When expositing a book of the Bible, the introduction is arguably the most important step. After all, all the work of exegesis will be built upon the foundation laid in the beginning. The introduction is also the most difficult part for the expositor because one must know the book somewhat thoroughly before he can introduce it. We will attempt to provide a sufficient introduction to the book of Jude that will serve as a guide to our further study.
If we value orthodox hermeneutics at all (and we do!), then our chief concern is authorial intention. Who wrote Jude? To whom did he write? For what reason did he write? These questions must be answered if we are to have any hope of understanding the meaning of the text within these 25 verses. It is therefore sadly ironic that few commentators pursue this line of authorial intention. It is generally agreed that Jude is one of the most neglected books in our New Testament. This remains true even among those who attempt to write and publish commentaries on this book, for they refuse to even examine these most fundamental questions. Most provide an answer for our first question: who wrote Jude? While remaining purposefully (and I may add cowardly) vague concerning the audience and purpose. Bold statements are made regarding the inerrancy of this book and the fact that God wrote it and therefore it is for our good. Yet these comments ring hollow when they are immediately undermined with statements supposedly confessing the inability to know to whom Jude wrote and why. What is presented as humility is nothing short of exegetical and scholastic laziness. It stands to reason that if we adopt a hermeneutic centered on authorial intention then we must produce the answers to these questions. Also, if God has provided His word in such a way that we must understand it, then it is most certainly possible to answer these questions. Further, to suggest that the answers to these questions are not possible necessitates that we forget about an authorial intention interpretation in favor of a reader response hermeneutic, for that is all that remains to us.
I will argue not only that we can know the answers to these questions but that we must know and answer these questions satisfactorily in order to understand the inspired, inerrant, and sufficient authorial intention of this book. The only hope of rightly applying these words is to rightly understand them. If meaning is singular and the author alone controls meaning, then we must uncover the answers regarding authorship, audience, and purpose.
It is necessary to have specific knowledge of our author, his audience, the time of composition, and the general setting of the writing. We will begin our investigation with the concrete and obvious facts. The first word we read in the Greek text presents our author to us as Jude or Judas (Ἰούδας). The only question that remains is which Jude?
“Jude” or “Judas” was a very common name in Judea in the first century AD. This Greek equivalent reflects its Hebrew origin “Judah” meaning “praised one.” Being the name of Israel’s fourth born son, the ancestor of King David and identified as the line of Messiah, it is obvious why this name was so popular among parents. Ἰούδας is only translated “Jude” in the New Testament (appearing some 44x) in conjunction with this letter, likely to avoid any connection or confusion with the infamous Judas Iscariot. Of the men named Jude/Judas mentioned in the New Testament, there are only two likely candidates as the author of this letter: Judas the son of James who was one of Jesus’ disciples (Lk. 6:16; Acts 1:13) and Judas the half-brother of Jesus (Matt. 13:55; Mk. 6:3). The text of Jude 1:1 clearly identifies the author as the brother of James (ἀδελφὸς Ἰακώβου) rather than the son of James. The James in question is undoubtedly the same James who was also a half-brother of our Lord (Matt. 13:55; Mk. 6:3), a key figure in the Jerusalem church (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; 1 Cor. 15:7; Gal. 2:9, 12) and author of his own epistle (James 1:1). As such, it is necessary to identify the author of this letter as Jude the blood brother of James and half-brother of Jesus. The text universally point in this direction and the early church affirms it. All orthodox commentators agree on this point. Unfortunately, this is often the last definitive statement many of them make.
Very few commentators are brave enough to even venture a guess as to the people to whom Jude writes. Again, bold warnings are offered against considering this letter a general epistle, that is, a letter written to Christians in a general sense without an audience in mind. It is rightly observed that the warnings and exhortations of this letter are too specific to be taken in such a wide view. Yet, they offer no explanation as to who these specific people are. Failure to do so is a failure to understand anything from this point forward. If we cannot know to whom Jude wrote, then we cannot understand why Jude wrote. If we understand neither of these things, then there is little hope of understanding anything at all in this letter.
We can determine the original audience from what we know about the author and how he presents himself. Jude is a man of which we know very little other than what he tells us. In his introduction he connects himself with his brother James, a leader in the Jerusalem church. We have no evidence to suggest that James spent much time outside of Judea as he is always associated with Jerusalem and the Christians there. We know that the brothers of Jesus were in Jerusalem after Jesus’ ascension and remained until Pentecost (Acts 1:14) and that James at least remained there (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; 1 Cor. 15:7; Gal. 2:9, 12). It stands to reason that Jude, by invoking James’ name, addresses a people who would recognize and respect James and therefore give Jude that same recognition and respect. There is also the matter of the various Old Testament and even Apocryphal references (not necessarily quotations) made by Jude. He assumes his audience is so familiar with the Old Testament and Jewish Apocryphal writings that he only needs to reference them without any context given in order for Jude’s readers to readily understand and follow his meaning. With these two considerations in mind, it seems most likely that Jude’s audience is almost exclusively Jewish living in or around the Roman province of Judea.
