The word of the day is “delivered.” Nowadays, the new takes precedence over the old. Most advertising claims that its products are “new,” “improved,” and “changed” for the better. Much scholarship also offers what is novel. It presumes that new discoveries, approaches, methods, and technologies will advance human knowledge and improve living standards. In theology, also, the quest to keep up with contemporary trends drives scholarly investigation. At all costs, researchers and writers strive to avoid the fearful judgment that their work is irrelevant and out of touch with today’s world.
Yet today, in our reading of Jude 1:1-10, we hear a warning against novelty in the teaching and understanding of the faith. The apostle writes, “I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (vs. 3).
The Faith as Conviction of the Truth
Note as we begin to comment that Jude is speaking of “the faith.” The Greek word for “faith” is derived from the thought of being persuaded. “The faith” is the conviction of the truth of sacred things (Strong’s #4101, 202). This term is a noun and does not refer to the verb of trusting in Christ or God’s grace. Nor does it mean personal belief. It is not what is imagined or envisioned. Nor is it a body of doctrine, that is, a set of propositions, of definitions, of treatises about God. It is the certain and common foundation of the truth upon which the life, belief, and practice of the Church and its members are built.
According to Jude, this faith was “delivered.” It was revealed, not invented, or discovered. For instance, in 1 Corinthians, St. Paul reports what “I received from the Lord and delivered to you” (1 Corinthians 11:23). The content of what the apostle conveyed to his flock concerned two pivotal elements: the Word of the Lord concerning His Body and Blood in the Eucharist and the death, resurrection, and appearance of the Risen Christ (15:3-8).
The Traditions of the Faith Delivered
Paul speaks of what He “delivered’ to his flock as “traditions,” saying, “Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you (1 Corinthians 11:2). And again, he urges, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions that you were taught, whether by word or our epistle (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
Jude emphasizes that these holy revelations of the truth of God were “delivered.” In Greek, the term “delivered” has the same root as “tradition.” “Tradition” in Greek refers to what is transmitted (Strong’s #3862, 189). Whereas “delivered” means “handed over, “surrendered,” or, again, “transmitted.” Accordingly, we can say that God revealed the substance of the tradition of the faith, and it was handed over to the Church and handed down to us.
Delivered to the Apostles Once for All
But to whom was it delivered? Jude answers later in his epistle. He writes, “Remember the words which were spoken before, by the apostles of Christ…” (vs. 17). Therefore, when Jude writes that the faith was “delivered to the saints,” he does not mean that it was distributed among all the members of the Church. But in Jude’s way of thinking, the “saints” refers to those whom God called and consecrated to receive the essence of things relating to our salvation.
Finally, we learn that the faith was delivered “once for all” just as the Lord offered Himself as a sacrifice for sin “once for all” (Hebrews 7:27). By this teaching, we learn that the revelation of God passed down through the apostles is complete: nothing needs to be added or subtracted to it. The faith needs to be comprehended, not augmented. We can certainly grow in our understanding and practice of it, but we must not believe that this deeper insight changes it.
Paul writes in 2 Timothy that “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned to fables” (2 Timothy 4:3). This prophecy is being fulfilled in our day. All sorts of preachers and all kinds of preaching clamor for our attention. But let us not be persuaded, especially by claims of novelty. But let us continue to hold fast to what we have been taught as it has been passed down to us by the witness of the apostles.