Did Jude quote from an apocryphal book?

By Wayne Jackson

“Could you comment on the prophecy of Enoch, as mentioned in the book of Jude (vs. 14)? Was Jude quoting from the apocryphal ‘Book of Enoch’? If so, does this reflect upon the concept of Bible inspiration?”

The book of Jude is a powerful little treatise that warns the children of God of the dangers of apostasy from the faith (contrary to the claims of some, that a Christian can never so fall from grace as to be lost eternally).* Concerning the divine judgment that is to come upon those who abandon the truth, Jude cites a precedent from antiquity.

“And to these also Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord came with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their works of ungodliness which they have wrought, and of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him’” (Jude 14-15).

At the beginning, let the following point be emphasized. In logic there is a concept known as “the law of rationality.” Simply stated it is this: One should draw only such conclusions as are warranted by the evidence. To go further, is to abuse the evidence.

Now note carefully the actual facts that are set forth in this passage. There was a man of the early earth whose name was Enoch. He was the seventh generation from Adam, the first man (1 Cor. 15:45). Enoch uttered a prophecy of judgment against ungodly people who had spoken against God.

Observe further, by way of contrast, what is not contained in this text. Nothing is said about a “book of Enoch.” There is no phrase such as, “it is written in the book of Enoch.” Nothing at all is indicated about any literary production. Having established this, let us now note some data about the extra-biblical work that is called the “Book of Enoch.”

The “Book of Enoch” is a composite work of several authors that dates from the last two centuries before Christ. It consists of five divisions which are further segmented into 108 chapters. Its original language was either Hebrew or Aramaic — perhaps both; eventually it was translated into Greek. Some eleven fragments of Enoch were found among the Dead Sea scrolls collection. The “Book of Enoch” contains a passage very similar to the one cited in the book of Jude.

Some of the early church writers (e.g., Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian) viewed the “Book of Enoch” as being virtually inspired, inasmuch as they assumed that the document was quoted by Jude, and that such would suggest its divine character. On the other hand, later, when the “Book of Enoch” fell into considerable disfavor (being classified as pseudepigrapha [literally, false writing], others, also assuming that Jude had quoted from that narrative, questioned the inspiration of his little book (see Jerome’s reference in De. Vir. ill. 4).

What is the Christian to make of this matter today? Here are some facts that may help to clarify the issue.

  1. There is nothing in the sacred text that identifies the actual origin of Jude’s quotation. Enoch’s original message was from God. It is entirely possible that the prophet Enoch may have been quoted directly by Jude, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit—since the prophecy is not contained in the Old Testament. (Note: Paul once quoted the Lord Jesus, though the quotation he employed is nowhere recorded in the Gospel narratives; cf. Acts 20:35.) No one can prove, therefore, that Jude’s text was taken from the “Book of Enoch.” Further, it is likely that the quotation in the “Book of Enoch” reflects the echo of an ancient tradition that has its roots in the events of the Patriarchal period, and that the inspiration of Jude, and the tradition of the “Book of Enoch,” merely merge at this juncture.
  2. Even if Jude quoted from the “Book of Enoch” that would not establish the inspiration of the latter work. Paul quoted from several Greek writers, e.g., Aratus (Acts 17:28), Menander (1 Cor. 15:33), and Epimenides (Tit. 1:12), yet no one contends that the apostle’s use of these quotes endowed the original classical works with the aura of divine inspiration.
  3. Furthermore, the ad hominem use of a quotation from an uninspired source does not negate the inspiration of the one who uses it — if there is evidence otherwise that establishes the sacred character of the message he is presenting. The argument just cited relative to Paul’s citations from the classics equally establishes this truth.

In conclusion, therefore, we must note that the controversy over Jude’s quotation actually is of no vital consequence. First, we simply do not know the immediate source of Jude’s quotation. Second, it does not matter about the immediate source of the quote. Enoch’s original affirmation, and Jude’s subsequent employment of the quote, represent all of the authority that is needed to acknowledge the genuineness of the ancient, holy warning.

*For further study on the topic of whether a child of God may so sin as to be lost eternally, see our booklet, “Eternal Security – Fact or Fiction?”

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.