What did the Apostles believe about Heaven during Christ’s time?

In my explanation of Christ’s ascension to heaven, some issues were brought up about how the apostles and those who lived during the apostles time viewed heaven and hell. During the time of Christ, there were varying views on heaven and hell. Most of the beliefs on Heaven came from the stretched interpretations of the Old Testament by the Jewish Rabbis or from the Book of Enoch.

By studying the epistles of Jude, 2 Corinthians, and Hebrews, we can come to an understanding that the apostles view of heaven and hell came from or is similar to what is found in the Books of Enoch. Regardless the view, most people during that time viewed the cosmos as “Geocentric.” They believed the earth was the center of the universe, that from earth we went either to heaven or hell, and both heaven and hell are accessible through gates.

NOTE! Nowhere in this article do I allude to, state, imply, or even come close to stating that the Bible is flawed, errant, or scientifically incorrect in it’s teaching. Nor do I maintain that any books in the current Bible should be removed or are not inspired by God.

I will attempt to put forth that:

  1. Heaven is shown to be everything from the sky upward.
  2. Hell, Sheol, or Hades is everything from the earth downward.
  3. The modern view of 3 heavens is not what the apostles taught.
  4. There were 2 views “The Hebrew 7 level” and the “1o levels from Enoch” of heaven at the time of the apostles.
  5. The apostle Paul and Jude shared the same view from Enoch when they wrote about heaven.
  6. The apostles view of heaven does not effect Biblical authority.

The Gates of Heaven

The Bible teaches that there is a gate in heaven that connects our world to the spiritual world. In Genesis, Jacob, in a dream, saw a “gate” or a “ladder” that was accessible from earth to heaven. The angels were crossing from heaven to earth through this gate.

And he had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants.
. . .  Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
(Gen 28:12-17 NAS)

There are similar descriptions of the “gate” that connects our world to heaven.

And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
(Joh 1:51 NAS)
After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.”
(Rev 4:1 NAS)

It stands to reason that Christ, in His human body, ascended to the farthest part of heaven through a gateway that leads there.

The Gates of Hades

Similarly, while the angels travel between heaven and earth through the “gate” to heaven, there also is a gate that leads to hell.

“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.
(Mat 16:18 NAS)
I said, “In the middle of my life I am to enter the gates of Sheol; I am to be deprived of the rest of my years.”
(Isa 38:10 NAS)

The bottomless pit or abyss

In the book of Revelation, an angel opens what is called “the bottomless pit.” This opening is the gate to hell, which is located on earth.

And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from heaven which had fallen to the earth; and the key of the bottomless pit was given to him. And he opened the bottomless pit; and smoke went up out of the pit, like the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke of the pit.
(Rev 9:1-2 NAS)

The bottomless pit shows that Heaven and Hell are represented as “Cartesian coordinates” where the “Z-Axis” has values the go infinitely towards the center of the earth. Likewise, heaven has values that go infinitely towards outer space. This is called “Infinite divisibility” where time and space are infinitely divisible to the smallest and largest parts. The idea of “the bottomless pit” can be found in “Quantum Mechanics“.

The modern day idea of 3 heavens

Some Christians try to explain heaven from a modern day scientific understanding. They disregard the historical aspect and insert modern thought into the scripture. Matt Slick from CARM attempts to explain Paul’s reference to the “third heaven” in 2 Corinthians 12:2.

When Paul said he was caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2), he was referring to the very dwelling place of God.
What does it mean when the Bible refers to the Third Heaven? by Matt Slick CARM.Org

Another example of this is found in the article What Are the Three Heavens? by Don Stewart.

When the term “heaven” is not used symbolically in Scripture, it usually refers to one of three realms.

  1. Our Immediate Atmosphere (Genesis 6:7, James 5:18, and Matthew 6:26)
  2. Outer Space (The Sun, Moon, And Stars) (Matthew 24:29 and Deuteronomy 4:19)
  3. The Home Of God (1 Kings 8:27, Hebrews 8:1, Acts 7:55, Hebrews 9:24)

BlueLetterBible.Org What Are the Three Heavens? by Don Stewart

This is a simple way to explain heaven; however, the prophets that wrote the Old Testament hardly knew anything about outer space like we know today. There is evidence that they included the stars, moon, sun, and everything in the sky as one location and entity. In Genesis, there is no distinction in types of heaven.

And God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.
(Gen 1:8 NAS)

No offence to the CARM writers, I know they mean well; however, to make the claim that Paul was referring to “God’s Dwelling Place” is more a contrived and whimsical explanation than a truth. God dwells everywhere.

Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there.
(Psa 139:7-8 NAS See also Amo 9:2 NAS)

Astronomy and Heaven at the time of the Apostles

The astronomy during the time of the apostles was a “geocentric model.” This by no means proves the Bible as flawed, errant, or teaching false science. The prophets are writing from the perspective of how they view the cosmos. It is from what they see and can describe. So when the prophets or apostles speak of heaven, we interpret it as simile or as a visual description and not as a scientific proof. Schiapari, in his book Astronomy in the Old Testament states this well.

