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Paul's "Third Heaven" and Ancient Hebrew Thought


ChristKnight

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On another forum, the topic of three degrees of glory came up, specifically in reference to 2 Corinthians 12:2-

2I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.

I know that this verse is seen by many LDS as one example of the Biblical basis for three degrees of glory (though I can also see this as referring to at least three heavens, by this interpretation), referring specifically to the Celestial Kingdom, I assume.

An ex-LDS Catholic then stated that "ancient Semitics" viewed the "heavens" as "being three-fold". Here is what he said:

1) The heavens where the clouds float and the birds fly (the atmosphere).

2) The heavens beyond that, where the sun and the stars travel (space).

3) The heavens where God lives, which is beyond the sun, moon and stars (heaven).

So Saint Paul was saying that the man having the vision was caught up to the place where God dwells - the third heaven.

How do LDS view this sort of response? Truthfully, I have been aware of this "ancient Hebrew" view of "the Heavens", though specifically in the context of those responding to the LDS view of the "third heaven".

So, I know that modern revelation clarifies things, as well as the interpretation of other Biblical verses. What I'm interested in is specifically what the "ancient Hebrews" thought about "the Heavens", and how that relates to interpreting what Paul was talking about in 2 Corinthians 12:2 with "third heaven".

Thanks.

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We know the hebrews and early Chrisitans beleived in multiple heavens.

Have you ever wondered where the terms... Cloud 9 or Seventh Heaven came from?

The Early Christian Scripture - The Book of Enoch speaks of Seven Heavens. Also the Talmud.

http://en.wikipedia....i/Seven_Heavens

I think thats also where they got the Idea on the Keanu Reeves Matrix Series of the Matrix being Seven layers deep.

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Ancient Judaism believed in a Hierarchy of Seven Heavens such as recorded in the Enochian Literature and Jewish Apocrypha/Pseudographia Scriptures where Third Heaven was described as a Paradise that Housed the Garden of Eden and Seventh Heaven was God's Domain. When ancient Judaism conceived of the universe, they constructed a multi-layered world, these layers were called "Firmament" or Shamayim (Heavens or Skies) in the Old Testament or just "Heavens" in the New Testament era.

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From Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith

"Paul ascended into the third heavens, and he could understand the three principal rounds of Jacob's ladder--the telestial, the terrestrial, and the celestial glories or kingdoms, where Paul saw and heard things which were not lawful for him to utter. I could explain a hundred fold more than I ever have of the glories of the kingdoms manifested to me in the vision, were I permitted, and were the people prepared to receive them."

"Paul saw the third heavens, and I more. Peter penned the most sublime language of any of the apostles."

edited for innapropriate content

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On another forum, the topic of three degrees of glory came up, specifically in reference to 2 Corinthians 12:2-

2I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.

I know that this verse is seen by many LDS as one example of the Biblical basis for three degrees of glory (though I can also see this as referring to at least three heavens, by this interpretation), referring specifically to the Celestial Kingdom, I assume.

An ex-LDS Catholic then stated that "ancient Semitics" viewed the "heavens" as "being three-fold". Here is what he said:

How do LDS view this sort of response? Truthfully, I have been aware of this "ancient Hebrew" view of "the Heavens", though specifically in the context of those responding to the LDS view of the "third heaven".

So, I know that modern revelation clarifies things, as well as the interpretation of other Biblical verses. What I'm interested in is specifically what the "ancient Hebrews" thought about "the Heavens", and how that relates to interpreting what Paul was talking about in 2 Corinthians 12:2 with "third heaven".

Thanks.

Interesting subject. I remember reading about this a few years ago and the ideas of heirarchal heavens is subject unique to the middle east but not just in Hebrew thought. Hebrew thought codified the seven heaven as a symbol of perfect completion as reflected in the seven days of creation, etc., and shown in the Talmud where it teaches the seven

as...

  1. Vilon (?????), Also see (Isa 40:22)
  2. Raki'a (????), Also see (Gen 1:17)
  3. Shehaqim (?????), See (Ps 78:23, Midr. Teh. to Ps. xix. 7)
  4. Zebul(????), See (Isa 63:15, I Kings 8:13)
  5. Ma'on (????), See (Deut 26:15, Ps 42:9)
  6. Machon (????), See (1 Kings 7:30, Deut 28:12)
  7. Araboth (?????), The seventh Heaven where ofanim, the seraphim, and the hayyoth and the throne of the Lord are located.

