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PART 11: ENOCH, THE WATCHERS, AND THE FORGOTTEN MISSION OF JESUS CHRIST—The Old Testament Law: Added Because of Whose Transgressions?

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EDITORS COMMENT: This new series is being offered in memoriam of Dr. Michael Heiser who’s truly groundbreaking research on the Divine Council and Enochian Worldview (based on the book of Enoch and its connection to Hebrew theology before and at the time of Jesus) opened the door for a richer understanding of the Life of Christ than previous generations could have imagined. This series reflects content from the leading-edge books published by Defender Publishing for Dr. Heiser—Reversing Hermon: Enoch, the Watchers, and the Forgotten Mission of Jesus Christ as well as his two volume book set titled, A Companion to the Book of Enoch: A Reader’s Commentary, Volume 1: The Book of the Watchers and Vol II: The Parables of Enoch. PLEASE NOTE: ALL PROFITS FROM THE SALE OF DR. MICHAEL HEISER’S BOOKS FROM SKYWATCHTVSTORE.COM WILL BE  DONATED TO HIS FAMILY DURING THIS SERIES.

How does the idea that the sin of the Watchers as told in 1 Enoch matter for New Testament theology? The answer is found in something Paul says about the Old Testament Law.

In his scholarly paper on the “bastard spirits” (the Watchers) and Galatians 3–4, New Testament scholar Tyler Stewart introduces us to the connection:

Paul’s view of the Law has baffled scholars such that he has been accused of self-contradiction and inconsistency. While Paul praises the Law (Rom[ans] 7:12, 14) and recognizes its authority in his arguments (Rom[ans] 3:21, 31), he also makes startling claims that it is no longer relevant after the advent of Christ (Rom[ans] 10:4; 2 Cor[inthians] 3:6–9, 14–15). The difficulties of Paul’s view are perhaps nowhere more pronounced than in Galatians 3–4 where the law appears almost entirely negative.

After a dense argument for the superiority of faith in Christ against “works of law” (Gal[atians] 3:1–18) Paul raises a logical question, “Why then the law? (3:19a). If the works of law do not justify (Gal[atians] 2:16; 3:11), place humanity under a curse (Gal[atians] 3:10–11), and the Law itself only added after the Abrahamic promise (Gal[atians] 3:17), then why bother at all? …Paul claims that for the Galatian believers to observe “works of the law,” particularly circumcision (Gal[atians] 5:2–4; 6:12–13; also 1 Cor[inthians] 7:18) and calendar (Gal[atians] 4:10), is tantamount to rejecting Christ (Gal[atians] 5:2–4; 2:21). How can Paul make such a derogatory claim about the Torah?

Contemporary NT scholars find it nearly impossible to imagine a zealous Second Temple Jew, and a Pharisee no less (Phil[lippians] 3:5–6; Gal[atians] 1:13–14), thinking about the Law in this way. Nevertheless, subordination of Mosaic Law is not entirely unknown in Second Temple Judaism. In a rather unique parallel, subordination of Mosaic Law also appears in 1 Enoch. In fact, there are a number of striking parallels between 1 Enoch, particularly the Book of Watchers (BW 1 En[och] 1–36), Jubilees, and Paul’s argument in Galatians 3–4. First, both 1 Enoch and Galatians subordinate the Torah as the pinnacle of revelation in similar ways. Second, there is a shared emphasis on the cosmic significance of transgressions in each text. Third, all three works are concerned with angels and their relationship to the structure of the cosmos. Tracing these parallels indicates that Paul’s argument about the role of the Law in Gal[atians] 3:19–4:11 is influenced by an Enochic etiology of evil.[i]

Two items in this excerpt capture our attention: the “cosmic significance of transgressions” and how that relates to seeing how the Enochian view of evil being connected to the Watchers influenced Paul’s thinking.

