Michael’s Dispute with the Devil
A fascinating article by Peter Leithart for Biblical Horizons:
But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you” (Jude 9).
Jude 9 raises several difficulties (though not insuperable difficulties) for conservative commentators. The event that Jude recounts does not seem to be drawn from the Old Testament, and most scholars claim, based on statements of Clement of Alexandria and Origen, that Jude borrowed this story from the Assumption of Moses, an apocryphal work.
If true, this raises the question of the status of apocryphal literature in general. We can, of course, defend the inerrancy of the canonical Scriptures even if this is the case. The Spirit, after all, might have led Jude to refer to this story, even though it came from a noncanonical book. But questions continue to nag at us. Is the story historical? Or, does Jude quote from a popular legend simply to support his theological point?
The difficulties with this verse do not end here, however. The event that Jude describes seems nothing short of bizarre, and Jude gives no explanation of its significance. Why would Michael dispute with the devil about Moses’ body? What is the significance of Moses’ body? Fanciful speculations have been offered, but none of them can be taken very seriously.
Perhaps some progress might be made toward a solution to this puzzle by tracing the origin of the quotation at the end of Jude 9: “The Lord rebuke you.” It is a quotation from Zechariah 3:1-2…