W H Boulton

Jude and the Book of Enoch

© The Testimony, July 1932 pp.214-218


The recent discovery in Egypt of a New Testament manuscript earlier in date than any hitherto known, has raised once again questions concerning the nature and status of the mysterious "Book of Enoch" because that book is included in the manuscript in company with those familiar to the modern student of scripture. The Book of Enoch, sometimes known as 1 Enoch, or alternatively the Ethiopic Enoch (in contradistinction to the "Slavonic" Enoch, a very different work) is perhaps the most important book of the obscure period that elapsed between Old Testament times and New, and is certainly the most important work of what is often known as "Jewish Apocalyptic". From the purely literary point of view [1] Hebrew writing reached its greatest development at the time of the Exile and Restoration.


[1. These observations are not to be construed as meaning that the literary point of view is the only, or the most important point of view, nor that there is no vital difference between the books of the canon and the apocryphal writings. On the best of authority, that of Jesus himself, we accept the books from Genesis to Malachi. In the absence of evidence we cannot accept the extraordinary Jewish apocalyptic as inspired. ]


It is to these periods that most of the prophetic books of the Old Testament belong, and both in their beauty of thought and grandeur of language they surpass the literature of other times. But even in the times of the later minor prophets the political

and moral temper of the people was changing, in that a spirit of rigid formalism was developing. It was to reach its full development in Pharisaism in New Testament times. Formalism was not favourable to the spirit of prophecy, and it was responsible for two distinct literary tendencies. Those who would be moral reformers delivered their messages more and more in the form of signs and visions, and began to write anonymously. Even in the Old Testament these tendencies may be seen, for parts of Zechariah are apocalyptic, and it is just possible that Malachi is anonymous [2].


[2. "Malachi" means "my messenger", a phrase which is used in the prophecy more than once. In 2 Esdras (an apocryphal work of N.T. times) he is called "Malachi, which also is called the angel of the Lord".]


After the close of the Old Testament canon both tendencies became stronger, and the books that were written were usually full of apocalyptic visions, and were ascribed to any patriarch whose name the real author could use as a screen. Thus books are extant in the names of Enoch, Melchizedek, the twelve patriarchs, Moses, and others. The Book of Enoch is the most important, because the most influential, of these pseudepigraphical writings. It was written partly in Hebrew and partly in Aramaic, between about B.C. 200 and the beginning of the Christian era, but it has been known principally through the Ethiopic version having been used very extensively by the ancient church of Ethiopia. The book consists of five main portions, which may, for the sake of brevity and clearness, be set out in tabular form [3].


[3.This division is taken from the translation and commentary by R. H. Charles, D.Litt., D.D. (2nd Edition, 1912).]

(1) Chapters 1-36 :
Prophecies, often poetic in form, of doom upon the wicked, and a theory of the origin of evil and violence in the world.

(2) Chapters 37-71 :
A series of visions, mostly in poetic form, of the manifestation of the Messiah in glory, and of the punishment that should fall upon the wicked, both of angels and men. An account of the translation of Enoch.

(3) Chapters 72-82. "The Book of the Courses of the Heavenly Luminaries·" :
Λ treatise on the nature and movement of the sun, moon and stars, the sequence of the seasons, and the calendar.

(4) Chapters 83-90. The Dream Visions :
A series of visions, of which the principal recounts the history of the world from the creation to the messianic kingdom, which

was regarded as then imminent. The symbology represents Israel as sheep, and gentile nations as wild beasts.


(5) Chapters 91-104 :

A miscellaneous collection of admonitions and prophecies concerning reward and punishment.

Three more chapters, 105-108, consist of independent fragments.


It is obvious to the most cursory reader that "Enoch" cannot be thought of as a single book in the sense that the prophecy of Jeremiah or the book of Psalms can be, for it is neither the work of a single individual nor a collection of works similar in import or design. It is a collection of fragments which have been grouped together, with little attempt at editorial arrangement, only because of a traditional ascription to the patriarch Enoch.


When the great esteem in which the book was held in New Testament times is realised, the question inevitably arises whether it has not in fact the authority of scripture. The only direct citation in the New Testament is that made in the Epistle of Jude (Jude 14 cites 1 Enoch 1:9), but many expressions used by New Testament writers are reminiscent of "Enoch''.
By the writers of other lesser known Jewish writings of the same period it was regarded as inspired, and in the Epistle of Barnabas, the writings of Iraneaus, Tertullian and other patristic literature the same recognition is given. It was only in the third and fourth centuries of the Christian era, when the millennium was ceasing to be the central hope of the church, that the book fell completely into disrepute. In relation to the New Testament canon the choice of books was a wise one. The question now is, was the church right in rejecting"Enoch"?      

