dianoigo blog

Saturday 2 November 2013

Were 2 Peter and Jude written to oppose the teachings of 1 Enoch?

This is the last installment of a three part series assessing the relationship between the New Testament books of 2 Peter and Jude and the Jewish pseudepigraphic work known as 1 Enoch or the Book of Enoch.

In his pamphlet The Angels that Sinned: Slandering Celestial Beings, Christadelphian writer Steven Cox claims that the main reason why 2 Peter and Jude were written was to denounce teachings from 1 Enoch. Noting the admonition, "Pay no attention to Jewish myths" (Titus 1:14) in another letter by a different author, Cox argues that "Peter and Jude wrote their letters to combat false teachers teaching (as one of these myths) the Book of Enoch" (part 2, final paragraph). The teaching from 1 Enoch that 2 Peter and Jude allegedly sought to refute was that fallen angels existed, or more specifically, "that angels rebelled, descended to earth and fathered demons" (part 3, subsection 7).

If you have read the two previous posts in this series, you will immediately detect two serious problems with Cox's view. In the first post we saw that 2 Peter and Jude both allude to an angelic rebellion as a real historical event, and do so in language borrowed from 1 Enoch. This does not imply that they endorsed every element of the Enochic account but it is certainly inconsistent with the notion that they sought to completely denounce it.

Additionally, in the second post we observed that Jude quoted from 1 Enoch, described the quotation as prophecy and attributed it to the historical person Enoch from Genesis 5. This too is wholly inconsistent with the idea that Jude was deprecating the contents of 1 Enoch as false myths. Cox himself acknowledges that "there are as many as 30 references to the Book of Enoch in 2 Peter and Jude" (part 2, subsection 3).

Introductory Description of the False Teachers

We now turn our attention to other evidence that Cox points to in support of his view of 2 Peter and Jude. Before doing so we ought to point out that, while it is obvious that 2 Peter and Jude were writing polemic against false teachers, no commentator (ancient or modern) that I know of, prior to Cox, has ever understood the contents of 1 Enoch to be the object of their invective.

Let us first examine the way in which 2 Peter and Jude introduce their main theme, namely the presence of false teachers in the church:
"But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions. They will even deny the Master who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Even so, many will follow their licentious ways, and because of these teachers the way of truth will be maligned. And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words." (2 Peter 2:1-3 NRSV) 
"Beloved, while eagerly preparing to write to you about the salvation we share, I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain intruders have stolen in among you, people who long ago were designated for this condemnation as ungodly, who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." (Jude 1:3-4 NRSV)
Based on the above, we could summarize the main allegations against the false teachers as follows:
  • They brought in destructive opinions (haeresis) and deceptive words (plastois logois, literally moulded words or words of clay)
  • These words perverted the grace of God, leading to licentious behaviour
  • Through their words or conduct they denied their Master, Jesus Christ
  • There is also a hint that the false teachers were somehow profiting financially from their misconduct ("in their greed they will exploit you", cp. Jude 1:11)
Steven Cox does not mention which Bible version he quotes from, but he renders plastois logois in 2 Pet. 2:3 as "stories they have made up". The NIV also renders along these lines ("fabricated stories"), but most translations render this expression more literally as "words". The Greek certainly does not imply that these were Jewish myths; the word mythos is not used as in Titus 1:14. Thus far, we have no positive evidence to link the false teachers to 1 Enoch or anything similar.

Slandering the Glorious Ones

We next proceed to the main evidence offered in favour of Cox's view, in 2 Pet. 2:10-11/Jude 8-9:
"...the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment —especially those who indulge their flesh in depraved lust, and who despise authority. Bold and willful, they are not afraid to slander the glorious ones, whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not bring against them a slanderous judgment from the Lord...They slander what they do not understand" (2 Peter 2:9-11, 12c NRSV)
"Yet in the same way these dreamers also defile the flesh, reject authority, and slander the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael contended with the devil and disputed about the body of Moses, he did not dare to bring a condemnation of slander against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” But these people slander whatever they do not understand" (Jude 1:8-10a NRSV)
The key phrase in these two parallel passages is "slander the glorious ones." According to Cox, this indicates that the false teachers defamed the angels of God by declaring (following 1 Enoch) that there were angels who had sinned.

Now, there is considerable debate among scholars as to the exact meaning of "slander the glorious ones" here. Donelson notes in his commentary on 2 Peter and Jude (p. 250ff) the three views which have gained the most support through history. The traditional view, which now has very little support, was that the "glorious ones" were human beings in authority, either within the church or outside. However, it is difficult to conceive of "glorious ones" referring to human beings in the present age, and this term is used of angels in 2 Enoch 22:7 (a work usually dated to the first century AD, but not to be confused with 1 Enoch).

