[K:JNWTS 28/2 (September 2013): 3-14]

Narrative Echoes: The Words of Brother Jesus in Brother Jude’s Epistle

James T. Dennison, Jr.

“A short epistle, yet filled with flowing words of heavenly grace” (Origen)

Is it possible to re-image the epistle of Jude as a narrative paradigm? May we detect a story line in the oft neglected, ‘gets-no-respect’ letter? If we regard narrative elements as those ‘seen with the mind’s eye’, then may we not turn our attention (or, at least, explore) the visual imagery that a narrative biographical paradigm would suggest? An instructive example would be the OT allusions in Jude’s epistle which resurrect pictures within the imagination of the reader/hearer and thus, the ‘visualization’ of past redemptive-historical events. Are there additional narrative visualizations arising from the story of Jude himself? and are these images embedded in the language of his letter? Does Jude use verbal, visual-image motifs which reprise his life with the life of his older brother, Jesus Christ? And beyond the potential narrative echoes of his own sibling biography, does the re-imaging move the affections or stir the emotions (i.e., “religious affections” in the [Jonathan] Edwardsean sense)? Jude’s letter overflows with vehemence, intensity, passion—energy! Is there a mirror reflection of the passion, intensity, vehemence of his older brother and their mutual interface? If an energized life-experience is embedded in Jude’s letter, does it not engage the narrative biography, the narrative interface and the narrative passion? In other words, is there not a powerful story in the life of the author of this epistle—a story which is transformed by the intersection of his own history with the eschatological turning point of the ages—and that through encounter with his elder brother whose own story is the life of the Son of God incarnate? If narrative movement from past to present requires an historical interface,[1] do we not have a potential identification of one life (Jude) in/with another (Jesus)? Surely, these are questions worth pondering.

The famous quip of D. J. Rowston (Jude is “the most neglected book in the New Testament”[2]) is now passé. Jude has been the object of a fertile spate of journal articles and commentaries during the past generation.[3] Special attention has been focused on his rhetoric, his (alleged) debt to intertestamental Jewish apocalyptic and his Semitic style, whereby he is labeled the NT “prophet”. We now have a rich if not provocative literature on the twenty-five verses which stimulates reflection on additional—even alternate— perspectives re the character and composition of the epistle of Jude. With the new-found interest in narrative theology/exegesis, is it possible to apply the story paradigm to Jude’s letter? And if so, what story do we read in the words Jude has left us?

Mirror Relation

My suggestion is that Jude’s epistle is a story of his life in relation to the life of his elder brother. This further suggests a mirror relationship. The mirror contains two phases: life outside of Christ (χωρις χριστου or αχριστος—no mirror reflection or a mirror image of hostility, enmity, unbelief); life in Christ/united with Christ (εν χριστω—a mirror image-reflection of the brother in the brother, i.e., an identification of Christ in his own life). In the latter case, Jude’s former life is crucified in the death of his brother-Savior. There is a participation of his life in the new life of his risen brother-Vindicator (Jude raised up from death to life in Jesus’ resurrection). He is found in union with the heavenly life of his older brother (Jude joined to the eschatological glory-life of his brother-Lord-and-Master). Thus, he is seated in eschatological glory with his ascended and glorified brother-God-and-Savior as a citizen of the domain of eternal life, light, perfect holiness, no more sin, the love of God in Christ Jesus by the Spirit and the shalom-peace of no more foaming, roiling turmoil and strife—all this with mercy (never-ending mercy) in a glory-arena before the all and ever-merciful triune God.

This mirror relation is similar to the narrative paradigm found in the life of Paul, Peter, John and other NT figures—a relation of unio cum Christo (“union with Christ”). With respect to Paul, that narrative union is unquestionably present. The apostle finds his life “hidden with Christ” (Col. 3:3) and so describes his own story as “Christ lives in me” even as he lives in Christ (Gal. 2:20 with 2 Tim. 1:1). Is it possible that the same transforming relation animates Jude’s experience as the narrative background to his letter? That is, has Jude been transformed by finding his life in his brother even as that brother lives in him? Jude too has experienced unio cum Christo. And the essential narrative contrast (outside of Christ vs. in Christ) provides the antithesis that once dominated Jude’s own personal biography. The cosmic antithesis; the redemptive-historical antithesis; the existential antithesis; the life and death antithesis: all this is embedded in Jude’s life story, in Jude’s epistle, in Jude’s revelation. For the epistle is revelation—a disclosure of the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness; a revelation of life lived in and out of those two kingdoms—a life of godliness, holiness and the mirror of heaven in contrast to the revelation and existential demonstration of a life of wickedness, lust of the flesh and the mirror of hell. The epistle narrates the story of life (which Jude mirrors in his own personal spiritual transformation) and the story of death (which the intruders described in his letter mirror through their refusal to join the personal spiritual transformation which has been incarnated in the redemptive history of the Lord Jesus Christ—in the invitation and exhortation to chose life, to live life, to mirror life on earth as it is in heaven).

