Steve Cox & the ‘angels which sinned’

This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series Satan & demons: Thomas Farrar's commentary

Thomas Farrar has written three critiques of Christadelphian commentators Steve Cox’s article on ‘the angels which sinned’ in 2 Peter and Jude. Cox’s article can be found here; Farrar’s three articles can be found here, here, and here. Two of Farrar’s articles are examined in this post.

The Angels that Sinned: Christadelphian Interpretations of 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 1:6

This takes a very long time to say very little; Farrar basically argues that Cox’s ‘if’ interpretation is contrived. But the matter of whether or not Peter and Jude regard their source as recounting a historical event requires more work than either Farrar or Cox have carried out. Farrar’s own proposal that tartarosas in 2 Peter refers to the underworld  is made without any substantiating lexical evidence (not even a search in the LXX), and without even a single citation from the relevant literature.1

Jude’s Quotation from 1 Enoch: Straightforward Citation or Subtle Irony?

Without fully endorsing Cox’s case, I do not find Farrar’s objections very strong.2 In particular I am surprised to find Farrar appealing to much later rabbinical literature, given his aversion to me citing it in the context of New Testament satanological parallels.

Farrar says that even though the Biblical Enoch is not called in the seventh from Adam by the Old Testament, this can still be inferred from the Genesis record, so ‘the seventh from Adam’ applies to Genesis Enoch “in a straightforward and obvious way”. But he then argues that since the phrase ‘seventh from Adam’ in 1 Enoch was taken from the Book of Noah, and since Noah in this work refers to his grandfather as ‘the seventh from Adam’ (‘east of the garden of Eden, wherein the elect and righteous ones dwell, wherein my grandfather was taken, the seventh from Adam’),3 then it must refer to Enoch. He does not explain how this is supposed to work, given that the grandfather of Noah in Genesis 5 is Methuselah not Enoch,4 so the Book of Noah is not speaking of Enoch when it records Noah identifying his grandfather as the seventh from Adam.

Clearly Farrar has failed to check something; either the Biblical record itself, or a source he quoted without validating it.5 It is also worth noting that despite Farrar’s citation of the Book of Noah as an established fact, this is unconfirmed as a source for Enoch; although Jubilees and the Genesis Apocryphon refer to a Book of Noah, its use in Enoch is still hypothetical since we have no extant text from it, and the actual existence of the book is still disputed in the literature.

Farrar objects to Cox’s interpretation of propheteuo as the words of a charlatan, claiming this would be “a highly exceptional use of the verb”. In support of this he says “The only thing comparable in the New Testament is Caiphas’ inadvertent prophecy of Jesus’ death in John 11:51; but in that case it is obvious from the text that Caiphas’ words carried a double meaning not intended by him”. It’s extraordinary that he seems to think this constitutes lexical research. Not only has he failed to carry out a synchronic and diachronic lexical analysis in the relevant Greek literature, it seems he hasn’t even consulted a lexicon. Lidell, Scott, and Jones cite Galen’s use of the verb with reference to a medical charlatan, BDAG cites its use in Shepherd of Hermas of ‘Christian bogus seers’ and Galen’s use, which it describes as ironic, and Farrar himself quotes a relevant New Testament example. The fact that the Book of Enoch talks generally about God coming to judge the ungodly like many Biblical texts, doesn’t change the fact that the specific prophecy itself is false.

Farrar also objects to Cox’s rendering of the Greek ‘proepheteusen… toutoi’ as ‘prophesied to these’, saying “It is remarkable that a person of unknown competence in biblical Greek should so confidently assail the work of hundreds of committees of experts through the centuries as mistaken”. Farrar is right to be cautious, since Cox only has O level Greek (senior high school level), though his knowledge of Greek is certainly superior to Farrar’s (it is not clear whether or not Farrar can read any Greek at all). However, in addition to the scholars Farrar cites “who note the possibility” of this quotation, there are other scholars who have given the same translation as Cox; Reese,6  Heil,7 and Countryman.8 More could be added, but there is no need to cite them all since Farrar later acknowledges this himself.

Incredibly, having made all that fuss about Cox’s translation and his Greek skills, Farrar then goes on to concede the grammatical parsing for which Sox argues is entirely valid and is in fact “the most natural and literal rendering”.

However, Cox’s argument does have things in its favour. “Prophesied to these” would be (from a grammatical standpoint) the most natural and literal rendering (Moule, Ibid.; Robertson, Word Pictures of the New Testament), and it is on the grounds of context that most scholars and translators have preferred the rendering “prophesied about these” or “concerning these” (Moule, Ibid.). Indeed, a study of uses of the verb propheteuo with an indirect object in the LXX and NT reveals that the distinction alleged by Cox does hold in most cases, especially in Jeremiah LXX.

Farrar even acknowledges that the grammatical interpretation he prefers is actually rare, and only argue for it being “grammatically possible”.

Instead, it must at least be allowed as grammatically possible that the dative in Jude 1:14 is a dative of reference. This construction is rare but it shows that “about these” is a viable translation in Jude 1:14. The translators have not committed a simple grammatical error. In light of the context, they have identified Jude as using a rare but legitimate function of the dative, namely the dative of reference.

To summarize, Farrar spent spent two and a half pages of his entire article arguing against Cox’s parsing of the grammar and casting doubts on his knowledge of Greek, only to acknowledge that Cox’s parsing is the most natural reading and has broad lexical support, while the parsing Farrar prefer is rare and must be justified by appeal to “a possible explanation” concerning Jude’s style. Instead of wasting two and a half pages on bloviated objections, this could have been declared in a single paragraph with a handful of footnotes.

Farrar makes the point that early and modern commentators are virtually unanimous in their understanding of Jude’s use of his Enochic source, saying rightly that if Jude was intending to be ironic then he certainly did so with such subtlety that his meaning has been overlooked by generations of readers and commentators. However, this would hardly be unprecedented; modern scholars have uncovered understandings of New Testament texts which were inaccessible to the majority of readers from the second century to the twentieth.

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  1. While it is true this interpretation is popular, especially among theologians, it is hardly an established position in the broader literature and is challenged repeatedly on lexical and contextual grounds. []
  2. Two of his three arguments seem gleaned with little to no alteration in wording, from Longman & Garland, ‘Hebrews-Revelation’, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, volume 13 (rev. ed. 2011), which says ‘The expression “the seventh from Adam” also occurs in 1 Enoch 60:8; 93:3 and in rabbinic literature (Lev. Rab.29:11); the OT does not call Enoch “the seventh from Adam,” although it can be inferred from a reading of Genesis 5’ (this is almost word for word what Farrar’s article says, so even if he is not using this text then some attribution of his source would be in order here). []
  3. Charlesworth, ‘The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha’, volume 1, pp. 40-41 (1983). []
  4. Genesis 5:26 Methuselah lived 782 years after he became the father of Lamech, [father of Lamech, so grandfather of Noah] and he had other sons and daughters. 27 The entire lifetime of Methuselah was 969 years, and then he died. 28 When Lamech had lived 182 years, he had a son. 29 He named him Noah, saying, “This one will bring us comfort from our labor and from the painful toil of our hands because of the ground that the LORD has cursed.” []
  5. To help Farrar out, many modern critical commentators use Knibb’s translation ‘on the east of the garden where the chosen and righteous dwell, where my great-grandfather was received’, ‘The Ethiopic Book of Enoch: a new edition in the light of the Aramaic Dead Sea fragments’ (1978), which appears to be Knibb’s own emendation of the text, as he does elsewhere. []
  6. ‘The ungodly in the quoted text are obviously not the same people as the ungodly in Jude, but the reader has been told that this judgement was prophesied “to these” (toutoiV), the “these” who were first described in v. 4 and who have been specified in vv. 8, 10, 11, and 12 (outoi or autoiV).’, Reese, ‘Writing Jude: The Reader, the Text, and the Author in Constructs of Power and Desire‘, p. 36 (2000). []
  7. ‘“These [οὗτοι] are dangerous reefs” (1:12a) progresses to “prophesied to these [τούτοις]” (1:14).’, Heil, ‘1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude: Worship Matters’, p. 320 (2013). []
  8. ‘And Enoch, seventh from Adam, actually prophesied to these people, saying:’, Countryman, ‘Interpreting the Truth: Changing the Paradigm of Biblical Studies’, p. 78 (2003). []

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