The Epistle of Jude and Early Catholicism

The charge brought against the epistle of Jude that it is an artifact of Frühkatholizismus, “early Catholicism,” is frequently found in literature on the epistle. This period of time is alternatively known as the “post-apostolic” period, but beginning with Albrecht Ritschl it has more frequently been labeled as the “early Catholic” period, with the term being more popular amongst Protestant scholars. The early Catholic era encompasses ca. 70–150, a time period that is distinct for various reasons. The death of the apostles and the publication of the Gospels occurred during the first few decades of this period, as well as other critical events impacting the Christian faith: Marcion raised the question of canon, Gnosticism arose and departed from “mainstream” Christianity, the Jewish and Gentile streams of Christianity slowly but steadily grew further apart, and various epochal events occurred during the period, such as the war and fall of Jerusalem (66–70), the Diaspora revolt (116), and the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–135).

In the late nineteenth century, F. C. Baur provided a reconstruction of earliest Christianity that utilized the Hegelian dialectic of history. In a nutshell, Baur posited that in early Christianity an original (Petrine) Jewish Christianity and secondary (Pauline) Hellenistic Christianity were at variance with one another and that, through a dialectical movement, synchronized into early Catholicism. The early Catholic model, briefly stated, asserts that the kind of aforementioned developments (such as the death of the Apostles) led to an increasing institutionalization of the Christian faith in an attempt to preserve the apostolic traditions. This institutionalization is supposedly found in the emergence of three key notions: 1) ecclesiastical developments such as the distinction of believers into the clergy and laity and the elevation of a monarchical office of bishop; 2) the defining of the Christian faith into proto-creedal forms; and 3) the fading hope in the imminent parousia of Christ. The early Catholic setting of Jude was cemented into place in Protestant scholarship by Ernst Käsemann.

Michael Green defines early Catholicism as denoting “a hardening of the arteries, a fossilization of the faith into set forms, an emphasis on church leaders, a fading of the parousia hope and a distancing from the apostolic age.”[1] Concerning this last point, some argue that such a distancing is found in Jude v. 17 where the recipients are told to “remember” the apostles’ words, seemingly placing the era of the apostles in a time long since past. This interpretation is flawed, however, as the text does not state the apostles are in the past, only their prior action and the time in which the recipients heard them. Furthermore, v. 17 is followed by in v. 18 with a call for the recipients to recall what the apostles had “said,” possibly implying that they had indeed heard the apostles themselves speak, whereas one may rightfully expect the author to tell them to remember what the apostles had “written” if it indeed came from a later period.

It is hardly a disputed issue as to whether the New Testament contains late (and pseudepigraphal) Christian writings. James Dunn holds that “it can hardly be disputed that early Catholicism is to be found already in the New Testament,” and that the Pastoral Epistles are the “clearest examples” of this.[2] Despite its brevity, the epistle of Jude can be mined for data in order to determine how well it actually fits with the early Catholic model. This is what I intend to do in this blog post, but before I go further I should note that the early Catholic model has been undergoing revision in scholarship, due to its somewhat unsophisticated, perhaps even naïve, view concerning the evolution of nascent Christianity.

As far back as the early 80s, Bauckham said that the early Catholic model is “ripe for radical examination,”[3] and Hengel stated that the label is “inappropriate,” “misused,” “does not add anything to our understanding of earliest Christian history,” and judiciously observes that, “if we want to, we can find ‘early Catholic traits’ even in Jesus and Paul.”[4] Yet, despite the fact that in some recent literature there has been a tendency to avoid the term “early Catholic(ism)” with other terms like “post-apostolic” usually replacing it, due to negative connotations associated with the former term and its ineffectiveness for conveying the forces behind the post-apostolic age, it nevertheless continues to be employed by some as an important concept and piece of vernacular in New Testament scholarship (and is still used in some literature on Jude). So for here I will stick with the label “early Catholicism” (and the model it represents), rather than one of its substitutes.

Ecclesiastical Developments

Dunn considers ecclesiastical developments to be “the clearest mark of early Catholicism.”[5] While the rationale behind this criterion is understandable, its utility must nevertheless be called into question due to the fact that Paul already reveals some proto-ecclesiastical offices in Philippians 1:1 (which is dated to ca. 60), so even if this feature is found in Jude its mere presence does not necessitate an early Catholic setting.

