You Are Not a Soul

You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.

C. S. Lewis

Or not. The above quote was supposedly said by C. S. Lewis, one of our favorite theologians of the modern age. The sentiment is echoed all over the place in Christianity. People complain about their bodies and long for the day that they will be free of them in Heaven. When people sin, they excuse or minimize their sin by saying that they didn’t mean to do something, but their passions or instincts got the best of them. People who struggle with body image are always reassured that the body doesn’t matter, but what’s inside counts. The promoted idea is clear: your body is not really you, just a temporary shell. Your soul is the real you, and you may even be better off without a body.

This is not Biblical.

They say that your body is not really you, just a temporary shell. Your soul is the real you, and you may even be better off without a body.

While I could go on for a long time on why this is wrong, I’ll focus on two points: Gnosticism and resurrection. First off, such a strict division of body/soul does not come from the Bible, but from the ancient heresy of Gnosticism. The Gnostics were a cult who came from the early church. They believed many problematic doctrines, but one of their core distinctives was their view of the physical and the spiritual, or the material and the immaterial. Matter and flesh, they believed, came from an inferior, perhaps evil, creator, whereas spirit and soul came from the true God. For this reason the body was seen as at best irrelevant and at worst an evil obstacle to salvation. The spirit, on the other hand, was considered the true and good self by which salvation could be attained through enlightenment. The difference between this Gnostic view and the “you are a soul and have a body” view is mostly only semantics.

The problems with this approach are numerous. For one, this kind of thinking is what led to the heresy that Jesus was not completely human, or only had the appearance of a body. Yet John calls them deceivers who “do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh” or (as the NLT puts it) “deny that Jesus Christ came in a real body” (2 John 1:7). Jesus was God made flesh. Another problem is that this leads to one of two major moral errors in Gnosticism. On one hand, some felt that if the body was irrelevant to salvation, then we can do with it anything we please and not defile ourselves. Others, however, thought that if the body is so much less than spirit, then we should deprive and ignore our bodies, practicing strict asceticism at best or self-mutilation at worst. Yet these conclusions, as wrong as they are, follow rather naturally from such a deficient view of the body.

The difference between this Gnostic view and the “you are a soul and have a body” view is mostly only semantics.

The other main problem with the view that the body is secondary to the soul is resurrection. See, the resurrection is the hope of Christianity. Because Jesus died, but was raised to life everlasting, we also can be sure that we who trust in Him will be raised as well. This is not a mere spiritual restoration: it is the renewal and resurrection of our physical bodies. Paul explained well the importance of this. When there were some in the Corinthian church denying that we will be resurrected, Paul declared that if there is no resurrection, then Christ was not raised, and if Christ was not raised we are doomed and lost in our sins. This shows that the resurrection of the body, which is supposedly just a container for the soul, is core to Christianity. And if the body’s resurrection is core to Christianity, then the body cannot be dismissed as “merely” anything. The beginning of the new creation in eternity will be the resurrection of the body, after which we live physically on a renewed creation forever.

There is one more issue I would like to raise about the importance of the body to human nature. When Jesus became a man, He took on a body, lived in a body, and died in a body. In fact, the death of Jesus’ physical body is the event which sealed our redemption. If the body is not essential to human nature, then Jesus could have incarnated without a body and done His mission in spirit. That Jesus took on flesh to become a human means that we need flesh to be human. In fact, Paul himself says as much when He writes of the hope of the resurrection body. He says that while we are in “this tent” (our mortal bodies suffering from the curse) we groan and are burdened, for we do not want to be “unclothed” (without a body) but be clothed with a “heavenly dwelling” (a resurrection body). For the problem with our bodies now is not that they are flesh, but that they are mortal and suffer the curse. Yet human nature is meant for a body, one which is immortal and free from sin. This is what is coming.

If the body is not essential to human nature, then Jesus could have incarnated without a body and done His mission in spirit.

Now I realize there are some who would object on the basis of the war between the spirit and the flesh. After all, Paul says this: “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13). Doesn’t this mean that your physical body is corrupt and that your spirit/soul is pure? Not really. For the acts of the flesh are “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like” (Gal. 5:19-21). While many of these are body with the body, they are all rooted in the heart, and some of these only take place within. Thus the flesh as Paul speaks of it against the Spirit is not the human body. What the flesh actually means is debatable, but it doesn’t mean human body by itself.

To conclude, let’s drop the Gnostic silliness. You are a body and a soul. Your body without your soul is dead, and your soul without your body is unclothed. God made us to be both. We cannot ignore the body, but must let our body and soul serve as instruments with which to glorify God. For we will be raised forever, to live bodily with Christ.

Oh, by the way, it is a myth that C. S. Lewis said the above quote. Thankfully.

[This is a repost of Stop Thinking Like a Gnostic.]

You Are Not a Soul

The Real Heavens of God’s Word

In my previous post Heaven Is a Myth. Sort Of. I began the question of what the Bible really teaches about heaven. I suggested that most popular ideas of heaven are myths, though I did not specify exactly what is mythical and what is real. Finally, I listed the three Biblical “places” people call “heaven.” My goal in this post is to continue explaining what each place is for real and give Scripture to back up what I’m saying.

Heaven #1: God’s World

The place in Scripture most often called “heaven” is the place where God and His angels dwell. The Bible says that God is in heaven 1, as well as the angels 2. Yet it does not appear to be some kind of uncreated, purely spiritual presence of God, like some people imagine. Instead, despite the ambiguity created by the use of the word “heavens” also to refer to the sky/space, it does appear to be the case that heaven is a place created by God alongside of “earth,” our physical world 3.

It is at this point we can see a concept of twin realities made by God in creation: earth as man’s place and heaven as God’s place. In heaven we see God and his subject angels 4, and on earth we see man in the image of God and their subject animals 5. God reigns in heaven directly, and His will is always done there 6. On earth, God rules through human beings 7, and because of that weak link His will is not always done here.

Nowhere in Scripture are believers said to go here after death. Indeed, if this heaven actually does have some kind of space, but the dead no longer have spatial bodies, then they cannot “go” there. In fact, they can’t “go” anywhere.

Heaven #2: Paradise

So what happens to believers when they die? They go to Paradise, which the Jews sometimes called Abraham’s bosom 8. We should not think of this place as somewhere physical. It isn’t, because we go there without bodies. After we die our bodies lie in the ground, and our spirits/souls/whatevers, which are not physical, experience whatever happens next. They are not our bodies, so they do not have eyes, noses, ears, skin, or tongues. They do not have senses. Moreover, they lack brains, which largely control the kind of consciousness we experience in our bodies.

What does this mean? Paradise is not at all a normal state that we could imagine. We do not have normal consciousness there, seeing and hearing and feeling and thinking. It has something in common with sleep, but is nonetheless different. This can be proved throughout the Scriptures 9.

Paradise is a peculiar state. It is, on one hand, somewhat abysmal and empty, due to our existence without the bodily half of our nature 10. We’re meant to be in bodies, not without them. Yet it is also blissful and in fact better than our current state of tension with sin and weakness 11. Once we’ve died, the last of the old man will be completely gone, which means we will be with Christ in a better way than now 12. At present we are incomplete and have sin, but then we will be incomplete and without sin.

Heaven #3: Resurrection and New Earth

The final and ultimate reality often called “heaven” (but not by the Bible) is the new creation coming at the last day. This is mostly testified by Isaiah and Revelation, though of course the hope permeates the Scriptures. In the end, when Christ returns to judge the world, everyone will be raised from the dead. Those who are in Christ and have His Spirit will be resurrected to eternal life 13, while the rest will be raised for condemnation 14.

This resurrection will be the second stage of new birth. What God did for our spirit when we first believed He will do for our bodies: a new creation, not starting from scratch but incomprehensibly transforming the old 15. Jesus’ resurrection body is the prototype of our future bodies, and His was not a brand new creation. It “used up” the matter of His original body, leaving an empty tomb 16. It still bore the scars of His saving death 17. God didn’t scrap the original body and make a brand new one; He renewed, restored, and glorified the first physical body. 18

Of course, even though these bodies will remain truly physical and tangible, they will be different than our current bodies. Apparently they can bypass certain normal spacetime restrictions 19. No longer mortal or subject to decay, they will be immortal and incorruptible 20. In some way, even though our bodies will be still physical human bodies, they will be radically changed and new as well 21. C. S. Lewis captured the picture well when he suggested we should “remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.”

As to the new earth, the same pattern of death and resurrection follows. Isaiah and John both wrote about the “new heavens and earth” 22. This world will die in fire 23, but the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead will similarly raise the entire creation 24. Again, we’re not dealing with God scrapping the old creation and making a new one from scratch. It is recreation, restoration, renewal. It is resurrection, just like Jesus, who is the firstfruits of the new creation 25.

