“Contend for the Faith”: An Exposition of the Epistle of Jude (Part One)

“Contend for the Faith”: An Exposition of the Epistle of Jude (Part One)

We live in a perilous age and false teachers will come into our midst. They will seek to steal your souls (after emptying your wallets). Do you know how to spot them? Can you contend against them? If not, its time to get started. In the words of Jude, brother of James and Jesus, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”

When, Not If, the False Teachers Come

One of the greatest threats to the Christian church occurs when its own pastors and teachers deny the very gospel which they’ve been entrusted to proclaim. In the Epistle of Jude, we witness a church which has been secretly infiltrated by self-appointed spokesmen for God, who were advocating the false teaching that because we are saved by God’s grace, we are no longer bound to follow the commandments of God. This is classic antinomianism.

These false teachers claimed to be followers of Jesus, while at the same time were themselves engaging in all kinds of sexual immorality closely tied to the paganism of the age. By indulging in sins of the flesh under the guise of God’s grace, Jude says these teachers were denying the gospel of Jesus Christ. Having become aware that this was going on in the churches, Jude writes a short but very powerful exhortation to Christian faithful in these churches to oppose these false teachers with everything in them, and to earnestly “contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.”

About the Author—Jude

The Epistle of Jude is such an interesting and important book because of the fact that Jude is the brother of James and Jesus. Based upon the list of Jesus’ brothers in Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55, Jude is probably James’ younger brother. It falls to Jude to give us one of the most often-quoted but least practiced exhortations of the New Testament: “Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” In a perilous age such as ours, when far too many Christians are ignorant of the most basic of Christian doctrines, and all too prone to compromising with the paganism around us, we need to let Jude’s exhortation to contend for the faith to ring in our ears.

Although the author of this book is the brother of James–who wrote his epistle in the mid-forties of the first century, and prior to the Jerusalem Council–many argue that Jude was written as much as twenty years after the Epistle of James. This would give us a date of composition somewhere in the mid-sixties, although I think a good case can be made for a much earlier date (the early 50’s). Although the date of this epistle is somewhat up in the air, it is very clear that Jude is writing under a completely different set of circumstances than those facing his brother James. For Jude, the issue which prompts the writing of this epistle is that Christians are under the assault of deceptive false teachers. Believers in Jude’s audience need to wake up and resist this group of false teachers who had secretly infiltrated their churches. At the same time they are doing that, Jude’s readers need to make every effort to build themselves up in the most holy faith–one of the surest and best ways to prevent false teachers from destroying the churches.

The Importance of This Short Epistle

Jude is writing in opposition to a group of schwarmerai (charismatics), men, who under the pretense of receiving new revelations from God, were defiling their flesh (a reference to sexual immorality) and speaking blasphemously about matters they claimed to understand but knew nothing about. It is clear from Jude’s comments that his concern is with teachers already in the churches, men whose conduct in many ways mirrors the false teaching plaguing the church in Corinth (2 Corinthians 10-12), as well as two of the churches mentioned in Revelation (Thyatira and Pergamum) who, according to the Apostle John, were facing a similar kind of false teaching associated with a certain “Jezebel.”[1] Based upon some of specific comments made by Jude, a good case can be made that the congregation(s) to which Jude is writing were steeped in Jewish mysticism, and end-times speculation (Jewish apocalypticism). It may be the case that the false teachers were able to appeal to the congregation’s interest in mysticism and end-times as a cover so as to make rapid progress in infiltrating the churches.

