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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > J > Epistle of St. Jude

Epistle of St. Jude

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The present subject will be treated under the following heads:

The author and the authenticity of the epistle

Jude in the books of the New Testament

In the address of the Epistle the author styles himself "Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James". "Servant of Jesus Christ" means "apostolic minister or labourer". "Brother of James" denotes him as the brother of James kat exochen who was well-known to the Hebrew Christians to whom the Epistle of St. Jude was written. This James is to be identified with the Bishop of the Church of Jerusalem (Acts 15:13; 21:18), spoken of by St. Paul as "the brother of the Lord" (Galatians 1:19), who was the author of the Catholic Epistle of St. James. and is regarded amongst Catholic interpreters as the Apostle James the son of Alpheus (St. James the Less). This last identification, however, is not evident, nor, from a critical point of view, does it seem beyond all doubt. Most Catholic commentators identify Jude with the "Judas Jacobi" ("Jude, the brother of James" in the D.V.) of Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13 — also called Thaddeus (Matthew 10:3: Mark 3:18) — referring the expression to the fact that his brother James was better known than himself in the primitive Church. This view is strongly confirmed by the title "the brother of James", by which Jude designates himself in the address of his Epistle. If this identification is proved, it is clear that Jude, the author of the Epistle, was reckoned among the Twelve Apostles. This opinion is most highly probable. Beyond this we find no further information concerning Jude in the New Testament, except that the "brethren of the Lord", among whom Jude was included, were known to the Galatians and the Corinthians; also that several of them were married, and that they did not fully believe in Christ till after the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 9:5; Galatians 1:10; John 7:3-5; Acts 1:14). From a fact of Hegesippus told by Eusebius (Church History III.19-22) we learn that Jude was "said to have been the brother of the Lord according to the flesh", and that two of his grandsons lived till the reign of Trajan (see, however, BRETHREN OF THE LORD).

Tradition as to the genuineness and the canonicity of the epistle

The Epistle of Jude is one of the so-called antilegomena; but, although its canonicity has been questioned in several Churches, its genuineness has never been denied. The brevity of the Epistle, the coincidences between it and II Peter, and the supposed quotation from apocryphal books, created a prejudice against it which was gradually overcome. The history of its acceptance by the Church is briefly as follows:

Some coincidences or analogies exist between Jude and the writings of the Apostolic Fathers — between Barnabas, ii, 10, and Jude, 3, 4; Clemens Romanus, Ep. xx, 12; lxv, 2, and Jude, 25; Ep. ad Polyc., iii 2; iv, 2, and Jude, 3. 20, Mart. Polyc., xx, and Jude, 24 sq. It is possible, though not certain, that the passages here noted were suggested by the text of Jude. The similarity between "Didache" ii, 7 and Jude, 22 sq., does not seem to be accidental, whilst in Athenagoras (about A.D., 177), "Leg.", xxiv, and in Theophilus of Antioch (d. about 183), "Ad Autol." II, xv, there is a clear reference to Jude, 6 and 13 respectively.

The earliest positive reference to the Epistle occurs in the Muratorian Fragment, "Epistola sane Judæ et superscriptæ Joannis duae in catholica [scil. Ecclesia] habentur." The Epistle was thus recognized as canonical and Apostolic (for it is Jude the Apostle who is here meant) in the Roman Church about 170. At the end of the second century it was also accepted as canonical and Apostolic by the Church of Alexandria (Clement of Alexandria, The Pedagogue III.8, followed by Origen), and by the African Church of Carthage (Tertullian). At the beginning of the third century the Epistle was universally accepted except in the primitive East Syrian Church, where none of the Catholic Epistles were recognized, nor the Apocalypse.

This remarkably wide acceptance, representing as it does the voice of ancient tradition, testifies to the canonicity and the genuineness of Jude. During the third and fourth centuries doubt and suspicion, based on internal evidence (especially on the supposed quotation from the Book of Henoch and the "Assumption of Moses"), arose in several Churches. However the prejudice created against the deuterocanonical Jude was soon overcome, so that the Epistle was universally accepted in the Western Church at the very beginning of the fifth century (see CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT).

In the Eastern Church Eusebius of Cæsarea (260-340) placed Jude among the antilegomena or the "disputed books, which are nevertheless known and accepted by the greater number" (Church History II.23; Church History III.25); he incorporated all the Catholic Epistles in the fifty copies of the Bible which at the command of Constantine, he wrote for the Church of Constantinople. St. Athanasius (d. 387) and St. Epiphanius (d. 403) placed Jude among the canonical and Apostolic writings. Junilius and Paul of Nisibis in Constantinople (513) held it as mediæ auctoritatis. However, in the sixth century the Greek Church everywhere considered Jude as canonical.

The recognition of Jude in the Syriac Church is not clear. In Western Syria we find no trace of Jude in the fifth century. In Eastern Syria the Epistle is wanting in the oldest Syriac version, the Peshito, but it is accepted in the Philoxenian (508) and Heracleon (616) versions. Except among the Syriac Nestorians, there is no trace of any ecclesiastical contradiction from the beginning of the sixth century till the Council of Trent, which defined the canonicity of both the proto- and deutero-canonical books of the New Testament.

Difficulties arising from the text

The wording of verse 17 — which some critics have taken as an evidence that the Epistle was written in the second century — does not imply that the recipients of the Epistle had, in a period that was past, received oral instructions from all the Apostles, nor does it imply that Jude himself was not an Apostle. The text ton apostolon implies only that several of the Apostles had predicted to the readers that such "mockers" as are described by the writer would assail the Faith; it is not separation in time, but distance of place, that leads Jude to refer to the scattered Apostles as a body. Nor does he exclude himself from this body, he only declares that he was not one of those prophesying Apostles. The author of II Peter, who often ranks himself among the Apostles, uses a similar expression ton apostolon humon (3:2), and certainly does not mean to imply that he himself was not an Apostle.

Many Protestant scholars have maintained that the false teachers denounced in Jude are Gnostics of the second century. But, as Bigg rightly says: "It is not really a tenable view" (op. cit. infra). St. Jude does not give any details about the errors denounced in this short letter any more than does St. Peter, and there is no ground for identifying the false teachers with any of the Gnostic sects known to us. There is nothing in the references made to false doctrines that obliges us to look beyond the Apostolic times.

The use made of apocryphal writings, even if proved, is not an argument against the Apostolicity of the Epistle; at most it could only invalidate its canonicity and inspiration. Verse 9, which contains the reference concerning the body of Moses, was supposed by Didymus ("Enarr. in Epist. Judæ" in P.G., XXXIX, 1811 sqq.), Clement of Alexandria (Adumbr. in Ep. Judæ), and Origen (De Princ., III, ii, 1), to have been taken from the "Assumption of Moses", which is unquestionably anterior to the Epistle of Jude. Jude may possibly have learned the story of the contest from Jewish tradition. But, at any rate, it is evident that Jude does not quote the "Assumption" as a written authority, and still less as a canonical book.

As regards the prophecy of vv. 14 sq., many Catholic scholars admit it to be a loose and abbreviated citation from the apocryphal Book of Henoch, i, 1, 9, which existed a century before St. Jude wrote. But here again St. Jude does not quote Henoch as a canonical book. There is nothing strange, as Plumptre remarks (op. cit. infra, 88), in Jude making use of books not included in the Hebrew Canon of the Old Testament, "as furnishing illustrations that gave point and force to his counsels. The false teachers, against whom he wrote, were characterized largely by their fondness for Jewish fables, 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." He merely intends to remind his readers of what they know. He does not affirm or teach the literary origin of the apocryphal book, such is not his intention. He simply makes use of the general knowledge it conveys, just as the mention of the dispute between Michael and the Devil is but an allusion to what is assumed as being known to the readers. By no means, therefore, does either of the passages offer any difficulty against the canonicity of the Epistle, or against the Catholic doctrine of inspiration.

The relation of Jude to the Second Epistle of St. Peter

The resemblance as to thought and language between Jude and II Peter, ii, is quite sufficient to make it certain that one of the two writers borrowed from the other: the hypothesis that both writers borrowed from a common document must be put aside, as having no support whatsoever. The question remains: Which of the two Epistles was the earlier? The priority of II Peter, as well as the priority of Jude, has found strong advocates, and much has been written about this intricate question. The following arguments, however, lead to the conclusion that the Epistle of Jude was the earlier of the two:

Vocabulary and style

The vocabulary of Jude proves that the author was a Jew, saturated with the Old Testament, using Hebraisms, yet acquainted with the koine dialektos — the "common dialect". Thirteen words found in Jude do not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. Some words of the new Christian dialect appear in Jude as well as in the Pauline Epistles, but literary affinity or direct quotation cannot be proved. The style, although sometimes poetical, always evinces the severe and authoritative tone of a man of Apostolic rank, held in high honour.

Analysis of the epistle

Exordium

Address and good wishes (vv. 1-2), occasion and purpose of the Epistle (3-4).

First part

He inveighs against the pseudo-teachers; describes their life and errors (5-16). They will be severely punished, as is evident from the severe punishment of the unbelieving Israelites in the desert (5), of the wicked angels (6), and of the inhabitants of Sodom (7). He mentions their wicked teaching and life (8), and opposes the modesty of Michael the Archangel (9) to their pride (10). He foretells for the heretics the punishment of Cain, Balaam, and the sons of Core, for they have imitated their errors (11-3). Enoch has already prophesied the judgment of God upon them (14-6).

Second part

He exhorts the faithful (17-23). They must remember the teaching of the Apostles, by whom they had been warned of the coming of such heretics (17-19). They must maintain the Faith, keep themselves in the love of God, and wait for life everlasting (20-21). What their behaviour should he towards Christians that have in any way fallen away (22-23)

Epilogue

A most beautiful doxology (24-25).

Occasion and object

Occasion

The Epistle was occasioned by the spread of the dogmatico-moral errors amongst the Hebrew Christians; pseudo-doctors "are secretly entered in", who abuse Christian liberty to give themselves over to intemperance; moreover "denying the only sovereign Ruler, and our Lord Jesus Christ" (4).

Object

Jude's intention was to caution his readers, the Hebrew Christians, against such depraved teaching, and to exhort them to keep faithfully the teaching of the Apostles.

To whom addressed

The dedicatory address runs as follows: tois en Theo patri hegapemenois kai Iesou Christo teteremenois kletois (to them that are beloved in God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called). Which are the kletoi, or "called", becomes manifest from the context. They are not all the Christians of the whole Christian world, but those of a particular Church (vv. 3, 4, 17, 22). Several commentators think that St. Jude's Epistle was addressed to the same churches of Asia Minor to which St. Peter's Epistle was written. This opinion, according to these commentators, is to be held because in both Epistles the same errors are condemned, and also because Jude (v. 17) appears to have known II Peter, and shows that the prophecy of the Prince of the Apostles has been verified. But we have already proved that the second argument is of no value (see above I, 4); as for the first, there are two objections:

Date and place of composition

Date

It is difficult to state the exact time at which St. Jude wrote his Epistle. But the doctrines against which he inveighs, and the looseness of morals or the so-called antinomismus, seem to indicate the end of the Apostolic age. Jude seems on the other hand to have written before A.D. 70; otherwise in vv. 5-7 he would have spoken of the destruction of Jerusalem. In those verses St. Jude mentions the different punishments of prevaricators, and therefore in this exhortation to Hebrew Christians he could not have passed over in silence so dire a calamity. Moreover we have shown that the Epistle of St. Jude was written before II Peter, which latter was probably written A.D. 64 (65). Therefore St. Jude must have written shortly before 64 (65).

Place of composition

Here we can only guess, but we prefer the opinion that the Epistle was written in Palestine, and probably in Jerusalem.


About this page

APA citation. Camerlynck, A. (1910). Epistle of St. Jude. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08542b.htm

MLA citation. Camerlynck, Achille. "Epistle of St. Jude." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08542b.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Ernie Stefanik.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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