Digging Deeper Into Worship: Jude’s Doxology

Matthew tells us that Jesus had four half-brothers: James, Joseph, Simon and Judas. James and Judas each wrote a letter that is included in the New Testament. Apparently our English translators hesitated to use the same name as our Lord’s betrayer, so instead of a Book of Judas, we have the Book of Jude.

Jude writes a short but passionate letter to believers in the mid-first century, urging them to contend for the faith once entrusted to the saints (Jude 3). After a scathing denunciation of the false teachers who were threatening the gospel (vv. 4-16) he exhorts his fellow believers to (1) remember that the scoffers and their attacks against the truth were predicted by the apostles, (2) keep themselves in the love of God, and (3) be merciful, working to save as many as possible.

After completing the body of his fiery letter, Jude suddenly pours out his heart in a marvelous doxology that signals the end of his brief correspondence:

24 To the One able to keep you-all from falling,
and to make you stand before his glory,
blameless, with great rejoicing,
25 to the only God our Savior,
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
are glory, majesty, power and authority,
before every age, and now, and into all the ages, Amen!
(Jude 24-25)

Jude’s doxology begins by describing God as the one who is uniquely qualified to meet the needs which Jude has discussed in his short letter. Despite the forces of deception arrayed against these first-century followers of Jesus, God is able to keep them from falling. More than that, God is able to establish them in the very presence of his glory, and to place them in that wonderful place in a state of blamelessness. And even more than all of that, he is able to do so in such a way that they will experience great rejoicing. So Jude begins this wonderful doxology by expressing an ascending trajectory of praise that moves from negative to positive, from not falling to standing in the presence of God’s glory, from standing without blame to standing with great joy. One gets the sense of ascending the hill of the Lord for Temple worship. But Jude will not escort his readers up the mountain of God without accompanying them into the glorious presence of God. Note a small but important switch in v. 25.

Jude’s doxology continues in v. 25 with the second of two extended descriptions of God. First, God is the One able to keep Jude’s readers from falling, etc. (v. 24). Second, God is the only God our Savior, etc. (v. 25). Notice that Jude begins by addressing God in relation to his readers (to the One able to keep you-all) and then he addresses God in relation to both himself and his readers (to the only God our Savior). Having addressed the situation of his readers in v. 24 Jude now turns to their common experience with God, which exists “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” It is an experience and relationship made possible by Jesus Christ their common Master.

Notice that God is given the title “Savior” and Jesus is called “Lord.” Jesus is usually named Savior in the NT, but Jude’s doxology is not the only place that God is named Savior. Jesus and God are in agreement with regard to our salvation. We should never think that a kind and loving Savior found it necessary to rescue us from a mean and hateful god (no capitalization because such a ‘god’ is myth). God the Father is only an enemy to those who insist on rejecting his overtures of grace. And grace is his initiative. Jesus acted on our behalf at the prompting of God the Father: For God so loved the world that he sent his Son. . . . Father and Son collaborated in the redemption of lost humanity. And let us not miss that vital word “only” in relation to God. The God who is Savior through Jesus Christ is the only God. There is no other God and there is no other salvation but that which is provided through faith in Jesus Christ.

Jude’s phrase “through Jesus Christ our Lord” can be taken one of two ways. Grammatically, it can belong either to the phrase immediately preceding or to the phrase immediately following:

. . . . to the only God (who is) our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, to him are glory, majesty, power and authority. . . .

Or,

. . . to the only God our Savior are glory, majesty, power and authority through Jesus Christ our Lord. . . .

If the former option is correct, then Jude is affirming that God is our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. If the latter version is right, Jude is including the phrase in question as part of the main thought of his doxology. In other words, glory, majesty, power and authority come to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (see the NIV, which chooses this option by repositioning the phrase in question after the fourfold subject, as in the second example above, even though it occurs before it in the Greek text, as in the first example above).

Both possibilities are theologically fitting. Forced to choose, however, we would prefer the emphasis on God being our Savior through Jesus Christ who is our Lord (the first option above, which seems to be a more natural understanding of the Greek word order). Glory, majesty, power and authority already belonged to God before Jesus became the Savior of God’s people (unless one wishes to bring in the eternal nature of God’s redemptive plans, see 1 Peter 1:20 & Revelation 13:8). Glory, majesty, power and authority belong to God by virtue of the fact that he is God and that he is the Maker of the heavens, the earth, the sea and all that is in them. He created all things and by his will they exist and they have been created (see Revelation 4). The heavens declare the glory of God and the skies proclaim his righteousness (Psalm 19). To him is the glory!

Now, having described God twice, once for his readers and a second time for his readers and himself, Jude is ready to complete his thought. What will he say about this great God he has described with such evocative language? Grammatically speaking, the twofold description of God supplies the direct object (each description governed by the dative case along with modifiers). Now Jude provides the grammatical subject of his complex statement. Not surprisingly, the subject of his sentence is more than one word. It is comprised of four constituents: glory, majesty, power and authority (δόξα μεγαλωσύνη κράτος καὶ ἐξουσία). These are attributes regularly ascribed to God (see Ephesians 3:19; Romans 11:36; 16:27; Revelation 4:11; 5:12; 19:1).

