Sunday, November 02, 2008

Jude the Obscure

I. The Apparent Problem

Jude is often thought to pose a problem for the canon. The problem is not that Jude uses extracanonical materials. Other Bible writers use extracanonical materials too. Truth is truth. As long as the material is true, it matters not where it comes from.

Rather, the question at issue is whether Jude mistakenly uses extracanonical materials as if they were true, when, it fact, they are fictitious.

Various scholars have addressed this issue from various angles, but the coverage is often fairly scattershot. It’s useful to review the options is a more systematic fashion.

II. A Problem for Whom?

i) In Catholic and Orthodox polemical theology, this is treated as a problem for the Protestant canon. But if it’s a problem for Protestantism, then it’s also a problem for Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

ii) There’s a tendency among high churchmen to treat ecclesiastical authority as a substitute for a direct solution. They don’t have to explain their way out of a problem. They can just invoke their faith in ecclesiastical authority as a safety net that will prevent the church from falling into grave error.

a) But this won’t work. First of all, it assumes the church has the authority they ascribe to it.

b) And even if, for the sake of argument, we concede that claim, ecclesiastical authority cannot transform a false proposition into a true proposition. If Jude got it wrong, then ecclesiastical authority is incompetent to salvage his mistake. He said what he said. That’s a done deal. The problem can’t be retroactively repaired.

iii) Indeed, if Jude is a problem, then the problem is worse for the high church tradition.

a) If Protestant tradition made the wrong call on Jude, that wouldn’t falsify the fundamental assumptions of Protestant theological method. We admit that our traditions are fallible.

And that’s a strength, not a weakness. In the high church tradition, a primitive error can get frozen into dogma, and then supply the false premise for an escalating series of errors.

Because Protestant tradition is fallible, it is subject to correction. We aren’t committed to primitive errors. We aren’t committed to taking a primitive error to its logical extreme.

b) By contrast, if Catholicism made the wrong call on Jude, then that falsifies its claim to a divine teaching office. The entire edifice crumbles under a shaky foundation.

c) Likewise, if the Bible is errant, then there’s no reason to believe the Church is inerrant. Scepticism about the infallibility of the Bible naturally seeps over into scepticism about the infallibility or indefectibility of the Church.

d) In Orthodoxy, with its fuzzy canon, the problem lies in the opposite direction. An unverifiable canon is no improvement over a faulty canon. And if the Orthodox church cannot even settle the boundaries of the canon, then what does ecclesiastical authority amount to?

In addition, it’s arguable that while the Orthodox canon is somewhat fluid, its canon certainly includes the Book of Jude.

III. Inerrancy

i) Some observers of a more liberal disposition might contend that this is a pseudoproblem generated by a dogmatic commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture. Why not simply admit that Jude was mistaken? Apart from a precommitment to inerrancy, is there any reason to suppose that Jude couldn’t treat 1 Enoch or the Assumption of Moses as Scripture?

ii) As a matter of fact, there is. All our other sources of information indicate that 1 Enoch and the Assumption of Moses were never any part of the Jewish canon (cf. Beckwith 1986; Hengel 2004:54-56).

iii) Moreover, Jude was a Palestinian Jew, the kid brother of a very traditional Jew. We wouldn’t expect James to rank sectarian, Intertestamental literature as Scripture. By the same token, we wouldn’t expect his kid brother to do the same.

So there are antecedent reasons, apart from inerrancy, to doubt that Jude would treat this extracanonical material as Scripture.

iv) Furthermore, a preliminary step in exegesis is to reconstruct the background of a document. Who wrote it? Why? When? Where? To whom or for whom? About whom?

A scholar poses these questions, in part, to identify the viewpoint of the author. It’s harder to interpret his statements if we can’t ascertain his viewpoint.

In the case of Jude, we know very little about the author, his audience, or his opponents.

The book of Jude is, itself, exceptionally brief. Our knowledge of the author is largely circumstantial. So we have precious little to go on regarding his point of view respecting extracanonical literature. As such, we’re not guilty of special pleading when we exercise restraint in jumping to conclusions about his actual view of 1 Enoch or the Assumption of Moses—in possible contrast to his merely polemical use of this material.

v) What is more, it would only be unreasonable to filter Jude through the lens of inerrancy if inerrancy is, itself, unreasonable. But if we have good reason to believe in the inerrancy of Scripture in general, then we have good reason to believe in the inerrancy of Jude in particular—assuming that Jude is Scripture.

I’d add that if Jude is authentic, and there’s no good reason to deny its authenticity, then a document by a sibling of Jesus is an excellent candidate for canonicity.

vi) Finally, you don’t have to be an inerrantist to deny that Jude regards his extracanonical sources as Scripture, viz. Bauckham, Davids (see below).

