Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Earthly and Heavenly

EARTHLY AND HEAVENLY (ἐπίγειος, ἐπουράνιος).—The Gr. words are found in the Gospels only in John 3:12 [ἐπουράνιος, however, occurs as a variant leading (TR [Note: R Textus Receptus.] ) in Matthew 18:35, where some critical editors prefer οὐράνιος], in Christ’s conversation with Nicodemus, and are best interpreted in the light of the context. The attempt made by some commentators to explain them by collating passages where the same or similar words occur, yields no satisfactory result, the meaning of the words in these passages being so different from their meaning in John 3:12.

It is evident from the conversation with Nicodemus that the contrast drawn by Christ between things earthly and things heavenly was not a contrast between things natural and things supernatural, or things physical and things spiritual, or things easily understood and things unsearchable and profound, or things belonging to the present and things belonging to the future economy, or things moral in which faith is active and things heavenly where it is passive (de Wette). It was a contrast between truths which were within the range of religious experience, and which should therefore have been within the knowledge and understanding of Nicodemus—‘a master of Israel,’ and truths pertaining to the gospel which were, for the time being, beyond the reach of the religious consciousness. The earthly things were those of which Christ had been speaking,—the necessity and mystery and reality of the new birth,—and also, as Godet rightly infers from John 3:12 (note use of plural instead of singular in addressing Nicodemus), the truths previously preached by Christ. These were all of a moral-religious character, and could be known and verified by the spiritually-minded. The heavenly things were those which were to be revealed to men through the completed redemptive work of Christ. Their nature may be gathered from John 3:13 ff. The Divinity and the atoning death of Christ, God’s eternal love, and salvation by faith, are indicated there as being among the heavenly things.

Literature.—Besides the Comm. on St. John, esp. Whitelaw and Godet, see Cremer’s and Grimm-Thayer’s Lex. s.vv.; E. H. Hall, Discourses, 92; D. Wright, Power of an Endless Life, 158; J. H. Jowett, Thirsting for the Springs, 64; Expos. Times, xii. [1900] 50.

Morison Bryce.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Earthly and Heavenly'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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