The “Church Fathers” and the Book of Enoch

The following is a compilation of attestations to the authenticity and acceptance of the Book of Enoch as Scripture by the fathers of the early church. This list is, by no means, an exhaustive list of quotations from the church fathers, but is rather just skimming of the surface. At any rate, the case is clear, that even beyond Jude’s open reference to it, the Book of Enoch had some degree of acceptance in early Christianity.

 

Tertullian and the Book of Enoch

Tertullian, an early church father and founder of Latin Christianity, wrote a few positive things concerning the Book of Enoch. Tertulian writes as follows in his 2nd century work, On the Apparel of Women I 3:1-3.

“I am aware that the Scripture of Enoch, which has assigned this order of action to angels, is not received by some, because it is not admitted into the Jewish canon either. I suppose they did not think that, having been published before the deluge, it could have safely survived that world-wide calamity, the abolisher of all things. If that is the reason for rejecting it, let them recall to their memory that Noah, the survivor of the deluge, was the great-grandson of Enoch himself; and he, of course, had heard and remembered, from domestic renown and hereditary tradition, concerning his own great-grandfather’s ‘grace in the sight of God,’ (Genesis 6:8) and concerning all his preachings; since Enoch had given no other charge to Methuselah than that he should hand on the knowledge of them to his posterity. Noah therefore, no doubt, might have succeeded in the trusteeship of his preaching; or, had the case been otherwise, he would not have been silent alike concerning the disposition of things made by God, his Preserver, and concerning the particular glory of his own house.

“If Noah had not had this conservative power by so short a route, there would still be this consideration to warrant our assertion of the genuineness of this Scripture: he could equally have renewed it, under the Spirit’s inspiration, after it had been destroyed by the violence of the deluge, as, after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian storming of it, every document of the Jewish literature is generally agreed to have been restored through Ezra.

“But since Enoch in the same Scripture has preached likewise concerning the Lord, nothing at all must be rejected by us which pertains to us; and we read that ‘every Scripture suitable for edification is divinely inspired.’ (2 Timothy 3:16) By the Jews it may now seem to have been rejected for that very reason, just like all the other portions nearly which tell of Christ. Nor, of course, is this fact wonderful, that they did not receive some Scriptures which spake of Him whom even in person, speaking in their presence, they were not to receive. To these considerations is added the fact that Enoch possesses a testimony in the Apostle Jude.” (Jude 1:14-15)

 

Origen and the Book of Enoch

Origen appeals to the Book of Enoch as having the same canonical authority as he does the Book of Psalms. He writes as follows in De Principiis IV.

“But some one will perhaps inquire whether we can obtain out of Scripture any grounds for such an understanding of the subject. Now I think some such view is indicated in the Psalms, when the prophet says, ‘My eyes have seen your imperfection;’ (Psalm 139:16) by which the mind of the prophet, examining with keener glance the first principles of things, and separating in thought and imagination only between matter and its qualities, perceived the imperfection of God, which certainly is understood to be perfected by the addition of qualities. Enoch also, in his book, speaks as follows: ‘I have walked on even to imperfection;’ which expression I consider may be understood in a similar manner, viz., that the mind of the prophet proceeded in its scrutiny and investigation of all visible things, until it arrived at that first beginning in which it beheld imperfect matter existing without ‘qualities.’ For it is written in the same book of Enoch, ‘I beheld the whole of matter;’ which is so understood as if he had said: ‘I have clearly seen all the divisions of matter which are broken up from one into each individual species either of men, or animals, or of the sky, or of the sun, or of all other things in this world.’”

These quotations which he attributes to Enoch are not found in the Ethiopic text of the Book of Enoch, upon which our modern translations are based. There are, however, two sufficient reasons to believe that Origen is still quoting from the Book of Enoch. First, notice how Origen mishandled Psalm 139:16, “My eyes have seen your imperfection,” as if to indicate that God had imperfections which could be seen. Psalm 139:16 is more accurately translated, “Mine unformed substance Thine eyes saw.” (YLT) So it is very possible that Origen was simply incorrectly quoting passages that do exist in the Ethiopic text. Second, it is known from the discovery of Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts of Enoch found in the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran that there are large portions of text that are not present in the Ethiopic manuscripts. (See 4Q209 and 4Q211) So it is also possible that he was quoting from portions of Enoch that may have not been translated into the Ethiopic text, and hence have not survived to today.

 

Irenaeus and the Book of Enoch

Irenaeus, in his work The Proof of the Apostolic Preaching 18, records a condensed retelling of Enoch 6-8. He does this without directly citing the Book of Enoch, yet the citation here is unmistakable.

“And for a very long while wickedness extended and spread, and reached and laid hold upon the whole race of mankind, until a very small seed of righteousness remained among them: and illicit unions took place upon the earth, since angels were united with the daughters of the race of mankind; and they bore to them sons who for their exceeding greatness were called giants. And the angels brought as presents to their wives teachings of wickedness, in that they brought them the virtues of roots and herbs, dyeing in colours and cosmetics, the discovery of rare substances, love-potions, aversions, amours, concupiscence, constraints of love, spells of bewitchment, and all sorcery and idolatry hateful to God; by the entry of which things into the world evil extended and spread, while righteousness was diminished and enfeebled.”

 

The Epistle of Pseudo-Barnabas and the Book of Enoch

The Epistle of Pseudo-Barnabas is frequently ranked among the Apostolic Fathers, i.e. the founding documents of gentile Christianity. This letter contains several blatant quotations from the Book of Enoch, citing it as “Scripture” in Barnabas 16:5-6.

“Again, it was made manifest that the city and the temple and the people of Israel were to be delivered up. For the Scripture says, ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days that the Lord shall deliver the sheep of His pasture, and the sheep-fold, and their tower to destruction.’ (Condensed from Enoch 89:54-56) And it took place according to what the Lord said. But let us inquire if a temple of God exists. Yes, it exists, where He Himself said that He makes and perfects it. For it is written, ‘And it shall come to pass when the week is ended that a temple of God shall be built gloriously in the name of the Lord.’ ” (Similar to Enoch 93:6-7)

Given that the writing style of Pseudo-Barnabas does not always give exact quotes from the Scripures, but frequently handles them in a very midrashic style, it is probable that the author is giving a condensed paraphrase of the passages in question from the same version of Enoch we have in our possession today.

 

Athenagoras and the Book of Enoch

Athenagoras of Athens, in his work 2nd century work Legatio, claims to regard Enoch as a true prophet, and this same work relies heavily upon the angelic cosmology presented in the Book of Enoch.

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6 Comments

    • Jesse ben Yosef

      Here’s my honest opinion, Daniel.

      By the time at which the Tanakh (Jewish Old Testament) was canonized, there were certain points of doctrine which had become, in Judaism, taboo. One such idea was the notion of a divine Messiah- an idea which is mentioned frequently throughout the Book of Enoch.

      When it came time for Christianity to canonize their list of sacred texts, a similar problem had crept up. The Book of Enoch pretty clearly prophesied the coming of a great apostasy in the generations immediately following Yeshua’s death and resurrection, which essentially casts doubt on the validity of much of the early church.

      In other words, both groups which rejected Enoch had a vested interest in doing so.

      Just my opinion on the matter.

  1. J

    I’ve also read a comment some where that said the reason why God didn’t want the Book of Enoch to spread world wide in the beginning of Christianity and why it was saved for the end times was that He didn’t want the names of fallen angels to be focused on while the gospel was being spread. Who knows though.

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