Jude and His Sources: The Hebrew Bible

Jude alludes to a number of stories from the Hebrew Bible. Jude rarely quotes the Hebrew Bible, but he alludes to key events which ought to be familiar to his readers. For example, in v. 5 alludes to the Exodus, v. 6, the Giants in Gen 6, and in v. 7 to Sodom and Gomorrah. He mentions the names of characters to invoke their stories as well. In v. 11 he lists Cain, Balaam and Korah as examples of rebellion against God.

In each of these cases, Jude wants the reader to hear not just the event or name, but to recall the whole story. To what extent does Jude expect the listener to hear the names and events as shorthand for the whole story? The story of the Exodus is common, but Baalam might not be as well known, and Korah is far more obscure. He is expecting a great deal out of his congregation by alluding to these stories.

It is significant that the majority of these examples come from the Wilderness traditions of the Hebrew Bible. The wilderness period was sometimes used in the prophets as an prime example of the rebellious nature of Israel. From the earliest history, Israel struggled to remain faithful to God. Jude makes use of this tradition much like the prophets did, drawing analogies from the first generation to describe his opponents.

While some of these traditions are obscure to us, they were likely well known by Jewish congregations. Paul alludes to the wilderness in 1 Cor 10, Jesus also creates an analogy between his own ministry at the generation in the wilderness (John 6 especially). The fact is that these stories turn up in a number of Jewish sources as examples of rebellion against God. Much of this literature either pre-dates Jude or is contemporary to the letter. “Probably this Jewish schema had been taken up in the paraenesis of the primitive church and used in the initial instruction of converts: hence Jude can refer to it as already well-known to his readers” (Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 46-47).

Jude used texts from the Hebrew Bible to create a typology. He is evoking the memory of a story or event from the history of Israel and drawing out some implication which applies to the situation of the churches he is addressing. Balaam is therefore analogous to the opponents of the church in some ways, but not in every way. Jude’s approach to scripture is not unlike that of the writer of Hebrews. Usually described as a midrash, Jude combines scripture and interprets the scripture as applicable to the present situation of false teachers having “slipped in unaware.”

Perhaps a better way to describe Jude’s technique is to compare the letter with the Habakkuk commentary from Qumran. This style, known as pesher, placed interpretations from the Community’s teacher in between lines of scripture. This sort of running commentary was intended to interpret the text of Habakkuk as applying to the Community’s current situation.

If Jude can be rightly described as a kind of either midrash or pesher, then this can be used as additional evidence of an early, Jewish Christianity as the background to the letter.  This observation will be beneficial in understanding the theology of this letter – keeping these images in mind, what is Jude saying about his opponents?

4 thoughts on “Jude and His Sources: The Hebrew Bible

  1. I love the concept that Jude encourages the audience not just to remember the names or events but to recall the story as well. So many times, we can recall stories or people in the Bible such as King Melchizedek but when discussing things like his role to Moses, it can be hard to give an explanation. Throughout my times discussing the Bible, remembering a lot of the key Old Testament practices has always been a struggle. I also love that Jude uses typology to evoke something of Israel’s history and past rebellion. Jude is trying to get across the message to his opponents that Paul was trying to get across in Romans 6, in that we should not keep sinning so Grace can abound as most Jewish people wouldn’t understand in the first century.

  2. It seems that I am constantly reminded of the richness and depth that can be brought to scripture when we know the Old Testament well. Practically speaking, I love the kinds of connections to the OT in books like Jude and Hebrews because it shows the connectedness of the Bible. It is a whole book, that flows like a narrative and it is meant to be read, studied and shared. As someone who presents the word to others on a regular basis, it is always comforting when the author of a NT book references OT writings. It makes the task of conveying the connections from both Testaments to others much easier. Especially when we are aware of non-biblical books and literature that the first century Christians would have been reading along with those letters.

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