This place, our final destination, will be a completely physical world, somehow connected to the current one, for it will be where we live in our resurrected physical bodies. Its crowning capitol will be the New Jerusalem, described beautifully by John in Revelation 21-22. There God’s heaven (the #1 listing) and our earth will become one 26, since we see that there “God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them” 27. The new creation, not the Paradise where we go when we die, will be home to the “streets of gold” 28 and other beauties, though more than likely these are not literal details but a fanciful and symbolically loaded description meant to give off a particular picture of glory and wonder. It will be our home for all eternity.

Everything beyond this point becomes somewhat speculative. I do think that, since this will be a resurrection world and not some start-from-scratch creation or spiritual plane, there will be lots of stuff remaining from our present age. Art, architecture, music, and such made by Spirit-led believers to glorify God may well surviving the purification by fire. Church buildings hallowed to God’s glory where He has touched many lives may stick around. Natural wonders are sure to remain and be even more glorious than before. The world will dazzle with God’s brilliance, “for as the waters fill the sea, so the earth will be filled with an awareness of the glory of the Lord” 29.

So What?

Having said all of this, why does it matter? What difference does the Biblical picture of heaven make compared to the popular ideas? Much in every way. On the one hand, it is always worthwhile to speak Biblically instead of following unbiblical traditions (the same reason we Protestants pointedly reject certain Catholic doctrines about Mary, even though they’re unimportant). But there is more to it than that.

Framing the issues this way keeps our focus clear. God’s heaven is what we want to emulate and bring to earth, anticipating the way that they will become one in the new creation. Understanding Paradise reminds us how much God cares for our bodily existence, so that we will not neglect or undervalue them. If the physical world will be renewed for our eternal home, there is reason to get out and do real things, knowing that our labors can be preserved. Resurrection brings hope and a certainty towards the defeat of death. Honestly, I could go on, but it would be easier to simply point you to the book Surprised by Hope by N. T. Wright, who covers all of this and the practical applications in much detail.

I’ll close with this:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone.

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life.

Revelation 21:3-8

The Real Heavens of God’s Word

Heaven Is a Myth. Kind Of.

“So now he’s saying heaven is a myth. What has gotten into Caleb’s brain today?” This is may be something like the reaction you had to the title of this post. And that’s probably justified. I’ve already pulled pretty well the same stunt with I Don’t Believe in Hell a while back. It’s just that heaven and hell are such deliciously popular topics that such titles always attract attention.

Anyway, what am I actually saying this time? Well, first off I’m certainly not saying that there is no such thing as heaven. That would be Biblically absurd. When I say “heaven is a myth” I mean specifically the popular conceptions of heaven that dominate books and movies, whether Christian or not. There is certainly a real heaven, but it’s not what most people imagine it is, and that is the message I mean to get across in this post.

Define “Heaven”, Please

What’s wrong with the common perceptions of heaven? Part of the problem is the lack of precision. People use the word “heaven” to refer to God’s presence, the place believers go after death, and the future state elaborated in Revelation 21-22. Because many Christians use the same word for all of these places, the differences get muddled to create a strange, murky, and unbiblical mix. My goal here is to distinguish between the different things and clarify the Biblical vision of heaven.

First off, the word “heaven” itself in the Bible is never used for where people go when they die, nor does it ever refer to the new creation after Jesus returns. It is used primarily in three ways (note that I’m only referencing the New Testament to make things easier for me, but what I say can also be seen in the Old):

  • “Heaven” can refer to the sky and/or space, e.g. Matt. 3:16, 16:2, Mk. 7:34, Lk. 9:16, Acts 11:6, Jas. 5:18
  • “Heaven” can be used as a substitute for “God.” This is clearly seen in Matthew. Everywhere the other gospels say “kingdom of God” Matthew uses “kingdom of heaven.” 
  • Finally, “heaven” can refer to the place where God and His angels are, e.g. Matt. 5:16, 22:30, Mk. 11:26, John 1:51, Acts 7:55.

Search the Scriptures and see for yourself: never is the word “heaven” used in relation to where a human is, with precisely two exceptions. The first is that of Jesus, who is exalted in heaven at the right hand of God and intercedes for us there. The only other exception is Paul in a vision being caught up to the third heaven. But these exceptions prove the rule. Heaven is never mentioned as the destiny of the dead righteous.

There is a word used in Scripture for the place where the dead righteous are. This word is “paradise.” Jesus Himself used it to the thief on the cross, and it is one of two direct names for the place where dead believers are. The other reference is “Abraham’s bosom” in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. These two references to the dwelling of dead believers are the only ones which name the place, and neither uses the word “heaven.”

