18 February 2016

The Book of Enoch's Influence on the New Testament (Pt 1)

I would like to step outside of the Bible in order to step back into the Bible - well sort of something like that. I’d like to start by stating these basic principles that I believe most everyone would agree with. The Bible was written by an ancient people of a different time, culture and mentality than us. We know and understand that there are many things we struggle to understand in the scriptures because of this fact. And because of this, we take to the study of ancient writings, people and times. But, as we know, not everyone does this sadly.

The battle continues over the opinions on the creation account and the book of Genesis. Studies in the writings from the surrounding nations at the time period of the writing of Genesis give scholars insight into the types of writing styles and language use for the period. Through this, alternative meanings can be discovered for words we thought we understood already.

The same principle is applied to our study of Scripture elsewhere - we have to understand the culture and it’s use of phrases, idioms and terminology, in order to best understand what was written in Scripture at the time.

I wish to take a look at one piece of influential literature, an ancient writing that you have probably at least heard of its name - the Book of Enoch. I hope to show you how this writing, which was lost or ignored by the church for nearly two thousand years, was actually a key influential writing that had a big impact upon our New Testament Scriptures.

Now, when it comes to the discussion of extra-biblical literature like this, people tend to have different reactions. Mention something like the Apocrypha to a Protestant - their instinct is to raise their fists in preparation for a fight. When you bring up Jewish writings that come from the biblical period, people either simply ignore or dismiss them as useless, or simply deny they contain any truth at all, and think instead that they contain error and myth.

We may hold to inspiration of Scripture, and we believe all of Scripture is true, but such a view does not require that we view everything outside the Scripture as necessarily false. Some people do exactly that, particularly when it comes to other scripture-like material from days of old. “If it was true, why did the early church not include it in the canon?” some may ask.

The Book of Enoch is understood by scholars to be one of the many apocalyptic writings that came out of the second temple period of Hebrew history. Part of what makes these books relevant to those who study the Bible today, is the fact that they are written in a similar manner as our New Testament, containing similar language, terminology and doctrines.

Most scholars also classify many of these writings as pseudepigraphal - pseudo meaning not genuine. This is because it seems to have been a common practice, they say, to find writings penned under the names of a famous or widely known figures from the past. There are many reasons why this practice was supposedly done, and so they believe these writings are not actually written by Enoch, since he lived several thousand years earlier than they have dated this book.

Well, for the larger part of church history, the Book of Enoch was lost to the church. The early church period after the Apostle had it, with even some sects of the church, like the Ethiopic branch, holding it as indeed sacred and part of their canon. It was considered as scripture in the Epistle of Barnabas and by many of the early Church Fathers, such as Athenagoras, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Irenaeus and Tertullian, who called the Book of Enoch “Holy Scripture,” and wrote c. 200 that the Book of Enoch had been rejected by the Jews because it contained prophecies pertaining to Christ.

In looking at another of the reasons why the book was rejected by some, I found what I think is an amazing quote from author Joseph Lumpkin, who is not a preterist, but states this about church history:

Since any book stands to be interpreted in many ways, Enoch posed problems for some theologians. Instead of reexamining their own theology, they sought to dispose of that which went counter to their beliefs. Some of the visions in Enoch are believed to point to the consummation of the age in conjunction with Christ’s second coming, which some believe took place in AD 70 (in the destruction of Jerusalem). (Joseph B. Lumpkin - The Books of Enoch: The Angels, The Watchers and The Nephilim, p 16)

His implication here seems to be saying that some in the early days of the church believed the second coming was in AD 70. Sadly he does not develop that or explain any further as to where he is pulling this tidbit of information from.

He does go on to mention that the “70 generations” discussed in Enoch was a problem for scholars too, because they thought it indeed could not be stretched beyond the first century. Kind of like what troubles people about Daniel’s 70 weeks. So in the end, we find it to begin being discredited after the Council of Laodicea and then later church fathers denied the canonicity of the book. Some even considered the letter of Jude uncanonical because it refers to this "apocryphal" work. The book eventually fell from view for almost two thousand years, and was only rediscovered and published in English around the turn of the nineteenth century.

A short side note. When I was researching some additional info on the 70 generations mentioned in Enoch, I stumbled upon a general forum discussion on religion, and found someone who was struggling with this issue. He said:

In Enoch, it predicts the Messiah will arise 70 generations after Enoch, 'seventh from Adam.' This in itself would be harmless if Enoch was just a fairytale, but in Luke's genealogy of Jesus there are indeed 70 from Enoch to Jesus!

It seems that (a) Enoch correctly predicted it, (b) Luke modified the genealogy here and there to make it match Enoch, (c) Enoch is again taking from it (Luke). Something is going on here! If Luke just made something up like that, how can we be sure he didn't just make up or borrow things from older non-inspired texts as he saw fit?

What also seems a bit troubling is that Enoch says the judgement will occur 70 generations after Enoch; at the time of Christ. Christ says he would return before the generation had passed away, again fitting in with Enoch. So here we have another conundrum: either (a) Christ was a false prophet or (b) the Preterist interpretation is correct and he somehow returned before the generation ended. (www.city-data.com, post 3/9/2010 by Trimac20)

Two things to note - he may indeed be correct in implying that Luke, as a first century writer, may have been borrowing from the Book of Enoch, as we will be looking into further as we go. Secondly, it is worth noting that based on his study of the book he was beginning to show leanings towards a Preterist understanding of things.

