The Book of Enoch as the Background to 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude

Elijah and Enoch - seventeenth-century icon, Historic Museum in Sanok, Poland (cropped)

Although the quotation of 1 Enoch in Jude 14–15 is often noted, the complex dependencies between 1 Enoch, Jude, and the Petrine epistles, as well as the general importance of the theology of 1 Enoch in the New Testament, often go under-appreciated. Taking a closer look at these books provides some insight into how early Christian authors adapted each others’ work and drew upon texts that were ultimately omitted from the Bible. The relationship between these books might also pose a problem for some conservative theologians and clergy who believe the Catholic epistles to be inerrant, but not earlier works like 1 Enoch.

Note: Minor revisions have been made to this article based on some helpful feedback I’ve received.

A Very Brief Primer on 1 Enoch

The First Book of Enoch is a lengthy, five-part Jewish work composed in stages, beginning perhaps around 200 BCE, and which circulated widely in Jewish and Christian circles for several centuries. Purportedly written by the antediluvian patriarch Enoch, it provides an alternate version of the events leading up to Noah’s flood, along with various other cosmological and eschatological teachings. The first portion of 1 Enoch, the Book of Watchers, tells how certain angels called Watchers came to earth, engaged in depraved sexual acts with human women, and introduced sin into the world — teaching men the art of war and women the use of cosmetics, for example. For these acts, God had the angels chained in a subterranean prison and used Enoch as a go-between for communicating with them.

The Watchers as portrayed in Darren Aronofsky's Noah

The Watchers as portrayed in Darren Aronofsky’s film Noah (2014)

Although the ideas of 1 Enoch have pervaded Christian thought and tradition for two millennia, the book itself was considered to be “lost” until the 18th century, when European travellers to Africa discovered that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church had preserved a Ge’ez version in its biblical canon. Since then, fragments of the work in its original Aramaic have been discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Portions of the text in Greek and Latin have also survived.

Jude, 1 Peter, and 2 Peter

Jude and 2 Peter are pseudepigraphic works written to address similar situations regarding teachers of false doctrine that their respective authors were concerned about. Much of the content in Jude is closely based upon 1 Enoch, including a direct quotation at one point. 1 Peter, another pseudepigraphic letter addressed to various Greek churches, also draws upon numerous Enochic themes. 2 Peter, in turn, copies or paraphrases nearly everything in Jude and a small portion of 1 Peter, as well as incorporating Enochic material directly.

Comparing the Texts

Let’s look at some of the more significant parallels between these texts. Jude starts off with a greeting (paralleled by 2 Peter 3:1–2) followed by an introduction about false teachers that is also adapted by 2 Peter.

Jude 4
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.
2 Peter 2:1b–2
…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 them the way of truth will be maligned.

In addition to paraphrasing Jude’s general warning about the intrusion of false teachers, 2 Peter reuses some of Jude’s distinctive keywords — “denying the Master” and engaging in “licentiousness”.

Then Jude proceeds with some historical examples of destructive teachings and their consequences. First, there is an allusion to Korah’s rebellion:

Jude 5
Now I desire to remind you, though you are fully informed, that the Lord, who once for all saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.
2 Peter 2:1a, 3b
But false prophets also arose among the people…Their condemnation, pronounced against them long ago, has not been idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

2 Peter’s allusion is worded more vaguely, but is unmistakeable when compared with Jude.

Then we come to Enoch’s fallen angels and their imprisonment as they await the day of judgment:

Jude 6
And the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great day. 
2 Peter 2:4a
For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into Tartaros and committed them to chains of deepest darkness to be kept until the judgment;

Jude 6 is a summary of the extra-biblical tradition found in 1 Enoch:

And they were two hundred who descended in the days of Jared on the summit of Mount Hermon. (1 Enoch 6:6)

Fetter him hand and foot and cast him into darkness… And on the day of the great judgment he will be led off to the blazing fire. (1 Enoch 10:4b, 6)

Bind them for seventy generations in valleys of the earth, until the great day of their judgment… (1 Enoch 11:12)

And I asked the angel of peace who went with me, “For whom are these chains being prepared?” And he said to me, “These are being prepared for the host of Azazel, that they might take them and throw them into the abyss of complete judgment, and with jagged rocks they will cover their jaws, as the Lord of Spirits commanded. (1 Enoch 54:4–5)

…an everlasting judgment and the time of the great judgment will be exacted from all the Watchers of heaven. (1 Enoch 91:15)

Stefan Lochner, The Last Judgment, c. 1435

Stefan Lochner, The Last Judgment, c. 1435

Unlike Genesis, 1 Enoch directly links the activities of the fallen angels (Watchers) to the flood of Noah, which was needed in order to eliminate the offspring of the Watchers. 2 Peter includes this association between the imprisoned angels and the Flood, which Jude omits. In this case, however, the passage is a parallel of one we find in 1 Peter.

1 Peter 3:19–20
… he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 
2 Peter 2:5
And if he did not spare the ancient world, even though he saved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood on a world of the ungodly; 

We’ll examine 1 Peter more closely further on. Back to Jude, who proceeds to compare the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah with the actions of the fallen angels (and 2 Peter follows suit).

Jude 7
Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which, in the same manner as [the angels], indulged in sexual immorality and went after other flesh, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
2 Peter 2:6
and if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction and made them an example of what is coming to the ungodly;

This too is an indirect allusion to 1 Enoch, since the canonical story in Genesis never associates Sodom and Gomorrah with the sexual immorality of fallen angels. Whereas the Old Testament tends to describe the sin of Sodom in terms of injustice and inhospitality, later apocryphal writings (notably Jubilees) emphasis sexual immorality. Jude adopts this latter approach, explicitly associating their wickedness with that of the fallen angels in 1 Enoch. Incidentally, that whole notion of eternal fire as a means of punishment for some of the wicked is also a frequent theme in 1 Enoch.

John Martin, The Destruction Of Sodom And Gomorrah, 1852

John Martin, The Destruction Of Sodom And Gomorrah, 1852

Then Jude lays against the false teachers the curious charge of “slandering the Glorious Ones” — distinctive language copied by 2 Peter, but found nowhere else in the New Testament, although similar phrases appear in 1 Enoch and other apocrypha. (The expression “glorious ones” also appears in 2 Enoch.)

Jude 8–9
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!”
2 Peter 2:10-11
…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.

Jude’s reference to Michael and the devil is apparently based on another apocryphal work known as the Assumption of Moses. 2 Peter, for a number of possible reasons, drops the reference to Michael and speaks more generally of angels who are “greater in might and power” than the Glorious Ones, yet do not slander them.

For the sake of space, I’ll skip Jude 10–12a. They are closely paralleled by 2 Peter 2:12–16, including references to Balaam that are derived from extra-biblical traditions. This is also of some interest, since numerous scholars have identified connections between the Balaam tradition and 1 Enoch.¹

Jude 12b–13 is another passage whose connections with 1 Enoch are usually overlooked.

Jude 12b–13
They [ignorant slanderers] are waterless clouds carried along by the winds; autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the deepest darkness has been reserved forever.
2 Peter 2:17a
These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm; for them the deepest darkness has been reserved.

1 Enoch 2 describes the orderly signs found in creation: the paths of the heavenly luminaries, clouds of dew and rain in winter, trees that bear fruit in spring, and the sea and rivers. Jude describes his opponents as perversions of these signs: waterless clouds, fruitless trees, and wandering stars. Jude’s reference to wandering stars also recalls 1 Enoch 18:15–16, which describes stars that have been imprisoned for disobedience. The “deepest darkness” that has been “reserved forever” again alludes to the eternal darkness where the leader of the angels is imprisoned in 1 Enoch 10:4.

The next two verses contain Jude’s famous quotation of 1 Enoch 1:9:

Jude 14–15
It was also about these that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “See, the Lord came with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to convict everyone of all the 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.”
1 Enoch 1:9
Behold, he comes with ten thousand holy ones to execute judgment upon all, and he will destroy all the ungodly and convict all flesh of all the works of their ungodliness which they have ungodly committed, and of all the arrogant and hard words which sinners have uttered against him.

Curiously, 2 Peter has no corresponding verses — perhaps due to the author’s tendency to generalize Jude’s references to apocryphal scriptures.

Jude 16–18 and 24–25 are paralleled by 2 Peter 2:18–3:3, 14, 18. I’ll omit them here for brevity’s sake.

2 Peter 3 contains additional material with themes shared by 1 Enoch. References to a future judgment of fire and the earth melting (2 Peter 3:5–12) are reminiscent of a similar passage in 1 Enoch 1:6–7 — “and the high hills shall be laid low and shall melt like wax in the flame”, which may find its source in Micah 1:4.  The idea of a new heaven and earth (2 Peter 3:13), which is probably based on Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22, is a theme present in 1 Enoch as well:

I will transform the heaven and make it an eternal blessing and light; and I will transform the earth and make it a blessing; and I will cause my elect ones to dwell upon it; but sinners and evildoers shall not set foot thereon. (1 Enoch 45:4b–5)

The first heaven shall pass away, and a new heaven shall appear. (1 Enoch 91:16a)

Even when we cannot be sure of which source (or sources) 2 Peter is drawing upon for his apocalyptic imagery, the thematic parallels are noteworthy.

1 Peter and 1 Enoch

The epistle of 1 Peter, although very different from 2 Peter in style and content, contains numerous allusions to 1 Enoch. One is the motif of a prophet to whom heavenly secrets are revealed — secrets that the angels themselves wish to know. In 1 Enoch 16:3, pursuing such secrets is one of the sins the Watchers are accused of.

1 Peter 1:10–12
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry,  inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought you good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look!
1 Enoch 16:3
You were in heaven, and no mystery was revealed to you; but a stolen mystery you learned; and this you made known to the women in your hardness of heart; and through this mystery the women and men are multiplying evils on the earth.

Much of 1 Peter’s material also comes from the section of 1 Enoch known as the Book of Parables (aka the Similitudes of Enoch). This messianic text refers frequently to the coming of the righteous Son of Man who will judge the world — a concept adopted throughout the New Testament. 1 Peter 1:20 and 4:5 provide some good examples:

1 Peter 1:20
He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.
1 Enoch 48:6–7a
For this (reason) he was chosen and hidden in his presence, before the world was created and forever. And the wisdom of the Lord of Spirits has revealed him to the holy and the righteous; for he has preserved the lot of the righteous.
1 Peter 4:5
But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead.
1 Enoch 69:27
And he sat on the throne of his glory, and the whole judgment was given to the Son of Man, and he will make sinners vanish and perish from the face of the earth.

Perhaps the most interesting reference is one already mentioned, 1 Peter 3:18–20. As the text now stands, it describes Christ as having “made a proclamation” to the disobedient spirits who were in prison during the days of Noah. Most scholarly commentaries on 1 Peter acknowledge that Christ is being described as a type of Enoch, since Enoch is given the task of delivering God’s proclamation to the imprisoned Watchers during the time of Noah in 1 Enoch 11–13.

1 Peter 3:18–20
For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.
1 Enoch 12:4–5, 13:3
Enoch, righteous scribe, go and say to the watchers of heaven—who forsook the highest heaven, the sanctuary of their eternal station, and defiled themselves with women. As the sons of earth do, so they did and took wives for themselves. And they worked great desolation on the earth— ‘You will have no peace or forgiveness.’
Then I went and spoke to all of them together. And they were all afraid, and trembling and fear seized them.
Thomas Cole, The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge, 1829

Thomas Cole, The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge, 1829

Although there have been other interpretations of this passage in 1 Peter, it should not be overlooked that the corresponding reference to the saving of Noah in 2 Peter occurs directly after the reference to the angels imprisoned in Tartaros. This certainly has implications for how the author of 2 Peter understood this passage.

There are further possibilities to explore. The awkward wording of verse 19, “in which also he went…”, is just one letter away from containing the name “Enoch” in Greek. (Adding a xi to ΕΝΩΚΑΙ, “in which also”, produces ΕΝΩΧΚΑΙ, “and Enoch”.) It has been suggested that the original text had Enoch visiting the spirits in prison, creating a string of segues linking Christ’s spiritual resurrection to Enoch’s spiritual underworld voyage, Noah’s flood, and finally baptism. Later, either accidentally or on purpose, the reference to Enoch was eliminated by a minor scribal edit.

Although this possibility is rarely acknowledged by scholars today and considered unlikely, it has been adopted by at least two New Testament translations in the past — the AAT and the MNT. This reading is also mentioned in the marginal notes of the Jerusalem Bible.

1 Peter 3:19–20 — An American Translation (AAT), 1939
In it Enoch went and preached even to those spirits that were in prison, who had once been disobedient, when in Noah’s time God in his patience waited for the ark to be made ready, in which a few people, eight in all, were brought safely through the water.
1 Peter 3:19–20 — Moffatt, New Translation (MNT), 1922
It was in the Spirit that Enoch also went and preached to the imprisoned spirits who had disobeyed at the time when God’s patience held out during the construction of the ark in the days of Noah — the ark by which only a few, souls, eight in all, were brought safely through the water.

The Legacy of 1 Enoch

It is remarkable that a book so influential on Christianity and so widely read by early church fathers could have been completely forgotten by most of christendom over the centuries. Even today, Christians who have never heard of it know the tale of the fallen angels without knowing the source of such stories. Christian themes and concepts like the Son of Man, Paradise, fallen angels, and the day of Judgment all owe a great deal to the Enochic literature. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has done us a great favour by preserving this book in their Bible.


References

1. Literary associations between the story of Balaam and 1 Enoch have been noted most recently by Eibert Tigchelaar, “Balaam and Enoch”, The Prestige of the Pagan Prophet Balaam in Judaism, Early Christianity and Islam (TBN Vol. 11), Brill, 2008, who includes a helpful bibliography of other works on the subject.

Bibliography

George W. E. Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch: The Hermeneia Translation, Fortress Press, 2012.

Annette Yoshiko Reed, Fallen Angels and the History of Judaism and Christianity: The Reception of Enochic Literature, Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Christopher Rowland and Christopher R.A. Morray-Jones, The Mystery of God: Early Jewish Mysticism and the New Testament (Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum ad Novum Testamentum Vol. 12), Brill, 2009.

James D. D. Moffat, General Epistles: James, Peter, and Judas (The Moffatt New Testament Commentary Series).

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