Earlier, though, the number seven was reflected in Mesopotamian belief and represented in the levels of the ziggurats of Ur and others. But beyond that we also have an early record of a traveler (Enmerkar) who makes a journey from his home in Uruk to the north of then Iran going through the seven passes (heavens) of the Zagros mountains ending the journey in Aratta or Eden.

The messenger gave heed to the words of his king. He journeyed by the starry night, and by day he travelled with Utu of heaven. Where and to whom will he carry the important message of Inana with its stinging tone? He brought it up into the Zubi Mountains, he descended with it from the Zubi Mountains. Susin and the land of Ancan humbly saluted Inana like tiny mice. In the great mountain ranges, the teeming multitudes grovelled in the dust for her. He traversed five mountains, six mountains, seven mountains. He lifted his eyes as he approached Aratta. He stepped joyfully into the courtyard of Aratta, he made known the authority of his king. Openly he spoke out the words in his heart. The messenger transmitted the message to the lord of Aratta:

The Sumerian word for 'courtyard' or plain here is fascinating meaning Edin or Eden. Therefore, Enmerkar transversed the seven heavens or gates to arrive in paradise. An interesting corollary exists in the construction of the Persian memorial, Taj Mahal which encompasses the Persian view of paradise. It holds the 4 rivers of Eden and the holy mountain of Sahand represented by the dome itself.

Ezekial gives a further proof for the location of paradise

28:13 You were in Eden, the garden of God. Every precious stone was your covering, the ruby, topaz, and emerald, the chrysolite, onyx, and jasper, the sapphire,

turquoise, and beryl; your settings and mounts were made of gold. On the day you were created they were prepared. 28:14 I placed you there with an anointed guardian cherub; you were on the holy mountain of God; you walked about amidst fiery stones. 28:15 You were blameless in your behavior from the day you were created, until sin was discovered in you.28:16 In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned; so I defiled you and banished you 22 from the mountain of God
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thank you everyone for the replies (and volgadon I'll look into tractate Hagigah).

So it seems that ancient Hebrews saw "seven heavens" (hmm, reminds me of the show "7th Heaven" :P ). My question is, how does this all fit in with the interpretation of 2 Cor 12:2 implying the existence of three degrees of glory, or that Paul was referring to the Celestial Kingdom? Or are these wrong interpretations of that verse?

Actually now that I think about it, it seems as if Joseph Smith, from the excerpt above from Teachings, agreed that the "third heaven" was the realm of the Divine, which is then divided into three degrees of glory. Is this correct? If so, then the interpretation of 2 Cor 12:2 as referring to three degrees of glory is still incorrect, right?

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thank you everyone for the replies (and volgadon I'll look into tractate Hagigah).

So it seems that ancient Hebrews saw "seven heavens" (hmm, reminds me of the show "7th Heaven" :P ). My question is, how does this all fit in with the interpretation of 2 Cor 12:2 implying the existence of three degrees of glory, or that Paul was referring to the Celestial Kingdom? Or are these wrong interpretations of that verse?

Actually now that I think about it, it seems as if Joseph Smith, from the excerpt above from Teachings, agreed that the "third heaven" was the realm of the Divine, which is then divided into three degrees of glory. Is this correct? If so, then the interpretation of 2 Cor 12:2 as referring to three degrees of glory is still incorrect, right?

If Joseph Smith was right about the top rung on Jacob's ladder representing the third heaven then we can thus conclude that the third heaven is the place where God resides. The implications of this are obvious though because of the way in which mormon doctrine has been unfolded. I am a mormon and study the doctrine on this issue very carefully. Joseph, late in his life taught about the progression of heaven and its association or symbolism to a ladder that must be climbed "one rung at a time". Obviously, with the lower two rungs (heavens), he implies that according to the old Testament prophet Jacob and his dream, that we assend up the ladder progressively- from the telestial heaven to the terrestrial heaven and then to the celestial heaven in that order.

But, as it implies, the lower rungs on the ladder do not serve a purpose as a "destination" but rather a "means" to the "destination". About this time in his life he was revealed the temple endowment ceremony where this logic and teaching is expounded upon. The temple is literally a template for us returning to Heavenly Father' presence in the Celestial Kingdom.

