The blog of Dr Glenn Andrew Peoples on Theology, Philosophy, and Social Issues

Where did Elijah go?


Did Elijah ride up to heaven in a flaming chariot, ending his life on earth?

Don’t you hate it when you’ve got a favourite Bible story and then someone who takes the Bible just as seriously as you comes along and ruins it for you? The story of Elijah and the flaming chariot is well-known. It comes from the book of 2 Kings, chapter 2. Here’s the passage, from verse 9 to verse 12:

When they had crossed [the river Jordan], Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” And he said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.” And as they 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 Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more.

The first thing you might notice is that actually Elijah is not obviously taken up in a chariot of fire, as in popular version of the story, at all. Chariots of fire (plural), drawn by flaming horses, come between Elijah and Elisha, and then Elijah is taken up in a whirlwind, not in a chariot. But that’s a minor detail in a spectacular scene, and it could simply be an unclear description.

The way this story is often told is that Elijah went to heaven and that was the end of his earthly life. It’s true, in the sense that the Hebrew term הַשָּׁמַיִם (hashamayim) is frequently translated “the heavens” (or “heaven,” as it is here in 2 Kings 2:11), that Elijah was taken up into heaven. But that word really just means the sky (so that, for example, the birds fly in “the heavens”). That doesn’t mean that Elijah went to some place “on the other side” or to some spiritual realm where God and the angels live. As a bodily creature (Elijah was certainly not a ghost, nor is he depicted as dying), it is hard to see what this would even mean for Elijah. But let’s suppose that it might be possible somehow for people to go to this place. The point is, the story in 2 Kings does not say that Elijah went there.

In fact – and this is what most readers miss – although Elijah ceases to be a leading figure in the history of 2 Kings, he does not disappear entirely. He reappears later, in 2 Chronicles 21:8-15

In his days Edom revolted from the rule of Judah and set up a king of their own. Then Jehoram passed over with his commanders and all his chariots, and he rose by night and struck the Edomites who had surrounded him and his chariot commanders. So Edom revolted from the rule of Judah to this day. At that time Libnah also revolted from his rule, because he had forsaken the Lord, the God of his fathers.

Moreover, he made high places in the hill country of Judah and led the inhabitants of Jerusalem into whoredom and made Judah go astray. And a letter came to him from Elijah the prophet, saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father, ‘Because you have not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat your father, or in the ways of Asa king of Judah, but have walked in the way of the kings of Israel and have enticed Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem into whoredom, as the house of Ahab led Israel into whoredom, and also you have killed your brothers, of your father’s house, who were better than you, behold, the Lord will bring a great plague on your people, your children, your wives, and all your possessions, and you yourself will have a severe sickness with a disease of your bowels, until your bowels come out because of the disease, day by day.’ ”

If Elijah had passed on to the great beyond, what on earth – literally – was he doing writing letters to Jehoram, King of Judah? Sure, you can concoct a story where Elijah was shown by God all that Jehoram would later do, and he wrote down this letter as a judgement based on these predictions. But that’s just not how the passage reads. There is certainly no record of this inspired event prior to Elijah’s encounter with the whirlwind, and nobody is surprised that Jehoram receives a letter from Elijah. Nobody, that is, apart from the reader who thinks that Elijah was living in heaven.

In the story of Elijah being taken up, the words “And he [Elisha] saw him no more” do not, in themselves, suggest that Elijah left this world for good. In fact there’s a strikingly similar occurrence of almost exactly this phrase in the New Testament. In Acts chapter eight, Philip was told by “an angel of the Lord” to walk along the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. There, he met an Ethiopian eunuch, who he told about Jesus, and then, at the eunuch’s request, he baptised him. Mission accomplished (I think we are supposed to assume that this is why the angel sent Philip down this road). And look what happened next, verses 39-40:

And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

If we stopped telling the story after the word “rejoicing,” we wouldn’t know what had happened to Philip. But because we then read that he passed through Azotus later, we know that he was still around. Similarly, if we stopped reading the story of Elijah at the end of “and he saw him no more,” then we wouldn’t know what had happened to him. But because we later read about him sending a letter to the king of Judah, we have pretty good reason to think that he was still around.

