Jude, Slave, Brother: The Identity of Apologists

The Missouri Baptist Convention has published a new resource called The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith. The 275-page book is available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon, and in print from the MBC. But we also want to make each of the 16 chapters available online. This post features Chapter 2: Jude, Slave, Brother: The Identity of Apologists.

Previously: Chapter 1: Jude, A Slave: The Attitude of Apologetics



Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ, and a brother of James … (Jude 1)

In June 1989 a young man made headlines – and history – when he singlehandedly slowed the advance of tanks heading for China’s Tiananmen Square. The Chinese government had begun cracking down on anti-communist demonstrations in Beijing. Feeling the crush of military muscle, most of the peacefully demonstrating Chinese dispersed, except for one man whose identity has never been positively confirmed.

Holding shopping bags, the man, dressed in dark pants and a white shirt, strode into the center of the broad street and, turning toward the approaching column of tanks, stood his ground. When the driver of the lead tank tried to maneuver around him, the bystander moved to his left and cut off the tank’s advance. He then climbed onto the tank and tried to talk with the soldiers inside before two unidentified men whisked him away.

“Tiananmen Square Guy,” as he came to be known, stands as a symbol of peaceful opposition to the oppression of totalitarian regimes. Conflicting claims about his name and whereabouts indicate that his true identity may never be discovered.

The names of other famous people in history may never be known, either, or at least positively confirmed – from the kissing sailor and nurse on VJ Day to the Zodiac Killer, and from “the babushka lady” in the Zapruder film of John F. Kennedy’s assassination to Jack the Ripper.

Sometimes famous people remain anonymous by design, and this is no less true of authors of New Testament books. For example, none of the Gospels is self-identified, although we’re quite confident of the writers’ identity. In contrast, the unnamed author of the book of Hebrews remains a mystery. Peter’s authorship of 2 Peter is disputed.

But we face a different challenge with the book of Jude – namely, that Jude (Greek Ioudas, or Judas, Judah) is a common first-century name, and there happen to be eight such characters in the New Testament:

  • Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve apostles and the betrayer of Jesus (Matt. 10:4)
  • Judas the son of James, one of the twelve apostles (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13)
  • Judas, Paul’s host in Damascus (Acts 9:11)
  • Judas, called Barsabbas, a leading Christian in Jerusalem and a companion of Paul (Acts 15:22, 27, 32)
  • Judas, a revolutionary leader (Acts 5:37)
  • Judah, an otherwise unknown person in the genealogy of Jesus (Luke 3:30)
  • Judah, a son of Jacob in the genealogy of Jesus and an ancestor of an Israelite tribe (Matt. 1:2; Rev. 7:5)
  • Judas, a half-brother of Jesus and a brother of James (Matt. 13:55)

Which Jude is our dude?

So, which of these men is the author of the epistle that bears his name? Only two are associated with a person named James: Judas the son of James, and Judas the brother of James. Thanks to the author’s three-fold identification (Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ, and a brother of James), we may conclude that our author is the one named along with James in Matt. 13:55: “Isn’t this [Jesus] the carpenter’s son? Isn’t His mother called Mary, and His brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?”

But do we have the correct James? We address that question shortly. Meanwhile, we don’t know a great deal about Jude. Of course, he and James are two of the four brothers of Jesus (Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3). The evidence suggests that Jude does not believe in Jesus as Messiah prior to the crucifixion (Mark 3:21, 31; John 7:5). He likely becomes a believer after the resurrection, since Acts 1:14 says the Lord’s brothers were part of the prayer meetings prior to Pentecost.

We learn from 1 Cor. 9:5 that the Lord’s brothers are itinerant missionaries, and Jude probably is included here. “His missionary work would explain his writing to the church in an authoritative manner.”

By identifying himself simply as Jude, the author may have opened himself to charges of pseudepigrapha – falsely attributed writings named after prominent early followers of Jesus. However, it’s highly unlikely that a forger would write a book impersonating a relatively unknown figure such as Jude; “pseudepigraphic works were attributed to well-known apostles, such as Peter or Paul. Nor would a forger pretending to be Jude have failed to identify himself as the Lord’s brother.”

Why does Jude call himself a slave?

