[K:NWTS 10/1 (May 1995) 25-31]

What Should I Read on the Epistle of Jude?

James T. Dennison, Jr.

Kerux V10N1A4

In 1975, D. J. Rowston wrote that the epistle of Jude was "the most neglected book in the New Testament."1 Since then, the epistle has been the object of considerable attention by numerous scholars, most notably Richard P. Bauckham, Harry Harm, J. Daryl Charles, Duane F. Watson, Jerome H. Neyrey and E. R. Wendland. Bauckham's commentary in the Word Biblical Commentary series (Volume 50) is currently the standard work on the letter. But Charles has made considerable progress on unpacking the meaning and structure in a more penetrating literary and theological analysis. The fruits of his research are available in his doctoral dissertation, Literary Strategy in the Epistle of Jude (1991, Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia), a monograph reprint of the dissertation with the same title (1993, Associated University Presses) and a forth-coming commentary.

The history of exegesis of Jude has moved from patristic doctrinalism to medieval allegorism to Reformation confessionalism to post-Enlightenment criticism. The modern neglect of the epistle is directly related to its dark character—judgment, wrath, condemnation—all anathema to the post-Enlightenment Pollyanna mind. In modern liberal circles, it has been easy to dismiss this epistle as a rabid diatribe by a dyspeptic Judaizer—or some other ecclesiastical "outsider" who assumed the name of the Lord's brother in order to ingratiate himself to the religious establishment. These old, tired liberalisms are slowly dying under the awareness that Jude (as the other Catholic Epistles) is directed to a Christian community struggling for orthodox fidelity. If the "faith once delivered to the saints" (v. 3) is at risk, it is at risk from those inside the church who have a different agenda than that of the apostolic tradition.

The setting of Jude's letter makes it relevant to every era in which genuine Christianity clashes with counterfeit Christianity. Modern aberrations over the Holy Spirit, the inspiration of the Scriptures, the role of moral imperatives in the Christian life—all these errors were present in Jude's church. And the brilliant contribution of Jude is to reduce all these errors to one common denominator—the priority of pleasure. If ever a theme were reflective of the situation in contemporary Christianity, surely this is it! Jude speaks to the church in her present setting. His words have the bite of a New Testament prophet.

And yet what Jude says is as capable of reductionism today as it was in the writer's own day. If the pursuit of pleasure is sin, then Jude's stern warnings are a handy list of do's and don'ts (with disastrous concomitants threatened). How convenient for a culture awash in pornography, abortion, crime, homosexuality. Interestingly, Jude's culture was awash with these vices, but he does not bash the libertines of his world. He is concerned rather with the church. The locus of his focus is on the Christian community—not the world in general. Why do I draw out this point? Because the church's recent efforts to make-over the world through political action campaigns, human rights drives, social consciousness railings have miserably failed. By comparison, the world is worse off today than it was before the mainline Christian bodies discovered social action. Lest conservative Christians boast, I need only mention the fundamentalist Moral Majority. We should pause to ask if there is not something divinely fitting about this. Does it follow that as the church focuses on the world that, in fact, she becomes more like the world and fails to comprehend her unique other-worldly character and calling? It would seem that by all quantifiable measures, the church in betraying her eschatological calling, has become susceptible to the disease that ravages every other merely human institution—identification. You no longer can distinguish many modern evangelical churches from night clubs—worship is led by singers (usually female) in sequin dresses with hand-held microphones. And there is dancing ("sacred" dance, they call it) and there is even "sacred" drama (somewhat like a comic sketch in the midst of the old Ed Sullivan variety hour). The trivialization of worship in contemporary evangelical and Reformed churches has not only led to the "Canterbury Trail," "Rome Sweet Rome," "Franky Schaeffer on Orthodoxy" and a host of other idiocies, it has produced assinine defenses by progressive advocates of contemporary worship style. The new canon for modern worship is not the Biblical regulative principle, not any confessional premise historically considered; no, the new canon for modern worship is the "expertise" of learned (?!?) seminary professors and managerial-style pastors, elders, presbyteries, classes, synods and general assemblies. These gurus of worship nonsense have atomised the Scriptures in a way that puts liberal fundamentalists to shame. (Liberals too are masters of the atomistic proof-text approach, usually in the interest of demonstrating innumerable errors in the Bible.) For if Christian worship is not an eschatological event, it will be reduced to the horizontal—to the trivial. Whatever satisfies the needs of the worshipper will become the canon of the worship gurus. Whatever orders the community to the predetermined arenas of success, prosperity and glitz will be the canon of the managerial-style pastors. (One was recently quoted, "We're not shepherds. We're sheep herders!")

