Judas and Jude

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Judas and Jude

June 4, 2006    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
tparham@flumc.org     Orlando {0497}

NOTE: A headshot of Whitaker is available at http://www.flumc.info/photo_gallery2.shtml.

An e-Review Commentary
By Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker**

The recent publication of the Gospel of Judas has received much attention in the media. Sometimes this Gospel has been presented as if its exclusion from the New Testament represented a conspiracy of Christians to suppress the historical truth about Jesus á la “The Da Vinci Code.”
The Gospel of Judas is one of many “gospels” produced by gnostics in the second and third centuries. These alternatives to the four Gospels packaged gnostic ideas in the popular form of a narrative of Jesus’ life. It was a clever marketing strategy. Anyone who reads them immediately recognizes how different they are from the four Gospels in the New Testament. Being written so late they do not reflect an authentic tradition of Jesus’ life independent of the four Gospels. Moreover, they substitute gnostic philosophical ideas for the apostolic witness to God’s revelation in the history of Jesus of Nazareth. They help us better understand gnosticism, but not Jesus. As Irenaeus (A.D. 120-202) wrote in “Against Heretics,” the gnostics “boast that they possess more Gospels than there really are” so that they may mix their “lime” with “the milk of God.”
Despite all the hubbub over the Gospel of Judas, there is actually a more interesting scholarly discovery about a book in the New Testament, the Epistle of Jude. Ancient scholars like Eusebius (A.D. 265-340) acknowledged that it was one of the books “disputed” for inclusion in the New Testament. Most of the critical scholars of the past two centuries viewed it as a work ascribed to Jude, but written in the second century. However, some recent scholarship views it as written by the brother of Jesus in the A.D. 50s, making it one of the oldest documents in the New Testament. Its affirmation of tradition (1:3 and 1:7) makes it seem as if it were written later than it was, but in this respect it is not different than Paul’s affirmation of the tradition of the apostles in I Corinthians 15:3, which was also written in the A.D. 50s. (See the commentary on the Epistle of Jude in The New Interpreter’s Bible.)
What is valuable about the Epistle of Jude is that it demonstrates the understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the primitive Jewish Christian church in Jerusalem. The Gospel is understood in the context of the Law and the Prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures and Jewish literature of the first century. As is clear from Acts 15, the Jewish Christian leaders in Jerusalem were guardians of the church’s task of moral formation because they understood Jesus as the fulfillment, not the annulment, of God’s Law.
Everything in this epistle is primitive in the sense of containing ideas that do not reflect the later maturity of the church. Jude cites Jewish literature that was later excluded from the canon of Holy Scripture. He expects the imminent return of Jesus. He affirms belief in God the Father, Jesus Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit with no attempt, of course, to explain what the church called the doctrine of the Trinity 250 years later.
This epistle demonstrates how sophisticated the members of Jesus’ family were since it has some of the best Greek in the New Testament (a language spoken widely in Galilee) and indicates a learned grasp of Jewish literature and thought. It directly connects us to the Jewish Christian interpretation of the Gospel which lacked the evangelical depth of the writings of the apostle Paul, but which preserved the moral weight of Judaism and the teaching of Jesus. It is a reminder of the Jewishness of Jesus.
If you allow for the difference between Jude’s historical situation and ours, it will enable you to hear the Word of God in its earliest Jewish Christian accent:
                  Build yourselves up on your most holy faith;
                  pray in the Holy Spirit;
                  keep yourselves in the love of God;
                  look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ
                    that leads to eternal life (Jude 1:20-21).


This article relates to the Gospels.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Whitaker is bishop of the Florida Conference. 

Contact Us

The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church

450 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue
Lakeland, FL 33815

(863) 688-5563 or toll free (800) 282-8011