After Stewart devotes considerable space to showing how, for many Second Temple Jews, the revelation given to Enoch during his time in the heavens with God and His council was superior to the Law, he zeroes in on the cosmic nature of the transgressions Paul talks about.[ii] He writes:

Turning to Paul in Galatians, the significance of Mosaic Torah is, similar to Enoch literature, downplayed based on chronology and universality. In regard to chronology, Paul argues that justification by faith is prior to Torah. He connects his gospel to the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:13…. Later he argues that the promises spoken to Abraham have priority over Torah (Gal[atians] 3:17 [Exodus 12:40–41; cf. Genesis 15:13])…. In Paul’s view Sinai is ancillary to the promise given to Abraham, which he understands to be fulfilled in Christ (Gal[atians] 3:16, 19). This argument is explicit in Gal 3:19 when Paul writes: “the Law was added.”… In addition to chronological priority, Paul is emphatic that the universal revelation of the gospel cannot be limited to one particular people. He understands his personal calling, announcing Christ to the Gentiles, to be a revelation directly from God (Gal[atians] 1:1, 10–12, 16; 2:2, 7) and any threat to the universality of this revelation to be anathema (Gal[atians] 1:6–9; 2:14).[iii]

With respect to “cosmic transgressions,” the key statement is found in Galatians 3:19: “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.”[iv] Stewart observes:

It is common to interpret Paul arguing here that the function of the Law is to cause, produce, or provoke transgressions. This interpretation is based on the preposition χάριν (“because of”) and Paul’s teaching about the Law elsewhere in his letters (esp. Rom[ans] 4:15; 5:20; also Rom[ans] 3:20; 5:13; 7:5, 7–24; 1 Cor[inthians] 15:56). While this meaning is not impossible, it has been rightly challenged. One of the stronger arguments against this interpretation is that ancient interpreters, including John Chrysostom and Clement of Alexandria, did not read Gal[atians] 3:19 describing the Law as causing transgression, but rather the prior condition that prompted God to give the law. In their interpretations the Law was given “because of transgressions,” meaning to restrain transgression. John Riches even indicates that interpreting the Law as producing transgression was an innovation of Luther. With so much attention given to this preposition, no one asks whose transgressions prompt the addition of the Law?

Apparently it is assumed without comment that the transgressions are Adam’s. This is not surprising since the dominant etiology of evil in contemporary Christian theology is the “Fall” of Gen[esis] 3. This is due in large part to Paul’s account of sin and death resulting from Adam’s transgression in Rom[ans] 5:12–21 (also 1 Cor[inthians] 15:21–22, 45–49). Surprisingly, however, apart from 4 Ezra (3:20–22; 7:116–126), 2 Baruch (54:13–22), and the Life of Adam and Eve (esp. Vit. Adae 12–17; GLAE 15–26), the story of Genesis 3 was not the primary text for explaining the origin of evil in Second Temple Judaism…. Certainly Paul makes explicit reference to Adam in Romans 5, but there is no indication that Paul is alluding to the Adam cycle in Galatians 3–4. Moreover, Romans specifies that the singular “transgression” belongs to the “one Adam” (5:14), whereas in Galatians it is “transgressions” in the plural that prompt the addition of the Law. What if Paul is working from a different etiology of evil in Galatians 3–4? The key text in the Hebrew Bible for describing the origin and effects of evil in Second Temple Judaism was not Genesis 3, but Genesis 6:1–4…. This Enochic etiology of evil, namely that angelic “Sons of God” produced illegitimate offspring with human women and thereby altered the cosmos, was pervasive in Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity.[v]



We’ve already seen that many Jews gave weight to the Watchers’ transgression, Enoch’s version of Genesis 6:1–4, as the reason for human depravity. The statement that Genesis 3 was not the chief proof text for human sin should not be as surprising as it probably is. Consider the Old Testament. Despite repeated descriptions of the sinfulness of humankind, there isn’t a single citation of Genesis 3 or Adam’s Fall in the entire Old Testament for an explanation of human depravity.

