A Tale of Two heavens
You can't convince
a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence,
it's based on a deep seated need to believe. - Carl Sagan
The power of suggestion is strong. Modern Christians believe there are two heavens: the one seen by naked eyes, and the unseen supernatural heaven of the Bible. As a matter of record, heaven is mentioned 470 times in the Bible, including 123 times in the New Testament. As a matter of fact, the Bible refers to one heaven, the same heaven seen by naked eyes. The first part of this article will bring to focus for glazed eyes the natural heaven seen by the Bible's writers.
So then where and when did the idea of a supernatural heaven come from? Prior to the 17th century, the world view held that man was surrounded by invisible spiritual powers which influenced his life and work. As explained in Elements of Creation, those spirits were believed to be embodied in the wind. It was the source of life.
The great shift in meaning was motivated by Galileo's publication of his evidence for a heliocentric planetary system. It had the effect if displacing God from the natural universe and forcing Christian thinkers to reinvent their conceptions of God as a being operating outside of nature.
Just so we are clear on our definitions, "supernatural" means not natural. It does not mean better than natural. That idea may have come from the Superman comic series. Belief in the supernatural shares a family relationship with magic, myth, fiction and even psychosis.
The biblical case for a visible heaven
The idea of an unseen supernatural heaven was far too abstract for ancients. There was the great sky above them peering down with it's multitude of lights day and night. How could they ignore it? It makes no sense that they could overlook something so vast and mysterious! To make sense out of it, they looked to the sky for omens. Astrology permeated the kingdoms of Sumeria, Babylon, Assyria, Egypt, Chaldea, Persia, Arabia, Greece, Rome and even China. Hebrews and early Christians could not have ignored it. To make that point, here are some examples from Genesis and Revelation.
Belief in a firmament implied a sky surrounded by a shell. That shell was believed to be formed by the arc by which heavenly bodies traveled from east to west.
67 8 (Gen. 1:6-8)
The greater light-the sun- ruled the day and the lesser light-the moon-ruled the night.
1617 18 (Gen. 1:16-17)
Abraham believed that the number of stars foretold the number of his descendents.
34 5 6 (Gen. 15:3-6)
Joseph in a dream, believed that the sun, the moon and the eleven (later twelve) stars were bowing down to him.
"Clouds" defines the Milky Way.
7Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. (Rev. 1:5)
A star falls from heaven? In modern parlance, we say stars descend.
10The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the fountains of water. (Rev. 8:10)
These verses describe the twelve constellations of the zodiac, and Virgo with the small constellation Coma Berenices next to it. Translation: the portent appears when the full moon is in Virgo.
1And a great
portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under
her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars;
2she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery. (Rev. 12:1)
New Testament astrology
The most significant evidence of New Testament astrology is the story of the wise men and the star of Bethlehem. The implication is that the birth of Jesus was foretold by the stars. The wise men of the east were astrologers. Chaldean oracles were highly regarded in the first century.
1Now when Jesus
was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men
from the East came to Jerusalem, saying,
2"Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him." (Matt. 2:1-2)
Luke tells it different, but the implication is the same as Matthew. Angels implies angels, explained in further detail below.
angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let
us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord
has made known to us."
16And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. (Luke 2:16-16)
High in heaven
The Christian Bible infers belief in astrology in allegorical form. This is what is meant by Christianity being a revealed religion; the stars visually reveal their messages. As we shall see, Jesus believed in astrology.
A voice from heaven
16And when Jesus
was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens
were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting
17and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." (Matt. 3:16-17)
Jesus warns that heaven and earth will pass away. He could not have been more wrong.
18For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. (Matt. 5:18)
Heaven was up in the sky and Hades was below earth.
23And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. (Matt. 11:23)
"Wise" referred to pagan astrologers. The signs were revealed to Christian "babes."
25At that time Jesus declared, "I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; (Matt. 11:25)
The loaves refer to Virgo, the house of bread, and the two fish refer to Pisces.
19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. (Matt. 14:19)
Jesus is asked to show them signs from heaven. No sign will be given except the sign of Jonah. The sign refers to coming Age of Aquarius. (See Armageddon)
Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a
sign from heaven.
2He answered them, "When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather; for the sky is red.'
