Friday, May 28, 2010

Angels & Demons 10: The Fallen Angels of Jude and 2nd Peter

The Book of Jude contains only thirty verses. Of those thirty verses, more than half (sixteen, according to the Nestle-Aland Greek text of the New Testament) have parallels in the Book of 2nd Peter. Most scholars agree that there is a dependency relationship between these two books, but disagree on which book came first and which may have borrowed from the other. These two tiny books are the only New Testament books that explicitly refer to the Fallen Angel story of the book of I Enoch.

The Nestle-Aland Greek text of the New Testament also lists four references to the book of I Enoch in the thirty verses of Jude. It seems clear that the author of Jude was familiar with Enoch material. It is not as clear that 2nd Peter was as familiar with Enoch material as was Jude. Nowhere does the Nestle-Aland Greek text of the New Testament list a reference to I Enoch in 2nd Peter. Nevertheless, in discussing the angels who are being kept, awaiting “judgment,” 2nd Peter 2:4 is the only text that asserts that these were “sinning” angels, and adds that the angels were being held in “Tartarus.” Surely, he got the “sinning” angels detail from I Enoch, but did he get the “Tartarus” detail from I Enoch, as well? I do not think so. Jude 6 is the only text that supplies the information that the angels were kept in “chains.” According to I Enoch 54:5, iron chains were being prepared for the host of Azazel, whom I mentioned earlier, in the post entitled “Angels & Demons 2: The ‘Prometheus’ Connection.” Azazel, if you recall, was the fallen angel from I Enoch who brought culture to mankind, as did the god Prometheus of the Greeks. Prometheus was, according to Greek legends, bound--“chained” to a rock—for bringing culture to mankind; whereas, his brother Atlas had been confined to “Tartarus” as punishment for opposing Zeus in the Clash of the Titans. It is possible that both 2nd Peter and Jude received some of the details of their accounts, not from Enoch, but from Greek legends about Prometheus.

These are the only two verses in the entire New Testament that specifically refer to the Fallen Angel Story. Interestingly, NEITHER of these two passages goes so far as to suggest that angels married human women or that angels rebelled against God. Yet, those two proposed “sins” (marrying humans and rebellion) are the two prominent explanations for the fall of the angels in literature outside the Bible. In fact, NEITHER passage spells out ANY specific “sin” of the angels. So, what was the sin 2nd Peter was referring to?

Do the authors of Jude and 2nd Peter believe I Enoch was actually written by Enoch, the descendant of Adam from Genesis 5, who lived 365 years and then was translated directly to eternal life, according to Hebrews 11:5, avoiding death altogether? If so, why did Enoch write in the Greek language instead of some ancient Semitic language? Even more puzzling: Do the authors of Jude and 2nd Peter believe there really is a place called Tartarus, where Greek gods are imprisoned? Questions such as these actually kept the book of Jude from being accepted into the New Testament canon for a long time. I personally do not believe the authors of Jude and 2nd Peter believed any of this. That is why they refused to mention the specific sin the angels were guilty of. For that matter, Jude does not even call it a “sin.” He only says that they “abandoned their proper dwelling.” Both agree that angels are awaiting judgment, but so does Revelation 20:10. Certain angels’ roles are scheduled to be terminated at the end of history, but not necessarily due to sins they have committed. If the authors of Jude and 2nd Peter do not believe the Fallen Angel Stories to which they refer, what is going on in these passages?

The Jews call it “Homiletic Aggadah.” The authors of Jude and 2nd Peter both lived in the Jewish milieu in which the use of homiletic aggadah was commonplace. The New World Encyclopedia defines aggadah as “folklore, historical anecdotes, moral exhortations, and advice. Sometimes they refer to mythical creatures, and incredible historical events.” The word “homiletic” refers to sermons. In some churches, today, instead of preaching a sermon, the church leader “delivers a homily.” The word homily means sermon. Budding young preachers study “homiletics” (or the art of preparing sermons) in college or seminary. In sermons, homiletic aggadah may be fictional or historical stories used to support certain moral or spiritual teachings. Jesus used parables. These were homiletic aggadah. Did the Good Samaritan actually exist, or was he just a fictional character Jesus used to illustrate his point that one’s neighbor can sometimes appear to be one’s enemy? Was there an actual Prodigal Son that Jesus had in mind? Were there actually five wise virgins and five foolish ones that went to a marriage feast? Does it matter? No.

