas were simply a patronymic, it would, of course, be fatal to this hypothesis. The analogy of Barnabas however (Acts iv. 36) makes it not unlikely that it may be an epithet descriptive of character. Of five possible meanings, "son of conversion," "son of quiet," "son of an oath," "son of an old man," "son of wisdom," the elder Lightfoot (on Acts i. 23) gives the preference to the last. Accepting this, we have two noticeable points of agreement with James the brother of the Lord. Both are characterised by their love of wisdom, both are known as being conspicuously "just," or righteous. That St Luke should give the Latin and not the Greek form of that epithet suggests the inference that this character was recognised by Latin-speaking disciples, the "strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes," at Jerusalem (Acts ii. 10).

In the second instance, we have "Judas surnamed Barsabas" mentioned as a prophet, who was sent with Silas to Antioch as the bearer of the encyclical letter which conveyed the decree of the Apostles and Elders at Jerusalem (Acts xv. 22, 32). He and his companion are described as "chief men" (ἄνδρες ἡγούμενοι)2 among the brethren. After his visit to Antioch, where he and Silas exhorted the brethren with "many words," he returned to Jerusalem: we hear no more of him.

The hypothesis with which we are now dealing has at all events the merit of fitting in with these facts, and throwing light both on them and on the character of the Epistle. It explains the prominence of this Judas in the Church at Jerusalem, and the tone of authority in which he writes, and his selection by his brother James to be the bearer of the letter to the Church of Antioch. It gives a more definite application to St Peter's reference to the commandment of the prophets and Apostles (2 Pet. iii. 2) and explains his own reference to Apostles only and not to prophets (Jude, verse 17). If we were to assume that he was with St Peter at the time when the Second Epistle was written, it would explain the use of the exceptional form of Symeon as in the speech of James in Acts xv. 14.

The silence which rests over the name of Judas, the writer of the Epistle, is, however, in itself significant. It indicates a life passed in comparative quiescence, like that of his brother, the Bishop of Jerusalem. The story told by Hegesippus (Euseb. H. E. in. 18) that the grandchildren of Judas who "after the flesh was called the brother of the Lord" were sought out by the delatores or informers, under Domitian, and brought before the Emperor, who was disturbed by fear of the "coming" of the Christ, and were dismissed by him when they shewed him their hands hardened with labour and told him the tale of their in heritance of poverty, indicates a humble, but not an ascetic life, and agrees with the statement of St Paul that the brethren of the Lord were married (1 Cor. ix. 5). Reading between the lines of the Epistle, we can trace something of the character of the man. We miss the serene calmness which distinguishes the teaching of his brother, but its absence is adequately explained by the later date of the Epistle, by the presence of new dangers, by the burning indignation roused by the sensual impurities of the false teachers with whom he had to do. What strikes us most, in some sense, as an unexpected difficulty, is the reference to narratives and prophecies which we find nowhere in the Canonical Scriptures of the Old Testament and which are found in spurious and unauthentic Apocrypha. Had he read, we ask, the Book of Enoch, and the Assumption of Moses, or some similar book? (See notes on Jude verses 9 and 14.) It can scarcely be doubted that, but for antecedent prepossessions in favour of an arbitrary Ó priori theory of inspiration, we should answer this question in the affirmative. We can scarcely think it probable that he and his fellow-workers read no books but those included in the Hebrew Canon of the Old Testament. The Epistle of St James shews, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he was familiar with the Wisdom of Solomon, and the Ecclesiasticus of the Son of Sirach. (See Introduction to St James, p. 33.) St Paul, in mentioning Jannes and Jambres (2 Tim. iii. 8), clearly refers to some other history of Moses than that which we find in the Pentateuch. And if we once admit the possibility of an acquaintance with the then current literature of Palestine, we know that such books as those referred to may well have been within his reach, and, if so, it was not strange that he should use them, without critically examining their historical trustworthiness, as furnishing illustrations that gave point and force to his counsels. The false teachers against whom he wrote were, we know, characterised largely by their fondness for "Jewish fables" (Tit. i. 14), and the allusive references to books with which they were familiar were therefore of the nature of an argumentum ad hominem. He fought them, as it were, with their own weapons.

II. Relation of the Epistle of St Jude to the Second Epistle of St Peter.

The parallelism between 2 Pet. ii. and the Epistle of St Jude lies on the surface. There is sufficient resemblance to make it certain that one writer knew the work of the other, sufficient difference to shew that he exercised a certain measure of independence in dealing with the materials thus placed within his reach. The following considerations lead, it is be lieved, to the inference that St Jude's Epistle was the earlier of the two.

