Question: "Who were Jannes and Jambres?"

Answer: The Bible does not give us much information on Jannes and Jambres. In fact, the names of these two men appear only once in the entire Bible, in 2 Timothy 3:8. In a passage describing the wickedness of the last days, Paul says, “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these men oppose the truth—men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone” (verses 8-9).

Long-standing Jewish tradition says that Jannes and Jambres were the two chief magicians who withstood Moses and Aaron in Exodus 7. “Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts: Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs” (verses 10-12). Later, these same sorcerers duplicated the changing of water into blood (Exodus 7:22) and the production of frogs (8:7). However, the sorcerers were powerless to duplicate the other plagues (8:19).

The names “Jannes” and “Jambres” appear in the Talmud as well. According to one midrash, the two magicians left Egypt with the Israelites after the first Passover (see Exodus 12:38) and were later instrumental in promoting the worship of the golden calf that Aaron made (Exodus 32). Another midrash identifies the “two servants” of Balaam as Jannes and Jambres (Numbers 22:22). According to the midrashim and other sources, Jannes and Jambres continued to exert a wicked influence on Israel until the time of Phinehas (Numbers 25). These stories are interesting, but they should not be taken as equivalent to inspired Scripture.

Paul confirms the traditional names of the sorcerers who challenged Moses without lending credence to the legends found in apocryphal works. His intention was to use the wickedness of Jannes and Jambres, as presented in the Talmud, as an illustration of a widespread, active rejection of the truth in the last days.