Or at least that’s what I currently think. Have I missed something?

Glenn Peoples


“Can These Bones Live”? is up at Afterlife


God died


  1. Roy

    Few quick questions … There’s an electrical storm on at the moment, so can’t use my computer to look up the passages. Is it because it’s a later king that we know Elijah is still alive? What did happen to Elijah?

  2. Eugene

    Interesting. I’m not sure I’m persuaded though. What do you make of the fact that, when Jesus is transfigured, he’s seen conversing with Moses and Elijah specifically? Both of those figures are traditionally believed to have “departed” under somewhat bizarre circumstances in which their dead bodies were never seen by human eyes. Is it just a coincidence, in your view, that they then appear alive, bodily, with Jesus?

  3. This page suggests a coregency with Jehoshaphat. Given that hypothesis, it’s entirely possible that some of the chapters subsequent to 2 Kings 2 depict events before the whirlwhind?

  4. Eugene, that encounter was a vision. There’s nothing in the Bible about Moses not dying. Even the one passage that suggests something unusual is still talking about “the body of Moses,” so he died. After the transfiguration, Jesus told his disciples “tell no man the vision….” but the NIV garbles it somewhat and says “tell nobody what you have seen.”

    Blair, the Tektonics article relies on a “co-regency” that the Old Testament never indicates, based on the fact that we know about some co-regencies. That’s just not how the history reads. Besides, that article is trying to answer a non-problem of how Elijah could have written a letter when he was dead. But who says he was dead? Certainly not the Bible.

  5. Eugene

    Glenn, so do you see what the Bible says happened to Elijah as radically different from what it says happened to Enoch? Or do you think that the conventional interpretation of Enoch’s experience is also erroneous?

  6. Eugene, simply at the level of description, yes of course they are radically different.

    I suppose I could ask a question too: Do you see what happened to Philip as radically different from what happened to Enoch?

  7. Eugene

    Sure, the descriptions are obviously different. But that’s not what I meant. I was asking if you thought that Enoch had been translated into some non-earthly realm at the end of his earthly life, deathlessly, in keeping with traditional interpretations, or if you think that such interpretations are also faulty–i.e. that Enoch just died and Genesis referred to that mundane event in an odd but ultimately insignificant way.

    To your question: yes, I see Philip’s experience as radically different from what happened to Enoch. I think that Genesis is describing some sort of deathless translation for Enoch at the end of his earthly life. But it’s precisely because of this, and because ancient authors often link Enoch’s experience with that of Elijah, that I’m inclined to see Elijah’s experience as essentially a similar translation. That Elijah hands his symbolic mantle off to Elisha also seems to indicate that Elijah’s prophetic career has come to an end–or at least very long hiatus. Further, that Malachi indicates that Elijah must “come” before the messiah is, it seems to me, also more naturally understood in the context of a belief that Elijah “left” the world-scene in some fashion akin to the traditional take on Elijah’s whirlwind experience. And the similarities to Jesus’s ascension strike me as, well, striking.

    But this is your blog, not mine, so I don’t want to clutter up your comments with my take on this or that. You’re the draw here.

    So are you inclined to see Elijah’s experience as a temporary “visit” to God of some sort? Or is it just a spectacular instance of relocating Elijah from one earthly place to another, as seems to be the case with Philip, that involved Elijah gaining a bit of altitude for a moment?

  8. To your question: yes, I see Philip’s experience as radically different from what happened to Enoch.

    I’m not asking because I disagree, but just because we can now agree on something: The language of a person simply being taken by God does not indicate that their earthly life has ended, even though sometimes it may. You say that it did mean this for Enoch but not for Philip. The evidence would be, I assume, that we read about later events in Philip’s earthly life. Just like Elijah.

