Jude does an interesting thing in his letter, he uses a non-Biblical source as though it were from Scripture, and he does so not once, but twice in a 25 verse letter. Why does he do that? Should that place the letter in doubt as to its inerrancy? Let’s take a look…
We’ve already seen the first of these in verse 9 when he mentions the story of Michael the Archangel struggling with Satan over the body of Moses. No doubt you will recall that this is found in a paragraph connected with a series of Biblical examples and connected by “in the same way” an unusual context to say the least. As I mentioned at the time, this story is found in a work called The Assumption of Moses written early in the first century. The second use of a non-Biblical account is to be found in verses 14-15 where Jude actually quotes from the Book of Enoch, sometimes called 1 Enoch. This work was written by multiple authors in the second century B.C.
These two books are part of what scholars call the pseudepigrapha, which is comprised of writings that are attributed to Old Testament characters but actually written at a later date by other authors. These works were well-known in the first century, and other New Testament writers may have been familiar with them, and may even have been influenced by them, but Jude alone quotes directly from one of them and identifies it as a prophecy. Many people have been disturbed by this over the years, and it has produced some interesting discussion. For instance, Tertullian ((A.D. 160-220) argued that 1 Enoch should be considered inspired since Jude quoted it. On the other hand, Jerome (A.D. 342-420) reported that there were those who rejected Jude’s letter because he quoted it. Personally, I think they might have both been operating under a false premise, that Jude quoted it as inspired at all; this isn’t necessarily the case.
Other New Testament writers quoted non-inspired authors because they considered them be to right and useful, if not inspired. Paul for instance, quoted three Greek poets. In Titus 1:12 he calls the Greek poet Epimenides a prophet since Cretans accepted him as such. The particular quote “Cretans are always liars…” was also an accurate statement. He also quoted Menander in 1 Corinthians 15:33 and Aratus in Acts 17:28.
It’s quite likely that Jude respected The Book of Enoch and considered the “prophecy” to be an accurate one without accepting it as divinely inspired, just as we might quote C.S. Lewis or R.C. Sproul today in making a point. Indeed, I myself have quoted Harry Truman in this blog more than once, because I felt that the remark I quoted was one of great truth and insight: “The only think worth knowing is what you learn after you already know it all.” President Truman was no prophet and I have never suspected his comments were divinely inspired, and if I had been around back in 1948, I probably would have voted for Dewey, but he sure got that one right!
At any rate, I do not think Jude’s quotes should lessen our respect for the authority of his letter; his message is a vitally important one for us, as it was in the first century: Beware of false teachers!