We start life on the lowest "rung" of the ladder. The temple now expounds and explains that this lowest heaven is in fact our world we live in- the lone and dreary world, is the telestial kingdom- the first heaven, or, as it applies to Jacob's ladder- the lowest rung. We are in the first heaven right now.

Then as is explained in the endowment, and is common knowledge to anyone who visits the temple open house, we progress from the telestial kingdom into the terrestrial kingdom- the second heaven- the second round on Jacob's ladder. This represents the earth during the millennium reign. Different types of bodies will thus clothe the bodies of terrestrial inhabitants just as telestial bodies were different. By this I mean that the body will change and be different (more perfect).

From there (the second heaven; terrestrial kingdom) we will pass on to the third and final kingdom where Christ and the Father will dwell. That is the third heaven- this earth in its sanctified and immortal form. Note that I keep mentoning "heaven". This is because it is a "new" heaven. Each phase of the earth passes from one heaven to a new heaven suggesting a movement of physical scenery- of our planet moving to a perhaps different place in the universe- perhaps cloer to God and his throne. As each heaven is completed (kingdom) the heavens and earth pass away and a new heaven and new earth come into existance.

So, when we speak of what Paul was really getting at by the "third heaven", we as mormons have been revealed the truth on the matter as is explained above. However, this is not the doctrine you will hear at church because all of the dots have not been connected. We still view the three heavens as being all "future" eternal immortal abodes after judgment. We thus cannot connect the dots put in place because, as I have noted, that is not how the doctrine has been revealed and continues to be revealed.

If, and "when" we as mormons can put the correct lines connecting the dots, we will see the simplistic structure of heaven and how we progress back to Gods presence. Once we can all agree that "salvation"= residence in the "third heaven" then we can really begin to have pleasure in our doctrine and its principles. What I am saying here is that the two lower kingdoms (heavens) are not places of permanent residence but just a temporary residence that serves as a "means" to aquire the third heaven.

In the end, the "kingdom of heaven" will only be applied to the place where those meriting salvation will be. This will be the third heaven- the celestial Kingdom of our Father. We will all be there- those children of Christ whose garments have been washed in the blood of the lamb.

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My question is, how does this all fit in with the interpretation of 2 Cor 12:2 implying the existence of three degrees of glory, or that Paul was referring to the Celestial Kingdom? Or are these wrong interpretations of that verse?

He's referring to the presence of God, the Paradise of God where the Tree of Life is. I don't think degrees of glory are in mind, as much as location. He didn't get caught up to just the stars, or just the expanse past the firmament, but into the physical presence of God above all of that. I don't think it's a good proof-text scripture, or evidence of the latter-day saint understanding of Three Degrees of Glory in antiquity.

Actually now that I think about it, it seems as if Joseph Smith, from the excerpt above from Teachings, agreed that the "third heaven" was the realm of the Divine, which is then divided into three degrees of glory. Is this correct? If so, then the interpretation of 2 Cor 12:2 as referring to three degrees of glory is still incorrect, right?

That's how I understand it :P

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The above image brings up a question...

Did the ancients believe the sun continued on a circular path underneath the flat earth, in order to get back to the eastern horizon the next morning?

I'm not sure about the Hebrews, but the Egyptians certainly did. And in fact, the Sun God Ra, on his boat, always encountered a villainous Serpent on the Under Side, who had to be beaten down before Ra could return to the other side of the sky.

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I was just listening to Tad Callister's talk "Joseph Smith-Prophet of the Restoration" from the last General Conference. He states this:

"Many teach that there is one heaven and one hell. Joseph Smith restored the truth that there are multiple heavens. Paul spoke of a man who was caught up into the third heaven (see 2Corinthians 12:2). Could there be a third heaven if there was no second heaven or first heaven?"

https://beta.lds.org/general-conference/talk/2009/10/joseph-smithprophet-of-the-restoration?locale=eng

I guess he also sees this verse as referring to the degrees of glory. What should I make of this in light of the information that has been brought up in this thread?

I think that it makes more sense to just see it as referring to the "presence of God", which all would agree with (though I assume that in the LDS context, this would refer to the Celestial Kingdom, right?), and not implying the existence of the Terrestrial and Telestial Kingdoms, as Elder Callister seems to imply.

Thanks everyone for the comments.