So, when Paul says the law “was added because of transgressions,” just whose transgressions does he have in mind? Since he refers to plural transgressions, and not merely to Adam’s Fall, the witness of Second Temple Judaism is that Paul would be utterly alone if he wasn’t thinking of the Watchers.

This perspective would make sense in that the sin of the Watchers was viewed as the catalyst to human depravity, but also causing cosmic upheaval. In 1 Enoch 2:11 the celestial luminaries created by God “do not transgress their own appointed order.” But tragically, the Watchers are later identified as “the stars of heaven which have transgressed the commandments of the Lord and are bound in this place until the completion of ten million years, (according) to the number of their sins” (1 Enoch 21:6; cf. 18:15).

Jude borrows this language when he compares false teachers to the angels that sinned. They are “wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever” (Jude 13). Noted New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham writes of this verse:

It is widely agreed that Jude has borrowed this image from 1 Enoch. Jewish apocalyptic thought of the heavenly bodies as controlled by angels (see, e.g., 1 Enoch 82), and inherited Oriental myths in which the apparently irregular movements of the planets were attributed to the disobedience of heavenly beings, and probably also such phenomena as comets and meteors were interpreted as heavenly beings falling from heaven (cf. Isa[iah] 14:12–15; Rev[elation] 8:10; 9:1). Thus in 1 Enoch 18:13–16; 21:3–6, the Watchers (whose fall from heaven and judgment Jude mentioned in v 6) are represented as seven stars “which transgressed the command of the Lord from the beginning of their rising because they did not come out at their proper times” (18:15; cf. 21:6). This imagery is taken up in the later Book of Dreams (1 Enoch 83–90), which in its allegory of world history represents the fall of the Watchers as the fall of stars from heaven (86:1–3); then, in a passage corresponding to 1 Enoch 10 (which Jude quoted in v 6) the archangels cast the stars down into the darkness of the Abyss and bind them there (88:1, 3) until their judgment at the end, when they will be cast into the Abyss of fire (90:24).[vi]

The Birth of the Son of God and the Reversal of the Watchers’ Transgressions

In this perspective—that the transgressions that prompted the giving of the law were those of the Watchers—the law was added to restrain evil. That is, Galatians 3:19 is not to be read as though the law produced transgressions the way Christian tradition commonly reads it. If this be the case, then Paul is consistent in both viewing the law as something positive, but also viewing it as something inadequate. Stewart sees this clearly:

Paul’s reference to Jesus’ birth in Gal[atians] 4:4 is illuminated by the Watchers narrative. Jesus’ divine mission is contrasted with the angelic rebellion. The Sons of God in the BW rebel in heaven (1 En[och] 6:1–6) and “enter” human women on earth (7:1). In Galatians, however, when the “fullness of time has come” God sends his Son to be born “from a woman” (Gal[atians] 4:5), thus Jesus’ divinely ordained mission, accomplished birth from a woman is contrasted with the rebellion of Angels entering women. Both texts bring heaven and earth together through divine sons involved with human women.

The results of Jesus’ and the Watchers’ actions are also contrasted. Initially, the transgressions of the Watchers produce illegitimate offspring that destroy the earth (1 En[och] 7:1–3; 10:9–10, 15; Jub[ilees] 5:2). After the initial judgment of the Flood, the disembodied spirits of their illegitimate sons enter humans to attack them, causing disease, blindness, and destruction (1 En[och] 15:11–12; 19:1; Jub[ilees] 10:1, 8; Justin, 2 Apol 5; cf. 1 Cor[inthians] 8:4–6; 10:20–22). The Watcher’s “fall” is so severe, that they must ask the human Enoch to serve as their intercessor (1 En[och] 15:2). They no longer have access to God in prayer. In parallel contrast, Jesus as the Son of God faithfully gives himself to rescue humanity from the “present evil age” (Gal[atians] 4:5; 1:4; 2:20; also Rom[ans] 5:10; 8:32). After his exaltation in resurrection, the “spirit of God’s son” is sent into the hearts of believers so that they can share in his sonship (Gal[atians] 4:6; Rom[ans] 8:9–11, 15). This indwelling Spirit gives believers legitimate sonship enacted through direct prayer (Gal[atians] 4:5; Rom[ans] 8:14–15, 26–27). In both narratives the cosmos is altered and humanity affected. Just as Enoch was ironically glorified in the Watchers descent, believers are glorified in Jesus’ descent and ascent.