Such a narrative approach could lead to a richer and deeper penetration of the narrative in the letter—beyond the rhetorical (as confined to the target community’s story, not the writing author’s story); beyond the apocalyptic (and the limitations, indeed reductionism, of Jewish eschatological horizontalism); beyond the (merely) ethical (and its feckless moralism) and doctrinal (and its all too deaf ear to historia salutis). This article will attempt to explore this matter of a proposed narrative paradigm for the epistle of Jude.

Jude’s Personal Biography

What do we know about the narrative biography of Jude? He was a brother (or half-brother) of our Lord and part of the circle that enfolded the family of Mary and Joseph at Nazareth in Galilee. We are immediately aware of a Palestinian Jewish context for the family, for the brothers, for Jude. His place on the list of Jesus’ siblings suggests he was the youngest brother or next to the youngest brother (Mt. 13:55; Mk. 6:3). Judah ben Joseph, ben Miryam—the royal lineage preserved in the younger brother’s name, even as that lineage is preserved in the oldest brother’s patrimony (Mt. 1:2; 2:16; Lk. 3:33; cf. Heb. 7:14; Rev. 5:5). Well may we ponder family discussions in which, as was the case with the teachers in the Temple (Lk. 2:46), the elder brother instructs the family (including his parents) in the Word of God (and all in proper deference to their rôle as “honored” parents). Is some of the OT lore reflected in Jude’s epistle derived from memories of these narratives as discussed and elaborated in the family circle at Nazareth? Jude’s familiarity with OT redemptive-historical narrative would be commonplace in Palestinian Judaism and that reinforced in his own home.

And what of the synagogue in Nazareth!—a place where the family gathered Sabbath by Sabbath—the place in which the scroll of the Word of God was read by the oldest son (Lk. 4:16ff.). Was this lectio unprecedented or had that brother been privileged to read the Scriptures publicly before; and, in fact, that is why he was given the scroll of Isaiah on the occasion recorded by Luke? What was unprecedented on that occasion was Jesus’ claim to be the fulfillment of Isaiah 61 (Lk. 4:21). That was disconcerting—even unnerving—to which the negative reaction of the audience attests (vv. 28-29). The older brother unnerves the congregation on the Sabbath day not once, but twice. Returning “home” in Matthew 13, he again teaches in the synagogue to the “astonishment” of the audience (v. 54). Designating the family members—carpenter father, mother Mary, brothers four and sisters plural (vv. 55-56)—the audience takes “offense” at him (v. 57). And Jesus remarks that a prophet is held in no honor in his own “household”. What amazes the village amazes his own family. In fact, Matthew indicates that they did not believe on him (v. 58). Christ’s self-disclosure surpasses the relationship of the family and village circle; his own are slow to believe that he is the “Son of God” (Lk. 3:38; Mt. 16:18; Mk. 1:1, 11). Mark suggests his own village circle consider him “mad” or “beside himself” (cf. 3:21) and they seek an audience with him (ironic that!) in order to “take custody” of him. That his mother and brothers are part of the crowd is made explicit in verse 31, now colluding with the members of the village who regard the older brother a danger and a threat. They wait “outside” (v. 32) the circle gathered around Jesus—an intimate “inside” circle which presages the new family of God of the age of the kingdom of heaven (vv. 33-35; cf. Mt. 12:48-50).

From whatever discussion and insights into the OT Scriptures had been shared in the family circle at Nazareth (even proclaimed by Jesus in the hometown synagogue), nonetheless Jesus’ brothers (Jude included) did not believe he was the Christ, the Son of God. Rather, they dismissed him as eccentric, even bizarre and out of his mind. NB: the location of Jesus with respect to his family in the narrative space of the pericopes reviewed thus far—i.e., “on location” in Nazareth. They are in or occupy the same locus as family, siblings, etc. as they grow from childhood to maturity. But a time arrives when the family bond is alienated even though they are all in the same Nazareth location. That alienation is signaled by Jesus’ remark, ‘My family consists of those who do the will of my Father in heaven (Mt. 12:50; Mk. 3:35); my family does not consist of those outside that circle, though they may occupy the same location as I.’ Christ has signaled a radical redefinition of narrative space and relation—it is not spatio-temporal nor blood-familial. It is relational-personal (in intimate relationship with him by faith) and supernatural-eschatological (belonging to heaven to which he belongs).

