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Jewish Christology Pt. 3

Sam Shamoun

We have come to the final section of our examination.

Jesus as the Sovereign Lord of the Shema

 The following text is a further indication that these authors believed that Jesus is God Incarnate:  

“For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Sovereign and Lord, Jesus Christ (ton monon despoten kai kyrion hemon ‘Iesoun Christon).” Jude 1:4

The particular Greek construction employed here shows that Jude is identifying Jesus as the only Sovereign and Lord that believers have:

21 tn The terms “Master and Lord” both refer to the same person. The construction in Greek is known as the Granville Sharp rule, named after the English philanthropist-linguist who first clearly articulated the rule in 1798. Sharp pointed out that in the construction article-noun-καί-noun (where καί [kai] = “and”), when two nouns are singular, personal, and common (i.e., not proper names), they always had the same referent. Illustrations such as “the friend and brother,” “the God and Father,” etc. abound in the NT to prove Sharp’s point. For more discussion see ExSyn 270-78. See also Titus 2:13 and 2 Pet 1:1. (NET Bible)

Leading NT scholar Richard Bauckham provides further reasons for taking this as a reference to Jesus, and therefore another explicit testimony to Christ’s essential Deity:

“Even apart from the letter of Jude, the reliable evidence we have about the relatives of Jesus already tells us about the amount, if not about their Christology, at least about the christological titles which were used in their circle. Four christological titles were certainly used: (1) ‘Messiah’ seems to have been the universal Christian designation of Jesus from the earliest period of the church. Only if it goes back to the earliest Palestinian church can the fact that all the New Testament writers call Jesus Christos be explained. Moreover, in Jewish writings this designation is found most often in connection with the hope for the Davidic Messiah (e.g. PssSol 17:32; 18:5, 7; 4 Ezra 12:32). Since we know that the relatives of Jesus were well-known for their claim to Davidic ancestry (Eusebius, HE 320:1-2; 3:32:3), we may assume that they used the title Messiah to designate Jesus the royal Messiah of the house of David. (2) The brothers of Jesus were known in Palestinian Christian circles as 'the brothers of the Lord' (hoi adelphoi tou kyriou: 1 Cor 9:5; Gal 1:19; Hegesippus ap. Eusebius, HE 2:23:4; 3:20:1). So Jesus himself must have been known in their circle as 'the Lord' (Aramaic mare' and Greek ho kyrios). (3) Most probably Jesus was known not only as 'the Lord,' but also as 'our Lord.' The Aramaic invocation preserved in Greek transliteration as maranatha (1 Cor 16:22; Did 10:6) should most probably be read as marana 'atha, 'Our Lord, come!’ This invocation must have been current in the circles in which Jesus' relatives moved. (4) The relatives of Jesus were also known in Palestinian Christian circles as hoi desposynoi (Julius Africanus, ap. Eusebius, HE 1:7:14). It follows that Jesus himself must have been called ho despotes.

All four of these christological titles – and only these four – occur in the letter of Jude. This is not especially remarkable in the case of the first three, but in the case of the last – despotes – it is striking. If despotes is used as a title for Christ (rather than God) in Jude 4, then this usage seems to be unique in extant early Christian literature before the late second century, with the sole exception of 2 Peter 2:1, which is dependent on Jude 4. But the term desposynoi for the relatives of the [sic] Jesus is only explicable if ho despotes was commonly used to refer to Jesus in Palestinian Jewish Christianity. Jude's use of this term is therefore an impressive, but neglected indication of his letter's origin in those Palestinian Christian circles in which the desposynoi were leaders…” (Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus [T & T Clark International, London – New York, 2004], 6. Jude’s Christology, I. Christological titles, pp. 282-283; bold emphasis ours)

Bauckham goes on to say that:

“Jude's first reference to the lordship of Christ (apart from the implied reference in calling himself 'Iesou Christou doulos in v 1) is the emphatic phrase ton monon despoten kai kyrion hemon 'Iesoun Christon in verse 4. Some commentators have taken the phrase to refer to God and Jesus ('the only Master and our Lord Jesus Christ'), but it should probably be read as a reference entirely to Jesus ('our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ'). The absence of the article before kyrion would in similar cases tend to imply that both epithets apply to one person, but the absence of the article before kyrios is so common that the point probably cannot be pressed here. On the other hand, the fact that despotes is sometimes in early Christian literature used of God but hardly ever of Christ (see below) cannot be decisive against its reference to Christ here, since at any rate the first reader of Jude whose understanding of the phrase is known to us took despotes to refer to Christ (2 Pet 2:1), while the fact that the relatives of Jesus were known in Palestinian Jewish Christian circles as hoi desposynoi (Julius Africanus, ap. Eusebius, HE 1:7:14) shows that despotes was used of Christ in precisely the circles from which Jude's letter comes. Finally, since despotes and kyrios are virtually synonymous, it would seem very odd to combine a reference to 'the only Master' with one to another 'Lord.' Although on a theological level the lordship of Christ would not contradict the sole lordship of God, such a blatant contradiction on the linguistic surface seems unlikely.

We may therefore take it that ton monon despoten kai kyrion hemon 'Iesoun Christon is a deliberately full reference to the lordship of Jesus Christ, strategically placed in the statement of theme (v 4) for the exegetical section of Jude's letter (vv 5-19) which is concerned with the coming judgment by Jesus the Lord on those who reject his lordship. He is called 'our only Master and Lord,' not because Jude's opponents are teaching some theological error (pagan or Gnostic) which infringes on monotheism or the sole mediation of Christ, but because they are libertines, who deny Jesus Christ by deliberately ignoring his moral demands in practice and teach others to do so…” (Ibid, III. Jude 4, pp. 302-303)

He further writes:

“Of despotes referring to Christ, Jude 4 and 2 Peter 2:1, which is dependent on Jude 4, are the only extant examples before the second half of the second century (Melito, Peri Pascha 96-97; Mart. Justin [Rec. b] 5:6; Clem. Alex. Strom. 4:7). But, as we have already noted, Palestinian Jewish Christianity would seem, from the evidence of the term desposynoi, to have been peculiar in this respect. Jude's use of despotes for Christ, though exceptional by comparison with other extant Christian literature of the first century of the church, probably reflects a usage current in the circles in which the relatives of Jesus were leaders… The term desposynoi for the relatives of Jesus is easier to understand if despotes described Jesus as the messianic Ruler and desposynoi therefore attributed to his relatives the dignity of a royal family. The close association of despotes and kyrios in Jude 4 probably indicates not two distinct images, but one image, which the use of two terms reinforces. The most appropriate translation would be: 'our only Sovereign and Lord Jesus Christ.' The two terms are probably alternative Greek renderings of the single Aramaic expression marana. (In bilingual inscriptions from Palmyra, maran is translated as despotes when it refers to the Roman emperor, but as kyrios when it refers to the local Palmyrene ruler.)

“If we remember the interchangeability of despotes and kyrios in Jewish use for God, the fact that either could represent the tetragrammaton, and the occasional use of both together with reference to God (cf. also Josephus, Ant. 20:90; TAbr [Rec.A] 4:6; 9:6), it becomes likely that the double expression despoten kai kyrion hemon has the same kind of divine overtone as kyrios in verse 14:  Jesus' lordship is the eschatological lordship of God. This is virtually necessitated by monon, which in a Jewish religious context could not fail to suggest the special Jewish insistence on the unique lordship of God. The closest parallels to Jude's phrase are in Josephus, when he reports the views of Jews who refused to submit to Roman rule on the grounds that God was their 'only Ruler and Sovereign' (Ant. 18:23: monon 'hegemona kai despoten; cf. BJ 7:323, 410) These parallels do not show that the issue in Jude 4 is political: there is no other indication that Jude's opponents were obeying Caesar rather than Christ. They do show that the phrase in Jude 4 evokes the exclusive lordship of God. A Jewish monotheist could use such a phrase only because he understood Christ's lordship to be God's. It is not that Christ is identical with God the Father, still less that his lordship is in competition with or replaces that of God the Father, but that the lordship he exercises is the exclusive lordship of the one God (cf. Phil 2:10-11). (Ibid, pp. 305-307; bold emphasis ours)

Suffice it to say, this is a rather astonishing assertion when we keep in mind that according to the OT writings the only Sovereign Lord that the Jews were to have is Yahweh himself!

In fact, Greek-speaking Jews would have heard a deliberate echo of the Shema, which used kyrios as a substitute or surrogate for the divine name:

“Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord (kyrios ho theos hemon kyrios heis esti).” Deuteronomy 6:4 LXX

“And the Lord (kyrios) shall be king over all the earth: in that day there shall be one Lord (kyrios heis), and his name one,” Zechariah 14:9 LXX

And when we further combine this with Jude’s concluding doxology:

to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen.” Jude 1:25

Then it would have been obvious to any one familiar with the Hebrew Bible that Jude had deliberately grouped both God and Christ together within the divine identity of the one Lord God mentioned in the Shema

Jude wasn’t unique in this respect since the Apostle Paul also adapted the Shema in order to include Jesus within the Godhead:

“Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’ For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth--as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’ -- yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” 1 Corinthians 8:4-6

James does something similar as well, since he speaks of there being one Lawgiver and Judge who can both save and destroy:

There is one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you that you judge your neighbor?” James 4:12

And since the One whom James says is coming to judge is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ,

“Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble, brethren, against one another, that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the doors.” James 5:7-9

This strongly suggests that James is referring to Christ as the one Lawgiver and Judge.

This is further corroborated by the fact that the NT speaks of the Law of Christ:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2

“To those outside the law I became as one outside the law--not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ--that I might win those outside the law.” 1 Corinthians 9:21

“Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

And mentions the commands which the Lord Jesus gave for his followers to obey:

“Every one then who hears THESE WORDS OF MINE and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And every one who hears THESE WORDS OF MINE and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.’ And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” Matthew 7:24-27

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe ALL THAT I HAVE COMMANDED YOU; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.’” Matthew 28:18-20   

The Scriptures also testify that Christ shall judge all flesh, including believers, in order to determine their eternal destinies and rankings in the kingdom:

"When the Son of man comes in HIS GLORY, and all the angels with HIM, then HE will sit on HIS GLORIOUS THRONE. Before HIM will be gathered all the nations, and HE will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and HE will place the sheep at HIS RIGHT HAND, but the goats at the left. Then THE KING will say to those at HIS RIGHT HAND, 'Come, O blessed of MY FATHER, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave ME food, I was thirsty and you gave ME drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed ME, I was naked and you clothed ME, I was sick and you visited ME, I was in prison and you came to ME.' Then the righteous will answer him, ‘LORD, when did we see YOU hungry and feed YOU, or thirsty and give YOU drink? And when did we see YOU a stranger and welcome YOU, or naked and clothe YOU? And when did we see YOU sick or in prison and visit YOU?' And THE KING will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to ME.' Then HE will say to those at HIS LEFT HAND, 'Depart from ME, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave ME no food, I was thirsty and you gave ME no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome ME, naked and you did not clothe ME, sick and in prison and you did not visit ME.' Then they also will answer, 'LORD, when did we see YOU hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to YOU?' Then HE will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to ME.' And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." Matthew 25:31-46

“You know the word which he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace by Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all)… And he commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that he is the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him ALL THE PROPHETS bear witness that every one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins THROUGH HIS NAME." Acts 10:36, 42

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness BY A MAN whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead." Acts 17:30-31

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.” 2 Corinthians 5:10

Now this doesn’t mean that the commands which Jesus issued did not originate from the Father, or that they were not also the Father’s commands, since the Scriptures are quite clear that everything that belongs to the Son also belongs to the Father and vice-versa:

All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” John 16:15

all mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.” John 17:10

Nor does this suggest that the Son judges apart from the Father’s will. On the contrary, Jesus only acts in perfect accord with the Father so that everything he does is the very thing that the Father himself does or would do:

“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; FOR WHATEVER HE DOES, THAT THE SON DOES LIKEWISE. For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all that he himself is doing; and greater works than these will he show him, that you may marvel.’” John 5:19-20

What this simply means is that Christ has been appointed by the Father to be the one and only Lawgiver and Judge for the purpose of having everyone come to the recognition that he is God’s unique Son who shares in the divine identity and glory of the Father whom all must worship in the same way that they worship him:

“For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, EVEN AS they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” John 5:21-23

Hence, Jesus must be God in order for him to be the one Lawgiver and Judge who both saves and destroys, since these are the roles and functions which the Hebrew Bible ascribes to Yahweh:

“But there the LORD in majesty will be for us a place of broad rivers and streams, where no galley with oars can go, nor majestic ship can pass. For the LORD is our judge; the LORD is our lawgiver; the LORD is our king; he will save us.” Isaiah 33:21-22

Jesus as the Pre-incarnate God of the Hebrew Bible

There is additional evidence that Jude believed that Christ is Yahweh since he writes that it was Jesus who delivered Israel out of Egypt and subsequently destroyed the disbelievers among them in the desert! 

“Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus [Lord], who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, HE [Jesus] has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” Jude 1:5-7

Jude had just got done speaking of Jesus as the only Sovereign and Lord whom believers have, which strongly suggests that he is actually referring to Christ in the very next verse. If this is the case then Jude is claiming that Jesus is the same Lord God who saved Israel during the Exodus.(1)

The NET Bible translators provide the textual and contextual reasons for taking this as another clear indication of Jude’s belief in the Deity of Christ:

24 tc ‡ The reading ᾿Ιησοῦς (Ihsous, “Jesus”) is deemed too hard by several scholars, since it involves the notion of Jesus acting in the early history of the nation Israel. However, not only does this reading enjoy the strongest support from a variety of early witnesses (e.g., A B 33 81 1241 1739 1881 2344 pc vg co Or1739mg), but the plethora of variants demonstrate that scribes were uncomfortable with it, for they seemed to exchange κύριος (kurios, “Lord”) or θεός (qeos, “God”) for ᾿Ιησοῦς (though P72 has the intriguing reading θες Χριστός [qeos Cristos, “God Christ”] for ᾿Ιησος). In addition to the evidence supplied in NA27 for this reading, note also {88 322 323 424c 665 915 2298 eth Cyr Hier Bede}. As difficult as the reading ᾿Ιησοῦς is, in light of v. 4 and in light of the progress of revelation (Jude being one of the last books in the NT to be composed), it is wholly appropriate.

sn The construction our Master and Lord, Jesus Christ in v. 4 follows Granville Sharp’s rule (see note on Lord). The construction strongly implies the deity of Christ. This is followed by a statement that Jesus was involved in the salvation (and later judgment) of the Hebrews. He is thus to be identified with the Lord God, Yahweh. Verse 5, then, simply fleshes out what is implicit in v. 4. (NET Bible; bold emphasis ours)

Noted Evangelical scholars Robert M. Bowman Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski explain how the variant readings along with the immediate context conclusively establish that Jude actually believed that the preincarnate Christ was the Lord God who saved Israel at the time of Moses:

“After speaking of Jesus Christ as ‘our only Master and Lord,’ Jude could hardly have proceeded in the very next sentence to refer to someone other than Jesus as ‘the Lord.’ The Lord who delivered his people out of Egypt, then, must be the Lord Jesus.

“In fact, this is probably what the original text of Jude explicitly said. Many of the earliest manuscripts actually say ‘Jesus’ instead of ‘the Lord’ in verse 5, and this is most likely the original reading. There are three principles of the discipline of textual criticism that, when considered together, point to this conclusion.

“The first principle concerns the external evidence of the origins of the manuscripts. All other things being equal, the earlier and more widely attested reading is to be preferred. In this case both ‘Lord’ and ‘Jesus’ are among the earliest readings, but ‘Jesus’ is more widely attested. The Vaticanus and Alexandrinus uncials (fourth and fifth centuries, respectively) both have ‘Jesus,’ while the Sinaiticus and C uncials (also of the fourth and fifth centuries) are the major witnesses for ‘Lord.’ The reading ‘Jesus,’ though, has much greater support from the early translations of the New Testament into other languages (such as Coptic, Ethiopic, and Latin) and better support from the early church’s leading biblical scholars, including Jerome (early fifth century) and possibly the third-century Origen. The reading ‘Jesus,’ then, clearly has the edge in terms of external evidence.

“The second principle is that, all other things being equal, the harder or more difficult reading – the one that sounds the strangest, to put it crudely – is more likely to be original (since a scribe is more likely to change a text from something that sounds strange to something that doesn’t, rather than the other way around). Here, the reading ‘Jesus’ obviously has the edge. Three of the five members of the editorial committee for the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament thought, in fact, ‘that the reading was difficult to the point of impossibility.’ The other two committee members, Bruce Metzger and Allen Wikgren, agreed it was difficult but not impossible, and concluded that it was the correct reading.  

“The third and most general principle is that whatever reading is more likely to have given rise to the others as alterations is probably the original reading. The answer to this question is much disputed, but we agree with those who argue that ‘Jesus’ is probably original because it is more likely that scribes would change ‘Jesus’ (the admittedly harder reading) to ‘Lord’ (or, in a few other manuscripts, ‘God’) but not vice versa.    

“Whichever reading we follow, though, Jude’s immediately preceding reference to Jesus as ‘Lord’ at the end of verse 4 makes it clear that he is the subject of verse 5. According to Jude, the Lord Jesus not only existed during the time of the Exodus but was the one who both delivered Israel from Egypt and then destroyed the unbelieving Israelites in the wilderness.” (Bowman & Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place –The Case for the deity of Christ [Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI 2007], Chapter 8. Jesus Has Always Been There, pp. 98-99; bold emphasis ours)  

What all of this means is that Jude actually believed that Christ appeared as Yahweh God long before he took on flesh and assumed a physical body!

Concluding Remarks

In this series we took a close look at what James and Jude had to say concerning their half-brother and discovered that they both affirmed that Jesus was their exalted Lord and that they were his slaves. They also taught that Christ is the Lord who comes to save and judge mankind, thereby ascribing to him the very unique roles and functions which the Holy Bible elsewhere assigns to Yahweh God. In the case of Jude, he even quoted a passage from 1 Enoch which refers to God himself coming with his myriads of angels and applied that specifically to Christ!  

James further described Jesus as the Lord who possesses Glory, with Jude calling him the only Sovereign Lord that believers have. Jude went as far as to claim that it was Christ himself, as the preincarnate Yahweh, who both saved Israel from Egypt and destroyed them in the wilderness for their disbelief, and who also punished Sodom and Gomorrah!

What this establishes is that so-called Jewish Christianity is not at all compatible with the teachings of Islam, but perfectly agrees with the theological views espoused by the blessed Apostle Paul. That means if Muhammad was living at the time of the Jewish followers of Jesus such as James, they would have all condemned him as a false prophet and antichrist for denying the essential Deity of Christ and for perverting the message which he brought to his followers.

Related Articles

Scholars on the Christology of James and Jude
The Didache and the Deity of Christ [Part 1], [Part 2], [Part 3], [Part 4]


(1) P72, a late third century papyrus, contains an interesting variant since, instead of kyrios (“Lord”) or ‘Iesous (“Jesus”), this manuscript actually has the words theos christos (“the God Christ”), which furnishes the following reading:

“But I want to remind you about what you have for all time already come to know well, namely, that the God Christ, saved people out of Egypt, but then he destroyed those who did not believe.”

This not only indicates that the scribe(s) believed in Christ’s essential Deity, as noted Greek NT textual scholar Tommy Wasserman states:

“Finally, we must consider the text itself. Marchant A. King commented upon three unique readings in P72, one in each of the epistles, ‘giving evidence of the fullest acceptance of the deity of Christ by the scribe (or one of his predecessors) and the church in his area’.52 These are Jude 5b, 1 Pet 5.1a, and 2 Pet 1.2b. In Jude 5b, the usual reading is ‘the Lord’ (who saved the people from Egypt): some MSS have ‘Jesus’ (A B 33 pc) or ‘God’ (C2 vgms syrph arm geo sla), while P72 reads ‘theos Christos’ (‘God Christ’). This cannot be a conflation since no MS reads ‘Christos. Moreover, in 1 Pet 5.1, P72 reads ‘the sufferings of God’ (instead of Christ) and in 2 Pet 1.2 it omits ‘and’ after ‘God’ so that the resulting text reads ‘in the knowledge of God our Lord Jesus’. This could be a mere omission but it fits very well with the two previously discussed readings, so that we have here a conscious theological change through which Jesus is identified as God.” (Wasserman, “Papyrus 72 and the Bodmer Miscellaneous Codex,” New Testament Studies 51 [Cambridge University Press, UK 2005], pp. 152-153; bold emphasis ours)

It may also be an indication that the scribe(s) could see from the context that the One who is said to have delivered the Israelites out of Egypt, and then subsequently destroyed them in the wilderness, must have been Christ. He/they may have then reasoned that this meant that Jude was identifying Christ as God since the Hebrew Scriptures are clear that it was Yahweh God who saved and destroyed the Israelites.