Is it semantics I’m playing here? Not merely. What we must learn to make sense of the Biblical teachings on heaven is to distinguish between the three places associated with our concept of heaven. I’ll give a basic overview of each here, and later I’ll give details on the Biblical case for each.

The Three Things People Like to Call “Heaven”

First, heaven is the space God created alongside “earth.” Our visible world is parallel to the world of heaven, and both were created by God in the beginning. Heaven is flooded with the glory and presence of God, and His will is always carried out there. Angels also dwell there. This world is not the purely spiritual presence of God, but a created space with its own created order which parallels ours. Heaven and earth are distinct, but together. They are separate, but right beside each other. They occasionally intersect and get messily involved with each other. God reigns in this heaven, Jesus’ physical human body is currently present there, and angels go to and fro between there and here to accomplish God’s purposes.

Next, paradise is where believers are after death. It is not equal to heaven, but is something else. For believers, it is a place of rest and comfort until the last day when we are to be resurrected. This is not likely to be a physical or material place, because it is neither in heaven nor earth and the people who dwell there are without bodies for the time being. It is a truly immaterial existence, without sight, touch, smell, or sound. There are no mansions, streets of gold, or anything which can be physically sensed there. Paradise has bliss for the righteous, a bliss that results from God’s caring embrace by the Spirit, but there is still a degree of discomfort because they are “naked” and lack their bodies. This place is ultimately temporary, an immaterial existence which will no longer be relevant in the resurrection.

Finally, the new creation (also called the new heavens and earth) is where believers are destined to live in eternity. This is a physical world birthed out of our current one, a recreation. Just like the Spirit radically healed and transformed us at our new birth to make us a new creation, so will He do to the entire world in the last day. Just like Jesus’ dead body was restored to life and made altogether fresh and new, so will the entire cosmos die in flame and be restored to a new and fuller glory in Christ. This will still be our physical universe, but fixed, renewed, and brought to its true destined purity. 

Obviously, by this point I’ve said a lot that you may not have heard before, and very well may prove controversial. So be it. But alas, I’m nearing a thousand words here, so it’s not the time to go on. I’ll continue this series. In my next post, I’ll start defending and building with Scripture what I’ve said about these three places. In the mean time, try reading the Bible with these thoughts in mind and see if it makes sense. You may be surprised.

Heaven Is a Myth. Kind Of.

I Am the Resurrection and the Life

Tears. They filled Martha’s eyes as she spoke with the man before her. She respected him and was happy to see him, but couldn’t help but be slightly angry at him. He could have fixed things. He should have been there. She’d choked out some words of trust to him, but they were somewhat hollow.

Then he replied. And his reply turned her dejected expression to a puzzled one. He told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.”

If it’s not obvious now, I recount the funeral of Lazarus here, and the one who spoke those mystifying and powerful words is none other than Jesus Himself. When Lazarus died, Jesus told the mourning sisters that He was the resurrection and the life. And of course He followed this up by actually raising Lazarus from the dead. “What a magnificent miracle!” we think upon hearing the story.

In my own life, death has reared its ugly head twice in only a few weeks. First it claimed my grandfather, and now also my aunt. Both tragedies were on the same side of the family, so it’s been a traumatic season for the Smiths.

In the wake of both losses, I’ve been gripped by a particular thought, one which lies at the heart of our faith. Resurrection has been the hopeful theme. While the funeral preaching attempted to comfort us all with the thought of loved ones now in heaven, I found myself consoled, even excited, by the prospect of the coming resurrection. One day I could see life pulsing once again through the very same bodies which had just gone cold. Where there was now no breath, there will be breath again. And this will be no mere reanimation, with the new life just a return to the same frail bodily existence which ended, but a glorious restoring transformation. The physical, tangible matter I’ve seen, heard, and hugged will be back and better than ever before by the power of the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead.

Honestly, it saddens me how neglected this hope is. You could hear a hundred sermons even at funerals in most churches and never know that one of the basis tenants of our faith is the resurrection of the dead. Heaven is seen as our home and final destination, when Biblically and Christianly it is really our vacation home, a place to rest between death and new life. Yet Jesus died and then rose precisely so that we also could rise after death.