Now, note the brothers proximate (spatio-temporal) to Jesus once more prior to the Feast of Tabernacles in John 7. Jesus and his brothers are in the same narrative space before and after the verbal confrontation in this sequence, which occurs in Galilee (v. 1). But now we discover an alteration in narrative space—from near proximity to narrative distance. The brothers depart from the same narrative space with Jesus to distance themselves from him in Jerusalem during the Feast (v. 2). However, while in that identical narrative space, they are remote from him spiritual-relationally—they do not believe on him (v. 5), are not united to him by faith, are alienated from him spiritually though in the same spatial location. Jesus allows them to remain outside his circle (of faith) as they depart from the circle of his location. But notice what Jesus then does—he alters his own narrative space by entering their location (Jerusalem) in his own sovereign manner. Is his shift in location a hint that a shift in disposition takes place in his brothers at the Feast? As Christ enters their space, does he bring transforming grace to his brothers—a grace pouring out upon them the “living water” (v.  38) which springs up out of him; a grace which sheds upon them the cosmic light of the heavenly “world” (8:11) of his origin, his life, his destiny? Do his brothers, in altering their distance from their brother to proximity at the Feast, discover that he has altered his distance from them by coming into the same festival space which they occupy and in that location declaring, inviting and effecting in them faith in him refreshing as “living water” and spiritual illumination through him as darkness-dispelling as “the light of the world”? We are certain that James and Jude become believers in Christ—embracing the relational and the eschatological paradigm of faith-union with Jesus. Did this transition in their disposition occur in their transition from Galilee to Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles in John 7? Christ and his believing brothers mirrored in reverse paradigms—transition in narrative space indicative of spiritual transition in eschatological faith.

Galilee—Proximate Space: Jesus and his unbelieving brothers
Jerusalem—Remote Space: unbelieving brothers distant from Jesus
Jerusalem—Proximate Space: Jesus reverses location; declares himself fountain of living water and light of the world. ?Brothers reverse disposition and believe on him

After the crucifixion and the resurrection of their brother, the other brothers and their mother are found occupying the circle (space) of the disciples who believe on his name and are gathered in Jerusalem (common narrative circle as with the Feast of Tabernacles) with the apostles in order to devote themselves “continually to prayer” (Acts 1:13-14). The circle of the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension is occupied by Jesus’ brothers and his mother. And not only do they occupy the circle of their risen and glorified brother and son, they are devoutly attached to prayer in and through his name. The “upper room” (v. 13) narrative space is an inner, intimate circle (déjà-vu?—the family circle of Mk. 3:34 and Mt 12:49) of the post-resurrection “family” of God: apostles, brothers, mother and about 120 persons assembled (v. 15). Jude is in the circle; Jude is now a believer; Jude has taken in the death, resurrection, ascension and glorification of his older sibling and behold Jude is of “one mind”, folded down into the circle of eternal life which his brother bestows and which his brother sustains. Jude now realizes Jesus is no ordinary brother—he is acquitted and declared Son of God with power by resurrection from the dead and reception into “heaven” (v. 11). Together with his brother James, Jude devotes himself to prayer and supplication as part of the inside circle of the eschatological family of God.

That diligent seeking of the Lord via prayer and believing fellowship will open an even larger circle to Jude. For according to 1 Corinthians 9:5, the “brothers of the Lord” are part of the apostolic circle which is devoted to evangelizing the nations. Jude moves in the circle of the apostles as one who labors with Paul in the spread of the gospel. Jude shows further growth and maturity by abiding in the circle of his brother, Jesus Christ, the Lord of creation, risen and seated at the right hand of glory, from whence he commissions his servants to preach the gospel to every creature—Jew and Gentile alike (Mt. 28:19). Jude expands the circle of the family of God in Christ Jesus to include the missionary outreach of the early church. And the integrity of that circle is crucial to his involvement and loyalty. Any intrusion which imports unbelief is the very antithesis of the circle of faith in which he now abides and which he thus promotes.

