False Teachers – Jude

Read the Passage: Jude

Author and Date: The epistle of Jude is the fifth shortest book in the Bible, consisting of only 461 words and containing just 25 verses. The author of this book identifies himself as “Jude . . . [the] brother of James” (Jude 1). Note in the New Testament there are at least seven different men named Jude, Judas, or Judah. Yet, only one of these men had a brother named James—that is, Jude the half-brother of Jesus (cf. Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3), which likely makes him the author of this epistle. This conclusion is supported in that Jude gives no further information about his brother James in this letter. If the James in view was the half-brother of Jesus, then no identifying material would have been needed, for James was the head of the Jerusalem church (cf. Acts 15:13). Furthermore, the author of this letter purposefully distinguishes himself from the twelve apostles (cf. Jude 17), thus he is not Judas the apostle, who was also known as Lebbaeus (cf. Matt. 10:3), Thaddaeuss (cf. Mark 3:18), and “Judas (not Iscariot)” (John 14:22). This can be confusing, as Judas the apostle was the son of a man named James (cf. Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13). Observe that in this letter Jude alludes to the book of 2 Peter 2:1–3:4 (cf. Jude 4–18) and directly cites 2 Pet. 3:3 at Jude 17–18. Therefore, we can conclude that this letter must have been written after the book of 2 Peter and likely before the destruction of Jerusalem. This suggests a date of writing around 68–69 AD, perhaps being written from Jerusalem. Recall that Jude had initially rejected his brother Jesus as being Messiah (cf. John 7:1–9), but was converted after Jesus’ resurrection (cf. Acts 1:14).

Theme and Purpose: Jude’s main purpose in writing this epistle was to warn the church about the presence and dangers of false teachers. Interestingly, Jude cites no specific doctrines in this book. Jude’s approach is to describe the immoral character of the false teachers, rather than to debate their bad doctrine. The exact recipients of this letter are unknown, although Jude’s repeated references to the Old Testament likely indicate a Jewish audience. Observe that Jude refers to the following Old Testament events and figures: the exodus event (v. 5), Satan’s rebellion (v. 6), Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 7), Moses’ death (v. 9), Cain’s sin (v. 11), Balaam’s greed (v. 11), Korah’s rebellion (v. 11), Enoch (v. 14–15), and Adam (v. 14). Given these Old Testament allusions, it may be the case that the false teachers in view were the legalistic Judaizers whom Paul had addressed earlier (cf. Gal. 2:11–16), Alternatively, these heretics could be the same ascetic Gnostics whom John later writes against (cf. 1 John 2:18–23). Note that John was likely the only living apostle at the time of the writing of Jude.

Background: Resources: As noted above, Jude clearly paraphrases and cites 2 Pet. 2:1–3:4 in Jude 4–18 in this letter (cf. esp. 2 Pet. 2:13–17 in Jude 12–16). Furthermore, Jude draws from at least two pseudepigraphal books in his writing—namely, the Assumption of Moses at Jude 9 and the letter of 1 Enoch at Jude 14–15. The citation of non-canonical books in the New Testament may be alarming to some; yet, such references to extra-biblical resources is not as uncommon in the Bible as it might seem. Recall that Paul cited the Cretan poet Epimenides at Acts 17:28, as well as at Titus 1:12, and he quotes the Greek dramatist Menander at 1 Cor. 15:33. In fact, scholars believe that there may be more than 130 allusions or references to non-canonical books in the New Testament. Such references are not an endorsement of the entire resources from which they are quoted, but merely a recognition that the cited passages are accurate and helpful within the biblical books in which they are found.

Purpose of Jude (1:1–4)

Jude’s introduction is fairly standard, as he identifies himself as “a servant of Jesus Christ” (Jude 1). Note, however, that Jude does not classify himself as an apostle. In his greeting, Jude describes believers as those who are “preserved in Jesus Christ” (Jude 1). While not an unknown concept (cf. John 17:11–12), the idea of preserving or keeping is very usual in a biblical greeting. Given that Jude returns to the concept at the close of his letter (cf. Jude 24), this idea is clearly important to him. Next, Jude notes that while he desired to write a letter about salvation, he was compelled by the pressing circumstances to address the issue of false teachers in the church (cf. Jude 3). The presence of false teachers in the church ought not to surprise Christians, for Jesus warned about such (cf. Matt. 7:15–20; Jude 18). In contrast to believers who are protected, in this passage Jude teaches that false teachers are marked out for condemnation (Jude 4).

Presence of False Teachers (1:5–16)

Jude 5–11 simultaneously warns and encourages readers by reminding them of God’s past judgment of false teachers. In this passage Jude cites six Old Testament events to emphasize God’s past judgment of false teachers, who include: the rebels during the exodus event, the apostate angles, the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah, Cain, Balaam, and those who rebelled with Korah. Following these examples, at Jude 12–16 Jude paraphrases 2 Pet. 2:13–17 to describe the character and the impending judgment of the false teachers in the church. Here Jude appeals to five examples from creation, as he describes false teachers as: hidden stains, water-less clouds, fruitless trees, raging waves, and wandering stars. The idea communicated by these illustrations from creation is that while false teachers may appear to be orthodox, in truth they are hypocritical, unreliable, brief, aimless, and worthless.

Exhortation to Believers (1:17–25)

Jude concludes his brief epistle, exhorting believers toward godliness. Observe how Jude describes the character of the false teachers throughout this letter, especially as compared to his exhortation to Christians in this conclusion. In regard to false teachers, Jude says they are sneaky, ungodly, lewd, defiled, rebellious, greedy, self-serving, empty, raging, foaming, wandering, harsh, grumblers, complainers, lustful, boasters, flatterers, self-seeking, sensual, divisive, and without the Holy Spirit. By way of contrast, however, in Jude 20–23 believers are encouraged to pursue sanctification, to pray in the Holy Spirit, to love God, to look for mercy, to have compassion, and to minister to weaker brethren who have been led astray by the ever-present false teachers. Jude 24–25 constitutes one of the most often-cited benedictions in the Bible, as Jude praises God for His protection.

Application Questions:

  1. How did Jude come to accept that his half-brother Jesus was the Christ?
  2. What do you think of Jude’s appeals to extra-biblical resources in his writing?
  3. How can Christians use worldly resources in the work of God?
  4. What has been your experience with false teaching in the past?
  5. How can we recognize false teaching and best minister to those who have been deceived?