Most recent commentators are agreed that "the glorious ones" are angelic beings. Some, such as Bauckham and Witherington, view "the glorious ones" as evil cosmic powers. Witherington describes his interpretation of "slander the glorious ones" thus:
"In view of the background in Jude, this likely means that they were deriding or dismissing the dangers of the devil or demons; ‘the glorious ones’ thus is a reference to fallen angels. This is a quite vague allusion to Jude’s citation of 1 Enoch, but presumably the audience understands our author’s drift. Second Peter 2:11 then follows Jude 9, suggesting in a more general way that even the good angels had a healthy respect for the powers of darkness, even though they had more power and might than these dark powers…These good angels do pronounce judgment on the bad, but do not use invective or insults in the process." (Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, Volume 2, p. 356)
Other commentators (Green; Knight) understand "the glorious ones" to refer to holy angels. Knight's interpretation is typical of this view:
"A variety of interpretations has been proposed to explain this phrase but the one which seems most likely is a view of the angels as guardians of the law and of the created order. This view of the angels was common in early Christianity, as we know from Gal. 3:19 and Heb. 2:2, and behaviour which went against the Torah might easily have been construed as slander of its guardians...On this interpretation the teachers' slander of the angels must have lain in their refusal to accept moral standards, undoubtedly those enshrined in the Jewish Law, which they contravened (and encouraged others to contravene) through their belief that licence was permissible" (Jonathan Knight, 2 Peter and Jude, p. 45)
It is not easy to decide between these two viewpoints. Knight's seems more likely based on the fact that there is nothing in the phrase that explicitly describes "the glorious ones" as evil or fallen. It also agrees well with the context in which licentiousness or antinomianism was one of the false teachers' main vices. However, Witherington's viewpoint is difficult to rule out in light of Jude's supporting argument involving Michael and the devil.

The Dispute between Michael and the Devil over Moses' Body

The allusion in Jude 1:9 is puzzling as it refers to an episode nowhere described in the Old Testament. However, Clement and two other early Christian writers from Alexandria (Origen and Didymus) asserted that Jude was alluding to an apocryphal work called the Assumption of Moses. Most modern scholars believe Jude was alluding either to this or another apocryphal work called the Testament of Moses, the ending of which is lost. Richard Bauckham attempted to reconstruct the story in his book Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church. The hypothesized account is described thus by Knight:
"After Moses’ death, God sent Michael to remove his body for burial. The devil opposed this and denied that Moses could receive a decent burial because he had killed the Egyptian in the way recorded by Exod. 2:12. The devil then brought a charge of murder against Moses but this was simply slander and Michael rebuffed him by saying, ‘the Lord rebuke you!’ The devil then departed and Michael buried the body in the secret place described by Deut. 34:6" (Knight, Ibid., pp. 45-46)
There is likely some literary dependence between this account and Zechariah 3:1-2, which also features a dispute involving "the satan" (ho diabolos in the Septuagint) and an angel, in which the satan is told, "The Lord rebuke you!" Most scholars are agreed that "the satan" is an angel in this text. Jude's argument thus runs like this: if even Michael the archangel was not prepared to curse the devil, the very prince of evil, but deferred to the Lord's judgment, how much more should mere human beings refrain from cursing fallen angels?

Of course, this argument is also consistent with the "holy angels" interpretation of the glorious ones; Jude could be saying, if even Michael the archangel was not prepared to curse the devil, the very prince of evil, but deferred to the Lord's judgment, how much more should mere human beings refrain from cursing holy angels?

In summary, both of these interpretations are plausible but the "holy angels" one seems more likely to me. Either way, Jude's version of this argument depends on the premise that the devil exists as a personal angelic being. It could be in this case that Jude's allusion is merely hypothetical, but he could hardly make such an allusion if he believed the very idea of a fallen angel to be heretical!

Hence, we may infer from 2 Pet. 2:10-11 and Jude 1:8-9 that the false teachers were in some way slandering angels, and their opposition to moral commandments originating in the Law of Moses may help to explain how. There is no evidence that "slander the glorious ones" refers to a belief in the existence of fallen angels (a belief which 2 Peter and Jude had already endorsed!)

Do angels slander one another in 1 Enoch?

One of the claims made by Cox is that the book of 1 Enoch contains the kind of slander of glorious ones that Jude and 2 Peter identify in the false teachers. With reference to 1 Enoch 9:1-10 Cox writes, "Thus according to Enoch it was Michael and three other archangels, who accused Shemihazah and Azazel, but according to Peter angels (specifically Michael, Uriel, Raphael and Gabriel) 'do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord'."

This portion of 1 Enoch (as translated by R.H. Charles) reads as follows:
"1 And then Michael, Uriel, Raphael, and Gabriel looked down from heaven and saw much blood being 2 shed upon the earth, and all lawlessness being wrought upon the earth. And they said one to another: 'The earth made without inhabitant cries the voice of their cryingst up to the gates of heaven. 3 And now to you, the holy ones of heaven, the souls of men make their suit, saying, "Bring our cause 4 before the Most High."' And they said to the Lord of the ages: 'Lord of lords, God of gods, King of kings, and God of the ages, the throne of Thy glory (standeth) unto all the generations of the 5 ages, and Thy name holy and glorious and blessed unto all the ages! Thou hast made all things, and power over all things hast Thou: and all things are naked and open in Thy sight, and Thou seest all 6 things, and nothing can hide itself from Thee. Thou seest what Azazel hath done...11 And Thou knowest all things before they come to pass, and Thou seest these things and Thou dost suffer them, and Thou dost not say to us what we are to do to them in regard to these.'"
As can be seen, the good angels in 1 Enoch 9 bring the cause of mankind and the sins of the angels before the Most High. They acknowledge his majesty and eternal power and ask him for a ruling concerning the sinful angels. Their conduct is comparable to Michael's in the dispute with the devil, when he said "The Lord rebuke you!" In both cases angels are deferring judgment to God rather than pronouncing judgment themselves. Thus in 1 Enoch 9 the holy angels do not bring slanderous accusations against the rebellious angels, and we observe harmony rather than disharmony between 1 Enoch, Jude and 2 Peter on this point.

