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Bible Commentaries

Clarke's CommentaryClarke Commentary

- Jude

by Adam Clarke

Preface to the General Epistle of Jude

In the preface to the Epistle of James several things have been said relative to Jude the brother of James, the supposed author of this epistle; and to that preface the reader is requested to refer. What is farther necessary to be said on the author and the authenticity of this epistle, I shall take the liberty to borrow principally from Michaelis.

"If James and Jude, whom the evangelists call brothers of Jesus, were in fact only cousins or relations as some suppose, and were sons, not of Joseph, but of Alpheus, these two persons were the same as the two brothers James and Jude, who were apostles. And in this case Jude, the author of this epistle, was the same as the Apostle Jude, the brother of James who was son of Alpheus. On the other hand, if the James and the Jude, whom the evangelists call brothers of Jesus, were not the two brothers of this name who were apostles, but were the sons of Joseph, the reputed father of Jesus, we have then two different persons of the name of Jude, either of which might have written this epistle. And in this case we have to examine whether the epistle was written by an apostle of the name of Jude, or by Jude the brother-in-law of Christ.

"The author of the epistle himself has assumed neither the title of apostle of Jesus Christ, nor of brother of Jesus Christ, but calls himself only 'Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James.' Now, as the author distinguishes himself by the title 'brother of James,' and this was a common name among the Jews, he undoubtedly meant some eminent person of this name, who was well known at the time when he wrote, or the title 'brother of James' would have been no mark of distinction. We may infer, therefore, that the author of this epistle was the brother, either of the Apostle James the son of Alpheus, or of James, named the brother of Jesus, or of both, if they were one and the same person.

"The first question, therefore, to be asked is, Was the author of this epistle the Apostle Jude? or was he brother of James, the son of Alpheus? Now, I have already observed, that this question must be answered in the affirmative if James and Jude who were called brothers of Jesus, were the same as the two brothers James and Jude who were apostles. And it may be answered in the affirmative, even if they were different persons, for Jude, the author of this epistle, had in either case a brother of the name of James, and therefore might in either case call himself Jude the brother of James. I say the question may be answered in the affirmative, even if the Apostle Jude was a different person from Jude, called the brother of James. But whether it ought in this case to be answered in the affirmative, is another matter; and I really believe that it ought not: for if the Jude who wrote this epistle had been himself an apostle, and brother of an apostle, he would hardly have called himself, in an epistle written to Christians, simply 'Jude, the brother of James' without adding the title apostle. It is true that the Apostle Jude, who was brother of James, is called by St. Luke Ιουδας Ιακωβου; but St. Luke gives him this title merely to distinguish him from another apostle of this name, who was called Iscariot. Now the author of this epistle could have no motive for distinguishing himself from Judas Iscariot, who had hanged himself many years before this epistle was written. The name of Jude was very common among the Jews; and therefore the author of this epistle wished to distinguish himself from other persons who were so called. But James was likewise a very common name, and therefore if the author had been an apostle he surely would have preferred an appellation which would have removed all doubts to an appellation which left it at least uncertain whether he was an apostle or not; I grant that the omission of this title does not necessarily prove that the author of this epistle was not an apostle, for Paul has omitted it in four of his epistles: in the Epistle to the Philippians, in both Epistles to the Thessalonians, and in that to Philemon. But St. Paul was sufficiently known without this title, whereas the author of the epistle in question felt the necessity of a distinguishing appellation, as appears from the very title which he has given himself of 'brother of James.' Besides, at the time when this epistle was written, only one apostle of the name of James was then alive; for the elder James, the son of Zebedee, had been beheaded many years before. If then the author of this epistle had only given to his brother James the title of apostle, he would thus likewise have clearly ascertained who he himself was. But since he has no more given to his brother than to himself the title of apostle, I think it highly probable that neither of them were apostles.

"The next question to be asked, therefore, is, Was the Jude, who wrote this epistle, the same person as the Jude whom the evangelists call brother of Jesus? and who, according to the opinion which I think the most defensible, was in this sense brother of Jesus, that he was son of Joseph by a former wife, and therefore not his own brother, but only brother-in-law of Jesus. Now, that this epistle was written by a person of this description, appears to me highly probable; and on this supposition we may assign the reason why the author called himself 'brother of James;' for, if he was the brother-in-law of Jesus, his brother James was the person who, during so many years, had presided over the Church at Jerusalem, was well known both to Jews and Christians, and appears to have been more celebrated than either of the apostles called James. It will be objected, perhaps, that the very same reasons which I have alleged, to show that an apostle of the name of Jude would have assumed his proper title, will likewise show that a person who was called brother of Jesus would have done the same, and styled himself brother of Jesus. To this I answer, that if he was the son of Joseph, not by Mary but by a former wife, and Jude believed in the immaculate conception, he must have been sensible that though to all outward appearance he was brother-in-law to Jesus, since his own father was the husband of Jesus' mother, yet in reality he was no relation of Jesus. On the other hand, if Jude, called the brother of Jesus, was the son of Joseph, not by a former wife but by Mary, as Herder asserts, I do not see how the preceding objection can be answered; for if Jesus and Jude had the same mother, Jude might without the least impropriety, have styled himself 'brother of Jesus,' or 'brother of the Lord;' and this would have been a much more remarkable and distinguishing title than that of brother of James. A third question still remains to be asked on this subject. The apostle whom St. Luke calls Jude is called Thaddaeus by St. Matthew and St. Mark, as I have already observed. But the apostle of the Syrians, who first preached the Gospel at Edessa, and founded a Church there, was named Thaddaeus or Adaeus. It may be asked, therefore, whether the author of this epistle was Thaddaeus, the apostle of the Syrians? But the answer is decisive: the old Syriac version does not contain this epistle; consequently it is highly probable that Adai or Adaeus was not the author, for an epistle written by the great apostle of the Syrians would surely have been received into the canon of the Syrian Church."

The most accurate critics have been unable to determine the time when, and the persons to whom, this epistle was written; so that much concerning these points, as well as the author of the epistle, must remain undecided.

"I am really unable to determine," says Michaelis, "who the persons were to whom this epistle was sent; for no traces are to be discovered in it which enable us to form the least judgment on this subject; and the address with which this epistle commences is so indeterminate, that there is hardly any Christian community where Greek was spoken, which might not be denoted by it. Though this epistle has a very great similarity to the Second Epistle of Peter, it cannot have been sent to the same persons, namely, the Christians who resided in Pontus, etc., because no mention is made of them in this epistle. Nor can it have been sent to the Christians of Syria and Assyria, where Jude preached the Gospel, if he be the same person as the apostle of the Syrians; for in this case the epistle would not have been written in Greek, but in Syriac or Chaldee, and would certainly have been received into the old Syriac version.

"With respect to the date of this epistle, all that I am able to assert is, that it was written after the Second Epistle of Peter; but how many years after, whether between 64 and 66, as Lardner supposes, or between 70 and 75, as Beausobre and L'Enfant believe; or, according to Dodwell and Cave, in 71 or 72, or so late as the year 90, as is the opinion of Mill, I confess I am unable to determine, at least from any certain data. The expression, 'in the last time,' which occurs Jude 1:18, as well as in 2 Peter 3:3, is too indeterminate to warrant any conclusion respecting the date of this epistle; for though, on the one hand, it may refer to the approaching destruction of Jerusalem, it may, on the other hand, refer to a later period, and denote the close of the apostolic age; for in the First Epistle of St. John a similar expression occurs, which must be taken in this latter sense. The inference, therefore, that the Epistle of St. Jude was written before the destruction of Jerusalem, which some commentators have deduced from the above-mentioned expression, on the supposition that it alluded to that event then approaching, is very precarious, because it is drawn from premises which are themselves uncertain. However, there is some reason to believe, on other grounds, that this epistle was not written after the destruction of Jerusalem; for, as the author has mentioned, Jude 1:5-8, several well known instances of God's justice in punishing sinners, which Peter had already quoted in his second epistle to the same purpose, he would probably, if Jerusalem had been already destroyed at the time he wrote, have not neglected to add to his other examples this most remarkable instance of Divine vengeance, especially as Christ himself had foretold it.

"Lardner, indeed, though he admits the similarity of the two epistles, still thinks it a matter of doubt whether St. Jude had ever seen the Second Epistle of St. Peter; his reason is, that 'if St. Jude had formed a design of writing, and had met with an epistle of one of the apostles very suitable to his own thoughts and intentions, he would have forborne to write.'

"To this argument I answer: -

1. If the Epistle of St. Jude was inspired by the Holy Ghost, as Lardner admits, the Holy Ghost certainly knew, while he was dictating the epistle to St. Jude, that an epistle of St. Peter, of a like import, already existed. And if the Holy Ghost, notwithstanding this knowledge, still thought that an epistle of St. Jude was not unnecessary; why shall we suppose that St. Jude himself would have been prevented writing by the same knowledge?

"2. The Second Epistle of St. Peter was addressed to the inhabitants of some particular countries; but the address of St. Jude's is general: St. Jude therefore might think it necessary to repeat for general use what St. Peter had written only to certain communities.

"3. The Epistle of St. Jude is not a bare copy of the Second Epistle of St. Peter, for in the former, not only several thoughts are more completely unravelled than in the latter, but several additions are made to what St. Peter had said; for instance Jude 1:4, Jude 1:5, Jude 1:9, Jude 1:16.

"Eusebius, in his catalogue of the books of the New Testament, places the Epistle of St. Jude among the αντιλεγομενα, contradicted or apocryphal books, in company with the Epistle of St. James, the Second Epistle of St. Peter, and the Second and Third of John.

"But Origen, who lived in the third century, though he speaks in dubious terms of the Second Epistle of St. Peter, has several times quoted the Epistle of St. Jude, and has spoken of it as an epistle on which he entertained no doubt. In his commentary on St. Matthew, when he comes to Matthew 13:55, where James, Joses, Simon, and Jude are mentioned; he says Jude wrote an epistle of few lines indeed, but full of the powerful words of the heavenly grace, who at the beginning says, 'Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James.' This is a very clear and unequivocal declaration of Origen's opinion; and it is the more remarkable because he says nothing of the Epistle of St. James, though the passage, Matthew 13:55, afforded him as good an opportunity of speaking of this epistle, as it did of the Epistle of St. Jude. Nay, Origen carries his veneration for the Epistle of Jude so far that, in his treatise De Principiis, lib. iii. cap. 2, he quotes an apocryphal book, called the Assumption of Moses, as a work of authority; because a passage from this book had been quoted by St. Jude. In one instance, however, in his commentary on St. Matthew, Origen speaks in less positive terms, for there he says, 'If any one receive the Epistle of St. Jude,' etc. Tertullian, in whose works Lardner could discover no quotation from the Second Epistle of St. Peter, describes the Epistle of St. Jude as the work of an apostle; for in his treatise De cultu faeminarum, chap. 3, he says, 'Hence it is that Enoch is quoted by the Apostle Jude.'

"Clement of Alexandria, in whose works likewise Lardner could find no quotation from the Second Epistle of St. Peter, has three times quoted the Epistle of St. Jude without expressing any doubt whatever. It appears, then, that the three ancient fathers, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen, as far as we may judge from their writings which are now extant, preferred the Epistle of St. Jude to the Second Epistle of St. Peter. However, I think it not impossible that if all the writings of these authors were now extant, passages might be found in them which would turn the scale in favor of the latter; and it may be owing to mere accident that in those parts of their works which have descended to us, more passages in which they speak decidedly of St. Jude are to be found, than such as are favorable to the Second Epistle of St. Peter. For I really cannot comprehend how any impartial man who has to choose between these two epistles, which are very similar to each other, can prefer the former to the latter, or receive the Epistle of St. Jude, the contents of which labor under great difficulties, and at the same time reject, or even consider as dubious, the Second Epistle of St. Peter, the contents of which labor under no such difficulties.

"But it is much more difficult to explain Jude 1:9, in which the Archangel Michael is said to have disputed with the devil about the body of Moses. The history of this dispute, which has the appearance of a Jewish fable, it is not at present very easy to discover; because the book from which it is supposed to have been taken by the author of this epistle is no longer extant; but I will here put together such scattered accounts of it as I have been able to collect.

"Origen found in a Jewish Greek book called the Assumption of Moses, which was extant in his time, this very story related concerning the dispute of the Archangel Michael with the devil about the body of Moses. And from a comparison of the relation in his book with St. Jude's quotation, he was thoroughly persuaded that it was the book from which St. Jude quoted. This he asserts without the least hesitation; and in consequence of this persuasion he himself has quoted the Assumption of Moses as a work of authority, in proof of the temptation of Adam and Eve by the devil. But as he quoted it merely for this purpose, he has given us only an imperfect account of what this book contained, relative to the dispute about the body of Moses. One circumstance, however, he has mentioned, which is not found in the Epistle of St. Jude, viz., that Michael reproached the devil with having possessed the serpent that seduced Eve. In what manner this circumstance is connected with the dispute about the body of Moses, will appear from the following consideration: -