Sermon illustrations may be taken from history, current events, or literature. Audiences typically know which is which. A preacher today might ask in a sermon, “Do you think Jack Bauer should be punished for torturing terrorists?” If the audience is familiar with the successful Fox TV series "24," they will know that the preacher does not actually believe a real person named Jack Bauer actually tortured real terrorists. The Jack Bauer character, played by Kiefer Sutherland, presented only a scenario—which is precisely what the fallen angel story presented for the authors of Jude and 2nd Peter. Just because Jack Bauer is a fictional character, it is not necessary to exclude his scenario from discussions of how America should fight a war on terror. Historical accounts may be mentioned right alongside the Bauer reference. The preacher might ask, “Should Osama bin Laden be granted Miranda rights, if he is captured?” He might recount facts about the Fort Hood murders, the attempted Christmas Day bombing and the attempted Times Square car bombing. Audiences can quickly switch back and forth between fiction and history, as they listen to sermons.

So, what sermon point were the authors of Jude and 2nd Peter making? The sermon seems to be most clearly preached in 1st Peter 3:17-20. The point of the sermon (in verse 17) is: “It is better to suffer for doing right than for doing wrong.” The illustrations for this point are homiletic aggadah:

1. Christ suffered and died, but God raised him (3:18).
2. Even spirits who were disobedient at the time of Noah were imprisoned--a possible allusion to the fallen angels of I Enoch (3:19-20).
3. Noah was saved, even though all around him were destroyed (3:20).

2nd Peter 2:1-9 seems to make a similar point with some of the same homiletic aggadah. The point is: “The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation and to keep the wicked under chastisement” (2:9). The illustrations are:

1. God did not spare sinning angels, but committed them to Tartarus (2:4).
2. Noah was saved, even though all around him were destroyed (2:5).
3. God did not spare Sodom and Gomorrah, but rescued Lot (2:6-8).

Jude 3-7 seems to be warning (7) the audience not to be like those who will be condemned (4). The illustrations are:

1. After the Lord rescued the Jews from Egypt, he destroyed those who had no faith (5).
2. Angels who abandoned their dwelling, He reserved in chains (6).
3. God did not spare Sodom and Gomorrah, when they sinned (7).

A quick glance at these three sermons shows how sermons were written in the culture of Peter and Jude. The common conclusion seems to be that God will eventually save the righteous and eventually punish the wicked, even if the wicked were originally as righteous as angels.

Since I commented that the spirits who were disobedient at the time of Noah and were imprisoned was a possible allusion to the fallen angels of I Enoch (1st Peter 3:19-20), I should explain my comment before concluding this post. The Nestle-Aland Greek text of the New Testament lists among its notes on verse 19 the conjecture of two textual critics that the word Enoch was originally in the text, but was somehow removed by scribes who copied the text. Such a mistake would be easily explained. The words usually translated “in which also” were pronounced in Greek: “ENHOKAI.” If this were pronounced “HENOKAI,” the words would be translated “Enoch also.” It is possible that early scribes accidentally made a mistake—or that scribes intentionally removed this reference to Enoch and fallen angels from the book of 1st Peter (because they did not want to teach the fallen angel story). This conjecture would remove a very singular and strange teaching in the Bible--that somehow Jesus went and preached to people in Hell after his death. Such a notion does not occur anywhere else in the Bible. I Enoch, on the other hand, DOES SAY that Enoch went and preached to the spirits in prison—referring to Enoch preaching to the fallen angels who had been chained. If this is an accurate conjecture, we have three references to the I Enoch account of fallen angels in the New Testament, instead of two. Nevertheless, all three seem to be related--developments of the same sermon, and the characterization of homiletic aggadah fits all three references.

