Enoch and Elijah: Are they Dead or in Heaven?

The question of Enoch’s and Elijah’s demise is still argued by scholars and lay people after all these thousands of years, since their biblically recorded disappearance. Enoch was the father of Methuselah and ancestor of Noah, and the author of the apocalyptic Book of Enoch. He vanished, literally, after only 365 years of life. Besides being mentioned in Genesis, he is also referenced in the New Testament (see: Luke 3:37; Hebrews 11:5; Jude 1:14-15).

Now, unusual for biblical characters, Elijah has no recorded background to draw upon for insight, other than being described as a Tishbite1 (1 Kings 17:1). But he became a priest and a prophet of God and leader of a school called ‘sons of the prophets’2 (see 2 Kings 2:3). Elijah became very important in Israel’s history and, even today, a place is reserved for him at the Jewish Passover Seder,3 because of his predicted return4 (see Malachi 4:5-6). Elijah disappeared too, but with a more colorful departure.

We will touch lightly upon the events which created their influential lives, but also submit possibilities for their curious exits from the biblical record. If scholars have debated this subject for millennia, I seriously doubt the mystery will be completely solved by this article, but, at the very least, you will have something to think about.

Both Enoch and Elijah are Old Testament characters, but did they die on earth or are they now alive in heaven? If dead, why does not the Bible plainly indicate this information? If they are alive in heaven, then how do we justify that belief with what Jesus says in the New Testament? In John 3 he said, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” (John 3:13, ESV).5 This does appear to be a conundrum.

Enoch

Enoch (not to be confused with Cain’s son) lived between the fall in the Garden in Eden and the Genesis flood. He was one of seven pre-flood Patriarchs. It is said that he walked with God, denoting a devout life, while living in close communion with the LORD.6 While the deaths of other Patriarchs are mentioned in scripture, this is not so for Enoch. The Bible, at Genesis 5:24, suddenly and obscurely states, “and he was not.” Here states his lineage, (from the generations of Adam in Genesis chapter 5), along with his age at his disappearance.

When Jared had lived 162 years, he fathered Enoch. Jared lived after he fathered Enoch 800 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Jared were 962 years, and he died.

When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him. (Genesis 5:18-24).

Yes, they lived long lives back then, so here is an unrelated, but interesting, side note to think about. It concerns Genesis 5, called the ‘Generations of Adam’ and comes from a Christian author, Richard Losch. This is his thought: “There are two possible explanations of the ages of the ‘generations of Adam’ for those who do not take them literally. They may refer to dynasties rather than to individual life spans. Methuselah’s 969 years may have referred to the ‘house of Methuselah’. The other possibility is that the word we now translate ‘year’ may in early times have meant simply ‘cycle of time’ and referred to a shorter cycle, perhaps a season or a month. Many primitive cultures reckoned time in months (moons) rather than in years. If Methuselah lived 969 moons, that would be about seventy-five years, a prodigious age in ancient times.”7

There is much more to the story of Enoch in one of the apocrypha8 texts that carry his name, the Book of Enoch,9 which is asserted to be authored by him. Although not now included in the biblical canon, there is evidence that it was well known and accepted among Jews at the time of Christ and before.10 And Enoch is actually quoted in the New Testament at Jude 1:14-15.

Concerning the scripture (Genesis 5:24) that says, “Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him,” the great majority of scholars and lay people assume God transported him to heaven. It is commonly argued that this is an example for a rapture, that great catching away, which some believe will take faithful believers to heaven during the end times. Proponents then state supporting evidence from 1 Corinthians 10, when Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, ”Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” (1 Corinthians 10:11). All that sounds fine, except there is a big problem here — nowhere does it say Enoch was taken to heaven. That is only an assumption, not a proof.

Here is how different versions handle the translation of Genesis 5:24). In the ESV it is “Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.” The NET says, “Enoch walked with God, and then he disappeared because God took him away.” The Message translation states, “Enoch walked steadily with God. And then one day he was simply gone: God took him.” The CSB states “Enoch walked with God; then he was not there because God took him.” So the only accurate description we have, is that Enoch vanished by an act of God.

In all fairness, we must recognize that even though scripture does not actually state Enoch was taken to heaven, it doesn’t say he was not, either. But, if he didn’t go to heaven, where did he go? Some say he was taken to another place on earth. Another suggestion is that as an act of grace, God took his life to keep him from suffering the death process. In Hebrews it does say, “By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death.” (Hebrews 11:5a, NRSV).

The word taken, as used in Hebrews 11:5, is from the Greek mĕtatithēmi and means to put in another place, remove, or translate.11 Strong’s dictionary includes the lexical meaning to transfer or change.12 A modern analogy might be like a video game character, which can be removed from one place in the ongoing game and transferred to another place at the players whim. So the English Standard Version, at Genesis 5:24, stating then he was not, seems reasonable, because it is similar to how it might have been.