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I was just listening to Tad Callister's talk "Joseph Smith-Prophet of the Restoration" from the last General Conference. He states this:

"Many teach that there is one heaven and one hell. Joseph Smith restored the truth that there are multiple heavens. Paul spoke of a man who was caught up into the third heaven (see 2Corinthians 12:2). Could there be a third heaven if there was no second heaven or first heaven?"

https://beta.lds.org...tion?locale=eng

I guess he also sees this verse as referring to the degrees of glory. What should I make of this in light of the information that has been brought up in this thread?

Thanks everyone for the comments.

Tad Callister's a very smart guy, and has a deep and abiding love for the Atonement. I think his books The Infinite Atonement and The Inevitable Apostasy are very good, important, and well researched and organized books. The Infinite Atonement had a big impact on me during my mission. with this in mind, I was very much looking forward to hearing him talk.

...I still winced when used that scripture as evidence during his talk. I thought it was unnecessary, and to me, cheapened the talk a little. I believe there was another reference concerning the Trinity that also rubbed me the wrong way in that talk. I went away from that talk thinking that while the doctrinal principals he taught were true and solid, he hadn't been on his 'A' game when he went on the offensive.

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Tad Callister's a very smart guy, and has a deep and abiding love for the Atonement. I think his books The Infinite Atonement and The Inevitable Apostasy are very good, important, and well researched and organized books. The Infinite Atonement had a big impact on me during my mission. with this in mind, I was very much looking forward to hearing him talk.

...I still winced when used that scripture as evidence during his talk. I thought it was unnecessary, and to me, cheapened the talk a little. I believe there was another reference concerning the Trinity that also rubbed me the wrong way in that talk. I went away from that talk thinking that while the doctrinal principals he taught were true and solid, he hadn't been on his 'A' game when he went on the offensive.

I have The Inevitable Apostasy, just took it out to read actually :P

It seems as if the Encyclopedia of Mormonism also refers to 2 Cor 12:2 in the "Degrees of Glory" article, in reference to "the Bible contain[ing] references to varying levels of resurrection and heaven". The Bible Dictionary also references it in "Degrees of Glory". Gospel Principles also states in the Exaltation chapter: "From the scriptures we learn that there are three kingdoms of glory in heaven. The Apostle Paul mentioned that he knew a man who was 'caught up to the third heaven' (2 Corinthians 12:2)."

Is there a way to reconcile 2 Corinthians 12:2 with both the degrees of glory belief and the ancient view (or one of the ancient views, since if I understand Ron Beron's post correctly, the 7th heaven was the location of God, Araboth).

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Is there a way to reconcile 2 Corinthians 12:2 with both the degrees of glory belief and the ancient view (or one of the ancient views, since if I understand Ron Beron's post correctly, the 7th heaven was the location of God, Araboth).

I don't understand what needs to be reconciled. I don't hold to the belief that any time any prophet or apostle speaks on a topic, (like, the presence of God) they have to be alluding to everything that's ever been revealed on the topic. They use the language the immediate audience would understand. 21st Century Latter-day Saints aren't Paul's audience. If Paul can allude to a poem about Zeus to teach about the Fathership of God, why can't he just allude to the common terminology of the heavens to explain the vision of the presence of God?

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I don't understand what needs to be reconciled. I don't hold to the belief that any time any prophet or apostle speaks on a topic, (like, the presence of God) they have to be alluding to everything that's ever been revealed on the topic. They use the language the immediate audience would understand. 21st Century Latter-day Saints aren't Paul's audience. If Paul can allude to a poem about Zeus to teach about the Fathership of God, why can't he just allude to the common terminology of the heavens to explain the vision of the presence of God?

I agree. I guess what I'm thinking is that the person that caused me to post this thread said that "third heaven" had a specific meaning in ancient Hebrew thought, as we all agree on. Then in various places, such as the Bible Dictionary and Gospel Principles, we see that it is also seen as implying a belief in three degrees of glory, which is what critics see as a meaning that Paul perhaps did not ascribe to "third heaven" (if we go back to that "ancient Hebrew" view on the matter). So, maybe I'm just confusing myself here.

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If Joseph Smith was right about the top rung on Jacob's ladder representing the third heaven then we can thus conclude that the third heaven is the place where God resides. The implications of this are obvious though because of the way in which mormon doctrine has been unfolded. I am a mormon and study the doctrine on this issue very carefully. Joseph, late in his life taught about the progression of heaven and its association or symbolism to a ladder that must be climbed "one rung at a time". Obviously, with the lower two rungs (heavens), he implies that according to the old Testament prophet Jacob and his dream, that we assend up the ladder progressively- from the telestial heaven to the terrestrial heaven and then to the celestial heaven in that order.