3And in the morning, 'It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.
4An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah." (Matt. 16:1-4)
Jesus expects events in heaven to parallel events on earth.
18Truly, I say to
you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you
loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
19Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. (Matt. 18:18-19)
Son of man in heaven
after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will
not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the
heavens will be shaken;
30then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory;
31and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matt. 24:29-31)
The angles (stars) come with stars of Orion.
31"When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. (Matt. 25:31)
Angels in heaven
Angels were God's messengers. The word is both a pun and a personification for angles, as in the angles of the stars. We see here the roots for modern horoscope astrology.
Angels are in heaven
30For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. (Matt. 22:30)
The Son of man will send his angels, meaning when the stars have certain angles.
39and the enemy
who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the close of the age, and the
reapers are angels.
40Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age.
41The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, (Matt. 13:39-41)
Again, the position of Orion foretells of an omen.
27For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done. (Matt. 16:27)
The angels behold the face of my Father in heaven, which is an indirect way of referring to signs.
10"See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 18:10)
Angels in heaven
30For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. (Matt. 22:30)
There will be no signs from heaven.
36"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. (Matt. 24:36)
My Father will send twelve legions of angels. Twelve refers to the twelve zodiac constellations.
53Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? (Matt. 26:53)
Jesus believed heaven had ends. That perception came from the trajectory of the stars above the horizon.
27And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. (Mark 13:27)
You will see heaven open and angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. The verse refers to the motion of Orion and the stars.
51And he said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man." (John 1:51)
Kingdom of heaven
This collection refers to God's kingdom of heaven See Jesus' Second Coming.
The sun is at its highest above the horizon during the summer solstice.
17From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt. 4:17)
10Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. (Matt. 6:10)
Heaven moves from east to west.
11I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, (Matt. 8:11)
The kingdom of heaven has suffered violence. How could that happen if it was a supernatural heaven?
11Truly, I say to
you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the
Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
12From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force. (Matt. 11:11-12)
11And he answered them, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. (Matt. 13:11)
What is revealed is from heaven.
answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon BarJona!
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in
18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.
19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matt. 16:17-19)
Unless you become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. The belief is that one's spirit rises like the wind to heaven.
1At that time the
disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of
2And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them,
3and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
4Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 18:1-4)
Father in heaven
"Father in heaven" was the unseen wind force that controlled the movement of the stars.
1"Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 6:1)
11If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matt. 7:11)
21"Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 7:21)
32So every one
who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is
33but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 10:32-33)
50For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother. (Matt. 12:50)
Paul too was a believer in omens from heaven. In this passage, he was waiting for his spirit to be swept up into the highway of heaven, the Milky Way. He imagines that the spirits of the dead are still floating around in the air somewhere.
14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even
so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
15For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep.
16For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first;
17then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thess. 4:14-17)
According to the Revised Standard Version, the only time "supernatural" is used is by Paul in 1 Corinthians. Yet according to Strong's Dictionary, the word translates to pneumatikos in Greek, meaning "spiritual." "Pneumatics" comes from the same Greek root.
1I want you to
know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed
through the sea,
2and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,
3and all ate the same supernatural food
4and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ. (1 Cor. 10:1-4)
The NIV as well as the King James use "spiritual."
1For I do not
want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all
under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.
2They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.
3They all ate the same spiritual food
4and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. (1 Cor. 10:1-4 NIV)
As explained in more detail in The Elements of Creation, air was the spiritual force. Ancients believed everything was composed of water, fire, air and earth.
The Scientific Revolution
The Scientific Revolution forced God and his angels out of the natural universe.
- Earth was the unmoved center of the universe.
- The moon, sun, planets and stars orbited in perfect circles, because the sphere was the most perfect shape.
- The outermost sphere was inhabited by God himself.
- The closer one got to God's realm, the more perfect the sphere.
These verses represent a sampling of biblical cosmology.
It was Copernicus (1473-1543) who is credited for first making the suggestion in 1543 that the sun was at the center of the solar system. Galileo was the first major astronomer to use the newly invented telescope to view the heavens. From his observations, he questioned the old Aristotelian assumptions about the motion of heavenly and earthly bodies. The Protestant Kepler refined the Copernican system of planetary circular obit to elliptical orbit. By the time Newton published (1687) the mathematical laws of motion, the Scientific Revolution had been born. None of these men were atheists. Rather, instead of starting out by assuming God as a first principle, they followed the path of their studies by applying inductive methods without preconceived assumptions.
The story of Galileo's conflict with the Church is well documented. In 1632, Galileo published his findings in Dialogues on the Two Chief Systems of the World. Within a year, Church authorities threatened Galileo. But as with Luther a century earlier, the printing press spread his ideas among university scholars, especially in the Protestant Countries. From here, I'll touch on some points in A History of God by Karen Armstrong.
The Catholic Church did not condemn the heliocentric theory because it endangered belief in God the Creator, but because it contradicted scripture. The problem that lay before them is how to reconcile with the Bible. If earth was just another planet revolving around the sun, where does that put Heaven and Hell? Hell, for example, was widely believed to be located at the center of earth where Dante put it.
What Armstrong describes of the changes in 17th century theological thinking with regards to Galileo, I've noticed the same process taking place with regards to Darwin. The first stage is fierce resistance. Once it sinks in that resistance is futile, the next stage is to fold the new paradigm into the God spectrum. No matter what becomes scientifically tenable, they can always say it was designed by God. Even the science of reason was seen as an improved way of understanding God.
To continue, she says that instead of seeing God as a symbol of reality, it was increasingly assumed that God was simply a fact of life like any other. Christian apologists gravitated to the rationalistic approach of Leonard Lessius (1551-1623). He argued that the existence of God can be demonstrated scientifically like any of the other facts of life-the design of the universe could not have happened by chance. Even some of the great scientific minds like Pascal, Descartes and Newton went to great lengths to reconcile God with science.
Christianity was never at risk. Despite the profound contradictions and non-conformities with current knowledge, when the will to believe is strong, people will find a way to reconcile and compartmentalize those incompatibilities. Astrology and the belief in a visible heaven are deeply embedded in biblical scripture for those with the will to see what is so apparently evident.
Papal Condemnation of Galileo June 22, 1633
Whereas you, Galileo, son of the late Vaincenzo Galilei, Florentine, aged seventy years, were in the year 1615 denounced to this Holy Office for holding as true the false doctrine taught by some that the Sun is the center of the world and immovable and that the Earth moves, and also with a diurnal motion; for having disciples to whom you taught the same doctrine; for holding correspondence with certain mathematicians of Germany concerning the same; for having printed certain letters, entitled "On the Sunspots," wherein you developed the same doctrine as true; and for replying to the objections from the Holy Scriptures, which from time to time were urged against it, by glossing the said Scriptures according to your own meaning: and whereas there was thereupon produced the copy of a document in the form of a letter, purporting to be written by you to one formerly your disciple, and in this divers propositions are set forth, following the position of Copernicus, which are contrary to the true sense and authority of Holy Scripture:
This Holy Tribunal being therefore of intention to proceed against the disorder and mischief thence resulting, which went on increasing to the prejudice of the Holy Faith, by command of His Holiness and of the Most Eminent Lords Cardinals of this supreme and universal Inquisition, the two propositions of the stability of the Sun and the motion of the Earth were by the theological Qualifiers qualified as follows:
The proposition that the Sun is the center of the world and does not move from its place is absurd and false philosophically and formally heretical, because it is expressly contrary to Holy Scripture.
The proposition that the Earth is not the center of the world and immovable but that it moves, and also with a diurnal motion, is equally absurd and false philosophically and theologically considered at least erroneous in faith.
First, however, we must explain what we mean by 'heaven' and in how many senses we use the word, in order to make clearer the object of our inquiry. (a) In one sense, then, we call 'heaven' the substance of the extreme circumference of the whole, or that natural body whose place is at the extreme circumference. We recognize habitually a special right to the name 'heaven' in the extremity or upper region, which we take to be the seat of all that is divine. (b) In another sense, we use this name for the body continuous with the extreme circumference which contains the moon, the sun, and some of the stars; these we say are 'in the heaven'. (c) In yet another sense we give the name to all body included within extreme circumference, since we habitually call the whole or totality 'the heaven'. The word, then, is used in three senses...
It is therefore evident that there is also no place or void or time outside the heaven.