Eric Voegelin was correct and modern Evangelicalism is providing the (current) verification. Modernism's error is the immanentization of the eschaton—the attempt to make the present, the final, the ultimate, the eschatological. Modernism does not reach for heaven—it absolutizes the earth. In worship then, man's experience is primary. All scripture is subsumed to provide man with a positive experience. Pleasure in worship—pleasure in church—pleasure in life: this is the gospel of modern evangelicalism and increasingly the gospel of modern Reformed Christianity.

This siren song was being played in Jude's day. The agenda-based element had invaded his congregation. These folks were demanding a more pleasure orientated ecclesiastical life-style. Not only sexual pleasure (cf. vv. 4, 7, 16), but power pleasure (vv. 8, 16) and personal pleasure (v.12). Nothing was to be withheld which was part of their own self-agrandizement. Over against this agenda-based faction was the group "called, beloved and kept for Jesus Christ" (v.1). Jude draws a distinct contrast between the two groups in the church. He even uses distinct pronouns to contrast them: you/your/our (vv.2, 3, 4, 5, 12, 17, 18, 20, 21, 24, 25)—these/those (vv. 7, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 19). Thematically, the "you/our" group is commended and encouraged at the beginning and end of the epistle. The "these/those" group dominates the mid-portion of the letter with its threats of judgment. This is predestinarian language. In fact, it is the language of eschatological distinction. One group is kept and reserved by God for the Lord Jesus Christ and his glory (vv. 1, 24); the other group is kept and marked out for condemnation (v. 4; cf. also v. 6). There are believers (the result of divine "calling" and "keeping") and unbelievers (the result of divine "abandoning" and "programming") in this congregation. Eschatological distinction is evident in ethical action: one group builds itself up in faith, prays in the Spirit and keeps itself in the love of God (vv. 20, 21); the other group keeps itself in darkness, indulges itself in the flesh and rushes headlong into rebellion (vv. 6, 7, 11). Jude's point is not to root out the wheat from the tares. His task is descriptive and evangelistic—"have mercy on some" (v. 22), "save others" (v. 23) while you "keep yourselves" (v.21).

The epistle has a structure by which its contents are ordered. Jude opens with a greeting (vv. 1, 2), describes the purpose of his letter (vv. 3, 4), provides paradigms from the past history of redemption (vv. 5-16), exhorts the faithful (vv. 17-23) and concludes with a doxology (vv. 24, 25). Several scholars identify the structure of the letter with rhetorical patterns. The exordium (vv. 1, 2) gains the interest of his readers. The narratio (vv. 3, 4) describes Jude's purpose in writing and the ground for his concern. The probatio (vv. 5-16) is the proof of his case from Old Testament examples. The peroratio (vv. 17-23) recapitulates his argument by an emotional appeal to his readers. The doxology (not benediction, vv. 24, 25) commends the readers to the God of glory.

The preceding basic rhetorical/structural outlines have now been displaced by E. R. Wendland's extended chiasm for the entire epistle. The epistolary introduction—A (v. 1) is matched by the epistolary conclusion—A' (vv. 24-25). The salutation—B (v. 2) is invertedly parallel to the commission—B' (vv. 22-23). The statement of purpose—C (v. 3) is balanced by the purpose elaborated—C' (vv. 20-21). The motivation—D (v. 4) is matched by the motivation—D' (v. 19). The reminder—E (vv. 5-7) is akin to the reminder—E' (vv. 17-18). The description of the heretics—F (v. 8) is parallel to the description of the heretics—F' (v. 16). The extracanonical example (Michael)—G (v. 9) is balanced by the extracanonical example (Enoch)—G' (vv. 14-15). The description of the heretics—H (v. 10) is matched by the description of the heretics—H' (vv. 12-13). And the hinge of the epistle is the woe oracle—I (v. 11 ).

On any of the above schemes, it is apparent that Jude has carefully crafted his epistle in a fashion resembling ancient rhetorical and structural patterns.