(1) It was more likely that St Peter should incorporate the contents of a short Epistle like that of St Jude, in the longer one which he was writing, than that St Jude, with the whole of St Peter's Second Epistle before him, should have confined himself to one section of it only.

(2) It was more probable that St Peter, in reproducing St Jude, should, as stated above, have thought it expedient to omit this or that passage which might seem to him likely to take their place among things "hard to be understood" or prove stumbling-blocks to the weak, than that Jude should have added these elements to what he found written by St Peter.

What has been suggested above (p. 80) seems the probable explanation of the likeness between the two Epistles. That of Jude was brought to St Peter, was, perhaps, placed in his hands by the writer himself. It brought before him a new form of evil; and he did not hesitate, using possibly St Jude's help as an amanuensis, to write to those of the dispersion whom Jude also had addressed. It seems, on the whole, probable from the absence of any mention of individual Churches, that the Epistle of the latter was addressed, like that of his brother, to the whole body of "the twelve tribes that were scattered abroad" (James i. 1).

III. History of the Epistle of St Jude.

What has been said of the Second Epistle of St Peter holds good, with one remarkable exception, of the Epistle of St Jude. It is not mentioned or quoted by any of the Apostolic Fathers, Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, nor in the Epistle of Barnabas nor the "Shepherd" of Hermas, nor in Irenaeus, nor the fragments of Papias. Clement of Alexandria is the first Father who quotes and names it (Paedag. III. 8, Strom. III. 2). He is followed by Origen, who in his Commentary on Matt. xiii. 55, 56, speaks of Jude as having written an Epistle "of but few verses yet full of mighty words of heavenly wisdom," and quotes it elsewhere, though in one passage with a doubt as to its reception (Comm. on Matt. xxii. 23). Tertullian (circ. A.D. 210) quotes it (de Hab. Mul. I. 3) as the work of an Apostle. It is wanting in the Peschito, or Syriac Version (a sufficient indication, as has been remarked3, of its not being by the Apostle Judas, who, under the name of Thaddeus, was the traditional Evangelist of Edessa); and when we come to the fourth century, Eusebius (H. E. III. 25) places it among the Antilegomena or disputed books, and Jerome mentions (Cat. Script. Eccles.) that although then received, it had been rejected by many on account of its quoting the Apocryphal Book of Enoch.

The singular exception above referred to is that of the Muratorian Fragment (circ. A.D. 170), which, though omitting all mention of the Epistles of St James and St Peter, distinctly recognises that of St Jude. No satisfactory explanation has as yet been given of the omission of the former, but the very absence of any mention of them renders the fact of the latter being named a more decisive proof that the Epistle now before us was recognised as Canonical in the middle of the second century.


The writer addresses himself at large to all who were consecrated and called as God's people (i, 2). He states that he had been moved to write to them, urging them to contend for the faith, by the dangers of the time (3) Ungodly men are turning the grace of God into lasciviousness (4). Believers should therefore remember that no privileges, however great, exempt them from the danger of falling, as the Israelites fell after leaving Egypt, as the angels and the cities of the Plain had fallen (5 - 7). The sins of the false teachers were like theirs and worse, as sins against nature, sins after the pattern of those of Cain, and Balaam, and Korah (8 - 11). They mingled in the Agapae with impure purposes: all images of natural disorder, rainless clouds, withering trees, wandering stars, were realised in their lives (12, 13). Truly had Enoch prophesied that the Lord would come to judge such as these, murmurers, self-willed, and covetous (14, 15). From that picture of evil the writer turns to warn his readers against another hardly less threatening danger from the mockers of the last days, sensual and schismatic (17 - 19). In contrast with both these classes, they were to build themselves up in faith and prayer and love (20 - 22). They must not shrink from rebuking those that needed rebuke, but they must deal with each case on its own merits, with greater or less severity (22, 23). The writer ends with an ascription, of praise to God as their protector and preserver from all the dangers that threatened them.



1) It maybe well to note the fact, as this suggestion may seem to some readers a somewhat startling proposal, that it has the sanction of two, at least, of the earlier English versions. Tyndale (1534) and Cranmer (1539) both give "Judas, James sonne." Wyclif and the Rhemish version simply reproduce the Greek, "Judas of James." The Geneva gives "Judas, James brother" Luther, too, gives "Judas, Jakobi Sohn," and is followed by Bengel and Meyer.

2) The description is, I think, fatal to the view, which the elder Lightfoot and some others have adopted, that Joses and Judas Barsabas were sons of Alphseus, and that the latter was therefore an Apostle. The assumption of one writer that Sabas was a contracted form of Zebedaeus, and that they were therefore brothers of the Apostles James and John, scarcely calls for more than a passing mention.

3) Canon Venables in Smith's Dictionary of the Bible, Art. Jude, Epistle of.