The Greek word for "heaven" is "ouranos," the adjective "heavenly" is "ouranios."
Paul speaks of the third heaven (2Cor.12:2), and the plural "heavens" is more
frequently used than the singular "heaven."' Thus, we must distinguish among
Let us first mention the atmospheric heaven, the blue sky, the "canopy" of
heaven. The impression it gives us is, indeed, that of a canopy, and it is of
interest to note that if some "hardheaded individuals" have scoffed at this
conception, yet science confirms that at some 10 kilometers above the earth a
diffusion layer exists which reflects more completely the sun's blue rays having
smaller wavelength than the other more intense colors. Above the observer there
is thus literally a gaseous, blue canopy at a height of about 10 kilometers.
This layer marks the limit of the stratosphere which also includes an ozone
layer, and ionized layers among which are the well-known Heaviside and Appleton
layers which appear to play a significant role in the propagation of the short
The Word also mentions a mid-heaven in Rev.8:13; 14:6; 19:17 (mesouranema). This
must not be understood as "the middle of atmospheric heaven" because an "'eagle"
and "fowls" are said to be "flying" in this heaven. In fact, this eagle and
fowls are spiritual beings. The eagle speaks and prophesies, an angel speaks to
the fowls; these are not animals. Besides, Rev.14:6 says that an angel was
flying in this mid-heaven. As in any vision of the prophets, spiritual beings
are given names which are known to us. So, in the present case the eagle is not
a literal eagle but quite literally a being called "eagle." Facts must be taken
literally, in the sense that they will happen one day, but it must be remembered
that things which are beyond our earthly sphere must necessarily be expressed in
terms of our current words. So all this is not about some vague symbols, but
about realities even more real than those we know.
The OT speaks of the heavens and of the "heaven heavens" (e.g. Deut.10:14; 1
Kings 8:27; Neh.9:6). The expression "heaven of heavens," distinct from
"heavens," indicates a higher "region," but which still belongs to creation (Neh.
9:6) The heaven of heavens as well as the heavens each have their
"army," i.e. multitudes of angels. One recalls that these armies led by the
Lord, are frequently mentioned in Scripture.
So we see three regions in the heavens: the atmosphere heaven, interplanetary
(and interstellar) heaven, and the heaven of heavens.
But neither the earth, nor the heavens, nor the heaven heavens can "contain"
God (1 Kings 8:27). Indeed, all that we have mentioned so far belongs to
creation (Neh.9:6), and God outside of all creation. So we must not be surprised
to find expressions such as "far above all heavens" (Eph.4:10); "passed into (or
through) the heavens" (Heb.4:14); and "higher than heavens" (Heb.7:26). There
must necessarily be a "region" who is beyond creation.
So what could be more appropriate than a special expression to designate this
sphere? Now, the NT uses the adjective
"epouranios" 19 times; it is made up of the preposition "epi" (on or above) and
"ouranios" (heavenly). In most cases this word indicates that something is of
above-heavenly origin but in five
cases it is clear that it refers to the presence of soomeone
in that sphere. And so we find the
expressions: "en tois epouranois" i.e.: in above-heavenly places ("above-heavenlies"),
Eph.1:3, 20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12.
When we reflect upon these things, a series of problems arises. First, if God is
above everything, how can Mat.5:16 and
Col.4:1 say that He is in heaven?
Whatever our notions about the heavens may be, we have here one of these
"contradictions" that the critics delight in pointing out. But these
"contradictions" are always very useful to demonstrate our weakness, the
narrowness of our ideas, and the divinity of the Word. We could reply that
"heavens" is a general expression which may indicate all that is in contrast
with the earth. The word "heavens" may thus include all the "regions" mentioned
earlier, just as the expression "the saints" may include all the tabernacle,
which is divided into the court, the holy, and the holy of holies. Viewed from
the earth, all the heavens seem confused; only by
placing oneself on a higher plane are we able to distinguish more clearly.
This may also be likened to sighting a distant landscape, where the houses,
trees, roads are not perceived clearly until one comes nearer. So, placing
oneself in the earthly point of vantage, the word "heavens" may indicate all
that is above the earth, and there is then no contradiction between "in the
heavens" and "above the heavens."
The preceding is probably an adequate explanation, but we may go further in an
effort to escape materialist chains. God is above
creation; but does this mean that He must be excluded from creation?
Obviously not! Some physical phenomena may help explain our thesis. In the past,
it was postulated that something called "ether'' existed, which spread
everywhere and permeated everything, empty space as well as material bodies;
thus, wherever there is matter, there is also ether. Electromagnetic phenomena
such as radio waves would propagate within the ether without necessarily be
hindered by matter. These "waves" exist in the ether, but if a part of the ether
is occupied by a material body which is poor conductor of electricity, the waves
will also be present within that body. With respect to space, the waves are
present both in that body and in space; according to their nature, they are
manifested only in the ether. These waves are (according to their nature) above
matter, although (relatively to space) they are present in matter. There is
penetration. We suggest that, by analogy, we could represent the heavenly
spheres as penetrating the earthly sphere, and the above heavenly penetrating
all the others. The angels who according to their nature belong to the heavenly
sphere can very well appear on earth while remaining in their own sphere .1
When the "angel of the Lord" presented himself to Abraham in human form, he
remained in the heavens as to his nature although, as to space, he was on earth.
Similarly, the Son of man.was_at the same time "come down from heaven" and "in
heaven," John 3:13
[1 They may
also "leave" their sphere by passing definitively into the earthly sphere. This
is what happened to some of them (Judo 6). There is here not only a change of
place; but a change of nature as well.]
Free from narrow, materialistic ideas, one can see that there is no
contradiction when, on the one hand we read that some beings are on earth, and
on the other hand, that those same beings are "above" the earth, for the context
concerns the state rather than the place.
It is understood that when considering the "above heavenlies" it becomes
difficult to use words which are adapted to earthly things. The ideas of space,
place, location are, strictly speaking, no longer applicable because here things
which are beyond creation are involved, thus things which are also beyond time
and space. But we can, however, perceive that this above heavenly sphere
penetrates everything, that God can be everywhere and yet be above all. He is
everywhere in a spatial sense and from the standpoint of His action upon
creation, and above everything as to His essence.
To say that God or an angel is on earth is not to say that we see Him. As long
as a being from a higher sphere does not react on the lower sphere, the organs
of that lower sphere cannot register anything; even many physical actions can
escape notice by our sensory organs. We do not feel electromagnetic waves
(radio, ultraviolet, X rays, etc) even when they run through our body. In order
to make an impression there must be a reaction from one sphere to another. To
become visible, it is necessary that the angel "manifests"
himself. In general, we see that beings from lower spheres can acquire
knowledge of the higher spheres in only two ways:
either a being from the higher sphere communicates with the lower sphere, and
when God is concerned, there as revelation or, a being from the lower sphere is
brought up by a special action into the higher sphere, and there
vision in the spirit.,
God may act upon the spirit of man such that the latter obtains his normal
capacities.-- whiich he lost through the fall --
enabling him to "see" spiritual realities without help from the
senses. Such was the case for the prophets. And these realities are independent
of space and time.
It would be well to examine more closely the meaning of "far above" in
Eph.4:10. The Greek has here "huperano," which literally means "over-above." We
meet this word also in Eph.1:21 and Heb.9:5. Now, this last text permits us to
better appreciate the meaning of huperano, because spiritual things are here
represented by material ones. Above (huperano) the ark were the cherubims. When
the ark is considered in general, the cherubims are a part of it; when looking
at it in detail, then one can distinguish, for instance, the table, the
coverings, and the cherubims. Ex.25:21 says: "thou shalt put the mercy seat
above upon the ark." In one sense, the mercy seat is part of the ark, in another
sense it is above it. In a like manner, the above heavenlies may, in one sense,
be part of the heavens, and in another sense, they maybe above the
But it has been objected that in "huperano panton ton ouranon" the expression
"of the heavens" is in the genitive, and that "above all heavens" consequently
would not indicate regions which are above the heavens, but the higher regions
of the heavens. Well, this is true when "heavens" is taken in its general sense,
but to believe that this means that the Lord has not passed beyond the heavens
is to contradict Heb.7:26, and also to restrict God to the heavens, contrary to
Eph.1:20 which says that Christ is sitting at His right hand in the above
heavenlies. If the genitive really forced us to accept that sense, one could
understand that this verse would somewhat embarrass us in our views, but this is
not so; anyone can convince himself of this through the Word itself. We have, in
Mat.5:14, an expression which is very close to "huperano", i.e.: "epano," and
which is also used with the genitive. Now, "on a hill" certainly does not mean
that it is in the higher regions of the hill. Since "huper" means "above" while
"epi" only means "on," "huperano" designates something far more superior, far
higher, than "epano:"
But why does the inspired text use "above-heavenlies" and not "above-heavens"?
The Greek often uses ellipses, and in the present case a word must be added of
which "above-heavenlies" is the adjective. Now, how else could one refer to
something which is above the heavens? It is no longer
in "heavens," nor in "spaces," nor "regions" since we are here beyond creation,
space, and time. We have sometimes added "spheres," but would it not
be better to retain the ellipsis and say "above-heavenlies" without further
It has sometimes been claimed that "en tois epouraniois" (in the above-heavenlies)
should be read: "among the above heavenly (beings)" because the Greek
preposition "en" is often rendered "among" when several people are involved. We
can reply that where a location is concerned, the meaning of "en," even in the
plural, always remains "in" (see e.g. Mat.6:2: 8:32). The preposition thus
cannot be used to determine whether the ellipsis must be completed by "beings"
or "places:" We believe that Eph.1:20,21 must be the deciding factor: "set Him
at His own right hand in the above-heavenlies, far above all principalities ..."
The expression "in the above-heavenlies" cannot be rendered "among the above-heavenlies"
because it is immediately followed by the statement "far above all
principalities," and because these "principalities, etc." must be above-heavenly
beings according to Eph.3:10.
On reading Eph.1:20 and Eph.3:10, we find that "the right hand of God" is also a
special "place" among the "above heavenlies," since God and The Lord Jesus
Christ are at the same time in the above-heavenlies and above the beings who are
in the above-heavenlies.