The answer is taken from an article in Tidings magazine.


Series: Not Giving heed to Jewish fables. (3) Jannes and Jambres

What does  “Three kings carrying gifts” suggest to us? Obviously the birth of our Lord, even though every Christadelphian child knows full well that the Magi were not kings, and the Bible does not say there were three of them

How many recognize the names Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar? Maybe some parts of the English speaking world are now more familiar with Rudolf, Donner and Blitzen, but the names of the three kings have a long tradition in Europe

Try a similar question what did “Jannes and Jambres” (II Tim 3 8) suggest to Timothy?

The way the question is put may sound strange Normally the question is phrased like this “Jannes and Jambres are not mentioned in the Old Testament, so how did Paul know their names7” To which the answer will immediately come back “He was inspired ” End of discussion Fine, let us say that Paul was verbally inspired to add this detail to Exodus 7 :22, but that doesn’t help answer our question above: How did Timothy know what Paul was talking about?

Inspiration, literally the breath of God m the mouths of the prophets, may produce material that is difficult for us to understand, and often we have to simply accept this in faith To accept our own limitations, however, is one thing, while to say that Paul wrote things in a personal epistle that were meaningless to his own son m the faith is quite another The unsatisfactory nature of such a solution is underlined by the fact that this chapter of II Timothy contains the New Testament’s clearest argument on inspiration (3 16) We are told there of the power of inspired scripture to make wise, teach, reprove, correct and instruct (II Tim 3 15-17) None of this occurs if scripture does not mean something to the hearer.


Timothy’s prior knowledge

As it happens we can be fairly certain that Timothy already had heard of Jannes and Jambres before Paul named them in his epistle His hearing had been much in the same way that many of us have heard of Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar (or at least Rudolf, Donner and Blitzen)

The key to the Jannes and Jambres puzzle is not to be found in history but in geography — not in Exodus but in Ephesus Consider why Timothy was m Ephesus

“As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer, nor to devote themselves to myths ” (I Tim 1 3, NIV)

That word “myths,” or “fables” in the KJV, is the same word used for the Jewish fables discussed m the previous articles So what were these myths and false doctrines that Timothy was under instruction from Paul to suppress.


Myths in Ephesus

Obviously there would have been more than one myth and more than one false doctrine The letter to the Ephesians, along with I and II Timothy and Rev 2 1-7, show that Ephesus had more than one problem For Jannes and Jambres, the key is m Acts 19, the chapter which describes how the church at Ephesus was founded

Acts 19 17-19 describes how a large number of magicians burnt their magic books and joined the ecclesia The value of the scrolls burnt m Acts 19 19 indicates that these ex-sorcerers were either very numerous or very rich (cf II Tim 6 17) Either way they would have had considerable influence in the Ephesian church Note that apparently both Greek and Jewish magicians were converted The prohibitions of Leviticus 19:31, 20:6 should have meant there was no such thing as a “Jewish sorcerer” but, in fact, all the sorcerers of Acts are Jews Simon the Samaritan in Acts 8:9, Elymas Bar-Jesus in Acts 13:8, and the seven sons of Sceva in Ephesus

By the first century, there was a thriving tradition of sorcery among the Jews This can be seen not just from physical evidence, such as magical inscriptions on pottery, etc , but also from extensive literary evidence Among those magical traditions were the Jews’ own magical myths And among those were myths concerning the magicians of Exodus.



1     Dead Sea Scrolls “Moses and Aaron arose with the help of the Prince of Lights, while Belial raised up Yohannah (Jannes) and his brother” (6Q15 3 and CD5 17b-19)

2     Pliny (1C) cites as famous Jewish magicians Moses, Jannes and “Lotapes” (a copying error for Jambres[3] [4] [5] [6] [7] HN 30 2 11) Lucius Apuleius (2C) also mentions Moses and Jannes as Jewish magicians (Apologia 2 90) Numemus (2C) mistakenly recounts that Jannes and Jambres were able to reverse all the plagues that God sent upon Egypt (Eusebius PE 9 8)

3     In Testament of Solomon, a 1st- 2nd century compendium of Jewish magic and demon lore, Abezethibou, the demon of the Red Sea, confesses to Solomon that “I am the one whom Jannes and Jambres called to their aid I am the adversary of Moses” (T Sol 25 4 )

4     The Confession of Jannes and Jambres (Charlesworth Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Vol II, 427-42), tells of the death of Jannes and his mother after opposing Moses, and the repentance of Jambres after Jannes returns from Hades to warn him against the evils of magic worship of the golden calf (Yal Reu , cf Midr Tanh)

From these sources, it is clear that the tradition is independent of II Timothy 3 8, and the names of both Jannes and Jambres were known not only to Timothy, but also to others in Ephesus before Paul put pen to parchment.