Several other suggestions are along the lines of information obtained from the apocryphal Book of Enoch (or 1 Enoch). In the beginning text, Enoch describes details of the fallen angels who had sexual relations with women of earth and produced the Nephilim. (For two interesting articles explaining the Nephilim, see the reference at the end of this article.)13

The last part of this book covers Enoch’s visits to heaven. He doesn’t go to heaven by dying first, but just visits through received visions, dreams, and revelations that he describes,14 some of which concern the Messiah, the destiny of the fallen angels, and the final judgement upon humankind. Could it be that Enoch deserved a quiet retirement in peace, so God moved him somewhere else?

Elijah

Elijah (meaning: my God is Yahweh) appears in the Bible during the reign of King Ahab (9th century BC) to proclaim a drought as punishment for their worship of a false god. Defending the Hebrew God, Yahweh, from the Canaanite god, Baal, Elijah has a contest to decide which is the strongest. “Elijah meets with 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel to determine which deity is the true God of Israel.”15

Sacrifices are placed, one at a time, on an altar to Baal and then on another to Yahweh. “The pagan prophets’ ecstatic appeals to Baal to kindle the wood on his altar are unsuccessful, but Elijah’s prayers to Yahweh are answered by a fire on his altar. This outcome is taken as decisive by the Israelites, who slay the priests and prophets of Baal under Elijah’s direction. The drought thereupon ends with the falling of rain.”16

God performed many miracles through Elijah, including the Bible’s first instance of raising the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24). As mentioned, he was also the leader of a school for prophets, and one of his students was a disciple and protégé named Elisha, who would soon become Elijah’s successor.

Traveling together, the men arrived at Bethel where a school of the ‘sons of the prophets’ was located. The LORD was sending Elijah to Jericho and Elisha was asked to stay at Bethel, but Elisha refused. After arriving in Jericho, Elijah again requested that Elisha stay, while he traveled to the Jordan River to carry on with God’s business. Again Elisha refused. So Elijah, Elisha, and fifty members of the school went to the Jordan, where Elijah parted the water so they could cross.

While Elijah and Elisha “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 . . . And he saw him no more.” (2 Kings 2:11-12). Believing that he may have been cast out of the whirlwind, they searched for him for three days, but to no avail.

Keep in mind that no matter where you heard this story, there is nothing in the Bible saying that he took a ride in any of those chariots of fire. The chariots and horses only came to separate them from each other. In Hebrew, ‘separated’ (pârad) means to break through or separate.17 It was the whirlwind that actually carried Elijah away. In Hebrew, ‘whirlwind’ (ârâh) means a hurricane or storm.18 And of course, in Hebrew, ‘heaven’ (shâmeh) means to be aloft or the sky or the place in which the clouds move, but can also mean even higher, as well.19 So, if we are talking about a heaven, was it the first heaven (sky), the second heaven (celestial), or the third heaven (God’s home)?20

It is almost like God didn’t want Elisha to be with Elijah when he was doing his work — at least at this particular time. Everyone was asking Elisha not to go, but he went anyway. So the LORD may have taken matters into his own hands, so to speak. Sending the fiery chariots and horses was definitely symbols of God’s power and control, as was the whirlwind. Separate them, then take Elijah to where he needed to be. Or maybe, like that suggested for Enoch, it was just time for Elijah to retire; removing him to a protected place on earth would give him a peaceful and quiet life — a reward for such a fine prophet and miracle worker.

Elijah Later in the Bible

Elijah’s final mention in the Old Testament is a bit complicated and confusing. In the Hebrew scriptures it is at 2 Chronicles 21:12, the last book of their Bible. But Christians include Malachi21 as their last book in the Old Testament, so the last reference for Christians is at Malachi 4:5-6. Being considered pre-Christian scripture, Malachi is placed before the Gospels.22 But it is in 2 Chronicles with which we are concerned, for it may provide an explanation to suggest whether God scooped Elijah up to heaven or not.

In 2 Chronicles, it makes mention of Elijah long after being taken away in the whirlwind. The first king that the Chronicler portrays as completely evil, Jehoram,23 received a letter from Elijah, charging him with not behaving like his godly fathers. “He condemns Jehoram for his unfaithfulness and promised a plague upon the nation and Jehoram’s family in general, and sickness for Jehoram in particular.24

It is a bit hard to fix the dates precisely, but one creditable source, The Handbook of Jewish Thought, puts Elijah’s letter being delivered to Jehoram seven years after he was, supposedly, snatched off the road near the Jordan River,25 which was before Jehoram’s reign even began. If true, then at that time, long after the whirlwind, Elijah neither was dead, nor living in heaven. “The only logical conclusion is that Elijah was taken up into the sky and transported to another location on the earth. He was able to write a letter to king Jehoram because he was still living on the earth when Jehoram was king.”26

A Few Other Thoughts and Some Strangeness, too.