Denying the Lord

We noted earlier that denying the Master and Lord, Jesus Christ was one of the main vices of the false teachers according to 2 Peter and Jude. Although 1 Enoch is a Jewish work and thus does not explicitly refer to Christ, wicked men denying the Lord is also a prominent theme in this book: "mine eyes saw there all the sinners being driven from thence which deny the name of the Lord of Spirits" (1 Enoch 41:2; cp. 45:1, 46:7; 67:11). Once again, rather than containing the teachings opposed by Jude and 2 Peter, the three books are united in warning against those who deny the Lord.

Coming Judgment

A prominent theme in 2 Peter is the coming day of judgment, which false teachers scoff at (cf. 2 Peter 3:3-7). Jude also warns of the coming judgment in 1:14-15 (his quotation from 1 Enoch!) The impending final judgment, and the foolish attitude of the ungodly in relation to it, is also a major theme in 1 Enoch. For instance:
"And when the day, and the power, and the punishment, and the judgement come, which the Lord of Spirits hath prepared for those who worship not the righteous law, and for those who deny the righteous judgement, and for those who take His name in vain-that day is prepared, for the elect a covenant, but for sinners an inquisition." (1 Enoch 60:6)
In fact, the word 'judgement' or 'judgements' occurs 79 times in 1 Enoch, and the "day of judgement" is referred to six times (22:11; 22:13; 81:4; 84:4; 97:3; 100:4). Thus 2 Peter could hardly have had students of 1 Enoch in mind when he warned that the false teachers would ask, "Where is the promise of his coming?"


Finally, both 2 Peter and Jude describe the false teachers as licentious, and 2 Peter calls them "lawless" (2 Peter 3:17). Calls to holiness and warnings against the lawless are again a major theme in 1 Enoch; its author(s) could not possibly be accused of licentiousness. Consider the following:
"The words of the blessing of Enoch, wherewith he blessed the elect and righteous, who will be living in the day of tribulation, when all the wicked and godless are to be removed." (1 Enoch 1:1-2)
"And their hands commit lawless deeds, And the sinners devour all whom they lawlessly oppress: Yet the sinners shall be destroyed before the face of the Lord of Spirits, And they shall be banished from off the face of His earth, And they shall perish for ever and ever." (1 Enoch 53:2) 
"Woe to you who work godlessness, And glory in lying and extol them: Ye shall perish, and no happy life shall be yours. Woe to them who pervert the words of uprightness, And transgress the eternal law, And transform themselves into what they were not [into sinners]: They shall be trodden under foot upon the earth." (1 Enoch 99:1-2) 
"Another book which Enoch wrote for his son Methuselah and for those who will come after him, and keep the law in the last days. Ye who have done good shall wait for those days till an end is made of those who work evil; and an end of the might of the transgressors." (1 Enoch 108:1-2)

In summary, we have found no positive evidence that 2 Peter and Jude were written to oppose the teachings of 1 Enoch. Much the opposite! 2 Peter and Jude contain many allusions to 1 Enoch and even one quotation in Jude's case. There is nothing incompatible between the message of 2 Peter/Jude and the view of angels found in 1 Enoch. Moreover, we find a great deal of thematic harmony between 1 Enoch and 2 Peter/Jude. 1 Enoch calls for the righteous to persevere in their walk with the Lord and not to give heed to ungodly men who walk in lawlessness and deny the Lord. The ungodly will be punished in the day of judgment, while the righteous will be rewarded. This is very similar to the message of 2 Peter and Jude, and this similarity is the most likely reason why 2 Peter and Jude contain so many allusions to 1 Enoch.

The overall purpose of this series has not been to put 1 Enoch on a pedestal. The consensus of the early church was that it is a non-canonical book, and this decision is binding upon all who, like myself, view the church fathers' deliberations on the canon as divinely mandated and authoritative.

The purpose has simply been to refute the novel but unsound interpretations of Steven Cox, according to whom 2 Peter and Jude have been totally misunderstood by nearly all their readers for the past 19 centuries. For all that has been written, our conclusion is very simple: 2 Peter and Jude teach exactly what they appear to teach. There is no hidden, ironic message behind their plain words.


Unknown said...

Very interesting post! Thoroughly enjoyed it:)

Tom said...

Thank you for your comment - sorry I didn't respond earlier. I'm glad that you found the material helpful.