Jude’s Necessary Appeal for the Gospel’s Sake (v. 3)

In the first of the theme verses (vv. 3-4) Jude conveys that he didn’t plan to write the letter as it currently reads.  It seems that information about a crisis situation warranted a shift in focus.  Jude exhorted his readers in v. 3 to contend for the faith, and this appeal sets the tone of the letter:

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

The opening term “Beloved” is an affectionate vocative that reminds the readers of God’s love for them.  Jude also refers to them this way in vv. 17 and 20.  All three occurrences of the word are at key sections of the letter, so it appears that the word was part of his compositional strategy.  Here in v. 3, “Beloved” introduces the theme ideas of the letter.

Jude was eager to write about “our common salvation,” which probably means he wanted to celebrate with them the redemptive work of Christ which saved and secured them.  Rather than celebrating salvation at length, Jude spends most of his letter on the warning of judgment on the ungodly (vv. 5-19).

Why the change in emphasis?  Somehow (he doesn’t disclose how), Jude learned about intruders who posed a serious spiritual threat.  It became clear that the believers in the church(es) were not contending for the faith as they should.  So Jude shifted gears.  He needed to get right to the point and show them how serious their situation was.

Jude called his appeal a necessity.  He didn’t believe he had the freedom to discourse about anything else.  A holy compulsion guided his pen.

Though the readers had received God’s peace through the gospel, and though Jude prayed for such peace to be multiplied in their fellowship (v. 2), the circumstances around them were anything but peaceful.  So Jude chose the correct verb to reflect the true state of things: “to contend” is an athletic image of wrestling, struggling with, fighting for.

The readers should be engaging in a specialized warfare, contending for “the faith.”

Probably the readers should contend for the faith because of what the intruders are doing to it, and the actions of those intruders help us accurately identify what “the faith” is.  The intruders “pervert the grace of our God” and “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

So what exactly does Jude mean by “the faith”?  Most likely he means the gospel.  The readers should contend for the gospel because the intruders are contradicting it, denying it, perverting it.

The description “that was once for all delivered to the saints” also supports identifying “the faith” as the gospel. “Delivered” was transmission language, used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3 to refer to the gospel traditions he’d received and passed on.

Jude has just prayed for the blessings and power of the gospel to multiply in their fellowship (v. 2), and now he’s exhorting (“appealing to”) them to take action on behalf of the glorious good news.

At this point he doesn’t elaborate further on what it means to contend, but later in vv. 20-23 he explains the actions he wants his readers to take.  The jump from v. 3 to vv. 20-23 doesn’t mean Jude forgot what he was writing about.  In a previous post (here), I presented a chiastic arrangement of the letter.  By design, then, Jude gives his reason for writing (v. 3) and returns later (vv. 20-23) to expand on the notion of contending for the faith.

The reason for the letter is clear.  Jude wrote to make an appeal for the sake of the faith, the gospel.  Could the stakes have been higher?

Advertisements

Jude’s Reason for Writing (vv. 3-4)

The New Testament letters were occasional documents, meaning an occasion prompted their composition.  Jude states the occasion in vv. 3-4 of his letter:

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.  

For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Jude first gives the content of his appeal (v. 3: “to contend for the faith”) and then the reason for it (v. 4: “For certain people have crept in…”).  Some of the themes in these two verses (e.g. salvation, intruders, condemnation, ungodliness, perverting grace) are worked out as the letter progresses.

The readers must wake up and realize the dire situation they’re in.  Contending is called for.  Intrusion has occurred.  Grace is being perverted.  Jesus is being denied.

Whatever Jude initially intended to write about, everything has now changed.

Jude’s Gospel Prayer (v. 2)

A standard Greco-Roman letter opened with (1) the author, (2) the recipients, and (3) a grace-wish.  The letters of the New Testament are remarkable in how they expand upon these expected elements, especially the third part of the greeting.

Jude’s grace-wish in v. 2 of his letter is short and to the point:

May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you

A few observations:
(1) Jude uses another triplet (mercy, peace, and love), his second so far in the letter (see v. 1b for the triplet of called, beloved, and kept).

(2) This is a prayer for something to happen (“May…be multiplied to you”), something Jude knows God alone can grant.

(3) Where you might expect the word “grace” Jude uses “mercy.”  The greetings in 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and 2 John include “mercy” after “grace,” but Jude doesn’t mention “grace” in v. 2 at all.  Most New Testament letters just have “grace and peace,” which means Jude deviates from this pattern.

Now why the terms “mercy, peace, and love”?  Each term appears to be chosen in light of concerns raised later in the letter, for concepts in letter-greetings are often worked out in subsequent arguments.  The three words, then, foreshadow what’s coming.

Jude will tell his readers to “have mercy on those who doubt” (v. 22), so they need God’s blessing of mercy among them in order to obey that command. “Peace” is important for the recipients because the intruders are scoffers rejecting authority and causing division (vv. 8, 18-19).  And “love” will be necessary in order to sufficiently contrast with the unloving and selfish actions of the intruders who care only for themselves (v. 12).  Jude’s readers must keep themselves in God’s love (v. 21).

In addition to the polemical importance of Jude’s triplet in v. 2, some scholars suggest a designed order of mercy, then peace, then love.  Since the triad can easily be connected to the good news of the gospel, perhaps Jude has in mind saving mercy that results in peace with God and bears the fruit of love.

Jude 2 appears to be significant, then, for two reasons: (1) the triplet plants words that Jude will soon weave into the body of the letter, and (2) the realities Jude prays for are gospel realities.

The gospel realities of “mercy, peace, and love” already exist among Jude’s readers, which is why he uses the word “multiply.”  He hopes God will increase the impact and benefits of the gospel among the church(es) he’s writing to.

What do Jude’s readers need in order to confront the challenge the intruders pose?  Not less of the gospel but more of it, more of its power and fruit.  They have received mercy, so they should be ready to show mercy.  They have peace with God through Christ, so they should maintain peace as the cords of fellowship are strained by wicked men.  They are loved by God, and that reality should cause love to multiply in their midst.

Stating the obvious once more, Jude is praying for God to do this work.  Only God can give them what they need, and what they need is the transforming realities of the gospel to expand and abound.  The gospel is for unbelievers who need to be saved, and the gospel is for Christians who are saved.

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.

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?

Is Jude Structured Chiastically?

Multiple scholars have argued for a chiastic structure of Jude’s letter. I’m currently preaching through its 25 verses on Sunday evenings, so I’ve spent time thinking through its structure too, and I think a chiastic arrangement is right. Here’s my adaptation of what I think’s going on:

  • 1-2   Opening Greeting
  •           3   Contend for the Faith
  •                    4   Judgment for Apostates Has Been Written About
  •               5-19   Here Are Some Examples of Such Judgment
  •           20-23   Here’s How to Contend for the Faith
  • 24-25   Closing Doxology

In the outermost frame (vv. 1-2, 24-25) Jude mentions both God and Jesus (v. 1, 25), and he also mentions being “kept” (vv. 1, 24).  He opens by writing to “those who are called” (v. 1), and he closes by praising “him who is able” (vv. 24-25). Jude wants “mercy, peace, and love” for his readers (v. 2), and he wants “glory, majesty, dominion, and authority” for God (v. 25).

In the second section (vv. 3, 20-23) Jude speaks about “the faith.”  In v. 3 he tells his readers to contend for it, and in vv. 20-23 he picks up the idea again and this time elaborates on what he means.  They should contend for the faith (v. 3) by persevering in it and snatching others from the fire (vv. 20-23).

The center of the chiasm (vv. 4, 5-19) highlights God’s judgment on those who reject him and the way of righteousness.  Jude says their judgment has been written about (v. 4), and then he lists examples to reinforce his claim (vv. 5-19).  Jude appeals to both Old Testament and extra-canonical stories and images.  His concern is to vehemently deter his readers from treading the way of the intruders, for it’s a path under wrath.

Another way to think about the body of the letter (vv. 3-23) is to emphasize its theme verses (vv. 3-4), which set the tone for everything that follows.  Jude explains two things: his reason for writing the letter (v. 3) and his warning about the apostates’ inevitable judgment (v. 4). Then the rest of the body (vv. 5-23) elaborates on these theme verses, only in reverse: vv. 5-19 pick up on v. 4, and vv. 20-23 pick up on v. 3.

I find the preceding descriptions of Jude’s structure very helpful for interpreting it.  Do you find a chiastic arrangement convincing?  Is there anything you’d change about how I explained its parts in light of the whole?