These contrasting parallels show that the birth of God’s son in Galatians offers legitimate sonship to humanity to counteract the transgression of the Watchers and their bastard sons who terrorize the earth.[vii]

Reversing cosmic upheaval required something greater than the law. It required a Messiah whose atoning death would ripple throughout the cosmos, healing the entire creation. The birth, death, and resurrection of the Son of God reconciles all things, whether on earth or in heaven (Colossians 1:19) and holds the entire creation together (Colossians 1:16–17).

Early Church Testimony to the Watchers and Human Depravity

Given that modern Christians are only taught one explanation for human depravity instead of the two that New Testament writers would have embraced, the fact that certain early church fathers acknowledged the role of the Watchers’ transgressions in human depravity is largely unknown. Irenaeus, for example, taught both explanations for the proliferation of sin.[viii] D. R. Schultz explains:

We know that Irenaeus contrasts Adam and Christ more or less as does Paul in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. In fact, Irenaeus’s use of these passages, combined with some texts of Ephesians, in this view, formed the basis upon which the early Church Father constructed his Adam-Christ typology, in which the first Adam is paralleled with the second Adam…. Also, it is well known that Satan appears in the writings of Irenaeus as the “tempter” of Adam. However, Irenaeus often bypasses Adam in his treatment of Satan and angels, so that this evil spirit world directly brings about mankind’s sinful condition. In effect, then, Irenaeus sometimes attributes the origin of sin directly to Satan and his forces in terms strongly reminiscent of 1 Enoch, Jubilees, and other late Jewish pseudepigraphical writings…. Irenaeus explicitly states this about the devil, “who first became the cause of apostasy to himself and afterwards to others.” The “others” and first to follow Satan in apostasy are a group of angels who revolted from a state of submission to God. Many passages [in Irenaeus] speak of the apostasy…. Irenaeus definitely understands that there exists a causal relationship between Genesis 6:1–4 and the wickedness that follows in Genesis 6:5. But he need not have come to such an understanding without some assistance, because this speculation on Genesis had already been worked out and set down in Jewish pseudepigraphical literature.[ix]



Citing Irenaeus’ treatises Against Heresies and Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, Schultz demonstrates how Irenaeus embraced all the main elements of 1 Enoch’s story of the transgression of the Watchers—including in his doctrine of human depravity:

Irenaeus has two different descriptions of the angels defiling mankind. One description is concerned with “unlawful unions” of angels with offspring from the daughters of men. This “unlawful union” produces “giants” upon the earth which cause man’s sinfulness; and these giants, which Irenaeus calls the “infamous race of men” [who] performed fruitless and wicked deeds…. According to Irenaeus the other manner in which the angels brought about man’s defilement was through evil teachings…. Irenaeus enumerates those teachings as follows: “the virtues of roots and herbs, and dyeing and cosmetics, and discoveries of precious materials, love philtres, hatreds, amours, passions, constraints of love, the bonds of witchcraft, every sorcery and idolatry, hateful to God.”

Irenaeus isn’t the only early church father who saw 1 Enoch’s sin of the Watchers behind certain New Testament passages and apostolic theology. Tertullian is well known for having suggested that the Watchers’ transgression is the explanation for Paul’s enigmatic command for women to cover their heads “because of the angels” (1 Corinthians 11:10).[x] That passage requires a chapter of its own.

