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?

8 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.

  3. Jude 11 says, “Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion.” All three of these characters are mentioned in the Old Testament, but Jude doesn’t go into detail about why being like them is so bad. And, by saying “the walked in the way”, Jude is placing his readers in the shoes of these characters – or in other words, bringing these stories into the context of the time in which it was written. According to Jobes, “Cain had become the archetypal sinner in Jewish tradition” by the time Jude was written (p. 250). So when he mentions Cain, he is implying that these opponents are sinners like him who are “driven by ungodly motives that lead others away from God” (p. 250).

    Jobes says that “by referring to so many people and events from the Old Testament Scriptures, Jude is drawing a line of continuity between his day and the history of God’s relationship to humanity…” (p. 251). Apart from just bringing these stories into the context of the time when Jude writes, Jude is also reminding his readers that the Old Testament is not so different as they might think, and that God has not changed at all. He reminds them that just like in the past, they are all sinners, and there are people who seek to turn people from Christ. He also reminds them of the judgement that God brings on those evil people.

  4. I think that it is important that Jude did not refer to these stories in greater detail. I really like the analogy that Jobes used when she referred to a preacher referencing Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings to describe a scenario. (p. 257) The reason I think Jude did this was to make people have to think back and recall the message themselves. These stories were likely familiar to them, and they would understand the reference. Stories tend to stay in our memory longer, and if we are forced to recall a story from our memory and associate it with something else, then chances are we are going to remember it and it will have more of an impact. Also, Jude was speaking out against false teachers, so I believe if he was making these vague references and they were not understanding the relevance than it would have been obvious that this message was meant for or against them. Jobes describes a pesher interpretation on page 253 as a relating a written prophecy to current events. I believe it is safe to say that Jude could be described as using this form of interpretation. He was certainly taking old prophesy and relating it to his current culture and making it relevant.

  5. I appreciate how Jude alludes to many events from the Old Testament instead of retelling these stories. I think it shows a level of respect he held for his readers, understanding that they have been educated in the Hebrew Bible. Instead of describing the story of Cain detail by detail, Jude shows his readers that he knows THEY know the story. Instead of wasting words repeating these events, he instead chooses to spend his words on the message found in this event. I think this is such an important detail that is easy to overlook while reading Jude, but one that he knew (or hoped) would affect his readers. Because the Hebrew Bible was so vital to Judaism, recalling events which illustrate rebellion against God would have been a wake-up call to the early Christians. Jobes explains Jude’s use of fire in verse 23 would have been understood by these readers as an illusion to Zechariah, which would have conveyed the “immediate spiritual danger of being under the influence of false teachers” (p. 251). This is something that clearly these early readers would have understood right away because of their Jewish tradition. As I read more and more about the authors of the epistles, what strikes me is their intimate understanding and knowledge of those they are writing to. To me, this shows not simply that they have a message to share but the quality of their authorship. It can sometimes be difficult to convey the exact message through a letter addressed to a group of people. Will the readers truly understand what is being conveyed, or will the misconstrue the words? Today we must be careful not to overly read into any email or text, because it can be so easy to misconstrue what is being said. Jude seems to prevent this possibility by using the event of the Old Testament as the perfect illustration for what he was saying, thus preventing any misunderstanding, while drawing a line of continuity between the readers and those of the Old Testament…as a reminder of “God’s unchanging characters and standards” (Jobes, 2011, p. 251).

    Jobes, K.A. (2011). Letters to the Church. Zondervan.

  6. When Jude was writing his letter, he included many references to Old Testament stories like the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, Cain, Balaam, the exodus, and giants. By doing so “Jude’s allusions to persons and events of the Old Testament indicate that he had the Hebrew Old Testament in mind” and because of this it can be inferred that his “original readers were clearly Jewish Chrisitians” (Jobes, 2011). His original audience would have known these stories well, and therefore would have understood what Jude was alluding to and why he was mentioning the story in the first place. For example, for his audience Balaam would have been recognized as a greedy character, and “Jude seems to assume and invoke” this thought process to his audience by bringing up even Balaam’s name (Jobes, 2011). By using these examples, he is showing the people what not to be like. He also outright tells them his goal, to warn them against the people who have crept in who are ungodly and “who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4). In these lines alone each of the people and situations that he is going to bring to the mind of his audience will fall into this category of ungodly people. With each of these allusions in mind his audience will probably think of the way that each of these characters displeased God and faced serious consequences. By referring to these he is giving his readers a very strong warning in hopes they will take what he is saying seriously.

    Jobes, K.A. (2011). Letters to the Church. Zondervan.

Leave a Reply