In addition to an articulate structure, Jude's letter reflects sublime literary devices. Charles has suggested a poetic flavor to the letter. All will agree that the writer's vocabulary is vivid, emotional, powerful and poignant. There are elements of synonymous and antithetic parallelism. There are figures of speech which forcefully enliven the writer's imagery. But the most fascinating aspect of Jude's style is his literary trinitarianism. Jude uses triads throughout. Notice "called," "beloved," "kept" (v. 1); "mercy," "peace," "love" (v. 2). He uses a triad of Old Testament examples—Israel out of Egypt, the rebel angels, Sodom and Gomorrah (vv. 5-7). And he further uses a triad of wicked Old Testament personalities—Cain, Balaam, Korah (v. 11). The beloved are urged on by a triplet of participles—"building," "praying," "waiting" (vv. 20, 21). Even the actual Trinity appears—"the Holy Spirit," "the love of God," "the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ" (vv. 20, 21). The doxology concludes with a triad of time—"before all time," "and now," "and forever" (v. 25). Jude is a three-peater!

The theology of Jude is the theology of urgency. The rhetorical structure of the letter, the literary brilliance of the vocabulary are all intended to stir up the church to vigilance (note especially vv. 17, 18) and fidelity (note the pattern of "beloved," "faith," "saints" [v.3] with "beloved," "faith," "holy" [v. 20]). This vigilance is to be directed towards the manipulators and agenda-based power brokers who have entered the congregation. Like the apostates of the Old Testament, they undermine the faith "once for all delivered" and divide the congregation through flattery and licentiousness. Their goal is to advance their own prestige, dominate the vulnerable and find fault with those who will not submit to their agenda. They are vacuous clouds without water (v. 12), fruitless and uprooted trees (v. 12), foaming oceans of chaos and shame (v. 13). Their agenda is the agenda of death. To be polarized by them, to be dominated by them, to be influenced by them is darkness—black, gloomy darkness! Whatever small measure of power and success they may garner in this world will be burned in fire in the world to come. They are "ungodly" (emphatically ungodly, v. 15) and all their machinations are bondage, destruction, condemnation and eternal judgment. Jude paints vividly the underside of the eschatological dynamic. Consistent with the entire New Testament portrait, there is an eschatology of death, damnation and eternal fire. If the called, beloved, kept are destined for glory (an eschatology of life), then the apostate, hated and reserved for judgment are destined for Hell (an eschatology of death). Jude's warning to all the agenda-based "sheep herders" of history is a litany of foreboding eternal bondage, black darkness, eternal fire. Jude's consolation to all the "sheep" of the eschatological shepherd is a paean of expectation—eternal life, the glory-presence, the everlasting Amen.

Richard Bauckham's commentary claims to be the work of an evangelical scholar. It is often difficult to detect the evangelicalism beneath the mass of critical concessions and excurses. Bauckham's stodgy style makes reading the volume laborious. His capitulation to apocryphal theories for Jude 9 and 14-15 is disappointing. In particular, any suggestion that Jude is citing the Testament or Assumption of Moses in v. 9 must reckon with the fact that we, as yet, have no definitive text of that apocryphal work. Hence Bauckham's (and many other's) reading must remain speculative. Neyrey's Anchor Bible Commentary on Jude is a pleasure to read. While once again venturing too far in concessions to critics, Neyrey nevertheless unfolds the structure and rhetoric of the book in a very helpful fashion. Duane Watson's study is a fine piece of rhetorical and literary analysis. But pride of place must be given to J. Daryl Charles. His work on the epistle is thorough, judicious and penetrating. My only quibble is with his handling of the alleged apocryphal quotes (again, too much dependence on an uncertain textual tradition for the Assumption of Moses). We may look for his full commentary with genuine expectation.

Escondido, California


1New Testament Studies 21/4 (July 1975): 5:54-63.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 50). Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983.

J. Daryl Charles, Literary Strategy in the Epistle of Jude. Scranton, PA: University of Scranton Press/London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1993.

____________, "'Those' and 'These': The Use of the Old Testament in the Epistle of Jude." Journal for the Study of the New Testament 38 (1990): 109-24.

____________, "Literary Artifice in the Epistle of Jude." Zeitschrift fur Neuentestamentliche Wissenschaft 82/1-2 (1991): 106-24.

____________, "Jude's Use of Pseudepigraphal Source-Material as Part of a Literary Strategy." New Testament Studies 37 (1991): 130-45.

Harry Harm. "Logic Line in Jude: The Search for Syllogisms in a Hortatory Text." OPTAT 1/3-4 (Sept. 1987): 147-72.

Jerome H. Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude (Anchor Bible Commentary, vol. 37C). New York: Doubleday, 1993.

Duane F. Watson, Invention, Arrangement, and Style: Rhetorical Criticism of Jude and 2 Peter. Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1988.

E. R. Wendland, "A Comparative Study of 'Rhetorical Criticism', Ancient and Modern with special Reference to the Larger Structure and Function of the Epistle of Jude. " Neotestamentica 28/1 (1994): 193-228.