Posts Tagged ‘1 enoch’

1 Peter 3:18-22 is one of the most confusing passages in the entire Bible.  Check that, it’s probably the most confusing.  I wrote a paper on it in my undergrad days and I’m still confused.  While I believe it’s good to research difficult passages in the Bible and try your best to come to a conclusion (even if very tentative), it’s a passage like this that reminds me of the need for humility in proposing our answers.

One influential (in some circles) treatment of this passage is Wayne Grudem’s, proposed in an article that was reprinted in his Tyndale commentary on 1 Peter.  In it, he takes on the prevalent view that Peter is recalling a story from the Enoch tradition within Judaism.  Basically, to summarize as best I can, in 1 Enoch (a pseudepigraphal writing) there is a story of Enoch being transported to a place where the fallen angels of Genesis 6:1-5 were being held.  These fallen angels were held in a prison while their progeny (called “spirits” in 1 Enoch) corrupt the earth during the days of Noah (and continue to do so).  God pronounces a judgment on these fallen angels and the spirits.  There is more to it, and there are all sorts of questions (including whether or not the Genesis account is actually talking about fallen angels), but that’s enough to show that there are points of similarity between the Enoch story and 1 Peter 3.  The story is found in 1 Enoch 12-16, you can click here to read Charles’ translation online.

Grudem objects to seeing the Enoch story in the background of 1 Peter 3 (you’ll have to forgive me for not citing page references, I’m working from memory since I don’t have it in front of me).  Basically, he questions whether or not Peter’s readers, who were probably Gentiles, would be aware of a relatively obscure Jewish text (if indeed it was written before 1 Peter) that was most popular in areas and cultures removed from Peter’s readers in Asia Minor.  It is, to be sure, a fair question.  Many counter this by noting that the story from 1 Enoch and Peter’s word in chapter 3 may reflect the same tradition, even if Peter is not directly refer to 1 Enoch 12-16.  That’s always a possibility (though I have to wonder if we have a case of an “independent traditions of the gaps” argument here), but the case would still need to be made that Peter’s readers could have known this story.  In other words, one would have to show that Peter’s Gentile readers in Asia Minor had some connection to the story of the fallen angels in Noah’s time and the rebellion of the “spirits.”

I’m working through Karen Jobes’ commentary on 1 Peter and she offers up some information that somehow I’ve either never read or never noticed until now.  She notes (on pages 245-247 for those following along at home) that the Noah story was actually a favorite in Asia Minor (presumably because his ark was said to land there).  She notes that there were 4 flood stories that stemmed from Asia Minor, though they aren’t about Noah himself.  But, Jobes states, “Noah was… the most prominently known biblical figure in Asia Minor even among the Gentiles” (245).  It would make sense that Noah would become popular, since strong flood traditions already existed in Asia Minor.  He was so popular, that in the 2nd & 3rd centuries AD, Noah and his wife were featured on coins minted in Asia Minor.

Jobes also points out that the Sibylline Oracles also feature Noah and his pronouncement of judgment on his wicked generation.  The Sibylline Oracles date from around the time of the Jesus, and could have been written in Asia Minor.  Again, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Peter’s readers were familiar with the Sibylline Oracles themselves, but possibly possessed shared stories and traditions regarding Noah.

Of the existing Noahic traditions in Peter’s time, we see Noah proclaiming judgment on his wicked generation and the spirits who brought about wickedness in his day being judged by God.  Noah himself was a popular figure in Asia Minor, so it wouldn’t be surprising if these stories (and many others) circulated throughout the area.  In fact, it’s probably likely.

If this is true, Peter is using this story because it’s familiar to his readers, whether or not they know of the texts in 1 Enoch or the Sibylline Oracles.  Regarding Peter’s pastoral goal, Jobes writes (247),

Therefore, despite their small numbers the Christians of Asia Minor are not lost to God’s concern in the mass of pagan humanity, and God saves the righteous in spite of their small number (cf. Gen. 18:22-32).  Moreover, though the pagans of Noah’s time spurned his warning to repent, God’s patience did not imply God’s indifference.  Just as the rain eventually began to fall for forty days and forty nights, the final judgment of God will also overtake scoffing unbelievers in the future.  These points were meant to be words of encouragement to the Christians of Asia Minor who, like Noah, were being derided and maligned by their society because of their faith.

Like I said above, one has to approach this passage with a large amount of humility.  While there are enough connections between the Noahic traditions and Asia Minor to convince me to see their importance here in 1 Peter 3, I’ll admit it isn’t a knockout argument.  I still think the main point is discernible despite the confusion: the salvation of the few righteous (Noah & his family) corresponds to the salvation of Peter’s readers.  Though that correspondence is worthy of its own post.

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