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In 2 Kings 2:11, it says that "...Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven".

Question: What does up mean in this verse?

Context: We know that if we stand on the surface of the earth and could somehow go "upwards" (ignoring the laws of physics), we would simply stay within our familiar three-dimensional space but might find ourself elsewhere in the solar system.

Is it then possible that heaven is not located in our familiar three-dimensional space, but must be reached by moving along a different co-ordinate, and this is what "up" in the verse means?

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  • Great question! I was just wondering this myself a few days ago.
    – Jas 3.1
    Jul 10, 2012 at 5:11
  • you question presupposes a deity who is bound by the laws of nature. but it is an excellent one.
    – swasheck
    Jul 10, 2012 at 18:57
  • @swasheck: Thanks. However, I don't think the question necessitates that...? for example, a deity could create an n-dimensional space, and embed both our familiar 3-dimensional space and heaven in it. The deity need not be bound by any physical laws of the n-dimensional space. Maybe it doesn't really work like that, but it's just an example...
    – user1539
    Jul 11, 2012 at 0:27

3 Answers 3

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They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (NIV ACTS 1:9-11)


I have always assumed that in the cases of Elijah and Jesus 'going up' was merely for the witness to understand that they were going to heaven, but once they left the vertical visual sight of the witnesses, or past the clouds, then ---boom --- they were transported outside of material space and into heaven.

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Consider these references to "heaven":

… The mule went under the thick boughs of a great terebinth tree, and his head caught in the terebinth; so he was left hanging between heaven and earth.
— 2 Samuel 18:9

Now it happened in the meantime that the sky[heaven] became black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy rain. …
— 1 Kings 18:45

And it came to pass, when the LORD was about to take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, …
— 2 Kings 2:1

… and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
— 2 Kings 2:11

When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain, …
— 2 Chronicles 6:26

When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, …
— 2 Chronicles 7:13

He caused an east wind to blow in the heavens; …
— Psalms 78:26

The dead bodies of Your servants They have given as food for the birds of the heavens, …
— Psalms 79:2

They all use the same Hebrew word, שָׁמַיִם — šāmayim – heaven(s), and they all refer to something happening in the air.

There is no reason to think that any of them meant anything other than the Earth's atmosphere (birds, wind, rain, clouds, …).

There is no reason to think that when Elijah went up by a whirlwind, he went anywhere higher than a whirlwind could go; not into space, and certainly not to God's heavenly home. He was simply taken to some other location on Earth.

That is especially obvious when one realizes that Elijah was heard from again, several years later (2 Chronicles 21:12). See my answers to How can John 3:13-14 be reconciled with what happened to Enoch, Elijah and Jesus? and Did God resurrect Moses?:

  • Elijah was moved by God, but physically from one location to another on Earth.

  • Whirlwinds exist only in the first heaven (Earth's atmosphere). Space is the second heaven, and God's throne is in the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2).

  • Years after this event, King Jehoram received a message from Elijah (2 Chronicles 21:12, proving that Elijah was still alive here on Earth:

    • Whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11)
    • Elisha takes on Elijah's mantle. (2 Kings 2:15)
    • People believe Elijah can be found on Earth (2 Kings 2:16)
    • Elisha talks to King Jehoshaphat (2 Kings 3:11)
    • Jehoshaphat is succeeded by his son Jehoram (2 Kings 8:16)
    • Jehoram receives letter from Elijah (2 Chronicles 21:12)
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  • I'm glad we cleared that up!
    – Steve
    Dec 5, 2022 at 21:58
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According to Ancient Near Eastern cosmology, "Heaven" as in the garden of Paradise (e.g., where the Mesopotamian flood hero lives eternally with the sun god) is situated on the peak of the holy mountain (in the East), rather than in outer space or another extraterrestrial mystical place.

This makes sense when we understand that ancient Israelites assumed that the sun, stars, and moon were contained within the earth's atmosphere.

On this, see D. Sarlo, "Yahweh's Fresh Water Reservoir," in Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions (2021): 75-97.

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