Jude and His Sources: Non-Canonical Books

Jude makes use of at least two books that were not considered to be inspired by the Church or the Jews. In v. 9 he alludes to the Testament of Moses and in vv. 14-15 he quotes 1 Enoch.

Bauckham points out that besides the direct citation of 1 Enoch 1, the writer knows 1 Enoch 1-36 and perhaps sections later in the book. 1 Enoch was popular at Qumran and there may be allusions to the book in Revelation as well. This section of 1 Enoch is an expansion of the story of the Nephlehim and the Giants a found in Genesis 6. Jude does not allude to that plot line at all, but rather to the rather generic statement that God is coming to execute justice on ones who have rebelled against him. In the context of 1 Enoch, this is the angels who have intermixed with humans and created “the Giants” and taught humans all manner of sin.

Michael and SatanThe reference to the archangel and Satan discussing the bones of Moses does not appear in the Testament of Moses, although it is likely that the words Jude uses are quoted from the lost ending to that book. Richard Bauckham has a considerable excursus on the sources for Jude 9 which includes a catalog of all of the variations of this story in Jewish and Christian sources as well as a list of references to the Assumption of Moses, a lost book usually confused with the Testament of Moses (Jude, 2 Peter, 48, 67). Bauckham concludes that the Assumption is a re-worked version of the Testament (76). There are a number of Christian sources that seem to have known the story in detail, and a few pre-Christian Jewish sources contain disputes between the devil and an angel over various events (Isaac’s sacrifice, for example).

That Jude would allude to these Jewish texts is a good argument for the circulation of the book within Jewish communities in Judea, perhaps in the “near diaspora” communities. We know that 1 Enoch appears at Qumran. Although the Testament of Moses has not been found among the DSS, it is not unlikely that this is evidence for an early date and Jewish Christian context for the book.

The common way to explain Jude’s used of these texts is to say they are simply “illustrations of truth: similar to a pastor using a commonly known story, film, or T.V. show as a sermon illustration. Jude is not trying to tell his readers that these books are inspired and worthy of inclusion in the Bible, but rather using texts that they are already familiar with in order to make a point. The reference to Enoch is a bit touchy, since it says Enoch in fact prophesied the Lord’s return – although one could argue Jude is saying the popular book of Enoch says this, rather than “historical Enoch.”

It is possible that Jude uses these texts because they are popular with the false teachers. In my post on Jude’s use of the Hebrew Bible I commented that Jude alludes to the wilderness tradition frequently, perhaps his opponents used the wilderness tradition and a book like 1 Enoch in their own teaching. The allusion to the Testament of Moses may be appropriate since the event took place in the wilderness and the end of that period of Israel’s history. The Qumran Community immediately comes to mind, since they are in the wilderness, not far from Nebo and made use of 1 Enoch. But Jude seems to imply the opponents are a perversion of Christian teaching, so perhaps they are a Essene like group which has accepted Jesus as Messiah.

In any case, Jude is turning their own favorite books around on them to show that they are heretics. Jude’s purpose is to combat a false teaching which has “smuggled” itself into the church.

What are the implications of Jude’s use of these sources?

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?

Who were Jude’s Opponents?

The opponents in Jude  misuse the grace of God as a license to sin. These seems to be the key problem Jude needs to address. The teachers seem to have been antinomian, a perversion of the gospel which argues that those who are saved are somehow “beyond” the law, so that they can behave however they want without consequence. Antinomianism was a serous problem at the end of the first century and lead to a bad reputation among the Romans, who heard rumors that all Christians engaged in strange sexual rites as a part of their worship.

Jude 4 describes the sin of the opponents as ἀσέλγεια, a word which has the sense of abandoning the restraints of socially accepted behavior, almost always sexual sin. (Only 2x in the LXX: WisSol 14:26, “sexual perversion”, 3 Macc 2:26 uses the word to describe the sexual excess of the Greek king of Egypt; cf., T.Levi 23:1, “lewdness.”)

Some of Jude’s biblical illustrations for these opponents are sexually oriented as well. The fallen angels (Gen 6:1-4, 1 Enoch). The sexual nature of the sins of the angels in Gen 6 is more clear in the 1 Enoch version, perhaps explaining Jude’s use of the more legendary form of the story. Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 14) were legendary for their sexual sins, it is possible that Jude has general sexual excess in mind rather than homosexuality.

