Should I Study the Book of Enoch?

I frequently get asked whether or not believers should study the Book of Enoch. This book has recently become popular in some circles with some people even making claims that it was removed from the Biblical canon and thus should be added back. So, the following is my short answer and my long answer to the question.

The short answer is no, you do not need to study the Book of Enoch and for most people I would caution against studying it. Why? The biggest reason is a that studying this book bears no fruit. I have never met someone who was encouraged to help the poor, be kinder to a neighbor, or perform any other act of justice and righteousness on account of reading this book. Not even a claim to love God more through the writings known as Enoch. Rather, the fruit I’ve witnessed in others is an increased focus on areas that are not profitable such as demonology, conspiracy theories, and strange calendars. This book has caused more division than inclusion and love and hope and faith and repentance and renewal. Perhaps this is why this book was never considered to be part of the canon of Scripture – it lacked the characteristics of God-inspired literature. This book also promotes anti-Biblical theologies, such as the idea that humans are not the perpetrators of the great evil in the world, but it is all caused by demonic half-human giants. This runs contrary to the theology of Leviticus which lays the blame for defilement on human sin and the responsibility on us to make amends, not to blame others like Adam and Eve did in the Garden (cf. Gen 3).

The long answer is that I would only recommend people to read it who have been versed in Second Temple period Jewish apocalyptic literature and even then, only for the pursuit of understanding some of the ideas that floated around in Judaism of that time, not for creating doctrines. The Book of Enoch is what is known as pseudepigrapha; literally “false name.” It’s various authors (yes, it was written by more than one person) wrote under the pen name Enoch but were not actually the ancient character from Genesis. Writing under a false name of a Biblical character was wildly popular in literature during the Second Temple period. We have a myriad of examples of this type of literature from the period of around 300 BC to 300 AD. such as the Assumption of Moses, the Book of Jubilees, the Ascension of Isaiah, the Life of Adam and Eve, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and many others. Sometimes these books are confused with apocryphal books which were part of certain canons of Scripture, but pseudepigraphal books have never been considered to be canon outside of a few small sects. Enoch, for example was only canonized in Ethiopia and so our only full version is written in Ge’ez, the language of ancient Ethiopia.

How do we know that these books were not actually written by who they claim to be written by? This is why it is important to read peer-reviewed scholarship. People with PhD’s who study languages can show very clearly the time period of origin based on the choice of words, grammar, syntax, and doctrinal content. The writings known as Enoch clearly show a compositional date from around 300BC to around 100AD. Enoch has five distinct sections, composed at different dates and by different authors: the Book of the Watchers (ch 1-36), the Book of Parables (37-71), the Book of Luminaries (72-82), the Book of Dream Visions (83-90) and the Epistle of Enoch (91-108). It is beyond the scope of this article to go into the content of each section. If you would like a good overview along with discussion about its historical setting, I would recommend the book Jewish Literature between the Bible and Mishnah by George Nickelsburg. It is the book my professor used for my Second Temple Judaism class. One important thing that Nickelsburg points out is the nature of this as apocalyptic literature. Apocalyptic literature “unveils” the evil behind worldly empires by means of heavenly visions. For example, Daniel sees many strange things in his visions – horns, goats, etc. – in the heavens, but those all are representative of human kings and can be traced to historical events between the fall of Babylon and the reign of terror of Antiochus IV. In the Book of Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36), the stories of demons are not an attempt by the author to unveil heavenly secrets from the flood time period, they are an apocalyptic unveiling of the Diadochian wars – the wars that happened after Alexander the Great died. (see Nickelsburg, pg 49).

But wait! Didn’t the Book of Jude quote the Book of Enoch, thus proving that the Book of Enoch must be inspired too? First, Jude does not mention a book or scroll of Enoch (cf. Jude 1:14-15), but writes:

It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” (ESV)

If this is from Enoch, it comes from two different sections:

But the male is named Behemoth, who occupied with his breast a waste wilderness named Dûidâin, on the east of the garden where the elect and righteous dwell, where my grandfather was taken up, the seventh from Adam, the first man whom the Lord of Spirits created. (1 Enoch 60:8)

And behold! He cometh with ten thousands of His holy ones to execute judgement upon all, and to destroy all the ungodly: and to convict all flesh of all the works of their ungodliness which they have ungodly committed, And of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him. [1] (1 Enoch 1:9)

While these two passages look very similar, notice the difference in theology emphasized with underlines above. Jude states God will convict the ungodly while Enoch proclaims their destruction; a subtle yet vital difference. This passage in 1 Enoch is not actually something unique to the book itself either; it is a midrash on Deuteronomy 33:2-3 where YHWH is said to come with “the ten thousand holy ones.” It is likely that this midrash was not limited to the Book of Enoch but was something discussed by various traditions at the time.

Regardless of the origin of this statement, its presence in the Bible does not serve as a koshering stamp on the entire book. There are many extra-biblical works quoted or used in the canon of Scripture that we would not consider to be canonical. Paul himself quoted Greek philosophers multiple times in his letters! You can easily find examples of these with a quick internet search, but I’ll provide one here. In 1 Cor 15:33, Paul writes, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’” This comes from a Greek play by Menander in 4th-3rd century BC.[2] Clearly Paul was not trying to proclaim that we should all become familiar with this Greek play.

In summary, I would remind you again that it is important that we consider the fruit of the books we engage in reading. Does the reading of Enoch lead to a more righteous life or does it lead to contention, division, and seeking those things which are not of God? 1 Enoch is clearly the product of Second Temple Judaism and is written in a genre that most of us are unfamiliar with, which leads to misunderstanding and misuse of what is written in the book. Simply because the Book of Jude shows awareness of the book and potentially quotes from it, with an important change, does not mean that we should jump in to accept this book as part of the inspired canon of Scripture.

Footnotes:

[1] R. H. Charles and W. O. E. Oesterley, The Book of Enoch (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1917), Enoch 1:9.

[2] Ellingworth, Paul, Howard Hatton, and Paul Ellingworth. A Handbook on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. UBS Handbook Series. New York: United Bible Societies, 1995.

This was written by Tabernacle of David teacher Ryan White, and was originally posted at RyanWhiteOnline.com