Bible Questions: Jude and the Apocrypha

Picture of a Bible

Dear John,

My friends and I are studying the book of Jude and we just read verse 9 where Michael and the devil are fighting over the body of Moses. My buddy said that story comes from a book that’s not in the Bible. Does that mean we’re missing a book or does it mean Jude shouldn’t be in the Bible?

Thanks!

The youngest brother of Jesus, Jude, wrote one of the least studied books of the New Testament and that’s a shame. Like the book from his older brother, James, Jude is as intense as it is practical. Whereas the letters of Paul are full of theology and he often condemns false teachers, Jude is concerned with orthopraxy – “right living.”

That Jude quotes from at least two pseudepigraphal books (The Book of Enoch and The Assumption of Moses) has traditionally made many people view the whole book with a certain reservation. “Doesn’t he know these books aren’t inspired? Perhaps Jude’s letter isn’t inspired either?” This may be part of the reason Jude’s little letter was so long in becoming part of the Syrian Bible.

Of course, for years preachers and teachers have done the very same thing Jude does. A good communicator will often quote from popular literature to illustrate a point. The fact that the Apostle Paul quotes from two pagan poets (Epimenides of Crete and Aratus in Acts 17:28) doesn’t mean Paul believed those Greeks were inspired!

Let’s look at one of the stories Jude uses to illustrate his letter. It comes from a book called The Assumption of Moses. Jude says:

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,” (v. 9).

Unfortunately, only fragments exist of The Assumption of Moses and they do not contain the reference Jude cites.

Although the Assumption is fragmentary, we can piece together the story. The angel Michael is commissioned to bury Moses, but Satan opposes him on two grounds. First, Satan claims to be the Lord of Matter and so the body belongs to him. Second, Moses is a murderer. (He killed an Egyptian defending an Israelite slave, Exodus 1:12.) To these charges Michael rejoins, “The Lord rebuke you, for it was God’s Spirit that created the world and all mankind.” (Thus God, not Satan, is the Lord of matter.) The answer to Satan’s second charge is lost. Then Michael charges Satan with inspiring the serpent to tempt Adam and Eve. Finally, the Assumption occurs. The spirit of Moses is carried up into heaven and his body is buried in the mountains.[1]

The Assumption was edited together with The Testament of Moses at an early date. According to Charles, they were written by “a Pharisaic Quietist, and forms a noble but ineffectual protest against the growing Zelotic spirit of the part. Its author was a learned Jews, well versed in the Scriptures, and intimately aquainted with the history of his nation subsequent to the close of the canon. He was full of patriotism; thus he looks for the return of the ten tribes, the establishment of the theocratic kingdom, the triumph of Israel over its foes, and its final exaltation to heaven, which it should see its enemies weltering in the fires of gehenna. But though a patriot, he is not a Zealot; the duty of the faithful is not to resort to arms, but simply to keep the law and prepare, through repentance, for the personal intervention of God in their behalf.[2]

Jude can quote from this story to illustrate his point “Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones,” (v. 8) because his readers were already familiar with the story and sympathetic to the author’s point of view.

Thus, instead of focusing on whether the Assumption is a “lost book of the Bible,” or whether Jude’s quotations from the Assumption should disqualify Jude from a place in the canon, this illustration helps us understand who Jude was originally writing to.

Thanks for sending in such a great question!

[1] R.H. Charles, The Assumption of Moses: translated from the Latin sixth century Ms., the unemended text of which is published herewith, together with the text in its restored and critically emended form. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1897 (downloaded from books.logos.com June 14, 2017).

[2] Charles, p. xiv.

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