To answer this question reasonably and without prejudice, is a very difficult task because of the complexity of its authorship. Parts are childish in the extreme* parts are coarse, almost obscene, and most of the book is crude and unlovely by comparison with the Old Testament. But there are portions that are written in the grand tradition of the prophets, and which might have been taken from the pages of, say Joel or Zechariah.


"And there shall stand up in that day
all the kings and the mighty

And the exalted and they that hold the earth

And they shall see and recognise
How he sits in the throne of his glory
And righteousness is judged before him

And no lying word is spoken before him

Then shall pain come upon them as on a woman in travail

And one portion of them shall look on the other

And they shall be terrified

And they shall be downcast of countenance

And pain shall seize them

When they shall see that Son of Man

Sitting on the throne of his glory."


Yet the careful consideration of such passages reveals nothing new. They need be inspired only in the very limited sense that they are the poetic outpourings of a mind steeped in the writings of the prophets, and living in earnest expectation of the consummation. Further, there is a sustained vindictiveness in them which, although perhaps not entirely absent from some parts of the scriptures, is in "Enoch" quite unrelieved by any hint of the mercy and compassion of theAlmighty such as temper the more familiar pictures of the coming of the Messiah. In "Enoch" he is the invincible warrior, the Lord of Glory, and his day is one of anguish and affliction, of cursing and chastisement, of unceasing bloodshed.


The whole picture is reminiscent rather of Isaiah 34, where the prophet sees the mountains melted with the blood of the nations, rather than of chapter 32, "rivers of water in a dry place, the shadow of a great rock in a weary land". One may search "Enoch" in vain for anything approaching, either in spirit or in beauty, the seventy-second Psalm. To assert the inspiration of "Enoch", indeed, would be an insult to the intelligence. The section called the "Book of the courses of the Heavenly Luminaries" for example, will not stand even the examination which other contemporary systems of astronomy will bear. The system of "celestial spheres" taught by the Greeks was a definite attempt to explain the observed phenomena, but "Enoch" can only give a curious and extraordinarily tedious description of the various "portals" by which the sun, moon, and stars enter and leave the world system on their diurnal courses, and of the orders of angels who, under the general presidency of Uriel, propel them across the face of the sky. Combined with this treatise is a thoroughly wrong-headed attempt to compile a calendar giving a year of 364 days, apparently for no better reason than because that number, being divisible by seven, is more appropriate than 365.  It is particularly strange that this should be ascribed to Enoch, because owing to the duration of his life of 365 years, he was popularly supposed by the Jews to have been the discoverer of the true length of the year


[4. In contrasting the books of both Old and New Testaments with apocryphal writings, whether Jewish or Christian, it is interesting to notice the extent to which the science of a bygone age is taught. Speaking generally, primitive science is present in the scriptures as a background only, and the real message of the book is as true in this age of stars and atoms as when it was first written. But the apocryphal writings often become ludicrous by their insistence upon, and detailed description of, things that are foolish in the light of the most elementary knowledge of this scientific age. To anyone who questions the validity of the canon, this fact is not without interest. ]


On the whole, an impartial consideration confirms the judgment of the early church. "Enoch" cannot be read as scripture. But it is unfortunate that the book should have dropped so completely from the Christian library. Puerile, coarse and vindictive as much of it is, there are parts that are well worthy of attention for the light that they throw on some of the thoughts and expressions of the New Testament. A good example of the illustration which the book affords of New Testament expressions is contained in the quotation given above, for referring to the manifestation of his kingdom, Jesus used identical words, saying "when the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of his glory". It is interesting to trace the use of the phrase "Son of Man". Its meaning in "Enoch" finds its inspiration in Daniel 7, 13, where the prophet saw one like a son of man, [5] who came "with the clouds of heaven to the Ancient of Days".


[5. Not "the son of man", see R.V. The words 'son of" do not always signify descent, but rather kinship or likeness, thus "a son of Belial" or, in name form, "Benjamin" (son of the right hand) or Barnabas (son of consolation). In poetic literature it was used more for emphasis, "God is not a man that he should lie, Nor a son of man that he should repent" (Num. 23, 19, and see Psalm 8, etc.). Thus "like a son of man" is an emphatic way of saying "like a man" compare Dan. 3, 25, R.V. "like a son of the gods"). The Son of Man is "The Man" in the same definite sense that Jesus would say "I am he" and would be asked "art thou he that should come?"]    