If we may credit the testimony of Julius Africanus (ca. 160-ca. 240 A.D.), the ‘family’ mission activity occurred in the Palestinian villages of Nazareth and Kokhaba (Eusebius, HE 1.7.14 [NPNF2 1:91-94, esp. 93]; cf. Schnabel, Early Christian Mission: Jesus and the Twelve [2004] 749). This indication of Christian evangelism in Galilee could coincide with the promise of the post-resurrection appearances there (Mt. 28:7, 10, 16; Mk. 16:7;   Jn. 21:2) and would likely have led to planting churches in that region soon after the resurrection and ascension (cf. Acts 9:31). If Paul’s Corinthian remark suggests a wider itinerary (Gentile regions), we may imagine the “brothers of the Lord” beginning in Galilee and advancing from there to Syria, Lebanon, perhaps even Asia Minor and beyond.

Symmetrical Narrative Circles

We observe a pattern of symmetrical circles integrated by a transition from unbelief to faith in the saving grace present in the life, death, resurrection and glorification of the family member conceived supernaturally, identified and endorsed supernaturally (miracles), raised from the dead supernaturally, received into heaven supernaturally, glorified at the right hand of the majesty on high supernaturally. This is a brother whose life from beginning to end is possessed, empowered and in-dwelt by the supernatural. Such a brother transforms his brothers, James and Jude, as well as his mother with a new birth, a regeneration in the forgiveness of sins and in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit (which is poured out upon them at Pentecost, Acts 2). The two brothers, James and Jude, compose epistles out of the circle of the new family in Christ Jesus—namely the church community. These letters are the literary record of their respective narrative transformations—from unbelief to faith. And thus the emphasis in these letters on a living faith is part of their personal life story. Whatever indifference, suspicion, even hostility to their elder brother which was present before their transformation (conversion), is now positioned antithetically on the reverse side of saving faith. They have become genuine believers (indeed, “bond slaves”) in their sojourn from the family circle limited to Nazareth to the circle of the new family in Christ Jesus from every nation, tribe and tongue under heaven. Having lived the antithesis, they provide strikingly antithetical remarks in their letters. What is often labeled “harsh” or “unloving” in their tone is, in fact, a passion of loyalty to their brother and his gospel—a gospel which has drawn their lives within his family circle leaving them profoundly convinced that they cannot go back to their former convictions—nor may the church community go back.

About Face

The narrative paradigm underlying Jude’s epistle consists not only of his life with his older brother in Nazareth—a life of hearing and (no doubt) reflecting on the Word of God in synagogue worship, in family worship and discussion—it also consists of a period of antipathy towards his brother, followed by a genuine about face. The fruit of that transformation is his own vigilance against a return to enmity against the Lord and his servants. His pointed and sharp language is an existential identification with that which he himself demonstrated once-upon-a-time. His warnings arise from his own experience of antipathy with the realization of the eternal danger in which he lay. His own personal reversal underlies the reverse imagery of his epistle. What is more “harsh” than eternal fire and unending darkness? Strong language underscores the passion of the reverse—eternal light and unending glory.

Echoes of Christ in the Words of Jude’s Epistle

We turn now to a consideration of the interface between language from one brother mirrored or echoed in the language of the other. As we sift the vocabulary of Jude’s letter, we search for possible precedents in the vocabulary of his brother, Jesus, in the gospels. Our premise is a joint use of words or phrases suggests narrative circles of proximity: Christ’s and Jude’s. We may expect this given the family circle proximity and the new family of God proximity of the early church. In each case, the collective memory of Jude would be triggered, if not embedded, with words and phrases which his older brother used.

Jude labels himself a “slave/servant” (δουλος) of Jesus Christ (v. 1). This term of humility is echoed by his brother in John 13:16 (cf. 15:20). In a demonstration of servanthood, Jesus describes the enacted parable of his washing the disciples feet as a “slave/servant” taking the rôle of subservience, i.e., Christ subservient to his Father (“the one who sent him”) as his δουλος (“the one who is sent”). Jude will label Christ Jesus his “Master” and “Lord” (v. 4) placing himself in a symmetrical rôle of subservience—brother to brother. The powerful identification of Jude with his brother’s servanthood draws him into the mimetic circle—he finds his own servanthood hidden in his brother’s.

The word “called” (κλητοις), as commentators have noted, implies an elect of predestined status—those loved in God the Father and kept in the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 1). This drama of the divine story of sovereign grace and mercy is echoed by the words of the elder brother in Matthew 22:14: “many are called (κλητοι), but few are elected (εκλεκτοι)”. Jude’s own narrative story (one of the “many” called by his brother) is finally an identification with the “elect” of the sovereign Lord. He is an object of divine and supernatural grace, loved of God the Father and kept by the finished work of Jesus Christ. His narrative story is a reflection of the redemptive story proclaimed by his brother and he provides an echo of that precious story in the opening greeting of his epistle.

