Jannes and Jambres

In an unexpected twist, the Apostle Paul mentions two men named Jannes and Jambres in his second letter to Timothy. Paul starts out talking about the last days.

2 Timothy 3:1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. 2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, 4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; 5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

6 For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, 7 Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 8 Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. 9 But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all [men], as theirs also was.

Who are Jannes and Jambres?

Jannes and Jambres opposes Moses casting down their rods which also turn into serpents.

Jannes and Jambres are identified by the Apostle Paul as the magicians that were called by Pharaoh to withstand Moses. They performed some of the same miracles that Moses did through their enchantments.

PlagueMoses & AaronJannes & Jambres
Rod (Branch) changed to a serpent
(Exodus 7:10)
YES
(Exo 7:11)
YES
But Aaron’s rod-turned-serpent swallowed up theirs
(Exo 7:12)
River turned to blood
(“blood” is not literal, but a figure of expression similar to the scripture’s prophesying of a “blood moon” meaning red moon i.e. full eclipse. River turned “blood” – probably turned red due to an excess of iron ochre or iron mineral)
Exodus 7:19-21
YES
Exo 7:20
YES
Exo 7:22
Plague of frogs
Exodus 8:5
YES
Exo 8:6
YES
Exo 8:7
Creating lice from dust
Exodus 8:16
YES
Exo 8:17
NO
They exclaimed in fear, “This is the finger of God”
Exo 8:18, 19
Plague of flies
Exodus 8:20-32
YESNO
Pestilence of livestock
Exodus 9:1-7
YESNO
Boils
Exodus 9:8-12
YESNO
Hail and Fire
Exodus 9:13-35
YESNO
Locusts
Exodus 10:1-20
YESNO
3 Days of Darkness
Exodus 10:21-29
YESNO
Death of the Firstborn
Exodus 11:1-12:36
YESNO

Notice that Jannes and Jambres were able to reproduce three of the ten plagues. This is approx a third. This is very similar to the scripture’s account of the number of angels that fell from heaven – a third (Revelation 12:4)

How did Paul Know?

When reading this passage, one must ask the question, how did Paul know about Jannes and Jambres?

The names, Jannes and Jambres are not found at all in the typical Protestant Bible. They are not found in the Tanakh. So how did Paul know?

Cultural Context

Suppose I write a letter (an epistle) in which the topic is romance, and I write, “O Romeo, Romeo. Wherefore art thou Romeo?”

Today, nearly everyone would know that I am referencing Shakespeare. I wouldn’t have to mention his name, book, chapter, and verse.

But suppose Shakespeare is all but lost thousands of years from now, and my letter survives. Who would know? Who would even think that I got that line from another author?

… unless… you knew that that line existed in Shakespeare’s writings BEFORE I wrote my letter (epistle).

If you knew about Shakespeare’s writings, and how it was in circulation before I wrote my piece, then you could rightfully connect the dots, and say that I got that line from Shakespeare.

Connecting the Dots with Paul

Did you know that there were at least one, perhaps as many as two or three literary works in circulation in the time of Paul that mentions Jannes and Jambres?

Yes, that’s right. Paul was certainly not the first to come up with these names. There were books (scrolls) in circulation in Paul’s time that spoke of Jannes and Jambres.

Possible Sources

In order to find the most probable sources of Paul’s information about Jannes and Jambres, we must ask, “What literature was available to Paul?”

We know that there are many ancient texts that name Jannes and Jambres, but not all existed during the time of Paul. And as always with ancient literature, the dates are always in dispute. However, these are a few possibilities:

Sefer HaYashar

Sefer HaYashar, AKA the Book of Jasher, is an ancient text that includes a commentary on the Books of Moses, and up to the time of Joshua. The earliest known copy is from the 16th century. But many believe that this ancient text is much older.

The story goes that a Roman soldier named Sidrus found the book in the ruins of Jerusalem ~70 A.D. It was then taken to his home in Spain and made its rounds until it was eventually printed.

Referencing Jannes and Jambres

In the Book of Jasher, chapter 79, verse 25-27 reads as such:

25 And Pharaoh said to Moses, What do you require? and they answered him, saying, The Lord God of the Hebrews has sent us to thee, to say, Send forth my people that they may serve me.

26 And when Pharaoh heard their words he was greatly terrified before them, and he said to them, Go today and come back to me tomorrow, and they did according to the word of the king.

27 And when they had gone Pharaoh sent for Balaam the magician and to Jannes and Jambres his sons, and to all the magicians and conjurors and counselors which belonged to the king, and they all came and sat before the king.

Verse 27 explicitly mentions Jannes and Jambres. If this book was in fact found in the ruins of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., then this could have been Paul’s source.

It is also significant to note that Sefer HaYashar is considered to be a Jewish Midrash. A Midrash is simply a Jewish literary work that offers commentary or interpretation of scripture.

Seeing that Sefer HaYashar is categorized as a Jewish Midrash, this lends credibility to the notion that Paul could have referenced this text. This is because Paul was educated under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). This is a significant point as Paul would have been well versed in not only the Torah but also all Jewish texts.

The Apocryphon of Jannes and Jambres

The Apocryphon of Jannes and Jambres is a very elusive book that reportedly was in circulation during the time of Paul.

There are a lot of references to Origen’s commentary on Matthew, saying that Origen believes that Paul got his knowledge from a book by the name of “The Apocryphon of Jannes and Jambres”. However, I have not been able to confirm that. Therefore, I cannot comment extensively on this.

I have been able to locate one of Origen’s writings naming Jannes and Jambres such as this work but does not clearly mention a book by that name. Neither does it mention Paul in that context.

Several sources say that the reference that I am looking for can be found in Origen’s commentary on Matthew. But I have not been able to confirm that. If anyone has a link to such a text, in which Origen explicitly states that Paul got his knowledge from “The Apocryphon of Jannes and Jambres”, please forward that link to me.

Jewish Oral Tradition via Gamaliel

In furtherance to the fact that Paul was educated under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), Paul would certainly be well educated in the Jewish oral traditions, and the oral law which eventually became written and know as the Talmud.

Babylonian Talmud Menachoth 85a

The Babylonian Talmud Menachoth 85a mentions Jannes and Jambres under the names “Johana” and “Mamre”. Although this piece of literature didn’t exist in the time of Paul, it was written to preserve the oral traditions that circulated at the time of Paul. And as such, Paul could have derived his knowledge of Jannes and Jambres from oral tradition.

Targum Jonathon

The Targum Jonathon is a literary work supposedly written by Jonathon Ben Uziel, which was a student of “Hillel the Elder”. This is a very important fact, as Gamaliel, the Jewish teacher of Paul, IS the grandson of Hillel.

In the Targum Jonathon found at this link in the sixth paragraph, we read:

And Mosheh (Moses) and Aharon (Aaron) went in unto Pharaoh and did as the Lord had commanded. And Aharon threw down the rod before the sight of Pharaoh, and before the sight of his servants, and it became a basilisk. But Pharaoh called the hachems and magicians; and they also, Janis and Jamberes, magicians of Mizraim (Egypt), did the same by their burnings of divination. They threw down each man his rod, and they became basilisks;[3] but were forthwith changed to be what they were at first, and the rod of Aharon swallowed up their rods. And the disposition[4] of Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not hearken to them, as the Lord had said.

Jonathon, the author of the Targum Jonathon obviously got this information from Hillel the Elder, of whom he was a student.

Gamaliel, Hillel’s grandson, most certainly also heard about the names Jannes and Jambres from his grandfather. And thus, Paul very well could have learned about Jannes and Jambres from Gamaliel, seeing that Paul was a student of Gamaliel.

Direct Revelation from God?

I know there will be somebody who will say that Paul knew about Jannes and Jambres directly from God. This assumption is the least likely theory, for at least two reasons:

  1. Paul didn’t say specifically that God showed him this. Many other Biblical characters tell us plainly that God spoke to them such-and-such. Many times throughout the scriptures we read how God gave visions as it is plainly documented.
    For example:

[Amo 7:1, 4, 7 NKJV] 1 Thus the Lord GOD showed me: Behold, He formed locust swarms at the beginning of the late crop; indeed [it was] the late crop after the king’s mowings. … 4 Thus the Lord GOD showed me: Behold, the Lord GOD called for conflict by fire, and it consumed the great deep and devoured the territory. … 7 Thus He (God) showed me: Behold, the Lord stood on a wall [made] with a plumb line, with a plumb line in His hand.
[Amo 8:1 NKJV] 1 Thus the Lord GOD showed me: Behold, a basket of summer fruit.
[Zec 3:1 NKJV] 1 Then he (God) showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him.
[2Pe 1:14 NKJV] 14 knowing that shortly I [must] put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me.[Amo 7:1, 4, 7 NKJV] 1 Thus the Lord GOD showed me: Behold, He formed locust swarms at the beginning of the late crop; indeed [it was] the late crop after the king’s mowings. … 4 Thus the Lord GOD showed me: Behold, the Lord GOD called for conflict by fire, and it consumed the great deep and devoured the territory. … 7 Thus He (God) showed me: Behold, the Lord stood on a wall [made] with a plumb line, with a plumb line in His hand.
[Amo 8:1 NKJV] 1 Thus the Lord GOD showed me: Behold, a basket of summer fruit.
[Zec 3:1 NKJV] 1 Then he (God) showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him.
[2Pe 1:14 NKJV] 14 knowing that shortly I [must] put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me.

In addition, there are hundreds of times where various Biblical characters said: “The Lord spoke to me, saying…”

But Paul never said such a thing. That is one clue.

2. Another clue that this is the least likely theory is that there were multiple sources at Paul’s time which taught that the names of the magicians that opposed Moses were Jannes and Jambres.

So then, seeing that Paul didn’t say that God showed him this, and the fact that other sources existed at Paul’s time naming Jannes and Jambres, and the Jewish authorities during the early centuries wouldn’t dare teach “Christian” doctrines derived from Paul’s letters, provides enough evidence that Paul almost certainly did not get this information directly from God, but rather from the teachers and/or literature during his time.

Jannes and Jambres – Conclusion

Just as many other extra-biblical references and allusions in scripture, Paul doesn’t disclose his source of this information. And as such, many theories abound.

If I was able to confirm that Origen’s clearly state that Paul got his knowledge from the “Book of Jannes and Jambres”, then that would be sufficient to convince me. However, without that evidence, the Sefer HaYashar is the most probable literary source of Paul’s knowledge. And Gamaliel is the most probable oral source of this knowledge.

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply