QUESTION: Does Genesis 5:24 really say that Enoch was taken to heaven?
If you’re looking for the exact phrase “taken to heaven,” the answer is no; the text does not use that language. If we examine the language used in the verse itself, we would have to conclude that there is some uncertainty with respect to the experience of Enoch. Let’s examine the language itself, explore the context, and finally study its intertextual connections, that is, another passage where the topic is discussed.
1.Ambiguity of the Expressions Used: Two main phrases need attention: (1) “He was no more” (NIV); (2) “God took him away” (NIV). The first is one word in Hebrew (we’eynennû), which could be literally translated “and he not there,” the verb “was” to be supplied:“he was not there/he was no more.” It could mean that he disappeared or that he died. For example, Jacob said about Joseph, “Joseph is no more” (Gen. 42:36, NIV), that is to say, “He is gone/dead” (see also Job 6:8; Ps. 39:7). The second expression, “God took him away,” is also ambiguous. It could mean that God “took him” (laqah ’thô) in the sense that he died (see Eze. 24:16; Jonah 4:3), or that God delivered/preserved him (Gen. 7:2). Many Christian commentators argue that the passage simply says that Enoch disappeared because he died a premature death. Most of the time this reading is based on their conviction that the Old Testament does not teach a resurrection that leads to an existence in the presence of God. They argue that only later in the Old Testament does such an idea begin to appear. My reading of Scripture tells me something different.
2. Contextual Evaluation: Genesis 5 is a description of death’s power over human beings, even over those who served the Lord. Reading it is like visiting a cemetery and reading tombstones. The literary formula is “X lived xx years, had children, lived xx years after having children, then he died,” (see verses 5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27, 31). The formula is not applied to Enoch; the verb “he died” is not found in his case. So the phrase “he was no more” really means, not “he died,” but “he disappeared.” In cases where it could signify death, the context, not the phrase itself, establishes it.
In other words, a person can disappear because he dies, or because God “takes him.” The verb “to take” is used here in the absolute, i.e., no place is mentioned—a use also found in the case of Elijah (2 Kings 2:3, 5), indicating that it means “to rapture.” This is clearly what Genesis 5:24 is saying. The verb is also used to designate our future life with the Lord (see Ps. 49:15; 73:23-25). Notice the structure of the sentence in Genesis 5:24: Enoch (a) walked with God, and (b) disappeared, because (a) God took him. This account is about Enoch’s close relationship with the Lord that resulted in his departure/disappearing, not dying. The explanation given for his disappearance is that God took him, not that God killed him!
3. Enoch in the New Testament: If you still have doubts, read Hebrews 11:5: “By faith Enoch was taken [Greek: metatithemi, “to change one’s location,” “to be translated”] from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken [metatithemi, “translate”] him away” (NIV). The phrase “he was no more,” used in Genesis 5:24, is interpreted to mean that Enoch “could not be found.” The phrase “God took him away” is understood to mean that he was translated to a heavenly location. The change of location is interpreted to mean that he did not die. Finally, God is identified as the one who translated or took him.
Enoch’s story instills hope in the human heart; hope in the fact that through Christ we will overcome the power of death. The benefits of Christ’s death were granted to Enoch by faith. His close walk with the Lord should move and inspire us to make Christ our constant and closest companion in our Christian pilgrimage.