First, we should realize that the name Jude is just a shortened form of the Jewish name Judah – or, as it was written in Greek, Judas. So it is not difficult to see why modern translations of the Bible call the author of this epistle “Jude” rather than “Judas” in order to differentiate him from Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus.
Some have thought that this righteous Jude was the same person as the other individual called Judas in the lists of the twelve disciples. Although the King James Version calls that apostle “Judas the brother of James” in Luke 6:16, this is based on a mistranslation. The word “brother” does not appear in the Greek of the verse and virtually all other translations call this individual “the son of James,” as the expression should be rendered.
Another idea is that Jude was another of the original twelve disciples of Jesus – the one called Thomas. The reason for this is interesting. The Gospel of John – the only Gospel that ever mentions Thomas separately from the lists of disciples – calls him “Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve” (John 20:24, etc.). Several early Christian manuscripts actually refer to Thomas as “Didymus Judas Thomas,” and the names Didymus in Greek and Thomas in Aramaic both mean the same thing: “twin.”
While this might seem like an attractive possibility for the identity of Jude, it is an unlikely one. Apart from the fact the early texts that speak of Thomas as having the name Judas are few and only found in a very limited area, the letter of Jude itself suggests that Jude was neither the apostle called Judas or the one called Thomas. If Jude had been one of the original disciples, there would be no reason why he would not have introduced himself in his letter as the apostle Jude – just as the other apostles generally did in their letters.
Even more importantly, the author of Jude specifically does not include himself with the apostles when he wrote: “But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold” (Jude 1:17) – which we can contrast with the nearly identical statement of Peter (who does call himself an apostle) when he says: “… be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior” (2 Peter 3:2 NKJV).
It is much more likely that when Jude writes simply that he is “a brother of James,” he is referring to James the half-brother of Jesus. This identification has the weight of a great deal of Christian tradition and of scripture itself behind it. Matthew 13:55 records the names of two of the brothers of Jesus as James and Judas, and very early Christian writings state that Jude was that same Judas, the brother of Christ.
Both these brothers of Jesus – James and Judas – were not among the original disciples who became apostles, and the New Testament tells us, in fact, that they rejected Jesus and his teachings (John 7:5, Matthew 13:57, Mark 3:21, etc.). It was only after the resurrection that Jesus’ half-brothers came to believe and then became important members of the early Church, with James becoming the virtual leader of the Jerusalem Christians (Galatians 1:18-19). In stark contrast to the Judas (Iscariot) who appeared to accept Christ’s teaching at the beginning, but who betrayed him at the end, the Judas who wrote our book of Jude may have rejected Christ at first yet eventually, like James, he became a fervent believer and upholder of the truth.
In writing to many people he did not know personally, it is certainly inconceivable that the author of the epistle of Jude would not explain which James he was the brother of unless he and James were known to everyone – that he was not just the brother of any James, but the brother of James the brother of Jesus. This puts the first verse of Jude in clear perspective and provides one of the most impressive examples of deep humility in the whole New Testament.
Jude was one of the most important people in the early Church, yet his description of himself as simply “the brother of James” is an amazingly humble one. How many people, if they had been the brother of Jesus, would not have introduced themselves that way? Yet humility was one of the greatest traits of Jesus (Philippians 2:7) and one which Jude and the other brothers of Jesus had witnessed frequently.
Jude knew that Jesus had described himself as a servant (Matthew 20:28), and in describing himself not as the “brother of Jesus,” but as “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:1), Jude begins his letter by stressing that first and foremost he was simply the servant of a servant. This may not tell us what made Jude important, but it tells us exactly who he was.