The Recipients of Jude Identified Theologically (v. 1b)

Readers are located somewhere, and NT letter-writers often use a few words to tell us.  But we don’t get any geographical information from Jude about his recipients.  Is this because he didn’t know where they were?  Is this because the letter was circular and thus not limited to one locale?  The second is more likely than the first, but even 1 Peter (a circular letter) opens with geographical phrases.

It’s not clear why Jude doesn’t specify where his readers are, but he does elaborate on who they are.  He identifies them theologically instead of geographically.

To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ

The description is threefold, one of the letter’s many triads.  Only two persons of the Trinity are mentioned (the “Father” and “Jesus”), though Jude does refer to the Holy Spirit later (see vv. 19, 20).

The terms called, beloved, and kept denote the kind of assurance and security the readers needed to remember, given the angst, division, and doubt that the intruders are causing in the church(es) (see vv. 19, 22).

To face the present trouble, the recipients need to remember who they are.  Think of v. 1b like this:

  • To those who are
  •               called
  •               beloved in God the Father
  •               and kept for Jesus Christ

Let’s take the three descriptions one at a time.

  • (1) They have been called by God.  His sovereign voice summoned them.  This calling isn’t the general kind but the specific, eye-opening, heart-awakening kind.  Those God predestined he calls (Rom 8:30), and Jude’s readers have heard the mouth of mercy speak.
  • (2) They are beloved either in God or by God, but the translation here is ultimately a distinction without a difference.  The notion is covenant love, the steadfast commitment of God to his people, the loving-kindness expressed to those in union with Christ by the Spirit.  The Groom loves the Bride with a New Covenant bond, and it is imperishable.
  • (3) They are kept either for Christ or by Christ, and the choice of preposition isn’t easy.  Kept for makes sense because Jesus is returning for his people to vindicate them and judge the ungodly.  Kept by also works since God preserves the saints, which means true apostasy is impossible for God’s people.  Kept by, though, edges out the other option when we see that the end of the letter (v. 24) speaks of believers being kept too.  In other words, the inclusio of vv. 1-2 with vv. 24-25 (see  here for more explanation on the structure of the letter) makes kept by the probable rendering.

Jude’s use of the terms called, beloved, and kept has OT background.  In Isaiah 42 God’s people are “called” by him (42:6), “loved” by him (42:1), and “kept” by him (42:6)–this third Isaianic reference further supports kept by Jesus Christ as the way to render the end of v. 1b.

Do you see what Jude has done with the words from Isaiah 42?  That OT chapter is about God’s chosen servant, the one who will be the Suffering Servant bearing our iniquities.  The identity of this Servant is also wrapped up in the identity of God’s people, and the terms of this people are applied to Jude’s readers–the Church!

The Church of Jesus is the True Israel, a people called, beloved, and kept.  Jude is writing to them, and he has important exhortations and warnings to give.

But before getting into the argument of the letter, even before leaving the pattern of the Greco-Roman greeting, Jude focuses on their theological identity.  Their identity will contrast strongly with who the intruders are, and it is what must motivate the recipients to do what is necessary as they contend for the faith.

Remembering who you are is not wasted effort, it is preparatory for what’s next.  Remembrance is the fuel for the obedience that follows.

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John Elliott on “Judgment” in 1 Peter

What does 1 Peter teach about God’s judgment?  On p. 804 of his Anchor Bible commentary on 1 Peter, John H. Elliott provides a helpful summary:

The judgment of God…is both inclusive (4:5-6) and impartial (1:17), involving the living and the dead, nonbelievers and believers everywhere.  The honor or shame it brings will be meted out according to each one’s deeds (1:17) relative to God’s will and each one’s response to Jesus Christ (2:4-10; 3:16).  All creatures (cf. 2:13) are accountable to God their Creator (4:19).  This universality and impartiality of divine judgment is firmly accented in early Christian tradition and is stressed repeatedly in 1 Peter. 

Jude, the Servant of Jesus and Brother of James (v. 1a)

A typical Greco-Roman letter begins with the author’s name, and the last New Testament letter meets this expectation.  The opening words in v. 1 are:

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James

Visualize the phrases like this:

  • Jude
  •          a servant of Jesus Christ
  •          and brother of James

While New Testament letters mostly conform to a first-century rhetorical and epistolary pattern, the biblical authors invest theological meaning in the phrases that fill the mold.  Put another way, the authors take in their hands a certain rhetorical mold and then add or omit what serves their agenda.

The beginning of Jude’s letter is important because of how he identifies himself.  We don’t just find the name “Jude” followed by the recipients.  There’s a twofold description (“servant of Jesus Christ” and “brother of James”) that distinguishes Jude from others who bear his name.

“Jude,” after all, was a popular name, most accurately rendered “Judas.”  But that probably makes you think of the Betrayer of Jesus, right?  Translators help us avoid that confusion by rendering the name as just “Jude.”

So how do the terms “servant” and “brother” help his readers know who’s writing to them?

First things first.  Paul (in Titus 1:1) and James (in James 1:1) both identify themselves as servants of God.  When a biblical author called himself a “servant of God” it was more than a humble posture.  Old Testament background helps us see that “servant of God” was a title given to men like Abraham, Moses, David, and other prophets.  A servant of Yahweh was set apart as the mouthpiece of Yahweh, his representative before people.  Such a servant acted on God’s behalf, not according to his own will.

Therefore, when a New Testament writer calls himself a “servant of God,” he’s saying he belongs in the long line of Yahweh’s representatives.  More than a humble posture, here “servant of God” is an office, a position of responsibility.

Look carefully at Jude’s first words.  Where you might expect to find “servant of God” Jude wrote “servant of Jesus Christ“!  This replacement indicates Jude’s high christology, but Jude hasn’t abandoned his monotheism.  Far from it!  God’s Son Jesus is divine, and to be his servant is to represent God himself.

More specifically, Jude is the mouthpiece of the Messiah; he is commissioned by the risen and reigning Son of God.  The first description, then, “a servant of Jesus Christ,” is a claim to write with authority.  The readers should heed the words of Jude’s letter because it comes to them as more than the concerns of a fellow Christian.  These twenty-five verses have christological weight!

The second opening description, “brother of James,” clarifies further who this Jude (or Judas) is, for other men bear that name–such as the disciple Judas the son of James (Luke 6:16), the courier Judas Barsabbas (Acts 15:22), the Judas who lived on Straight Street (Acts 9:11), and Judas the brother of Jesus (Matt 13:55).

How does “brother of James” help narrow down the contending Judases?  Normally a Jew would identify himself in relation to his father (“Jude, son of ____”).  Moreover, this is the only place in the New Testament where a writer refers to a sibling as a way to distinguish himself.  This fact, coupled with the simplicity of the unelaborated “James,” suggests that the readers were familiar with the man in view.

The readers would have recognized this “James” as the prominent leader of the Jerusalem church, a “pillar” according to Paul (Gal 2:9).  This James was Jesus’ brother who believed after the resurrection (Matt 13:55; John 7:2-5; see especially 1 Cor 15:7).

Let’s recap.  After Jude’s self-designation there are two further descriptions.  To preempt the question “Why should we listen to Jude?” he writes that he’s “a servant of Jesus Christ.”  His pen bears messianic authority!  And to the expected question “Which Jude is this?” he clarifies that he’s the “brother of James.”

One final important point.  If Jude is the brother of James and this James is the brother of Jesus, then the Jude (Judas) who wrote this letter is Judas the brother of Jesus.  Does it seem surprising Jude didn’t mention this relation?  He calls himself “a servant of Jesus Christ,” but why not declare to everyone that he’s “the brother of Jesus Christ”?

Perhaps some people think that if they were related to Jesus and writing this letter, they’d mention their relation as an authoritative appeal: “You should listen to what I have to say, for don’t you know I’m Jesus’ brother?”

But Jude knows better.  More important than biology is christology: Jesus is the Messiah!  Jude’s authority rests not on the fact that he’s Jesus’ sibling but that he’s Jesus’ servant, which is why you don’t read Jude describing himself as the “brother of Jesus.”  The brother Jude grew up with is seated at the right hand of God, and that preeminent status changes how he thinks about him.

So the readers should heed the words that follow v. 1a.  As one under authority, Jude also writes with authority.  His pen is a mouthpiece, and the written words are the words of Christ.

Triads in the Letter of Jude

Part of Jude’s literary artistry is his use of triads.  A study of the letter will reveal the following sets of threes:

  • Jude’s recipients are those called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ (v. 1)
  • Jude’s prayer is for mercy, peace, and love to be multiplied (v. 2)
  • The readers should remember God’s judgment on the wilderness generation, the angels who rebelled, and Sodom and Gomorrah (vv. 5-7)
  • Relying on their dreams, the intruders defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme angels (v. 8)
  • The intruders’ actions remind Jude of Cain’s way, Balaam’s error, and Korah’s rebellion (v. 11)
  • The intruders are grumblers, malcontents, and boasters (v. 16)
  • The intruders are divisive, worldly, and lack the Spirit (v. 19)
  • The readers should keep themselves in God’s love as they are building themselves up in the faith, praying in the Spirit, and waiting for the mercy of Christ (vv. 20-21)
  • The readers will pray in the Spirit, keep themselves in the love of God, and wait for the mercy of Jesus (vv. 20-21)
  • The readers should have mercy on doubters, save others from the fire, and show mercy to others (vv. 22-23)
  • Glory goes to God before all time, now, and forever (v. 25)

Did I miss any triplets?

Why does Jude favor them so much?