Taken along with Jude’s reference to the opponents being “blemishes” on the church’s love feasts, it is likely that these teachers were using church meals as an opportunity for sexual debauchery. While this sounds completely alien to the later church, in a Greco-Roman context this makes more sense. Greco-Roman banquets were known for not only over indulgence in good food and wine. A good meal was often followed by sexual encounters with prostitutes.

Paul dealt with this very problem in Corinth where was a problem with gluttony, drunkenness and going to prostitutes at private banquets (1:Cor 6:12-20). The issue here is attendance at banquets given by the rich elite of the city. There is plenty of evidence concerning the types of things that went on in a Roman banquet of the first century from contemporary writers.

Plutarch described the combination of gluttony, drunkenness and sexual immorality that were a part of the “after-dinners” as he calls them. There was an association between gluttony and sexual excess, as is seen from the well known saying reported by Plutarch, “in well-gorged-bodies love (passions) reside.” The writer Athenaeus said tat the goddess Cypris (Aphrodite) does not visit the poor, “in an empty body no love of the beautiful can reside.” Plutarch also said that in “intemperate intercourse follows a lawless meal, inharmonious music follows a shameless debauch.”

If this is the background for the opponents in Jude, then once again we have evidence for an earlier date to the book, and perhaps another indication that the problems were caused by people, perhaps Jews, failing to challenge their pagan world with their new faith. I suspect that this is one of the more applicable elements of the book of Jude.  These “Christians” are using their religion to promote behaviors which would even shock the Romans.

When was Jude Written?

While I have always thought of Jude as rather late (post 70 at least, if not in the 90’s), there are good reasons to date the book earlier. In his WBC volume on Jude and 2 Peter, Richard Bauckham argues that the letter is very early, perhaps as early as A.D. 50.  This reading is based on the use of Jewish apocalyptic style found in the letter.  He finds three elements of the book which lean toward the earlier date:  There is a lively hope for the return of Jesus (14-15).  Secondly, the style of the letter is a Jewish midrash which draws together texts from the Hebrew Bible to argue that the false teachers will face judgment at the Coming of the Messiah.  Finally, there is no hint of church offices in the letter – elders, deacons or bishops, nor is there any appeal to human authority.  The institution of the church is limited when the letter was written.

jude01One serious challenge to this early date is the nature of the opponent.  They seem to be libertine, or even antinomian, which has always made me think that the letter must therefore be written later, after Paul’s death at the very least.  But if the letter is written at the time of Paul’s first missionary journey and the controversy of which led to the Jerusalem council, the issue is quite a bit different from Galatians or James.  In Galatians, Gentiles are discouraged from keeping Law (Paul says “gentiles, your are not converting to Judaism”) and in James Jews are encouraged to continue keeping the Law (James says, “Jews, you are not converting away from Judaism.”)

Jude might give witness to some people who took Paul’s gospel of freedom from law to an extreme and lived a life that was not bound by law at all.  These libertines are not really an issue in Acts 15, but they are in Philippians, perhaps in 1 Thess 4, and certainly a problem in Corinth and Romans 6.  That Paul has to answer the objection, “should we sin that grace may abound” implies that someone was in fact sinning so grace might abound!

What made me wonder is the fact that Jude seems clearly Jewish – it is a midrash constructed from various texts from the Hebrew Bible. If Jude is writing to Jewish Christians who have antinomians in their midst, it seems like these might very well be Jewish Libertines not Gentiles. If that is the case, then Paul’s gospel of freedom from the Law for Gentiles might have had some traction among Hellenistic Jews which led to a rejection of the Law. Perhaps this is the source of James’ concern in Acts 21, that some think that Paul has rejected the Law.

Who Wrote The Letter of Jude?

Douglas Rowston described Jude as “the most neglected book in the New Testament.” Perhaps because the letter is so short, or possibly because of the book’s close relationship to 2 Peter, the book is rarely preached on, and few people turn to the book in devotional reading. It is, however, an important witness to the way the early church responded to false teaching. While the book is brief, it is a very “dense” book, in that nearly every line is packed with allusions to the Old Testament or laced with colorful metaphors to described the false teachers.

Why do many scholars deal with 2 Peter along with Jude? One factor is the is the similarity between the two letters – virtually the entire book of Jude appears in 2 Peter, with the exception of the two allusions to non-biblical books. For this reason scholars wonder if Jude used 2 Peter, or vice versa, or if both letters used a third source, perhaps a standard statement against false teachers who abuse their freedom in Christ.