Back to the topic, after falling from view for almost two thousand years, when the Book of Enoch is rediscovered, it was actually assumed that it must have been a writing that was penned some time after the Christian era. The main reason for this was because it had so many quotes, paraphrases and concepts that were found within the New Testament. However, this view changed after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Ten fragments of the Book of Enoch were found among these scrolls which lead some scholars to believe the book may have been used widely as a prayer book, teacher’s manual or study text. But its inclusion within the Dead Sea Scrolls reveals that the book was actually in existence before the time of Christ. As Lumpkin puts it:

These (Dead Sea) scrolls force a closer look and reconsideration. It became obvious that the New Testament did not influence the Book of Enoch; on the contrary, the Book of Enoch influenced the New Testament. (Joseph B. Lumpkin - TheBooks of Enoch: The Angels, The Watchers and The Nephilim, p 11)

There are actually three books of Enoch that you will find out there, but I will only be discussing the first of those three - commonly known as the Ethiopic Book of Enoch, or 1st Enoch. It contains 107 chapters which scholars divide the book into 5 main sections.

The first 36 chapters is commonly known as the Book of the Watchers, and describes the activities surrounding the Genesis 6 procreation between the sons of God and the daughters of men and Enoch being taken to heaven in relation to the judgment for that.

Section two is chapters 37-71, referred to as the Book of Parables, and is usually the center of debate among scholars. It relates to the Book of Watchers, but it contains the development of ideas surrounding the final judgment of those even outside of the fallen angels discussed in section one. It is also where we see the appearance of a person referred to with the terms “Son of Man,” “Righteous one,” “Chosen one,” and “Messiah.”

Chapters 72-82 are known as the Astrological Book, as it describes the knowledge revealed during Enoch’s trip to Heaven regarding the movements of the heavenlies bodies, the firmament, and the Solar calendar.

Chapters 83-90 are referred to as the book of Dream Visions, and describes visions of the history of Israel down through the intertestamental period. It is for this reason that many scholars conclude that the book of Enoch - or at least this section of it - must have been written during the intertestamental period, and not earlier, since it contained history only up until that time. The Ethiopic church though, held this book was indeed written before the flood, and that this section was indeed prophetic visions of things to come.

Chapters 83-84 deal with the first vision, dealing with events surrounding the deluge, and 85-90 is the history of the world up through the establishment of the Messianic kingdom.

The final chapters, 91-107, are referred to as the Epistle of Enoch, or the Book of Warnings and Blessings of Enoch, are is usually further broken down into five covered topics: Exhortation, Apocalypse of Weeks, Epistle, the Birth of Noah, and the Conclusion.

As I mentioned earlier, the Book of Enoch is considered one of the writings known as apocalyptic. There are many such Hebrew writings that are outside the canon of scripture. As writer Michael Stone puts it:

Many of these writings were very much concerned with eschatological matters, the imminence of the end of days and the way men should act in this last period preceding that end. Moreover, the end of days was not just seen as a chance event, but was understood as having been fixed in advance, as had the whole course of history from creation. (Michael Edward Stone - Scriptures, Sects andVision: A Profile of Judaism from Ezra to the Jewish Revolts, Pg. 61)

So, for a those who thrive in eschatological type studies, these types of books should sound fascinating to us, right? I admit that is one of the key reasons I started looking in to them.

Let me take a brief stop here to chase a rabbit trail. There is a doctrinal theory out there that states the Bible does not teach a determined set plan of Yahweh, but that things are open ended, dependent on man’s actions and reactions, and that many results are not even totally known to Yahweh. This is basically the view known as Open Theism.

A few months ago I was in a discussion on Facebook with someone that I would have considered to be well read. He was espousing this view of Open Theism, going on about how the Hebrew people didn't believe in a view of Yahweh as being a deterministic God who knew everything about the future. I granted to him that maybe while strictly considering it from only the canon of Hebrew Scriptures his view may appear to have credence, but that it fails miserably to be so in the light of the even larger amount of ancient Hebrew writings like those pseudepigraphal and intertestamental writings. His response was that he had never read any of them.

So here is a person, spouting off and belittling others - especially those holding to predestination type views - and speaking in an authoritative manner about the historic beliefs of the Hebrews, yet by his own admission, he is ignorant of all but a few of their writings. Real scholarship comes about by a fairly thorough look at a wealth of such information before coming to such concrete conclusions as he was doing.

If the Hebrews indeed had a totally open view of history and Yahweh’s knowledge of it, then the whole realm of prophecy is almost useless, as it is always subject to change due to man thwarting the hoped for outcome. This fellow even stated that if Yahweh had been unsuccessful in convincing Moses to act on his behalf, then he would have raised up someone else to do the task. I don’t know about you, but I find such a view to be extremely radical and thoroughly unbiblical.

Author Michael Edward Stone summarizes the position by somewhat agreeing that looking strictly at some of the Hebrew Scriptures, events of history appear to be contingent on the action of men, but he then continues:

In many of the Pseudepigrapha, however, a determinism is clearly presented. God fixed the times in advance; they can be calculated (by Him at least); human action is of no weight in determining the course of history. Moreover, these views were conceived under the very strong impression of the dualistic opposition of the world to come and this world. (Michael Edward Stone - Scriptures, Sectsand Vision: A Profile of Judaism from Ezra to the Jewish Revolts, pg 62)

So, either Yahweh’s people had a total flipping of opinion in their view and writing on Yahweh over time, or the deterministic nature of the Hebrew scriptures have been misunderstood by us. I am one who already sees much determinism throughout the Scriptures already, so finding it in these other writings is not such a change of position for me at all.

More to come!

View the other parts of the topic

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 |