Friday, June 26, 2009

Neglected Passages #6: The Scope of the Canon (Jude 9-10, 14-15)

If we're gonna talk about neglected passages, we might easily discuss the entire Epistle of Jude. I can't recall ever hearing a sermon from it. To be honest, Jude is largely an ad hominem attack on a competing group of Christian teachers. The epistle does exhort its audience to consider those tempted by false teaching, offering mercy and salvation to those -- even as one despises their "defilement" (vv. 22-23, with a major text critical problem). As William Brosend, II, notes, Jude insists upon eschatological hope and demonstrates that the character of believers, especially religious leaders, is an essential part of their message.

Jude also contains a clue about the nature and development of the canon. Verses 8-9 refer to the archangel Gabriel "contending with the devil" (RSV) over the body of Moses. We also find this story in the Testament of Moses, a Jewish pseudpigraphal work of the period. The tradition may have reached Jude through by another road; my point is that Jude relies on extracanonical traditions for this information.

Even more striking are verses 14-15, in which Jude quotes the great Jewish apocalypse 1 Enoch (1:9), attributing the quote to Enoch's prophecy. Clearly, Jude employs 1 Enoch as scripture. By the way, 1 Enoch stands in the canon of the Ethiopic Church.

Jude's allusion to the Testament of Moses and its quotation of 1 Enoch have implications for how we understand the canon. Our canon (the Bible) is the result of use by Jew and Christians. (For its part, Jude didn't receive particularly widespread acceptance for quite a long time and was often disputed.) It didn't fall out of heaven. A group of bishops didn't conduct a secret vote in a smoke-filled room. It wasn't the result of a consensus. However we understand the role of the Holy Spirit in this process, our Bible comes to us because our ancestors in the faith read, shared, copied, and treasured these books. They used them to find guidance, insight, and inspiration.

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