Jude is a tiny book at the back of your Bible, second to the last, right before the book of Revelation, and immediately after 3 John.
Even at 25 verses, though, Jude isn’t the smallest book in the Bible. That distinction goes to 2 John. Then 3 John.
Jude is a workhorse, however, despite its small size. Inside those 25 verses is enough to keep a theologian busy for a year or two.
For starters you have a saint, brother of James, writing a letter to a circuit of churches. He wanted to encourage the believers about the common blessing they had in salvation.
You feel if that letter was written it would have been friendly, calm and patient. Instead you get a combative and impassioned letter. One that feels almost rushed. Like a first century Eric Ludy rant.
One of the Most Bizarre Statements in Jude
Jude had some stiff words for false teachers like calling them “wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.”
Yet for these sinners our response to them amounts to seeking the Lord’s intervening power against them. Michael, God’s chief angel, did just that when contending with the devil over the body of Moses.
And this is where you should do a screeching halt.
The exact text rendered in the English Standard Version is this:
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.”
Disputing about the body of Moses. Hmm.
The reason this is such a head scratcher is that this struggle is not mentioned anywhere in Scripture. There is a Hebrew text outside of the canon that mentions a fight between the two found in Yalcut Rubeni, fol. 43, 3:
At the time in which Isaac was bound there was a contention between Michael and Satan. Michael brought a ram, that Isaac might be liberated; but Satan endeavored to carry off the ram, that Isaac might be slain.
But nothing in the canon.
There is a situation where Michael is to do the bidding of the Lord in Daniel 10:13. His duty there is to make sure Jews would be free to return to their land.
But nothing on Moses or contending with devil.
Why Satan Wanted Moses’ Body
Moses died on Mt. Nebo.
Mt. Nebo overlooks the promised land, land Moses didn’t get to enter. This means this contention with the body of Moses happened on Mt. Nebo.
Or close by.
And Jude suggests that Michael was sent to protect the body from Satan.
But what exactly did Satan want to do with it? Josephus [Antiquities] suggested that Satan would’ve used it as an idol or object of worship. Prop the stiff corpse up, and the people fall down at its feet.
Think of the golden calf. Or in more recent times, the body of Lenin preserved in the Red Square.
Another theologian, Clark, suggests that the body was already buried and Michael was sent to keep it buried because Satan wanted to dig it up, you know, and show it to the people.
Allegorical Interpretations of “Body of Moses”
Still other theologians think that “the body of Moses” doesn’t refer to an actual physical body–but a collection of things.
Kind of like Paul in Romans 7:24 where he uses the phrase σωμα της ἁμαρτιας–the body of death.
This is not so far-fetched since among the Hebrews גוף guph, body, is often used this way. So when גוף של משה guph shel Mosheh, the body of Moses is used, it could mean his laws.
The body of Moses’ laws.
If this is the case, then we have an angel and the devil disputing over these laws…but what’s not clear is who wanted to do what with them.
In keeping with a Christ-centered interpretation theologians who favor this view say that the laws were abolished and buried by Christ. And the devil wanted to keep them alive.
This is allegorical interpretation at it’s best.
Better to stick with the literal meaning of the text.
Jude’s Troubling Source for This Text
However, the meaning of the text is small potatoes compared to Jude’s sources for this story.
As I mentioned above, this tale is not found in the biblical canon. And theologians aren’t one hundred percent sure of the source.
Some argue, starting with Origen, that the source was an apocryphal book called “The Assumption of Moses.”
Whether this is true or not here’s what we know: Jude is using a non-canonical book to make a point.
Is that okay?
One theologian argued that Jude used the story from an apocryphal book because his readers were familiar with it…and he wanted to appeal to sources that they valued.
The only problem with this concept is that Jude uses this fable like he believes it actually happened. Perhaps no different from if he used the story of Moses smiting the rock or the parting of the Red Sea.
So what do we do with this?
Some have argued that due to Jude’s use of an apocryphal book Jude should be thrown out of the canon.
Others think that’s harsh, and point to several arguments to back their case:
- Due to the references to apostles, the repetition of Jewish tradition (the same tradition that Paul came by the names of Jannes and Jambres), the recognition and warning of early forms of apostasy like Docetism, Marcionism, and Gnosticism and Jude’s competent Greek writing style the book should be dated between 66 and 90 A.D., and not at some later date that would mark it as suspect.
- Jude was quickly adapted by early church fathers like Tertullian and Clement of Alexandrian.
- The epithets in Jude are thought to be some of the best in the Bible, and the closing doxology is considered supreme in quality. (I guess the argument being heretical books use shoddy rhetorical tricks and cheap songs.)
- Jude, by quoting “The Assumption of Moses,” a pagan source, did no differently than Paul who quoted a pagan poet, a Greek dramatist and a Cretan prophet in his own letters.
- Finally, these theologians who support canonical Jude point out that the point of the letter is biblical as all get out: live a faithful and holy life, resist the lust of the flesh and do not deny God.
With those arguments squarely in our pockets, I think it is safe to say that this book was not written by man, but God speaking through a man who was carried along by the Holy Spirit–no matter how quirky that bit about Michael disputing with the body of Moses.
What do you think?
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