K:JNWTS 29/1 (May 2014): 3-7

The Structure of the Epistle of Jude

James T. Dennison, Jr.

There are nearly as many proposals for the structure of Jude’s ingenious epistle as there are studies of the letter itself. The most elaborate and fascinating of these is by the prolific Ernest R. Wendland, whose literary work on the Hebrew and Greek testaments is uniformly stimulating and edifying if not provocative.[1] Wendland’s magnificent chiasm is dazzling as well as fetchingly persuasive—its parallelism appears definitive. Yet no structural proposal is definitive this side of the eschaton. Thus, we place our modest suggestion into the discussion with the hope that it may enrich the already fertile discussion about our Lord’s younger (?youngest) brother’s literary and rhetorical style.[2]

What is most noticeable about Jude’s style is the symmetry/parallelism of his construction. He is fond of repetition/duplication, even being noted for his penchant for triads/triplets—a three-peater (instead of a repeater), if you will. We are persuaded that this inclination to symmetry arises from his Semitic cultural background (i.e., Nazareth in Galilee in accomplished, if not studied, Jewish fashion). OT Semitic idiomatic and structural symmetry is well-attested in current literature on the topic. Jude was raised and nurtured in such a cultural and literary climate; his epistle is a reflection of the imprint which that culture left upon his creative and articulate pen, including the obvious OT influences upon his imagery.


Incipit – Opening

   Greeting and Benediction (1-2)

     Beloved + Faith (as delivered in the content of the gospel of faith, 3)

       False Teachers (4)                                                Apostates

Redemptive-Historical Sandwich (5-16)

            Section I (5-10)

                        Begins with Exodus under Moses; Ends with Death of Moses

              3 OT examples (5-7)

                 Character (8)

                   Michael, Archangel, Moses, Devil, Lord (9)

                Character (10)

            Section II (11-16)

                         Begins with the First from Adam; Ends with the Seventh from Adam

              3 OT examples (11) 

     Character (12-13)

                   Enoch, Adam, Holy Ones/Angels, Ungodly, Lord (14-15)

                Character (16)                                                                                

       True Teachers (17-18)                                          Apostles

     Beloved + Faith (as possessed and active in prayer, love, patience, mercy, 20-23)

    Farewell Doxology (24-25)        

Explicit – Closing

Jude’s opening introduction is symmetrically balanced by a conclusion in doxological style. That the self-identification of v. 1 is followed by a benediction (v. 2) argues for an intentional mirror reflection of praise and blessing in vv. 24-25. Jude opens projecting the union of his own soul (with God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ) and the benedictory wishes of his own heart (“mercy, peace, love multiplied”) upon his readers/hearers/believing Christian friends. He closes with yet another glimpse into the window of his own soul in doxa (twice over—v. 24 and v. 25; yet more symmetry!) extolling God the Savior and the Lord Jesus Christ who alone (“only”, v. 25) are able to enrich the “bond-servants” of his brother-Lord and God with the presence (face to face) of eschatological glory. Indeed, a fitting eschatological doxological projection reflecting an equally benedictory inception. I am suggesting Jude uses a book-end symmetry in the incipit and the explicit of his letter. He begins as he ends (blessing God and the Lord Jesus Christ); he ends as he begins (blessing God and the Lord Jesus Christ).

The inclusio of divine persons in the opening and closing units reinforces this symmetry as well as this book-end distinction. In addition, the front-board and back-board inclusio has a chiastic pattern:

                        Jesus Christ (VIhsou/ Cristou/) (1)

                                                God the Father (qew/| patri) (1)

                                                God the Savior (qew/| swth/ri) (25)

                        Jesus Christ (VIhsou/ Cristou/) (25)

The mirror datives underscores the palistrophic nature of the sequence. The end of his remarks are as the beginning of his comments—enveloped in God and Jesus Christ. So too his benediction and doxology—enveloping his readers/hearers in God the Father and Jesus Christ the Lord.[3]

Next, Jude uses a formulaic address of affection for his audience: “beloved” (αγαπητοι), v. 3—a formula which is symmetrically mirrored in v. 20 (αγαπητοι). While αγαπητοι recurs in v. 17, it is not followed there by the word “faith” which characterizes the duplicate pattern of v. 3 (πιστει) and v. 20 (πιστει). Hence, the “beloved” believer’s faith is commended in the unit that emphasizes faith’s content (“once for all delivered”, v. 3) mirrored in faith’s actions (i.e., prayer, love, mercy, salvation, vv. 20-23). A further justification for juxtaposing these rhetorical units (v. 3 and vv. 20-23) is the shift in object which succeeds the one (υμιν) and precedes the other (υμεις).

