Monday, May 19, 2008

Enoch and Christian Universalism

I've been repeatedly reading the Similitudes of Enoch recently (1 Enoch 37-71 – the new Vanderkam and Nickelsburg is both the most authoritative translation and, in my view, the most accessible), and it occurred to me that it is a potentially relevant text to the Christian Universalism (CU) debate. If Matthew did indeed draw from the Similitudes for the 'parable' of the sheep and goats (Mt. 25:35-46), as Jim Davila and others think, then one ought to best consult 1 Enoch to understand Matthew. And I think one would be hard pressed to maintain any version of universalism based upon 1 Enoch!

In other words, the canonical Gospel text of Matthew likely does not support the notion that Jesus held universalist convictions, and, especially if the Similitudes link is pursued, indeed held convictions opposed to CU.

To run with this line of thinking: While it can be argued that Paul's letters do not have to be interpreted in a way that is incompatible with CU, one would also be hard pressed to claim that Paul was himself a universalist, even if there are CU seeds in his letters. Add to this the general view of Christian tradition, which in the 6th century explicitly condemned (albeit an extremely dubious variety of) CU, and one has a formidable artillery lined up against universalist convictions.

Further, and for me at the moment decisively, to add the CU footnote at the end of this picture is not simply a tame option but vital for one's understanding of the whole (much like the last chapter in a book telling you what happens at the very end is crucial). And to this extent, because it is difficult to understand the CU option as merely a subtlety, I struggle to accept a version of the story's end that does not square too comfortably with a canonical portrait of Jesus' teaching, Paul, nor the tradition of the church. Of course, I hope CUs are right. Gregory MacDonald is a 'hopeful dogmatic universalist'. For now, I remain simply a hopeivist.



At 5/20/2008 2:56 AM, Anonymous Ranger said...

Thanks for this post. As one who is also a hopivist (who at times wishes he could fully become a universalist) I'm thankful for your honesty. I'm also thankful for the recommendation on a good translation of 1 Enoch, as I've been wanting to work through it recently. I'll pick up a copy of the translation you mention on my next trip to the States.

At 5/20/2008 4:27 PM, Anonymous jdaviddark said...

Could we say that Jesus and Paul were both hopivist in this regard (i think too of W. Blake suggesting that Jesus perhaps died an unbeliever) and also consider/hope/pray that the good news of Jesus' resurrection is, in more ways than one, an affirmation/vindication of this hope?
Glad to've found you.

At 5/21/2008 3:39 PM, Anonymous Jason Pratt said...

I'm a bit fuzzy on the line of argumentation here, Chris. Is this what you're saying?

1.) GosMatt borrows from 1 Enoch in the parable of the sheep and goats, instead of vice versa or instead of reporting Jesus borrowing (as seems an establishable habit on other evidence) a story Himself from the rabbinic tradition and giving it a corrective twist.

2.) Even if it can be argued (due to the technical verb used for punishment at the end) that GosMatt's version might be universalistic, the 1 Enoch version isn't.

3.) And nothing else in GosMatt might point toward universalism.

4.) Therefore, either 'Matthew' spuriously adduced a quote to Jesus that didn't happen, which quote as it stands might be universalistic, but Jesus didn't say it; or 'Matthew' spuriously adduced a quote to Jesus that didn't happen and the adduced quote should be treated either as anti-universalistic because the source, 1Enoch is, or else even if Matt himself converted it over to universalistic tendencies, it doesn't matter because it isn't connected to Jesus anyway. And there's nothing else in GosMatt at all from Jesus that might lend credence in that text to Jesus teaching some kind of universalism.

5.) And GosMatt's resultant lack-of-evidence on this should be considered superior to any positive evidence that might be gotten from another canonical text.

Did I miss or misunderstand an element? {s}


At 5/23/2008 11:25 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks for your comment, and welcome to the blog! I dunno, I don't think we can say Jesus died an unbeliever - it was all part of Jewish spirituality to cite such a Psalm. I would perhaps see it as an expression of his doubt expressed as worship.

Sorry, Jason. where I wasn't clear, and I've run out of time to commentm again. I'll try to get to you tomorrow!

Hi Ranger, thank for your kind words. I would also recommen Olson's work - very helpful for cross-references.

At 5/24/2008 8:03 PM, Anonymous jdaviddark said...

I wouldn't say that either (though I'm glad Blake Blakean of him). And I very much like the idea of doubt expressed thru worship.
Thanks for all these excellent posts

At 5/26/2008 12:26 AM, Anonymous Jason Pratt said...

{{I dunno, I don't think we can say Jesus died an unbeliever - it was all part of Jewish spirituality to cite such a Psalm. I would perhaps see it as an expression of his doubt expressed as worship. }}

More to the point, it was part of a habit of rabbinic rebuke (still practiced today occasionally) from a teacher to pupils, to quote the opening of a piece of scripture where the unstated portion contains the nub. In this case, the Psalm goes on to express David's hope in vindication by God, which vindication shall take place in the presence of his enemies: the expression of abandonment is poetic hyperbole, and is typical of a cry to God leading into a plea for help.

Not that I would have much of a problem with Jesus, near death, believing mistakenly that God had abandoned Him; but even then Jesus doesn't abandon God, any more than David did when he cried "MY God". If orthodox trinitarian theism is true, however, then the Father did not in fact abandon the Son, any more than the Son abandoned the Father (appearances notwithstanding, perhaps even to the Son, in the former case. But I doubt Jesus actually believed God had abandoned Him.)

Another case of this special form of inter-rabbinic rebuke can be found in the Johannine passage where Jesus quotes the Psalm where God says, "I have said that you are gods." The second half of that verse reads, "but you shall die like mortal men!" The hidden rebuke form explains Jesus' reference to that verse, in context, better than any other interpretation I've yet seen.


At 7/18/2008 6:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

jason pratt, what you must understand in orthodox trinitarianism is that it is still monotheistic. Our God is three persons in one God with ONE will at all times

At 7/18/2008 7:47 PM, Anonymous Jason Pratt said...


I quite agree and have said so numerous times in my writing elsewhere. Though strictly speaking a unity of will might be better as a description, in order to keep from conflating the Persons. (Also the 'unity' term seems more Biblical in its nuance.)

I'm not sure what I said that you thought I "must understand" the unified will of the Persons about, though.

But, taking a guess about it: will isn't knowledge, and there are conditions of Incarnation in which the Son (within the context of that Incarnation) wouldn't be 'naturally' omniscient. Which is why I specifically said that even if the Son had mistakenly believed the Father had abandoned Him, the Son still chose to be loyal to the Father: at (perhaps) it's most basic level, this loyalty is what a unity of will requires.

BUT! I also repeated that I didn't (and still don't) believe that the Son on the cross believed He had actually been abandoned by the Father.

(Possibly you thought that my phrasing "if trinitarian theism is true" was supposed to mean agnosticism on my part about that. But I didn't mean that. I'm a hyper-orthodox doctrinaire. {g} Not everyone commenting around here is, though, so I presented it as a qualification. In speaking with only other committed trinitarians, I would have said something like "since trinitarianism is true". But since I used "if" and was putting the situations in terms of "Jesus" and "God", as if the two entities were completely distinct, you'd have some ground for suspecting agnosticism from me on the topic, if you didn't know me well enough. Not your fault.)



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