The result of the divine election is listed in v. 2: mercy, peace, love—and that out of the plethora (πληθυνθειν) of these divine blessings. Jude was the recipient of these benefits. He himself had received mercy, who deserved no mercy; he himself had been granted shalom-peace instead of the roiling antipathy towards his brother; he had found himself undeservingly the object of his brother’s love—unconditional, unrequited, inescapable affection. And in its multiplication in his life, he found himself kept in that love, preserved in that peace, maintained in that mercy (cf. v. 21) with a fullness which multiplied each of these graces to him every day of his life. Once again, his own narrative biography is featured in stark relief—what he once was (wanting no mercy from Jesus Christ, seeking no peace from Jesus Christ, spurning the love of Jesus Christ) now transformed by the mercy of God the Father, through the love of God the Son, by the in-working peace of God the Holy Spirit (cf. vv. 19-20). The echoes of the narrative biography of the author of the epistle resound in the message of his brother Lord and Savior. Such an echo re-echoes as Jude draws his audience into the same narrative drama of his experience. It is to Jesus Christ, to whom he is indebted as “bond-slave,” that he indebts his readers. Narrative existentialization recapitulated in author and audience; narrative identification recapitulated in author and audience; narrative symmetry recapitulated in author and audience. Jude draws his readers into the narrative—the narrative of his story in the story of Jesus Christ, his brother, Savior, Lord.

“Beloved” (αγαπητοι, v. 3) is a family term—a term of close affection. It is also a relational term—relationships exclusive to the deity as well as relationships inclusive of humanity. The exclusive echo features the love of God the Father for God the Son: “this is my beloved (αγαπητος) Son” (Mt. 3:17; Mk. 1:11; Lk. 3:22; cf. Mt. 17:5 and parallels)—an intra-Trinitarian relationship of everlasting love and passion. That supernatural (and ontological) love now is shed abroad on God’s elect—on Jude and the elect in his audience. A great mystery of divine and supernatural grace is multiplied—sinners (such as Jude and his audience) drawn into the love of God the Father in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, through the work of God the Holy Spirit—and that love lavished/multiplied in abundance of joy (cf. v. 24). Then, reciprocally, that love “divine all loves excelling” re-echoed inclusively in the horizontal love of community, church, fellowship, like-mindedness, i.e., re-imaged narrative biography. The love of God is mirrored in the love of the brothers and sisters in Christ. Love magnified, amplified, in the new family of God created in the passion of Christ Jesus for Jude and his audience. Jude in union with the eschatological love of and within the Triune Godhead; Jude in union with the semi-eschatological love of the family of God spread abroad in Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor and beyond. What a magnificent story!

Jude’s union with love mirrors his antipathy to hate—hatred of the love of God the Father, in Jesus Christ his Son, the Lord, by the in-working of the Holy Spirit. Hatred of familial love of Christian brothers and sisters embraced in that supernatural, eschatological and horizontal love. Hatred of the love of ungodliness and the evil of unbelief, murder, rebellion, subversion and perversion: all of these mirror antitheses to the love from heaven are the echoes of the hatred from hell. There is another cosmic and temporal narrative which Jude once embraced (however unwittingly)—it is the narrative of enmity against his brother, his message, his mission, his new, emerging church family. It is quintessentially hatred for the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” (v. 3). Jude is aware of the record of his elder brother’s plan of salvation—salvation by/through faith in his name. He has heard the words of his brother repeated by the apostles, even as he heard many of them first-hand (cf. v. 17). And the delivery of these words is not only by the hearing of the ears, but by the recording of the pen. The written record of the revelation of Jesus Christ is part of the existential record which undergirds his writing. And he echoes the one in the other: the revelation in Christ passed on by the apostles re-echoed in the revelation of Christ passed on in the epistle of Jude.

What shall we say about “denial” of the “Master and Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 4)? Jude had “denied” him, at least insofar as he had not believed on him. This echo of his own rejection of Christ now mirrored in the interlopers who have insinuated themselves into the Christian community to whom he writes—that mirror ignites a confession of relationship—a confession of the power and authority of his brother to rule over his own life. The mastery of his life has been transferred to Jesus, his brother; the Lordship over his life has been surrendered to his brother, Jesus. Jesus had said, “Whoever shall deny (αρνησηται) me before men, I will also deny (αρνησομαι) him before my Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 10:33; cf. Mk. 8:38; Lk. 9:26; 12:9); Jude contemns those who “deny” (αρνουμενοι) his Lord, Master, Brother. Narrative echoes re-echoing from gospel revelation to epistolary recollection and reflection.