It is this manifestation that is developed in the parables" of Enoch in which the title "Son of Man" is used, and in the Jewish mind there was no misunderstanding of its meaning. It referred to a supernatural being who should be revealed in glory in the day of the final triumph. But his identity with God's suffering servant was not understood, neither may have he always been identified with the human Messiah, for while the disciples referred to Jesus as the Christ, and spoke of his kingdom, none but he used of himself the title Son of Man. Indeed this use puzzled his hearers, and when on one occasion he spoke of the Son of Man being "lifted up", they asked, not "who is the Son of Man?", but "who is this Son of Man?" as though the title was being applied to another. They were not ready to understand that the greatness of Christ rested not in outward majesty, but in the hidden things of the heart.


The Book of Enoch contains an elaborate angelology. There is an angelic world, peopled not only by good spirits, the servants of the Lord God, some of whom are described by name, but also by a host of wicked angels who were responsible for much of the evil that is in the world, and who are themselves subject to punishment at the hands of the mightiest of the hierarchy of the heavens. These angels who sinned are identified with the sons of God who "saw the daughters of men that they were fair" (Gen. 6). Whatever may be understood by the modern student by these obscure words, there cannot be the slightest question that they were believed by the Jews to refer to a physical adultery between angels and womankind- and it was popularly understood that it was the progeny of these unnatural unions who filled the earth with violence and brought down the wrath of the Almighty in the waters of the deluge. It seems reasonable to suppose that the references made in the epistles of Peter and Jude to angels that kept not their first estate, and that sinned, are to be explained in terms of this belief. The phraseology of the contexts in which the words occur can be matched almost exactly from "Enoch" and other apocryphal literature.


The punishment meted out to the delinquent angels is always associated rather with darkness and gloom than with active torture. Concerning the leader of the rebels the command is given to "bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the darkness place upon him rough and jagged rocks and cover him with darkness". Peter says that they were cast down to hell, but the word is neither Hades or Gehenna, but Tartaros, which has the meaning of a deep abyss. Another apocryphal work known as the "Book of the Secrets of Enoch" contemporary with the New Testament, but reflecting more Greek influence than our "Enoch", has a similar description of the rebel angel "hurled from the heights with his angels, and he was flying in the air continually over the abyss". The book also describes how these same angels led mankind into ways of wickedness, and behind all the superstition and mythology there is a very shrewd conception of the things that have been a curse to the world, for the arts they taught were in brief, the use of weapons, cosmetics and dyes, witchcraft and astrology. If all the evil that has come from these three things, war, vanity, and magic, were gathered all together, it would surely be no small part of the burden that has oppressed our race.


If it is felt impossible in these days to give literal credence to any of these things, it can only be assumed that the writers of the New Testament were ready to use legend and folklore as Jesus was ready to use superstitious beliefs in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, and of the seven evil spirits who came to make the last state of the man worse than the first. The most disturbing feature which the book of Enoch presents to a student of scripture is the extreme similarity between some of its language and imagery and that of the book of Revelation. Time and time again the New Testament work seems to draw its ideas from the apocryphal, and doubts spring to the mind as to the value of the symbolism of the Apocalypse.


Careful thought, however, shows the similarity to be only superficial, and a simple analogy supplies the explanation. If it were to please the Most High to speak to us in vision, surely He would speak in our own language, but this would not identify His message with other English literature, although a foreigner might assert a great similarity in grammatical construction. So in presenting to the exile in Patmos visions of that which should shortly come to pass, the Spirit used an ideology that was familiar to him and whose import he could not possibly misunderstand. The similarity goes no farther. There is no portion of Enoch comparable in sustained consistency, and it is certain that no portion has as yet been demonstrated to be a prophecy in the same sense as Revelation. To sum up, the book of Enoch comes to us as a valuable commentary on the mental background of New Testament times, and its one hundred and eight chapters are full of interest.


But any attempt to use its theology or its ideology as a frame upon which to build up a conception of the work of Christ is sure to lead to failure by distorting the picture of the Master. Against this hotch-potch of national bigotry and superstition, with its cosmos of heavenly luminaries floating serenely through the portals of the heavens, and its anticipation of a consummation of universal slaughter, the personality of Jesus stands in sharp contrast. Sometimes the language is the same, but the message differs as the light from darkness. We read "Enoch" as students, eager to penetrate the dark and tortuous passages through which the developing thought of man has passed, but we sit at the feet of Jesus to hear his word in reverence and humility.


W. H. Boulton 1932