The book of Enoch – more comments

  • Question from RS, USA

    I would like an answer to some questions about the book of Enoch. I am concerned because this book’s teachings are starting to be represented as “inspired” at our Church. Did Jesus quote (as found in any translations of the Bible today) from the book of Enoch? Is the book of Enoch considered “inspired” -or- the same as “all scripture is given by inspiration of God”? When this book is preached from or taught from, is this not “adding to the prophecies of this book” as stated in Revelation chapter 22, verse 18?

    This is the second time the Book of Enoch has been the subject of questions on freelance theology and it seems to be an ancient text that is proving quite popular. There are two men called Enoch mentioned in the book of Genesis – the son of Cain (chapter 4, verse 17) and the father of Methuselah who was ‘taken to be with God’ when he was 365 years old according to Genesis chapter 5, verses 22-24. This second Enoch is the one about whom a number of traditions grew up in the centuries immediately before Christ. For example, Enoch is mentioned in the Apocryphal book Ecclesiasticus (also known as Sirach), which dates from approximately 150BC.

    Enoch became regarded as one of the heroes of the Jewish faith, as listed in Hebrews chapter 11, verse 5, where the author makes the point that Enoch’s faith pleased God and so God took him away. Except for the inference regarding Enoch’s faith, this adds nothing to what is already said in Genesis. However, being listed with Noah, Abraham, Moses et al, indicates that Enoch was considered a good role model.

    The book of Enoch is associated with this hero, but contains mainly apocalyptic themes and traditions. It belongs to a family of quasi-sectarian Jewish writings from the time between the testaments and contains a number of interesting, but separate ideas merged into one ‘book’. The principal legend that has proved very popular in modern Christian fundamentalist circles is the ‘Watcher Legend’ – which expands upon several minor themes in Genesis relating to an Angelic Fall as the cause of sin and evil in the world. It also contains parables, ‘visions of the Son of Man’ (which Christians later interpreted to refer to Jesus as happened with the Biblical book of Daniel), astronomical data and apocalyptic visions of judgment. Many scholars point to Babylonian influences on the book of Enoch, particularly regarding its angelology, but the book seems to have originated in Egypt and exists in Greek and Aramaic textual sources, but is only found complete in Ethiopic. To confuse matters, two further books bearing Enoch’s name exist as well – 2 Enoch has only been found in medieval Slavic manuscripts from Eastern Europe, while 3 Enoch is a sixth-century collection of Hebrew writings relating to kabbalah and introduces the character of the Metatron (Voice of God), which later cropped up in medieval mysticism and theology.

    Jesus never quoted from the book of Enoch, but the writer of the short New Testament letter we know as Jude does quote it in verses 14 and 15. This is in the context of a warning of judgment on the ungodly, and it should be noted that the writer of Jude, while familiar enough to quote from the book, does not refer to it as Scripture. The author presumably uses Enoch because his audience will be familiar with it (the same thing happens today when a modern preacher or writer uses a cultural reference to reinforce their point – it is not conferring any kind of authority on something to quote from it). In two other places the author of Jude refers to events that are mentioned in Enoch (verses 6 & 12), but each time in order to underline the author’s point.

    With regards to the Book of Enoch’s authority, it has only ever been accorded canonical status by the rather isolated Ethiopian Church. While this particular grouping lays claim to being the oldest continuous organised church, it should be noted that none of the great church councils regarded Enoch as part of the Old Testament and it does not appear in the Hebrew Bible. It may have reached a prominent position in Ethiopia due to its popularity in pre-Christian Jewish communities in Northern Africa. Noted Biblical scholar FF Bruce summed up the usefulness of the Book of Enoch by saying: “It throws welcome light on the background of popular thought in Palestine in New Testament times.” [The Books and the Parchments, Marshall Pickering 1991, p.161] In real terms, the received opinion of Christian tradition and modern scholarship would regard Enoch as an example of the religious ideas that circulated in the Mediterranean area around the time of Christ, and that’s about it.

    One final point – while now, with a closed canon of Scripture, Revelation’s warning not to add anything might seem like a reference to the whole of what has gone before, it actually would have referred originally to just the collection of visions written down by John on Patmos (Revelation chapter 1, verse 9). Given the tendency at the time to collect disparate visions and stories together to create books like Enoch, it is perhaps highly appropriate to mention in the context of this question, but has little bearing on what is preached in your church.

    Thanks for your question, RS.

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