Extra Biblical Sources

Why Does the New Testament Cite Extra-biblical Sources?

Dr. John Piper

Audio Transcript

“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.

Paul and the Pagan Poets

From virginiahuguenot.blogspot.com

There are interesting passages in the New Testament that demonstrate the Apostle Paul’s willingness to employ verses from pagan poetry to speak Biblical truth. There may be others; some trace 1 Timothy 5.4 to a line from Terence (195/185–159 BC), Andria IV. Be that as it may, it is clear that Paul was learned in pagan poetry, and found good uses for it, even apart from the idolatrous intentions of the poets themselves. Without adopting the whole false system of belief represented by the sources he quoted, Paul with discernment and for godly purposes, was able, because of his familiarity with pagan poems, to find the good within and bring it to light to God’s glory.

Acts 17.28: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.

This verse spoken during his famous speech at Mars Hill in Athens shows the apologetic use that such acquaintance with pagan poetry can provide. The first quote seems derived from a work on Crete by Epimenides in which he rebukes the Cretians for building a tomb to Zeus, whom he believed to be immortal.

Epimenides (6th century BC), Cretica:

They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one—
The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!
But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever,
For in thee we live and move and have our being.

Paul also may have in mind Cleanthes, who said something similar.

Cleanthes (c. 330 BC – c. 230 BC), Hymn to Zeus:

Most glorious of the immortals, invoked by many names, ever all-powerful,
Zeus, the First Cause of Nature, who rules all things with Law,
Hail! It is right for mortals to call upon you,
since from you we have our being, we whose lot it is to be God’s image,
we alone of all mortal creatures that live and move upon the earth.

The latter quote seems to come from a work by Aratus again in praise of Zeus.

Aratus (c. 315 BC/310 BC – 240 BC), Phaenomena 1-5:

From Zeus let us begin; him do we mortals never leave unnamed;
full of Zeus are all the streets and all the market-places of men;
full is the sea and the havens thereof;
always we all have need of Zeus.
For we are also his offspring;

It is interesting to see how Paul borrowed expressions intended to glorify a false God, which his hearers would have recognized, and applied them to the true God. Eusebius records (Preparation for the Gospel 13.12) how Aristobulus of Paneas, a Jewish philosopher (c. 160 BC) had similarly quoted from the same beginning lines of Aratus, Phaenomena, but to demonstrate that the praise of Zeus was rightly given to God instead. Aristobulus thus: ‘It is clearly shown, I think, that all things are pervaded by the power of God: and this I have properly represented by taking away the name of Zeus which runs through the poems; for it is to God that their thought is sent up, and for that reason I have so expressed it.’ The apologetic purpose of Paul — and Aristobulus — thus finds truth in a pagan poem and employs it for godly ends.

1 Cor. 15.32-33: If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die. Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.

The phrase “let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die” may be an allusion to both Isa. 22.13 and Eccl. 8.15. However, it is not unreasonable to suppose that Paul may have had in mind the philosophy of Epicurus (341 BC – 270 BC), who put forth a similar view of life.

The phrase “evil communications corrupt good manners” is apparently a direct quote from either Menander or Euripides (John Milton attributes it to Euripides in the preface to his Samson Agonistes). Paul thus bears witness to the maxim of a heathen poet.

Menander (ca. 342–291 BC), Thais: Bad company corrupts good character.

Euripides (c. 480 BC – 406 BC) (fr. 609): Evil communications corrupt good manners.

Titus 1.12-13a: One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. This witness is true.

The quotation here seems to be from Epimenides, cited already above, or perhaps from Callimachus. Again, Paul shows his extensive knowledge of pagan poetry, and selectively quotes as appropriate to demonstrate a true statement found within an idolatrous poem.

Callimachus (310/305–240 BC), Hymn I. To Zeus: “Cretans are ever liars.”

The Apostle Paul by these examples shows that indeed, as I have noted before, “all truth is God’s truth,” wherever we may find it. The words of Charles Spurgeon on this point are worth heeding.

Charles Spurgeon, Exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:

“Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die.” Oh! wicked Paul! to quote from a heathen poet! How disgraceful. If I were to repeat a verse, and it looked as if Shakespere or any profane author ever wrote such a thing, how criminal! say you. But I like good things wherever I find them. I have often quoted from the devil, and I dare say I shall often quote from his people. Paul quoted this from Meander, and another heathen poet, who wrote far worse things than have been written by modern poets, and if any of us who may have stored our minds with the contents of books we wish we had never read, and if there be some choice gems in them which may be used for the service of God, by his help we will so use them.