I am very familiar with John Adams' post-Presidential musings on
religion. I am familiar with the prior period too; but in his
post-Presidency, he seemed fascinated by theology and loved discussing
the particulars with his intimate friends who would engage him. The
problem is, he can be rambling and incoherent at times.
the Prophesy of Enoch and how it relates to books in the biblical
canon, I think he does good critical study of the Bible's texts. Or at
least asks the right questions.
The Book of Enoch
isn't part of the canon of Protestants, Roman Catholics or the standard Eastern Orthodox; it is part of the canon of "the Ethiopian Orthodox Church
and the Eritrean Orthodox Church
In canonical books, Enoch is mentioned as a character in general in a
few places. The controversy -- which persisted from the days of the
early church, throughout the ages -- is that in one, arguably two or
more places in the canon, Enoch's prophesy that derives from the Book of
Enoch is quoted as though what was being quoted is true (as sacred
So Enoch mentioned as a character by name in Genesis in a manner otherwise unrelated to the Book of Enoch isn't
controversial. Enoch quoted in Jude, on the other hand, IS controversial
because Jude invokes the Prophesy of Enoch which the Book of Enoch
speaks of in more detail.
Of course, for those who want
to thread the needle as to why there is good reason to accept the canon
but exclude Enoch, there is an argument which we need not get into
here. Another way of threading the needle is to conclude the Ethiopian
and Eritrean Orthodox Churches got it right and that the Book of Enoch
belongs in the canon.
John Adams didn't just reject the Book of Enoch, he also rejected the Prophesy of Enoch. (Hat tip to Bill Fortenberry for the reference
.) As Adams wrote to F. Van der Kemp, Jan. 4, 1814
That this Prophecy of Enoch was as gross a Forgery as the Gospell of
the Infancy, which Some ascribed to St. Mathew and Some to St Thomas; or
as the Acts of Paul and Thecle, I have no doubt. To call Such impious
and execrable forgeries by the pious Epithet Apocryphal, is abominable.
if not just the Book but the Prophesy of Enoch is false, what then
of when this fake prophesy is invoked in books of the accepted canon as
though it were true. In Jude and in the 2nd Peter, the Prophesy of Enoch
is so mentioned.
So Adams asks his son John Quincy
who at that time was supposedly more orthodox in that he professed
Calvinism, about whether he thought Jude (along with Song of Solomon and
Apocalypse (Book of Revelation)) properly belonged in the canon. (The
younger Adams basically confessed agnosticism on the matter.)
In a letter to Thomas Jefferson dated December 25, 1813
, Adams asks:
Do you know any thing of the prophecy of Enoch ? Can you give me a
comment on the 6th, the 9th, the 14th verses of the epistle of Jude?
And in a later letter to Jefferson, from February 1814, Adams reveals more
when he mentions Priestley's treatment of the issue. There Adams faults
Priestley for not tracing "the Prophecy of Enoch [to] India in which
the fallen Angels make Such a figure."
As Adams quotes Priestley's treatment of the matter:
In his remarks on Mr Dupuis. p. 342. Priestley Says, “The History of the fallen Angels is another Circumstance, on which Mr
Dupuis lays much Stress. ‘According to the Christians,’ he says, Vol.
1. p. 336, ‘there was from the beginning, a division among the Angels;
Some remaining faithful to the light, and others taking
the part of
But this Supposed history is not found in the Scriptures. It has only
been inferred, from a wrong interpretation of one passage in the 2d
Epistle of Peter, and a corresponding one in that of Jude, as has been
Shewn by judicious Writers. That there is such a Person as The Devil is
no part of my Faith, nor that of many other
Christians; nor am I sure that it was the belief of any of the
christian Writers. Neither do I believe the doctrine of demoniacal
possessions, whether it was believed by the Sacred Writers or
and yet my unbelief18
in these Articles does not affect my faith in the great facts of which
the Evangelists were eye and ear Witnesses. They might not be competent
Judges, in the one case, tho perfectly So, with
respect to the other.”
(Again, the words in quotations are Priestley's not Adams'.)
Adams then discusses his opinion of Priestley's treatment:
ask Priestley, when I See him, Do you believe those Passages in Peter
and Jude to be interpolations? If so; by whom made? and when? and where?
and for what End? Was it to Support, or found the doctrine
of The Fall of Man, Original Sin, the universal Corruption
depravation and guilt of human nature and mankind; and the Subsequent
Incarnation of God to make Attonement and Redemption!—Or do you
that Peter and Jude believed the Book of Enoch to have been written,
by the 7th
from Adam, and one of the Sacred cannonical Books of the Hebrew
Prophets? Peter, 2. Ep. c. 2. v. 4, Says “For if God Spared not the
Angels that Sinned, but cast them down to Hell and delivered them into chains of Darkness, to be reserved unto Judgment.” Jude v. 6th
Says “And the Angels which kept not their first Estate, but left their
own habitations, he hath reserved in everlasting Chains under darkness,
unto the Judgment of the great day.”20 v. 14th “And Enoch also, the 7th
from Adam, prophesied of these Saying, behold the Lord cometh with ten
thousands of his Saints, to execute Judgment upon all &c” Priestley
Says “a wrong Interpretation” has been given to these Texts. I wish he
had favoured Us with his right interpretation of them.
in mind Joseph Priestley died in 1804; this letter was written in 1814.
Adams expects to see Priestley in the afterlife and discuss these
issues with him.)
Again, Adams rejects both the
Prophesy and Book of Enoch and there are at least two logical
conclusions that flow therefrom: 1. the entire Books of Jude and Peter
which reference the Prophesy are not inspired; or 2. those passages in Jude and Peter are "interpolations."
Given his premises, Adams asks the right questions. Priestley, alas didn't give Adams answers that satisfied him.