The first of the four attributes, “glory,” is the radiance of God’s appearance. He lives in unapproachable light. But remember, he is able to make believers stand blameless and with great joy in his presence. How? He is God our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. Without Jesus we would not have any hope of standing blameless and with great rejoicing in the presence of the only God. “Majesty,” the second attribute, refers to the trappings of royalty. God is the greatest King. He sits on a throne with the appearance of jasper and carnelian, a rainbow like an emerald encircling his throne. Twenty-four elders dressed in white and wearing golden crowns are seated on twenty-four thrones surrounding God’s royal station. Before the throne is something like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. And four living creatures surround God’s exalted seat, one with the appearance of a lion, another like an ox, another with a face like a man, and another like an eagle (see Revelation 4 & Isaiah 6). What a throne room! What a King! One bows before kings, especially this one. Only at the king’s pleasure does one stand in his presence. And it is the good pleasure of the only God to make his people stand in his presence.

Jude also ascribes to God both “power” and “authority.” Someone may have the power to act but not have the authority. The reverse may also be true. To possess either one without the other is to be frustrated, to be dependent upon others. To have both is to be able and to be independent. God is not only independent, he is sovereign. He needs nobody’s permission and he needs nobody’s help. He has the power to act and the authority to do so. And God is holy and just. In fact, righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. God is able to do all that he wills and all that he wills to do is right. It is right that he keeps his people from falling and enables them to stand in his glorious presence blameless and with great joy. It is right that he is the only God who is Savior through Jesus Christ the Lord.

So, having stated a direct object, “God,” and a subject, “glory, majesty, power and authority,” Jude finishes his doxology with an adverbial phrase: “before every age and now and into all the ages” (or, “forever”). This phrase answers the question “When?” When should the glory, majesty, power and authority be ascribed to God? Jude’s answer: before every age and now and forever, which is an emphatic always! But this phrase is modifying a verb which is absent in the Greek text. In the translation above, “are” appears in italics because it has been supplied. No main verb occurs in the Greek text of Jude’s doxology. As is often the case with doxologies in the NT, Jude’s written worship is constructed as a noun phrase (vv. 24-25 have no finite verbs; v. 24 includes a participle functioning as a substantive, the One being able, and an infinitive completing the verbal idea in the participle, the One being able to keep). This same type of noun phrase construction occurs in doxologies recorded in Ephesians 3:20-21 and Romans 11:36; 16:27.

Presumably some form of the Greek verb “to be” (εἰμί) must be supplied. English versions of the Bible provide the English word “be” in order to make a complete sentence (based on the rules for good English, not the rules for good first-century Koine Greek). But does that accurately reflect Jude’s thinking? What is the mood of the missing verb? Is it one of potential, wish, command, or reality? If Jude is expressing potential or a wish then the subjunctive mood or optative mood of the verb is implied. Jude would then be saying “May they be,” that is, “May glory, majesty, power and authority be (given) to God.” If Jude is stating a command then he is saying “Give glory, majesty, power and authority to God!” (although he would use a third-person imperative, which English cannot duplicate, so this example is the second-person imperative). Another logical possibility is a future tense. If Jude is expressing hope about the future, then he is saying, “Glory, majesty, power and authority will be God’s!”

One could argue, however, that the mood of the missing verb should be indicative, a statement of fact, which would employ the English verb “are” (instead of “is” since the subject is plural). In this case Jude’s worship is expressing not potential, not a wishful desire, may they be, or a command, make it so, or a statement about the future, they will be, but a triumphant affirmation, they are! In this case he is saying, “Glory, majesty, power and authority are God’s!” They have always been God’s, they are God’s, and they always will be God’s! The translation above reflects this last option: to God are the glory, majesty, power and authority.

Can we find help in determining which meaning Jude intended? The best place to look is the text itself. Recall that Jude includes a phrase to modify the missing verb: “before every age, now, and forever.” Take note of the reference to eternity past: “before every age.” Rarely do we think about the past in potential terms. It is possible. One might say: “I hope he went to the doctor yesterday.” But it is unlikely that Jude is hoping or wishing that God had the glory, majesty, power and authority in eternity past. Instead, he is affirming the eternal unchanging nature of God. The glory, majesty, power and authority have always been attributes of the only God. Jude has no need to wish it or to command it. He is stating a fact (see 1 Peter 4:11: ἵνα ἐν πᾶσιν δοξάζηται ὁ θεὸς διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ᾧ ἐστιν ἡ δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν. = so that in everything God will be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom is the glory and the power into the ages of the ages, amen. Surprisingly, major English versions use verbs of potential even though the Gk. has an indicative.). Moreover, Jude is reminding his readers of why they can be confident in their efforts to contend for the faith against the dangerous deception of false teachers. They can be confident because they belong to the eternal Ruler of everything and he will not allow them to fall.

For years I have been deeply moved by the Andrae Crouch song “My Tribute.” The powerful chorus of this great tune includes the repeated words “To God be the glory!” But Jude is telling us that we should learn to sing “To God is the glory!” With firm assurance we can proclaim that God’s rule is already firmly established from eternity past and will never falter. He is no ‘lame duck’ ruler waiting around to see who will take his place. He faces no re-election bid. He is not required to persuade a constituency to vote him into power. His kingdom is not jeopardized by any foe. No weapon formed against him will stand. He cannot be dethroned. His resources are not dependent on any outside sources. His glory is eternal. His majesty is regal. He is sovereign over all. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess to him. To him is the glory! Amen!

Brother Richard Foster

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