Thursday, November 20, 2003

Can Anyone Help Me Here?

A Protestant recently opined as follows during a discussion: "Well fundamentally all Catholics are hypocrites because neither Jesus (nor Paul) had any regard for oral law or oral tradition."

Now this is an interesting claim, and has me wondering what the fellow makes out of the story of Enoch. In Genesis, we read that Enoch, Methuselah's father, lived for 365 years and "walked with God: and he was not; for God took him." Genesis 5:24 (KJV). Well over a thousand years later, St. Paul wrote the Hebrews that "[b]y faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God." Hebrews 11:5 (KJV). As I see it, while the inspired author of Genesis tells us Enoch pleased God (Enoch is twice described as "walking" with God) during his lifetime, he doesn't tell us whether Enoch was "translated" or whether Enoch underwent death.

It also seems to me that the fellow ought to conclude that the additional elements in St. Paul's story aren't found in Holy Scripture before Paul wrote to the Hebrews. These elements do appear in the book of Sirach ("Enoch pleased the Lord, and was translated, being an example of repentance to all generations." Sirach 44:16; "But upon the earth was no man created like Enoch; for he was taken from the earth." Sirach 49:14). But my understanding is that Protestants believe the book of Sirach, while wrongly included in the "false" Catholic canon as "Ecclesiasticus", is not Scripture. That conviction firmly places Sirach's information in the category of "extra-biblical tradition," and it still doesn't answer the question of how this tradition remained in the Jewish mind from the date of Genesis' composition (2,000 - 1,200 BC?) to the date of Sirach's authorship (2nd Century B.C.).

There being no Scripture which contains the additional elements of Enoch's story, it seems to me that someone who rejects the idea of infallible Tradition can only conclude that Enoch's whole story was preserved (a) by oral and perhaps written knowledge that was not God-breathed, or (b) by Scripture which existed from Moses' day to the day St. Paul wrote Hebrews and which then vanished. Since I'm not aware of anyone who maintains (b), I'm left wondering why St. Paul apparently had such high regard for this non-Biblical information that he included it in his letter to the Hebrews.

No comments: