Enoch, the Watchtower, and rightly handling Scripture

Luke Wayne
2/22/17

The Watchtower Society (the governing body of the Jehovah's Witnesses) purports to be Christ's "faithful and discreet slave." It is only through them, they claim, that a person can understand the scriptures:

"All who want to understand the Bible should appreciate that the 'greatly diversified wisdom of God' can become known only through Jehovah's channel of communication, the faithful and discreet slave,"1

Yet, again and again, they prove themselves incapable of rightly handling God's word. This can be demonstrated in a variety of ways, such observing how their method of interpretation produces a continuous series of false predictions (see also HERE, HERE, and HERE). Really, though, one can simply observe how they handle just about any even minor issue in Scripture and see the convoluted errors they are forced into by their approach to the Bible. Take, for example, a recent publication on the subject of a man named Enoch whose life is given a few verses in Genesis chapter 5.

"So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him," (Genesis 5:23-24).

These words in Genesis are abrupt and surprising in the midst of a genealogy where every other figure's life ends with the words, "So all the days of ____ were ____ years, and he died." The New Testament refers back to Enoch, adding a few additional words of commentary:

"By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him," (Hebrews 11:5-6).

Enoch was "taken up" so that he would not "see death," all of which proves to us that God is a "rewarder" of those who seek Him. It seems plain from these words that Enoch did not die and was instead rewarded by God taking him up into eternity alive. Pretty cut and dry, unless you are using the interpretive system of the Watchtower. For the Jehovah's Witnesses, nothing is allowed to be so simple. They explain:

"In what sense, then, was Enoch 'transferred' so that he did not 'see death'? Jehovah likely transferred Enoch gently from life to death, sparing him any pangs of death,"2

And further describe:

"As peace stole over him, Enoch closed his eyes and drifted into a deep, dreamless sleep. And there he remains to this day—asleep in death, carefully preserved in the limitless memory of Jehovah God!"3

So God rewarded Enoch by...killing him? Enoch avoided tasting death by...dying? However gently and kindly you try to put it, the claim here is that God struck Enoch dead. God euthanized him. He put him down like an aging pet dog (though Enoch was still quite young for a man of his time). And since the Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in any concept of a human soul or spirit that continues on after physical death, Enoch was simply snuffed out of existence. Notice that they say Enoch is preserved in the "limitless memory of Jehovah." God won't forget him, but Enoch doesn't actually exist anymore. God honored Enoch's faithfulness by quietly eliminating him. Sure, Enoch will share in the future day of resurrection, but so will all other men and women of God. The unique reward of Enoch explicitly mentioned in this passage is that God "took him," or as the Watchtower Society would have us believe, took him out!

Is this really a possible interpretation?

Let's look again at what Genesis tells us:

"So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him," (Genesis 5:23-34).

Nearly every ancient person reading these words came away with one particular meaning. The Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture often quoted by the New Testament authors, translates "took him" with a term that means "transferred him," or "moved him from one place to another." This is likewise the verb the author of Hebrews uses. The Targums (Aramaic paraphrases of the Old Testament used in the synagogues of the New Testament era and afterward) rendered the passage:

"And Enoch walked in the fear of the Lord; and he was not; for the Lord had not made him to die," (Targum Onkelos Genesis 5:24).

"And Enoch served in the truth before the Lord; and, behold, he was not with the sojourners of the earth; for he was withdrawn, and he ascended to the firmament by the Word before the Lord, and his name was called Metatron the Great Scribe," (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, Genesis 5:24).

Likewise, a book of Jewish wisdom known as the "Wisdom of Sirach," written a century or two before the time of Christ, explained:

"Enoch pleased the Lord and was taken up, an example of repentance to all generations," (Sirach 44:16).

"None have ever been created on earth like Enoch, for he was taken up from the earth," (Sirach 49:14).

The sectarian works found in the Dead Sea Scrolls likewise affirm this understanding. The Book of Jubilees 4:23 describes God taking Enoch from among men and translating him to the Garden of Eden, and the Book of 1 Enoch has him taken to a heavenly realm where he becomes a prophet and scribe among the angels.

The earliest Christian writers outside the New Testament also affirm that Enoch was caught up alive into paradise.4

Interestingly, even the dissenters are evidence for the rule. The Hellenistic Jewish Philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, understands the words in Genesis to clearly mean that Enoch was transferred from an earthly to a heavenly life, but because he accepts a Greco-Roman idea of the body as something evil to be cast off, he contends that only Enoch's immortal soul was immediately translated into heavenly bliss while his body was left lifeless on the earth.5 For philosophical reasons, Philo argues that Enoch physically died, but he still acknowledges that the wording in Genesis indicates God taking Enoch consciously into heavenly bliss.

Midrash Rabbah Genesis does cite several Rabbis who concluded that God struck Enoch dead, saying that "he was not inscribed in the roll of the righteous, but of the wicked," or that, "Enoch was a hypocrite, acting sometimes as a righteous and sometimes as a wicked man. Therefore the Holy One, blessed be He, said: 'While he is righteous I will remove him."6 Interestingly, one of the Rabbi's quoted is said to be responding to "sectarians," a word often used in the rabbinic literature for Christians. These Sectarians contended that Enoch was taken up alive. Therefore, while showing that at least some Jewish leaders believed that Enoch was struck dead on account of his supposed sinfulness, this Midrash may also preserve further testimony that Christians believed that Enoch did not die. "Sectarians" are not always Christians, however, so we cannot be dogmatic on this point. What is most important here is that these Rabbis reject the New Testament. They do not believe, as the author of Hebrews says, that Enoch was rewarded for seeking after God. This is intimately connected to their theories about Enoch dying rather than ascending alive.

Let's look again at what the Book of Hebrews says:

"By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him," (Hebrews 11:5-6).

Let's note some key points here:

  1. God "took Enoch up," or "transferred Enoch from one place to another."
  2. Enoch did not taste death and he was not found.
  3. God took Enoch up so that Enoch would not taste death.
  4. Enoch was not found because God took him up.
  5. This was all related to the fact that Enoch was pleasing to God
  6. This all proved to us that God rewards those who seek Him

It would be hard to get any clearer than this. God didn't erase Enoch from existence. God did not sentence Enoch to a nicer version of the same fate to which he condemns the wicked. That's not a reward. nor is it a transfer from one place to another. "Didn't taste death" can only mean that he didn't die. If "take him up," or "transfer him" means kill him, why couldn't anyone find him? God struck down other people in Scripture and their bodies were plainly seen. The passage doesn't say that he wasn't found because, after "taking him up," God hid the body. The reason he could not be found is because God took him up. "Taking up" is not an end of life. It's a disappearance that avoids death. It is a transfer to a place where death can't touch you and men can't find you. That is a reward indeed! All of this is obvious to any ordinary reader, but not to the Watchtower society. They are blind guides whose system of reading the Bible creates convoluted answers to problems that don't exist.

The Supposed Problem

The Watchtower writers insist that God must have killed Enoch because, they believe, if God took Enoch up alive it creates a series of contradictions. The first one is in the very same context, Hebrews chapter 11:

"All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth," (Hebrews 11:13).

The Jehovah's Witnesses argue that if Enoch didn't die then the author of Hebrews was wrong to say that "all these died," since Enoch is one of the people listed earlier in the chapter. The simple answer is that verse 13 isn't talking about every single person mentioned in the chapter. If it were, you would also have to argue that the author himself and all his readers were dead too! The very first example in the chapter is:

"By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible," (Hebrews 11:3)

Obviously "we" aren't dead, yet this is one of the examples in the series. Verse 13 is obviously not referring to the whole series. Instead, it falls in the middle of a lengthy discussion of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Sarah. "All these" (i.e. the Patriarchs and their household) were the ones who received the promises and yet lived as strangers and exiles in the land, dying without seeing the fulfillment. Verse 13 isn't about Able or Enoch, who received no promises, or about Noah, who saw all the promises God gave him fulfilled. It is specifically talking about Abraham's household. Indeed, it continues discussing them the paragraphs following. There is no need to insert the idea of God killing Enoch here because there is not conflict. Verse 13 isn't saying that Enoch died, and verses 5-6 are clearly saying that he didn't.

The second passage which allegedly becomes a problem if Enoch was taken up alive is John 3:13:

"No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man,"

The idea is that John's Gospel is wrong here if Enoch had, in fact, ascended into heaven. There are two problems with this argument. First of all, "heaven" in John 3 clearly means "the abode of God," but it is not at all clear that Enoch was caught up into the very presence of Jehovah. Neither Genesis nor Hebrews say that he was taken up "to heaven," and many of the ancient writers use terms like "Eden," "paradise," or "among the angels" for the location to which Enoch was taken to save him from death. God took Enoch somewhere outside of our mortal, sin-sick existence, and in a real sense we call such a dwelling "heavenly," but it is not necessarily the same abode which Jesus meant when He spoke here of "heaven." Enoch was taken up alive. God knows where. Death can't touch him and men can't find him. That does not inherently contradict Jesus' words.

Secondly, in context, Jesus' point is not necessarily that no human being ever in all of history has ascended to heaven. Rather, His point seems to be that no one on earth could testify to heavenly things as an eyewitness besides Himself. Jesus says:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man," (John 3:11-13).

In other words, Jesus is saying that there is no one on earth who has ascended into heaven who can tell you what he has seen and knows, but the Son of Man came down from heaven and can tell what He has seen and knows. If you want to know heavenly things, you need an eyewitness, and there is only one option for you. You need someone who has seen heavenly things for himself to tell you about them, and Jesus is the only such person you've got. The point is the unique authority of Jesus' words, not the inaccuracy of the Old Testament accounts of Enoch or Elijah being caught up "into the heavens" (i.e. above and beyond our mortal plain).

Conclusion

The Watchtower Society felt the need to mangle clear Scriptures to get Enoch wrong because they had mangled other clear Scriptures to get the books of John and Hebrews wrong. Jesus said that:

"He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much," (Luke 16:10).

Jehovah's Witness literature cannot handle scripture even in the little things. Their audacious claims to be the only channel through which anyone can understand the Bible are thus ludicrous. They are incompetent with the Word and must not be trusted as guides or teachers of God's people.

  • 1. Watchtower, Oct. 1, 1994, p. 8
  • 2. Watchtower Vol. 138, No. 1, January 2017, pg 12
  • 3. Watchtower Vol. 138, No. 1, January 2017, pg 12
  • 4. for several examples, see Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, Chapter 16;  Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul, Chapter 50;  Augustine, City of God, Book 15, Chapter 19; 1 Clement, Chapter 9;  Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 19;
  • 5. Philo of Alexandria, Questions and Answers on Genesis, Part 1, Question 86
  • 6. Midrash Rabbah Genesis, Chapter XXV, section 1 (citations here are from Rabbi Dr. H. Freedman's translation)