Regardless as to how much weight one wants to lend to this criterion, ecclesiastical developments are noticeably absent in Jude. For if the epistle indeed stems from a period in which the Church was undergoing significant institutionalization, the ways in which it would be exhibited, e.g., by the author placing an emphasis on the necessity for the recipients to obey their bishop, are noticeably absent in Jude.[6] As Bauckham notes, the epistle is not addressed to a specific ecclesiastical official, but rather to “the whole community, who all enjoy the inspiration of the Spirit in charismatic prayer (v. 20).”[7]

A few commentators have suggested that the δόξας of Jude v. 8 refers to an ecclesiastical official,[8] though there is no convincing support for this interpretation, which is why almost all commentators and exegetes view the δόξας as angelic beings, a use which is found in the Qumran writings (e.g. 1QH 10.8) as well as other Jewish literature (e.g. Testament of Levi 18.5).[9]

Creedal Faith

Concerning the second characteristic of early Catholicism, the defining of the Christian faith into more concrete and crystallized forms, one can determine whether Jude displays this by examining how the epistle uses the term πιστις. For while this term was originally used as a simple reference to the Christian gospel message in the earliest extant Christian writings (e.g. Gal 1:23; 1 Cor 16:13), it also came to be used in reference to the more defined belief systems that came about due to the rise of “heretics” and the imposition of more centralized ecclesiastical authorities.

Kelly says that Jude’s usage of πιστις in v. 3 suggests “a formalized view of the church’s message as a clearly defined and authoritatively transmitted deposit.”[10] Yet, as with the previous criterion, this one is likewise open to criticism, for the mere adherence to a set content of faith cannot be taken as decisive evidence of a late setting due to the fact that Paul, writing in the 50s, curses anyone who would alter “the gospel” (Gal 1:18), which for him did consist of a set, albeit embryonic, form (1 Cor 15:1–4). Additionally, the occurrence of παραδοθείσῃ (from παραδίδωμι) in Jude 3 would be entirely congruent with an early Jewish-Christian setting considering Paul likewise uses the term in 1 Cor 15:1. Thus, if the “faith” in Jude 3 that was “once and for all delivered” to the recipients simply denotes the unadorned nucleus of the Christian gospel message—the death, resurrection, and lordship of Christ—then its unalterable nature is indeed to be expected. And this is not indicative of a late early-Catholic setting.

So while Jude speaks of πιστις as something that was already delivered to the saints, the overall thrust towards ethics and orthopraxis in the epistle makes it right to see Jude’s understanding of πίστις as a metonymy to the basic Gospel message of the lordship of Christ. Bauckham agrees, saying that πίστις in v. 3 “refers simply to the gospel itself, not to any formalized and unalterable ‘rule of faith’.”[11]

A Fading Hope of the Parousia

The fading hope of the parousia—Parusieverzögerungis an aspect of the early Catholic model which is said to have arisen as a psychological coping mechanism in order to compensate for the disillusionment produced by the failure of the imminent return of Christ (see Mark 13:30). Unlike the author of 2 Peter, who explicitly answers those who ridicule the expected return of the Lord in great glory (2 Peter 3:1–13), the author of Jude makes no attempt to justify or rationalize a delay in his arrival. In fact, the epistle displays quite the opposite attitude to a fading hope of the parousia. In Jude, Christ’s parousia is instead depicted as a lively imminent expectation where Jesus will return to judge the ungodly and provide salvation for his own (vv. 1, 14–15, 21, 24), providing the impetus for the ethical exhortation in the epistle (vv. 20–23).

Furthermore, even if Jude did exhibit a fading hope in the parousia, this wouldn’t necessarily mean that it comes from a post-apostolic period because the notion of a delay in the “Day of the Lord” (now the parousia of Christ—2 Cor 1:14), and the subsequent reasoning as to why the Lord tarries, is also a feature found in Second Temple literature (e.g. Bar. 21.19–21, 25; 4 Ezra 4.26–39; 5.38).

The Greek Proficiency of First-Century Galilean Jews

Another argument brought to bear in the issue of the authorship and provenance of the epistle, and which helps determine whether a late early-Catholic setting is appropriate or not, is the author’s deftness with the Greek language (see, e.g., vv. 5–7 which contain a litany of clauses, sub-clauses, participial and infinitive constructions). The extent to which first-century Palestinian Jews were proficient with the Greek language is a matter of debate. In a manner similar to the cynicism of Nathaniel’s question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth” (John 1:46), it has been a widely held belief that Jesus, his followers, and any potential siblings, would have only known Aramaic and been relatively unfamiliar with Greek, certainly unable to pen such a polished Greek text as the epistle of Jude. This contention is aptly summarized by J. D. Charles who notes that due to “the elegant and fluent higher Koine” in the epistle, the question is raised as to “whether Galilean Jews could have indeed written such works.” [12]

Firstly, not everyone is entirely convinced by the quality of Jude’s Greek. For instance, Bauckham agrees with the assessment that the author exhibits a good command of the Greek language, yet he offsets this with the argument that “a wide vocabulary, which Jude has, is easier to acquire than a skill of literary style, where Jude’s competence is less remarkable.”[13]

