Moving Paradise to Heaven

Introduction

This is a follow-up discussion to the article, “Heaven and Hell.” Here we deal with the widespread notion that Jesus did indeed go to Sheol but that he either moved the Bosom of Abraham or paradise to the third heaven or that he essentially created a pathway so that the people of the Bosom of Abraham/paradise could travel to heaven.

Both of the notions above seem to come from a strong desire to get God’s people out of Sheol. The only scriptural support for the idea comes from Ephesians 4:8

The discussion here will show that there are translation problems that are causing this verse to be misunderstood. The approach compares the New Testament verse and the Old Testament verse which it quotes. Many translations of the Bible and foundational theological concepts will be used in this comparison to determine which translation is correct.

Here is Ephesians 4:8:

This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” (NIV)

This is an odd verse. In what way did Jesus take captives when he ascended from Sheol or when he ascended to heaven? That doesn’t make sense.

People who support the notion that Jesus went to heaven when he died say this shows that Jesus took the people from paradise up to heaven. However, the standard usage of the phrase “to take captive” – take a free person and making them no longer free – contradicts that idea, which would require the reverse, that Jesus would take people who are captives and free them.

If we look at the Aramaic New Testament translation of the same verse, we see a much different interpretation:

Therefore it is said, “He ascended to the heights and took captivity prisoner and he has given gifts to the children of men.”

This makes complete sense: it uses a play on words typical of Paul, taking “captivity prisoner.” We immediately recognize this as a spiritual reference to capturing that which has captivated people – sin. The problem here is that the Aramaic translation is the only one of the major translations that reads this way.

Following the trail, we recognize that this verse is, in fact, a slightly paraphrased quote of Psalms 68:18:

When you ascended on high, you took many captives; you received gifts from people, even from the rebellious – that you, Lord God, might dwell there. (NIV)

The first part of this verse agrees with the NIV passage from Ephesians, but the second part does not. Whereas both versions of Ephesians say that he gave gifts, this translation of Psalms says that he received gifts. From a theological perspective, we can think of no gift that Jesus was given by people as part of his ascension, but we can easily think of gifts that he gave – the Holy Spirit and other gifts of the spirit that come from that. Therefore the second part of the NIV version of Ps. 68:18 does not make any theological sense.

So the NIV version of Ps. 68:18 and the NIV version of Eph. 4:8 agree on the first part. We notice, however, that only half of the major translations of the first part of the Psalms verse render it the same way the NIV does. The others render it more like this:

Thou hast ascended on high, Thou hast taken captive captivity, Thou hast taken gifts for men, That even the refractory may rest, O Jah God. (Young’s Literal Translation)

The Aramaic translation of Psalms also reads this way. Both parts agree with both parts of the Aramaic translation of Ephesians, so
the next step is to look at a Hebrew-English interlinear1 text:

you-ascend to•the•height you-capture captivity you-take gifts in•the•human and•indeed ones-being-stubborn to•to-tabernacle-of Ie Elohim (Ps. 68:18 Hebrew-English interlinear – direct)

Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, [for] the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell [among them]. (Ps. 68:18 Hebrew-English interlinear – smoothed)

This agrees with Young’s and the Aramaic. Now notice something that may explain the difference between the Ephesians verse in the two groups of translations: this translation says that Jesus received gifts to give to humankind. This is theologically correct and matches John 15:26:

“But when The Redeemer of the accursed comes, him whom I shall send to you from the presence of my Father, The Spirit of Truth, he who proceeds from the presence of my Father, he shall testify concerning me.” (Aramaic)

The Son receives the Holy Spirit from the Father and gives it to humankind.

Here is a score card of what we have found:

Translation Ephesians 4:8 Psalms 68:18 Ephesians 4:8 Psalms 68:18
First part – “he took many captives” Second part – “gave gifts to his people”
NIV Agrees with Psalms

Disagrees with theology

Disagrees with Hebrew Psalms

Agrees with Ephesians

Disagrees with Hebrew

Disagrees with theology

Disagrees with Psalms

Agrees with theology

Agrees with Hebrew Psalms

Disagrees with Ephesians

Disagrees with Hebrew

Disagrees with theology

Aramaic Agrees with Psalms

Agrees with theology

Agrees with Hebrew Psalms

Agrees with Ephesians

Agrees with Hebrew

Agrees with theology

Agrees with Psalms

Agrees with theology

Agrees with Hebrew Psalms

Agrees with Ephesians

Agrees with Hebrews

Agrees with theology

Greek (Young’s) Disagrees with theology

Disagrees with Hebrew Psalms

Agrees with theology

Agrees with Hebrew Psalms

Summary of Comparison Results

  • It appears that roughly half of the major translations, including the NIV, have chosen to incorrectly translate the first part of Psalms 68:18 to get it to match the Greek of Ephesians 4:8.
  • The second part of Psalm 68:18 is a difficult translation, and there are many English variants, but the NIV translation disagrees with everything.
  • There is only one perfect score: the Aramaic translation is correct in all verses and both parts.
  • The Greek version of the first part of Ephesians 4:8 is incorrect and this carries over to all English translations from Greek.

It is now possible to answer the original question since we know the correct translation of Ephesians 4:8:

Therefore it is said, “He ascended to the heights and took captivity prisoner and he has given gifts to the children of men.”

The question is “does Ephesians 4:8 support the idea that Jesus took the people in the Bosom of Abraham / paradise to Heaven?”. The answer is no. Ephesians 4:8 is using a figure of speech as does Psalms 68:18. It plays on the idea of captivity itself being taken captive.

 


1s.v. “Psalms 68,” Scripture4All, Accessed Dec. 16, 2014, http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/OTpdf/psa68.pdf