Another major problem with the book is authorship. The author of Jude identifies himself simply as Jude, brother of James and servant of Jesus Christ. There are eight New Testament persons with the name Jude (Greek, Judas, or Hebrew, Judah), but the most likely is Jude the brother of Jesus. This has been the assumption of most Bible readers until relatively modern times. Since the rise of historical criticism, Jude is usually identified as a pseudonym or simply as another Jude other than the brother of Jesus.

Jude is the shortened form of Judas, a very common in the first century. Jesus had a brother named Judas as well as two disciples, and there are several others mentioned in the New Testament. Why was the name so popular? Judas Maccabees was one of the great heros of the Jewish people. He was the “Hammer” who led the rebellion against Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Judah was also the name of the founder of the tribe of Judah, the tribe to which King David belonged.

It was therefore a very patriotic name which brought to mind two very important times in Israel’s history: the founding of the Kingdom of David and the restoration of the kingdom under the Hasmoneans after the Maccabean revolt. Jesus ‘s own name evokes another great moment in Israel’s history, YeShua, the Lord Saves, is translated as Joshua in most English Bibles. Like Judas Maccabees, Joshua drove the Canaanites from the Land when Israel first arrived in the land promised to Abraham. Jesus’ other brother James would be better Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. That there were so many men named Judas might tell us something about Jewish expectations for a rebellion against Rome.

Yet the evidence is thin that the Jude who wrote this short letter was the brother of Jesus. Karen Jobes points out that we know from 1 Cor 15:7 that Jesus appear to his brother James after the resurrection, so “possibly he appeared to others in this family as well” (Letters to the Church, 237). That is certainly possible, but not necessary from 1 Cor 15. There is a strong tradition that Jude was not only a follower of Jesus after the resurrection, but that he became a leader in the Jerusalem church after the death of his brother James. Eusebius says that the grandsons of Jude were alive during the reign of Domitian and were brought to Rome under suspicion of fomenting rebellion. The emperor questioned them but realized they were not rebels at all, but rather simple farmers (H.E. 3.20).

If Jude was the brother of Jesus, why does he not say so in his letter? Why use the title “servant of Jesus?” The fact that Jude and the other brothers of Jesus were unbelievers until after the resurrection, the title “servant of Jesus” can be seen as a humble acknowledgment of Jesus’ Lordship.

Bibliography: Douglas J. Rowston, “The Most Neglected Book in the New Testament, NTS 21 (1975): 554-563.

Book Review: Herbert Bateman, Interpreting the General Letters

Bateman IV.  Herbert W. Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook. Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2013. 315 pp. Pb; $29.99. Link.

Herb Bateman’s Interpreting the General Letters joins series editor John Harvey’s Interpreting the Pauline Letters in this exegetical handbook series. When I reviewed Harvey’s volume a year ago, my main criticism was the brevity of the book. That is not a problem for Bateman’s book, since he has 100 more pages and considerably less material to cover.

The outline of the two books is similar. After a three chapter survey of the genre, background, and theology of the books, this Handbook provides an exegetical method, from translation to interpretation and finally communication. Since this book is intended as a textbook for classroom use, each chapter opens with an “at a glance” summary and a concluding review highlighting key points. Like other books in the series, the book concludes with a glossary of key terms.

Bateman, General LettersIn chapter 1, Bateman provides an overview of the genre of letter writing in the ancient world. Since this is a topic worthy of a monograph, Bateman must be brief. Nevertheless, this is a good introduction to a complex topic. He gives several examples of letters from approximately the same time as the General Epistles, to commendation letters, one conciliatory letter and two commanding letters. As is often observed, even though the canonical letters are longer than most Greco-Roman letters, the form is quite similar. Bateman briefly looks various “rules” for letter writing from Isocrates (436-338 B.C.E.), Pseudo-Demetrius (first century B.C.E.) and Pseudo-Libanius (fourth century C.E.)  The General Epistles roughly follow the patterns set in these famous manuals, although they sometimes mix genre.

The second chapter gives an overview of Greco-Roman history from Alexander the Great through the Maccabean and Roman periods. While this background is interesting and well-written, it might be too broad for a book on the General Epistles. Part of the reason for the lengthy historical narrative is Bateman’s thesis that Jude was written to Jewish Christian believers in Judea just prior to the rebellion in A.D. 66. The “godless ones” who have “secretly slipped in” are best understood in Bateman’s view in the light of the Jewish War not antinomians. This chapter also compares James to Wisdom Literature and briefly introduces Greco-Roman household codes as background to 1 Peter.

