I became fascinated by this short letter, described by Barclay as "The difficult and neglected letter" [a], when I read "Keep yourselves in God's love" in my daily bible reading. This sparked a number of questions and the investigation that is recorded here.
The letter has much to say to the modern church and addresses much of what we call 'today's culture', human rights and liberty. It also gives guidance to what the role the church should play in the 21st century. These 25 verses are packed full of spiritual insights and principles. The letter revolves around two thoughts one of us keeping; the other is of us being kept. We see in the letter the responsibilities and rest we find in God through Christ Jesus.
Gal 1:19 I saw none of the other apostles--only James, the Lord's brother.
This would mean that Jude was the youngest half-brother Jesus who was named by Matthew.
Mat 13:55 "Isn't this the carpenter's son? Isn't his mother's name Mary, and aren't his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?
We can only wonder at the relationship between Jude and Jesus, as it was only after the resurrection that Jude believed.
(John 7:5) For even his own brothers did not
believe in him.
The origin and destination
THE HERETICSWho were the heretics whom Jude blasts, and what were their beliefs and what was their way of life? Jude never tells us. He was not a theologian but, as Moffatt says, "a plain, honest leader of the church." "He denounces rather than describes" the heresies he attacks. He does not seek to argue and to refute, for he writes as one "who knows when round indignation is more telling than argument. But from the letter itself we can deduce three things about these heretics. (i) They were antinomians. Antinomians have existed in every age of the church. They are people who pervert grace. Their position is that the law is dead and they are under grace. The prescriptions of the law may apply to other people, but they no longer apply to them. They can do absolutely what they like. Grace is supreme; it can forgive any sin; the more the sin, the more the opportunities for grace to abound (Romans 6). The body is of no importance; what matters is the inward heart of man. All things belong to Christ, and, therefore, all things are theirs. And so for them there is nothing forbidden. So Jude's heretics turn the grace of God into an excuse for flagrant immorality (verse 4); they even practise shameless unnatural vices, as the people of Sodom did (verse 7). They defile the flesh and think it no sin (verse 8). They allow their brute instincts to rule their lives (verse 10). With their sensual ways, they are like to make shipwreck of the love feasts of the church (verse 12). It is by their own lusts that they direct their lives (verse 16).
MODERN EXAMPLES OF THE ANCIENT HERESY It is a curious and tragic fact of history that the church has never been entirely free of this antinomianism; and it is natural that it has flourished most in the ages when the wonder of grace was being rediscovered. It appeared in the Ranters of the seventeenth century. The Ranters were pantheists and antinomians. A pantheist believes that God is everything; literally all things are Christ's, and Christ is the end of the law. They talked of "Christ within them," and paid no heed to the church or its ministry, and belittled scripture. One of them called Bottomley wrote: "It is not safe to go to the Bible to see what others have spoken and written of the mind of God as to see what God speaks within me, and to follow the doctrine and leading of it in me." When George Fox rebuked them for their lewd practices, they answered, "We are God." This may sound very fine, I but, as John Wesley was to say, it most often resulted in "a gospel of the flesh." It was their argument that "swearing, adultery, drunkenness and theft are not sinful unless the person guilty of them apprehends them to be so." When Fox was a prisoner at Charing Cross they came to see him and mightily offended him by calling for drink and tobacco. They swore terribly and when Fox rebuked them, justified themselves by saying that Scripture tells us that Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the priests, and the angel all swore. To which Fox replied that he who was before Abraham commanded, "Swear not at all. " Richard Baxter said of them, "They conjoined a cursed doctrine of libertinism, which brought them to all abominable filthiness of life; they taught ...that God regardeth not the actions of the outward man, but of the heart; and that to the pure all things are pure (even things forbidden) and so, as allowed by God, they spoke most hideous words of blasphemy, and many of them committed whoredoms commonly. ...The horrid villainies of this sect did speedily extinguish it." Doubtless many of the Ranters were insane; doubtless some of them were pernicious and deliberate sensualists; but doubtless, too, some of them were earnest but misguided men, who had misunderstood the meaning of grace and freedom from the law. Later John Wesley was to have trouble with the antinomians. He talks of them preaching a gospel of flesh and blood. At Jenninghall he says "the antinomians had laboured hard in the Devil's service." At Birmingham he says that "the fierce, unclean, brutish, blasphemous antinomians" had utterly destroyed the spiritual life of the congregation. He tells of a certain Roger Ball who insinuated himself into the life of the congregation at Dublin. At first he seemed to be so spiritually minded a man that the congregation welcomed him as being pre-eminently suited for the service and ministry of the church. He showed himself in time to be "full of guile and of the most abominable errors, one of which was that a believer had a right to all women." He would not communicate, for under grace a man must "touch not, taste not, handle not." He would not preach and abandoned the church services because, he said, "The dear Lamb is the only preacher." Wesley, deliberately to show the position of these antinomians, related in his Journal a conversation, which he had with one of them at Birmingham. It ran as follows. "Do you believe that you have nothing to do with the law of God?" "I have not; I am not under the law; I live by faith." "Have you, as living by faith, aright to everything in the world?" "I have. All is mine, since Christ is mine." "May you then take anything you will anywhere? Suppose out of a shop without the consent or knowledge of the owner?" "I may, if I want, for it is mine. Only I will not give offence." "Have you aright to all the women in the world?" "Yes, if they consent." "And is not that a sin?" "Yes, to him who thinks it is a sin; but not to those whose hearts are free." Repeatedly Wesley had to meet these people, as George Fox had to meet them. John Bunyan, too, came up against the Ranters who claimed complete freedom from the moral law and looked with contempt on the ethics of the stricter Christian. "These would condemn me as legal and dark, pretending that they only had attained perfection that could do what they would and not sin." One of them, whom Bunyan knew, "gave himself up to all manner of filthiness, especially uncleanness...and would laugh at all exhortations to sobriety. When I laboured to rebuke his wickedness, he would laugh the more." ' Jude's heretics have existed in every Christian generation, and, even if they do not go all the way, there are still many who in their heart of hearts trade upon God's forgiveness .. and make his grace an excuse to sin.
THE DENIAL OF GOD AND OF JESUS CHRIST (ii) Of the antinomianism and blatant immorality of the heretics whom Jude condemns there is no doubt. The other two faults with which he charges them are not so obvious in their meaning. He charges them with, as the Revised Standard Version has it, "denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ" (verse 4). The closing doxology is to "the only God," a phrase which occurs again in Romans 16: 27; 1 Timothy 1: 17; 1 Timothy 6: 15. The reiteration of the word only is significant. If Jude talks about our only Master and Lord and, about the only God, it is natural to assume that there must have been those who questioned the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and of God. Can we trace any such line of thought in the early church and, if so, does it fit in with any other evidence which hints within the letter itself may supply? As so often in the New Testament, we are again in contact with that type of thought, which came to be known as Gnosticism. Its basic idea was that this was a dualistic universe, a universe with two eternal principles in it. From the beginning of time there had always been spirit and matter. Spirit was essentially good; matter was essentially evil. Out of this flawed matter the world was created. Now God is pure spirit and, therefore, could not possibly handle this essentially evil matter. How then was creation effected? God put out a series of aeons or emanations; each of these aeons was farther away from him. At the end of this long chain, remote from God, there was an aeon who was able to touch matter; and it was this aeon, this distant and secondary god, who actually created the world. Nor was this all that was in Gnostic thought. As the aeons in the series grew more distant from God, they grew more ignorant of him; and also grew more hostile to him. The creating aeon, at the end of the series, was at once totally ignorant of and totally hostile to God. Having got that length, the Gnostics took another step. They identified the true God with the God of the New Testament and they identified the secondary, ignorant and hostile god with the God of the Old Testament. As they saw it, the God of creation was a different being from the God of revelation and redemption. Christianity on the other hand believes in the only God, the one God of creation, providence and redemption. This was the Gnostic explanation of sin. It was because creation was carried out, in the first place, from evil matter and, in the second place, by an ignorant god, that sin and suffering and all imperfection existed. This Gnostic line of thought had one curious, but perfectly logical, result. If the God of the Old Testament was ignorant of and hostile to the true God, it must follow that the people whom that ignorant God hurt were in fact good people. Clearly the hostile God would be hostile to the people who were the true servants of the true God. The Gnostics, therefore, so to speak, turned the Old Testament upside down and regarded its heroes as villains and its villains as heroes. So there was a sect of these Gnostics called Ophites, because they worshipped the serpent of Eden; and there were those who regarded Cain and Korah and Balaam as great heroes. It is these very people whom Jude uses as tragic and terrible examples of sin. So we may take it that the heretics whom Jude attacks are Gnostics who denied the oneness of God, who regarded the God of creation as different from the God of redemption, who saw in the Old Testament God an ignorant enemy of the true God and who, therefore, turned the Old Testament upside down to regard its sinners as servants of the true God and its saints as servants of the hostile God. ' Not only did these heretics deny the oneness of God, they also denied "our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ." That is to say, they denied the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. How does that fit