    Re: your second question, we don’t know what happened to Elijah immediately after the whirlwind incident. The writer doesn’t say. I don’t even see how the writer could know unless Elijah told him. I’m inclined just to think that Elijah was taken out of the scene as the “lead” prophet and taken somewhere else a bit like Philip was, although he does have one more thing to say publicly, in his later letter.

  9. JJ

    Glenn, the Tektonics article was too confusing to work through. Nonetheless, the need for co-regency arises from trying to reconcile 2 Kings 1:17 with 1 Kings 22:51, 2 Kings 3:1, and 2 Kings 8:16. To fit all the Biblical dates, co-regency between Jehoshaphat and Jehoram for the last two years of Jehoshaphat’s reign is required. The simple answer to the Elijah problem appears to be that after Ahaziah’s two year reign, he was sick for another seven years and dies two years into Jehoram’s reign. Hence, if Elijah was taken up only after Ahaziah’s death, he would have been there to write to Jehoram.

    Also, in 2 Kings 2, your theory appears to be the same as the “sons of the prophets” who thought maybe Elijah was still on the earth, but Elisha doesn’t appear to agree:

    “And they said to him, “Behold now, there are with your servants fifty strong men. Please let them go and seek your master. It may be that the Spirit of the LORD has caught him up and cast him upon some mountain or into some valley.” And he said, “You shall not send.” But when they urged him till he was ashamed, he said, “Send.” They sent therefore fifty men. And for three days they sought him but did not find him. “

  10. Hi again JJ!

    What you’re proposing is the solution where Elijah hadn’t yet been taken when Jehoram became co-regent, so he could have written the letter to Jehoram while Jehoshaphat was still king, and then later Jehoram became King in his own right after Elijah had been taken to live in heaven.

    The question is just how likely an explanation this is. Sure, there’s no problem with there being a co-regency, and it looks like the whirlwind incident took place during that co-regency. But Jehoshaphat was a preeminently godly king, who “walked in the way of Asa his father, and departed not from it, doing that which was right in the sight of the LORD” (2 Chronicles 20:32). He would not simply have said nothing while his son and co-regent did so many terrible things. Those things were done after Jehoshaphat was out of the picture.

    Secondly, 2 Chronicles 21, the chapter that records the letter from Elijah, seems pretty explicit that Jehoshaphat really had died. The chapter starts out:

    Jehoshaphat slept with his fathers and was buried with his fathers in the city of David, and Jehoram his son reigned in his place.

    I just can’t see how we can read this account of Jehoshaphat’s death and Jehoram’s ascent after all the other brothers had received their inheritance upon their father’s death (vv 1-3), and then the subsequent evil deeds of Jehoram (vv 4-11), and then the letter from Elijah (vv 12-15), but think that maybe Jehoshaphat is still alive. The opening verses of 2 Chronicles 21 state that he was not still alive at this time. So the letter was definitely sent after Jehoshaphat was dead and Jehoram had become king by himself. So there was no co-regency of the two when this letter was written.

    Elijah’s letter also speaks about Jehoshaphat as someone who, like his father Asa (i.e. Jehoram’s grandfather), is no longer around: “you have not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat your father, or in the ways of Asa king of Judah.” The idea is that now they are gone, and Jehoram has departed from their ways. So it really doesn’t sound like this was written to Jehoram, co-regent. It sounds like it was written to Jehoram, King, after his father was no longer around – as verse 1 states.

    As for Elisha telling the sons of the prophets “you shall not send [for Elijah],” I guess I’m not seeing it. There’s certainly nothing to say that Elisha didn’t agree that Elijah might have been on the earth, and nothing at all to say that in fact Elijah wasn’t still on the earth. His instructions were simply that the men were not to go and look for him, which is compatible with Elijah being pretty much anywhere. I don’t see that I’m missing something there, but if you think I am, let me know.