Jannes, Jambres not biblical names

Yet Paul appears to confirm a non- scriptural tradition So had this historical snippet been transmitted since the time of Moses correctly9 Were the names Jannes and Jambres m fact the real historical names of Pharoah’s wizards9

The answer has to be a firm “No ” For a start, Exodus 7 does not say that there were two, and only two, wizards any more than Matthew 2 says that there were three, and only three, kings Secondly, one cannot make reference to the names “Jannes and Jambres” without also making reference to the legends associated with them — any more than one can innocently use “Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar” without associatmg the wise men with medieval legends about the three kings Thirdly, and most importantly, these names are not without significance It is immediately obvious that Jannes (Yohannah would be the Hebrew equivalent to the Greek Jannes) is a Jewish, not Egyptian, name, and it likewise is possible that Jambres derives from the Hebrew root for “rebellion” (cf Strongs # 4784) In using these names Paul is not just supplying names to Exodus 7, but supplying the inference, totally lacking in Exodus, that Moses’ opponents were fellow Jews

Of course, the magicians of Exodus 7 may well have been renegade Jews, and it would fit well with what we know of the opposition to Moses if they were; but as this information is not found in Exodus, it still does not explain why Paul thought that this was a good illustration to give to Timothy and the uninspired ex-sorcerers at Ephesus.


Continuing struggle in Ephesus

We can see from II Timothy 1:17 Paul had visitors from Ephesus who certainly would have carried news from Timothy, including news of Timothy’s success or otherwise in fulfilling the charge to keep control of false teaching and “fables.” If Timothy had any success at all, it was only moderate, for Ephesus still had plenty of problems with “profane and vain babblings” (I Tim. 6:20 repeated II Tim. 2:16) and “foolish and unlearned questions” (II Tim. 2:23). Further, when Paul gives Timothy leave from Ephesus, it is not with any comfort that the job is finished, but that things would go from bad to worse (cf. II Tim. 3:6-9, 4:3,15).

One thing that particularly catches our attention, only nine verses after the mention of “Jannes and Jambres,” is Paul’s comment that the Ephesians “shall be turned unto fables” (II Tim. 4:4 KJV, the Greek mythos again). How can it be that Paul, within the space of a few verses, can first refer to a non-biblical tradition, then speak of inspiration, and finally warn that the church will “turn aside to myths” (4:4, NIV)? Isn’t this inconsistent?


A suggested explanation

We now need to try and weave these loose ends together. What follows is an explanation that is similar in approach to the Rich Man and Lazarus problem considered in the last article.

We know that the church in Ephesus contained a number of exsorcerers, probably including among them some like Simon in Acts 8 who found it difficult to make a clean break with their past. If the version of the myth found in Confession of Jannes and Jambres (source 4 above) was current in Ephesus, it would say that Jambres repented and survived which might have been of considerable comfort to some of the ex-sorcerers. Paul then could have used the reference to warn and encourage.

The trouble with this explanation is that II Tim. 3:7 makes it clear that both Jannes and Jambres were never able to acknowledge the truth, and 3:8 says they were rejected. It is difficult to see how this could be encouraging. It also doesn’t fit the Lukel6 pattern that, when the New Testament makes use of Jewish myth, the use is negative.



An alternative explanation

Taking the lead from 3:7, it appears that the version of the myth Paul was referring to was the one found in the Rabbinical literature (source 5 above) where Jannes and Jambres convert, but are not able to acknowledge the truth and are eventually destroyed. This would fit with II Tim. 3:9, “but they shall proceed no further, for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was.”

This little phrase “as theirs also was” is important. It is the second allusion to Jannes and Jambres as individuals and requires that Timothy, and the Ephesian ex-sorcerers, knewnot just their names, but exactly how their folly was manifest Exodus 9 11 supplies the one certain answer — that the boils were upon the magicians and they could not stand before Moses But if the Jewish magicians at Ephesus knew the full version of the myth, the lesson would only be stronger — for the folly of Jannes and Jambres in the Rabbinic version of the myth was manifest by their destruction.




Bringing the above explanation to the text we can paraphrase a reading as follows

“Timothy, you have done your best to correct the fable tellers in Ephesus, but as according to the very fables that these men like to use, the magicians Jannes and Jambres were always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth, and your problem people are just the same ”

In other words, they were condemned out of their own mouths, or rather, out of their own myths – “deceiving and being deceived” (3 13)

We have seen this before in Luke 16 19-31 The Pharisees and Caiaphas were caught by Christ in the net of what they believed and taught We can’t prove that anyone at Ephesus was using the myth of Jannes and Jambres to teach in the way that the Pharisees used the myth of Abraham in the underworld But we do know that there were magicians at Ephesus, we know there was a problem with myths there, and we know that there were men who wouldn’t make a clean break with their past And we know that before exhorting Timothy to the virtues of scripture (II Tim 3 10-17), Paul precedes with a condemnation of false teachers, 3 1-9

Thus Jannes and Jambres are mentioned where they belong, in the context of false teaching, not in the context of inspired scripture What better way for Paul to illustrate what is inspired than by showing the consequences of playing with that which is not9

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