"The Jews imagined the person of Moses was so holy that God could find no reason for permitting him to die; and that nothing but the sin committed by Adam and Eve in paradise, which brought death into the world, was the cause why Moses did not live for ever. The same notions they entertained of some other very holy persons; for instance, of Isaiah, who they say was delivered to the angel of death merely on account of the sins of our first parents, though he himself did not deserve to die. Now, in the dispute between Michael and the devil about Moses, the devil was the accuser, and demanded the death of Moses. Michael therefore replied to him that he himself was the cause of that sin, which alone could occasion the death of Moses. How very little such notions as these agree, either with the Christian theology, or with Moses' own writings, it is unnecessary for me to declare. Besides the account given by Origen, there is a passage in the works of Ecumenius, which likewise contains a part of the story related in the Assumption of Moses, and which explains the reason of the dispute which St. Jude has mentioned concerning Moses' body. According to this passage, Michael was employed in burying Moses; but the devil endeavored to prevent it by saying that he had murdered an Egyptian, and was therefore unworthy an honorable burial. Hence it appears that some modern writers are mistaken, who have imagined that in the ancient narrative the dispute was said to have arisen from an attempt of the devil to reveal to the Jews the burial place of Moses, and to incite them to an idolatrous worship of his body.

"There is still extant a Jewish book, written in Hebrew, and intitled פטירת משה that is, 'The Death of Moses,' which some critics, especially De La Rue, supposed to be the same work as that which Origen saw in Greek. Now if it were this Hebrew book, intitled 'Phetirath Mosheh,' it would throw a great light on our present inquiry; but I have carefully examined it, and can assert that it is a modern work, and that its contents are not the same is those of the Greek book quoted by Origen. Of the Phetirath Mosheh we have two editions, which contain very different texts; the one was printed at Constantinople in 1518, and reprinted at Venice in 1544 and 1605, the other was published from a manuscript by Gilbert Gaulmyn, who added a translation of both texts, with notes."

To show that neither St. Jude, nor any inspired writer, nor indeed any person in his sober senses, could quote or in any way accredit such stuff and nonsense, I shall give the substance of this most ridiculous legend as extracted by Michaelis; for as to the Phetirath Mosheh, I have never seen it.

"Moses requests of God, under various pretences, either that he may not die at all, or at least that he may not die before he comes into Palestine. This request he makes in so froward and petulant a manner as is highly unbecoming, not only a great prophet, but even any man who has expectations of a better life after this. In short, Moses is here represented in the light of a despicable Jew begging for a continuance of life, and devoid both of Christian faith and heathen courage; and it is therefore not improbable that the inventor of this fable made himself the model after which he formed the character of Moses. God argues on the contrary with great patience and forbearance, and replies to what Moses had alleged relative to the merit of his own good works. Farther, it is God who says to Moses that he must die on account of the sin of Adam; to which Moses answers, that he ought to be excepted, because he was superior in merit to Adam, Abraham, Isaac, etc. In the meantime Samael, that is, the angel of death, whom the Jews describe as the chief of the devils rejoices at the approaching death of Moses: this is observed by Michael, who says to him, 'Thou wicked wretch, I grieve, and thou laughest.' Moses, after his request had been repeatedly refused, invokes heaven and earth, and all creatures around him to intercede in his behalf. Joshua attempts to pray for him, but the devil stops Joshua's mouth, and represents to him, really in scriptural style, the impropriety of such a prayer. The elders of the people, and with them all the children of Israel, then offered to intercede for Moses; but their mouths are likewise stopped by a million eight hundred and forty thousand devils, which, on a moderate calculation, make three devils to one man. After this, God commands the angel Gabriel to fetch the soul of Moses; but Gabriel excuses himself, saying, that Moses was too strong for him: Michael receives the same order, and excuses himself in the same manner, or, as other accounts say, under pretense that he had been the instructer of Moses, and therefore could not bear to see him die. But this latter excuse, according to the Phetirath Mosheh, was made by Zinghiel, the third angel who received this command. Samael, that is, the devil, then offers his services; but God asks him how he would take hold of Moses, whether by his mouth, or by his hands, or by his feet, saying, that every part of Moses was too holy for him to touch. The devil, however, insists on bringing the soul of Moses; yet he does not accuse him, for, on the contrary, he prizes him higher than Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. The devil then approaches towards Moses, to execute this voluntary commission; but as soon as he sees the shining countenance of Moses, he is seized with a violent pain, like that of a woman in labor: Moses, instead of using the oriental salutation, 'Peace be with thee,' says to him, in the words of Isaiah, (for in this work Moses frequently quotes Isaiah and the Psalms), 'There is no peace to the wicked.' The devil replies that he was come, by the order of God, to fetch his soul; but Moses deters him from the attempt by representing his own strength and holiness; and saying, 'Go, thou wicked wretch, I will not give thee my soul,' he affrights the devil in such a manner that he immediately retires. The devil then returns to God, and relates what had passed, and receives an order to go a second time; the devil answers that he would go everywhere God commanded him, even into hell, and into fire, but not to Moses. This remonstrance is, however, of no avail, and he is obliged to go back again; but Moses, who sees him coming with a drawn sword, meets him with his miraculous rod, and gives him such a blow with it that the devil is glad to escape. Lastly, God himself comes; and Moses, having then no farther hopes, requests only that his soul may not be taken out of his body by the devil. This request is granted him; Zinghiel, Gabriel, and Michael then lay him on a bed, and the soul of Moses begins to dispute with God, and objects to its being taken out of a body which was so pure and holy that no fly dared to settle on it; but God kisses Moses, and with that kiss extracts his soul from his body. Upon this God utters a heavy lamentation; and thus the story in the Phetirath ends, without any mention of a dispute about the burial of Moses' body. This last scene, therefore, which was contained in the Greek book seen by Origen, is wanting in the Hebrew. But in both of these works Michael, as well as the devil, expresses the same sentiments in respect to Moses: in both works the same spirit prevails; and the concluding scene, which was contained in the Greek book, is nothing more than a continuation of the same story which is contained in the Hebrew."