in with the Gnostic ideas so far as they are known to us? We have seen that, according to Gnostic belief, God put out a series of aeons between himself and the world. The Gnostics regarded Jesus Christ as one of these aeons. They did not regard him as our only Master and Lord; he was only one among the many who were links between God and man, although he might be the highest and the closest of all. There is still one other hint about these heretics in Jude, a hint that also fits in with what we know about the Gnostics. In verse 19 Jude describes them as "these who set up divisions." The heretics introduce some kind of class distinctions within the fellowship of the Church. What were these distinctions? We have seen that between man and God there stretched an infinite series of aeons. The aim of man must be to achieve contact with God. To obtain this his soul must traverse this infinite series of links between God and man. The Gnostics held that to achieve this a very special and esoteric knowledge was required. So deep was this knowledge that only very few could attain to it. The Gnostics, therefore, divided men into two classes, the pneumatikoi and the psuchikoi. The pneuma was the spirit of man, that which made him kin to God; and the pneumatikoi were the spiritual people, the people whose spirits were so highly developed and intellectual that they were able to climb the long ladder and reach God. These pneumatikoi, the Gnostics claimed, were so spiritually and intellectually equipped that they could become as good as Jesus, Irenaeus says that some of them believed that the pneumatikoi could become better than Jesus and attain direct union with God. On the other hand, the psuche was simply the principle of physical life. All things, which live, had psuche; it was something which man shared with the animal creation and even with growing plants. The psuchikoi were ordinary people; they had physical life but their pneuma was undeveloped and they were incapable of ever gaining the intellectual wisdom, which would enable them to climb the long road to God. The pneumatikoi were a very small and select minority; the psuchikoi were the vast majority of ordinary people. It is clear to see that this kind of belief was inevitably productive of spiritual snobbery and pride. It introduced into the church the worst kind of class distinction, So, then, the heretics whom Jude attacks were men who denied the oneness of God and split him into an ignorant creating God and a truly spiritual God; who denied the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and saw him as only one of the links between God and man; who erected class distinctions within the church and limited fellowship with God to the intellectual few.
THE DENIAL OF THE ANGELS (iii) It is further implied that these heretics denied and insulted the angels. It is said they "reject authority, and revile the glorious ones" (verse 8). The words "authority" and "glorious ones" describe ranks in the Jewish hierarchy of angels. Verse 9 is a reference to a story in the Assumption of Moses. It is there told that Michael was given the task of burying the body of Moses. The devil tried to stop him and claim the body. Michael made no charge against the devil and said nothing against him. He said only, "The Lord rebuke you!" If Michael, the archangel, on such an occasion said nothing against the prince of evil angels, clearly no man can speak ill of the angels. The Jewish belief in angels was very elaborate. Every nation had its protecting angel. Every person, even every child, had its angel. All the forces of nature, the wind and the sea and the fire and all the others, were under the control of angels. It could even be said, "Every blade of grass has its angel." Clearly the heretics attacked the angels. It is likely that they said that the angels were the servants of the ignorant and hostile creator God and that a Christian must have nothing to do with them. We cannot quite be sure what lies behind this, but to all their other errors the heretics added the despising of the angels; and to Jude this seemed an evil thing.
It is interesting that modern culture is becoming progressively indifferent to the question of truth. Jude warns about mixing error and truth. Christian truth has never been more essential than in today's world of relativism and syncretism, and it is as vital today that Christians "contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints", than when the words were written.
Conclusion The letter of Jude has always been accepted as part of the cannon of scripture and as to the authenticity, the New Unger's Bible Dictionary states, "Hermas, Polycarp, Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Eusebius give early attestation to the authority of the book. Jude is more strongly attested than 2 Peter. This is somewhat astonishing when one considers its lack of apostolic authorship, its shortness, its polemic character, and its alleged reference to apocryphal literature. Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Augustine, Jerome, and other church Fathers maintained that Jude actually made reference to the Apocrypha. For this reason many early Fathers rejected it as authentic. Verse 9 was thought to have been a quotation from the Assumption of Moses and verses 14-15 were supposed to be taken from the book of Enoch. It is possible that Jude quoted a passage from a known uncanonical book, not by way of endorsement, but because he used this particular statement as divinely given."[d]
Therefore as a part of scripture the strongly attested letter of Jude is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Introduction / Salutation verses
1 -2 / The Letter's purpose v.3-4 /
Historical warning v. 5-7