An exegetical commentary on the Greek New TestamentIntroduction
The epistle of Jude serves as a word of exhortation to Christian congregations facing heretical influences from within and without. The concerns expressed by our author are somewhat general, making it impossible to specify the exact nature of the heresy. Jude was intending to write "about the salvation we share", v2, but given the changed circumstances he now writes to urge his readers "to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God's holy people", v3. "The faith" is being undermined by trouble makers, "ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality", v4; who "pollute their own bodies, reject authority and heap abuse on celestial beings", v8, who "slander whatever they do not understand", behaving as "irrational animals", v10, getting up to "sexual immorality and perversion", v7. They are "clouds without rain", v12, "scoffers who ... follow their own ungodly desires", v18. So, it seems likely that the epistle confronts libertines who happily import an irresponsible secular world-view into the Christian community; they are "worldly people, devoid of the Spirit", v19. In response to the heretics, believers need to build themselves up in faith and pray in the Spirit, v20, keeping themselves in the love of God while waiting patiently for the grace found in Christ that leads to life, v21.
The structure of Jude
Situation and occasion, v3-4.
who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality,
have secretly slipped in among you.
The Argument Proper
The sin and doom of the godless, v5-16.
Hold firm to the faith, v17-23
As with most of the NT letters, Jude has an opening and a conclusio. Given that the New Testament epistles are designed to be read aloud, their central elements tend to follow the rules of rhetoric, either judicial rhetoric, designed to persuade the audience to make a judgment about events occurring in the past, or deliberative rhetoric, designed to persuade the audience to take a particular action, or epideictic rhetoric, designed to persuade the audience to hold or affirm some particular point of view. In the case of Jude, it is deliberative, leaning toward being parenetic, ie., exhortatory. Watson in Innovation, Arrangement and Style, 1988, suggests the following rhetorical structure for Jude:
exordium, introduction, v1-3;
narratio, narrative - describing the situation, v4;
(or possibly a partitio, thesis, proposition - the main issue at hand, v3-4).
"ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality"
"have secretly slipped in among you."
probatio, rhetorical proofs, expanding on the partitio, thesis, v5-16;
Type of proofs evident:
Attacks on the ethos of the opponents;
examples from the past - crime is always punished;
Comparison between past crimes punished and present accusations;
legal precedent and legal warrant for judgment.
peroratio, recapitulation, primarily as a concluding exhortation, v17-23;
indignatio, harsh words toward the opponents, and
conquestio, encouraging words toward the faithful
conclusio, conclusion, v24-25.
Jude is an uncomplicated general letter to Christian churches facing a challenge from pseudo-believers imbued with immoral behavior. Jude is firmly founded on the apostolic faith and uses this to aggressively confront error. This error is primarily within the Christian fellowship and probably more a product of secularization than an outright heresy like Gnosticism. The charge / allegations brought against these pseudo-believers are both moral and doctrinal. At the moral level these pseudo-believers are sexually immoral, a corrupting influence in the church and so are disrupting relationships. On the doctrinal level they are libertines, they feel free to behave the way they do because "they believe they are entitled to behave in these uninhibited ways because they participate in God's grace and enjoy the freedoms of the sons of God"; they rest on "the assumption that the truly spiritual person, in virtue of their privileged relationship with God, is emancipated from the ethical restrictions, obligations and standards (particularly in matters of sex) which bind ordinary mortals", Kelly, ie., they "pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality", v4.
Jude is confronting the same problem confronted by James: Both Jude and James, as with Paul, proclaim the apostolic gospel, except that Paul is emphasizing the fact that faith produces blessings:
FAITH = righteousness = BLESSINGS = works.
James, on the other hand, emphasizes the fact that faith produces works:
FAITH = righteousness = blessings = WORKS.
James is not giving works undue weight, as Luther thought, but seeks to counter the argument of libertine believers:
faith = righteousness = blessings - (minus) WORKS.
Jude is confronting the same problem that James confronted.
Given the common material between Jude and 2 Peter, especially the second chapter of 2 Peter, it is usually accepted that either one used the other or that both used a common source. There are some similarities with Hesiod's account of the fight of Zeus against the Titans in his Theogony, but in the end, the idea of a common source is unlikely. Of course, with these types of questions we can never know for sure, but most commentators suggest that 2 Peter is an expansion of Jude, possibly by the same author. Most commentators hold that 2 Peter, although ascribed to the apostle Peter, is not the work of the same author as 1 Peter, who may well be the apostle Peter. Certainly the early church held that 1 Peter came from the hand of the apostle, but doubts were expressed with respect to 2 Peter. As for Jude, he remains unknown, although the Gnostic heretics made much of a Jude who was supposedly a twin, Didyus, Toma, of the Lord Jesus. So, if the epistle of Jude is written to counter the Gnostic heretics, it is a nice piece of first century oneupmanship to ascribe the work to Jude, "a brother of James", obviously James the Just, the brother of Jesus. As to why anyone would want to rework the epistle, so producing 2 Peter, remains unclear, although questions concerning the delay in the coming Great Day of the Lord is what sets 2 Peter apart from Jude.
Most commentators give the epistle a late date ranging from AD80-130. The epistle is mentioned by Clement of Alexandria, AD150-215, Tertullian, AD160-220, and Origin, AD185-254. Eusebius, in his history of the Christian church, noted that the epistle was not widely recognized and so was classed with the disputed books of James and 2 Peter.
Bibliography: Commentaries - 2 Peter and Jude
Bauckham, Word, 1983. Brown, Banner of Truth. Cranfield, Torch, 2006. Danker, Fortress Press. Davids, Pillar. Davids Gk., HGT, 2011. Green, Tyndale 2nd. ed. 1987 / BECNT. Kelly, Blacks, 1988. Leaney, CBC, 1967. Neyrey, Anchor, 1993. Reicke, Anchor (replaced), 1964. Sidebottom, NCB, 1967.