Why Does the New Testament Cite Extra-biblical Sources?
Dr. John Piper
“Sometimes we talk about textual matters. Joe from Santa Barbara, California, writes, “Jude 9, 14–15 confuse me. Where is Jude getting the information from in these verses? Paul usually quotes the Old Testament (and it tells us where he is quoting from on the bottom of our Bibles), but I have no clue where Jude gets his info. I have asked others about these texts and they usually say something like ‘Paul quoted pagan prophets,’ but it seems to me that Jude is actually quoting Scripture. What do we know? What do we not know?”
Here is what we know and what we don’t know: Jude is not quoting Scripture. That is pretty plain. He doesn’t claim to be quoting Scripture, but we will get to that in a minute. Here is what we know and what we don’t know: We know that Jude was in the middle of rebuking some arrogant opponents in the church, and we know that in verse 9 he does this by contrasting their willingness to blaspheme what they don’t understand with the archangel Michael’s unwillingness even to pronounce a blasphemous judgment against the devil. So, that is the point: to rebuke their arrogance and presumption.
So, he says this in Jude 9–10: “But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you.’ But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand.” So, we know that Jude refers to a situation at the burial of Moses where Michael the archangel and the devil are disputing over what can be done with Moses’s body. And we know this is a story that is not in the Old Testament. Nothing is said. God took care of the burial up there in the mountain. Nobody knows where Moses was buried.
What we don’t know for sure is exactly where this story comes from according to verse 9. There is more in Jude 14–15 that we do know, but here we don’t know where it comes from. There is a Jewish book called the Assumption of Moses written between the Old and New Testaments which has a story like this, but Jude doesn’t seem to be giving an exact quote. We can’t say for sure that is where he is getting it. So, the answer so far for verse 9 is this: We just don’t know where he got that story. But he got it from somewhere, and he doesn’t make any claim to get it from Scripture.
Here is a further issue in Jude 14–15: Jude is still criticizing the ungodliness of his opponents, and this time he actually quotes a source outside the Bible. He doesn’t say what it is. At least, it looks like a quote. Most people think it is a quote, namely, from 1 Enoch. That is a Jewish book written about 300 B.C. and not regarded as inspired or Scriptural by Protestants or Catholics, and it was not in the Old Testament that Jesus used and endorsed. Jude 14–15 are a fairly close rendition of this verse. That is why most people think it is a quote.
These verses go like this: “It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying” — so, he is quoting now this prophecy that Enoch gives — “‘Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.’” So, Jude quotes Enoch, the seventh generation from Adam, as prophesying, and he turns his words against the opponents as a judgment on them. And that is the judgment they can expect.
Now, here is the question: What does this mean for Jude, who cites this from outside the Bible? Where did he get it? What is he doing? Here are two possibilities:
1. He believed that even though these sources — 1 Enoch and wherever he got the verse 9 idea, the story — these sources, though not inspired, contain truth that he is willing to use. That is one possibility.
2. A second possibility — and I kind of lean toward this one, but it is impossible to prove — namely, that Jude knew that his opponents in the church, the people that he is so upset with, his opponents in the church loved to make use of 1 Enoch and maybe the Assumption of Moses, these books. And they were their favorite books to use, and so he is citing their own documents in an ironic way to bring them back on their own heads.
Now, that is where this issue about Paul quoting the poets becomes relevant, because that is what Paul did when he quoted the poets in Acts 17 from the pagan authors. He said that God “is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man” (Acts 17:27–29).
So, Paul reached into sources that he didn’t believe were inspired, saw something that was written there, drew it out, used it in a Christian way, and turned it back, as it were, on his conversation partners there in Athens. So, even though we don’t know for sure, my inclination is to say that Jude chose to cite these extrabiblical sources because his adversaries put such a high premium on them, and then he turned them around and used them to indict the very pride that was using them.