Sunday, February 4, 2018

What the Early Church Believed About the Watchers: Part 1

Anyone who has studied hermeneutics (the science of interpretation) understands the impact interpretation has on how we view the Gospel in relation to our own lives and the world around us. One of the most important things to keep in mind with regard to interpretation is, any passage(s) should be understood as the author intended the passage(s) to be understood by his intended audience. This means we have to have a grasp on the accepted knowledge of the people and time to whom and in which the writing was penned. In connection to the Sacred Scriptures, this basically means we have to read it and understand it as a 1st century audience did. This is, not surprisingly, the approach we find consistently in the writings of the early Church Fathers. I say all that to establish our approach as we delve into the topic of Fallen Angels and Nephilim from an early Christian perspective. That is, we will try to understand the subject matter as the original disciples of Jesus would have.

One of the errors that I have been guilty of in the past is of sanitizing both Scripture and the Church Fathers; explaining away problematic statements. Statements which are only problematic if one imposes 21st century rationalism and, to some extent, anti-supernaturalism, on the texts in question. In challenging myself to explore these issues deeply, and from a scholarly/academic approach, I have found such whitewashing of Scripture and the early church to be an awful error, which I hope to correct in the following series of articles. I want to say at the outset that none of this research is at all unique to me. It is not my own personal revelation or anything of the sort. I am indebted to numerous researchers and scholars for their detailed exploration of this subject matter, including Dr. Michael Heiser and Derek Gilbert, both of whom will also inform you that this research is indeed not unique to them either. The information that follows are things biblical scholars have known for a very long time, but which rarely (if ever) make it to a pulpit.

In pursuit of a restoration of early Christianity I believe it is necessary to explore this topic, and so we shall begin.

The question of the origin of evil is one most apologists are familiar with, and while we often offer an anthropological answer, the early Christians would have offered three reasons for the existence of evil in our world; the Fall, Satan, and the sin of the Watchers, hinted at in Genesis 6. As Dr. Michael Heiser puts it, "What happened in Genesis 6:1-4 is part of what the Messiah had to reverse." And as we delve into this topic we will see that First century Jews did not envision the Messiah only as a King, but also the One who would reverse the destruction wrought by Satan and the Watchers; He would be redeem the entirety of the cosmos.

"Now, Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, "Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds."- Jude 14 (Quoting the Book of Enoch)

At the outset we have to understand that the Book of Enoch was regarded as Scripture by the Essenes and the Church Fathers. Thus, we find such early Christian theologians as Origen, Tertullian, the author of the Epistle of Barnabas, Clement of Alexandria, and Anatolius using it liberally. Interestingly, it is found in the official canon of only one church- the Ethiopian Orthodox. This acceptance of the Book of Enoch is not without good reason, as the book does indeed connect well to both the Old and New Testaments. For example, Enoch writes of "Watchers", an angelic order. We find this very same order referred to in Daniel 4:13,17, 23. 

"In the visions I saw while laying in bed, I looked, and there before me was a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven.."- Daniel 4:13

The Aramaic word "irin" (holy ones) in the verses in question is also translated as "Watcher". And we have already seen how Enoch was quoted by Jude.

The Book of Enoch details the history of the Watchers, or at least a group of them, who descended to Mt. Hermon, and whose central transgression was marriage to human women and the subsequent procreation of offspring known as "giants", or Nephilim. We should be careful of ascribing to these beings the qualities of the "jolly green giant", as many fringe authors do, as that is not, I believe, what is intended by the word. It seems to imply great strength, great abilities, as well as an above average height.

Eventually, due to the great sins of the Watchers and Nephilim, God sends the flood to cleanse the earth and the Nephilim became "unclean spirits"- demons. We find this history being an accepted fact by many Church Fathers.

"The angels (Watchers) transgressed this appointment and were captivated by love of women. And they begat children, who are those who are called demons."- Justin Martyr

"In the Days of Noah, He justly brought on the Deluge for the purpose of extinguishing that most infamous race of men then existent, who could not bring forth fruit to God. For the angels who had sinned had commingled with them."- Irenaeus

"Such was the beauty of women that it turned the angels (Watchers) aside. As a result, being contaminated, they could not return to heaven. Being rebels from God, they uttered words against Him. Then the Highest uttered His judgment against them. And from their seed, Nephilim are said to have been born....When they died, men erected images to them."- Commodianus

"It is on account of the angels (Watchers)- those whom we read of as having fallen from God and from heaven because of lusting after females.."- Tertullian

There are many other examples of an acceptance of Enochian history, but these suffice for our purposes here.

The question naturally arises, why is the Book of  Enoch not in the universal canon of Scripture? One of the reasons is that the book is clearly not possessed of a flowing, consistent narrative, but appears to be comprised of several different Enochian writings. We know, however, from the Dead Sea Scrolls that Enochian literature was diverse, but maintained a consistent foundation in the basic history presented in our study herein.

Another reason for its rejection is that, as the church became more steeped in a Western, Greek philosophically oriented worldview, the original 1st century Jewish worldview was discarded as myth or superstition, as we find hints of in the writings of Julius Africanus.

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