As we are dealing with opinions that are derived from the imagination rather than from the critical study of the facts, a certain difference between one author and another is to be expected. It accordingly becomes difficult to distinguish or reconcile such opinions, represented for the most part by a few phrases whose meaning is often not clearly determined, to say nothing of the possibility that we ought to interpret these words, not strictly and literally, but rather in a metaphorical sense, or as similes.
Astronomy in the Old Testament BY G. SCHIAPARI DIRECTOR OF THE HEiRERA OBSERVATORY IN MILAN page 36 – 37

At the time of the apostles, there were two views of heaven; The “Seven levels of Heaven” (Jewish Talmud) and the “Ten Levels of heaven” (The Book of Enoch).

Judaism and seven heavens

The idea of seven heavens can be induced from the word “heavens.” Because the plural usage of the word “heaven” is used mostly and not the singular word “heaven“, the Jews believed in multiple layers of heaven. These seven heavens can be see as an early view of astronomy.

1st Vilon (“curtain”): Isaiah 40:22
2nd Raqi’a/Raki’a (“expanse,” “canopy”): Genesis 1:7-8; Deuteronomy 11:11; Genesis 6:4); Genesis 1:14, 17
3rd Shehaquim/Shehaqim/Shehakim (“clouds”): Psalm 78:23-24
4th Zebul (“habitation”): Isaiah 63:15,16; 1Kings 8:13
5th Ma’on (“refuge”): Psalm 42:8; Deuteronomy 26:15
6th Makhon/Machon/Makon (“city,” “established place”): Deuteronomy 28:12; 1Kings 8:39
7th Araboth/Aravot (“deserts”): Psalm 68:5; Genesis 2:1
The CompellingTruthOrg Seven HeavensThe BibleWheel.Com Seven HeavensSee also, the Power New Testament revealing Jewish Roots by William J. Morford

These levels of heaven are very loosely drafted from the Old Testament and cannot not be held as authoritative. As stated earlier, the Bible does not make this distinction. This distinction is made by the interpreter.

This is similar to the Ptolemaic order of spheres where the celestial entities are listed from Earth outward. They are: Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Fixed Stars, Primum Mobile (First Moved). (From Wikipedia Seven Heavens) For an excellent explanation of ancient astronomy, see Iowa State University Polaris.Iastate.Edu Polaris Project Evening Star.

The 10 Heavens of the Second Book of Enoch

The other view comes from the writings of Enoch. The Apostles Paul and Jude obtained their idea of the cosmos from the Books of Enoch. Below are the “Ten Heavens” found in The Book of the Secrets of Enoch or Second Enoch.

1st   Heaven – Clouds, Stars, Snow, and Morning Dew: (II Enoch 3:1, 4:1, 5:1, 6:1)
2nd  Heaven – Prison of Darkness, Death and Despair: (II Enoch 7:1-3)
3rd  Heaven – Mercy of Paradise and Justice of Hell: (II Enoch 8:1-10, 9:1, 10:1-3)
4th   Heaven – Twelve Gates of the Sun and the Moon: (II Enoch 11:1-6, 12:1-2, 13:1-2, 14:1-2, 15:1-3, 16:1-3, 17:1)
5th   Heaven – Giants of Silence, Sadness and Regret: (II Enoch 18:1-7)
6th   Heaven – Archangels of the Arts and Sciences: (II Enoch 19:1-3)
7th   Heaven – Powers and Dominions of Fire and Light: (II Enoch 20:1-2, 21:3)
8th   Heaven – Summer and Winter of Drought and Snow: (II Enoch 21:7)
9th   Heaven – Twelve Secret Mansions of the Stars in the Night: (II Enoch 21:8)
10th Heaven – Cherubim, Seraphim, and the Throne of Thunder and Lightning: (II Enoch 22:1-10) From The Judeo/Christian Tradition – stjudasmaccabaeus.wordpress.com

There is proof that the apostle Paul and Jude had the Books of Enoch in mind when discussing heaven.

Paul and Jude’s idea of heaven found in the Books of Enoch

When looking closer at the subject, it appears the apostles did not have the same idea that the Jewish rabbis had about the cosmos and how heaven is constructed. There are several statements in the New Testament that lead to the conclusion that Jude, Paul, and the writer of Hebrews (Most likely Paul) used the books of First and Second Enoch. There statements in 1st Peter as well; however, those will not be discussed here.

The Epistle of Jude and First Enoch

One of the most obvious uses of the First Book of Enoch is found in the Epistle of Jude. Jude says,

And about these also Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”
(Jud 1:14-15 NAS)

This quote is nowhere found in the “Canonized” Bible we have today. Looking at the First Book of Enoch we find the quote practically verbatim.

