Who were Jannes and Jambres?


By BibleAsk Team

Jannes and Jambres are two enigmatic figures mentioned in the New Testament, specifically in 2 Timothy 3:8. While their names do not appear in the Old Testament, Jewish tradition and extra-biblical literature provide additional insights into their identities and roles. This study explores who Jannes and Jambres were, their significance in biblical and Jewish tradition, and their implications for understanding resistance to divine truth. We will examine their roles, the cultural and historical context, and the theological lessons their story imparts.

Biblical Reference

The primary biblical reference to Jannes and Jambres is found in Paul’s second letter to Timothy:

2 Timothy 3:8 (NKJV): “Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith.”

This single mention by Paul connects these two individuals to the well-known narrative of Moses’ confrontation with Pharaoh’s magicians in the book of Exodus.

Jannes and Jambres in the Book of Exodus

While the names Jannes and Jambres are not mentioned in the Exodus account, the story of Moses and Pharaoh’s magicians is detailed in several chapters:

Exodus 7:10-12 (NKJV): “So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh, and they did so, just as the Lord commanded. And Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh and before his servants, and it became a serpent. But Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers; so the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. For every man threw down his rod, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods.”

These magicians are depicted as opposing Moses by replicating the miracles God performed through him and Aaron. Their initial success in mimicking these miracles highlights the power struggle between the divine acts of God and the counterfeit wonders of human magicians.

Jewish Tradition and Extra-Biblical Sources

Jannes and Jambres are names that appear prominently in Jewish tradition and extra-biblical literature. These sources provide a richer understanding of who these individuals were and the roles they played in opposition to Moses.

The Targums

The Targums, which are Aramaic paraphrases and explanations of the Hebrew Bible, offer some of the earliest extra-biblical mentions of Jannes and Jambres. In the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan and the Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel on Exodus 1:15, they are identified as sons of Balaam and leaders among Pharaoh’s magicians.

The Babylonian Talmud

The Babylonian Talmud, a central text in Rabbinic Judaism, refers to Jannes and Jambres in several places. For instance, in Menachot 85a, it is suggested that they were part of the mixed multitude that left Egypt with the Israelites but continued to cause trouble.

The Book of Jasher

The Book of Jasher, an ancient Jewish text referenced in the Bible (Joshua 10:13, 2 Samuel 1:18), also mentions Jannes and Jambres. Although not part of the canonical scriptures, it offers a narrative that places these magicians at the center of opposition against Moses.

New Testament Context

Paul’s reference to Jannes and Jambres in his letter to Timothy provides a crucial link between the Old Testament narrative and the New Testament teaching on false teachers and corruption.

The Role of Jannes and Jambres in 2 Timothy

In 2 Timothy, Paul uses Jannes and Jambres as examples of those who resist the truth. By comparing them to contemporary false teachers, Paul underscores the enduring nature of opposition to God’s work:

2 Timothy 3:8-9 (NKJV): “Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.”

The Significance of Jannes and Jambres

The mention of Jannes and Jambres serves several important purposes in both biblical and theological contexts:

Historical Continuity

Paul’s reference to Jannes and Jambres ties the experiences of early Christians to the historical tradition of opposition faced by God’s messengers. This continuity emphasizes that the challenges and resistance faced by the faithful are not new but have been present throughout history.

Moral and Spiritual Lessons

The story of Jannes and Jambres offers a moral and spiritual lesson about the futility of resisting God’s will. Despite their initial success, their power is ultimately shown to be inferior to the divine power at work through Moses. This serves as a warning against relying on human wisdom and deception to oppose divine purposes.

Exodus 8:18-19 (NKJV): “Now the magicians so worked with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not; so there were lice on man and beast. Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God.’ But Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, just as the Lord had said.”

Encouragement for Believers

For Timothy and other believers facing false teachers and persecution, Paul’s mention of Jannes and Jambres offers encouragement. Just as these magicians’ folly was eventually exposed, so too will the falsehoods and corrupt practices of contemporary opponents be revealed.

2 Timothy 3:9 (NKJV): “But they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.”

Theological Implications

The Nature of True and False Miracles

The confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh’s magicians highlights the distinction between true divine miracles and deceptive signs. While the magicians could imitate some of Moses’ miracles, their power was limited and ultimately shown to be inferior.

The Hardening of Hearts

Jannes and Jambres’ resistance to Moses is part of the broader theme of the hardening of hearts, particularly Pharaoh’s. Despite witnessing numerous signs and wonders, Pharaoh and his magicians persist in their opposition, demonstrating the human capacity for stubbornness and resistance to divine truth.

Exodus 7:13 (NKJV): “And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the Lord had said.”

Paul echoes this theme in his letter to Timothy, illustrating that those who resist the truth do so because of their corrupt minds and hardened hearts.

Practical Applications for Believers

Discernment and Vigilance

The story of Jannes and Jambres calls believers to exercise discernment and vigilance against false teachings and deceptive practices. Just as Moses remained steadfast in his mission despite opposition, Christians are encouraged to hold firmly to the truth and rely on God’s power to overcome falsehood.

1 John 4:1 (NKJV): “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

Perseverance in Faith

Believers are called to persevere in faith, trusting that God will ultimately reveal and overcome falsehood. The eventual exposure of Jannes and Jambres’ folly serves as a reminder that truth and righteousness will prevail.

James 1:12 (NKJV): “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

Reliance on God’s Power

The contrast between Moses’ divine commission and the magicians’ limited abilities underscores the importance of relying on God’s power rather than human strength or wisdom. This reliance on God’s power is crucial for overcoming opposition and fulfilling God’s purposes.

2 Corinthians 12:9 (NKJV): “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

The Role of Tradition and Scripture

Extra-Biblical Sources

The presence of Jannes and Jambres in Jewish tradition and extra-biblical texts highlights the importance of understanding biblical narratives within the broader context of historical and cultural traditions. These sources provide additional details and perspectives that enrich our understanding of biblical characters and events.

Scriptural Authority

While extra-biblical sources can offer valuable insights, the authority of Scripture remains paramount. Paul’s reference to Jannes and Jambres in 2 Timothy provides a divinely inspired connection between the Exodus narrative and the challenges faced by early Christians, reinforcing the continuity and consistency of God’s message throughout history.


Jannes and Jambres, though only mentioned by name once in the New Testament, represent a significant theme in biblical and Jewish tradition. Their resistance to Moses during the Exodus narrative serves as a powerful example of opposition to God’s truth and the futility of such resistance. Through their story, believers are reminded of the importance of genuine faith, discernment, and reliance on God’s power.

Paul’s reference to these figures in 2 Timothy provides a historical and moral context for understanding the challenges faced by early Christians and by believers throughout history. By recognizing the patterns of opposition and the ultimate triumph of divine truth, Christians can be encouraged to persevere in their faith, confident in God’s power and promises.

Check out our Bible Answers page for more information on a variety of topics.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

We'd love your feedback, so leave a comment!

If you feel an answer is not 100% Bible based, then leave a comment, and we'll be sure to review it.
Our aim is to share the Word and be true to it.