IV. Inspiration

i) According to the organic theory of inspiration, which is the mainstream theory in Reformed theology (a la Warfield), inspiration is compatible with the use of sources.

ii) Conversely, the fact that we can trace some ideas to an extrabiblical source doesn’t mean that a Bible writer got all his information from extrabiblical sources.

V. Potential Solutions

a) Archer (Archer 1982:430) takes the position that, at this juncture, 1 Enoch preserves an authentic Enochian tradition.

Speaking for myself, I don’t find it terribly plausible to suppose that an authentic prediluvian tradition happened to find its way into an apocryphal work, and—what is more—that it also happened to coincide with Jude’s argument.

b) Witherington (Witherington 2007:608) says that “from a rhetorical viewpoint it was perfectly appropriate to draw examples from both history and fiction to make one’s points about virtue and vice.”

While that’s an interesting suggestion, Witherington’s only support for this contention is a citation from Quintilian. But whether a Jewish writer like Jude would share the outlook of a Roman rhetorician needs to be established on its own grounds.

c) Charles (Charles 1993) takes the position that Jude’s use of apocryphal literature is ad hominem. Because the audience and/or opponents held this sectarian literature in high esteem, he answers them on their own grounds.

I think that’s a valid consideration. The fact that a Bible writer quotes an extracanonical source doesn’t commit him to accepting the source at face value. Moses offers a subversive reading of the Song of Heshbon (Num 21:27-30). It was originally an Amorite taunt-song. Now the tables are turned as Israel bests the Amorites and makes them eat their own words! The irony trades on a conspicuous contrast between the original context and its recontextualization.

For his part, Jeremiah (Jer 48:45-46) preserves the original referent (Moab), but time-shifts the terms fulfillment from past to future. So Moses and Jeremiah both disregard original intent as they adapt the material to score points. They make inspired used of uninspired materials. It is precisely because the material is uninspired that they indulge in such literary license. What is normative is not the primary source, but the use made of it in the secondary source.

d) Green (Green 2008) is critical of Charles’ explanation because there’s no indication that Jude held a low opinion of the material he was citing. Green’s alternative is to emphasize the Scriptural underpinnings of this material.

I agree with Green that overemphasis on the extrabiblical sources can cause us to underemphasize the biblical sources.

At the same time I don’t think he quite comes to terms with the logical force of Charles’ explanation. For if Jude were making ad hominem use of this material, would we expect him to explicitly distance himself from this material? Wouldn’t tipping his hand undercut the effectiveness of his rhetorical strategy?

e) Bauckham (Bauckham 1990:225-233; cf. Davids 206:76) documents the fact that Jews did draw a distinction between canonical Scripture and other inspirational literature.

f) Beckwith (Beckwith 1986:403-405) considers this a case of haggadic embellishment—an accepted literary convention in Jewish circles.

Except for (a), (b)-(f) are not mutually exclusive explanations.

VI. 1 Enoch

i) In vv14-15, Jude quotes a passage from 1 Enoch. Here is the dilemma which many conservative scholars have with his quote:

Jude claims that Enoch said this. Jude calls this a prophecy. And he seems to treat it as true.

But we know that 1 Enoch is a pious fraud. Given its fictitious character, isn’t Jude’s use of 1 Enoch mistaken? It may be an honest mistake, but it’s still a mistake.

However, I’d submit that this analysis is simplistic.

ii) Let’s take another example: suppose I say that Tiresias foretold the fate of Odysseus.

I would, of course, be alluding to a scene from Book XI of the Odyssey. Is my statement true for false? That’s ambiguous. It all depends on what I have in mind.

a) It’s a true ascription. In the Odyssey, Tiresias does, indeed, predict the fate of Odysseus.

b) Is what he said true? No.

c) Is what I said about him true? Once again, that depends. The literary Tiresias is a Theban prophet. He may be a fictitious character, but he plays the part of a prophet.

For me to say he’s a prophet is a true statement if I’m referring to his character in the Odyssey. The literary referent is a prophet. He makes prophetic claims.

d) If I thought the literary Tiresias were the same as the historical Tiresias, then my statement would be false. For Tiresias is not a real person. Hence, he didn’t really foretell the fate of Odysseus.

e) Can you tell from my statement about Tiresias whether I think he’s a real person or not? No. My statement, in and of itself, doesn’t indicate my personal estimation of Tiresias.

iii) Let’s take another example: it’s quite possible for a fictitious character to make a true statement. A creative writer might put words in the mouth of a fictitious character which truly describe a real world situation. Indeed, that’s often the case.

iv) Let’s take another example: it’s quite possible to have a literary character that is modeled on a historical figure. We have this in historical novels. A novel about the Civil War may include the character of Stonewall Jackson. He was a real person. The novelist may also put words in the mouth of his character which Stonewall Jackson actually spoke.

v) In the case of Enoch, there is both a historical Enoch and a literary Enoch. The “Enoch” of the Bible refers to the historical Enoch while the “Enoch” of 1 Enoch refers to the literary Enoch.

vi) Which “Enoch” is Jude denoting? The immediate referent is the literary Enoch. The “Enoch” of 1 Enoch. The literary Enoch was a prophet. And the literary Enoch said what Jude attributes to him.