Secondly, the depiction of the early Jewish-Christians as illiterate Galilean villagers has been challenged over the years, with several scholars questioning this portrayal of the Galilean followers of Jesus.[14] Despite the fact that there does not seem to be a hard consensus concerning the exact makeup of the four key languages—Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic—in first-century Palestine, one can confidently state that while Greek was the most commonly used language in the land surrounding the Mediterranean, Aramaic was most likely the lingua franca of Palestinian Jews.[15] However, as Hengel and others after him have shown, first-century Palestine was influenced with the Greek language and culture to a degree more pervasive than previously thought, though the extent of Hellenization has been disputed by Feldman, Grabbe, and others. Nevertheless, even a limited degree of Hellenization in first-century Palestine means one should not outright reject a Palestinian provenance of Jude. So while the polished level of Greek to be found in Jude is the only argument of any weight against a first-century Palestinian provenance, it is still possibly what one could realistically expect from a bilingual native of Galilee.


Since the ushering in of the dialectical reconstruction of earliest Christianity by Baur and the Tübingen School, the early Catholic paradigm has been used as an important heuristic tool, wielding sizeable influence when it comes to the question of classifying and dating texts. The aim of this post was not so much to protest the utility of early Catholicism as it was to assess the degree to which the epistle of Jude possesses the three key characteristics of early Catholicism. Jude lacks any of the classic signs of late, pseudonymous authorship such as evidence of an elaborate ecclesiastical structure, the ossification of the faith into elaborate set forms, and a rationalization for the delay of the parousia. And while the presence of the fine Greek literary style present within the epistle is the strongest argument against a first-century Palestinian-Jewish setting (and authentic authorship), I do not think it is a decisive argument that necessarily precludes such an origin.


[1] Michael Green, 2 Peter & Jude: An Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 53.

[2] James D.G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity (London: SCM Press, 1990), 362–63. This is a part of Dunn’s fuller look at early Catholicism (ibid., 341–66).

[3] Richard Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), 8.

[4] Martin Hengel, Between Jesus and Paul: Studies in the Earliest History of Christianity (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2003), 122.

[5] Dunn, Unity and Diversity, 351.

[6] For an example of this see e.g. “Be subject to the bishop and to one another, as Jesus Christ in the flesh was to the Father” (Ignatius, Magnesians 13.2; written ca. 98–117).

[7] Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church (Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark, 1990), 260.

[8] See Charles Bigg, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude (ICC; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1901), 279; and Michel Desjardins, ‘The Portrayal of the Dissidents in 2 Peter and Jude: Does It Tell Us More About the “Godly” Than the “Ungodly”?’, Journal for the Study of the New Testament 30 (1987): 89–102; esp. pp. 91–93.

[9] For supporters of this interpretation of δόξας see J.N.D. Kelly, A Commentary on the Epistles of Peter and of Jude (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1982), 263; Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 37; M. Green, 2 Peter and Jude, 182; Jerome Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude (AB 37c; NY: Doubleday, 1993), 69; Peter Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude (PNTC; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), 56; and Gene Green, Jude & 2 Peter (BECNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 76.

[10] Kelly, Commentary, 248.

[11] Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 3.

[12] J. D. Charles, Literary Strategy in the Epistle of Jude (Scranton, PA: University of Scranton Press, 1993), 75.

[13] Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 6, 15. For an in-depth look at the literary style of the Greek in Jude (and 2 Peter), see Anders Gerdmar, Rethinking the Judaism-Hellenism Dichotomy: A Historiographical Case Study of Second Peter and Jude (Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell, 2001) especially pp. 30–91.

[14] See e.g. J.N. Sevenster, Do You Know Greek? How Much Greek Could the First Jewish Christians Have Known? (Novum Testamentum Supplement 19. Leiden: Brill, 1968); Jonathan M. Watt, “The Current State of Diglossia Studies: The Diglossic Continuum in First-Century Palestine”, in Diglossia and Other Topics in New Testament Linguistics (Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement 193; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 18–36; Stanley E. Porter, “The Functional Distribution of Koine Greek in First-Century Palestine”, in Diglossia and Other Topics in New Testament Linguistics, 53–78.

[15] See Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “The Languages of Palestine in the First Century A.D.”, in The Language of the New Testament. Classic Essays (ed. Stanley Porter; Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement 60; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991), 126–38; also see Fitzmyer’s “Aramaic” and “Languages” entries in Volume 1 of the Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls (ed. Lawrence H. Schiffman and James C. VanderKam; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 48–50 and 473–74.

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