This shift represents the characterization of the antithesis which lies at the heart of Jude’s letter. This antithesis has been variously characterized as the “you”/“these/them” opposition (υμεις/ουτοι). In fact, radical antithesis between the believing segment of the community to whom Jude writes and the pretentious unbelief of the insidious intruders who have infiltrated, disrupted and threaten to subvert the faithful άγιοις comprises the body of this letter. A radical antithesis of apostates (v. 4) contrasted with the apostles (v. 17). The former men (ανθρωποι)—ungodly (ασεβεις), licentious (ασελγεια)—are the very opposite of the apostles (αποστολων). The alliterative alpha (α) is a further suggestion of the antagonism which contrasts two further characters featured in the drama of the epistle—the false teachers vis-à-vis the teachers of the apostolic truth. Observe, then, that Jude has bracketed the ungodly interlopers (vv. 4-16) with the community of genuine faith (vv. 1-3 and 17-25). This symmetrical framework affirms the positive, redemptive, God-glorifying, Christ-glorifying and Spirit-edifying message of the epistle. Thus, it neutralizes any suggestion that the letter is too “harsh” and “negative” for a modern Christian audience. Being framed with identification in union with the Triune God (“you”, “our”, “us”) places the antithesis in the very nature of the case vis-à-vis those who are identified with the fiery darkness of everlasting judgment, united in their devotion and affection (“these”, “them”, “those”) to the very arena which contradicts the glory of God Triune.

The body of this letter (vv. 5-16) is symmetrically patterned on exemplary triads (again, Jude’s fondness for patterns of threes)—three OT illustrations twice over: section I (vv. 5-10; section II (vv. 11-16). I have labeled this portion of the letter a redemptive-historical sandwich (vv. 5-16). Our Lord’s brother first provides a retrospective glance to the history of redemption under Moses beginning with the exodus (v. 5) and ending with the death of Moses (v. 9). Jude then encloses his second three-some with Cain (the first from Adam, v. 11) and ends with the seventh from Adam (Enoch, v. 14). The Adamic and Mosaic eras provide a framed mirror of apostasy and fidelity—exodus wilderness generation versus Moses and murderous whiner Cain versus Enoch.

Each of these subunit sections sandwiched between the two laudatory, benedictory, Spirit-filled, doxological portions of the letter (vv. 1-3 and vv. 20-25 respectively[4]) possess further symmetrical elements. Following the list of the three OT examples, two positive figures emerge further sandwiched by characterizations of the apostate intruders who are subverting the Christian community to whom Jude is writing. The parallel characterization paradigms (vv. 8 and 10; vv. 12-13 and 16 respectively) expand the analysis of the ungodly lifestyle of the intruders—a lifestyle which mirrors the negative, sinful behavior of the OT groups of three. The use of the triad is also evident in the specific character traits/defects borne by the ungodly infiltrators. The pattern of v. 8 is: defile the flesh; reject authority; revile/blaspheme glories (δοξας). Verse 10 contains: blaspheme what they do not understand; blaspheme what they do know instinctually; act like irrational animals. Verse 12 contains a double triplet: reefs in the love feasts; feast without fear; care for themselves only; clouds without water; carried along by the wind; trees without fruit, twice dead—v. 13 continues with a triad: wild waves of the sea; wandering stars; reserved for black darkness. Verse 16 contains another double triad (as did v. 12): grumblers; fault-finders; follow their own lusts; arrogant mouths; flatterers; seek advantage over others.

