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Quotations in the New Testament: Do they mean that the quoted book is totally authoritative?

by James Patrick Holding

Published: December 15, 2007
Image Brenton Nicholls, Old New Testament

Reader Clint H. (USA) asks a question about New Testament citations of other books, in relation to both Genesis and apocryphal books. We asked James Patrick Holding, founder of Tekton Apologetics Ministries, to respond as a guest author.

Clint notes that CMI has many times pointed out that Jesus cited Genesis as real history For example, in Mark 10:6 ff, Jesus cites Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 as real history and thus the basis for marriage, and that people were there from the beginning of creation not after billions of years of evolution. In Luke 17:26 27, Jesus treats the Flood and Ark as historical events. For more examples, see The authority of Scripture and Jesus Christ on the infallibility of Scripture. He continues:

I often hear the YEC argument that because people (such as Jesus or others) reference the creation account as basis for their arguments, that the creation account is to interpreted as scientific fact.

>So there you have it. Jesus quoted the creation account as support for His point. …

So my question is this:

>Should one apply this same hermeneutic when reading Jude?

Why or why not?

>For those not familiar with what I’m alluding to, I’ll explain a little more.

In Jude, the author (believed to be the half-brother of Jesus) makes a number of points, and references two extra-testamental apocryphal works of Jewish mythology in support of those points—one is Book of Enoch, and the other is the Assumption of Moses.

>Because Jude relies on them to support his arguments, if we were to apply our hermeneutic consistently, one might assume that we should take Enoch 1 and the Assumption of Moses as historical (and possibly canon) …

The best reason I’ve heard for why Enoch 1 and Assumption of Moses aren’t included as historical canon, yet they are referred to in Jude is because Jude was simply referring to popular myth of the day—much the same way that we might refer to an Aesop’s Fable or to the tale of Frodo and the Ring as illustration/support in an argument. Indeed, it doesn’t seem that this is the only reference to extra-Biblical Jewish mythology in the New Testament—this is just one of the more obvious (but not necessarily the most severe).

So what’s so wrong with applying our same Jude hermeneutic to Jesus’s reference of Genesis 1? Or when the 10 Commandments reference it? Or when anyone else does? What are your criteria for interpreting one passage differently from another? …

The question is a fair one, and the answer is not particularly difficult. The comparison to something like J.R.R. Tolkien gives us our key. We know that Tolkien’s work is in the genre of fiction. So what we have to answer is: Were Enoch and the Assumption of Moses considered true history, or something else? Our criteria, in other words, needs to be the genre of the works and whether it was considered authentic history by the Jews, or something more along the lines of Lord of the Rings.

When it comes to Genesis, we have clear evidence that it was regarded as history by, for example, the Jewish historian Josephus (The Antiquities of the Jews, available in the Online Bible). We also have the fact that it is written in a format which suggests a historical narrative (see Is Genesis poetry / figurative, a theological argument (polemic) and thus not history?).

But what about the two documents Jude references?

With Enoch, there is some question as to whether Jude is even quoting that book. The dating of 1 Enoch, where this quote used by Jude appears, is uncertain, and the book is thought to have been reworked over time by both Jewish and Christian editors into successive editions. It may be that Enoch is actually quoting Jude! Or else, it may be that both are quoting some other work now lost, or some floating prophetic tradition. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Jude is quoting Enoch and ask whether there is any indication that Enoch was generally regarded as a historical book.

Enoch does seem to cover certain historical events from the time of Genesis, and that would seem to suggest it was intended to be seen as history. On the other hand, ‘historical fiction’ was not entirely unheard of at this time (think of the apocryphal gospels of Jesus!) so the mere reporting of events in this manner is not enough to build a case.

Are there any external sources, like Josephus, that say Enoch was historical? Many church fathers apparently approved of the book in some way, but this was because of the quote in Jude, and so their views have little bearing on whether the author of Enoch and his contemporaries intended it to be understood as historical. Do we have any indications in that regard? The answer, unfortunately, seems to be no. Though it was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, we do not know why it was used by the Essenes and how they regarded it. In addition, what the Essenes thought of it may not reflect what most other Jews thought of it.

In the same vein, I can find nothing to suggest that the Assumption of Moses was regarded by others as a historical work. Indeed, since both of these works were composed thousands of years after their title’s characters, I would suggest that it is far more likely that they were simply regarded as edifying fiction–like Lord of the Rings!

In a previous article, Apologetics Bible Study: Jude, I wrote on a similar question:

Some point to vs. 9 and 14 and ask if the documents these are taken from are meant to be seen as inspired Scripture. Not at all: Paul quotes Menander, Epimenides, and other Greek authors. This doesn’t mean that he considered their works Scripture; it does mean that he thought something they said was sufficiently accurate to be an excellent way to get a point across to his readers, and the same may be said of the other quotes. Paul also apparently uses Wisdom 14:22-31 as a source for his arguments in Romans 1:24-32, and Wisdom 2:23-4 for Romans 5:12-21. Does this reflect a belief that Wisdom was canonical, or worthy of being called Scripture? No: ‘Wisdom of Solomon’s canonicity does not appear to concern Paul, but only the theological arguments in it.’ Paul was out to make a point, as, most likely, were Jude and the others who quote or allude to apocryphal works.
Published: 15 December 2007(GMT+10)