Translation commentary on Jude 1:3

This verse can be interpreted in at least two ways:

1. Jude was engaged in writing a general letter about our common salvation, when something happened that made him abandon this project and write at once in order to deal with the emergency situation. Good News Translation leans toward this interpretation, and so also does the New English Bible [New English Bible] “I was fully engaged in writing to you about our salvation … when it became urgently necessary to write at once….” This means that the letter that we have is not the letter that Jude originally planned to write; and there is no way of knowing whether such a letter was ever written.

Arguments for this interpretation include the following: Firstly, there is a difference of tense between the two infinitives “to write”; the first is present, which can mean that the action was not completed, while the second is aorist, which can refer to a completed act. This seems to make a distinction between an intention and an action that was carried through. Secondly, the structure of the verse seems to suggest a sharp contrast between a general letter or essay on the Christian faith and a letter written for the particular purpose of encouraging people to defend their faith. Thirdly, the shortness of the letter and the problems that it deals with tend to favor the position that this is indeed a letter dealing with particular problems rather than a general letter.

2. Jude had planned to write, and in fact was in the process of writing, when an emergency situation arose in the Christian communities to whom he was writing. Because of this he was compelled to carry out his plan much more quickly. This seems to be the position taken by Revised Standard Version (so also the translation by Knox, “As one who is ever ready to write to you … I am compelled to send you this letter…”). This means that the letter we have is identical with the general letter that Jude initially wanted to write.

Arguments put forward in support of this position include the following: Firstly, the expression our common salvation in the first part of the verse seems to mean the same thing as the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints in the second part. If this is so, then the two parts of the verse are parallel to each other. Then secondly, the second part of the verse can be understood simply as an action to carry out the intention expressed in the first part. Jude had a real desire to write to his readers, and because of special circumstances he has written faster than he originally intended.

Both interpretations are equally valid and translators may choose either one. But in either case, adjustments will have to be made in the translation to give clear expression to that interpretation. As noted above, Good News Translation as it now stands leans toward the first interpretation, although it can still be taken as agreeing with the second. On the other hand, Revised Standard Version leans toward the second interpretation, but again it can also be taken as agreeing with the first.

Beloved is a word that is frequently used by New Testament writers to address their readers. As a form of address it expresses the writer’s feeling of endearment toward his readers, hence Good News Translation “My dear friends.” Jude also uses it here as a signal to his readers that this is the beginning of the body of his letter. In some languages Beloved will be rendered “My dear fellow Christians.” In other languages this word will be expressed idiomatically; for example, “My dear elders and youngers.”

Being very eager is a Greek expression that can mean either “to be very eager to” or “to make every effort to,” that is, “to try as hard as one can.” The first of these focuses on Jude’s intention, while the second makes it possible to understand that Jude was already engaged in writing. Here again, the choice out of the two possibilities discussed above will determine the meaning that is chosen for this expression.

As noted above, to write is a present infinitive and suggests a more leisurely style, as contrasted with the aorist in the second part of the verse, which suggests urgency.

Our common salvation (Good News Translation “we share in common”) means the salvation that is held in common by both Jude and his readers, or the salvation that is experienced by all Christians, including Jude and his readers. Our should therefore be taken as inclusive in languages that make a distinction between the exclusive and the inclusive first person plural pronoun—that is, Jude together with his readers, as contrasted to exclusive, which would be Jude only and not including his readers.

The term salvation has both its negative and positive aspects. Negatively it refers to being rescued from a bad or disadvantageous situation. Positively it is the gift of new life or new possibilities.

In the Gospels “salvation” primarily means being rescued from sickness and being given new health and wholeness. (The word for “heal” is the same word as that for “save.”) In the rest of the New Testament, however, “salvation” refers to being rescued from the power of sin and being given new life, that is, a life that is in accord with what God has promised. This new life is something Christians experience at present, although they do not yet experience it in its completeness. It is in the end time when this experience of the new life will be full and complete through Jesus Christ. Theologically speaking, this salvation or new life has both a present and a future reference: it is a present experience, but it remains to be completed in the future, at the end of time. This latter interpretation may be a possibility in this letter, and especially in 2 Peter, considering its focus on the end times. However, considering the situation of the intended readers of these letters, who have to contend with a pagan environment, and who are clearly a very small segment of the population, it is perhaps better to understand the positive aspect of salvation as the power to live in accordance with God’s will in the midst of all the temptations and trials arising out of a pagan or non-Christian environment.

Another possibility is to understand salvation as a technical term referring to the Christian faith or the Christian religion. This is the position of some commentaries and is reflected in some translations; for example, Barclay [Barclay] has “the faith which we all share.” It is much more likely, however, that salvation here refers to the gift of new life through Jesus Christ. If this is so, other translation models for the phrase our common salvation are “the new life God has given to all of us through Jesus Christ” or “the new life we all share that comes from God through Jesus Christ.”

The word for necessary includes the components of necessity and compulsion. Jude seems to suggest that he is rather hesitant to write, but because of necessity he must now write at once. This understanding is echoed in some translations; for example, Moffat [Moffatt] “I am forced to write.” The verb here is in the aorist tense, which contrasts with the present participle “being very eager.” This tends to favor the interpretation that Jude had a change of plans. (See discussion at the beginning of this verse.)

The purpose of Jude writing immediately is to appeal to them to contend for the faith. The word translated appeal can also mean “exhort,” “encourage,” “admonish,” or in a stronger sense, “urge.” This may be expressed idiomatically as, for example, “give strength to your hearts.” To contend translates a word that also means “to fight,” “to defend,” “to strive urgently,” “to struggle for,” “to uphold.” The verb is found only here in the New Testament and comes originally from the athletic arena. Whether it is used as a metaphor here cannot now be determined. What is clear though is that it is used here not in a passive but in a very active sense: Jude is exhorting his readers not simply to defend the faith, but to fight for it and to actively promote it, not only with words but also in action. In the latter part of his letter he will give particular ways in which his readers should fight for the faith (verses 20-23).

What does faith mean in this case? This word is rich in meaning and is used in a variety of ways in the New Testament. Among its meanings are the following:

1. trust in and commitment to someone (usually a person’s trust in Christ or in God);

2. believing something as true or valid;

3. a body of teaching, or doctrine;

4. a religious movement (such as the Christian faith, which is essentially the same as “the Christian religion”);

5. a Christian virtue, that is, a trait or ability that a Christian receives as a result of his trust in Christ; and

6. conviction or certainty.

It seems that of the above, meanings 1, 3, and 4 fit the context best. If faith refers to “the Christian faith” or “the Christian religion,” it may mean the same as “salvation” in the first part of the verse. On the other hand, it may refer to a body of doctrine that is understood as embodying the main tenets of Christian teaching and is therefore regarded by the Christian community as authoritative. Most commentaries favor this second interpretation.

It is very important that in translating faith here, it must be distinguished from “faith” that means trust in and commitment to God or Jesus Christ. Faith as Jude uses it here refers not to a person’s response, but primarily to the content of what is believed, that is, Christian doctrine or teaching, or to the Christian faith as a religious movement. If we follow this interpretation, in many languages the phrase contend for the faith may be translated as “defend the Christian religion” or “strive hard to uphold the Christian doctrine (or, teaching).”

This faith is described as once for all delivered to the saints. The word for delivered means to “hand down,” “pass on,” “transmit,” and is used in the handing down or transmitting of tradition or religious teaching from one generation to the next. The subject or doer is not named in the text; it is suggested that the agent here is either God or the apostles. Once for all emphasizes that this faith was given only once, and that when it was handed down, it was complete, and therefore it should be handed down to future generations without any change whatsoever. Another way of saying this is “one time for all times.”

The saints is literally “the holy ones.” The focus here is not on moral holiness, but on relationship with God; people are described as “holy” because they are called by God and are consecrated, or dedicated, to him. It is in this sense that “holy ones” is used as a term for God’s people. In Jude, as well as in other parts of the New Testament, the term saints has become another name for Christians, that is, people who are called to trust in Christ and are dedicated to him. (See, for example, Acts 9.13, 32, 42; Rom 12.13; Heb 6.10.) That is why in Good News Translation saints when used in this way is usually translated as “God’s people.”

As is the case in verses 1 and 2, it may be necessary in some cases to divide this long sentence into two or more sentences. Alternative translation models for this verse are:

• My dear fellow believers, I was making every effort (or, doing my best) to write to you about the new life we all share which comes from God through Jesus Christ, when I felt the urgent need to write to you at once. I wanted to encourage you to try even harder to uphold the things we believe as Christians. It is this faith which, once and for all (or, one time for all times), God has given to his people, and which cannot be changed.

Or:

• My dear fellow believers, I have been always ready to write to you about the new life we all share that comes from God through Jesus Christ. But now I feel compelled to write to you and encourage….

• My dear fellow believers, I was making every effort to write to you about the new life we all share that comes from God through Jesus Christ. But now I feel urged to encourage you through this letter, so that you will try even harder to uphold the Christian faith. God has given this faith once and for all to his people, and it cannot be changed.

Quoted with permission from Arichea, Daniel C. and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on The Letter from Jude. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1993. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .