A challenge to Enoch and Elijah not dying

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

(A note to the reader: I serve as a writer at Got Questions Ministries, and today’s questioner is referencing one of their articles. Also, I usually edit the questions for clarity, but an important part of this question is its form… so I left it largely intact. Sorry.)

Question: You say in your article, Why did God take Enoch and Elijah to heaven without them dying? that "According to the Bible, Enoch and Elijah are the only two people God took to heaven without them dying." But when I read Hebrews 11, the chapter of faith, I see that speaks about Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sara and in verse 13, says "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, ...". So, it stands to reason that if verse 5 says, "By 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" he probably was going to be killed by a mob and God translated him, took him somewhere else, not heaven, and he eventually died from normal age. Genesis 5:23, "And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years:"

Now, about Elijah, it says, "And it came to pass, when the LORD would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind." This means that God would take him to the sky, to the atmosphere, the first heaven, "in a whirlwind", not in a chariot and horses of fire, like everybody assumes. "… and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven"… So God took Elijah somewhere else in earth.

We all know it’s not possible for a human fleshly body to go into space and survive. What's more, there is no air in the space or second heaven. A few years later, the prophet Elijah sent a letter to Jehoram, king of Juda (2 Chronicles 21:12). So he was on the earth, not in heaven. Hebrews 9:27, "And as it is appointed unto men once to die.”

Answer: Your first challenge — that God did not take Enoch to heaven because of the contents of Hebrews chapter 11 (and especially verse 5) is a non sequitur. There is nothing in that chapter to warrant a leap of logic like that… especially when the narrative of events in Genesis 5:21-24 is so plain that, if Enoch were merely taken to another earthly spot — no matter how compelling the reason — the Bible would be in contradiction. But there is not even a hint of such an activity… and I don’t know why you feel compelled to postulate something so “out there” as to not be a remotely reasonable interpretation of the text.

Hebrews 11:5-6 comments on Genesis 5 in a way that confirms Genesis 5 by giving us more detail about how Enoch was taken away, and it affirms that this was done because of his faith. This passage in no way even hints that he was not really brought up into heaven.

Furthermore, the fact that other heroes of faith are subsequently mentioned has nothing to do with Enoch’s translation. They are just people who have the same characteristic… faith… and they are on the same list. The fact that they all saw these promises afar off cannot change God’s plain narrative into an unsupported idea like the one you’ve proposed. Again, the idea is one of a non sequitur: the reasons you gave have no logical connection to the outcome you propose.

About Elijah — and again — you cannot just change God’s plain narrative at will... but even if God only used the fiery chariot to separate Elijah from Elisha (and not to transport him) — and he indeed transported Elijah in a whirlwind rather than in the chariot specifically — his destination was still heaven… which is definitively not somewhere else on the earth… and which is not the second heaven implied by Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:2.

“As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.” (2 Kings 2:11, NIV, emphasis mine)

Finally, the account of Elijah sending a letter to Jehoram in 2 Chronicles 21:12 did not occur after Elijah died… and I’m afraid you are making that assumption because the books of Chronicles come “after” the books of Kings. That’s true of their canonical order, but that’s not true of the order of their stories. Kings and Chronicles cover the same time period but with different emphases and inclusions… and Elijah’s letter to King Jehoram was not sent “a few years” after his death. It was sent a few years before… and this is pretty basic stuff, sir.

Now, I’m not sure why you are fighting the notion that God would not save two people from going through physical death. Surely, he will do this to millions of us when Christ comes again (1 Corinthians 15:50-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Indeed, Enoch’s translation foreshadowed our “being changed.” Do you think this somehow violates Hebrews 9:27?

Hebrews 9:27 does not say that the God who made us is restricted from saving any of us from death. That would be an arbitrary restriction for an omnipotent God. That verse tells us what to expect about death in the main. It doesn’t limit God. So, take the Scripture at its word. He did indeed save Enoch and Elijah from the inconvenience of dying… and he’ll do the same to millions of people when Jesus returns.

These facts inform Hebrews 9:27. They do not contradict it. Therefore, since Hebrews 9:27 has plainly delineated exceptions, do not treat it as if it were an unconditional statement that must cover every human throughout time — and especially… leaving no room for God’s miracles. It’s simply not that rigid of a statement... especially in the light of God's decidedly direct dealings with Enoch and Elijah.

Please note also that I am using the term heaven loosely… not technically — and that this is permitted in general discussion. I understand that they went to Paradise (Luke 16:19-31; 23;43), not our heaven… and that they were “on hold” there until after Jesus’ death (like everyone else from that era who is currently in the heaven).

Your question was more about them not being somewhere else in physical space, and the use of the term heaven was just a comparator. The purpose was to emphasize that they were no longer on the earth… not to assert that they jumped the gun on Jesus’ blood.

Since it was God who took Enoch and Elijah, the assumption is that they were in the “good part” of the holding tank (Abraham’s Bosom) … and that they were hanging out with Moses, David and the gang until Jesus’ visit shortly after his death.

The problem is that the Old Testament saints didn’t have the knowledge we have today of how the afterlife worked. So, using the term heaven in the New Testament sense — as the post-cross (but pre-new-heaven-and-new-earth) home of the redeemed — would have been an anachronism in this answer.

In Elijah’s case, the term heaven just meant the sky… the heavens. This is pretty standard use in the Bible — especially when you are making a point that he’s no longer on the earth. The assumption is that he’d be in whatever state of the afterlife the faithful departed went to… but the Jews had no sense that their state soon after death would be glorious.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider exploring more of the problems caused by non-sequiturs at the following link: 20180903 Enoch, Elijah and a non sequitur )

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