Once again, in the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” (John 3:13). So, how do we justify Enoch and Elijah going off to heaven early? We can’t! Jesus did not lie and the Bible doesn’t conflict with itself, so what happened? This makes our options list rather short.

Most people think they did go to heaven and that is what is taught in Church. One Catholic spokesman stated, “The obvious answer, I’ve always held, is that they were exceptions. As a general rule, heaven was not open to those who lived before the time of Christ, but God is omnipotent, and he can make exceptions if he chooses.”27 Of course I agree with the omnipotent part, but just to say it is an ‘exception to the rule’ seems a bit unsatisfactory.

Some scholars have a problem with Jesus’ statement in John 3:13, saying it is stating something different from what most think it does. This verse, they say, “teaches that no one has ever ascended into heaven. But this assertion neglects the fact that John’s Gospel has a different context than Hebrews 11:5. John was adamant that no one had ascended to heaven so as to return to explain heavenly things, namely, to reveal God the Father to humanity. But Jesus is able to do so because he came from the Father in heaven.”28 Well, it may have been the Gospel according to John, but the quote was directly from Jesus.

Another thought for consideration about Elijah, is that even those witnessing the tornado event “did not conclude that Elijah was taken out of the earth, but that he was simply taken away to a different location.”29 Those fifty school members went to look for him, thinking he may have fallen somewhere close.

And a rather unusual possibility for Enoch’s sudden disappearance can be found in the book of Jubilees, another apocryphal text (also called the Little Genesis). This is an ancient Jewish work and considered canonical by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, as well as Ethiopian Jews. It was well known by early Christians, too. Jubilees tells that Enoch was taken, at some point, by angels to the Garden of Eden to write down the condemnation and judgement of the world. This was during the time when the Watchers sinned with the daughters of men. He would have been well protected and cared for there, while he completed his work.

And he was taken from amongst the children of men, and we conducted him into the Garden of Eden in majesty and honour, and behold there he writes down the condemnation and judgment of the world, and all the wickedness of the children of men. And on account of it (God) brought the waters of the flood upon all the land of Eden; for there he was set as a sign and that he should testify against all the children of men, that he should recount all the deeds of the generations until the day of condemnation. (Jubilees 4:23-24).30

Conclusion

So, those are the stories and mysteries relevant to the abrupt departure of Enoch and Elijah. This article has raised more questions about these two men and their demise, than provide any answers to set the record straight. But, as said at the beginning of this article, at the very least you will have something more to think about. That is a peculiar thing about not solving a biblical mystery, we still learn more about the subject, anyway.

For an article-related song, here is something a little different. It was recorded at a United States Marines’ Christian worship service. They are singing praise to God with the song ‘Days of Elijah’. Included are the US Marines’ battle cry shouts of ‘Oorah’.31 Selected lyrics are below. See the video, listed in References & Notes.32

These are the days of Elijah
Declaring the words of the Lord,
These are the days of great trials
Of famine and darkness and sword.
Prepare ye the day of the Lord!

Behold He comes, riding on the clouds,
Lift your voice: Oorah!
It’s the year of Jubilee
Out of Zion’s hill, salvation comes
There’s no God like Jehovah.

Copyright © 2020, Dr. Ray Hermann
OutlawBibleStudent.org

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References & Notes

  1. Tishbite: The ethnonym Tishbite could come from a place or even an ancestor called תשבה (Tishbe? Tishbah?) or תשב (Tesheb? Tashib?) or even תשבי (Tishbi).
    “Tishbite meaning”, (Abarim Publications, retrieved 7 May 2020), https://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Tishbite.html
  2. sons of the prophets: These were not literal sons but a group of figurative ones, that is, disciples.
    Lowery, Kirk E., “2 Kings,” in CSB Apologetics Study Bible, (Ed.) Ted Cabal, (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), p. 438.
  3. Passover Seder: a ritual feast that marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover.
  4. For Christians, this prophecy (Malachi 4:5-9) was fulfilled by John the Baptist, of the New Testament, who prepared the way for the Lord.
    Blaising, Craig A., “Malachi,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, (Ed.) J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), vol. 1, p. 1587.
  5. Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV), ©2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. The text has been used by permission. All rights reserved.
  6. Grant, A. C., “Enoch,” (Ed.) James Orr, et al., The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, (Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), vol. 2, p. 953.
  7. Losch, Richard R., All the People in the Bible: An A–Z Guide to the Saints, Scoundrels, and Other Characters in Scripture, (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), p. 106–107.
  8. biblical apocrypha: The terms means “hidden away” and includes ancient texts thought to have been written some time between a few hundred years BC and up to 400 years AD. Some Christian Churches include some, to all, of these texts within the body of their version of the Old Testament.
  9. Book of Enoch: also called 1 Enoch and usually dated as far back as the third century BC. There are two more books about this biblical character, 2 Enoch and 3 Enoch, but they have little to no scholarly credibility; they were written between the first and fifth centuries AD.
    “Enoch (ancestor of Noah)”, (Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation Inc., 30 April 2020), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enoch_(ancestor_of_Noah)#Enoch_in_the_Book_of_Genesis
  10. “Book of Enoch”, (Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation Inc., 14 April 2020), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Enoch
  11. Vine, W. E., et al., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1996), p. 90.
  12. Strong’s G3346. μετατίθημι mĕtatithēmi, met-at-ith´-ay-mee; from 3326 and 5087; to transfer, i.e. (lit.) transport, (by impl.) exchange (refl.) change sides, or (fig.) pervert:— carry over, change, remove, translate, turn.
    Strong, James, The New Strong’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996).
  13. Nephilim: Hybrid half-angel and half-human creatures produced on earth before the flood of Noah’s time. For more information see the following two articles.
    (1) Hermann, Ray, “What are Demons and the Nephilim? — and that Mayhem before the Flood of Noah?” (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 29 October 2019), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/what-are-demons-and-the-nephilim-and-that-mayhem-before-the-flood-of-noah/
    (2) Hermann, Ray, “When the sons of God were having sexual relations with the daughters of humankind — the story of the Nephilim”, (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 9 December 2018), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/when-the-sons-of-god-were-having-sexual-relations-with-the-daughters-of-humankind-the-story-of-the-nephilim/
  14. Barker, Margaret. The Lost Prophet: The Book of Enoch and Its Influence on Christianity, (London: Sheffield Phoenix Press Ltd., 2005).
  15. Smyth, Kevin, “Elijah”, (Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 19 February 2020), https://www.britannica.com/biography/Elijah-Hebrew-prophet
  16. Ibid.
  17. Strong’s H6504. פָּרַד, pârad, paw-rad’; a prim. root; to break through, i.e. spread or separate (oneself):— disperse, divide, be out of joint, part, scatter (abroad), separate (self), sever self, stretch, sunder.
    Strong, James, The New Strong’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996).
  18. Strong’s H5591. סְעָרָה, çe˓ârâh, seh-aw-raw’; from 5590; a hurricane:— storm (-y), tempest, whirlwind.
    Ibid.
  19. Strong’s H8064. שָÑמֶה, shâmeh, shaw-meh’; from an unused root mean. to be lofty; the sky )as aloft; the dual perh. alluding to the visible arch in which the clouds move, as well as to the higher ether where the celestial bodies revolve(:— air, × astrologer, heaven (-s).
    Ibid.
  20. “Three Heavens”, (Learn the Bible, retrieved 8 May 2020), http://www.learnthebible.org/three-heavens.html
  21. Book of Malachi: For Jews, Malachi was the last of the twelve Minor Prophets and is the last book of the Neviim, contained in the Tanakh.
  22. “Elijah”, (Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation Inc., 4 May 2020), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elijah
  23. Jehoram: the fifth king of Judah and son of King Jehosphaphat.
  24. Mays, James Luther, (Ed.), Harper’s Bible Commentary, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), p. 364.
  25. Kaplan, Aryeh, The Handbook of Jewish Thought, (New York: Moznaim Publishing Corporation, 1992), vol. 1, p. 116.
  26. Meyer, Lex, “Did Elijah go to heaven”, (Unlearn, retrieved 4 May 2020), https://www.unlearnthelies.com/did-elijah-go-to-heaven.html
  27. Akin, Jimmy, “Yes, Enoch and Elijah Went to Heaven?”, (Catholic Answers, 3 March 2015), https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/yes-enoch-and-elijah-went-to-heaven
  28. Wilder, Terry L., “Hebrews,” in CSB Apologetics Study Bible, (Ed.) Ted Cabal, (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), p. 1533.
  29. Meyer, Lex, “Did Elijah go to heaven”, (see above).
  30. Charles, R. H., (Editor and Translator), The Book of Jubilees or The Little Genesis: Translation, (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1902), p. 38–39.
  31. Oorah: a battle cry common in the United States Marine Corps (similar to the ‘Hooah’ in the US Army and US Air Force’ and ‘Hooyah’ in the US Navy and US Coast Guard.
  32. “Days of Elijah”, sung by American Marines at a worship service. Originally found on Facebook, then uploaded to the YouTube channel of The Church Guide on 17 September 2014 – VIDEO: https://youtu.be/0MtdyRDy4fU
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