Problem: Somebody or nobody has ascended to heaven
Verses: 2 Kings 2:11, John 3:13; Status: Minor

In Kings, the prophet Elijah is portrayed ascending to heaven. This is 2 Kings 2:11:

And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. (ESV)

Jesus in the gospel of John seems to say that he is the only one who ever ascended into Heaven. This is John 3:11-13:

Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. (ESV)

Various responses

There are various solutions to this problem, most of them unlikely. But I think the most plausible solution is that Jesus is just being vague. His statement that nobody has ascended to heaven has an exception, but he may simply have felt the exception was not relevant to the discussion. His primary message here is that nobody around him has more authority than he does. This is fairly close to the response Looking Unto Jesus gives, though I don't find it totally convincing.

Tektonics' solution is that Elijah was merely taken up into "the heavens" (meaning the sky) rather than Heaven with a capital H, but this makes little sense. What exactly was Elijah doing in the sky?

Dan of Israel suggests that Jesus is talking about ascent into heaven under one's own power. Thus, "he ascended into heaven" is different from "he was taken into heaven by God". But this doesn't look like what Jesus means to me.

For a non-inerrantist, of course, the most likely explanation is simple error, either on the part of Jesus or John.

Updated: Summer 2008

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