Does Jude equate the literary Enoch with the historical Enoch? From his statement alone, you can’t tell if he identifies one with the other. How else would he refer to the literary Enoch? To the character in 1 Enoch?

On the face of it, there’s nothing mistaken about Jude’s statement. His ascription is an accurate ascription. At that level, it’s no different than my statement that Tiresias foretold the fate of Odysseus.

vii) As Green also points out, Jude is quite discriminating in his appropriation of 1 Enoch. There’s a lot of fanciful material which he has excluded from his argument. This should caution us against assuming that Jude made uncritical use of his source materials.

viii) Is the statement of the literary Enoch true or false? The statement is true.

The Enochian statement is indebted to Deut 33:2. And that, in turn, forms the basis of eschatological theophanies regarding the Day of the Lord. We have equivalent statements about the return of Christ in the NT.

In sum, there’s nothing even apparently—much less actually—erroneous about Jude’s use of 1 Enoch.

ix) But even if the Enochian quote were unhistorical, that would not be problematic in case Jude’s use of 1 Enoch is merely haggadic or ad hominem.

VII. The Assumption of Moses

i) There’s a scholarly dispute as to whether Jude is alluding to the Assumption of Moses or the Testament of Moses. That’s irrelevant to the canonical question, so I’ll bypass that debate. For convenience, I’ll use one title rather than two.

ii) What I just said about 1 Enoch is applicable to the Assumption of Moses. The “Michael,” “Moses,” and “Satan” in view are their literary counterparts—not their historical namesakes. At that level, Jude’s ascriptions are true. The literary Michael did make that statement to the literary Satan, about the literary Moses. Whether that corresponds to the historical Michael, Moses, and Satan, and whether Jude intended that correspondence, is a separate issue.

iii) Likewise, if Jude’s use of the Assumption of Moses is merely haggadic or ad hominem, then this incident doesn’t have to be historical to make his point.

iv) As Green points out, the Assumption of Moses is not his only source. He is also dependent on Zech 3:1-2.

v) Is the incident in Assumption of Moses true? For starters, this represents a gloss on the canonical death of Moses in Deut 34:5-6 (par. Num 27:12-13).

The canonical obituary is enigmatic and provocative. A number of scholars think there is a supernatural element to that event inasmuch as God buried Moses (Bauckham 1990:239; Craigie 1976:405; Currid 206:535; Davids 2006:61; Thompson 1974:319). Thus, only God knew where his grave was located.

Why would God do that—unless a marked grave would lead to some form of necromancy or ancestor worship?

vi) In Scripture, Michael, Moses, and Satan are all real people.

vii) Is there any antecedent reason to think that Satan would take an interest in the body of Moses? In many religions, the preservation or proper disposal of the corpse of a holy man is highly significant. Whether he’s given an honorable or dishonorable burial is significant to his posthumous reputation.

Likewise, the corpse can become the source or center of a shrine or reliquary. Some religions are legitimated by having this sort of thing in their possession. It validates their claim to be the true heirs of the Master.

Hence, Satan might have good reason to take an interest in the mortal remains of Moses.

This incident might strike a Protestant reader as fanciful because our own tradition is (rightly) opposed to this sort of thing. But while there’s a sense in which devotion to relics is fanciful, the devotion is genuine. And that can be exploited. That’s a powerful tool in religious propaganda. (Cf. Bauckham 1990:239-240.)

This sort of thing is also touched on in Scripture (e.g. 2 Kgs 13:21; 18:4).

viii) Also keep in mind what I said about organic inspiration. We shouldn’t assume that Jude had to get all his information from Biblical or extrabiblical sources. Inspiration is a resource.

ix) If the description of the dispute between Michael and Satan still strikes the reader as a bit fanciful, we should remember that the Bible has rather imaginative, anthroporphic, and stereotypical ways of depicting the numinous realm. Stock imagery is recycled from one book to another.

It’s natural for Bible writers to describe events of this sort in recognizable terms which the reader is already familiar with—whether Biblical or extrabiblical. That makes the idea easier to conceptualize.

So we shouldn’t hold this description to the standards of photographic realism. This isn’t a transcript.

Of course, if you don’t believe in angels and demons, then the account will strike you as inherently fanciful. But that’s a separate issue.

As I said under (iii), it may be the case Jude never meant to vouch for the historicity of this incident. But even if that was his intention, this claim isn’t obviously false.


Archer, G. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Eerdmans 1982)

Bauckham, R. Jude and the Relatives of Jesus (T&T Clark 1990)

Beckwith, R. The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (Eerdmans 1986)

Charles, J. Literary Strategy in the Epistle of Jude (USP 1993)

Craigie, P. The Book of Deuteronomy (Eerdmans 1976)

Currid, J. Deuteronomy (EP 2006)

Davids, P. The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude (Eerdmans 2006)

Green, G. Jude & 2 Peter (Baker 2008)

Hengel, M. The Septuagint as Christian Scripture (Baker 2004)

Thompson, J. Deuteronomy (IVP 1974)

Witherington, B. Letters and Homilies for Jewish Christians (IVP 2007)


  1. Steve wrote:

    "All our other sources of information indicate that 1 Enoch and the Assumption of Moses were never any part of the Jewish canon (cf. Beckwith 1986; Hengel 2004:54-56). iii) Moreover, Jude was a Palestinian Jew, the kid brother of a very traditional Jew. We wouldn’t expect James to rank sectarian, Intertestamental literature as Scripture. By the same token, we wouldn’t expect his kid brother to do the same. So there are antecedent reasons, apart from inerrancy, to doubt that Jude would treat this extracanonical material as Scripture."

    Also worth noting is that Jude seems to have been accepted as canonical by most of the early post-apostolic Christians, whereas 1 Enoch and The Assumption Of Moses weren't. Origen comments that "the books entitled Enoch are not generally held to be divine by the churches" (Against Celsus, 5:54). He's criticizing Celsus for using material from 1 Enoch. In his Homilies On Joshua (2:1), Origen comments that the Assumption Of Moses isn't canonical. Tertullian, one of the minority among the patristic sources who advocated the canonicity of 1 Enoch, acknowledges that the book is rejected by Jews and by other Christians (On The Apparel Of Women, 1:3).

  2. A couple of different studies I've read have taken a different approach.

    Perhaps the body of Moses is God employing a metaphor for the Law (Decalogue and such), Michael the archangel is Christ and the Devil is the Devil accusing the Saints like he always does.

    If we don't interpret this way, I really don't understand what we get out of the passage.

    It is a bit late for me and I only read the post once fast but I'm wondering whether you actually believe that the 7th from Adam actually said what Jude said he did and not just the literary Enoch. How could it be any other way.

    Thanks in advance.



    “If we don't interpret this way, I really don't understand what we get out of the passage.”

    It’s less a question of what *we* get out of the passage than what the original audience was supposed to get out of the passage.

    “It is a bit late for me and I only read the post once fast but I'm wondering whether you actually believe that the 7th from Adam actually said what Jude said he did and not just the literary Enoch.”

    It’s possible that he really said that, but I incline to the view that Jude’s appeal is ad hominem or haggadic.

    “How could it be any other way.”

    For reasons I detailed in my post.

  4. It’s less a question of what *we* get out of the passage than what the original audience was supposed to get out of the passage.

    How do we get to that conclusion?

    Assuming its truth, what was he intending to say? Who was the intended audience? How does it edify us?

    After all, the Prophets ministered not unto themselves, but unto the Saints of the N.T.


  5. Sorry, that came out wrong.

    How do we tease out the theory about the intended audience from the doctrine of sola scriptura?

    Where does this come from?

  6. The Book of Jude is a letter. It was addressed to a known audience. We may not be able to pinpoint the audience at this distance, but the author could

    The Bible isn’t written to us, it’s written for us. It’s applicable to posterity because our situation is often analogous to the situation of the target audience. As Dr. Johnson once said, nature and passion never change.

    Jude’s intention was to warn his audience to beware of false teachers.

    None of this is at odds with sola scriptura.

  7. If you could certainly prove that Jude is in error, then certainly everybody is in the same boat.

    But if you can merely show that Jude is probably in error, then the protestant is in a predicament that Catholic/Orthodox are not. Catholic/Orthodox can submit the probabilities of the details to the certainty of the Church, (like protestants submit the probability of the details of scripture, to the overall certainty of scripture).

    But if Jude is apparently probably in error, protestants are doomed to argue about it for the next 2000 years with no possibility of resolution. That's quite a difference.

    All the more so with your admission that the internal evidence is weak, the external evidence is late, and the content is questionable. This leaves you in no happy position. Your fallible list of infallible books is not merely fallible, but highly questionable. It's probably inerrant, but may be just plain wrong.

  8. Read "Body of Moses" = OT Body of Christ at the time of Moses. Righteous Israel. I Cor. 10:2. Viola, problem gone.

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