How are we to understand NT writers quoting from non-inspired books?
The reason for the difficulty of this passage centres on the issue of the divine inspiration of non-biblical books. Jude quotes from the apocryphal book of Enoch. So the question arises: Does that mean that Jude believes this book is inspired? My short answer is: no, not necessarily.
But let me look at this in more detail. Here is what Jude says in verses 14-15:
It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”
And here is the quote from 1 Enoch 1:9: “And behold! He comes with ten thousand Holy Ones; to execute judgment upon them and to destroy the impious, and to contend with all flesh concerning everything that the sinners and the impious have done and wrought against Him.”
So what are we to make of this? First, Enoch of course is a biblical character. We learn about him very briefly in Genesis 5. In verses 18-23 we read this:
When Jared had lived 162 years, he fathered Enoch. Jared lived after he fathered Enoch 800 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Jared were 962 years, and he died. When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.
He is mentioned a few other times in Scripture, including in Hebrews 11:5: “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.”
The book of Enoch seems to have appeared many years after the close of the Hebrew canon and the writing of Malachi. It may contain some sayings from the figure Enoch, but it contains much else. It has some strange things in it, such as angels having sexual relations with humans and marrying them (chs. 6-7), contradicting what Jesus said in Mark 12:25: “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”
Second, while the book of Enoch was revered by early Jews and early Christians, it was never considered to be part of the official biblical canon. As to why pseudepigraphal or apocryphal books are not part of the biblical canon, see my recent article: billmuehlenberg.com/2019/08/18/on-the-apocryphal-books/
But several more specific things can be said about Jude’s quote from the book. Third, Jude actually also refers to another apocryphal book in verse 9, drawing upon the Assumption of Moses. In both cases Jude appeals to non-biblical writings to support his case. As David Helm puts it,
While Enoch is a biblical character, the quotation here is not a biblical reference. It comes from a text called 1 Enoch. What Jude is doing here is exactly what we saw him do with the Assumption of Moses (v. 9). He is pulling from the literature of his own day when it lends support, by way of illustration, to his claim. In this case 1 Enoch, and especially the portion he grabs hold of, supports his teaching that God will execute judgment against everyone who perverts his ways. It’s as if he is saying, “The Bible isn’t the only book that teaches what I am saying. Read your own stuff, and you will see that the same thing holds true there.”
Fourth, it is not uncommon for inspired biblical writers to quote from or refer to non-Christian authors and/or uninspired writers. The Apostle Paul for example quotes from pagan writers, poets and philosophers as we read in Acts 17:28 and 1 Corinthians 15:33. And in Titus 1:12 Paul quotes from a Cretan prophet. But these quotes and references do not mean that he thinks they are inspired, and on a par with Scripture.
As Thomas Schreiner comments, “Citing a quotation from another source does not indicate that the entire work is inspired, even if the saying drawn upon is true. For instance, Paul quoted Aratus (Phaenomena 5) in Acts 17:28, and he surely did not intend to teach that the entire work is inspired Scripture.”
Or as Timothy Tennant remarks:
The broad response to these texts, whether they are found in the Old or New Testament, or whether their original source is from religious or secular sources, has been to affirm that their presence in the canon of the New Testament in no way should be taken to imply either the authority or the inspiration of the text from which these quotations are taken. Nevertheless, once they are part of the received text of the New Testament they now fully share in the authority and inspiration of the Scriptures.
And fifth, simply because Jude speaks of Enoch prophesying does not necessarily mean that he believes this was a divinely inspired word from Enoch. Recall what we find in John 11:51 where we read about how Caiaphas unwittingly prophesied about the death of Jesus. Verses 49-53 provide the context for this:
But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.
As Richard Baukham says about the Jude text, “While this word indicates that Jude regarded the prophecies in 1 Enoch as inspired by God, it need not imply that he regarded the book as canonical Scripture. At Qumran, for example, the Enoch literature and other apocryphal works were evidently valued without being included in the canon of Scripture.”
Or as Schreiner comments, “A prophecy may derive from God and still not be a part of canonical Scripture. We cannot necessarily draw the conclusion from the words ‘Enoch prophesied’ that the work was considered to be Scripture.”
To sum up, we can say that there is truth found in parts of the book of Enoch. And perhaps God even helped in a sense to inspire part of what is found there. But that still does not mean that the entire book is God-breathed (inspired) and should be considered to be a part of the biblical canon.