Study Guide: Shedding Some Light on the Book of Jude

Featured image: William Blake, “Enoch”. Lithograph, 1803. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The book of Jude is a scathing indictment of false teachers in the Church. Featuring brutal statements and accusations that resemble Old Testament judgment prophecies, a couple of references to sources that are not actually in the Bible, and complete with one of the most beautiful benediction passages in all of Scripture, Jude is an intimidating book. Very rarely have I heard Jude so much as referenced in a sermon; Christian-living books and devotionals aren’t rich with reflections on Jude. It seems like a book that Christians would rather not talk about. That’s understandable, given the tone of Jude’s letter and his obscure references to extrabiblical sources. But, while Jude’s writing style may be somewhat flowery, archaic, and off-putting, his message is not exactly complicated – though I would recommend reading it using a study Bible and maybe with a commentary in hand.

Purpose

As the name of the letter suggests, Jude was written by none other than the brother of James and Jesus – Jude. Though it is not certain when the letter was written, Jude seems to be working from the understanding that Christian doctrine has been somewhat well-established, to the point that the early Church has begun to identify and call out various heresies that have arisen among Christian communities. This may suggest the letter was written sometime after A.D 60.

There is no identification of Jude’s audience because the letter was a general epistle meant to be circulated among a number of churches. His writing is not specific to one situation but broadly addresses an issue that was evidently common in the Church: the presence false teachers who caused damage, division, and apostasy from within the community of believers.

Jude’s message to the faithful is one of urgent caution, laced with encouraging truth:

  1. Have faith that God will deal with those who spread falsehood and blasphemy, just as he has throughout history.
  2. Meanwhile, hold fast to the true gospel of Jesus which leads to salvation.

Outline

1. Greeting (v. 1-2)

Many greetings in the Epistles mention specific people, especially the individual or individuals the letter is addressing. In Paul’s epistles, he often greets his audience on behalf of those accompanying him as well. Jude, on the other hand, keeps it simple, suggesting a broader audience and keeping with the urgent tone of the letter. Yet we can still catch a glimpse of Jude’s earnest love and concern for the church even in these brief verses. Verse 2 is a particularly beautiful prayer: “May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.”

2. The Main Point (v. 3-23)

Jude’s argument takes up the bulk of the letter, and this is where it may get confusing. Jude will dive into several Old Testament stories and reference two extrabiblical works, and it is tempting to read into these in detail and thus miss what Jude is actually trying to say. Verse 3 is incredibly important. It is Jude’s purpose for writing this letter: to appeal to the church to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints”. Verse 3 is also the jumping-off point for Jude’s lengthy indictment of the false teachers Christians need to be aware of. Jude will come back and double down on the main point at the end of his argument.

It is helpful to make an outline of this section of the letter.

Note: In his letter, Jude refers to writings such as Enoch, and possibly the Assumption of Moses. These works are extrabiblical – meaning they are not found in the Christian Bible. Such references will be noted with an asterisk (*). I will comment on Jude‘s use of extrabiblical literature at the end of this post.

I. Contend for the faith in the presence of those who abuse the mercy of Jesus as an excuse to sin willfully (v. 3-4)

II. All the while, have faith that God will deal with those people because:

  1. He dealt with those who opposed him when he rescued Israel from Egypt (v. 5).
  2. He dealt with the angels who opposed him (c.f. Genesis 6:1-4) (v. 6).*
  3. He dealt with the wickedness in Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 7).

III. The immoral character of these false teachers can be seen when:

  1. They refuse to submit to authority (v. 8-10).*
  2. They defy God for selfish gain (v. 11).
  3. They are exposed as hypocrites (v. 12).

IV. But God’s justice will prevail in the end. (v. 14-16).*

V. In light of all this, hold fast to what you know to be true by:

  1. Remembering that this situation is not surprising. The apostles even predicted it (v. 17-19).
  2. Continuing to worship, pray, and grow in your faith while awaiting Christ’s return (v. 20-21).
  3. Having mercy on those who have fallen victim to false teachers and making an effort to bring them back into the fold, all the while being aware of the dangers they present (v. 22-23).

The Doxology (v. 24-25)

Jude reminds his readers that it is the grace of Jesus that will keep them holy and blameless before God until he returns, even amidst the tension and uncertainty. No further comments will do this passage justice. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you, blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Amen indeed.


Application

Churchgoers willfully sinning, causing division, undermining authority, and backing up their destructive actions with terrible theology is not a new phenomenon. When we are confronted with this, Jude’s advice is timeless:

  1. Have faith that God’s justice will prevail in the end. Church discipline is biblical, but there will always people who not want to be confronted with their sin.
  2. You can only control how you respond. Choose to respond by holding fast to the true gospel of Jesus, which inspires in us faith, obedience, and mercy.

A Few Notes on Jude’s Extrabiblical References

Let’s briefly look at the way Jude uses extrabiblical references in his argument:

Verse 6: And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.

This isn’t definitively nonbiblical – it just isn’t clear what story Jude is referring to here. Some scholars believe he is referencing Genesis 6 (the account of the Nephilim). Others argue that this is an account of the original fall of the angels from heaven, pulled from a text that has since been lost.

Verse 8-10:  But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.”

Jude assumes his audience’s knowledge of this story, but the account he is referring to has since been lost to time. This may be a reference to an unknown section of the Assumption of Moses, a 1st century apocryphal book. Jude uses this story to illustrate that Michael, the archangel, knew his place under God’s authority and refrained from undermining God by casting judgment – even judgment upon Satan himself.

Verses 14-15: It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” 

This is a direct quotation from 1 Enoch 1:9, another 1st century apocryphal work. Enoch was the great-grandfather of Noah and the book of Enoch is traditionally ascribed to him – though it is generally understood in Christian circles to have been written much, much later and pseudonymously attributed to Enoch. Enoch contains details about the fall of the angels from heaven as well as apocalyptic prophecies about the return of the Messiah, such as the one Jude uses in verses 14-15.

So, should it bother us that Jude pulls quotations and references from texts that are not in the Christian canon? Does this mean we need to consider the texts he references to be authoritative Scripture – or, does it mean that Jude’s letter shouldn’t be in our Bibles after all?

In my mind, it shouldn’t make us uncomfortable at all. Jude is referencing ancient stories that his audience would be familiar with, and though they are not considered authoritative Scripture for various reasons, Jude is not preaching them as God’s word; he is citing them as illustrations to make a point. If I were to tell a story about a time God worked powerfully in my life during a sermon, I wouldn’t be under the impression that my story held the same weight as Scripture. If I were to reference a movie or a song lyric that shed some light on the point I was trying to make, it would not be the same thing as me ascribing to a song or a movie the same authority as the Bible. Though it may be strange to read a biblical author like Jude referring to ancient sources that are not found in the Bible itself, we shouldn’t let it distract us from his point, which is fairly straightforward.

One response to “Study Guide: Shedding Some Light on the Book of Jude”

  1. Delightful to see some light shed on the apocrypha! And a healthy way of looking at it. All too often, people either see it as some kind of heretical temptation or the secret saving wisdom that real Christians have been kept from. You’ve found the healthy middle ground of reason, and stated it succinctly. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

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