If the author of this epistle had identified himself only as Jude, we would be left to wonder which of the eight people named Jude in the New Testament is the true writer. But Jude further refers to himself as a “slave of Jesus Christ, and a brother of James.” He is a half-brother of Jesus, but as we learned in the previous chapter, Jude embraces the humility of a true Christian apologist.

But there may be more to it. Coming from a Jewish background, where a sharp distinction is drawn between Jewish and Gentile slaves, Jude would have latched onto the proud tradition in which the Israelites thought of themselves as servants of Yahweh. In ancient Israel, the idea emerges that it is a great privilege to be a servant (or slave) of God. Many Old Testament heroes are called servants. Consider just a few:

  • Moses tells the Lord, “Remember that You swore to Your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel by Yourself and declared to them, ‘I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky and will give your offspring all this land that I have promised, and they will inherit it forever’” (Ex. 32:13).
  • “So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, as the Lord had said” (Deut. 34:5).
  • One night, the word of the Lord comes to Nathan, “Go to My servant David and say, ‘This is what the Lord says …’” (2 Sam. 7:5).
  • “The Lord spoke through His servants the prophets …” (2 Kings 21:10).

In addition, we should note the significance of the Servant Songs of Isa. 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; and 52:13-53:12, which originally refer to Israel but later are applied to Jesus, the Suffering Servant, and the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

Contrast this noble view of servanthood with the Greek concept of slaves, who are regarded as less than human, although depending on the country and culture, they may find themselves well treated.

Think also about the main sources of slavery in New Testament times. There are many: (a) being born to parents who are slaves; (b) the widespread practice of exposing unwanted children, who are available to anyone who cares to rear them; (c) the sale of one’s own children into slavery; (d) voluntary slavery as a remedy for debt; (e) penal slavery; (f) kidnapping and piracy; and (g) spoils of war. “Slavery may have reached one-third of the population in Rome and the great metropolitan cities of the East.”

No matter how the institution of slavery works in the first century, the twelve apostles of Jesus apparently have no part in the system. We don’t read of them as slaves of men or as slave owners. Slavery figures into the parables of Jesus, however. He uses common situations as the backdrop for lofty lessons about the kingdom of heaven (see Matt. 21:33-44; 22:1-14).

In addition, Jesus speaks of the relationship of the disciples to Himself as that of slaves (Matt. 10:24; John 13:16), yet He prefers to see His followers as emancipated men and women and, more important, as intimate friends (John 15:15). Jesus urges His followers to take up their crosses and follow Him, while, to their embarrassment, He washes the disciples’ feet on the night of His betrayal (Matt. 16:24; John 13:1-17).

Modeling humility and self-denial, Jesus adopts a servant’s role (Mark 10:45; John 13:4-5; Phil. 2:7) and indicates that His disciples should follow His example (Matt. 6:24; 10:24; 24:45-46; Luke 17:10; John 13:12-16).

Paul refers figuratively to the church as the household of God (Eph. 2:19), perhaps making reference to household slavery in which there are generally feelings of goodwill between master and servants.

As for Jude, he is not alone in carrying the moniker “slave.” Paul, Timothy, James, Peter, and John also refer to themselves as slaves of Christ:

  • Rom. 1:1 – “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus …”
  • Phil. 1:1 – “Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus …”
  • Titus 1:1 – “Paul, a slave of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ …”
  • Philemon 1 – “Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus …”
  • James 1:1 – “James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ …”
  • 2 Peter 1:1 – “Simeon Peter, a slave and an apostle of Jesus Christ …”
  • 1:1 – “The revelation of Jesus Christ that God gave Him to show His slaves what must quickly take place. He sent it and signified it through His angel to His slave John.”

In a related term, the apostles are described as God’s stewards, entrusted with the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1). In addition, they make it clear that elders are God’s stewards who must be above reproach (Titus 1:7). In fact, all believers are exhorted to use their spiritual gifts to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s grace (1 Peter 4:10).

In all, the word “slave” appears 159 times in 144 New Testament verses (HCSB). While the context determines how the word is understood, in most cases slavery is not something to be desired, unless it is voluntary and joyful bond-servanthood to Christ. For Jude to call himself a slave of Jesus is to humble himself and to submit jubilantly to his Master.

One additional note: There are at least three other metaphorical uses of slavery in the New Testament: (1) A life of sin is spoken of as slavery to sin (John 8:34; Rom. 6:6, 16-20; Heb. 2:15); (2) legalism is a kind of slavery (Gal. 4:24-25; 5:1); however, (3) there is also a blessed slavery to righteousness (Rom. 6:16-22).

When Christ frees us from the bondage of sin and death, we become bond-servants to Him, clothed in His righteousness and dwelling in His household. Christian apologists always should seek their identity, not in fame or prominence, but in Christ. Jude sets the bar as high as it gets for humility, and thus sets an appropriate platform for his defense.

Do we have the correct James?

Finally, Jude helps us positively identify him by calling himself not only “a slave of Jesus Christ” but “a brother of James” (v. 1). There are three men named James associated with Jesus. First, James the apostle. He is the son of Zebedee and a brother of John. He is martyred in A.D. 44 (see Acts 12:1-2). Jude’s reference to James seems to indicate that his brother is still alive at the time of this writing, so this is not the James we seek.

Second, there is another apostle named James. He is the son of Alphaeus and is identified as James the less or James the younger (Mark 15:40). His mother’s name is Mary, who is the wife of Clopas, or Cleophas, another name for Alphaeus (John 19:25). There is no reference to his being a brother of Jude. Probably not our James.

Finally, there is James, the half-brother of Jesus and brother of Jude. He is not an apostle. Likely, he is not a follower of Jesus during Christ’s earthly ministry (John 7:3-5), but a post-resurrection appearance evidently convinces him that Jesus is the Messiah (Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 15:7). Also known as James the Just, he becomes the influential leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 1:14; 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; Gal. 2:9, 12).

Commenting on Jude’s reference to James, John MacArthur writes, “After the martyrdom of the apostle James there was no other James in the early church who could be referred to simply by name without further qualification. Thus Jude, like James, was one of the half-brothers of Jesus. Jude is the only New Testament writer who identifies himself by family relationship.”

So, by calling himself a brother of James as well as a slave of Jesus Christ, Jude makes clear his identity. Equally important, the manner in which he places his identity foremost in Christ is instructive to us as followers of Jesus.

We must resist the temptation to lead under our own name, or the name of our ministry, organization, or denomination. While these are helpful ways to communicate who we are and how we serve, they also may lead to sinful pride that puffs us up and unwittingly deceives others by causing them to look to us rather than to Jesus.

One final thought: The apostle Paul illustrates the difference between imitation and identity. He exhorts the Corinthians to “Be imitators of me, as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). To the Philippians he says, “Join in imitating me, brothers, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us” (Phil. 3:17). And to the Thessalonians he writes, “You know what kind of men we were among you for your benefit, and you became imitators of us and of the Lord when, in spite of severe persecution, you welcomed the message with the joy from the Holy Spirit. As a result, you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia” (1 Thess. 1:5b-7).

Paul, like Jude and the other New Testament writers, understands the importance of modeling Christ-like behavior for the benefit of others. He imitates Christ so that others may be drawn to Jesus, and so that those who commit their lives to the Savior have an earthly example to follow.

Yet Paul refuses to be worshiped (Acts 14:11-18), and he is grieved to learn that the Corinthians are expressing their identity with Paul, Apollos, Peter, or Christ – as if somehow they are equally valid choices (1 Cor. 1:11-12). He addresses the divisions and quarrels this has caused: “Now I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all say the same thing, that there be no divisions among you, and that you be united with the same understanding and the same conviction…. Is Christ divided? Was it Paul who was crucified for you?” (1 Cor. 1:10, 13a).

The identity of a Christian apologist – one who defends the faith with gentleness and respect – must be in Jesus Christ. Any degree of prominence, popularity, or earthly success a Christian receives must be subjected to the sovereign goodness of God and the glorification of His Son. Perhaps it is not too much to say that we must scorn the earthly spoils of spiritual victories, for they do not originate in us, and like the miraculous manna hoarded in Israelite tents, they may putrefy over time if left to us alone.

Always, we must beware of pride, especially the kind that hides itself in false humility and expresses itself in the fear of personal loss. The apostle John writes of Jewish believers in Jesus who, for fear of the Pharisees, would not confess Him openly because “they loved praise from men more than praise from God” (John 12:43).

Next: I Reckon So: The Apologist’s Standing in Christ