My final comment on these passages is that of all three of them, ONLY THE 2ND PETER PASSAGE actually speaks of “sinning” angels (and even that passage leaves an “out” for the author). 2nd Peter 2:4 DOES NOT SAY, “God did not spare sinning angels.” It says, “IF God did not spare sinning angels.” The “IF” effectively removes any clear cut doctrine of sinning angels from the entire New Testament, by making the clause into only a conditional clause.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Angels & Demons 9: Angels Have Only the Good Inclination

Based on the Hebrew text of Genesis 18:5, Judges 19:5, and Psalms 48:14 and 104:15, various Jewish rabbis from the early Christian Era (Isaac, Aḥa, and Hiyya) point out that the “heart” (or inclination) of humans is different from the “heart” (or inclination) of angels. They assert: “The evil inclination has no power over angels.” Furthermore, “The evil inclination will not return [to humans] in the hereafter” (Bereshit Rabbah 48:11). Jesus seems to agree to some extent that humans in the hereafter will have characteristics similar to angels (Mark 12:25, Matthew 22:30, and Luke 20:36), but he does not specifically state that this similarity with angels centers around only possessing the good inclination. On the other hand, it seems inconsistent with a Christian view of the hereafter to envision resurrected humans capable of sinning, once again. The view of angels as lacking the evil inclination dominated Jewish teaching on angels at the time of the New Testament. Citing the Bereshit Rabbah 48:11 passage, Arthur Marmorstein, a highly respected rabbinic scholar who taught at Jews' College, London, from 1912 to 1946 (and author of the entry on “Angels and Angelology” on Volume I, page 968, of the Encyclopaedia Judaica makes the sweeping statement: “The angels . . . are free of the YETZER HA-RA.”

In the Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 88b-89a, Moses is depicted explaining to angels why the Law was not given to them. The Law, according to Moses, is not suitable for angels because they do not have the evil inclination in them. The angels agree.

Midrash Shir Ha-Shirim Rabbah 8:11 quotes Rabbi Judan as offering an analogy of a boy who had lost several of his fingers, but trying to learn the art of embroidery or silk-working. Even if an expert teacher were hired, his instruction would be in vain because the boy could not possibly learn it. The essence of the art of embroidery depends on the use of the fingers. Likewise, the angels are incapable of using the Law because they lack something essential to its use. God is quoted as saying: “Certainly, no satisfaction results from [the angel’s] compliance [with the Law].” Marcus Jastrow explains in his Dictionary, Volume II, page 1541: “Your compliance with the Law would afford no satisfaction to Me, because you have no temptation and trials to contend with.” It is clear that this passage also holds with the teaching that angels lack the evil inclination. They are not free moral agents.

This embroidery parable is found also in Midrash Tehillim 8:74 (which I will examine more fully in a future commentary) and in Pesikta Rabbati chapter 25, page 128 a. These passages underscore the sinlessness of angels and assert that they are sinless by nature. According to most official Jewish views from the New Testament period, angels cannot sin because they do not have an evil inclination.

AFTER THE NEW TESTAMENT PERIOD, Christians did begin to teach that the Fallen Angels fell through sin. Justin Martyr, somewhere around 150 a.d., wrote in Dialogue 79 from his “Dialogue with Trypho (a Jew)” describing Tryphy as becoming irate concerning the suggestion that Fallen Angels fell through sin. Though the specific sin Trypho rejected was the sin of “rebellion” (which I will discuss in a future commentary), Trypho appears to reject the notion that angels could sin at all as being “blasphemous!” I will not assume any responsibility for defending the teachings of uninspired Christian writers--even those so revered as Justin Martyr. I believe Justin was mistaken; I believe Trypho the Jew was correct in this instance. I believe the New Testament supports Trypho more than it does Justin.

IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, angels are mentioned 170 times—virtually all of these passages depicting sinless angels. Of these 170 times, only two times is it suggested that angels are capable of sinning: II Peter 2:4 and Jude 6. Certainly, it is necessary for us to examine these two passages—which are quite similar in many ways—but there is not room for that discussion in this week’s commentary. For that discussion, please return again, next week.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Angels & Demons 8: Sex and the Knowledge of Good and Evil

Jesus, in Matthew 22:36-40, summarized all of the commandments with the one word “love”: Love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. On these two “love” commands, according to Jesus, hang all of the Law and the Prophets. It is fitting, then, that God waited until humans were capable of love/selflessness until he gave them the ability to reproduce sexually. Animals engage in sex for selfish reasons—they have urges that demand to be met. Many humans, certainly, engage in sex for selfish reasons, as well. Perhaps, virtually all humans engage in sex for selfish reasons, at times. But, at least humans have the option of acting selfishly or unselfishly. This fact relates to the fallen angel issue.

In human beings, the two YETZARIM (inclinations) are closely identified with sexual or reproductive stages of life. The Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 91b), Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 4:13, Midrash Ha-Gadol Bereshit 108-109, etc., teach that the YETZER HA-RA‘ (evil inclination) came to man at birth. In his Legends of the Jews (Volume V, p. 81), Louis Ginzberg notes: “the good inclination does not make its appearance before . . . the time of puberty.” The Babylonian Talmud (Yoma 82a) points out that the official age for girls is 12 years. Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 4:13, Midrash Ha-Gadol Bereshit 108-109, and Midrash Tehillim 9,82 place the official age for boys at 13. Interestingly, Adam and Eve did not notice their own sexuality/nakedness until they had eaten of the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” And they were not commanded to “be fruitful and multiply” until after they had eaten.

It is very significant that the girl of version I of the Sinless Fallen Angel Story (related earlier) is described in Hebrew as a NA‘ARAH (“lass”). According to Marcus Jastrow’s Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature, NA‘ARAH is a legal term specially designating a “girl between twelve and twelve and a half years of age.” This incident is very possibly her first real temptation since receiving the YETZER HA-TOV (good inclination). Since she responded righteously in this single instance, it could explain her being permitted to come immediately before the Throne of God, a feat that would have been inconceivable even for angels unless they were sinless.

This indicates that it was necessary for an individual to have both “inclinations” in order to be held accountable for sin (and for that matter, to be deemed righteous for passing the test/temptation). The rich young ruler, with whom Jesus interacts regarding eternal life in Luke 18:18-21, insists that he has kept the “commandments” from his youth up. It is possible that he means from the time of his bar mitzvah forward. Hebrews 4:15 asserts that Jesus himself was tempted in every respect, as we are, but was without sin. We know nothing, however, about the childhood of Jesus. After the birth narratives, there is no discussion of Jesus’ actions until we near his bar mitzvah. Luke picks up the narrative again, in 2:41, when Jesus was age twelve. The same theology that allows Jewish writers to tell a story of a “lass” being righteous in one temptation following her youth and being awarded eternal life is the same theology that allows Christian writers to conclude that the sinless life of Jesus permits him to be transfigured on the mountain, and later, resurrected from the dead.

Since the “lass” possessed only the “evil inclination” prior to her twelfth birthday, any selfish behavior committed prior to this time must not have been considered “sinful.” This is precisely the view (the sinlessness of children) that prevailed at this time. Even the second book of Maccabees 8:4 speaks of the “sinless infants.” And the Mishnah (Yoma 8:4) says, concerning the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur): “Little children [anyone just born through 13 years for boys and 12 years for girls] are not made to fast on the Day of Atonement; however, we should be initiating them beforehand one or two years in order that they will be in the habit of [following] the commandments.” It is a simple deduction that, if little children are not required to participate in the yearly atonement exercise, they must not be held guilty of any “sins” for which they would need atonement.

Albrecht Oepke, a German Christian scholar, writing in Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, debates the assertion that Judaism accepted “the innocence of children” because, he says, “the evil impulse is there from conception or birth.” That much I readily concede, but in light of the passage just quoted from the Mishnah, which we may definitely call “authoritative,” little children must in some way be considered sinless, or at least not responsible for their sins. I suspect that the Lutheran Oepke may have his own axe to grind, since Lutherans baptize babies for the forgiveness of their sins. If babies are actually sinless, there would be no need to forgive any sins. Perhaps, that’s the point of Jesus’ comment concerning little children that “of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

Even if children are simply not responsible for their sin, possessing only the evil inclination, we may very easily suspect that angels who possess only the good inclination would probably be considered sinless, too. Such is the case. I will present the pertinent proof of that assertion, next time.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Angels & Demons 7: Can Animals, Children, or Angels SIN?