And behold! He cometh with ten thousands of His holy ones To execute judgment upon all, And to destroy all the ungodly: And to convict all flesh of all the works of their ungodliness which they have ungodly committed, And of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.
www.sacred-texts.com BOOK OF ENOCH 1 Enoch 1:9

The authenticity of the Epistle of Jude

The early church fathers disputed the authenticity of the epistle of Jude. Eusebius says,

These things are recorded in regard to James, who is said to be the author of the first of the so-called catholic epistles. But it is to be observed that it is disputed; at least, not many of the ancients have mentioned it, as is the case likewise with the epistle that bears the name of Jude, which is also one of the seven so-called catholic epistles.
Eusebius of Caesarea’s Ecclesiastical History Book II Chapter 23 The Martyrdom of James, who was called the Brother of the Lord. Section 25

He even includes James, 2nd Peter, 2nd and 3rd John as disputed.

Among the disputed writings, which are nevertheless recognized by many, are extant the so-called epistle of James and that of Jude, also the second epistle of Peter, and those that are called the second and third of John, whether they belong to the evangelist or to another person of the same name.
Eusebius of Caesarea’s Ecclesiastical History Book III Chapter 25 The Divine Scriptures that are accepted and those that are not. Section 3

Because of the wide acceptance of these epistles and the fact that they do align scripturally with all the other books of the Bible, they are accepted. Needless to say, Jude gets his idea of heaven from The First Book of Enoch.

Paul and the third heaven from 2 Enoch 8

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:2,

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago– whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows– such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man– whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows– was caught up into Paradise, and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. (2Co 12:2-4 NAS)

It’s not feasible that Paul got his idea of the third heaven from the Hebrew view of Heaven because, in that view, the third level is the”clouds” not “paradise.” The “third heaven” as “paradise” is directly found in the Second Book of Enoch. The Second Book of Enoch calls the “third heaven” “Paradise.”

And those men took me thence, and led me up on to the third heaven, and placed me there; and I looked downwards, and saw the produce of these places, such as has never been known for goodness.. . . And in the midst of the trees that of life, in that place whereon the Lord rests, when he goes up into paradise; and this tree is of ineffable goodness . . . www.pseudepigrapha.com The Book of the Secrets of Enoch 2 Enoch 8:1-3

Hebrews and Enoch ascending to heaven

In Hebrews, the writer explains that Enoch did not taste death and was taken to heaven.

By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God.

(Heb 11:5 NAS)

The Bible text itself has no description of this. The Bible says,

So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.
(Gen 5:23-24 NAS)

In The Book of the Secrets of Enoch it says in chapter 1 verse 10,

Have courage, Enoch, do not fear; the eternal God sent us to you, and lo! You shalt to-day ascend with us into heaven, and you shall tell your sons and all your household all that they shall do without you on earth in your house, and let no one seek you till the Lord return you to them. . . It came to pass, when Enoch had told his sons, that the angels took him on to their wings and bore him up on to the first heaven and placed him on the clouds.
www.pseudepigrapha.com The Book of the Secrets of Enoch 2 Enoch 1:10, 3:1

The authenticity of Epistle of Hebrews

Some of the Early Church Fathers rejected Hebrews as disputed in its authority.  Eusebius says,

Paul’s fourteen epistles are well known and undisputed. It is not indeed right to overlook the fact that some have rejected the Epistle to the Hebrews, saying that it is disputed by the church of Rome, on the ground that it was not written by Paul.
Eusebius of Caesarea’s Ecclesiastical History Book III Chapter 3 The Epistles of the Apostles. section 5

Because of the reference to the “third heaven” in 2 Corinthians 12:2 and the statement about Enoch in Hebrews, it is an indication that those writers were influenced by the Books of Enoch. Clement believed Luke translated Hebrews from the Hebrew language to the Greek language. Eusebius states,

He (Clement) says that the Epistle to the Hebrews is the work of Paul, and that it was written to the Hebrews in the Hebrew language; but that Luke translated it carefully and published it for the Greeks, and hence the same style of expression is found in this epistle and in the Acts.
Eusebius of Caesarea’s Ecclesiastical History Book VI Chapter 14 The Scriptures mentioned by Him. section 2

Regardless of who wrote the Epistle of Hebrews and whether the writers view of heaven is found in the Book of Enoch, Hebrews is in perfect alignment with the rest of the Bible and is fully accepted.

Conclusion

The Apostles believed in a “geocentric” view of Heaven and Hell. They believed there were gates that led to either Heaven (towards the sky and onward) or Hell (To the earth and inward). The apostles view of heaven was similar to the view found in the Books of Enoch. Paul’s statement of the “third heaven” and Jude’s quotations from the First Book of Enoch prove this. The explanation given in regards to the 3 heavens found in the modern explanation is NOT the apostles view of Heaven and Hell.

The Books of Enoch are only descriptions of realities found in scripture and are only for referencing. We do not consider them inspired writings from the Holy Spirit, nor do we believe they are scientific studies that are to be taken as mathematical proofs. Quoting from them does not devalue or reduce the authenticity of the apostles writing whatsoever.

Science is always changing and we will never be able to describe the cosmos accurately; not today, not tomorrow, or in the future. We can only describe the cosmos as we can visibly see it.


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