Let’s not forget this. The salvation we’ve been given is not just for our souls, but also our bodies. We will see those we love in Christ again, not just as ghosts but real, touchable people in a solid, tangible new creation. It’s exhilarating. And it is comfort. Death is not the last word. Life is. Because we are in Jesus, who says to us all in our grieving and sorrow, when tragedy strikes and relationships are cut off, just one glorious encouragement:

“I am the resurrection and the life.”

I Am the Resurrection and the Life

Salvation and Certainty Revisited

[This whole post is a follow-up of two earlier posts. First was I’m Not 100% Certain I’m Going to Heaven (And That’s Okay) and the second was Clark Is Certain He is Going to Heaven. Make sure to read them if you haven’t!]

Some time ago, I argued against the possibility of true, epistemic certainty of salvation. You cannot be 100% certain of salvation, I argued, because you cannot have 100% certainty of anything you experience, period, even of the existence of the Bible, God, or anything beyond your own mind.

Since then, I have come to think of this in another light. See, the assumption undergirding my entire previous post was that the only certain knowledge one can have is that which can be rationally deduced. If you cannot prove it with fundamental logical principles, then you cannot know it with 100% certainty. Sure, you can have working confidence, but not perfect knowledge. But now I wonder if that is misguided.

Lacking from my last examination of this question was the concept of union with God the Father, through the Son, through the Spirit. Let us assume for a moment that, regardless of certainty, orthodox Christian doctrines are true. In that case every believer is ontologically united to Jesus through the Holy Spirit, and ontologically united to God the Father through Jesus’ hypostatic union. Therefore each of us has a real, deep connection to God.

Let us also assume that God has perfect certainty. Given that all reality must be contingent on God, and He is indeed the Truth, this makes sense. So if God has perfect certainty, and I have a direct ontological connection with Him, then there is an avenue by which I may attain perfectly certainty.

See, I previously assumed that “I think, therefore I am” was as far as you could go with 100% certainty. “God is 100% certain of all things” is something I would also affirm. But given the reality of union with God through Jesus through the Spirit, “I” now becomes connected to “God” in such a way that perhaps this is possible: “I know x with 100% certainty because this knowledge is mediated to me directly by God, who knows x with 100% certainty.”

If this is the case, presumably through the Spirit we could know with certainty that we are united to God in Christ, at which point we can be assured of salvation. 

“But wait!” someone could object. “You could still have all kinds of rational reasons to doubt salvation, both theologically and philosophically.” Yet this does not negate my point. For not every rational excuse the mind can create negates true knowledge. I could, for example, come up with various objections to the idea that I exist. But while they might have some rational persuasive power, ultimately they could not shake the unconscious certainty that I do indeed exist. This is immediate knowledge which I cannot turn off, though in my mind I could perhaps deny or doubt it.

Likewise, I expect we can have this immediate certainty of salvation through the Spirit deep within, even if it might be unconscious and contradicted by the mind. This would be a good reason why we can experience anxiety and stress about doubting our salvation, for our minds come up with ways to contradict what we actually know for certain, bewildering us.

This is really only a beginning of these ruminations, but I hope they’ll be thought-provoking. I imagine this will lead (at least in my mind) to some more thoughts on reason and faith, and maybe on a defense of having certainty in our senses. Hmm…

Salvation and Certainty Revisited

Can Animals Go to Heaven? Fido’s Destiny

Off the top of my head I know my family has killed at least half a dozen dogs. Well, I say “killed,” but it’s really just that our land is cursed with the ability to drastically shorten any animal’s lifespan. Time would be too short to tell of the demise of Jax, Johnny Reb, Sadie, Rascal, and the others, not to mention our cats and their babies. This carries with it a small burden of sadness.

Given that pets are so beloved, and that as Christians we strongly believe that we will be reunited with our loved ones in eternity, it is only natural that people ask if our pets will accompany us. After all, who doesn’t want to console their child (or himself) with the thought that they will see Sparky again? So sometimes people ask, “Can animals go to heaven?”

Now, to our credit not many believers fool around with the idea that our animals will be in heaven like we will. But usually the argument goes something along the lines of “animals don’t have souls.” Even if true (that depends a lot on how you view soul, spirit, and consciousness), this probably isn’t the most relevant line of reasoning. There are two major factors being ignored here which I would like to highlight.

First, we should clarify what we mean by “heaven.” Remember, all, that we often conflate two different concepts when we use that word. Sometimes we mean the intermediate state, our being with God in Christ after our death but before the final resurrection. In this case, we can see clearly that, if an animal doesn’t have a soul, it could not be in “heaven,” because this heaven is (presumably) simply spiritual and the animal is strictly physical. But since that concept of animals is questionable anyway, I want to move on from that point.

