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Judah, Judas, Jude?
An introduction to the last of the catholic epistles
This Sunday we’re starting a series on the book of Jude which will take us through most of the year. If you’re interested in my plans for the rest of 2022 and you missed last week’s Sunday article covering that, click here to go and read that!
Also included this week is a review of “Reading the Prophets as Christian Scripture: A Literary, Canonical, and Theological Introduction” by Eric J. Tulley which you can find included right after this article:
Judah, Judas, Jude?
If you’ve been here for a while you’ll know that I encourage people to approach bible studies with three points in mind—the Three C’s:
Context: Reading the book within its biblical, canonical, historical, cultural, and authorial context. If I gave you a love letter but you weren’t aware of its date, the author, whether it was fictional, you’d have a hard time knowing what to do with it. The bible, though more complicated, is no different.
Comparison: The book, chapter, or verse at hand doesn’t stand alone but is part of inspired scripture, we can compare it with other scriptures to help us to understand it. ("In the easier passages [The Holy Spirit] relieves our hunger; in the more obscure He drives away our pride. Practically nothing is dug out from those obscure texts which is discovered to be said very plainly in another place."- Augustine, On Christian Doctrine)
Consistency: Thankfully, every verse of scripture is a well-worn path, many saints have tracked it before and we’d do well to compare and contrast our own views and takeaways with theirs.
(These are by no means novel ideas but have been called many names throughout church history.)
As I’ve been preparing to start a series going verse-by-verse through the book of Jude, I’ve been contending with that first point, Context, a lot. Jude is a short book (25 verses) with only a very small amount of internal biographical detail about the author, the audience, and the circumstances of its creation. Thankfully, as I’ve mentioned above, this book doesn’t exist in a vacuum, nor is it as lacking in internal clues as one might think at first glance. Though as we go on through this series other points may present themselves, the three words which come up again and again are:
Catholic, Jewish, Exegetical
Let’s dive in.
The brackets there are not to denote that the term is copyrighted, but that it should be made explicitly clear here that by catholic, I do not mean Roman Catholic. The term throughout most of history meant general/universal and so when we say the following in the apostle’s creed:
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
it should not be understood to pay homage to the papacy or affirm his rule, but rather to declare that the church which exists today, wherever it is found, is part of the apostolic tradition and faith that has existed since Pentecost. Apostolic might feel like a better term, but the reason I will continue to say catholic is that this epistle, this letter, is part of a set we find in the new testament which is called, you guessed it, the catholic epistles, these include:
James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John and Jude
Unlike the letters of Paul, which were written to designated people (Timothy, Philemon, Titus) or peoples (the Romans, Thessalonians, Colossians), the catholic epistles are more broadly addressed—Peter addresses his first epistle “To those chosen, living as exiles dispersed abroad” (1 Peter 1:1). Though they may well have been sent initially to a single party, that seems unlikely. The catholic epistles convey messages to the church about church polity—False Teachers, Relationship to Governments, Relationships to one another, the use of Holy Scripture (inc. the new testament)— the exercise of one’s faith with regards to works, or the responsibility of not only leaders but individuals within congregations. I could go into each one of those in detail, I have chosen not to for time’s sake, this is after all an introduction to Jude, not to the whole set. The set is, nonetheless, important, because, as it has been mentioned in every single book about Jude, it contains teaching which mirrors a passage from another book in the set, namely 2 Peter (c2-3:v3.) This has led some to think it’s of little use or that one is simply a copy of the other, but that doesn’t make an awful lot of sense in my opinion, the Bible is full of repetition which aids us in understanding (see my note on comparison) and I’ve never heard of anyone saying we shouldn’t cover 1-2 Chronicles because it’s reiterating what we already or know, or exclude certain Psalms because they are repeated, or Revelation because it includes so much from the Old Testament. That would be ridiculous. We should, therefore, see this parallel for what it most certainly is. Consistent. We know that the early church used, for instance, the Didache or the teaching of the apostles for training those who were to be Baptised (Catechumen) and so particular teaching would be commonly used on multiple occasions, even by various people, to speak to similar issues. We also see that the apostles’ repeat and utilise the teachings of Jesus, not to mention that Jesus repeated himself on occasion—probably far more than we’re even aware of. Repetition isn’t a bad thing, and though I think there is more than repetition going on here, it would be silly not to at least mention it at this stage.
Finally, a point on authority and subject matter, Jude commends himself to his audience as “the Brother of James,” and states that his purpose in writing was that “[he] found it necessary to write, appealing to you to contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all” (Jude 3.) This might seem like separate points, but I would contend that he is drawing his authority from the apostles, most notably deferring to his brother James, and by extension, his half-brother Jesus (which will be covered in greater detail next week) and then goes on to contend for the faith as passed down by the apostles. Darian R. Lockett says:
“…the faith here is understood not as the subjective faith of the community but as the central message of salvation through Jesus Christ—the apostolic faith handed down to the community.” Letters for the Church - Darian R. Lockett
He is not writing to a people about that people’s faith, but rather about THE faith, the holy apostolic faith which they all had received, himself included, and inviting them to contend for it with him.
Through and through, this letter is one from the Church, to the Church, for the Church, via the messenger Jude, inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Having contended that this letter is catholic you might be surprised that I would say that it is also Jewish, but this isn't a contradiction in terms, Jude is a Jew. Not only that but he grew up in the Jewish tradition and therefore it shouldn't be a surprise to us that his style, like his brother James, is influenced by Jewish teaching. In form, in style, in reference, Jude is distinctively Jewish and so that should influence the way that we read this book. Though I will be going into greater detail in the next section as to that influence on his exegetical method, it's worth making sure we don't gloss over this point. We can often be too quick to apply our own context to the Bible, or vice versa, it’s always worth sitting with the author and audience in their context as much as possible before we do so. Although this letter is written to the whole church and applicable to our lives today, we shouldn’t jump straight there. It’s likely that the Protestant churches confusion around Jude’s inclusion of extra-biblical texts, 1 Enoch and the Assumption of Moses, is largely due to this propensity to forget the time the book was written in.
Put simply, everyone is most likely to follow the style they grew up with. I’ve heard lots of people discuss the reasons why preachers use sports analogies, perform topical preaching, or rely on the same stories over and over, but though I’m sure many could wax lyrical about those that do it maliciously, the reality is that most are doing so because it’s all they’ve ever known. Jude is no different, as a young Jewish man, he would have heard Jewish exegetical methods applied in Synagogues all of his life and therefore we shouldn’t be surprised that he would use the same, or similar, methods himself. He would also be far quicker to draw from stories he was familiar with than new ones. Jesus’ own parables are heavily influenced by themes and types from the Old Testament. I mentioned Jude’s brother James, much of the writing in his letter is spoken of as Paranesis, not a uniquely Jewish style, but one which is used in both the Bible (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes) as well as in Jewish Literature. I personally hope to gain a greater understanding of this as we go through the book of Jude this year.
As I’ve mentioned, Jude is Jewish and that influences his exegetical method, namely, a form of Jewish exegesis known as a Midrash. I add a caveat here to say that if my explanation is sparse at this stage, it’s simply because I want to make sure my understanding is as well-rounded as possible before delivering it to you, which I hope I’ll be able to do more clearly as the months roll on. Put simply though, my definition of a Midrash is this:
A form of exegesis of one or more texts from scripture explained and expounded upon, often through the use of storytelling.
It’s probably unsurprising given the nature of oral traditions that storytelling plays a role, or at the very least you’ll be aware of Jesus’ use of parables and narrative to explain concepts. This isn’t something we’ve always done well as Protestants, and in the introduction to the RCS commentary on Gen 1-11, the editors mention:
“(Speaking of the Reformers) Christian commentators on Genesis typically displayed a love-hate relationship toward Jewish sources, as we will see: they are often found to admire rabbinic insights and to find corroboration of their own views in the Targums, but the excesses of midrash, with its penchant for creative storytelling, is almost always heavily criticized… Jerome and Augustine are also targets of criticism for … what is usually described as allegorical excess.” Genesis 1–11: Old Testament, Reformation Commentary on Scripture
We should be aware of any inherited bias and do what we can to eschew it.
Snobbery towards a form our culture sees as of less use does us no good.
I will return to this subject in future weeks, but in summary, the epistle of Jude is:
(c)atholic, for the whole Church, from the Church, by the Church, for the good of all.
Jewish, from the human side of the writing, as well as in its consistency with styles and narratives from the Old Testament.
Exegetical, though possibly different in form from what we would consider to be exegetical. It expounds upon scriptures from the Old Testament, applying them to our lives today, by the use of extrabiblical narratives to tell the truth through stories, as well as with the authority and teaching of the apostles.
What’s in a name?
A helpful way to understand and remember this, to use a storytelling device, would be through the name of the author.
Judah → Judas → Jude
These are three names that we know Jude by, the Hebrew Spelling, the Greek Spelling and the Modern one we find in our bibles today.
Think of it like this, Judah represents the Jewish nature of the book, the heritage and the tradition that comes from the Old Testament and the Jewish people. Judas for the continuation of that story through the new testament and the apostles—what’s more, given that this book deals with the subject of ‘intruders’ in the church it could also stand for that. Finally, Jude, the name we use today, the interpretation into our own language stands for the exegetical process going on in the letter.
I’m not claiming that this is the intention of the three uses of his name, but simply as an example of how narrative can be used to explain a point.
I’ve barely scratched the surface in this article, so I’m looking forward to going deeper and deeper as the weeks and months roll on. I hope you’re looking forward to joining me on that journey.
All the quotes below are from the book unless otherwise stated.
Profiting from the Prophets
“When we talk about inspiration, we don’t mean that the prophets were inspired in the way that a painter is inspired by a beautiful sunset or enters into some kind of highly creative state. In that case, the source of the inspiration is not always clear, and the artist does not always even know the meaning; it may be more of an emotion. But a true prophet undergoes a different kind of inspiration. He or she knows that the word is from God, and the meaning of the words is understandable (though perhaps the prophet does not know the full implications). In the case of the artist, inspiration means that the content comes from within; in the case of the prophet, it means that the content comes from God.”
It’s likely that at some point this year you’ll find yourself reading one or more of the prophetic books of the Bible. If that’s the case, I can highly recommend that you go and pick this book up to help you in that endeavour. It covers all of the prophetic books, meaning that if you go and pick this up on Logos that’s $2.63/£1.94 per prophetic book + eight brilliant chapters on everything from the Historical and Theological contexts of the prophetic literature to false prophets.
Disclaimer: I think it’s always a good idea to get a specific commentary on any book you’re looking to study in detail. That said, this book is a great idea if you’re wanting to get more out of the prophetic books of the bible, understand how they fit together with one another and with the overall narrative of the Bible.
With that said, here’s how I would recommend reading this book:
My suggestion would be to treat this book as two separate books. I would read Parts 1&2 (Chapters 1-8) as if that was a whole book, perhaps a month or two before you start any prophetic literature in your bible reading plan. This will give you some time to process, chew on anything you struggled with within that literature, and then digest the wisdom. Especially if you’ve always struggled with the prophets or haven’t read them before, this is a great primer. Once you’ve read that, the first book, use Part 3 as a set of commentaries. Again, to my prior disclaimer, it would be worth getting a commentary or a few commentaries on a few of the books which would help to make sure you’re hearing a variety of voices on what you’re reading.
You can’t be surprised that I would bring this up, but I would still recommend making sure you’re doing this. The introductions to the books are a great way of making sure that you’re getting the context of the books, then after that point, read the bible before each section.
Here’s the best thing though, that’s how the book is structured!
You’re encouraged to read the word (Amos 1:2-2:16) and then it will give you historical, geographical, and theological information to help you understand that text better.
The only difference would be that points 2 & 3 are switched. Point 2 being comparison with other texts in the Bible. The three c’s in this book are, therefore:
I would advise you to try and re-order that and look at comparing the texts at hand with others in the Bible yourself before heading back to this book. If that would be too much at this stage, the book will give you exercises like:
Compare Amos 5:21-24 with Isaiah 1:10-17. They sopund similar. How are they actually unique in their respective contexts?
Which will assist you in developing the skill of comparison.
My final word on this is that Reading the Prophets as Christian Scripture is not the final word, the Bible is. The author, I sincerely hope, would 100% agree with me here that his writing is fallible and therefore you shouldn’t simply be adopting his views as your own simply because it’s the only voice you’ve ever heard on these books of the Bible. This may be obvious to many of you, but for those of you who are younger Christians, an audience I think could thoroughly benefit from a book like this, this could be a serious temptation. I’ve already mentioned buying other commentaries on a few books, but I hold to what we say on the Consider the Ravens podcast, “discipleship should happen primarily in the context of the local church,” though I believe in conjunction with that that literature the principal way that discipleship has been bolstered throughout Church History, if you’re struggling, go to an Elder, leader, or trusted member of the body to help you work through your questions. Ultimately though, remember that the Bible has the final word and has ultimate authority.
With that said, I think this book (set for release on the 29th March 2022) is well worth picking up. I look forward to using it again in the future and referencing back to it over time.
Grace and Peace,
Adsum Try Ravenhill
As a quick aside, for those of you who are nerdy like me, here’s a brilliant quote from the book:
“Consider this nerdy example: some people talk about the "Star Wars canon" and which movies and books really count for the real Star Wars story and universe. I could sit down and write a story about Luke Skywalker, but it would not be canon, and no one would be required to take it seriously. But perhaps you are a longtime fan and do not like one of the new Star Wars movies: too bad! If it is one of the official movies, it counts. It is canon, and the story is authoritatively part of the larger universe long, long ago whether we like it or not. Similarly, each of the prophetic books in our Bible is part of the biblical canon. That means that they are recognized as being official—the Word of God—and just as authoritative as Genesis or 1 Corinthians.”