Jude Thaddeus (Hebrew: Yehudah; Greek: Ioudas Thaddaios) was born c. AD 15 (3775–3776 in the Hebrew calendar) in the Roman district of Galilee. The New Testament writers only mentioned him six times, usually with Jesus' other eleven apostles. Luke preferred to call him "Judas of James" (Greek: Ioudan Iakōbou; G2455; G2385; see here) in his eponymous gospel and its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles (cf. Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13). At the beginning of his letter, Jude identified himself as the "brother of James" (Greek: adelphos de Iakōbou; see here; cf. Jude 1:1), implying he was also the brother of Jesus. Matthew and Mark confirmed this fact when they listed Jude with Jesus' brothers (Matt. 13:55, Mark 6:3). Moreover, John clarified that another "Judas (not Iscariot)" ranked among Jesus' apostles (John 14:22a), even though Jesus' other brothers did not yet believe in him (cf. John 7:5). John also quoted Jude asking, "Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?" (John 14:22). To avoid confusion, we call him by the diminutive of "Jude" lest we accuse him of betraying Jesus, too. Know that, when you read the letter of Jude, you are reading correspondence from a loyal brother and apostle. Yehudah (H3063) means "praised" in Hebrew, deriving from Judah, one of Israel's twelve tribes (cf. Num. 1:27).
Identifying Jude: Brother, Son & Thaddeus?
Truth be told, we do not know fully what Luke meant by "Jude of James." The phrase could mean that Jude was either James' son or his brother. A minimalist interpretation forbids us from assuming one over the other. Therefore, many scholars view Jesus' brother Jude and "Jude of James" as two different men. There is nothing in the text, however, to obligate us to such minimalism. Given that Jude identified himself as Jesus' brother in his letter, the gospel writers list a man named "Jude," and James of Jerusalem was also the Lord's brother, it is logical and consistent to view all three as the same person. Bible translations such as the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) render Ioudan Iakōbou as "James the brother of James," but they have to add in the word "brother" where it originally did not exist in Greek. Nevertheless, it follows the early church leaders considered the letter of Jude to have apostolic authority—written by one of the twelve. If we use the philosophical law of parsimony, that "entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily," we realize that Jude could have very well been one of Jesus' brothers and apostles, brother to James, and an epistle writer. There is no reason to complicate the issue and multiply one individual two or three times; neither do the New Testament texts require it.
Both Matthew and Mark list a man called "Thaddeus" in their respective lists of Jesus' apostles (cf. Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18). Some scholars try to harmonize this by saying Jesus kept the number of apostles at twelve despite the specific men. However, this is an argument from silence, and there is nothing in the text to infer such a thing. The simplest explanation, by process of elimination, is that Thaddaios (G2280) was a nickname for Jude, meaning "big-hearted" or "heart child." In the same way we differentiate Jude from Judas Iscariot, Matthew and Mark chose to call him "Thaddeus." We have the same practice in the modern world, that is applying a nickname if we belong to a group with multiple people with the same first name. Therefore, his full name was Jude Thaddeus, the brother of both Jesus and James.
Ossuary of "Judas Thaddeus"
In the mid-twentieth century, Israeli archaeologists found an ossuary inscribed "Judas Thaddaeus" (Greek: Ιουδας Θαδδαιου) in the Jezreel Valley town of Kfar Baruch along with four unmarked ossuaries (Rahmani, no. 145). When they evaluated oil lamps and other pottery in the area, they realized the ossuaries dated before the early second century. This artifact may not only prove that Jude was a real man, but also that Judas and Thaddeus were two names for the same individual.
Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the universe, that as your apostle Jude was faithful and zealous in his mission, so we may with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Messiah; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
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