Formations 11.09.2014: Struggling to Believe

Jude 14-25

Bicci di Lorenzo, St. Jude Thaddeus, 1440

Jude is undoubtedly harsh against false teachers who threaten the spiritual health of his communities. This doesn’t mean, however, that he doesn’t have a pastoral side. This side comes out at the conclusion of his letter, where he offers advice about practical steps believers must take in order to preserve the fundamentals of the faith they have been taught.

Though he is adamant that believers must contend for the faith, he commends a strategy not of badgering the false teachers, but rather building each other up on a secure foundation. He even goes so far as to say that they must have mercy on those who doubt (v. 22), for even these are not beyond the help of the one who is able to protect them from falling and present them blameless before God (v. 24).

Faith does not come easily for some, perhaps for many. We who have found comfort in the embrace of the church need to be reminded from time to time that the people next to us in the pews may be struggling to believe. If that is the case, Jude would have us remember that mercy and patience are likely to go further in building up a person’s fragile faith than heated debates or shaming tactics.


• When have you struggled with questions of faith and certainty? What (or who) was most helpful to you in those times?
• What would it look like for a church to demonstrate mercy and patience toward “doubters” while maintaining its doctrinal integrity?
• What does it mean to “keep each other in the love of God” (v. 21)?
• How does that command shape everything else that Jude tells this struggling community of believers?

Reference Shelf

Jude’s Pastoral Concern

Having denounced the errors of the false teachers and announced their certain judgment, Jude returns to the purpose at hand in Jude 20-23, namely to instruct the readers how “to fight for the faith” (Jude 3). Their first concern must be to guard their own relationship with God (Jude 21; the verb “keep,” tereo, in Jude 21 is also used in Jude 1, 6 [2x], 13), which entails fulfilling certain responsibilities (Jude 20) as well as maintaining and eschatologically oriented outlook (Jude 21). Their second concern is to assist those who have become tainted with this false teaching (Jude 22-23), while being careful not to be tainted with it themselves (Jude 23).

Jude’s pastoral concern does not end with his advice in Jude 20-23 but concludes instead with a doxology (Jude 24-25) in which he returns to themes he alluded to in the letter’s opening (Jude 1-2). As an expression of prayerful confidence, the doxology reassures the readers that God is able to preserve them not only through this situation but unto the Parousia, at which time they will be able to stand and rejoice in God’s presence.

Robert L. Webb, “Jude,” Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments, ed. Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity, 1997) 618–19.

A Prophecy Adapted from the Apostles

Other than a brief comment on the divisiveness of the godless persons, the author has now concluded the major section of the letter. Here he makes a transition from his indictment of the heretics (vv. 5-16) to addressing his readers directly (vv. 17-23). The central section of the letter (vv. 5-16) details his specific condemnation of ungodly men (v. 4). In this concluding section of the letter, the author writes about the salvation for the believers (v. 3).

While the readers of this epistle may not be familiar with the Enoch tradition, they certainly know what they were taught by the apostles. So here the writer calls them to their more immediate experiences and challenges them to recall the “predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ….”

“Remember.” The admonition to “remember” closely parallels the text in Peter’s second letter: “that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles” (3:2). “Remember” is a direct command. Earlier (v. 5), the writer’s words had been encouraging and supportive when he commended his readers for their knowledge of Old Testament teaching. But at this juncture, a direct command is necessary because their seeming willingness to over- look the factual knowledge of their own history is detrimental to their salvation. The challenge, then, is for the reader to remember the message of the gospel. In such memory lies the courage to defend themselves against the attacks of the false teachers.

“Beloved.” The author addresses the original recipients of his letter. He has already cautioned them regarding those godless persons whom God has condemned (vv. 4, 7, 13). Now his mood shifts and he speaks to his readers more tenderly with the expression “beloved.” He uses this term three times (vv. 3, 17, 20).

“Apostles.” That the author means the original twelve disciples is clearly implied by the phrase “of our Lord Jesus Christ,” though no specific names are mentioned. Not much is known about the ministries of these men except for the missionary labors of Peter.

“Message.” The text literally has “predictions of the apostles.” Apparently, then, the author has in mind not the entirety of the gospel but rather certain specific sayings of the apostles. It is possible that the author has recorded one of these sayings in v. 18, though the specific tradition quoted remains unknown. Yet we can assume that the apostles were obviously aware of the approaching last days. In his farewell message at Ephesus, for example, Paul says, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29). In any event, the reference is expressed as a warning. That such persons as these would appear among the faithful is itself a sign that the “end times” are near.

“Scoffers.” The expression “scoffer” is a pejorative word that refers to those who ignore or twist all the precepts of the Law (Ps 1:1; Prov 1:22; 9:7-8). In both Jewish and Christian apocalyptic thought we find the idea that, in the last days, the wicked will come to the fore and, indeed, gain the upper hand. The idea is so well known that the author does not need to cite a specific prophecy. He has merely created the words attributed to the apostles out of the earlier description of the opponents. These false teachers cause serious divisions within the community by setting themselves up as superior to ordinary Christians. Jude maintains that these ungodly people are devoid of the Spirit.

Watson E. Mills, “Jude,” 1 & 2 Peter; Jude, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2010), 369, 371.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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