Keep Yourselves in God’s Love––An Exposition of Jude’s Epistle (6): Traditioned Exegesis Jude 5–11, 14–15

Now, I want to remind you, despite how you once fully knew it, that Jesus, after saving a people out from the land of Egypt, later destroyed those who did not believe, 6 so too those angels who did not keep themselves in their first condition but left their proper dwelling he has kept until the great day in eternal chains under darkness, 7 likewise Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which in similar manner committed sexual immorality and went after another kind of flesh, present an example by suffering the penalty of everlasting fire.

8 Nevertheless in like manner also these [false teachers] by being dreamers, on the one hand defile the flesh, but also rebel against authority, but further blaspheme the glorious [angels]. 9 Now, Michael the archangel, while deliberating with the devil, disputed about Moses’ body, yet did not dare to execute a verdict of blasphemy but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” 10 But these [false teachers], on the one hand, slander as much as they do not understand and, on the other hand, as much as they think naturally like unreasoning animals, they are destroyed by these things. 11 Woe to them because they walked in Cain’s way and committed themselves to Balaam’s error for the sake of pay and perished in Korah’s rebellion.

14 Further, Enoch, the seventh from Adam, also prophesied about these [false teachers], saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones 15 with the result of executing judgment against everyone and with the result of convicting every soul concerning all their ungodly works, which they committed in such an ungodly way, and concerning all the harsh things, which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”
Jude 5–11, 14–15 (author’s translation)


Sometimes the organization of an expositional series presents a problem when thinking through how to address a particular issue that may be a recurring issue throughout the book being studied but at the same time does not have an obvious place to pause and take up what in some ways is a detour issue. Such is the case concerning Jude’s use of extra-biblical sources. Since the past few installments have focused on a few doctrinal excurses necessary to get a full-orbed understanding of Jude’s epistle, part six seems just as good as any place to take up one of the most complicated issues for understanding this letter overall before returning to our more straightforward exposition.

Jude’s use of extra-biblical material raises a number of questions, especially for Reformed Protestants, which require some balanced thinking to provide a good understanding of how Jude remained committed to sola scriptura while also citing outside material, giving it truly an incredible degree of authority. Jude appealed to the apocryphal book of 1 Enoch in two places (Jude 6, 14–15) and once to an even more obscure intertestamental document called The Testament of Moses (Jude 9).We need to account for why Jude used these sources and how that use coheres with our understanding of Scripture’s final authority.

This article argues that Jude implemented a practice that I am calling traditioned exegesis. Markedly, Jude’s foundational appeal was to the Old Testament Scripture and apostolic testimony. His argument in verses 5–13 is by and large a combination of appeals to various Old Testament events or motifs that he applied to the situation in this church that he was addressing. His practice of traditioned exegesis, however, meant that he interpreted Scripture by depending, even if critically, upon materials accepted by and useful within God’s covenant community. Even though these sources contained teachings explicitly rejected by biblical authors, Jude still used them as a lens with subordinate authority to God’s Word to interpret God’s Word. For example, when Paul wrote to avoid those devoted to “myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculation rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith” (1 Tim 4:7; Titus 3:9), he was rejecting sections of 1 Enoch that detailed speculative genealogies about angels. Presuming that Scripture does not contradict itself, as this author believes, Jude also rejected these portions of 1 Enoch—a highly credible position, since Jude appealed overtly to the other apostolic teaching as authoritative (Jude 17–19). Nonetheless, he also used it not only as a lens to interpret Scripture but even cited it as containing a true prophecy (Jude 14–15). The proper way to reconcile these difficulties is to recognize—and adopt—Jude’s practice of traditioned exegesis.

Identifying Modern Sensitivities

Personalities and names can often overwhelm our considerations when it comes to accepting and rejecting criticism. People become attached to people and sources, and thus become prone to think that X person’s ideas are beyond reproach just because that person said them, even if they would otherwise find that teaching itself objectionable. On the other hand, people also develop negative associations with particular sources, causing them to be overly critical or skeptical of the ideas themselves. People have always been this way, but we need to learn to identify when we are doing this and why.

