An Introduction to the New Testament

By Adolf Jülicher


Chapter 3 - Section 17


§ 17. The Epistle of Jude

[Cf. the works mentioned in § 18.]

This Epistle contains but a single section, besides its address and greeting and its doxological ending. The author begs his readers bravely to shield the faith delivered to them, against those who had the appearance of Christians but who nevertheless shamelessly denied the Lord.1 He then reminds them briefly2 of the punishments which had lighted upon similar offenders in the past, and this leads up to a description of the audacious dreamers of to-day, who went astray from the truth and destroyed the foundations of faith,3 and to an exhortation to keep the right course in the face of these dangers.4

The Epistle purports to be written by one Judas, brother of James. Now, this cannot be the Apostle ʽJudas the son of James, of whom we hear in Luke and the Acts,5 because, although the name of his father is mentioned, nothing is said of any brother; but since the addition evidently presupposes that this brother James was a distinguished personage, we are obliged to turn to that James who was the brother of Jesus and the pretended author of the Epistle of James. But then Judas must also have been a brother of Jesus—a point upon which he might have kept silence out of respect6—and according to Matt. xiii. 55 and Mark vi. 3 there actually was such a person. The addressees are all those ʽthat are called and kept for Jesus Christ,ʼ and therefore the circle for which it is intended appears to have been just as ʽcatholicʼ as that of the Epistle of James; moreover, the epistolary form is here purely artificial, as is proved by the end. Yet in itself there is nothing impossible in the theory that it was addressed to a single church or group of churches, which, on receiving the document, found themselves fully enough described in verse 1. Verse 3 appears at first sight to suggest that the author was in constant correspondence with those to whom he wrote. But all individual traits are wanting; the word ʽbelovedʼ in vv. 3, 17 and 20 is no argument to the contrary.

The sole object of the Epistle is to warn Christendom against a band of pseudo-Christians whose doctrines were no less abominable and anti-Christian than was their moral conduct. It is written in deep sorrow at the spread of such tendencies in the Church, but it shows more zeal than ability in attacking them; the writer allows a larger space to his wrath against these wretches and to a description of the judgment awaiting them than to a demonstration of the meanness of their principles and practice. Only in a few places7 does he give any positive information concerning them—and even that is often no more than indicated—and the real refutation consists entirely in the assertion8 that through the oracles of Prophets and Apostles men had long been prepared for such phenomena. The style does not show any very striking facility,9 but it is not without a certain pithy vigour.

2. The enemies contended against in Jude are not merely vicious and weak-kneed Christians—perhaps such as had fallen away through persecution—still less Jewish revolutionaries, but rather Antinomian Gnostics. They have not yet left the Church,10 but on the contrary practise their deceit within it, and take advantage of the credulity of the others to trade upon their visions11 and their superior wisdom.12 This was precisely why they were so dangerous. That they were Gnostics is, however, proved by verse 19, for the separation of mankind into different classes, and the haughty contempt here mentioned in which the ʽspiritualʼ party held the ʽpsychical,ʼ were distinct characteristics of Gnosticism. Verses 8b and 10 can only mean that they rejected the Old Testament revelation and regarded the God of the Old Testament and his angels either as powers of evil, hostile to the true God, or at least as imperfect and as standing far below the true God—which again was characteristic of Gnosticism. Connected with this, too, is the fact that they enjoined the transgression of the Old Testament commandments without distinction as a duty, and even—most appalling of all in the authorʼs eyes— practised the ʽdefilement of the fleshʼ and indulged their unnatural lusts.13 How far the writer gives a correct version of their doctrines in this last respect, or whether he was not repeating mere malignant rumours, we need not decide; the fact of their hyper-Pauline Antinomianism and of the distinetively Gnostic type of their ʽdefilementsʼ remains unshaken. But whether we see in them Carpocratists or Archontics, or members of some school that afterwards disappeared, we cannot date either them or the Epistle before the time of the Pastoral Epistles.14

The writer also shows by his conception of faith that he is a man of a later time; our ʽmost holy faithʼ is a thing which can be delivered once and for all,15 and is therefore objectively the orthodox creed. The time of Christʼs Apostles is past, according to verse17, and in verse 4 a saying of Christʼs is introduced as having been set forth from of old. The fact that he does quote sentences of Christian origin—even though we may continually dispute his acquaintance with Paul and more particularly with the Pastoral Epistles—proves that he did not belong to the first two Christian generations. Nor would his active use of Apocryphal writings—such as of the Assumption of Moses16 and of the Book of Enoch17—seem to betray the taste of a Primitive Apostle either, and the occurrence of two or three such quotations in this short Epistle is surely a fact of some importance. From our knowledge of the history of these Apocrypha, as well as of Gnosticism and of the Epistle itself, it seems most natural to assume that the author was an Egyptian Christian. From external evidence alone we know that Jude must have been written before 180, but we should not venture to decide on any positive decade between that year and 100. It would be advisable, however, not to place it too late, as the authorʼs mood seems to be one of astonishment and indignation at this new ungodliness.

Hence, if the Epistle of Jude belongs to the second century, it cannot have been written by the brother of Jesus and of James; and it joins the class of pseudonymous epistles. Certainly it is astonishing that the author should have chosen as the patron for his short address a man so little known, who must have been, one would think, almost forgotten in the writerʼs time. It is true that we do not recognise the axiom that a pseudo-John could not possibly have been named John, but we prefer to renounce the doubtful hypothesis that the writer of Judeʼs epistle himself bore the name of Jude, and that this decided him in his choice among names of weight for his pamphlet. But neither the ʽbrother of Jamesʼ18 nor, as some have suggested, the whole superscription has the air of a later addition; and the question why a later interpolator should have made such an addition would be still more unanswerable. The most probable supposition is that the author belonged by birth to those circles in which the memory of James was specially revered, that he did not venture to ascribe his well-meant work to James himself, but was satisfied with a name from among his family, his house community. Perhaps Jude had lived on after his brotherʼs death into a time when none of the Lordʼs Apostles were left in Palestine, and might therefore be used to personate the herald of the prophesied abomination with greater fitness than any other among the band of the first generation.

For the relation of Jude to 2. Peter see § 18, par. 4.



1) Vv. 3 fol.

2) Vv. 5-7.

3) Vv. 8-16.

4) Vv. 17-23.

5) Luke vi. 16; Acts i. 13.

6) See p. 220.

7) Vv. 4, 8, 10 (12 and 16), 19, 23.

8) Vv. 4, 14 fol. and 17 fol.

9) E.g., verse 16.

10) Verse 12.

11) Verse 8.

12) Verse 16.

13) Vv. 8 and 23.

14) See pp. 195 fol.

15) Vv. 3, 20.

16) Verse 9.

17) Verse 14 (and 6?).

18) Verse 1.