Road To HeavenMany of those who hold to the advanced dispensational view have correctly noted the significant phrase “in heavenly places” that occurs exclusively in post-Acts books of Paul. This phrase is somewhat mysterious, and has caused much speculation, conjecture, and difference of opinion among progressive dispensational believers. Some think that it refers to some super-heavenly sphere that exists far above the regular heaven. Others suppose that it should be translated as “the heavenlies,” and refers to a place other than heaven, perhaps where specially blessed believers get to go. We will examine this phrase and its meaning in this article.

First of all, let us get all the relevant facts before us and examine all occurrences of this phrase in the Scriptures. This phrase seems to be unique to the book of Ephesians. Let us examine each occurrence in order.

Ephesians 1:3. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,”

Ephesians 1:20. “which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,”

Ephesians 2:6. “and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,”

Ephesians 3:10. “to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places,”

Ephesians 6:12. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

Now you will notice that, in the New King James at least, the word “places” is in italics. This is the translators’ way of showing us that that word did not actually occur in the Greek. The actual Greek phrase that is translated “in heavenly places” is “en tous epouranios,” which means literally translated “in the heavenly.” This, of course, does not make sense, so the translators of the New King James Version have added in the word “places.”

Now some have suggested, including the Companion Bible, that this phrase should be translated “in the heavenlies.” The reason they suggest this is that the word for “heavenly” is plural. From this some have come up with the idea that “the heavenlies” are a different place than heaven, and that specially privileged believers (such as those who rightly divide dispensational truth) are destined to go there rather than the regular heaven.

This idea, although it appears correct on the surface because it translates a plural by a plural, is not in fact correct. This is because the word “heavenly” is an adjective, not a noun. An adjective, as any student of English or any other language will know, is a word that modifies a noun or a pronoun, and which answers the questions “which one, what kind, how many,” etc. An adjective cannot be used as a noun. The word “heavenlies,” however, is a noun. Why is this? This is because of a certain “trick” we have in the English language.

In English, there is no such thing as a plural adjective. All adjectives in the English language are singular. For example, if I took the singular phrase, “the red dog,” and changed it to plural, I would make it “the red dogs.” I would never make it “the reds dogs.” This would be improper English, and would automatically sound wrong to the English ear. This is true of any adjective you can think of:: “mystery man” and “mystery men,” “a round peg” or “round pegs,” “a quarterly newsletter” or “quarterly newsletters,” etc. In none of these is the adjective plural because there simply is no such thing as a plural adjective in English.

Now because there is no such thing as a plural adjective in English, we have a little trick that we can do with our adjectives. By making an adjective plural, we can turn it into a noun. For example, although “red” is an adjective in the phrase “the red dogs,” when we make it plural, “Reds,” it turns into a noun that is the name of a Major League Baseball team. Although “quarterly” is an adjective in the phrase “a quarterly newsletter,” when we make it plural, “quarterlies,” it becomes a noun that speaks generically of newspapers and magazines that are distributed quarterly. Thus we see that plural adjectives in English always turn into nouns. This works because by rule English only has singular adjectives.

So it is that when we take the word “heavenly” and make it plural, we can come up with a place called “the heavenlies.” We have taken an adjective and made it plural, and thus it becomes a noun. However, although this seems to make sense to us, the problem is that this would not work at all in Greek. This is because Greek has plural adjectives! In fact, in Greek if you have a plural noun and want to describe it with an adjective, you would have to use a plural adjective. In other words, in Greek you would always say “the reds dogs” and never “the red dogs.” You would always say “mysteries men,” “rounds pegs,” and “quarterlies newsletters.” This is the way Greek works, and is proper Greek. And because of this, this trick we have in English of turning an adjective into a noun when we make it plural does not work in Greek! In Greek a plural adjective is still an adjective because in Greek adjectives are singular and plural! Thus “reds,” “quarterlies,” and all other plural adjectives in Greek cannot be nouns. If they start off as adjectives, they remain adjectives.

Now let us return to the question of the “heavenly places.” As I said above, the word “places” does not appear in the Greek. All that we have in Greek is a plural adjective. This adjective our New King James translators have rendered as “heavenly,” and some scholars today suggest it should be translated “heavenlies.” Now this would technically be correct, since the word in Greek is plural. However, there is a huge problem with translating it in English this way. Remember, in English there is no such thing as a plural adjective. Thus, when we translate “epouranios” by “heavenlies,” our English minds automatically change the plural adjective into a noun, and we assume that the word “heavenlies” is a noun referring to some place or places. However, this assumption we make would be totally incorrect. In Greek, a plural adjective does not turn into a noun. A plural adjective is still an adjective! Thus, “heavenlies” cannot stand alone, and calls for a noun that it can modify.

Thus we see that translating “epouranios” by “heavenlies” is an incorrect translation, not because it is technically incorrect, but rather because of this trick we have in English of turning plural adjectives into nouns that does not carry over into Greek. The Greek mind would never have thought of “heavenlies” as a noun describing a place. That would have sounded just as ridiculous as it would to us to ask what sort of a place a “heavenly” is! Thus, although this word is technically plural, it should be translated as “heavenly” in English because this is the only way to honestly render the word in a language that has no plural adjectives.

So now we are back to the phrase, “in the heavenly,” which still doesn’t make sense. That is because this phrase contains the figure of speech “ellipsis,” when “a gap is purposely left in a sentence through the omission of some word or words.” (The Companion Bible, Appendix page 9) In an ellipsis there is a word left out on purpose that is to be supplied from the context.

For example, a little brother might complain, “I want an ice cream cone like Susie!” If we look at this sentence as it stands, this little brother is saying that he wants an ice cream cone that in basic essence is exactly like his sister Susie! Of course this is not what he means. He doesn’t want an ice cream cone that is like his sister! But this is technically what he said. However, in our English minds when we heard this sentence we would quickly discard this as a possibility. We know that this boy does not want to eat something that is like his sister. Thus our minds interpret the sentence based on the context. We quickly realize that most likely what this boy wants is an ice cream cone. Then, our brains interpret the sentence to be a second sentence, “I want an ice cream cone like Susie’s ice cream cone!” This is what the boy actually meant. And, by a few mental gymnastics of which we are not even consciously aware, this is how our brains interpret the sentence. Notice that we wouldn’t even have to consciously think the second sentence. We would just know that this is what the little brother meant.

Now suppose you were to translate this sentence into another language. This sort of ellipsis is common in English, and we automatically know what the little brother wants. However, suppose in the language we are translating the sentence to, ellipses of this type are uncommon. Thus, if we were to translate this sentence word-for-word, a native speaker of the foreign language would hear “I want an ice cream cone like Susie!” and would interpret it to mean what we in English would never interpret it to mean: that the boy wants an ice cream cone that is like his sister. Then this foreign language speaker would be hopelessly confused by this sentence, and would wonder what in the world the little brother was talking about.

Thus we see the difficulty of translating ellipses into other languages. All languages tend to have ellipses, yet they differ in when and where is an appropriate place to have an ellipsis. For example, in Greek it is common to make the being verb “is” an ellipsis. In Greek, you might say, “The book red,” instead of “The book is red.” This would be proper Greek. However, in English we never leave out the word “is,” and so to properly translate this sentence we would have to supply the ellipsis in our translation and make it, “The book is red.” This is often what we have to do when translating ellipses into other languages…we have to supply the missing words.

Although this may on the surface appear to be a difficult task, it is made easier for us by the fact that the words to be supplied are usually in the context. For example, the little brother had already used the words “ice cream cone,” and supplying the ellipsis after “Susie” is made easy by the fact that the words to be supplied are already in the sentence. Thus we see that ellipses such as “No one drives like Jeff” can be easily supplied from words that already exist in the sentence, “No one drives like Jeff DRIVES.”

Thus we come back to this phrase, “in the heavenly.” This is clearly an ellipsis, as the noun that “heavenly” modifies is missing. We need to figure out what word should be supplied to complete the ellipsis. The New King James translators have supplied the word “places.” They have one thing right here, and that is that they have made the noun they supplied plural. We know that this has to be done since the word “heavenly” is plural and thus indicates that the noun to be supplied is plural. However, they have not gotten this word “places” from the context. These translators have assumed that “heaven” is always a place, and thus they assume that “heavenly” must describe “places” here. However, there is nothing in the context that would indicate that this is what should be supplied, and so we have to question whether or not this is a correct rendering of the ellipsis.

We need to return to the basic meaning of “heaven.” Heaven is a word that means “lifted up” or “exalted.” In English it comes from the word “heave,” and speaks of that which has been “heave”-en up above the norm. Thus the place “heaven” is a heave-en up or exalted place. However, the place called “heaven” is not the only thing that is spoken of as lifted up or exalted. For example, in Daniel chapter 4 we can see that this word is used to describe God. For we see in the latter part of verse 25 that Daniel says to Nebuchadnezzar, “They shall wet you with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.” And then in verse 26 he says, “And inasmuch as they gave the command to leave the stump and roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be assured to you, after you come to know that Heaven rules.” Thus in one breath he speaks of the Most High ruling, and in the next he speaks of Heaven ruling, showing that in this context the two words mean the same thing. For indeed God is lifted up and exalted above all others, and the word “heaven” certainly applies to Him!

Thus we see that the word “heaven” can apply not just to places but also to people. This gives us a clue as to how to supply this ellipsis, “in the heavenly.” However, we also need to examine the word “in.” In Greek it is the word “en,” and does mean “in.” The idea is of a circle, and all points within the circle are “en.” “In” is often a good translation. However, when used with a plural noun, this word can also be translated “among.”

Now let us return to our first verse using the phrase “in the heavenly.”

Ephesians 1:3. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,”

Now let us examine the words or concepts in this sentence that could be used to supply the ellipsis. “Blessing,” (or “blessed”) “God,” “Father,” “Lord Jesus Christ” ( or “Christ”) and “us.” Now we can quickly eliminate “blessing,” as “with every spiritual blessing among the heavenly blessings” makes little sense. And since we have these blessings “in Christ,” it makes little sense to have them “in the heavenly Christ” or “God” or “Father.” Thus we are left with the word “us.” What are “we”? We are basically people, human beings, or beings in the generic sense. Thus I believe we find our word to supply the ellipsis. “Who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing among the heavenly beings in Christ.” We are blessed along with those who are the most-exalted or lifted up beings in Christ. Our blessings are those that the most honored or exalted beings are to receive! This, I believe, is the most sensible and contextually valid way of supplying this ellipsis.

Let us go on to the remaining passages and see if such a word to supply the ellipsis would work. Ephesians 1:20. “which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,”

“Seated Him at His right hand among the heavenly beings” would certainly be a workable way to supply the ellipsis. In this verse, however, we not only have beings in the context but also “seated.” Thus “seated Him at His right hand among the heavenly seats” would also be a workable way to supply the ellipsis here. At any rate, the concept is basically the same either way…Christ is seated among the most exalted beings, or He is seated in the most exalted seats. The idea either way is that His position is the highest!

Ephesians 2:6. “and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,”

Again the words “us” (and we are beings) and “sit” (indicating “seats”) are in the context. Thus we are seated among the most exalted beings or in the most exalted seats.

Ephesians 3:10. “to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places,”

The principalities and powers being heavenly beings, we have no difficulty in supplying the ellipsis here by “the principalities and powers among the heavenly beings.” They are also authorities, and so the idea of “among the heavenly authorities” (or seats) would not be foreign to this context either.

Ephesians 6:12. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

Again, “principalities,” “powers,” “rulers,” and “hosts” are all beings, and so supplying the ellipsis as “spiritual hosts of wickedness among the heavenly beings” would work here too. But again these are authorities or “seats,” and so “among the heavenly authorities” would also work here.

Thus I believe that the phrase “in the heavenly” has nothing to do with places. The contexts seem to always be exalted or powerful beings, and so I believe that the idea to be supplied has to do with exalted or powerful beings or authorities. This is what the Lord was talking about when He used the phrase, “in the heavenly.” This has nothing to do with some super-heavenly place called the “heavenlies,” for that is a misleading translation of the Greek. Rather, there is an ellipsis to be supplied, and that ellipsis should have to do with exalted beings or exalted places of authority. That, I believe, is what is most honest to the Greek, and what is most honest to the truth.

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