1. Title. In the earliest Greek manuscripts the title of this epistle is simply Ioudas (“Judas,” or “Jude”). The words “The General Epistle of,” found in the KJV, refer to the fact that this letter is addressed, not to any specific individual, or church, or group of churches, but “to them [that is, all] that are sanctified” (see on v. 1). For the same reason it is sometimes called a “catholic epistle,” in the sense that “catholic” means “universal.”
2. Authorship. The writer calls himself “Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James” (v. 1), and there is no reason to doubt the identification, though the words may be interpreted in more than one way.
In the NT several men by the name of Judas are mentioned. These are Judas Iscariot (Mark 3:19), Judas “not Iscariot” (see on John 14:22), Judas of Galilee (Acts 5:37), Judas of Damascus (Acts 9:11), Judas surnamed Barsabas (Acts 15:22), and Juda (Judas) who, as were James, Joses, and Simon, was a brother of Jesus is the James who presided at the Council of Jerusalem (see on Acts 12:17; 15:13) and who possibly also later wrote the Epistle of James (see Introduction to the book). The writer of Jude, therefore, may well have been the brother of this James, and thus a brother of the Lord Jesus. This relationship would tend to make him prominent in the church and to give him the degree of authority reflected in his epistle. That he does not openly claim his family connection with the Lord, but calls himself “the servant of Jesus Christ” (Jude 1), may be accounted for by a sense of delicate reticence that would prohibit him from making capital of his relationship with Jesus.
3. Historical Setting. The epistle contains no direct statement concerning the circumstances that led to its being written, and no clue as to the congregation to which it was addressed, but certain information can be deduced from its contents. It is clear that disruptive elements had crept into the church (vs. 4, 8, etc.) and drawn many away from the purity of the gospel. Allusions in Colossians, the pastoral epistles, and Revelation indicate that Gnostic heresies had begun to come into the churches of Asia Minor. It is therefore possible that Jude’s letter was addressed to these churches. An interesting question is raised by the fact that much of Jude’s material is found also in 2 Peter (cf. Jude 4-18 with 2 Peter 2:1 to 3:3). Not only the same thoughts, but in many instances the same words are used, with some words quite unusual. Did Jude borrow from 2 Peter, Peter from Jude, or did they both borrow from a common but unknown source? This question cannot be answered with finality. Most Biblical scholars think that Jude is the earlier of the two letters, since it would be difficult to explain why Jude would write a letter at all if he had little to say beyond what was already well expressed in 2 Peter. These scholars assert that it is easy to explain how Peter might have used thoughts expressed in Jude’s brief epistle, and then have added material to it.
Literally studies show that the shorter of two similar works is usually the earlier. However, a minority of scholars defends the priority of 2 Peter over that of Jude. Among the reasons set forth are the following: (1) 2 Peter 2:1 speaks of the future appearance of false teachers whereas Jude gives the impression that these teachers are already at work (Jude 4).
(2) Jude speaks of the warning about the coming of skeptics as being in the past (vs. 17, 18), whereas Peter utters a current warning (2 Peter 3:3).
The arguments on either side are not sufficiently decisive to determine which of the two epistles, Jude or 2 Peter, was the earlier (cf. Vol. V, p. 186). For this reason it is impossible to date Jude’s letter. If written before 2 Peter it must have been composed before A.D. 67, the probable year of Peter’s death (Vol. VI, p. 102); if Jude followed 2 Peter, it may have been written between the years A.D. 70 and 85.
4. Theme. From v. 3 it would appear that the author intended to write a regular epistle to confirm the believers in their Christian faith, but news of the havoc being wrought by libertine teachers led him, under the guidance of the Divine Spirit, to change his original plan and to urge his readers to a bold defense of the faith. To encourage them in such work he unmasks the deceivers, shows their connections with earlier rebels against divine authority, and exhorts his flock to avoid these deceivers and to concentrate on preparation to meet their Lord in glory. For an understanding of the contents of the epistle frequent reference to and comparison with 2 Peter is necessary.