UP NEXT: The Sin of the Watchers and the Head Covering of 1 Corinthians 11

[i] Tyler A. Stewart, “Fallen Angels, Bastard Spirits, and the Birth of God’s Son: An Enochic Etiology of Evil in Galatians 3:19–4:11,” Paper read at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, 2014, 1–2.

[ii] As Stewart details, there have been a number of studies on the Second Temple Jewish subordination of the law of Moses to the revelation to Enoch. Among the sources he cites are: Gabriele Boccaccini, Beyond the Essene Hypothesis : The Parting of the Ways between Qumran and Enochic Judaism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 68–79; Philip S. Alexander, “From Son of Adam to Second God: Transformations of the Biblical Enoch,” in Biblical Figures Outside the Bible (Harrisburg: Trinity International Press, 1998), 87–122, esp. 107–110; George W. E. Nickelsburg, “Enochic Wisdom: An Alternative to the Mosaic Torah?” in Hesed Ve-Emet (ed. Jodi Magness and Seymour Gitin; BJS 320; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1998), 123–132; James C. VanderKam, “The Interpretation of Genesis in 1 Enoch,” in The Bible at Qumran (eds. P. W. Flint and T. H. Kim; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 129–148, esp. 142–146; Andreas Bendenbender, “Traces of Enochic Judaism within the Hebrew Bible,” Henoch 24 (2002): 39–48; Andrei A. Orlov, The Enoch-Metatron Tradition (Texte und Studien zum antiken Judentum 107; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005), 254–260; John J. Collins, “How Distinctive was Enochic Judaism?” Meghillot 5–6 (2007): 17–34. Helge S. Kvanvig, “Enochic Judaism – a Judaism without the Torah and the Temple,” in Enoch and the Mosaic Torah: The Evidence of Jubilees (eds. Gabriele Boccaccini and Giovanni Ibba; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2009), 163–177.

[iii] Stewart, 6.

[iv] I discussed the role of angels in the giving of the law and the identity of this intermediary as the Angel of Yahweh, God in human form, in The Unseen Realm, 163–170. We will not devote space to these items in the present chapter.

[v] Stewart, 7–8, 12–13; emphasis (underlining) is mine. On scholarly challenges to the interpretation of Gal. 3:19 that has the law producing human transgressions, see David J. Lull, “‘The Law Was Our Pedagogue’: A Study in Galatians 3:19–25,” Journal of Biblical Literature 105, no. 3 (1986): 481–498, esp. 483–485; Richard B. Hays, The Letter to the Galatians (pages 181–348 in NIB 11; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000) 266. Stewart elsewhere notes, “Consistently χάριν is translated as “because of” in contemporary translations including NRSV, ESV, NIV, NASB. The preposition appears only here in Paul’s undisputed letters, but also occurs in Eph 3:1, 14; 1 Tim 5:14; Titus 1:5; Lk 7:47; 1 Jn 3:12; Jude 16; LXX 2 Chron 7:21; Dan 2:13. This preposition simply cannot carry the exegetical load to indicate that the law produces transgression” (footnote 20, page 7; emphasis mine).

[vi] Richard J. Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude (vol. 50; Word Biblical Commentary; Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998) 89.

[vii] Stewart, 15–16.

[viii] The major study on Irenaeus in this regard is D. R. Schultz, “The Origin of Sin in Irenaeus and Jewish Apocalyptic Literature,” Ph.D. dissertation, McMaster University, 1972. An abbreviated form of this study is D. R. Schultz, “The Origin of Sin in Irenaeus and Jewish Pseudepigraphical Literature,” Vigiliae Christianae 32 (1978): 161–190. Quotations in this chapter from Schultz come from this shorter article. However, in his dissertation (appendix I) Schultz includes a lengthy table comparing the wordings of specific passages in Irenaeus’ writings to passages in 1 Enoch. The correlations are quite obvious when viewed side by side.

[ix] Schultz, 161, 168–169, 172–173.

[x] Tertullian, de virg. vel. 7; de idol. 9; de oratio 22.

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