Use of Apocryphal Writing in Jude by Andrew M. Mbuvi

Though one of the shortest letters in the New Testament, Jude’s epistle provides a most fascinating conundrum for those seeing a clear difference between what counts as the Bible and what does not. It quotes approvingly from apocryphal (nonbiblical) writings, including a lost Jewish text (the Assumption of Moses) and 1 Enoch (Jude 1:14-15), the latter of which was considered Scripture by some Jewish communities (e.g., the community of Qumran who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls had multiple copies of 1 Enoch signifying its high esteem within the community). Even though Jude was written before the question of the canon, either Old Testament or New Testament, had ever been raised by anyone, this did not stop some Christians from being suspicious of Jude because of its reference to apocryphal writings. Adding to these suspicions, Jude’s harsh and judgmental language and lack of compassion for opponents presents no hope for their salvation (e.g., Jude 1:12b: “They are waterless clouds blown about by winds, fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead and uprooted,” etc.); because of this, preachers and scholars have historically avoided the letter. Yet, whatever its theological implications, Jude provides an interesting glimpse into early Jewish and Christian uses of noncanonical texts. 

How did Jude use Apocryphal texts?  
Jude refers to apocryphal texts in passing, with little introduction. For instance, in Jude 1:9, the letter condemns the author’s opponents for their arrogance and haughtiness and claims that they fail to grasp that humility always characterizes God’s servants. Even the highest of God’s servants, the chief angel Michael, embodies humility, the letter says: “But when the archangel Michael contended with the devil and disputed about the body of Moses, he did not dare to bring a condemnation of slander against him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’” (Jude 1:9). This version of Moses’s death is not found in the biblical story found in Deut 34:1-12. Rather, Moses’s death in Deut 34 is described as ordained by God (Deut 34:5) and his burial location hidden (Deut 34:6). Yet Jude’s assumes that his readers are fully aware of a broader tradition, whether written or oral, in which a struggle occurs over Moses’s body between Satan and God’s chief angel, Michael (cf. Dan 12:1). He seems to have no issues with referring to such tradition as if it is Scripture.

How did Jude use 1 Enoch?
Jude’s reference to the apocryphal 1 Enoch in Jude 1:14-15 suggests that what counts as Scripture to the author of this text differs from modern canons in both Judaism and Christianity. Without a single, standardized canon at the time, different Jewish groups adopted different texts as Scripture. The presence of multiple copies of 1 Enoch among writings of the Qumran community suggests that it was recognized as Scripture in the community. Considering that Jude and some members of his community were possibly Jewish converts to Christianity, the letter’s reference to 1 Enoch may suggest that Jude accepted the text as Scripture, just like the community at Qumran did. Such a possibility is also supported by the fact that Jude’s caustic language reflects entrenched differences with opponents that mirror sectarian language found in the Qumran community. 

Another possible explanation for Jude’s use of nonbiblical texts is that Jude uses apocryphal writings as a polemical strategy. We see this elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g., Jesus vs. Sadducees in Matt 22:23-33; Titus 1:12; etc.), where quotes are made from texts that only opponents consider authoritative in order to debunk the opponents’ arguments. In such a case, the texts would have been quoted not in recognition of their authority but as a tool against opponents.

In conclusion, Jude’s use of apocryphal sources either reflects a larger diversity among Jewish communities on what was considered Scripture than modern readers are accustomed to or demonstrates the use of apocryphal sources as strategic rhetoric to defuse claims by opponents.
 

Andrew M. Mbuvi, "Use of Apocryphal Writing in Jude", n.p. [cited 6 Dec 2019]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.com/en/people/related-articles/use-of-apocryphal-writing-in-jude

Contributors

Mbuvi-Andrew

Andrew M. Mbuvi
faculty in the Religious Studies Department , University of North Carolina-Greensboro

Andrew M. Mbuvi, PhD (Biblical Studies and Hermeneutics), is faculty in the Religious Studies Department at UNC-Greensboro, NC. He is the author of Jude and 2 Peter (A New Covenant Commentary Series: Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2015), a commentary that applies a postcolonial approach.

Trustworthy; reliable; of texts, the best or most primary edition.

An authoritative collection of texts generally accepted as scripture.

A collection of Jewish texts (biblical, apocryphal, and sectarian) from around the time of Christ that were preserved near the Dead Sea and rediscovered in the 20th century.

A detailed letter, written in formal prose. Most of the New Testament books beyond the gospels are epistles (letters written to early Christians).

The religion and culture of Jews. It emerged as the descendant of ancient Israelite Religion, and is characterized by monotheism and an adherence to the laws present in the Written Torah (the Bible) and the Oral Torah (Talmudic/Rabbinic tradition).

A collection of first-century Jewish and early Christian writings that, along with the Old Testament, makes up the Christian Bible.

Of or related to textual materials that are not part of the accepted biblical canon.

Also called the Hebrew Bible, those parts of the canon that are common to both Jews and Christians. The designation "Old Testament" places this part of the canon in relation to the New Testament, the part of the Bible canonical only to Christians. Because the term "Old Testament" assumes a distinctly Christian perspective, many scholars prefer to use the more neutral "Hebrew Bible," which derives from the fact that the texts of this part of the canon are written almost entirely in Hebrew.

rhetoric intended to oppose a specific position

An archaeological site on the western shore of the Dead Sea, in modern Israel, where a small group of Jews lived in the last centuries B.C.E. The site was destroyed by the Romans around 70 C.E. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in caves near the site and are believed by most scholars to have belonged to the people living at Qumran.

(rhetorical) The art of persuasion in writing and speech.

Related to a particular religious subgroup, or sect; often used in reference to the variety of Jewish sects in existence in the Roman period in Judea and Samaria.

Relating to thought about the nature and behavior of God.

The third division of the Jewish canon, also called by the Hebrew name Ketuvim. The other two divisions are the Torah (Pentateuch) and Nevi'im (Prophets); together the three divisions create the acronym Tanakh, the Jewish term for the Hebrew Bible.

Jude 1:14-15

14It was also about these that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones,15to ... View more

Jude 1:9

9But when the archangel Michael contended with the devil and disputed about the body of Moses, he did not dare to bring a condemnation of slander against him, b ... View more

Deut 34:1-12

Moses Dies and Is Buried in the Land of Moab
1Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the ... View more

Deut 34:5

5Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord's command.

Deut 34:6

6He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day.

Dan 12:1

1 “At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations ... View more

Jude 1:14-15

14It was also about these that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones,15to ... View more

Matt 22:23-33

23 The same day some Sadducees came to him, saying there is no resurrection; and they asked him a question, saying, 24 “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies chil ... View more

Titus 1:12

12It was one of them, their very own prophet, who said,
“Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons.”

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