Foundations: No.75 Autumn 2018

Who Led the Israelites Out of Egypt?
An Examination of Jude 5

Prior to the publication of the English Standard Version, the majority of English Bibles translated Jude 5 in a manner similar to the New American Standard Bible: “Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe.” The ESV has translated Jude 5 to specify that Jesus himself led the people out of Egypt.

This paper will work through the context of Jude and examine some of the manuscript evidence and ancient writings that will help us understand the issues involved with this textual variant. We will seek to explain how the variant between the manuscripts can best be explained, and that there are reasonable grounds for accepting the ESV’s translation that ascribes the Old Testament Exodus to Jesus Himself.

Not only does this remind us that the early church viewed Jesus as the divine Second Person of the Trinity; it is also hugely encouraging to us personally. If our reading of Jude 5 is correct, the Exodus was not merely a typological foreshadowing of Christ’s future redemption. In addition to that, it was a physical deliverance personally accomplished by the pre-incarnate Christ, whose ministry in pioneering redemption and rescuing sinners from their bondage spans human history.

I. Introduction

It is one of the most common Sunday school questions: “Who led the Israelites out of Egypt?” To anyone with some background in the stories of the Old Testament, the answer is very simple: “God!”

Until you get to Jude. One of the least read books in the whole Bible contains one of the most surprising statements about the greatest act of salvation in Jewish history.

Prior to the ESV’s publication, the majority of English Bibles translated Jude 5 in a manner similar to the New American Standard Bible: “Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe” (emphasis added). A handful of translations included a footnote to highlight that some manuscripts read Ἰησοῦς – (Iēsoûs, “Jesus”) – instead of [ὁ] κύριος – ([ho] kurios, “[the] Lord”) – but none included the former reading in the main body of their translation.

None, until the ESV. And so, whilst the underlying text-critical work remains unchanged during the circa. nineteen centuries since Jude wrote his brief letter, ever since the widespread use of the ESV, the English-speaking world has been prompted to reconsider who led the Israelites out of Egypt.

Articles about textual variants rarely raise an eyebrow of interest beyond academia! But if the ESV’s translation is correct, Jude 5 enlarges our understanding of how Jesus has been leading his people out of bondage – be it physically from Exodus, or spiritually from sin – throughout history, in ways that should make the heart of every believer rejoice.

II. Methodology

To understand this textual variant, we will begin by placing Jude 5 within its immediate context, before analysing the external, manuscript evidence and determining how the testimony of ancient writings should inform our understanding of what Jude originally wrote. We will then consider various aspects of internal evidence and assess the various arguments commonly made against the Ἰησοῦς reading, which we will contend do not present insurmountable objections to it. That work will help us apply Jude 5 by understanding two wonderful implications: firstly, the high Christology that Jude attests; and secondly, the unique redemptive-historical perspective Jude 5 affords us on the pre-incarnate redemptive ministry of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

III. Placing Jude 5 in Context

Given the lack of familiarity with this epistle, a brief summary of the immediate context is in order. Presuming the long-standing evangelical conviction that Jude was written by Judah, the human brother of both our Lord Jesus Christ and the apostle James (Jude 1), the purpose for his writing is clearly set out in Jude 3: “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints”. But as David Helm explains, this “contending for the faith” is not presented in a vacuum:

Verse 4 supports the theme by contributing the occasion for the letter with the little word “for”. Thus, the call to contend is rooted in Jude’s conviction that the faith is being challenged by opponents he only will call “certain people” (vv. 4, 8, 10, 12, 16, 19).[1]

Although we cannot be sure about the precise nature of the opposition presented by these τινες ἄνθρωποι (tines anthrōpoi, “certain people”), Jude is clear – in verses 5-19 – about the severity of the judgment that would befall them and everyone who neglected the “once for all delivered” faith and followed them in their perversion and heresy. In broad terms, Jude uses illustrations from both the Old Testament and his own contemporary literature to prove that apostasy and rebellion are always punished. We see this in three historical events – “the apostasy of the wilderness rebels, the autonomy of some angelic creatures, and the immorality of some ancient cities”[2] – and three Old Testament examples of individuals who departed from and challenged the faith, thereby bringing judgment upon themselves: Cain, Balaam, and Korah. The main body of Jude is therefore simultaneously a message of encouragement and a terrifying warning: encouragement in the fact that, as Helm helpfully reminds us, “challenges to the faith have always been present and that God has always met them with divine judgment”; and an alarming warning when we remember the inescapable danger we would face if we departed from the faith.

Jude 5 therefore marks the beginning of a battle cry to Jude’s readers – then and now – to remember.[3] This clarion call is infrequent and unfamiliar in our day and generation. As John Benton observes, “We are the children of an era which sees ‘progress’ as good and the past as obsolete. Such an atmosphere stifles inner reflection and breeds social and historical amnesia.”[4] In stark contrast, God’s Word consistently calls us to remember. And here in Jude (as elsewhere in Scripture), the concern is not merely one of mental recall: as Benton explains, “Jude is concerned that they have forgotten the true significance of these stories. It is not simply the facts they need to grasp, but the meaning.”[5] In other words, Jude 5 is a wake-up call to not only remember, but to change our lives in accordance with that vivid memory.

Within this broader context, Jude 5 fleshes out the first of three Old Testament examples of the judgment that Jude warns of in verse 4: viz., that although the Jews were rescued out of Egypt, those within the physically-redeemed community who did not personally believe were destroyed.[6] But this raises the central question for our purposes: who saved the people from Egypt – the Lord, Jesus, or God?[7] To begin to answer this question, we must examine the testimony of the manuscript evidence.

IV. Examining the External Evidence

1. Reviewing the Manuscript Evidence

Whilst the subject matter of the textual variant in Jude 5 is interesting in its own right, the complexity of the testimony of the extant manuscripts makes its study even more fascinating – for those who enjoy such study! Richard Bauckham and Philipp Bartholomä have helpfully consolidated the data, for those who are keen to review the primary sources.[8]

From the perspective of the external evidence, the [ho] theos (“God”) reading is significantly the least-attested option, and can be excluded from the list of potentially authentic writings.

Although the [ho] kurios, (“[the] Lord”) reading finds its greatest support in the Byzantine text, the external evidence leans – though perhaps not irrefutably so – in favour of the Iēsoûs (“Jesus”) reading. In addition to being found in two early (i.e. fourth/fifth century) and important Alexandrian uncials (A and B), together with a large number of significant minuscules, its Patristic heritage extends all the way back to the second and third centuries with Justin Martyr and Origen – over a century before the first extant Patristic witness for [ho] kurios.[9] It is also attested by the largest number of early versions – including the Vulgate, Coptic, Ethiopic and some manuscripts of the Armenian.

Additionally, as Bartholomä helpfully highlights, “In addition to being earlier, Iēsoûs (“Jesus”) is also more geographically widespread” – spanning from Egypt/North Africa to western areas of the Roman Empire.[10] Though not ultimately definitive in itself, Bartholomä contends that this geographical diversity “is yet another strong argument for the primacy of the [Iēsoûs] reading.”[11]

2. Considering the Testimony of Two Church Fathers

Before turning to consider the internal evidence, we should hear the contributions of two important Patristics. In his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin Martyr states that Jesus is “the one who led your fathers out of Egypt”.[12]

Even more intriguing is Bede’s observation, who follows the Iēsoûs reading and then provides a rationale to which we will return in due course:

[Jude] is referring not to Jesus the son of Nun but to our Lord, showing first that he did not have his beginning at his birth from the holy virgin, as the heretics have wished [to assert], but existed as the eternal God for the salvation of all believers… For in Egypt he first so saved the humble who cried out to him from their affliction that he might afterward bring low the proud who murmured against him in the desert.[13]

In light of the external evidence, we can now turn to consider how the internal evidence should inform our understanding of what Jude originally wrote.

V. Investigating the Internal Evidence

To examine how the internal evidence should inform our analysis of Jude 5, we will address two discrete issues: transcriptional probability and intrinsic probability. The first issue seeks to understand how the variant can be accounted for within the scribal copying process. The second question focuses upon whether there is an intrinsic or innate reason that would favour either reading.

1. Transcriptional Probability – Unintentional Change

As Bartholomä helpfully explains, “Because all three variants were written as nomina sacra, the tendency has been to account for the different readings by unintentional change” (emphasis his).[14] This approach certainly reflects the majority decision of the UBS Committee. In giving the [ho] kurios reading a D decision – “indicating that the Committee had great difficulty in arriving at a decision”[15] – as Metzger recounts, a majority of the Committee explained the origin of the Iēsoûs reading “in terms of transcriptional oversight (KC being taken for IC).”[16]

Both nomina sacra have a vertical stroke in common, and so accidental error could explain the origin of the variant in different manuscripts. However, there are a number of reasons for thinking that the variant is due to an intentional scribal change, and not a mere oversight – which perhaps better explains the variant’s subsequent survival.