Had Jude quoted a work like the above, it would have argued no inspiration, and little common sense; and the man who could have quoted it must have done it with approbation, and in that case his own composition would have been of a similar stamp. But nothing can be more dissimilar than the Epistle of Jude and the Phetirath Mosheh: the former contains nothing but manly sense, expressed in pure, energetic, and often sublime language, and accompanied, most evidently, with the deepest reverence for God; while the latter is despicable in every point of view, even considered as the work of a filthy dreamer, or as the most superannuated of old wives' fables.

"Lastly," says Michaelis, "besides the quotation which St. Jude has made in the 9th verse relative to the dispute between Michael and the devil, he has another quotation, Jude 1:14, Jude 1:15, likewise from an apocryphal book called the 'Prophecies of Enoch;' or, if not from any written book, from oral tradition. Now, should it be granted that Enoch was a prophet, though it is not certain that he was, yet as none of his prophecies are recorded in the Old Testament no one could possibly know what they were. It is manifest, therefore, that the book called the 'Prophecies of Enoch' was a mere Jewish forgery, and that too a very unfortunate one, since in all human probability the use of letters was unknown in the time of Enoch, and consequently he could not have left behind him any written prophecies. It is true that an inspired writer might have known, through the medium of Divine information, what Enoch had prophesied, without having recourse to any written work on this subject. But St. Jude, in the place where he speaks of Enoch's prophecies, does not speak of them as prophecies which had been made known to him by a particular revelation; on the contrary, he speaks of them in such a manner as implies that his readers were already acquainted with them."

From all the evidence before him, Michaelis concludes that the canonical authority of this epistle is extremely dubious; that its author is either unknown, or very uncertain; and he has even doubts that it is a forgery in the name of the Apostle Jude. Others have spoken of it in strains of unqualified commendation and praise, and think that its genuineness is established by the matters contained in it, which in every respect are suitable to the character of an inspired apostle of Christ. What has led to its discredit with many is the hasty conclusion that St. Jude quotes such a work as the Phetirath Mosheh; than which nothing can be more improbable, and perhaps nothing more false.

In almost all ages of the Church it has been assailed and defended; but it is at present generally received over the whole Christian world. It contains some very sublime and nervous passages, from the 10th to the 13th verse inclusive; the description of the false teachers is bold, happy, and energetic; the exhortation in Jude 1:20 and Jude 1:21, is both forcible and affectionate; and the doxology, in Jude 1:24 and Jude 1:25, is well adapted to the subject, and is peculiarly dignified and sublime.

I have done what I could, time and circumstances considered, to present the whole epistle to the reader in the clearest point of view; and now must commend him to God and the word of his grace, which is able to build him up, and give him an inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith in Jesus.

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