In order to introduce the theology of the General epistles, Bateman begins with an overarching biblical theology of the “strategic plan of God.” This section is a slightly slimmed version of progressive dispensationalism found in his Jesus the Messiah. Despite using the term dispensation, this presentation of God’s plan should not be dismissed out of hand. This is not the same kind of dispensationalism found in the Scofield Reference Bible or popular novels. Bateman presents a way of conceptualizing salvation history consistent with other narrative approaches to biblical theology.

His view of the kingdom is common in current discussions (the cross inaugurates the Kingdom; the second coming consummates the kingdom). He does an excellent job contextualizing this material to the General epistles, illustrating the “era of fulfillment” and “era of consummation” from these letters as much as possible. “In short,” Bateman says, “the corporate followers of Jesus have been transferred into the kingdom, live on earth as God’s redeemed community in anticipation of Jesus’ return and rule on earth, and model kingdom living for all other people so that they will be drawn to God” (118). After this overarching biblical theology, he offers a short, one page summary of the theological contributions of each book.

In chapter 4 (“Preparing to Interpret”), Bateman begins to outline his exegetical method. First the exegete must translate the text. This is a basic overview of how to approach a paragraph in Greek, identifying verbs and clauses. Second, while working through a portion of Greek text, the exegete begins to identify interpretive issues. Comparing English translations sometimes brings these issues to light. Rendering the tense of a verb may vary, as will any idiomatic Greek in the pericope. The final step at this stage is to isolate any textual issues in the pericope. Here Bateman gives a fifteen page introduction to textual criticism.

Once the sense of the Greek text is understood, the exegete moves to interpret the text, beginning with the structure of the passage. Bateman defines independent and dependent clauses and shows how these clauses function in a sentence. He works through 1 Peter 1:3-11 in order to demonstrate the usefulness of an analysis of the structure of the passage. By way of syntax and style, Bateman has in mind features like inclusio, chiasm, etc. He briefly highlights the style of the four writers in this section.

Most beginning exegetes find the syntax, grammar, and structural exercises boring and most want to rush right into word studies. Bateman states the goal in a word study is to “determine the author’s intended meaning of a symbol in his specific literary context” (199). By establishing a range of possibilities, the interpreter is in a better position to hear how the original audience might have understood the word. While he does suggest a study of the use of the word in classical, Septuagint, and Koine contexts, this may be “too much work” for the busy pastor (unless they are using Logos or Accordance!) Bateman does not instruct the student on the use of word-books or “theological dictionaries” (TDNT and the like).

Finally, chapter six deals with how to communicate exegetically, using 3 John as an example). If the exegete has done the work, then determining the “central idea” of the pericope is the next step. Ideally this is done for the larger passage by grouping summaries topically and creating an exegetical outline for the whole passage. But an exegetical outline is rarely preachable. If the goal of exegesis is “communicating homiletically,” then an additional step is necessary. Bateman gives his “homiletical outline” and a few examples of illustrations “sprinkled throughout the sermon” (237). Since this is more or less how I prepare a sermon, I feel at home in this section of the chapter. It is possible this “Haddon Robinson” style of delivery will not resonate with the more narrative style popular among preachers today.

Chapter seven offers two examples of the method outlined in the previous three chapters. Here Bateman shows how to go “from exegesis to exposition.” He selects Jude vv. 5-7 and Hebrews 10:19-25. Again, I find his method and results comforting since they are near enough to my own. But I wonder about application of the text: How can the exegete “bridge the gap”?  I am not sure Bateman does this well. For example, Jude 5-7, his final point is “do not join in the Zealot insurrection against Rome” (269). While this might be an accurate statement of Jude’s intention for writing the letter, how does that “preach” to a congregation today? That final step in the journey from exegesis to sermon seems missing in this book.

In the final section of the book, Bateman offers a list of resources for studying the General Epistles. Some of these are general works on historical and textual issues. Bateman has a very useful chart describing several commentary series (296—302). Here he gives the stated purpose of the series along with the published volumes on the General Epistles in the series with dates. There is some evaluation in this chart, describing the series as technical, critical or popular; conservative or moderate liberal, etc. The series in this list are recent and in most cases still being completed or publishing replacement volumes for older ones, such as the International Critical Commentary. The balance of the chapter is a list of other commentaries or monographs on the book without comment. Some of these monographs are in technical dissertation series and are not readily available for most pastors (WUNT, for example). There are a few unpublished dissertations in the list as well. This list might have been improved with a ranking of the best exegetical commentary or best popular expositional commentary, etc.