We also use “heaven” to refer to the new creation after the Second Coming, when the heavens and the earth are restored, renewed, and perfected. This will be a truly physical place with some continuity between it and our present world. Naturally, there are almost certainly going to be animals there. Indeed, the Biblical descriptions of the Messiah’s kingdom (of which the new earth will be the final fulfillment) often include animals. But will these animals be resurrections of our own? Probably not, though it cannot be ruled out altogether. God is always a gracious and surprising God.

Secondly, we should remember why humans go to heaven and what distinguishes us from animals. The answer to this, most certainly, is Jesus Christ. In Jesus humanity is connected to God. Since He is both God and man, we humans have communion with God through Him. This is the basis for our salvation and for heaven. If we are to be part of heaven, it is because we have been united with the man Jesus, who is essentially united to God, and through whom we can be united to God.

For this reason, animals cannot play the same part in redemption. While it may or may not be that God will physically resurrect our pets as a gift to us in the new earth (this matter is nothing but speculation), we can be sure that animals have no essential communion with God. God did not become an animal. He did not incarnate as a dog, or a cat, or a platypus, or a yeti. There is nothing for the animals like the union between God and humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore they have no inherent share in eternal life, heaven, or necessarily in the new creation. So when people ask, “Can animals go to heaven?” the answer is, for all intents and purposes, “no.” But that provides quite the in for explaining why and how we can through Jesus Christ.

Let us, therefore, be all the more joyful that out of all creatures, God has made us the objects of His love and brought us into fellowship with Him through His beloved Son. Amen.

Can Animals Go to Heaven? Fido’s Destiny

Jesus Didn’t Promise Mansions

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

John 14:2-3 (KJV)

We’ve all heard this passage before. Many of us know and love our future heavenly mansions. We imagine them as big and spacious, filled with gold and silver, the essence of luxury. Only one problem: Jesus never promised that we will have mansions.

The KJV was translated in the early 1600s. At this time, the word “mansion” didn’t carry any meaning of a large or fancy building. It basically just meant a place to stay. This could range in meaning from essentially a hotel room to an apartment to any house. The Greek word from which “mansion” was translated, monai, also has this meaning. See how these verses are translated in two modern translations:

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

John 14:2-3 (NIV)

There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house. Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going away to make ready a place for you. And if I go and make ready a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me, so that where I am you may be too.

John 14:2-3 (NET)

See what I mean? Now, this doesn’t rule out the possibility that we will each have a decked out house in the new creation, but Jesus didn’t say so. Fortunately, we know that our Father is truly a good father, and that He will provide for us good living conditions when the world is made new. Still, either way our future home may not be the point of these verses. Here is what the NET Bible notes have to say:

Most interpreters have understood the reference to my Father’s house as a reference to heaven, and the dwelling places (μονή, monh) as the permanent residences of believers there. This seems consistent with the vocabulary and the context, where in v. 3 Jesus speaks of coming again to take the disciples to himself. However, the phrase in my Father’s house was used previously in the Fourth Gospel in 2:16 to refer to the temple in Jerusalem. The author in 2:19-22 then reinterpreted the temple as Jesus’ body, which was to be destroyed in death and then rebuilt in resurrection after three days. Even more suggestive is the statement by Jesus in 8:35, “Now the slave does not remain (μένω, menw) in the household forever, but the son remains (μένω) forever.” If in the imagery of the Fourth Gospel the phrase in my Father’s house is ultimately a reference to Jesus’ body, the relationship of μονή to μένω suggests the permanent relationship of the believer to Jesus and the Father as an adopted son who remains in the household forever. In this case the “dwelling place” is “in” Jesus himself, where he is, whether in heaven or on earth. The statement in v. 3, “I will come again and receive you to myself,” then refers not just to the parousia, but also to Jesus’ postresurrection return to the disciples in his glorified state, when by virtue of his death on their behalf they may enter into union with him and with the Father as adopted sons. Needless to say, this bears numerous similarities to Pauline theology, especially the concepts of adoption as sons and being “in Christ” which are prominent in passages like Eph 1. It is also important to note, however, the emphasis in the Fourth Gospel itself on the present reality of eternal life (John 5:24, 7:38-39, etc.) and the possibility of worshiping the Father “in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:21-24) in the present age. There is a sense in which it is possible to say that the future reality is present now. See further J. McCaffrey, The House With Many Rooms (AnBib 114).

Amen to being in Christ!

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