But, as it implies, the lower rungs on the ladder do not serve a purpose as a "destination" but rather a "means" to the "destination". About this time in his life he was revealed the temple endowment ceremony where this logic and teaching is expounded upon. The temple is literally a template for us returning to Heavenly Father' presence in the Celestial Kingdom.

We start life on the lowest "rung" of the ladder. The temple now expounds and explains that this lowest heaven is in fact our world we live in- the lone and dreary world, is the telestial kingdom- the first heaven, or, as it applies to Jacob's ladder- the lowest rung. We are in the first heaven right now.

Then as is explained in the endowment, and is common knowledge to anyone who visits the temple open house, we progress from the telestial kingdom into the terrestrial kingdom- the second heaven- the second round on Jacob's ladder. This represents the earth during the millennium reign. Different types of bodies will thus clothe the bodies of terrestrial inhabitants just as telestial bodies were different. By this I mean that the body will change and be different (more perfect).

From there (the second heaven; terrestrial kingdom) we will pass on to the third and final kingdom where Christ and the Father will dwell. That is the third heaven- this earth in its sanctified and immortal form. Note that I keep mentoning "heaven". This is because it is a "new" heaven. Each phase of the earth passes from one heaven to a new heaven suggesting a movement of physical scenery- of our planet moving to a perhaps different place in the universe- perhaps cloer to God and his throne. As each heaven is completed (kingdom) the heavens and earth pass away and a new heaven and new earth come into existance.

So, when we speak of what Paul was really getting at by the "third heaven", we as mormons have been revealed the truth on the matter as is explained above. However, this is not the doctrine you will hear at church because all of the dots have not been connected. We still view the three heavens as being all "future" eternal immortal abodes after judgment. We thus cannot connect the dots put in place because, as I have noted, that is not how the doctrine has been revealed and continues to be revealed.

If, and "when" we as mormons can put the correct lines connecting the dots, we will see the simplistic structure of heaven and how we progress back to Gods presence. Once we can all agree that "salvation"= residence in the "third heaven" then we can really begin to have pleasure in our doctrine and its principles. What I am saying here is that the two lower kingdoms (heavens) are not places of permanent residence but just a temporary residence that serves as a "means" to aquire the third heaven.

In the end, the "kingdom of heaven" will only be applied to the place where those meriting salvation will be. This will be the third heaven- the celestial Kingdom of our Father. We will all be there- those children of Christ whose garments have been washed in the blood of the lamb.

This post reminds me of something Jesus is alleged to have said:

"The World is a bridge; pass over it but do not build your house there."

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I agree. I guess what I'm thinking is that the person that caused me to post this thread said that "third heaven" had a specific meaning in ancient Hebrew thought, as we all agree on. Then in various places, such as the Bible Dictionary and Gospel Principles, we see that it is also seen as implying a belief in three degrees of glory, which is what critics see as a meaning that Paul perhaps did not ascribe to "third heaven" (if we go back to that "ancient Hebrew" view on the matter). So, maybe I'm just confusing myself here.

In the book of Enoch even this EARTH is refered to as a Heaven or a sphere. The angels take Enoch off this sphere and fly past two others on their way to Highest heaven. One of those other heavens they fly past the angels who were in chains because of there past disobedience.

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I agree. I guess what I'm thinking is that the person that caused me to post this thread said that "third heaven" had a specific meaning in ancient Hebrew thought, as we all agree on.

The third degree or third section in Jewish thought certainly does.

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thank you everyone for the replies (and volgadon I'll look into tractate Hagigah).

So it seems that ancient Hebrews saw "seven heavens" (hmm, reminds me of the show "7th Heaven" ;) ). My question is, how does this all fit in with the interpretation of 2 Cor 12:2 implying the existence of three degrees of glory, or that Paul was referring to the Celestial Kingdom? Or are these wrong interpretations of that verse?

Actually now that I think about it, it seems as if Joseph Smith, from the excerpt above from Teachings, agreed that the "third heaven" was the realm of the Divine, which is then divided into three degrees of glory. Is this correct? If so, then the interpretation of 2 Cor 12:2 as referring to three degrees of glory is still incorrect, right?

We're also taught that there are three degrees within the Celestial Kingdom. If one counts Outer Darkness, that's six. There must be one more. :P

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