Because modern Protestants are prone to have highly negative connotations linked to apocryphal books because of our historical debates with Roman Catholicism about which books belong in the biblical canon and the nature of extra-biblical tradition, Jude forces us to reckon with which sensitivities to this issue are valid and why. Certainly, I hold that the Holy Spirit did not inspire 1 Enoch as holy Scripture, so we should not regard it as such nor give it that level of authority. Nonetheless, Jude never endured those Reformation debates, so he did not have the same sensitivities about the particular body of literature that is likely to raise our Protestant suspicions. 1 Enoch and The Testament of Moses were not controversial books to Jude in the same way they are for us, even though 1 Enoch certainly contained ideas that Jude would have rejected. In other words, we may have to discipline our own thinking to not overreact to Jude’s citations of these materials, which were not as controversial in his day as they are in ours.

We can then take the balanced view that Jude was positively citing and using certain intertestamental literature without conceding that he saw it as inspired Scripture and without having to explain away his practice entirely. He was using acceptable literature from his day as the interpretive lens of the covenant community—even as it included some errors—to shape how he exegeted and applied the true inspired Scripture.

Exegetical Instances

Before reckoning with how to understand Jude’s use of extra-biblical material, we should lay the foundation of his exegetical practices. Scholars have identified the following list of citations and allusions in Jude’s epistle to various Old Testament passages:2

Jude 5: Exodus; Numbers 14:11–12, 44–45
Jude 7: Genesis 19:1–29
Jude 11: Deuteronomy 34; Zechariah 3:2
Jude 11: Genesis 4; Numbers 16; Numbers 22; Numbers 26:9–10
Jude 12: Proverbs 25:14; Ezekiel 34:2
Jude 13: Isaiah 57:20
Jude 14–15: Deuteronomy 33:2
Jude 23: Amos 4:11; Zechariah 3:3

Clearly, within the scope of a relatively short New Testament letter, Jude interacted with an impressive amount of preceding biblical material. Richard Bauckham has even demonstrated that Jude knew Hebrew, and therefore was providing his own translations of the Old Testament rather than relying on its Greek translation.3 Hence, Jude was an exegete in his own right, drawing upon the Scriptures in their original language.

The amount of biblical material that Jude used precludes the suggestion that it was not Jude’s fundamental authority. His letter is pervaded with Scripture. It was his default language and mode of communication. So, Jude depended upon God’s true Word as his starting point and final authority.

Traditioned Exegesis

Now, for the more complicated bits, which likely need individual attention. In verse 6, Jude referred to 1 Enoch 69:26–29 to identify Jesus as the divine Son of Man who imprisons fallen angels. This instance strikingly grounds the creedal practice of drawing upon extra-biblical categories to explain and clarify Scripture’s meaning. Jude did not need extra-biblical material to argue that Christ was God the Son. Evidence for that case was ready at hand in how the other apostles had interpreted the Old Testament in light of Christ. Jude chose to use 1 Enoch to elaborate his Christology because it had useful categories that describe the truth of what God the Son does in his role as Judge over the unrighteous: the Son will judge the fallen angels. Jude saw that biblical truth captured well in 1 Enoch, and cited the material as such.

Furthermore, by drawing upon 1 Enoch, Jude showed that he stood in the covenant community’s tradition of how to understand the divine Son of Man figure. He implemented a traditional idea, applying it to Christ, to show that his biblical trinitarian Christology was not out of step with what God’s people had traditionally understood to be true of the Messiah.

Second, Jude drew upon The Testament of Moses in verse 9 for his claim that Michael the archangel disputed with the devil about Moses’ body. Even this instance is not disconnected from the covenant community’s reflection upon the biblical text. The intertestamental period saw a developing tradition for using Zechariah 3:2, which Jude cited, in application to various contests between the angel of the Lord and Satan.4 So, when he cited Zechariah 3:2, Jude did not pull this reference out of thin air but used it in line with the community’s exegetical tradition surrounding it. Further, Moses’ death almost by necessity was a matter of mystery and curiosity, since we believe the Bible that he died alone away from the people of Israel. Under the inspiration of the Spirit, Jude confirms a previously extra-biblical tradition that Satan wanted Moses’ body, but Michael the archangel protected it from him. Satan’s reasons for wanting Moses’ body are beside our point here. The main issue is that Jude happily accepted the covenant community’s reflection upon Scripture, even if he would modify or reject aspects of it, as a valid and appropriate lens for interpreting Scripture himself.

Third, Jude’s citation of Enoch’s prophecy from 1 Enoch 1:9 in Jude 14–15 is perhaps the most on the nose and unsettling appeal to extra-biblical material. In principle, however, it should not be. The Scripture itself is very clear that many Old Testament prophets were around, and not all of their prophecies were recorded in the Bible. So, the fact that true prophets issued other true prophecies that the Old Testament did not record is itself a biblical fact.