That Christ “knows all things” (οιδας παντα, Jn. 16:30; cf. 21:17) is an apostolic confession (Peter in John 21 and the disciples in John 16)—a confession reflecting and echoing Christ’s own self-revelation: “all things (παντα) have been handed over to me by my Father” (Mt. 11:27). This is a confession and revelation which Christ expands in order to fold his sons and daughters into the remembrance (υπομνησει) of “all things” (παντα) which will be taught them by the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:26). Jude, moved now by the Holy Spirit and joining himself to his audience, declares that they remember (υπομνησαι) “all things” (παντα, v. 5) which they “know” (ειδοτας). It is this wondrous inclusion or union with Christ which identifies the believing audience with the author (and with the disciples in turn) in the drama of knowing and remembering that the Lord Jesus himself “knows all things”. And the echo of this realization in measure (under the illumination of the Holy Spirit) informs their understanding and perception of all things known and remembered by their Lord. The Holy Spirit draws them into the remembrance and knowledge of all things mirroring their Lord (without transgressing the Creator-creature distinction). Jude had participated in this drama—his own narrative history/story had been transformed by the Holy Spirit so that he could identify with his brother’s unique omniscience, while realizing an understanding of these things by the in-dwelling of that same promised Paraclete allowing him a measured ‘science’ of things wholly known to God the Lord.

Moving to v. 11 for the next narrative biographical echo of the language of the elder brother in the text of the younger brother—“woe (ουαι) to them!” Jesus used this declarative routinely in denunciation of the evil and hypocrisy of his opponents. Jude echoes his brother’s language re the evil and hypocrisy of his opponents (at the same time opponents of his brother). Jude’s assumption of prophetic asseveration unites him to the idiom and intensity of his brother in a virtual recapitulation of the emphatic style. Brother like Brother!—an identification which may originate in the one listening to the words of the other (cf. “woe [ουαι] to you,” Mt. 11:21; 23:13, 15, 16, 23, 25, 27, 29 and parallels in Lk. 10:13; 11:42, 43, 44, 46, 47, 52, etc.). Jude’s “woe” saying echoes the “woe” oracles of Jesus, his brother (as Jesus echoes those of the OT prophets—an aspect which may further explain Jude’s review of OT narrative incidents, vv. 5-11, 14-15).

“Trees with out fruit” (v. 12) is also an echo of imagery used by the Lord Jesus (Mt. 7:16-20; 12:33; Lk. 13:8ff.; Jn. 15, passim). The “shepherding” (ποιμαινοντες) of these intruders is the very antithesis of the care of the Good Shepherd (Jn. 10). The antithetical element here underscores the stark opposition between the person and word of the elder brother and the bastard intruders. The younger brother’s letter is a plea for identification with Christ in the radical otherness which his gospel, his narrative biography, his Spirit incarnates in the narrative of those united to him in faith and devotion. The power (intensity/vehemence) of Jude’s language is anchored in the stark opposition between the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ and the kingdom of darkness—the arena of blessing and righteousness and the arena of cursing and evil.

This same graphic antithesis is found in the language of his older brother. “Darkness” (σκοτους, v. 13) is eternally (εις αιωνα) reserved for those cast into it (cf. σκοτος, Mt. 8:12). Its inhabitants include the children outside the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 8:11). These are the “sons of evil” (or “the evil one,” Mt. 13:38) whose “weeping and teeth gnashing” is the fruit of habitual ungodliness—the entrenched and refuse-to-repent enmity against God and his kingdom (cf. Mt. 22:13; 25:30). These refuse to walk in the light; rather, they prefer the darkness (Jn. 8:12 which Jesus declares at the Feast of Tabernacles to which his brothers went preceding him; cf. comments above). Whoever believes in Jesus does not abide in darkness (Jn. 12:46), either now or forevermore. Once more, the echoes of the language of Jesus reverberate in the prose of Jude (cf. also v. 6). Stories of parallel narrative ripples.

