1 Enoch is, to modern western minds, a very odd, ancient, Jewish apocalyptic text. Here is my question of the day:
What role should/could 1 Enoch play in contemporary Christian reflection and devotion?
Let's be clear, unless you are Coptic Christian the book never has been, and never will be, part of Christian Scripture. So it has no canonical status in the way that another ancient Jewish apocalypse such as Daniel does (Give it up for Daniel!).
And yet it is clearly referred to by 1 and 2 Peter and Jude (and perhaps Paul ... and possibly Matthew) and Jude even quotes from it. They seem to treat the text as genuinely inspired by God in some way (Jude introduced his quotation with the words, "Enoch prophesied"). We know that in the 2nd C it was a very popular book within the Churches (read, for instance, what it says about the Son of Man in 1 Enoch 48-49 and you may have some idea why it appealed) and Tertullian even argued from Jude's citation of it that it should be considered as Scripture. The Church decided otherwise and yet the book continued to inform and inspire until it fell out of use and into obscurity.
What about us? Well, obviously NT scholars need to read it to set some backgroud to certain NT texts but I had something more fun in mind.
First - might it play a role in our devotional lives? I have tried praying through some of the texts and I found it very helpful. The theological vision, whilst fanciful in places, is also rather inspiring. I do not judge it a theologically and spiritually corrupting text (so long as one does not feel too tightly bound to it).
Second - might it play a role in our own theological reflections? Why not? Of course, it has no authoritative status. We don't have to believe that it really is what Enoch saw in his heavenly trip (it most certainly was not written by Enoch!), nor its story of the fall of the watchers, nor its understanding of the demonic (demons are the ghosts of the human-divine hybrids called Nephilim from Gen 6), nor its theology of astral bodies, nor its rather graphic accounts of the everlasting torment of the damned. (Indeed, I am not even convinced that we even need to literally believe the parts that NT texts affirm - e.g., the imprisonment of the watchers until the Day of Judgement. I'd be interested to know what people think about that.)
However, its vision of God's glory is WOW and AMEN! Its hope for the vindication of those who stick with God (the Lord of the Spirits) through thick and thin is inspiring; its opposition to the corrupt and powerful rulers is what oppressed people today need to hear! God will call the oppressors to account and the mighty will fall. It's call to counter-cultural living is contemporary; the theology of the amazing Son of Man (whose origins are from before creation, who lives forever, and through whom the righteous are saved) is, when read with Christian goggles, heart-warming. I confess that I have a soft spot for 1 Enoch.
In the big scheme of things 1 Enoch only has a small role to play in constructive Christian theology but I'm sticking up for the little guy. He may only be the triangle in the orchestra but he has his role to play and for now I'm pricking up my ears to hear him strike his note! Ting!
- Robin Parry
- Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).