Moreover, Jude’s citation of Enoch’s prophecy as a true, therefore infallible, does not convey that status to the whole book of 1 Enoch or even the citation’s surrounding context. The claim is that the prophecy was true, as evidenced in the emergence of antinomian teachers in the church, which Jude addressed. So, we should not read more implications into Jude’s citation than are demanded.

Finally, the major question is how did 1 Enoch obtain this true prophecy from the Enoch recorded in Genesis. We know that 1 Enoch was a late book, not actually written by Enoch. It was also not inspired. God, in his good providence, preserved this particular prophecy through the centuries as people handed down what they remembered. Even that process, however, is a mystery, which is ultimately where we likely need to land on this particular question. The issue of how is not left to us. What we do know is that Jude, inspired to write holy Scripture, told us that this particular prophecy in an uninspired book was a true prophecy issued by Enoch. This question, however, is a mystery regardless of our position on Jude’s rationale for using this source, so it should not trouble Protestants about our view of Scripture. It is a difficulty wider than the particular question we are answering.

Confessional Implications

Jude’s practice of using extra-biblical material to shape his interpretation of Scripture itself leaves an example of traditioned exegesis, which we should emulate. Notably, Jude does not appeal to these sources as a parallel authority but uses them to develop his own reading of Scripture. He is seeing 1 Enoch’s divine Son of Man tradition as consistent with the Old Testament witness to the coming Messiah, whom he rightly recognized to be Jesus. He acknowledged an exegetical tradition around Zechariah 3:2 as a valid interpretation and applied it through a traditioned lens to understand the ending of Deuteronomy. His point in that appeal, after all, was that Michael, as our example, submitted to God’s Word rather than coming up with something on his own authority.

Jude’s practice indicates that he read the Scripture with the covenant community. His approach is a hard pushback against individualist exegesis. The me-and-my-Bible method of biblical interpretation is squarely anti-biblical because it runs counter to Jude’s own practice under the Spirit’s inspiration. Jude drew upon the insights of uninspired writers to compose an inspired writing.

Jude then grounds our practice of confessionalism. Unlike Pentecostalism, Reformed theology rejects the idea of continuing special revelation. Unlike Rome, we deny that tradition has authority as a parallel source of revelation. Rather, we affirm that tradition has authority in the development of reading the Bible as the church. We too should learn to read the Bible, accepting by and large the church’s consensus meaning on the Scripture’s teaching.

Jude’s citation of a book that contains material that Paul overtly rejected also helps us clarify this confessionalist exegetical posture. We need not accept everything taught even from a highly reliable source. Jude was fond of some parts of 1 Enoch but would have rejected others. Today, the church is up in arms about accepting the teachings of some traditional thinkers, Thomas Aquinas being the leading example under dispute. Thomas, however, represents the church’s mainstream, traditioned understanding of Scripture’s teaching on a great number of issues. If Jude can cite extra-biblical sources that also contained rejected ideas, then we should be very comfortable accepting the ideas of our most traditional teachers and discarding their views on issues where they were at odds with Scripture.

The position that sola scriptura means that an individual theologian is free to read the Bible and acceptably reach conclusions that are at odds with our ecumenical creeds and mainstream developing tradition is starkly anti-biblical. It is the baptized embodiment of modernity’s expressive individualism, insisting on being heard for its own voice apart from what all others have recognized as true. Scripture, in Jude’s epistle, calls us to humble confessionalism, prioritizing Scripture as our highest authority but submitting ourselves to read it in light of how God has continued to work through his people through the ages. Let us run to the Scripture, also finding help in our tradition. Let us continue Jude’s traditioned exegesis.

©Harrison Perkins. All Rights Reserved.

Here is the entire series so far.


  1. For the source issue concerning Jude’s use of The Testament of Moses, see Richard Bauckham, “Jude-2 Peter,” Word Biblical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983): 65–76.
  2. List of texts based on: Richard Bauckham, “Jude-2 Peter,” Word Biblical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983): 7; supplemented by Gene L. Green, “Jude and 2 Peter,” Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008): 32; Thomas Wolthuis, “Jude and Jewish Traditions,” Calvin Theological Journal 22 no. 1 (April 1987): 21–22; Bauckham, “Jude-2 Peter,” 65–66.
  3. Bauckham, “Jude-2 Peter,” 7–8
  4. Bauckham, “Jude-2 Peter,” 65–67.


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