Jude opens his brief letter (vv.1-4) with a greeting, and a strong word of warning about the deceptive methods used by these false teachers. Jude also includes a word of explanation about the nature of their error–using the grace of God as a pretext for immoral behavior–as well as reminding his readers of the certainty of God’s judgment upon those who distort the truth for their sinful purposes. In verses 5-16, Jude sets out what amounts to a sermon of sorts on the course of redemptive history, in which Jude makes his case that God has his own ways of dealing with false teachers, and that they will inevitably bring themselves under God’s judgment. Jude appeals to past events in which God’s judgment falls upon the disobedient, before appealing to these events as examples of what will befall the false teachers currently plaguing the churches. Jude calls upon his reader/hearer to learn from God’s dealing with his people in the past as a way to resist the false teachers then present in the churches. In verses 17-23, we come to the heart of the epistle where Jude exhorts his reader to remember that the apostles had predicted the very situation that the churches were now facing. In light of this, it was their duty to build themselves up in the “most holy faith” until Christ returns. And then in the final verses of the epistle (vv. 24-25), Jude closes with one of the most moving doxologies in all the New Testament.

The Connection Between Jude and 2 Peter

Anyone who knows the New Testament knows that the Epistle of Jude is very similar to 2 Peter chapter 2. In fact, the parallels between Jude and 2 Peter are quite remarkable. This has led a number of critical scholars to conclude that an anonymous author copied 2 Peter chapter 2, edited it, and then circulated it as a letter from Jude, the brother of James and Jesus. Others contend the opposite–someone writing in the name of Peter took the material now found in 2 Peter chapter 2 from the epistle of Jude, and then passed it off as the work of the Apostle Peter. But there is nothing in the orthodox view of inspiration which would prevent Peter from incorporating a portion of the Epistle of Jude in his own letter (our 2 Peter). It is likely the case that Peter simply borrowed this material from Jude. Either that is the case, or whoever wrote 2 Peter was lying when he claimed to an eyewitness to many of the events in the life of Jesus (i.e., the transfiguration). The author identifies himself as “Jude” the brother of James and of Jesus–something which, if not true, would have brought howls of protest from anyone reading this letter who knew that not to be the case.[2] If someone were going to forge a letter like this, why do so in the name of Jude, who, apart from this letter, few in the early church even mention?

It is also important to point out that there was never any challenge to the authenticity of this letter in the early church. Some of the earliest letters of the church fathers allude to it–Clement of Rome, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas, and the Didache. Jude is cited directly by Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria. So, there is evidence of wide-spread acceptance of Jude (from all parts of the Roman world) and no one seems to have objected to this letter. From the earliest days, the church accepted it as coming from Jude, brother of James and Jesus.[3] Most of the arguments raised by critical scholars against the authenticity of this epistle fall into the category of pure speculation arising from an anti-supernatural bias.

The Date

There is no question that the author is a Jew. Although he uses fourteen words unique to the New Testament (found nowhere else), in his discussion of redemptive history Jude follows the Hebrew Old Testament (not the LXX). Furthermore, he cites from two apocryphal Jewish writings (the Assumption of Moses and the Book of Enoch), which indicates that those to whom he is writing were probably influenced by Jewish apocalyptic (end-times speculation). Jude appeals to their interest in end-times, but reminds them that they must understand these things in light of the coming of Jesus.

As for the date of this epistle, one important key is found in verses 17-18, when Jude says, “But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, `In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.’” If Jude’s audience includes people who personally heard the teaching of the various apostles, then this letter must have been written when such people were still alive. This pushes us toward an earlier date, especially if Peter (or his secretary) did indeed consult this epistle when crafting his second letter. Furthermore, there is also some evidence within the letter that Jude was personally familiar with his readers. In verse 3, Jude uses an intimate personal address–“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” That Jude calls his readers “beloved” (i.e. “dear friends”) and then addresses them in a personal way (“you”), seems to support the notion that although the epistle does not identify its intended audience, Jude knew many of those to whom he is writing.

The Opening Verses of Jude

With the historical background in mind, we turn to the first four verses of the Epistle of Jude. In the opening two verses of the epistle we learn the name of the author, but not much about his intended destination. “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.” Jude identifies himself as the brother of James, and as a servant of Christ–a very common title in the New Testament which is used by Paul, Peter, James, and now Jude. It is important for us to notice that like his brother James, Jude does not appeal to the fact that Jesus is his brother.

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