The Epistle of Jude in Early Christianity

It is difficult—nigh impossible—to find any article, commentary, or monograph on the epistle of Jude in the last thirty years which does not make reference to the title of Douglas Rowston’s seminal article, “The Most Neglected Book in the New Testament.”[1] Prior to its publication one would be hard-pressed to find a monograph or even a journal article focusing solely on the epistle,[2] but there has been a subsequent proliferation of literature published on it, with this increase being attributable to a growing understanding of the contribution that the epistle can provide to early Christian studies, especially if the epistle does have an origin in the Palestinian-Jewish matrix of earliest Christianity.[3]

Attestation in the Early Church Writings

The epistle of Jude, like most of the other Catholic Epistles (e.g. James, 2 Peter, 2–3 John), suffers from a severe lack of attestation in the writings of the apostolic fathers, consisting of only a couple of possible allusions to Jude’s salutation.

Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians (ca. 110–140) begins with ελεος υμιν και ειρηνη παρα θεου παντοκρατορος και Ιησου Χριστου του σωτηρος ημων πληθυνθειη (“May mercy and peace from God Almighty and Jesus Christ our Savior be multiplied to you”). Likewise, the Martyrdom of Polycarp (ca. 155) begins with the similar sentence of, ελεος και ειρηνη και αγαπη θεου πατρος και του κυριου ημων Ιησου Χριστου πληθυνθειη (“May mercy, peace, and love from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ be multiplied”). Both are clearly akin to Jude’s salutation of ελεος υμιν και ειρηνη και αγαπη πληθυνθειη (“May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you”). Nevertheless, this does not necessarily betray a dependence between the texts, but is likely the result of a prevalent form of greeting.

Apart from the salutation there are no other possible links to Jude among the apostolic fathers. While this is the standard opinion in the relevant literature,[4] there are some who see other references elsewhere. For example, Lee Martin McDonald[5] sees the following allusions to Jude:

  • Jude vv. 3 and 20 in Pol. Phil. 3.2
  • Jude vv. 20 and 23 in Pol. Phil. 11.4
  • Jude vv. 3-4 in Barn. 2.10.

The relevant portions read:

And when [Paul] was absent he wrote you letters; which if you study them carefully, you will be able to build yourselves up in the faith that has been given you. (Pol. Phil. 3.2)

Do not regard such people as enemies, but, as sick and straying members, restore them, in order that you may save your body in its entirety. For by doing this you build up one another. (Pol. Phil. 11.4)

We ought to give very careful attention to our salvation, lest the evil one should cause some error to slip into our midst and thereby hurl us away from our life. (Barn. 2.10)

None of these allusions are persuasive and are probably just the result of trying to find parallels where they simply do not exist. Also, in later writings of the second century, McDonald finds Jude in Athengoras’ Supplication for Christ 24–25, which discusses the fallen angels and the origin of giants. This does not at all demonstrate dependence on Jude, but only that they were both using a well-known Jewish tradition. McDonald also finds dependence on Jude in Theophilus of Antioch’s Treatise to Autolycus 2.15, which mentions that planets (or “wandering stars”) are a type of men who have wandered from God. Despite the fact that the Enochic literature only portrays fallen angels as wandering stars (not men), it still quite a stretch to use this as proof that demonstrates Theophilus’ knowledge of Jude.

The prominent Alexandrian church fathers Clement (ca. 150–215) and Origen (ca. 185–255) are the earliest Eastern writers to make use of Jude. Clement has a brief commentary on the entire epistle and elsewhere quotes a few verses from it (Fragments 1.2; The Instructor,–45.1; and Stromata; all of which are ca. 200). The no-longer extant treatise of Clement, Hypotyposeis, is mentioned by Eusebius (ca. 270–340) who observes that Jude is a part of the canonical list included therein. The writings of Origen have been pointed towards as containing about fourteen references to Jude, one of which displays his glowing opinion of Jude, describing it as “a short epistle, yet filled with healthful words of heavenly grace”; εγραψεν επιστολην, ολιγοστιχον μεν, πεπληρωμενην δε των της ουρανιου χαριτος ερρωμενων λογων (Comm. on Matt. 10.17.40; ca. 245). Nevertheless, later in the same work, while quoting Jude 6, he notes that it is not universally received in the church with the words, “if indeed one were to accept the epistle of Jude”; ει δε και την Ιουδα προσοιτο τις επιστολην (ibid., 17.30.9–10). Elsewhere, Origen twice places Jude in a list of canonical writings accepted by the church (Homilies on Joshua 7.1; Homilies on Genesis 13.2).

The important second and third century Western fathers Irenaeus of Lyon (ca. 130–200), Hippolytus of Rome (ca. 170–235), and Cyprian of Carthage (ca. 200–258), all show no knowledge of Jude in their writings. This is particularly interesting in the case of Irenaeus given that he was the first orthodox church father involved in using a proto-New Testament canon. Outside of 2 Peter, which is typically thought to have Western provenance, it is in the writings of Tertullian of Carthage (ca. 160–223) that the first non-canonical text sheds light upon the status of Jude in the Western church. In using 1 Enoch as a reference for tracing the origins of feminine adornment, Tertullian proceeds to outline two possible objections to his use of it: 1) that it was not included in the Jewish canon, and 2) that if it was truly written by the ascribed antediluvian then it would have certainly been lost in the flood. Tertullian then responds to these reservations, finishing with the contention that “the fact that Enoch possesses a testimony in the apostle Jude” justifies his own citing of 1 Enoch (On the Apparel of Women 1.3.1; Latin text: Quod Enoch apud Iudam apostolum testimonium possidet). Tertullian evidently valued the epistle of Jude highly enough that it could be used to decisively adjudicate the use of disputed texts.

