New TestamentThe New Testament Use of Jewish Pseudepigrapha Why the New Testament authors sometimes drew on ancient literary works written under false names Daniel M. GurtnerNovember 11, 2021 ShareFacebookTwitterLinkedInPrint Level New Testament authors naturally draw heavily on the Old Testament in their writings. They also show familiarity with other writings, such as the Greek poet Aratus of Soli, whose Phaenomena from the third century BC is quoted by Paul in Acts 17:28. Paul was also able to converse with the Epicureans and Stoics of Athens and was likely familiar with writings from those philosophies as well (Acts 17:18). The New Testament writers also drew on works known as the “pseudepigrapha.” These are writings that are often attributed to ancient figures, typically from the Old Testament, but not actually written by them. These were likely known by the New Testament authors, but their use in the New Testament is both sparse and debated. While one may find numerous points of parallel ideas, perhaps indicative of a shared Palestinian Jewish contexts, there are few quotations or clear allusions. Here we will overview the most prominent ones. Pseudepigrapha in the Book of Jude The clearest use of the Jewish Pseudepigrapha by New Testament writers is found in Jude, a book widely recognized for its familiarity with the literature of Palestinian Judaism and the only book of the NT to quote explicitly from the pseudepigrapha (vv. 14–15). But Jude also alludes to several passages in his brief letter. For example, Jude 5–7 warns of “angels who did not keep their own domain but abandoned their proper abode” (v. 6a) which God has “kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day” (v. 6b). For a thorough introduction to the Jewish Pseudepigrapha, see Dr. Gurtner’s recent book. This reflects a tradition which speaks of the descent of the “sons of God” (Gen. 6:1–4), but more immediately refers to a notion outside the Bible that describes angels transgressing their proper boundaries. This is found in one of the oldest writings of the pseudepigrapha, the Book of Watchers (1 Enoch 1–36), where God commands the angel Raphael to bind up for judgment one of the rebellious fallen angels, called Watchers, known as Azazʾel: … the Lord said to Raphael, “Bind Azazʾel hand and foot (and) throw him into the darkness!” And he made a hole in the desert which was in Dudaʾel and cast him there; he threw on top of him rugged and sharp rocks. And he covered his face in order that he may not see light; and in order that he may be sent into the fire on the great day of judgment.” (1 Enoch 10:4–6) In 1 Enoch Azazʾel’s fate will be shared by the other fallen Watchers held in a prison until final judgment (1 Enoch 18:14–16; 21:3, 10). These fallen angels, or Watchers, were, according to 1 Enoch, responsible for introducing evil into the world (1 Enoch 6–19). Nothing is said in 1 Enoch about the fall of Adam (Rom. 5). And Raphael’s role, according to the passage to which Jude alludes, is to bind up one of the leading rebels and hold him for God’s judgment. In Jude the strange story serves as an illustration: if these angelic figures will not escape God’s judgment, neither will the false teachers who have crept into the church (Jude 4). No doubt in Jude’s context the purpose is to encourage the readers that the real threat their enemies pose to the church will not go unpunished by God’s righteous judgment (v. 10). Shortly thereafter, Jude lashes out at his opponents for reviling “angelic majesties” (Jude 8 NASB) or, more properly “slander the glorious ones,” which are surely angels. Regardless of what kind of slander he has in mind, Jude cites a curious tradition regarding “Michael the archangel” (Jude 9) who did not dare revile even the devil but said “The Lord rebuke you” (Jude 9 NASB). This means that even Michael did not have the audacity to rebuke the devil, like the false teachers slander angels. Instead, Michael leaves such judgment in the (proper) hands of God. Though we may have no idea where this notion of Michael conversing with the devil comes from, apparently it was sufficiently familiar to Jude’s reader that Jude could use it as an illustration. Related Illustration by Josh Koch. Image of Enoch from the 1728 Figures de la Bible The Pseudepigrapha of Second Temple JudaismA consideration of Jewish Pseudepigrapha raises the question whether the New Testament contains books written under a false name. Daniel M. Gurtner This account most likely derives from the Testament of Moses, which purports to be a farewell exhortation given to Joshua by Moses before the transfer of leadership of the people of Israel. The ending of the book has been lost, and it is generally assumed that Moses’ death was narrated at some point in the earlier text. Nevertheless, the tradition was sufficiently familiar to Jude’s readers to illustrate the point about the audacity of the false teachers. Jude also makes an explicit quotation from 1 Enoch, again in a context in which he continues his denunciation of the false teachers, even claiming that Enoch prophesied about them: Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy onesto judge everyone, and to convict all of them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness, and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” (Jude 1:14–15 NIV) The quotation is taken from 1 Enoch 1:9, which is the very beginning of the Book of Watchers (1 Enoch 1–36). In this book, Enoch, who appears only briefly in the pages of Genesis (Gen. 5:19–24), receives a vision from God (1 Enoch 1:1–2). This vision announces that God will bring judgment upon the wicked, whose fate is stated in verse 9, that quoted by Jude: Behold, he comes with the myriads of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to destroy all the wicked, and to convict all flesh for all the wicked deeds that they have done, and the proud and hard words that wicked sinners spoke against him (1 Enoch 1:9) Jude seems to make a few adjustments to the 1 Enoch text, but there is no doubt he is quoting from 1 Enoch 1:9. Again the context of Jude makes clear that he sees the illustration from 1 Enoch as pertinent for his understanding of God’s judgment that will befall the false teachers in his own setting. It is worth observing that Jude regards Enoch’s utterance as prophecy (Jude 14). But this does not imply Jude regarded 1 Enoch as having canonical status. Prophecy in apocalyptic literature in Second Temple Judaism was often a key component to the revelatory experience of the visionary as divine mediators, without necessarily implying that the document in which it was found had authority for its respective communities. Jude is among works spoken against by some precisely because of its use of 1 Enoch. Jude presumes his readers are sufficiently familiar with the traditions referenced to make sense to his readers. Perhaps a more complicated matter pertains to the way in which Jude was received in the early church because of its use of these sources. Jude is among works spoken against by some precisely because of its use of 1 Enoch (Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men 4) yet, according to Jerome (AD 347–c. 420) is reckoned among the Holy Scriptures (Lives of Illustrious Men 4). Clement of Alexandria (c. AD 200) in his Stromata (again according to Eusebius, HE VI.xiii.6) Jude is among the “disputed Scriptures.” Tertullian believed that Jude regarded 1 Enoch so highly that the church should afford it canonical authority (On the Dress of Women 3.3). Though Jude was excluded from the Syriac New Testament (Peshitta) until the sixth century, it was listed as Scripture in the Muratorian canon and Athanasius’s Festal Letter of AD 367. The general consensus, then, is that Jude was widely, though not universally, regarded as authoritative scripture and that its usage of pseudepigraphical sources was among the points of contention. Pseudepigrapha and the Book of James The book of James makes use of a tradition regarding the biblical Job, but it is debated whether he depends upon the psuedepigraphical source or whether he shares close points of correspondence by virtue of their shared milieu. James, in writing about the patient endurance exhibited by Job, says: As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance (hypomonēn) and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy (James 5:11 NIV) There are points of similarity between this illustration of Job and the account found in the Testament of Job, which is itself an embellishment of the biblical book of Job. As a Testament, it presents Job imparting wisdom to his progeny prior to his impending death with particular emphasis on the virtue of patient endurance. Most of the work (T. Job 1:4–45:4) is Job’s first-person account of the cause and consequences of his hardships and concludes with Job’s death, the ascent of his soul, and burial (T. Job 51–53). What’s particularly interesting is how Job’s legendary endurance and patience are emphasized throughout. The key verse which is sometimes identified as a source for James is T. Job 1:5: “I am your father Job, fully engaged in endurance (hypomonē). But you are a chosen and honored race from the seed of Jacob, the father of your mother.” Most scholars attribute the Testament of Job to an Egyptian Jew writing at the turn of the era primarily based on its affinities with other Jewish writings from that date. Regardless, it seems evident that James’s distinctive image of Job matches the portrait in the Testament of Job as a model for patient endurance (T. Job 1:3; 4:6; 5:1; 26:6; 27:10) and presumes his knowledge of extracanonical traditions, whether he is referencing a literary form of the Testament of Job as we know it or not. Conclusion Our overview of these two New Testament texts that mention traditions found in the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha shows that at least some authors were familiar with these writings. For their own purposes, these authors made use of them with presumably some notion that they were in some way familiar to their respective readers. A host of other discussions on lesser points could be proposed. That New Testament authors are familiar with and at times make use of these traditions need mean no more than they were useful for their purpose. That New Testament authors are familiar with and at times make use of these traditions need mean no more than they were useful for their purposes, and readers of the New Testament are quite familiar with these authors’ tendency to do so. Jesus himself makes use of nature, agricultural experiences, and home life in His parables. Paul is even known to use an inscription found on an altar that reads, “To an unknown god” (Acts 17:23) as a starting point for his proclamation of the gospel in Athens. In this vein, New Testament authors’ use of pseudepigraphical material need not mean they regarded it as authoritative or as scripture. Rather, it reflects authors who were attuned to the literary contexts in which they and their readers functioned. This article is also available in Polish. Daniel M. Gurtner Dan Gurtner (PhD, University of St. Andrews) is Professor of New Testament at Gateway Seminary. He is the author or editor of numerous books, most recently, Introducing the Pseudepigrapha of Second Temple Judaism.