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According to Wikipedia:

By the 4th century, the Book of Enoch was mostly excluded from Christian canons, and it is now regarded as scripture by only the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Eritrean Orthodox Church.

What were the historical reasons for the exclusion?

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First Enoch (or the Ethiopic Enoch) stands alone among the Jewish apocalypses for length, diversity, and richness.1 No other ancient non-canonical work influenced the Jewish world of the first century as much as Enoch.2 With its interest in suffering, evil, demons, and the Last Judgment, Enoch helps bridge the gap in life and thought between Malachi and Matthew. In addition, Enoch provides the modern world with insights into a tumultuous period in Jewish history.

Historical Background

Though many books can be classified quite easily to their exact date and origin, Enoch comes as a composite work in five sections from the hand of at least five authors. The sections are:

  • The Book of Watchers (1-36),
  • *The Similitudes of Enoch (33-71),
  • The Book of Heavenly Luminaries (72-82),
  • The Book of Dream Visions (83-90),
  • and The Epistle of Enoch (91-105)
  • with chapters 106-108 forming an epilogue.

Each of these section shows a purposeful break from the previous chapters.

Multiple authors alone make the task of identification much more difficult. However, even with numerous authors, the book of Enoch still shows massive internal unity with its themes of coming judgement, dualism (either temporal, cosmic, or ontological), and salvation (both ultimate and present).3 This section will attempt to determine as much as possible the dates, location, authorship, and life setting of these five books collected together as 1 Enoch.


More visionaries and poets than systematic theologians,4 the authors of 1 Enoch wrote under an assumed name like their fellow apocalyptic author. Each author chose the name of an ancient because of an affinity with the character.5 For example, those who wrote in Ezra’s name displayed a fierce Jewish nationalism similar to the ancient scribe. The group who wrote Enoch seem more concerned with the gentile world than their contemporaries do and accordingly chose their hero from the ante-diluvian patriarchs. Obviously orthodox Jews, one can easily see how all the authors of Enoch share a concern that all mankind come to salvation.6 Furthermore, the authors present themselves as well-educated intellectuals.7


Related to “who” comes the question of “where.” Though the authors drop only a few clues, they do leave a few tell-tale signs of their homeland. While obviously all five parts come from the Holy Land, if nothing else, one can be more precise with the Book of Watchers (1-36). Through geographical references in chapters 12-16, it appears that 1 Enoch 1-36 originated in Northern Israel near the headwaters of the Jordan River in Galilee.8 First Enoch 13:7-9 marks one of the few areas outside Jerusalem described, and the authors even name a few cities in the region. The originating location of the other books must remain unknown.


The dates of Enoch cause much debate in the academic world. Though most scholars have reached consensus on four of the five books, The Similitudes of Enoch still spark debate. Briefly, this paper will touch on the more agreed upon sections first.9

The oldest section of Enoch, The Book of Heavenly Luminaries, illustrates the antiquity of the calendar debate in Israel and shows one reason that the Essenes of Qumran kept the book. While Heavenly Luminaries dates from between the fifth and third centuries B.C., the Book of Watchers dates from the third century. The Book of Dream Visions comes from the early Maccabean period followed by the Epistle of Enoch in the first century B.C.

Easily the youngest or second youngest section of the book, scholars still debate what period the Similitudes come from. Though many date the section pre-Christian, others see it as a Christian work and date it accordingly. On one hand, Frey (second century B.C.), Charles (94-64 B.C.), Hooker (70-63 B.C.), Sjoberg (40-38 B.C.), and Eisfeldt (39-36 B.C.) say the book comes from the pre-Christian, Jewish era. On the other hand, Dalman, Bousset, Schmidt (all late first century), Hindly (A.D. 115-117), and Milik (A.D. 270) see the book as Christian, based mainly on the lack of the Similitudes at Qumran.10 However, internal and external evidence points to a pre-Christian date for the Similitudes of Enoch.

While providing all the evidence for an early date of The Similitudes would require a research paper of its own, a summary of the evidence follows.

  1. The book describes only one advent of the Messiah where a Christian apocalypse would speak of two.
  2. the book makes no references to the cross, scars, or resurrection of the Messiah, all prominent allusions in early Christian works.
  3. The Similitudes contain too few Christological references.
  4. another apocalyptic work, The Testament of Abraham 11 (ca. turn of the era), quotes and refutes part of it.
  5. no Christian author would identify Enoch as the “Son of Man” (1 Enoch 71:14).


Though some may argue,11 all sections of 1 Enoch seem to come from times of trouble and persecution.12 First Enoch 9:10 and 12:7 indicate the authors knew trouble and persecution. Some of the likely times of trouble for the parts of the work include Alexander’s Diadochi Wars (Watchers) and the Maccabean revolt (Dream Visions).13 That the authors see the priesthood as defiled marks another problem for Enoch’s time (1 Enoch 12-13). Additionally, The Epistle of Enoch with its warnings to “the children of Enoch” seems to be a polemic against apostate Jews. However, others suggest that “Enoch” wrote in response to suffering in general.14

The authors’ troubles work together for unifying the entire book. Enoch now stands as a collection of attempts to solve the riddles of nature and scripture seen in suffering and chaos. The authors all seem to come from one group that brooded over theological problems, trying to relate Scripture to life’s existential dilemmas.15 Enoch, like other apocalyptic works, encourages its readers to persevere in the present life by promising them God will judge the wicked and bless the righteous in the Eschaton—reminding them how their suffering will not last forever. Like 2 Peter 3:2-10, Enoch warns his readers that the coming judgement of the wicked is as sure as the earlier judgement of the Flood. As God saved Noah and his family then, so will He preserve the faithful in the final judgement.

Consideration of Canonicity

History of Inclusion and Exclusion

First Enoch never made a viable bid for canonicity in the Jewish community. While it obviously shaped Jewish thought, only the Qumranites seemed interested in preserving it. They viewed it as an appendix to and interpretation of Scripture instead of Scripture itself.16 As the apocalyptic works tended to stir national fervor, the rabbis suppressed them in normative Judaism after the failed Zealot revolt of A.D. 70.

On the other hand, Enoch enjoys a long history of various Christians arguing for its inclusion or exclusion. That early Christians shared the Jewish fascination with this man who never died cannot be disputed. No less than 24 ancient works identify Enoch and Elijah as the two witnesses of Revelation 11.17 However, 1 Enoch’s place in the canon was not assured.

While Tertullian argued that Enoch belonged in the canon based on Jude’s quotations, others argued that Jude should be removed from the canon because of its quotations from non-canonical works like Enoch.18 Agreeing with Tertullain, the Ethiopic Church canonized 1 Enoch.19 Likewise, the Manicheans kept another related but separate work of Enoch, The Book of Giants. The Epistle of Barnabas and Athenagoras’ Embassy for Christians both allude to Enoch in favorable ways. Clement and Irenaeus (Against Heresies 4.16.2) both quote Enoch favorably (but not as Scripture).20 However, all of these arguments together did not prevail, and the early Church ultimately rejected Enoch from the canon.

Factors in Consideration of 1 Enoch’s Canonicity

The early Church did not place books in the canon haphazardly. They examined each book and placed it the canon based on function, adaptability and stability, and continuous usage. In other words, a canonical work contains adaptable wisdom on how to live at any time.21 However, other factors come into play.

  1. New Testament books had to come from the first century apostolic circle—either an apostle, companion of an apostle, or otherwise qualified individual (like a brother of Jesus).
  2. They could not contain teachings that contradict orthodox doctrine.
  3. The person named as author must be the author.22
  4. The book must demonstrate inspiration from the Holy Spirit. Easily the most the most difficult to determine, inspiration remains the ultimate factor.

Fortunately, the community of faith realized Enoch failings at several points along these tests. Obviously, no Apostle or companion wrote Enoch, so it could not be placed in the New Testament. While the ancient book’s genre almost required writing pseudonymously, 1 Enoch’s pseudonymous nature served as another problem for the early Church. However, even if all these could be overcome, Enoch still contradicted accepted doctrine.

Enoch contains numerous doctrinal differences with the canon. Almost in the beginning of the book, Enoch lays the blame for the Genesis Flood and introduction of evil into the world at the feet of the fallen angles whom he calls “Watchers” instead of humans as Genesis 1 and 6 do (1 Enoch 7-8).23 Sadly, Enoch’s doctrinal aberrations do not end there.

Most importantly, Enoch’s views on salvation kept it out of the canon. Salvation comes to those who read the book and pay attention to heavenly secrets and no others.24 Enoch presents a God so distant and aloof that He requires the unfallen angels to inform Him of events on earth. As might be expected with such a God, the book says very little about the central theme of Scripture—how the holy God can change sinful humans into righteous beings.25 In fact, Enoch presents salvation in a way similar to the gnostics of later centuries. On the other hand, canonical New Testament works teach about the transforming power of God and His desire to save repentant sinners.