Enoch’s prophecy of the “coming” (ηλθεν) of the Lord with his myriad angels in order to pronounce judgment on all ungodliness (defined as speech and deeds opposed to/antithetical to him, vv. 14-15) contains an echo of the “coming” (ελθη) of the Son of Man (Mt. 25:31; cf. 16:27; also Mk. 8:38 and Lk. 9:26 where the “coming” = ελθη). This is projected by the prophet of that former era (Enoch) whose Immanuel relationship (God “walked with” him, Gen. 5:24; cf. Heb. 11:5) draws him into the same narrative paradigm of the prophet of these last days (Jesus Christ); the latter’s “coming” is echoed by his brother (Jude)—also one who experienced the Immanuel presence of “God with him” (i.e., his elder brother). The eschatological language of the “seventh from Adam” functions as a futuristic present, projecting the end from the beginning and characterizing every age in between. If Adam was a prototypical “son of man” (cf. Ps. 8; Heb. 2:6-7), then the eschatological Son of Man perfectly performs the critical task of judging the ungodly for their crass ungodliness. Jude’s story echoes Jesus’ story via Enoch’s story.

Is there a narrative biographical echo of the term “grumblers” (γογγυσται, v. 16) with the cognates in John 6:41, 43, 61? If Jude and his brothers appear in John 7:3, is it possible they were shadowing their older brother’s movements as he taught in the synagogue at Capernaum (Jn. 6:59)? If so, the “here” of John 7:3 may be continuous narrative space with the Galilean itinerary of the previous chapter. To put an end to the grumbling, his brothers urge Jesus to “show [himself] to the world” (Jn. 7:4). They therefore include themselves with the “Jews” of 6:41 and 43, while folding the disciples into identification with their own “grumbling” (“your disciples,” 7:3 with “his disciples” in 6:60 and 61). Grumbling therefore is something in which Jude once engaged (with fellow Jews and disciples alike) and that against his brother, Jesus (again, the antithesis directed against Jesus). Having been delivered from grumbling by grace through faith, Jude urges his readers to heed what he once heeded in his own transformation—“Do not grumble among yourselves” (Jn. 6:43).

The remembrance of vv. 17 and 18 is a dramatic signal of personal involvement with the apostolic circle. The apostles of his brother have declared to the community to whom Jude writes that the last days will be accompanied with scoffing and immorality. This reinforces a likely Palestinian-Jewish milieu for the recipients of this letter, for the apostles first itinerated in Galilee and Judea preaching and  teaching the message of the risen Lord. That Lord’s own proclamation of the last days was trans-adventual, i.e., “now” realized in principle while spanning the interim to the consummate crisis “not yet”. The era which dawned with the Lord Jesus Christ, attested by the apostles, heard and remembered by Jude and his audience is the inauguration of the eschatological times (εσχατου του χρονου, v. 18)—an era in which the younger brother of Jesus participates, along with all those identified with the era which the older brother inaugurates. They “remember” the message of the last time because, in Christ, they are living in the last time—an emphatic revelation of the advent, not to mention, the incarnation, of Jesus Christ. If it is a modern scholarly given that Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed a now/not yet eschatology, then Jude has identified with that proclamation of his older brother and draws his audience into the reminder of its presence in history and their story. The narrative echoes here in vv. 17-18 are dramatically semi-eschatological and contain the participation of the younger brother in the “time” which the older brother brings, so that he may further fold the audience of his letter into the same story era.

An apostolic echo of the term “mockers” is found in 2 Peter 3:3. Like Jude, Peter recalls the apostolic words about the “last days”. This apostle’s words verify Jude’s remark about the words of the apostles. And while Jude’s concern may be more ethical (“lusts,” v. 18), nonetheless both he and Peter concur in the dominical and apostolic prescience (cf. “beforehand”, προειρημενων—Jude 17 and 2 Pet. 3:2).

But is Peter’s allusion to the mockery a recapitulation of the reality suffered by his Lord? Jesus was mocked during his trial (Mt. 27:29, 31); Peter was in the vicinity, tacitly concurring with the denigration of his Lord (Jn. 18:25-27 and parallels). Having bitterly ‘mocked’ (even “cursed”!) his Master (Mt. 26:72, 74), Peter enters into the dark betrayal of the Savior. He has felt the horror and shame of “mocking” the one who loved him and gave his life for him. Hence, projecting the mocking calumniation of his Lord and Savior to the “last days” is but a continuation of what occurred to Jesus in the former days. Jude too is conscious of this ironic recapitulation (as they did to his brother in the days of his life, so they will continue to do to his brother to the days of his parousia); and that recapitulation realized in the mockery of the intruders who have brought their ridicule into the community of his audience.

The three-fold mercy in vv. 21-23 echoes source (“our Lord Jesus Christ”), recipients (those who are “waiting” for it have received it), and participant sharers (bestowing on others what was once received by them). Mercy is what Jude received from his “Lord Jesus Christ”—a gift to the miserable, i.e., a sinner mired in the misery of his iniquity and unbelief. If “doubting” (διακρινομενους, v. 22) is the correct translation of the hapax,[4] we find a thematic echo of Jude’s own doubts about his elder brother—he regarded him as “beside himself” and did not “believe” on him, thus underscoring his doubts about his identity (Son of God and Lord) and his ministry (bring in the “last time” by showing yourself to the whole world, thus inaugurating the golden age of Jewish messianism and triumphalism). Mercy for other “doubters” (even “disputers”) is but the reflection of what Jude had been granted by his brother. Surely, that grace was available to others as a narrative biographical echo of the experience of the author’s own story.

Finally, did Jude see his brother ascend into glory (δοξα)? He is present in the upper room at Jerusalem in Acts 1:13-14—a narrative sequential to that of Luke’s ascension narrative. Present at the one, yet absent from the other? Possible, but perhaps not likely—especially in view of the narrative integrity of Luke’s story. His characters and events presume a particular narrative continuity. On this point, we will suggest—present in the one, even as present in the other (unless proven otherwise). This suggests that the “glory” (Jude 24) may reflect the arena into which Jesus himself ascends—an arena as “blameless” or sinless as Jesus himself (cf. 1 Tim. 3:16; 1 Pet. 1:21; Lk. 24:26; cf. Jn. 17:24). This was an arena familiar to Jude because he was an eyewitness of his older brother’s assumption into it. The glory-arena to which my brother belongs is the arena opened to me at his ascension and an arena to which we are destined with exceeding “great joy” (v. 24). And why not? Jude’s great joy at his own narrative inclusion/participation/identification with the redemptive story of his brother is cause enough for the climactic doxology.

This brief epistle brings us full circle—not only in the symmetry of its salutary inception, but also in its doxological conclusion. As if the life of Jude, summarized briefly in his letter, lest he detract from the majesty and glory of his brother-Lord, this life of the bond-slave of Christ is a mirror reflection of his narrative biography expressed in terms, incidents, cameo clips of the all too brief earthly career of the younger brother with his older brother. A life in which all things became new—Jude united to Jesus; Jude transformed by Jesus; Jude defending Jesus and the faith once for all delivered, even as that faith is echoed and re-echoed in this epistle. The narrative echoes of the words (and life) of brother Jesus in the words (and life) of brother Jude.


I have attempted to put some flesh on the bones of the epistle of Jude. To explore the life of the author behind the letter; to consider the narrative story, not of the audience (the focus of rhetorical criticism), but to draw out the story of the brother of Jesus from the narrative story embedded in his short letter. While all may acknowledge that there is a human story behind the epistle, too many regard it as pseudonymous, contrived or obscure and incidental. The study of the epistle then becomes a platform for agendas of several kinds: esoteric Jewish apocalypticism (imagined and fabricated with little to no primary document attestation); ethical reductionism which is embarrassed by Jude’s vehement language and thus concludes that the bulk of the letter is irrelevant and only the “loving” words can speak to a modern audience awash in evil and hatred. Jude would have called this denial. Then there is the traditional doctrinal exposition which moves in abstractions without historical interface. That misses the very point of Jude taking up his pen—he is writing out of his own existential life-experience which he knows is parallel to the life-experience of his recipients. No abstractions here, but life and death clashes with heaven and hell.

[1] The work of Erich Auerbach and John David Dawson re “Christian figural interpretation” is very suggestive here; cf. Auerbach, “Figura”, in Scenes from the Drama of European Literature (1984) 11-76 and John David Dawson, Christian Figural Reading and the Fashioning of Identity (2002).

[2] Cf. the author’s “What Should I Read on the Epistle of Jude?” (http://www.kerux.com/doc/1001A4.asp).

[3] The works of J. Daryl Charles, Robert L. Webb, Gene Green and R. Bauckham deserve particular, if not critical, commendation. Cf. “Preaching Resources” website sub Jude (http://www.nwts.edu/commentaries.pdf).

[4] Cf. Peter Spitaler’s major challenge to this wording (he prefers “disputing”)—“Doubt or Dispute (Jude 9 and 22-23): Rereading a Special New Testament Meaning through the Lense of Internal Evidence.” Biblica 87 (2006): 201-22.