Who is Saint Jude?

Saint Jude was one of Christ’s most intimate collaborators, being part of a group of twelve men called Apostles, a Greek term meaning “one who is sent.”  While Christ had many disciples (followers), the Apostles’ mission to carry the Christian message to the world was unique in the authority they held.  “He appointed twelve whom he also named apostles that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons” (Mark 3:14-15). 

His name is literally “Judas,” but to distinguish him from the other Apostle Judas—the infamous betrayer Judas Iscariot, whom even the Lord refers to as “the son of perdition” (John 17:12)—his name in English is usually abbreviated to Jude.  It is occasionally written as Saint Jude Thaddeus, following the use of his “nickname” in Matthew 10:3 and Mark 3:18.

The confusion of having two Judas’ was a concern even in New Testament times.  The Gospel of John contains the only sentence Saint Jude Thaddeus utters in the Scriptures, and John makes sure to add a clarifying note as he quotes him: “Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?’” (John 14:22).  John wants us to leave no doubt that the question came from the holy Apostle and not the betrayer.

The New Testament refers to Jude as “the brother of Jesus” in two passages (Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3).  However, this does not mean that Jude was the Lord’s blood brother.  The Greek word for brother can also mean “cousin,” “family member,” or even just “acquaintance.”

The Church Father, Papias of Hierapolis (c. 70–163 AD), informs us within his work, Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord, that Jude is the son of Mary of Cleophas, one of the women at the foot of the Cross during Our Lord’s crucifixion (John 19:25).  But Papias also states that Mary of Cleophas was the sister of Mary, the mother of the Lord, making Jude the Lord’s cousin. 

In his Epistle, Jude identifies himself as “the brother of James” (Jude 1).  He does so because his brother, Saint James the Less, also an Apostle, occupied the very prominent position of bishop of Jerusalem and was known by the whole Christian community.  In identifying himself in this manner, the lesser-known Jude makes his person and authority known to all.

We know Jude was very active in his apostolic activity.  Some details have survived the centuries. 

Some records indicate he preached in Mesopotamia, including present-day Iraq and parts of present-day Iran, Kuwait, Syria, and Turkey.  It was there that he partnered with Simon the Zealot.

Some Syriac texts declare that he preached in Edessa, an ancient city in Upper Mesopotamia, within the Roman province of Osroene.  Other writings corroborate these claims.  For example, an Armenian hymnal from the thirteenth century identifies the Apostles Jude Thaddeus and Bartholomew as “our first enlighteners” (the Armenian kingdom encompassed Edessa).

We know the two Apostles returned to Jerusalem in approximately 50 AD for the Council of Jerusalem.

According to the fourth-century ancient Christian historian Eusebius of Caesarea, Jude again returned to Jerusalem in the year 62 and assisted in the election of his brother, Saint Simeon, as the second Bishop of Jerusalem (following the martyrdom of his other brother, James the Less).

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