Is it possible for my little dog Nicolete to sin? Not according to official Jewish teachings. Why? Nicolete does not possess both the good and evil inclinations. She possesses only the “evil inclination”—what Jews call the YETZER HA-RA. Although we sometimes anthropomorphize animals—such as Lassie (the canine movie star), Trigger (Roy Rogers’ horse), and Flipper (the dolphin)—to make them appear to have a good inclination, animals do things for essentially SELFISH reasons. Ask any animal trainer how one secures desired behavior on the part of an animal and you will find that selfishness prevails on the part of the animal. Whenever the desired behavior occurs, the animal is rewarded, using the pleasure principle. Continual training using this selfish reinforcement is called “operant conditioning.” Eventually, animal trainers train dogs, horses, dolphins, birds, etc., to behave in ways that “can be interpreted” by anthropomorphizing humans as conforming to a “good inclination”—what Jews call the YETZER HA-TOV—but these “good” behaviors are actually selfish behaviors, induced by reward or punishment.

Is it possible for children to sin? Not according to official Jewish teachings—for the same reason animals cannot sin. Children do not possess the YETZER HA-TOV, according to the Jewish Mishnah, until they reach the age of 12 or 13 (12 for girls, 13 for boys). Prior to that age, they possess only the YETZER HA-RA. They—like animals—are essentially selfish. This is why at age 13, Jewish boys are given a BAR MITZVAH (literally: “son of the commandment”). Girls, at the age of 12, have a BAT MITZVAH (“daughter of the commandment”). They are not even expected to be able to live according to the Commandments until that age. They are considered sinless, even though they are (like animals) essentially selfish. However, the Mishnah suggests that we begin training children to keep the commandments, a few years before they reach the age of accountability. The young girl who tricked the angels in my previous commentary had just reached the age of 12. There is a specific Hebrew word that indicates the fact. She had been sinless prior to this encounter with the angels, due to her age. Since she passed her first specific test and avoided the transgression, she was rewarded by God (with eternal life?).

Is it possible for adult humans to sin? To quote Governor Palin, “You betcha!” Adult humans have both the YETZER HA-RA and the YETZER HA-TOV. They have the knowledge of both good and evil. They have a measure of free will that animals and children do not. They are capable of freely choosing to be either selfish or selfless. Virtually all (but not actually ALL) adult humans have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Even though we, at times, act unselfishly (in accordance with the YETZER HA-TOV), every one of us has also, at times, acted selfishly (in accordance with the YETZER HA-RA). Once humans reach the age of accountability, they are held responsible for their sins. ONLY BEINGS POSSESSING BOTH THE YETZER HA-RA AND THE YETZER HA-TOV ARE CONSIDERED CAPABLE OF SIN. If a being (such as a child or an animal) does not have the full capability to choose freely between good and evil alternatives, that being is not held “accountable” for any sins. God does not hold a being responsible for doing something that being was incapable of doing.

So, is it possible for angels to sin? Not according to official Jewish teachings. This is not because, like animals and children, angels possess only the YETZER HA-RA. On the contrary, angels do not have the evil inclination at all! They possess only the YETZER HA-TOV. They do not have selfish motives whatsoever. Everything they do is what is commanded by the One who created them. They are totally selfless. But, they are not considered as high in God’s hierarchy as are humans. This is because SOME humans who are capable of sinning CHOOSE NOT TO SIN. Angels never even have the opportunity to prove that they would choose correctly. They have no choice. They have no free will. The reason you will find no commandments in the Bible directed at angels (as we considered two weeks ago) is that there would be no point. Angels have no commandments because they are not free moral agents. They cannot sin.