It is striking that this entire sandwich (vv. 5-16) portrays two outstanding positive figures—Michael and Enoch (v. 9 and 14), both of whom present the heavenly arena of angelic supernaturalism to the audience. In sum, heaven’s own residents, Michael, Enoch and the angelic hosts/myriads (μυριασιν), stand in stark antithesis to the apostates of OT history, even as the community of faith within the church to whom Jude writes stands in stark contrast to the pretentious, narcissistic unbelievers who have insinuated themselves into the community. Character matters to Jude; the fact that he parallels (replicates!) negative character four times within the redemptive-historical sandwich, while sandwiching (!) heavenly character at the same time is not only significant, it is a mark of literary and rhetorical genius. And as a further indicator of that genius, he signals his rhetorical intent with the same word leading off each line of characterization—ουτοι (“these”) alerts us to the intruders in vv. 8, 10, 12, 16. Yet another clear structuring paradigm by this gifted craftsman used as a literary frame mirroring twice over the deleterious nature of the ungodly intruders, while placing the godly Michael and Enoch in stark relief.

NB: further support for the double subunit division in vv. 5-16 comes from the parity of content. In the UBS Greek text, vv. 5-10 contain 123 words. There are 124 words in vv. 11-16. Jude has balanced his two subunits with symmetry of verbal expression. Symmetry, symmetry, symmetry is evident at every point in this letter, even to the word-count in the body of the epistle. Careful craftsmanship indeed!

Jude also uses symmetrical anaphora to tie together the two subunits which follow the redemptive-historical sandwich of vv. 5-16. Notice υμεις δε αγαπητοι (“but you beloved” in v. 17 and again in v. 20. Beginning successive segments of a work in duplicate style is called anaphora. For Jude, the parallelism underscores the antithesis with “these” (ουτοι), the intruders (v. 16 and 19), who are devoid of the Holy Spirit (πνευμα μη εχοντες, “having not the Spirit”); but it also marks the unfolding of the character of the apostles whose eschatological revelation (v. 18) motivates the godly character of the beloved believers who possess the Holy Spirit in his fullness (vv. 20-23).

Finally, the doxology (vv. 24-25) contains one last fascinating symmetrical sandwich. It also contains the longest doxological (let alone benedictory) time continuum in the NT. Jude proclaims glory to God our Savior and (?even) the Lord Jesus Christ through all time—eternity past, time present, eternity future. Notice the symmetry sandwiching the present (v. 25).

              προ παντος του αιωνος

                      και νυν και

             εις παντας τους αιωνας

This unique doxology brackets the present with the past and the future. Jude does this so as to feature the non-eternal nature of the present—and yet the now time indelibly attached to eternity past (God’s eternal past) and eternity future (God’s eternal future). The believer is even now sandwiched between/attached to the glory of God (his very glory-presence) who is from all eternity to all eternity. The symmetrical και framing the νυν draws the “now” into the ineffable continuum of the ever-eternal, all-glorious God and Lord (“both now and”). Even now, O believer, your God and Savior has folded you in between the timeless continuum of his own eternity. Even now you belong to his eternity as you eternally belong to him. Amen!—it is so!!

[1] Ernest 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. Wendland’s chiastic outline is found on pp. 211-12.

[2] Cf. the author’s “Narrative Echoes: The Words of Brother Jesus in Brother Jude’s Epistle.” Kerux: The Journal of Northwest Theological Seminary 28/2 (September 2013): 3-14; available here: http://www.kerux.com/doc/2802A1.asp. NB also the author’s audio lectures on the entire epistle available here: http://www.nwts.edu/audio/JTD/Jude.htm.

[3] The relational and affectionate “you” (v. 2 and v. 25) also connects these beginning and ending units in symmetrical fashion, reinforcing the inclusio feature.

[4] Both these bracketed character units (two for each subunit of vv. 5-10 and 11-16) are symmetrically linked by ουτοι (“these”)—v. 8, 10, 12, 16. When Jude wishes to exegetically analyze the ungodly character of the intruders, he signals his exposition with the marker ουτοι (see below).