In addition to all this, mention should be made of the Muratorian fragment. This is a Latin text believed to have been translated from Greek, and due to internal evidence is generally accepted to have originated from the mid-late second-century Western church. The fragment consists of a list of canonical writings accepted as authoritative in the church, of which Jude is included.[6]

From the fourth century onwards, Jude enjoyed an almost universal acceptance among the church, no doubt largely in part due to it being acknowledged in the Third Council of Carthage in 397, as well as being in the canon lists of Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. 3.25; ca. 310–325), Athanasius (39th Festal Letter; ca. 367), Jerome (On Illustrious Men 4; ca. 392–393), and Augustine (On Christian Doctrine 2.12; ca. 397).

In spite of this widespread acceptance, there is scant data to confirm or deny whether the Syrian church accepted the epistle of Jude (if indeed they even knew of its existence). The Peshitta version of the New Testament, which was already in circulation by the fifth century, consisted of a twenty-two (not twenty-seven) book canon which did not contain Jude, but after a revision in the early sixth century (known as the Philoxenian version after its commissioner Philoxenus), Jude was included along with 2–3 John, 2 Peter, and Revelation, although it is debated as to whether this was actually when these Catholic Epistles were added (and if it wasn’t by Philoxenus then it was probably in the early seventh century by Thomas of Harkel in what is known as the Harclean version). Nevertheless, the East Syrian Church still possesses to this day a twenty-two book canon of the New Testament.[7]

Attestation in the Greek Papyri

The epistle of Jude is attested in two early papyri. The first, P72 (Bodmer Papyrus VII-VIII), is a papyrus manuscript collection containing 1–2 Peter and Jude in a codex together with other religious texts in the following order: Nativity of Mary, 3 Corinthians, the 11th Ode of Solomon, Jude, Melito’s Homily on the Passion, a liturgical hymn fragment, Apology of Phileas, Psalms 33:2–34:16 (LXX), and 1–2 Peter. These texts were produced by multiple scribes (significantly though, 1–2 Peter and Jude were likely by the same scribe), bound together during the third-fourth century and was probably for private use instead of liturgical. While P72 can be pointed to as verification that Jude circulated together with the Petrine writings (remembering that the same scribe is responsible for 1–2 Peter and Jude in that collection), it could still nevertheless be bound together with other non-canonical pseudepigraphal writings.[8]

The second papyrus, P78 (P.Oxy. 2684), is a small fragment of Jude discovered at Oxyrhynchus which contains the text of Jude 4–5 and 7–8 on the recto and verso. Dating from the third or fourth century, it was probably produced as an amulet, which naturally leads to the question as to why someone would possess an amulet containing the text of Jude. Considering that the majority of Jude consists of a polemic against “certain people” who have “crept in unnoticed” among the brethren, it is possible that the amulet was used as a means of protection directed against the users perceived enemies within the church and other possible supernatural malevolent forces.[9]


[1] Douglas J Rowston. ‘The Most Neglected Book in the New Testament’, New Testament Studies 21 (1975): 554–63.

[2] J. Daryl Charles correctly notes that “where it is studied, Jude is normally examined side-by-side with the other ‘catholic’ epistles or subsumed under the study of 2 Peter” (‘Literary Artifice in the Epistle of Jude’, Zeitschrift fur die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 82 [1991]: 106–24).

[3] Since Rowston’s article there have been other influential studies on Jude. See, for example, the works from Judan specialists Richard Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter (Word Biblical Commentary, 50; Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983); Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church (Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark, 1990); and J. D. Charles, ‘“Those” and “These”: The Use of the Old Testament in the Epistle of Jude’, Journal for the Study of the New Testament 38 (1990): 109–24; idem, ‘Literary Artifice in the Epistle of Jude’, Zeitschrift fur die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 82 (1991): 106–24; ‘Jude’s Use of Pseudepigraphical Source-Material as Part of a Literary Strategy,’ New Testament Studies 37 (1991): 130–45; idem, Literary Strategy in the Epistle of Jude (Scranton, PA: University of Scranton Press, 1993); idem, ‘The Use of Tradition-Material in the Epistle of Jude,’ Bulletin for Biblical Research 4 (1994): 1–14; idem, ‘The Angels Under Reserve in 2 Peter and Jude’, Bulletin for Biblical Research 15.1 (2005): 39–48.

[4] For example, The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers (OUP, 2005).

[5] The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority (Hendrickson, 2007), 397.

[6] There are some who consider the Muratorian fragment to be a fourth century document of Eastern provenance, as presented by Geoffrey Hahneman, The Muratorian Fragment and the Development of the Canon, (Clarendon, 1992). For a defense of the mid-second century Western view, see Everett Ferguson, “Canon Muratori: Date and Provenance,” Studia Patristica 18 (1982): 677–83. For a comprehensive and decisive argument against fourth-century Eastern provenance, see the essay by J. Verheyden, “The Canon Muratori: A Matter of Dispute” (pp. 487–556) in Jonge and Auwers (eds.), The Biblical Canons (Peeters Press, 2003).

[7] For a critical discussion of the history of the Syriac Bible see Sebastian Brock’s, The Bible in the Syriac Tradition (Gorgias Press, 2006).

[8] For a fuller discussion of P72 see James Royse, Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri (Brill, 2008; reprinted by SBL, 2010), 545–614; and Tommy Wasserman, The Epistle of Jude: Its Text and Transmission (Almqvist & Wiksell, 2006), 30–50.

[9] For a fuller discussion of P78 see Wasserman, The Epistle of Jude, 51–72.

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