How many times are we told that the bible is full of contradictions? They say things like, “how can you rely on the bible? It’s full of contradictions and it can’t be used as a reliable source.” In this post, we’ll tackle one of those supposed contradictions.
Let’s take a look at two verses that seemingly contradict.
2 Kings 2:11 (NKJV)
11 Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
By reading 2 Kings 2:11, it appears that Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. However, if we read the following verse, John 3:13, it would appear that Jesus contradicts 2 Kings 2:11 when he says no one has ascended to heaven.
John 3:13 (NKJV)
13 No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.
I agree at first read these verses seem to be an obvious contradiction.
A reoccurring answer to this contradiction is the differences in the Hebrew and Greek meanings of the word “heaven” used in these verses. In John 3:13, Jesus, explaining the origin of His authority to Nicodemus, referred to Himself as the Son of Man who would ascend to heaven. The Greek work used for “heaven” in this verse is ουρανον. Biblehub translates this word as “the region above the sidereal heavens, the seat of order of things eternal and consummately perfect where God dwells and other heavenly beings”. Other sources translate this area of heaven as “abode” or home of God the Father.
In 2 Kings 2:11, Elijah went up into the heavens. Some scholars suggest based on the Hebrew word, shamayim, used here does not have the same meaning as that of the Greek word for heaven used in John 3:13. The Hebrew word for heaven in 2 Kings 2:11 means the “visible sky” and not the not the specific location of God the Father.
In conclusion, we can see that 2 Kings 2:11 and John 3:13 are not contradictions but simply a lack of translation from the original language to English. As Jesus tells Nicodemus He is the Son of Man, this is surely a place where He would’ve seen the face of God the Father. A place where no other “man” has been. Elijah indeed went up into heaven as the bible says, but he did not go to the abode of God the Father.
A friend suggests the following commentary on these two verses. He states that the word, “ascended”, used in John 3:13 suggests this is something an action you can do yourself which only Jesus, the Son of God, could do. 2 Kings 2:11 says that Elijah “went up by a whirlwind” which implies he needed help to go up to heaven and could not do on his own. Reminds me of what Isaiah said in Isaiah 64:6, “…all our righteousness are like filthy rags.” There’s nothing we can do that is worthy of getting into heaven. I leave you with Romans 6:23:
Romans 6:23 (NKJV)
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.