Conclusion. Bateman’s book is an excellent introduction to these often ignored letters. It is conservative, since he accepts the traditional views on most issues. There is very little interaction with challenges to the traditional authors of these letters. There is a brief discussion of Pseudonymity in his chapter on genre, but he does not discuss any specific the problems for the traditional view on these letters. Despite my criticism above, this is a very useful handbook, explaining and modeling the exegetical method.

In fact, the Exegetical Handbook series is ideal textbook for classroom use. Two more volumes are planned, David Turner on the Gospels and Acts and Marvin Pate on the Apocalypse. There are three volumes available in the Old Testament series (Pentateuch, Historical Books and Psalms). I look forward to the rest of the series.

Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.




A Common Foundation?

In his recent book on Paul, N. T. Wright argues that Paul has foot in three worlds, the Jewish, the Greek and the Roman worlds. His Jewish worldview is reinterpreted in the light of the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah and Paul’s mission is to present that reinterpreted Jewish Messiah to a world dominated by Greek categories of thought and Roman social practice. But as I mentioned in my last post, the final books of the New Testament canon seem to be written to primarily Jewish audiences that were not “Pauline” churches (i.e., mixed congregations of Jews and Gentiles). Hebrews through Revelation are Christian, but with a decidedly Jewish-Christian appeal.

Bible TorahA couple of years ago I posted a summary of Raymond Brown’s article on Jewish Christianity (part 2 and part 3) and found myself in agreement with the idea that the Christian church is rooted in Judaism.  There was a range of opinion on how the followers of Christ related to the Jewish Law. While it is popular enough to emphasize the “Jewishness” of Jesus or Paul, there is still dissent in describing the roots of Christianity as “Jewish” and resistance to considering the “other letters” as a “Jewish Christian” literature.

Jacob Neusner, for example, does not believe that there is a common foundation for both Judaism and Christianity.  Neusner states that “Judaisms and Christianities never meet anywhere. That is because at no point do Judaism, defined by Torah, and Christianity, defined by the Bible, intersect” (p. xi).   He contrasts Christians and Pharisees as an example of this absolute disconnect.  Both Pharisees and Christians “belong to Israel,” Neusner says, but they had completely different definitions of “Israel” to the point that they could not even have dialogue. Christians say “Israel” as salvation, while Pharisees saw “Israel” as a way of life (3-4).  Christianity is all about salvation (in the next life), while the Pharisees is all about sanctification (in this life).

His point is well taken, since Judaism is not as much interested in salvation “out of this world and into heaven” but rather living out God’s will in this life.  But in a typically Neusnerian fashion, he makes this dichotomy so strong that the two cannot be said to have any common ground.  In my view, he is taking Christianity as we know it from the fourth century and later as his model of what “Christianity is” and (rightly) judging it as having little or nothing in common with Judaism.

This is a problem for many studies of the first-century church.  There is an assumption that the earliest believers in Jesus were somehow more correct in their doctrine and practice than later generations.  I cannot agree with this, since the earliest believers hardly worked out the implications of who Jesus claimed to be let alone what impact the Christ Event would have on “Israel.”  They were Jewish people who believe Jesus was the Messiah and that salvation only comes through him.  In practice, there was as much diversity as there was in Judaism at the time.  While James was welcome in the Temple courts, Peter and John were tolerated there, but Stephen and the Hellenists likely were not welcome.  All were Jewish and would likely consider themselves the “correct” continuation of Jesus’ ministry.

It is not until Paul’s letters that there is a serious attempt to understand Jesus’ death and resurrection and the implications that these events have for Israel.  For Paul, the people of God are a family (like Jesus taught), but also the Body of Christ.  Neusner correctly picks up on this and sees this as a dividing point between Christianity and the Pharisees as well.  Paul says that whatever the people of God are, they are a unique group apart from historic Israel.

If this s the case, what do we have in the  Jewish Christian literature? Are James, Peter and John Jews or not? Could a Jew in the first century maintain their “Jewishness” and be a follower of Jesus? Or are these mutually exclusive categories?

Bibliography: Jacob Neusner, Jews and Christians: The Myth of the Common Tradition. Classics in Judaic Studies.  New York:  Binghamton University, 2001.  Originally published by Trinity International, 1991.  The 2001 edition has a 40 page preface written for that printing.