Friday, December 18, 2009

A Watchtower interpretation issue: did Enoch die?

The Watchtower has long argued that none of those mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11 have gone, or will ever go to heaven. In fact, their position of this is very precise:

*** pe chap. 20 p. 172 par. 18 Resurrection—for Whom, and Where? ***

18 Who are the “righteous” that are to be resurrected? These will include faithful servants of God who lived before Jesus Christ came to earth. Many of these persons are mentioned by name in Hebrews chapter 11. They did not hope to go to heaven, but hoped to live again on earth. Also among the “righteous” to be resurrected are faithful servants of God who have died in recent years. God will see to it that their hope of living forever on earth is realized by raising them from the dead.

However, my dispute is not so much with the eternal dwelling place of those mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11, but with a particular event surrounding the person of Enoch. And here I’d like to present to you an exercise in objective thinking. That is, forgetting about your preconceived theological notions and going with what the Bible is explicitly stating. So, here, I’d like to contrast two things:

1. What the Watchtower is saying


2. What the Bible is saying

It may be your position, even at the end of this exercise, that the Watchtower’s interpretation fits right in with the Biblical explanation. But I’d still like for you to consider this question: are you allowing the text of Scripture to speak on its own terms? Or are you importing a preconceived theological idea into the text?

And with that said, I’d like to discuss the person of Enoch. And there are two places in the Bible which mention Enoch that I’d like to discuss: Genesis 5:24 and Hebrews 11:5.

“And Enoch kept walking with the [true] God. Then he was no more, for God took him.” (Genesis 5:24, NWT)

It would be difficult at this point to establish what exactly happened to Enoch. It could be that God ended his life just as easily as he could have taken him away into heaven. But when we turn to Hebrews 11:5, we find that more details are presented in which we can know what happened to Enoch.

“By faith Enoch was transferred so as not to see death, and he was nowhere to be found because God had transferred him; for before his transference he had the witness that he had pleased God well.” (Hebrews 11:5, NWT)

Now, forgetting about your preconceived theological notions, what is the simplest and clearest reading of this text? First, it would seem obvious that we can rule out death. The reason being, the text says that Enoch did not see death. And typically, when we speak of someone “not seeing death,” we are speaking of someone who did not die! But secondly, we have even more of a confirmation that Enoch did not die, “for he was nowhere to be found.” If Enoch had died, could anyone say that Enoch was nowhere to be found? And third, the fact that God “transferred him” should rule out any possibility that this could have been some sort of change in Enoch’s mental state. For if Enoch was “nowhere to be found because God had transferred him,” this must mean that Enoch was physically taken away.

If this reading of the text is correct, then we are left with only one option: Enoch was taken into heaven. Though the text doesn’t explicitly state that heaven was where he was taken to, it seems to be the only option, since Genesis 5:24 says that, “he was no more.” Therefore, if someone is “no more…because he was transferred,” then heaven seems to be the most likely option. But one thing is certain: death is not an interpretive option, for the text explicitly rules it out.

Next, I’d like to share with you the Watchtower’s interpretation of the text. And because I’m not going to offer any criticisms of their position, I’d like you to think very carefully and objectively about what they say. That is, think about what the Scriptures are saying. Which view is reading their theology into the text of Scripture and making it fit with their ideas, and which view is allowing the text so speak on its own terms:

*** w01 9/15 p. 31 Enoch Walked With God in an Ungodly World ***

Enoch was apparently in mortal danger when “God took him.” (Genesis 5:24) Jehovah did not allow his faithful prophet to suffer at the hands of rabid enemies. According to the apostle Paul, “Enoch was transferred so as not to see death.” (Hebrews 11:5) Many say that Enoch did not die—that God took him to heaven, where he kept on living. However, Jesus plainly stated: “No man has ascended into heaven but he that descended from heaven, the Son of man.” Jesus was the “forerunner” of all who ascend to heaven.—John 3:13; Hebrews 6:19, 20.
So, what happened to Enoch? His being “transferred so as not to see death” may mean that God put him in a prophetic trance and then terminated his life while he was in that state. Under such circumstances, Enoch would not experience the pangs of death. Then “he was nowhere to be found,” apparently because Jehovah disposed of his body, even as he disposed of Moses’ body.—Deuteronomy 34:5, 6.


Anonymous said...

Only several verses later it says "all these died," where the antecedent to "these" demands Enoch died. The difference is between 'dying' and 'seeing death,' the later of which appears to refer to the actual experience of dying, for it is something perceived, while the former refers to being in a state without life.

On the other hand, Jesus' words were clear, that no man has ascended into heaven. Now you can argue that Enoch went to heaven by means other than ascension, but to do that you'll first have to show that Jewish thought accommodated for entry into heaven by any means other than ascension.


Mike Felker said...

Thanks for your comment, Dave. I addressed most of this in the comments of the youtube video, but I plan on doing a follow up video or a blog in addressing these objections and differing interpretations. Hopefully i'll be able to get to it while all of this is still fresh.

Samantha Mae said...

This is very interesting. I read this way Dave did..... with the difference between actually "dying" and "seeing death." I actually pictured the Grim Reaper in my head while reading. Clearly, I don't believe in a Grim Reaper, but as the interruption of the death process, "seeing death."

I am however, not completely convinced that heaven is the answer of where Enoch went. As you pointed out, it's a reasonable answer..... but how do we know? There's nothing specific that says so, and how do we know that there's not more options out there that we are not aware of? I guess I just question everything. To me, this could be left open to an unknown.

Though, I'm pretty sure his body was not "disposed of." Those Watchtower kids need to cut back on the CSI episodes.

Also, I'd like to read yours (and others) responses to your video blog... but I didn't even KNOW you had a video blog? Link please!

Mike Felker said...

Thanks for your comment Sam. I'm going to write another blog, if I can ever get to it, in explaining some of these objections. But I will readily admit that i'm not set on "heaven" being the only option. Notice that I suggested that this is the most "likely" option. Certainly, Enoch could have been "transferred" somewhere else. Some commentators have suggested that he was transferred into the "firmament," which is not that abode of God and would be located somewhere in this known universe, whereas heaven is probably not. This seems pretty far fetched, but i'm willing to grant it as a possibility. But God actually killing Enoch just doesn't fit with the context. So, i'll hopefully address these objections in more detail and present some more possible solutions.

Keep in mind, however, that i'm dealing strictly with the Watchtower's explanation. Many Christian commentators hold to the idea that Enoch died, but not in the "CSI" manner in which you alluded to :-)

The Watchtower's interpretation just seems to creative to be true.