Coming to a date of composition is of no great difficulty. In view of the facts as presented above and after pondering two obvious questions, we can know when Jude was written. The two obvious questions that require attention are these: (1) why is Jude writing? and (2) what is Jude’s connection with 2 Peter?
We’ve already established that Jude associates himself with his brother James for the purpose of establishing his authority. The readers should listen to him as they would James. But if that is the case, then why is James not writing? If a matter as significant as wicked interlopers is at hand, shouldn’t James be the one to address it rather than Jude? An explanation is offered if this letter is written after James’ death (ca. 62 AD). In such a case, there would be a vacuum of leadership which would compel Jude to offer instruction and exhortation regarding the matter at hand. In so doing, he presents himself as James’ brother and thus speaking, as it were, from James’ position. It is likely that this letter was written sometime after 62 AD.
This suspicion is confirmed (and thus our dating narrowed down even further) when we consider the connection between 2 Peter and Jude. Only the blind, deaf, and dumb would miss the fact that a connection exists between 2 Peter and Jude. Many commentators provide side-by-side comparisons of the text to prove it. I would urge the reader to simply compare the two books (focusing particularly on 2 Peter chapter 2 and Jude vv. 5-16) to see the connections for themselves. The debate rages on regarding who wrote first, though the debate is quite useless because the text of Jude reveals quite plainly that he is writing after Peter penned his second epistle. While many of Peter’s thoughts are found in Jude’s writing, Jude vv. 17-18 quotes verbatim what the “apostles” have already written. The text refers to 2 Peter 3:3, a thought that came straight from Peter. In other words, Peter’s original thought is used by Jude and Jude has the decency to cite his work. The matter is closed. Jude wrote after Peter. This is helpful in our discussion because we have argued elsewhere that Peter wrote his first epistle shortly after the fire of Rome (17 July 64 AD) and the subsequent persecutions that followed. Peter’s second epistle would have been written shortly after, no later than early 65 AD.
With a “no earlier than date” of early 65 AD, we need to establish a “no later than” date. For this we look to the facts of history. Because Jude is liking writing from Jerusalem and is writing to Jewish Christians living in or around Judea, it would be odd if he did not mention the certain destruction, death, and devastation that would accompany the Roman siege of Jerusalem (March-Sept. 70 AD). This date may be moved when we understand that by July 69 AD, all of Judea outside the walls of Jerusalem were pacified by Roman legions. In fact, it would be odd for Jude not to offer some kind of encouraging words to Jewish Christians caught in the middle between Rome and Judean rebels as their homes burn and their families are killed before their eyes. Understanding that the Jewish revolt in Judea began in earnest in August 66 AD. The summer of 66 AD is therefore our “no later than” date. We are therefore attributing Jude’s writing to a time after early 65 and the middle of 66 AD. With a little detective work, we can accurately place this book within 18 months of its composition.
If Jude is writing from Jerusalem to Jewish Christians living in the vicinity of Judea and if we are correct in stating that he writes between the spring of 65 and the summer of 66 AD, then the setting for this book is the turbulent and dangerous days leading up to the Jewish revolt that will end in the destruction of the temple in September 70 AD. This has massive implications upon the text we are about to study. For instance, the “certain persons” who have crept in unnoticed (v. 4) are not Christian false teachers or proto-Gnostics as some suppose but are Zealot sympathizers tempting Jewish Christians to join the cause of liberating Judea from the Romans. Understanding the Zealots as those referred to throughout Jude makes perfect sense for moral, ideological, and theological reasons.
Morally, the Zealots were a completely depraved, licentious, and murderous lot. Their methods of kidnapping and assassination were not isolated to the Romans but were unleashed upon any Jew or Gentile that appeared to be in their way. As the movement grew, the Zealots’ ranks were filled by men more interested in plunder (in any form they could get their lecherous and greedy hands on) than political independence. The Zealots certainly fit Jude’s moralistic descriptions.
Idealistically, the Zealots were consumed with the idea of freedom from tyranny in any form. Their grievance was just as much directed at the Jewish aristocracy as it was against the Romans. This freedom was more than to have a nation no longer under the Roman Empire but was to extend to the social strata and relieve the burden of the peasants that supported the extravagant lifestyles of the ruling class. Some Zealot leaders even “declared” the freedom of slaves. Unbridled freedom was the name of the game and submission to anyone, or anything, was antithetical to the Zealot cause.
The biggest danger that the Zealots presented Jewish Christians living in Judea is found in the theological foundation of their cause; namely, their eschatology. The goal of the Zealots was to establish a Jewish kingdom in the land of their forefathers and usher in a Messianic age. Some Zealot leaders even presented themselves to their followers as Messiah (Acts 5:33-39), crowning themselves as King of the Jews in Jerusalem. The refused to call any man “lord” claiming that God alone was Lord and professed to set up a theocratic style of government to be obtained by their own hand through military strength of arms. In other words, Postmillennial eschatology with its theocratic bent has its roots with the morally depraved and politically charged Zealots of the first century and Jude is written in direct opposition to it. One commentator goes so far as to doubt very much that any Jewish Christian would have participated in the Jewish revolt against Rome because the eschatology of the Zealots was utterly incompatible with that of the Scriptures. This is the set of circumstances surrounding Jude’s letter.
Our attention should now turn to the text of Jude itself. As we study this book, the reader would do well to take note of several themes that run the course of these compact 25 verses as well as understand the general outline of Jude’s argument.
The most obvious and important theme that runs the course of this short letter is the constant reference to Jesus Christ (vv. 1, 4, 17, 21, 25). Each occurrence of the genitive Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (Jesus Christ) is an appositional genitive that can (and arguably should) be rendered “Jesus who is the Christ.” Each reference to Jesus in Jude’s epistle is a statement that Jesus of Nazareth is Yhwh’s Messiah and as such is the rightful Davidic King of Israel. Once can easily understand the effect this would have given the Zealot filled setting presented above.
To this we might add the connection of the term “lord” (κύριος) with Jesus (vv. 4, 17, 21, 25). In fact, it seems likely that every occurrence of “Lord” in Jude (vv. 4, 5, 9, 17, 21, 25) specifically points to the second person of the Trinity. This again has quite the impact concerning the Zealots who refuse to acknowledge anyone but the Father as Lord.
On a more literary line, Jude is quite fond of using triplet descriptions. Many of his descriptions and exhortations comes in threes. His greeting is a three-fold desire for mercy, peace, and love (v. 2) and his initial assessment of those who have crept in is that they are (1) marked for destruction, (2) ungodly persons, and (3) those who deny our Master and Lord (v. 4). Many other triplets can be found in this letter. The reader would do well to take notice of these occurrences.
A final literary note to consider is the fact that Jude’s letter ends much as it begins. His prayer for mercy, peace and love is rounded out with exhortations to show mercy to others (vv. 21b-23), to separate from the divisive (vv. 19-20), and to remain in love (v. 21a). The end looks a lot like the beginning.
As a Jewish author writing to a Jewish audience, one is hardly surprised to see a chiasm in Jude’s letter. The letter opens and closes with attention given to God the Father and Jesus who is the Christ (vv. 1-2; 24-25). His exhortation to “contend for the faith” finds its mate in an explanation of what contending for the faith looks like (vv. 3-4; 20-23). Jude’s call to remember past rebels is paired with a call to remember past teachers (vv. 5-7; 17-19). Next comes two sets of descriptions of the Zealots as rebels (vv. 8-10; 12-16) with an emphatic “woe!” clause in the center (v. 11). An illustration of this chiasm is found below.
A) Salutation (vv. 1-2)
B) Exhortation to Contend for the Faith (vv. 3-4)
C) Remember the Fate of Rebels (vv. 5-7)
D) Description of Rebels (vv. 8-10)
E) WOE TO THEM! (v. 11)
Dd) Description of Rebels (vv. 12-16)
Cc) Remember the Apostles' Teaching (vv. 17-19)
Bb) Explanation of Contending for the Faith (vv. 20-23)
Aa) Conclusion (vv. 24-25)
 Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), p. 414; John MacArthur, 2 Peter & Jude, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Series (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2005), p. 140.  Schreiner, p. 410.; MacArthur, p. 144.  Herbert Bateman, Jude, Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015), p. 14.  D. Edmond Hiebert, Second Peter and Jude: An Expositional Commentary (Greensville, South Carolina: BJU Press, 1989), p. 210-11; R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966), p. 606-7.  Schreiner, p. 416-17.  Lenski, 597.  Andy de Ganahl, Elect Aliens: An Exposition and Application of Peter’s First Epistle, Feeding the Sheep Commentary Series (Self Published, 2022), p. 3.  Bateman, p. 44.  Ibid, p. 70.  Ibid, p. 55-9; 70-5.  Ibid, p. 60-1.  Ibid, p. 78-9.  Ibid, p. 80.