Assessment of Determining Factors

Lack of inspiration determined Enoch’s exclusion from the canon of the church. While no one factor can ever be said to demonstrate inspiration, any of several factors may demonstrate the lack of inspiration. Enoch’s pseudonymous nature represented a small problem. Since several books of both testaments have apocalyptic sections, Enoch’s concentration on eschatological theology would not have been a major factor. However, as Enoch contradicts orthodox doctrine at several points, they had to reject it. Even if the early church had overlooked the origin of evil and the identification of the Son of Man with Enoch (71:14), the almost gnostic soteriology rightfully kept the book out of the canon. Indeed, even had he identified the Son of Man as the Messiah, Enoch’s teaching of salvation by special knowledge more than amply demonstrated his lack of inspiration.

Works Cited

1 J. C. Greenfield and M. E. Stone, “The Books and The Traditions of Enoch,” Numen 26 (Fasc. 1), 89-103.

2 Margaret Barker, Lost Prophet (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1988), 105. However, Barker presents Enoch as having such an influence that almost every New Testament passage shows traces of Enoch’s theology. Compare to the view of D. S. Russell, Divine Disclosure (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), xiv.

3G. Nickelsburg, “The Apocalyptic Construction of Reality in 1 Enoch,” in Mysteries and Revelations, ed. J. J. collins and J. H. Charlesworth, (Worcester, Great Britain: Sheffield academic Press, 1991), 52.

4 D. S. Russell, Divine Disclosure, xiii.

5 D. S. Russell, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987), 11.

6 F. Crawford Burkitt, Jewish and Christian Apocalypses (London: Oxford University Press, 1914), 20. Leonhard Rost, Judaism Outside the Hebrew Canon: An Introduction to the Documents, trans. by David E. Green. (Nashville, Tennessee: Parthenon Press, 1971), 139, eliminates the Essenes as authors.

7Michael Edward Stone, “The Book of Enoch and Judaism in the Third Century B.C.E.,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 40 (October 1978), 489.

8George Nickelsburg, Jewish Literature Between the Bible and the Mishnah (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981), 54; Burkitt, Jewish and Christian Apocalypses, 28-30.

9Dates for the four “uncontested” books come from: George Nickelsburg Jewish Literature Between the Bible and the Mishnah, 47, 48, 93, 145, and 223; Christopher L. Mearns, “Dating the Similitudes of Enoch,” New Testament Studies 25 (April 1979), 360, and James C. VanderKam and William Adler, eds. The Jewish Apocalyptic Heritage in Early Christianity, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 33.

10The given dates are all quoted in Christopher L. Mearns, “Dating the Similitudes of Enoch,” New Testament Studies 25 (April 1979), 360. A detailed refutation of their arguments can be found in the appendix to this paper. See also, Christopher Rowland, The Open Heaven (New York: Crossroad, 1982) 264.

11Burkitt, (Jewish and Christian Apocalypses), 33 says that the authors had much time to contemplate life and not worry about persecution.

12H. H. Rowley, The Relevance of Apocalyptic (New York: Association Press, 1964), 96.

13George Nickelsburg, Jewish Literature Between the Bible and the Mishnah, 52.

14J. C. Thom, “Aspects of the Form Meaning and Function of the Book of Watchers” in Neotestamentica 17 (1983), 47.

15Leonhard Rost, Judaism Outside the Hebrew Canon: An Introduction to the Documents (Nashville, Tennessee: Parthenon Press, 1971), 140; Julio Trebolle Barrera, The Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdman’s, 1998), 195.

16 R. T. Beckwith, “The Canon of Scripture” in Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. T. Desmond Alexander, et. al. (Downer’s Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000) 29.

17James C. VanderKam and William Adler, eds. Jewish Apocalyptic Heritage in Early Christianity, 92.

18Ibid, 52; F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 85.

19Siegfried Meurer, ed. The Apocrypha in Ecumenical Perspective (New York: United Bible Societies, 1992), 160.

20James C. VanderKam and William Adler, eds. Jewish Apocalyptic Heritage in Early Christianity, 42.

21James A. Sanders, Canon and Community (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Fortress Press, 1984), 28.

22Criteria taken from R. T. Beckwith, “The Canon of Scripture” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 30 and Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, 261.

23However, contrast 1 Enoch 32:3-6 where Enoch sees the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, and though he sees it as desirable, his angel guide tells him that the same tree resulted in Adam and Eve being driven from the Garden. Perhaps the author is more orthodox than some believe.

25P. G. R. de Villiers, “Revealing the Secrets” in Neotestamentica 17 (1983), 55 and 59.

26For one of the few exceptions, see 1 Enoch 90:35-38 (from the Book of Dream Visions) where those Jews (blind sheep) and gentiles (wild animals) who look upon the Messiah (a white bull) transform into His image. The imagery in this “Animal Apocalypse” marks one of the most beautiful descriptions of the Messiah’s transforming work in non-canonical, Jewish literature.

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Your answer is outstandingly complete. Thanks for this great input ;) – Charlie Sep 22 '15 at 15:02

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