THE NEPHILIM: IS JUDE’S QUOTATION OF 1 ENOCH PIVOTAL TO THE CHRISTIAN VIEW OF GIANTS IN GENESIS 6:4?

Prophecy students have obviously gone bonkers over the giants of Genesis 6:4. So many books have been written on the subject. Some prophecy teachers focus on this topic, almost to the exclusive of other issues. But were these enigmatic figures really giants?  Or were they something else? Were they hybrids of angels and humans? Or should we understand them to be humans of “stature,” but not so much in height as in their elite status?

Today, the noun nephilim has become a prominent part of the prophetic vocabulary. While the notion has, in my view, received more than an appropriate amount of attention, the matter of its veracity and its understanding in the history of the Christian faith has not been established in a historical theological sense, via-a-vis, the canon and the place of apocryphal writings. Today we understand apocryphal to mean “of questionable authenticity.” However, historically, its understanding more likely meant “hidden” or “undisclosed.” The gist of it was “something that has not been widely understood or made known to the masses.” Obviously, today’s definition condemns apocryphal materials. The historical definition opens the door to considering books in the Apocrypha and pseudepigrapha.

In question is 1 Enoch. Indeed, 1 Enoch and the Epistle of Jude come front and center concerning this whole matter. In this article, I hope to establish a more theologically-sound context for the book of Enoch and its being cited in the canonical book of Jude. With this done, the notion of the nature of the nephilim and the sons of God will be established with greater certainty.

The Nephilim and the Sons of God

The ESV reads, “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.” As I hinted above, giants are just as big today as they were back then – and that’s not just a pun.  Book after book has been written on the topic. Five years ago, when working alongside Bob Ulrich at Prophecy in the News, we discussed the intense interest in all things nephilim. In anything, the fascination with this topic is greater today. Despite this widespread interest, the subject remains controversial.

In context, we should say that the controversy today regarding whether or not the watchers gave birth to the giants after coming into the daughters of men, is not new to the 21st century. For almost 400 years the view of Jewish and Christian scholars asserted that Genesis 6:4’s statement about the fallen ones who were offspring to he sons of God, did in fact refer to giants. This view was the dominant understanding from 160 B.C. to about 240 A.D.  Afterward, the view came into criticism not just in the Talmud, but among important Church Fathers as well, such as Augustine, Origen, and Jerome (among others). But why did the earliest authorities in the history of the Church believe in the giants but authorities two to three centuries later did not?  And what did the canonicity of 1 Enoch have to do with this rejection?

We begin with the words of Jude. Indeed, the reading in Jude 7,8 is at the center of this piece. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” Jude appears certain to be referencing 1 Enoch and its discussion of the sons of God, known as The Watchers (1 Enoch 6-16). 1 Enoch is known as apocalyptic literature, but even more importantly, apocryphal and even pseudepigraphal writing. Furthermore, it is regarded as apocalyptic – that is, pertaining to the end of the world.

Adding to the support for the “supernatural view” – at least for Christians – was Jude’s citation of 1 Enoch and his reliance upon this Enochian material to substantiate his viewpoint. In Jude 14 and 15, Jude (held by some to be a brother of the LORD), refers to Enoch as a prophet, the seventh from Adam (numerologically important to his argument) who predicted the LORD would come with ten thousands of  His saints.

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.

While this was his only direct quote of 1 Enoch, the language in Jude 12-13 also points to 1 Enoch 2:1-5:4 and 1 Enoch 80:2-8 (“waterless clouds, fruitless trees, wild waves, wandering stars”). It is no small point to express that without Jude’s “endorsement” of 1 Enoch, that Christians would have put less emphasis on this view of giants and angels mating with human women, if not giving it up altogether. When Jude became part of the canon for Christians, this increased the credibility of 1 Enoch, but it also raised the question of what it meant for a book int he canon to recognize a book not in the canon, especially when the canonical book (in this case, Jude) referred to a non-canonical book as scripture.

While 1 Enoch never assimilated into the Jewish or the Christian canon, some Church Fathers argued on its behalf vociferously that it should be. Clement of Rome and Irenaeus interpreted Genesis 6 in this manner as did the writer of the Epistle of Barnabas. Barnabas even equates 1 Enoch with the prefixes, “It is written” (Barnabas 4:3, 16:6) and “as scripture says (Barnabas 16:5). However, Tertullian (150-240) was the strongest advocate toward the end of the second century A.D. and into the third. Nonetheless, Jude, unlike Tertullian, was a letter that became canonized and thus considered “divine” according to the Church Fathers. If Enoch was a prophet as Jude indicated, and if Enoch spoke on the topic of the Parousia and the Nephilim, didn’t this vouchsafe the truth of the giants of Genesis 6?

When Did the Giants of Genesis Become a Big Deal?

This doctrine of the Watchers’ sin and the birth of giants to the daughters of men, was the view of Second Temple Jewish scholars as documented by Dr. Michael Heiser in his enthralling book Reversing Hermon.  Likewise, scholar Jeremy Hultin notes that Enoch was a “fan favorite” at Qumran among the Essenes as Enoch and other material citing Enoch, was found there in abundance. Says Hultin:

There is widespread scholarly agreement that Enochic writings were held in very high regard by many segments of ancient Judaism and Christianity. The authoritative character of Enochic writings in pre-Rabbinic Judaism can be seen in their literary influence, for instance on Jubilees and on the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs.Copies of Enoch have been found in multiple caves at Qumran, and other texts from Qumran make use of Enochic literature or themes.In short, the Qumran library exhibits a “proliferation of Enochic and quasi-Enochic material.” [1]

But the issue here is more than whether the words of Genesis 6 should be understood as referencing giants and angels. We know that the phrases  “men of renown” as giants and “the sons of God” as angels constituted the viewpoint of the early church. And we certainly see how this perspective has revived to a great extent in the past decade. Personally, I don’t challenge this point of view. I believe that the Nephilim were giants and they were hybrid offspring of angels and humans, as outlandish as that seems to the uninitiated. However, what interests me here is the issue of why 1 Enoch and other material cited by the Apostles was rejected from the canon.  In essence, my supposition is that the canon deserves to be esteemed and held to be the basis for doctrine. But other material such as 1 Enoch, should not be easily dismissed since it isn’t included in the canon. Those who reject the words of 1 Enoch have to deal with the fact that Jude called Enoch a prophet and the words of 1 Enoch as scripture, as did Barnabas. At fault, which is vital to the argument for why 1 Enoch should be highly regarded, is what being “canonized” means.

For most Evangelicals, the canon represents a firm list of books that are accepted historically – it consists of “these books and no others!” While I cannot in the scope of this article take the traditional understanding of the canon to task, I will suggest that the canon is really “a rule of faith and practice” – a measure or a ruler to guide what we believe and how to discern truth from falsehood.  This shouldn’t imply that everything in the canon must be followed to the letter. Nor should it mean that anything outside of the canon has no value to our spiritual life. Canon should more likely refer to the doctrine within the books we trust, rather than the books themselves. Furthermore, Protestant Christians have an incredibly parochial view of the canon. Like other things Anglo-Saxon, we regard our view as the only right view.  I find this quotation particularly powerful in respect to recognizing that the Evangelical view of the canon is too rigid:

The Protestant Bible is the shortest and newest of Christian bibles and used by the fewest number of Christians around the world, yet its adherents particularly in the American context – are the loudest. Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Episcopal bibles like the original 1611 King James Version of the bible, Martin Luther’s revolutionary translation and the earliest manuscript with both testaments, Codex Sinaticus [sic], have 72 to 80 books or more and are read by the vast majority of Christians on the planet, more than a billion and a half people. There is perhaps the most diversity among the Orthodox with Ethiopian Orthodox including Jubilees and the Books of Enoch and some Slav churches including all four Esdrases. [2]

If we take the meaning of canon, to be writings that properly inform faith and practice, it would seem obvious, that the Jewish canon and the Christian canon should be quite distinct. Instead, Protestants have come to dismiss any book not in the Jewish canon.  This is odd also because rabbinic Judaism places more emphasis on the Mishnah and Talmud than it does the Hebrew scriptures – even if they deny this to be so.  Their faith and practice is talmudic – not biblical.

The Move Away From Giants and Angelic Sons of God

Tertullian pointed out two reasons why 1 Enoch was rejected. First, it failed to be accepted because it wasn’t included in the Jewish canon.  The Jewish scholars, beginning with the school at Jamnia late in the first century A.D., contended that what we call intertestamental literature was not sacred because it was apocalyptic (which was an aspersion in their mode of thinking); and because they felt that prophecy had ceased with Malachi circa 440 B.C. Tertullian is not too fond of the idea that the Jews should be setting the rules for Christians. Citing the fine article by Hultin once again, we read about Tertullian’s viewpoint regarding whether Christian’s should only include those books that the Jews approved of:

As for the fact that Enoch was not a part of the Jewish canon, Tertullian claims that the Jews probably rejected Enoch-just as they had other scriptures-because Enoch spoke of Christ. Tertullian finds it plainly absurd that Christians should follow the Jewish decision about what prophetic books to read, for if Enoch spoke of Christ, then his writing pertain “to us,” and all writings suitable for edification are divinely inspired (Cult. fem. 3.3; cf. 2 Tim 3:16). Last of all Tertullian notes that “Enoch possesses a testimony in the Apostle Jude.” [3]

Hultin provides a solid review of what Origen thought on the subject of 1 Enoch. (This article is much indebted to his work.) Concerning Origen, Hultin points out that we see a trajectory of his thought moving from a strong view of 1 Enoch, to its near rejection. Hultin draws out the five references Origen included in his writings. In De Principiis, Origen ascribes prophetic status to Enoch.  But in his commentary on John, he questions whether Enoch can be taken to be a reliable source (Comm. Jo. 6:217). And, as Origen continued to move away from Greek sources to Jewish (especially after moving to Caesaraea from Alexandria), he admitted that since the Jews don’t include it in their scripture, perhaps Christians should hesitate to include it as well. In his argument against Celsus, he is more explicit that Enoch is not held to be divine among the Churches (Cels. 5:54). Origen is clearly a transitional figure in the early Church. Not only does he desert Enoch as scripture, he moves away from the Septuagint of Alexandria and creates an amalgam with his Hexapla. Additionally, Origen is the gateway thinker moving the Church from a Christology shared by the earliest Church sources which argued that Christ (God the Son) was fully equal to God the Father, to a position providing the basic material that helped establish the Arian position known as Subordinationism (In this view, God the Son is secondary in stature, and perhaps even in substance, to God the Father). One wonders where Origen may have wandered theologically if he had not been tortured and made a martyr, circa A.D. 253. Additionally, it should be noted that despite the Nicaean Creed and what came to be called Catholic Christianity that asserted the Trinity, Christianity in most of the world became Arian.  As late as the time of Charlemagne (the ninth century), Arianism was the intellectual enemy of his intellectual Holy Roman Empire at his headquarters in Aachen (Germany).

The Church Fathers Who Rejected 1 Enoch and the Genesis Giants

Turning to those who rejected 1 Enoch, we learn than the champion of the Trinity at Nicaea, Athanasius, rejected this book because its namesake who lived long before Moses, couldn’t have provided Scripture, because he held that Moses was the first bonafide writer of the Bible. And Augustine had his doubts about 1 Enoch, because the book would have been so ancient, that it was impossible to believe it would not have been subjected to many alterations. (Civ. 18:38) The rabbis also had this doubt due to Enoch’s antiquity and so it seemed it was legitimate for Christians to share those doubts. As I’ve written earlier, when it comes to Jerome (the author of the Latin Vulgate), he was not impressed with any apocryphal book (ironic, since Protestants reject the Apocrypha much the same as Jerome did, who – despite his personal preference – was the author of the Catholic Bible which includes it). While all of these Church Fathers were clear on the fact that Jude had testified to the veracity of 1 Enoch and cited it both directly and indirectly, they felt forced to distance themselves from what 1 Enoch taught. Apocryphal books came to be regarded clearly as heretical and therefore, should be avoided.  No doubt there was pressure to circle the wagons.  Restricting the canon and hardening its meaning to “accepted” books thought to be divine, became an important tactic to protect orthodoxy. This is a key factor in rejecting 1 Enoch and other books as well.

Very much in contrast, there were other Church Fathers who argued in favor of apocryphal writings precisely because Jude had cited 1 Enoch as scripture without any hesitation. Priscillian, bishop of Avila who was martyred in 386, argued in favor of reading apocryphal material. Hultin notes that Priscillian mounted a vigorous defense on the Apocrypha’s behalf because books such as Jude cited a book like 1 Enoch.  Indeed, the Apostles, he asserts, read outside of the canon (e.g., Paul cites Greek poets in Acts 17:28; 1 Corinthians 15:33; Titus 1:12).  Additionally, Priscillian contends, “If it is … believed among the apostles, that he [Enoch] is a prophet,” then why is it not an outrage and falsehood when a prophet who preaches God is condemned?” (Lib.fid. 45.9-13). Hultin points out that in the seventh century, the same argument is employed by Jacob of Edessa. He argued that Athanasius wrongly influenced the Church against writings like 1 Enoch despite the fact that he was quoted in the Bible (by Jude). Hultin makes a strong point (which offers confirmation of my own argument) that we should not let Jewish decisions on canon color our own.  As I have written during the past six months in my latest two books, Justin Martyr and Tertullian accused the Jews “of adulterating scripture to obscure Christological prophecies.” [4]  That is, the rabbis corrupted the Old Testament in an attempt to hide the fact that Jesus fulfilled messianic prophecy. Recently, I have come across a writer who provides an immensely readable treatise on the canon, who asserts strongly that the Septuagint represents the authentic Hebrew while the Masoretic Text is something of a hodgepodge driven by pharisaic (rabbinic) belief.  Kristofer Carlson states:

What flourished in the Second Temple Period was not a single, fixed, “normative” Judaism, but a developing, evolving religion… No straight evolutionary line of the Jewish faith emerges. Consequently, it is preferable to speak of multiple Judaisms rather than a monolithic ideology that views one brand of Judaism as orthodox and the rest as “sects.” All Judaisms, consequently, competed for an audience and for the authority that accompanies broad-based acceptance. [5]

So, why did this view (that the Nephilim were giants and the sons of God were angels) fall out of favor?  In part, it was because the canon became a tripwire to warn of heresy. But it was likely more than this. Essentially, it was because the Church Fathers decided it was a myth. Perhaps they feared derision among intellectuals or the Jews. But there came a point when they no longer felt obligated to agree with Jude about the appropriateness of 1 Enoch to clinch an argument on giants and angels commingling their DNA with human DNA.  The first to make this statement was Julius Africanus who argued that the sons of God were sons of Seth. And this trend increased when the interpretation of Scripture shifted to an allegorical approach as was favored in Alexandria (another Origenic influence).  Hultin states that Didymus (who ran the school of Alexandria where Origen “held court”) and Alexander of Lycopolis proposed that Genesis 6:1-4 was an allegory. Subsequently, with John Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, Theodoret, Philaster, and Cyril of Alexandria, the “sons of God” were regarded as nothing more than “righteous humans.”  This was similar to the view held in the Jewish Talmud in the centuries that followed. The sons of God were sages – the elite. The generation of strong men were, perhaps, examples of nothing more than “hybrid vigor” (without inferring that the nephilim were literally hybrids!) I recall a discussion with my rabbi friend Daniel Lapin. He pointed out that the meaning of the offspring mentioned in Genesis 6 refers to an intermarriage of the elite “sons of God” with the commoners. This is a thoroughly Talmudic and rabbinic view.

Returning to the issue of canon: Once it canon was settled. Jude’s favored position of the prophet Enoch and his scripture was throttled back to the point of virtually ignoring any uncomfortable implications. Indeed, whereas another non-canonical book, Barnabas, offered strong support to 1 Enoch as scripture, those who defended 1 Enoch ceased citing Barnabas – since it too wasn’t canon. Not being a part of the canon, it had no authority to sway opinion. Additionally, Hultin mentions another scholar, Bauckham, who argued that Jude might not have considered the canon closed just like Ezra who apparently included apocryphal books in the Bible when he assembled it circa 450 B.C. (and why some such books wound up in the Septuagint). Indeed, when Jude wrote his epistle, the Septuagint was the only Jewish Bible available outside of Judea. Soon, the LXX became the Christian Bible. Thus, Bauckham’s view can be judged a safe one in my estimation because the dominant Jewish Bible was the Greek Septuagint.  This was so until early in the second century A.D. And in this Bible, the Apocrypha was mixed right in with what came to be Protestant canonized scripture. This inclusion of the Apocrypha (despite the concerns of Jerome who reluctantly brought it forward to the fifth century with his Vulgate), would remain in the Christian Scriptures for another 1,500 years – another millennium and a half – until Protestants finally decided they wanted a cheaper and lighter Bible. Thus, today’s canon is a makeover. For almost 2,200 years, the Bible of Jews before the destruction of the Temple, and the Bible of Christians from its founding going forward, was the Septuagint’s canon. The Protestant canon is less than 200 years old if one considers most Bibles printed up to the Twentieth century. Why did it change? Manufacturers responded to a “market requirement” beginning at the start of the eighteenth century and complete by 1885. It didn’t hurt the case for a cheaper and more convenient Bible since a Protestant Bible could be distinctive from the Catholic’s version – which was good because the Protestants saw the Catholics as hated heretics! That is cost less and weighed less was also handy.

Conclusion – Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater

In conclusion, many today now argue that the Nephilim were giants and the sons of God were angels. I agree. But, perhaps apologetically, we who hold to this position are too quick to point out that 1 Enoch is not canonical. Still, we cautiously mention that since Jude quotes 1 Enoch, it can’t be all bad.  So, we cautiously have adopted 1 Enoch as an important book to read and appreciate.

What is missed in our dismissal is the fact that the purpose of “canonization” was not quite as “fascist” as we think of it today. The canon is important, but a disdain for apocryphal writings is in fact inconsistent with the New Testament, its authors, and the scholars of the early Church.  For 250 years after the faith was founded, 1 Enoch was cited without hesitation as scripture. This doesn’t mean we should disregard the value of canon.  But it clearly suggests that our “hard and fast” rule of what should be included in our Bibles – especially the rejection of the Apocrypha and certain pseudepigraphal books – ought to be understood in a broader context offered here.  There are numerous books that can and do contribute to the teachings of our faith that exist outside the canon. Yes. Caution is in order – but condemnation is not.  That’s the takeaway from the lesson of Jude and 1 Enoch. And that insight itself is a giant leap forward in rendering proper biblical interpretation. We might even say it is a Nephilim-sized step in the right direction. I hope you agree.

[The article by Jermey Hultin was the basis for this analysis. It is brief but chockfull of excellent references to scholarly articles on 1 Enoch and its implications in understanding how we should understand the canon.]

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NOTES

[1] Hultin cites Nichelsburg, 1 Enoch, p. 76-77. Charlesworth, J. and McDonald, L. eds. “Jude’s Citation of 1 Enoch.” Jewish and Christian Scriptures. The Function of “Canonical” and “Non-Canonical” Religious Texts. New York: T&T Clark.

[2] Carlson, Kristofer. Hidden in Plain Sight: Protestants and the Apocrypha (Kindle Locations 271-275). Dormition Press. Kindle Edition.

[3] Hultin, op. cit.

[4] Hutlin, Jeremy. Jude’s Citation of 1 Enoch. p. 119.

[5] Carlson, Kristofer. Op. cit., Kindle Locations 402-405.