2. Transcriptional Probability – Intentional Change

The possibility of intentional scribal change directs our attention to some of the foundational principles of textual criticism. In seeking to determine which of a number of textual variants represents the original reading, two overarching maxims must be borne in mind: firstly (and generally speaking), the more difficult reading is to be preferred;[17] and secondly, the reading which best explains the origin of the other readings has the best claim to originality.

No one disputes the fact that the Iēsoûs reading is the most difficult. The problem is whether the reading is – in Metzger’s words – “difficult to the point of impossibility”.[18]

The question of which reading –  Iēsoûs or [ho] kurios – best explains the origin of the other readings is highly contested.[19] Bauckham, for instance, considers the [ho] kurios reading to be the most satisfactory in this regard, and explains the emendation by pointing to the Joshua-Jesus typology that became popular during the second century.[20] F. F. Bruce argues the complete reverse: “indeed the variety of other readings can best be explained as substitutes for ‘Jesus’”. [21]

Reminding ourselves that esteemed Bible scholars have disagreed over this issue should make us approach the question with humility. However, insofar as we can determine, we would submit that the Iēsoûs reading best explains the origin of the other readings. The story of יהוה’s deliverance of the Jews from Egypt is the single greatest event of redemptive-history in the Old Testament. No first-century Jew or subsequent scribe would have either forgotten the divine architect behind their liberation from bondage, or considered that יהוה’s involvement required any clarification by way of correction to the text of Jude 5.

Therefore, if Jude 5 had originally contained the [ho] kurios reading, one can only imagine that a scribe would change that reference from the Greek translation of יהוה to Iēsoûs by mistake. More likely – we would contend – is the reality that Jude originally ascribed the leadership of the Jewish exodus from Egypt to Jesus Christ himself using the proper noun Iēsoûs. This analysis accords with Metzger’s minority report to the UBS Committee:

Struck by the strange and unparalleled mention of Jesus in a statement about the redemption out of Egypt (yet compare Paul’s reference to Χριστός (christos) in 1 Cor 10:14), copyists would have substituted (ὁ) κύριος [[ho] kurios] or ὁ θεός [ho theos].[22]

In such case, whilst we could empathise with the concern that lay behind their emendations, the scribes of old should not have allowed their surprise at the pre-incarnate ministry of Christ’s redemption to give way to amending the text.

3. Intrinsic Probability – Arguments Within Jude

Having considered the issues pertaining to transcriptional probability, we can direct our attention towards the question of intrinsic probability: are there any intrinsic or innate reasons that would favour either reading?

Certainly the most problematic intrinsic evidence against the Iēsoûs reading is the fact that Jude does not refer to our Lord Jesus Christ by the name Iēsoûs anywhere else in his epistle. Although our Saviour is explicitly referenced six times in this brief letter (excluding verse 5), Jude uses other titles for Jesus (see verses 1, 4, 17, 21 and 25). This evidence cannot be denied. But is it sufficient to categorically refute the possibility that Jude would refer to our Lord Jesus Christ with the simple noun, Iēsoûs, in verse 5? We would argue that such a question cannot be answered until two further issues have been taken in consideration: firstly, the brevity of the epistle; and secondly, the unique literary qualities that Jude employs in his albeit short letter.

Firstly, given the small sample size of Jude’s extant writings – his epistle consists of just over six hundred words in Greek – we cannot presume that this letter exhaustively represents Jude’s vocabulary preferences. Indeed, Bauckham concedes this very principle whilst defending the [ho] kurios] reading: “Does Jude use κύριος consistently of Jesus? The evidence may not be sufficient to decide this.”[23] Certainly Jude’s references to Jesus throughout his epistle are noteworthy; but given the limited sample from which to draw linguistic conclusions, arguments for the [ho] kurios reading based primarily upon the absence of a second, stand-alone reference to Iēsoûs are inconclusive at best.

Secondly, one of the fascinating insights that has emerged in recent scholarship is the recognition that, despite its brevity, Jude’s epistle represents a high watermark in Greek rhetoric and composition.[24]As Bauckham observes, “The short letter of Jude contains perhaps the most elaborate and carefully composed piece of formal exegesis in the style of the Qumran pesharim to be found in the NT, though it has only recently recognised as such.”[25] One of the specific qualities that merits these accolades is the high number of hapax legomena contained in Jude’s letter. As Bauckham observes, there are fourteen words in this brief epistle that are not found elsewhere in the New Testament.[26] These linguistic contributions to the canon need to be seen in perspective, as not every one of these unique words is as significant as others.[27] However, as Bauckham rightly concludes, “More important than the statistic is Jude’s evident ability to vary his vocabulary and choose effective and appropriate words and expressions from good literary, even poetic, Greek.”[28]

And in addition to his hapax legomena, Jude’s literary composition is also highly regarded: “Close exegesis soon reveals great economy of expression. Single words, phrases, and images are chosen for the associations they carry, and scriptural allusions and catchword connections increase the depth of meaning.”[29]

In light of Jude’s exemplary literary qualities, the prima facie objection to a unique reference to Iēsoûs in verse 5 appears less problematic. Not only does this reference immediately follow the Lordship citation of verse 4 – which certainly provides Jude with a referent point from which to utilise a more succinct proper noun in verse 5 – but seen in the broader context of Jude’s ability and willingness to employ his linguistic abilities in novel expressions and configurations throughout his epistle, it is entirely possible that he would have been comfortable writing Iēsoûs in Jude 5.

4. Intrinsic Probability – Arguments Beyond Jude

One final component of intrinsic probability needs to be considered: do any of the other New Testament writers similarly ascribe any Old Testament events to Jesus that the MT attributes to God/יהוה? The Iēsoûs reading in verse 5 would certainly be unique in Scripture in attesting that Jesus (as the Second Person of the Trinity) led the Israelites out of Egypt – but do any other writers suggest that the pre-incarnate Christ was actively and personally involved throughout the Old Testament era?

The most obvious candidates in the New Testament canon are found in 1 Cor 10:4 and 10:9, where Paul states that Christ was personally present with Israel in the wilderness – symbolically/typologically as the Rock (10:4), and personally as the one whom the Israelites put to the test before they were destroyed by serpents (10:9). Furthermore, as Thomas Schreiner explains,

New Testament writers identify Jesus Christ with texts that refer to Yahweh in the Old Testament. John said that Isaiah saw the glory of Jesus Christ (John 12:41), referring to the throne room vision of Isaiah 6. Isaiah said every knee will bow to Yahweh and confess allegiance to him (Isa 45:23), but Paul related this to Jesus Christ (Phil 2:10-11).[30]

Some would contend that this whole concept is a product of over-zealous believers at the genesis of the New Testament era. J. N. D. Kelly, for instance, argues that the Iēsoûs reading in Jude 5 can be explained by “the eagerness of Christian writers even in the apostolic age to recognise the pre-existent Christ as active in OT events (John 12:41; 1 Cor 10:4 etc.).”[31]

However, a less critical approach established upon an evangelical commitment to the inspiration of Scripture need not attempt to explain away these references. Although relatively few in number, their presence throughout the New Testament canon cannot be denied, and the most natural and faithful approach to understanding them is by recognising the pre-incarnate ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, although no other New Testament passage explicitly ascribes the Exodus to his salvific ministry, as this sampling of Scriptures shows, “it is not surprising that Jude could attribute the destruction of Israel, the angels, and Sodom and Gomorrah to Jesus Christ”.[32]

VI. Reflecting Upon the Evidence

As we have seen – and, indeed, would expect in circumstances relating to a disputed textual variant – there are aspects to the external and internal evidence that, taken on their own, could support either a Iēsoûs or [ho] kurios reading. However, as we work through the data carefully and systematically, we believe that the cumulative argument presented in the manuscript, transcriptional and intrinsic evidence supports the Iēsoûs reading. If this reading is correct, it has two incredibly important implications for us.

1. Jude’s Early Testimony to a High Christology

On the basis of the foregoing presentation, Jude 5 presents an unsurpassably high Christology. We have already touched upon the unparalleled importance of the Exodus event – both in the redemptive-history of Israel, and in the typological significance of that rescue in light of and preparation for the future salvation that Jesus Christ would accomplish for his people who otherwise remained in bondage to sin (cf. John 8:31-36; Rom 6:12-23; Gal 5:1; Heb 2:15).[33] As we have seen, the pages of the Old Testament consistently testify that the Exodus was accomplished by the mighty hand of יהוה (see Num 14:26-35; 26:63-65).

Familiar though we are with the doctrine of the lordship of Christ and the typological component to the Exodus, we would do well to reflect afresh upon the reality that Jude – a Jewish Christian who had been raised not only to understand the history of his people, but to fear the God of the first commandment (Ex 20:3), which is itself prefaced with a reminder of יהוה’s great deliverance – here ascribes the glory and worship-inducing rescue to Jesus Christ. As Curtis Giese explains: “While the OT ascribes that act of judgment to Yahweh, Jude identifies the actor by name as ‘Jesus’. He thereby asserts a high Christology and confesses the divinity of Jesus.”[34] The implications of this Christology are significant.

The scholarly debate concerning when Jude was written is extensive and shows no sign of reaching a universal consensus. One of the key components to that debate relates to the significant overlap between 2 Peter and Jude,[35] and whether one copied from the other or both relied upon a common source. The theory that both epistles were based upon a common, third source can be easily dismissed,[36] but the determination of priority between the two epistles is a more involved discussion. Most commentators presume that Jude was written first,[37] and therefore assign an early date to it. Whilst we would suggest that there are reasonable grounds for advocating that Peter was written first and Jude incorporated much of Peter’s material in his epistle, the grounds for that conclusion would require significant argumentation.

However, whether we consider Jude to have been written first or second, the dating implications are relatively minor: either Jude was written in the 50s A.D. or – if Petrine priority is accepted – in the 80s A.D. In either case, the glorious Christology Jude affirms with the pre-incarnate salvific ministry of Jesus in the Exodus is established decades before the end of the first century, dispelling all critical and liberal suggestions that a high Christology was engineered and enforced by the established church centuries later.

2. Jude’s Insight into Jesus’ Pre-Incarnate Salvific Ministry

The second astonishing implication concerns the unique insight Jude gives us into the trans-testament ministry of redemption that our Lord and Saviour has undertaken on behalf of his people. In recent years, the resurgence of a redemptive-historical understanding of salvation has instilled in many evangelicals an appreciation for the typological component to the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt. Indeed, given the dominating theme of God’s rescue of his people from Egypt throughout the Old Testament, “It is not surprising… that Christians took over this model as a way of teaching about the cross and the salvation Jesus Christ accomplished there. Jesus himself taught us to do that, calling his death an ‘exodus’ (Luke 9:31).”[38]

But Jude 5, understood in light of our foregoing analysis, takes us one glorious step further. The Exodus was not merely a typological foretaste of Christ’s future redemption. Rather, it was a physical deliverance personally accomplished by the pre-incarnate Christ, whose ministry in pioneering redemption (cf. Heb 12:2) and rescuing sinners from their bondage spans human history.

VII. Conclusion

Although textual criticism may not be considered a natural seedbed in which to embolden and excite our comprehension of our Saviour’s trans-testamental work of redemption, Jude 5 is a glorious example of a passage that does precisely that. Working systematically through the external and internal evidence, we contend that the cumulative weight of the data supports the Iēsoûs reading of Jude 5, and therefore substantiates the ESV’s translation: “Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.”

Within the immediate context of Jude’s epistle, the salutary warning must not go unnoticed – or, indeed, unheeded. As Giese rightly warns us,

The demise of the unfaithful generation became an ongoing warning for all who distrust God and reject his gifts (Ps 95:10-11; 1 Cor 10:1-13; Heb 3:16-4:2). Those who pervert God’s grace in Christ and reject his lordship will certainly share the same fate.”[39]

Lest we be caught up in the contemporary imbalance that focuses solely upon Jesus’ role in salvation, Jude 5 affirms not only that Jesus is, and has always been, the Saviour of his people – but also that he is and has always been the Judge, who will bring judgment upon those who reject the “once for all delivered” faith.

But if this analysis of Jude 5 is correct, it also requires us to recalibrate our systematic and redemptive-historical framework to take account of the reality that our pre-incarnate Saviour personally led the Israelites out of Egypt. Seen in light of this redemptive-historical perspective that spans the testaments of Scripture, Jude’s oft-quoted benediction assumes a yet deeper level of meaning and glory – for it has always been our Lord Jesus Christ who has personally led his people out of slavery and who will personally present us blameless in the throne room of God.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.


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