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After the Epistle to the Hebrews gives its initial definition of faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (11:1), there follows the famous list of the “great cloud of witnesses,” those “elders” who “obtained a good testimony” by exemplifying such faith (12:1).
One can hardly fail to observe, in this list, the strong emphasis on death with respect to this saving faith. Throughout Hebrews 11 death is the test of faith. While this test is clearest in the instances of Abel (v. 4), Abraham (vv. 17f.), Jacob (v. 21), Joseph (v. 22), Moses’ parents (v. 23), and the later witnesses (vv. 32–39), it is also implied in the cases of Noah (v. 7), Sarah (v. 11), Isaac (v. 20), and Moses (vv. 25f.). In short, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, faith has to do with how one dies, and “all these died in faith” (v. 13).
This emphasis on death in the context of faith renders very interesting the inclusion of Enoch among the list of faith’s exemplars, for Holy Scripture indicates that Enoch departed this world in some way other than death. Indeed, in Genesis 5, the genealogy that includes Enoch’s name employs the verb “died” eight times with respect to the patriarchs from Adam to Lamech, but in the case of Enoch, “the seventh from Adam” (Jude 14), Genesis says simply that he “walked with God, and he was not found (ouk eurisketo), for God removed (metetheken) him” (Genesis 5:24).
By way of commentary on this passage, the Epistle to the Hebrews says, “By faith Enoch was removed (metethe) so that he should not see death, and was not found (ouk eurisketo), because God removed (metetheken) him; for before his removal (metatheseos) he was witnessed to have pleased (euariestekenai) God” (11:5).
That ancient “witness,” cited here in the Epistle to the Hebrews, is found in the Book of Wisdom (Wisdom of Solomon, RSV), where Enoch is thus described: “He was pleasing (euarestos) to God and was beloved of him, so that, living among sinners, he was removed (metetethe). He was snatched away so that evil would not alter his understanding, nor deceit beguile his soul. For the malice of what is worthless takes away things of worth, and the roving of passion subverts a guileless mind. Made perfect (teleotheis) in a short time, he filled out massive times, for his soul pleased (areste) God. So he rushed him from the midst of evil” (4:10–14).
Such is the biblical witness about the “short time” that Enoch spent on this earth (a mere 365 years, according to Genesis 5:23). Unlike the other heroes listed in Hebrews 11, Enoch did not die in faith, for the unusual reason that he did not die at all. He nonetheless deserved a place in that heroic list, we are told, because “he pleased God” by his faith. Thus, when we believers “draw near unto the Throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16), when we approach “the general assembly and church of the firstborn registered in heaven” (12:23), there stands Enoch among “the spirits of just men made perfect” (teteleiomenon).
Living before both Noah and Moses, Enoch was participant in neither of the covenants associated with these men. Not a single line of Holy Scripture was yet written for him to read. Much less did Enoch ever hear the message of salvation preached by the apostles. Yet, he was so pleasing to God by his faith as to be snatched away before his time, not suffering that common lot of death from which the Almighty spared not even his own Son.
What, exactly, did Enoch believe, then, that he should be such a champion of faith for the Church until the end of time? The Epistle to the Hebrews explains: “But without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is the rewarder of those who diligently seek him” (11:6). This was the sum total of all that Enoch’s faith told him—God’s existence and his own duty to seek God to obtain the singular blessing that Holy Scripture ascribes to him.
It is the Bible’s portrayal of Enoch, then, that affords us a godly hope for the salvation of those millions of human beings who must pass their lives on that bare minimum of theological information, for which Enoch himself rendered such a marvelous account. We may dare to hope that some of them, too, with a faith known to God alone, have found their way into the great cloud of witnesses.