Observations on life; particularly spiritual

I have heard there are seven heavens. How many are there, and which one is Jesus in?

The idea of seven heavens is found in Islam, Judaism and Hinduism. In Islam and Judaism, the divine throne is said to be in or above the seventh heaven. In Hinduism, the god Brahma lives in the seventh heaven. However, none of these ideas are mentioned in the Bible.

It is thought that the myth of seven heavens came from ancient astrologists who could identify seven great heavenly objects (the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) and assumed that each was moving in a separate heaven, in a series of layers above the earth. These were the only objects that people could see in the sky that moved with respect to the fixed stars. They gave us the names of the week: Sunday after the sun, Monday after the moon, and Tuesday to Friday after the Norse versions of Mars, Mercury, Jupiter and Venus, and Saturday after Saturn.

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word “samayim” (Strongs #8064) is translated as “heaven” or “heavens” and has the following meanings according to the context in which the word is used:

  • The earth’s atmosphere: “the rain had stopped falling from the sky” (Gen. 8:2NIV).
  • The realm of the stars: “the stars in the sky” (Gen. 22:17).
  • The dwelling place of God and the angels: “Hear from heaven, your [God’s] dwelling place” (2 Chron. 6:21).

Another expression representing the dwelling place of God is “the highest heaven” (literally the heaven of heavens): “To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it” (Dt. 10:14). This expression doesn’t represent multiple heavens, but the uniqueness of God’s home compared to the atmosphere and the stars.

In the New Testament, the Greek word “ouranos” (Strongs #3772) is translated as “heaven” or “heavens” and has the following meanings according to the context in which the word is used:

  • The earth’s atmosphere: “the birds of the air” (Mt. 6:26).
  • The realm of the stars: “the stars in the sky” (Heb. 11:12).
  • The dwelling place of God and the angels: “Father in heaven” (Mt. 6:9; 12:50).
  • God: “I have sinned against heaven [referring to God, by metonymy] and against you” (Lk. 15:18).

Christ’s incarnation and ascension is described as: “He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens” (Eph. 4:10). This expression doesn’t represent multiple heavens, but the uniqueness of God’s home compared to the atmosphere and the stars.

Paul said that he was “caught up to the third heaven”, which was “paradise” (2 Cor. 12:2-4). If God’s dwelling place is the third heaven, then the other two heavens are the earth’s atmosphere and the universe beyond the earth.

So, the Bible refers to three different heavens, not seven heavens. These are three usages of the word “heaven”, not a series of layers above the earth. God dwells in the “highest heaven”, which is unique (Lk. 2:14). It is not necessarily physically uppermost or furthest from the earth, but it is superior and supreme. That is why Jesus is “exalted above the heavens”; He is greater than anything in the atmosphere and the rest of the universe (Heb. 7:26). Today, we mainly use the word “heaven” for God’s dwelling place.

Written, April 2012

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4 responses

  1. Rapha Mabasa

    Sounds nice but it was not Paul who was caught up

    June 22, 2014 at 8:56 pm

    • Thanks for the comment.
      I assume you are referring to 2 Cor. 12:2-4 “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell”. Who is this referring to if it is not Paul?
      The context of this passage it that Paul is defending his apostleship. In Ch. 10 he replies to his accusers. In Ch. 11 he exposes them as false apostles and boasts about his sufferings. In Ch. 12 he boasts about a vision, his “thorn in the flesh” and his “signs, wonders and miracles”. The key word in these chapters is kauchaomai (Strongs #2744), which means “to boast”. It occurs 17 times. Clearly it’s all about Paul, not someone else. If it wasn’t Paul, why was Paul given a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from being conceited with regard to the vision? It is clear from v.5-7 that this happened to Paul and not someone else. In this case Paul wrote in the third person “so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say” (2 Cor. 12:6). He was humble and didn’t wish to be exalted.

      August 20, 2014 at 8:51 pm

  2. Dale Peppers

    I have never understood why people are so closed minded about other peoples beliefs. None of this has any thing to do with ones salvation in JESUS who is in the highest of the heavens! GOD’s plan for the human race as a WHOLE has NEVER changed and NEVER will!

    August 3, 2014 at 10:30 pm

    • Thanks for your contribution.
      “God’s plan for the human race” and “one’s salvation in Jesus” is revealed in the Bible and nowhere else. Therefore, “other peoples beliefs” must be evaluated in light of God’s revelation in the Bible.
      Because “other peoples beliefs” are inconsistent, we are also inconsistent if we accept all of them.

      August 20, 2014 at 9:37 pm

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