the Fifth Week of Lent
Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible
HEAVEN . In the cosmic theory of the ancient world, and of the Hebrews in particular, the earth was flat, lying between a great pit into which the shades of the dead departed, and the heavens above in which God and the angels dwelt, and to which it came to be thought the righteous went, after having been raised from the dead to live for ever. It was natural to think of the heavens as concave above the earth, and resting on some foundation, possibly of pillars, set at the extreme horizon ( 2 Samuel 22:9 , Proverbs 8:27-29 ).
The Hebrews, like other ancient peoples, believed in a plurality of heavens (Deuteronomy 10:14 ), and the literature of Judaism speaks of seven. In the highest, or Aravoth , was the throne of God. Although the descriptions of these heavens varied, it would seem that it was not unusual to regard the third heaven as Paradise. It was to this that St. Paul said he bad been caught up ( 2 Corinthians 12:2 ).
This series of superimposed heavens was regarded as filled by different sorts of superhuman beings. The second heaven in later Jewish thought was regarded as the abode of evil spirits and angels awaiting punishment. The NT, however, does not commit itself to these precise speculations, although in Ephesians 6:12 it speaks of spiritual hosts of wickedness who dwell in heavenly places (cf. Ephesians 2:2 ). This conception of heaven as being above a flat earth underlies many religious expressions which are still current. There have been various attempts to locate heaven, as, for example, in Sirius as the central sun of our system. Similarly, there have been innumerable speculations endeavouring to set forth in sensuous form the sort of life which is to be lived in heaven. All such speculations, however, lie outside of the region of positive knowledge, and rest ultimately on the cosmogony of pre-scientific times. They may be of value in cultivating religious emotion, but they belong to the region of speculation. The Biblical descriptions of heaven are not scientific, but symbolical. Practically all these are to be found in the Johannine Apocalypse. It was undoubtedly conceived of eschatologically by the NT writers, but they maintained a great reserve in all their descriptions of the life of the redeemed. It is, however, possible to state definitely that, while they conceived of the heavenly condition as involving social relations, they did not regard it as one in which the physical organism survived. The sensuous descriptions of heaven to be found in the Jewish apocalypses and in Mohammedanism are altogether excluded by the sayings of Jesus relative to marriage in the new age ( Mark 12:25 ||), and those of St. Paul relative to the ‘spiritual body.’ The prevailing tendency at the present time among theologians, to regard heaven as a state of the soul rather than a place, belongs likewise to the region of opinion. The degree of its probability will be determined by one’s general view as to the nature of immortality.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Heaven'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​h/heaven.html. 1909.