  11. JJ

    How one solves the contradiction, will determine how Elijah’s letter fits in. Here are the verses (I use Joram for king of Israel and Jehoram for the king of Judah),

    1. Ahaziah the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria in the seventeenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and he reigned two years over Israel. 1 Kings 22:51,

    2. In the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, Joram the son of Ahab became king over Israel in Samaria, and he reigned twelve years. 2 Kings 3:1

    3. In the fifth year of Joram the son of Ahab, king of Israel, when Jehoshaphat was king of Judah, Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, began to reign. 2 Kings 8:16

    From these three, one initially thinks:
    a) Ahaziah dies in the 18th year of Jehoshaphat’s reign and then Joram takes over.
    b) Five years later, in the 23rd year of Jehoshaphat’s reign, Jehoram begins to reign
    c) Since Jehoshaphat’s reign lasted 25 years, it must be the case that Jehoram is co-reigning with his father for the last two years of Jehoshaphat’s reign. This is also implicit in the statement, “when Jehoshaphat was king of Judah” in 2 Kings 8:16.

    The problem is that we also have fit in the following verse,

    4. So [Ahaziah] died according to the word of the LORD that Elijah had spoken. Joram became king in his place in the second year of Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, because Ahaziah had no son. 2 Kings 1:17

    Two immediate possibilities present themselves,

    i) Perhaps c) is wrong. Jehoram’s co-regency actually began in the 17th year of Jehoshaphat’s reign and by the 23rd year, Jehoshaphat gives over the throne completely to Jehoram.
    ii) Perhaps a) is wrong. Ahaziah doesn’t die in the 18th year of Jehoshaphat’s reign, but rather, falls seriously ill (2 Kings 1) and abdicates his throne to Joram. After seven years of chronic health issues (“You shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up”), Ahaziah dies around the same time Jehoshaphat dies. At this time, Joram and Jehoram both fully take over their respective thrones.

    I don’t favor i) for a variety of reasons; however, if ii) is accurate then Jehoram kills his brothers after Jehoshaphat’s death, Elijah then writes his letter to Jehoram, and is then taken up to heaven shortly after that.

    If you disagree with this, do you know of some other way of reconciling 1.- 4. above that makes more sense?

  12. JJ, OK, so you are not saying that Elijah wrote his letters during a co-regency, but rather after Jehoshaphat’s death. So we agree on that. Jehoram was the king of Judah in his own right. It’s good to have common ground from which to work.

    It looks to me like you may be trying to solve a problem related to the beginning / end of the reigns of Ahaziah and Joram and the point during the reign of Jehoshaphat at which these things happened.

    But really the observation that I am making about Elijah and Jehoram can be made quite independently of any of that. Sure, appeal to a co-regency of Jehoram and Jehoshaphat to resolve that problem. That does the job fine. But that’s really not important here. The chronology that is important here is the timing of Elijah’s whirlwind incident and of the letter from Elijah in regard to the reigns of Jehoshapat and Jehoram.

    Here’s the chronology that we see in 2 Kings and in 2 Chronicles:

    • Our story begins while Jehoshaphat was King of Judah.
    • Elijah is taken up in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11), making way for Elisha to succeed him in his prophetic ministry (2 Kings 2:15). Elisha forbade the sons of the prophets from going out to seek Elijah (2 Kings 2:16). This was meant to be.
    • Then later, in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat’s reign, Joram (i.e. the other Jehoram) became the Northern King. So Jehoshaphat was still alive at this point, after the whirlwind incident.
    • Later still, in 2 Kings 3:9, Jehoshaphat is still alive. He marches out with the King of the North (Joram) and the king of Edon, to face the king of Moab. Elijah is no longer the man (prophetically speaking) because Elisha succeeded him after the whirlwind incident, so that when Jehoshaphat asks for a prophet, Elisha is recommended to him (2 Kings 3:11). So the change from Elijah to Elisha had taken place while Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, was alive.
    • Then later still, in 2 Kings 8:16, Jehoram son of Jehoshaphat began to reign in Judah. For my purposes here it does not matter if this was the beginning of Jehoram’s reign as co-regent, or if this was the beginning of his reign as king in his own right. The point is, this is clearly after the whirlwind incident.
    • Then we turn to 2 Chronicles 21, which I quoted earlier. Here we learn quite clearly that Jehoshaphat died, and we know from 2 Kings that this was after the whirlwind incident, because in 2 Kings we see that Jehoshaphat was still alive after the whirlwind incident. So that incident is definitely in the past.
    • Then as we keep reading through 2 Chronicles 21, we read about all the terrible things that Jehoram did.
    • And then in 2 Chronicles 21, after this, comes the letter from Elijah

    So setting aside any difficulties about the comparisons of the chronology of the northern vs southern Kings, this timeline in Judah is pretty clear.

  13. JJ

    Glenn, 2Ki 1:18 ends, “Now the rest of the acts of Ahaziah that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel?”

    then the very next verse says,

    “Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.” 2Ki 2:1

    Unless you believe these events are out of order here, it seems clear that Elijah was taken up after Ahaziah’s death. I suggested previously that this happens around the time of Jehoshaphat’s death (unless you want to argue a different chronology). As for 2 Kings 3:11, it’s not conclusive, Elisha is likely the only prophet available within proximity to the kings at that time. And 2 Kings 2:15 actually supports my view, why otherwise is Elijah continuing to act as a prophet, some ten years after the whirlwind, by writing to Jehoram?

  14. JJ, just one question: Do you see that the whirlwind incident happened while Jehoshaphat was still alive?

  15. JJ

    I wouldn’t be dogmatic about it, but according to the chronology I laid out, and since 1 & 2 Kings were originally one book, I suggest the following order of events:

    1 Kings 19:21 – Elisha becomes Elijah’s apprentice (during Ahab’s reign)
    1 King 22:50 – Jehoshaphat dies
    2 Kings 1:17 – Ahaziah dies (in the second year of Jehoram’s co-regency)
    2Chron. 21:12 – Elijah sends his letter
    2 Kings 2 – Elijah is translated
    After this point are a series of vignettes of Elisha’s life as a prophet
    2 Kings 3 – The ministry of Elisha before the translation of Elijah (between the 18th and 25th year of Jehoshaphat’s reign (v.3)). 2 Kings 3:11 says Elisha “used to pour water on the hands of Elijah,” which I take to mean that Elisha trained for a period as Elijah’s apprentice, but then separated from him at some point to work alone. Elisha obviously meets back up with Elijah at the time of his translation and requests a “double portion” (2 Kings 2:9), suggesting that at this point he officially becomes the “firstborn heir” of Elijah’s prophetic ministry.
    2 Kings 4 – Onwards – The ministry of Elisha after the translation of Elijah ( v.1 seems to continue from 2 Kings 2:3,15)

  16. OK, so it’s quite clear where we see things differently. I think it’s quite clear that Jehoshaphat is still alive when Elijah is taken up in a whirlwind. But you think that Jehoshaphat was already dead at this stage.

    First I’d note that your chronology has Jeshoshaphat dying, and then Ahaziah dying during Jehoram’s co-regency. Co-regency with who? His dead father? But I’ll set that aside for now.

    So let’s zoom back into 2 Kings, where Elijah is taken up and then Jehoshaphat is still alive. I did note this earlier, but you haven’t said anything about it, so here it is again:
    1) We agree that Elijah was taken in a whirlwind in 2 Kings 2:11
    2) However, you do not seem to agree that Jehoshaphat was still alive in 2 Kings chapter 3, which comes next. I don’t see how you get around this:
    * In 2 Kings 3:1 he is spoken of as being alive when Jehoram/Joram became king in the North. This happened in Jehoshaphat’s 18th year as king.
    * Then later in 2 Kings 3:6-7 Jehoshaphat agrees to march out with the King of the North and the King of Edom. Yet you say that Jehoshaphat was dead at this stage, because he died before the whirlwind incident.

    So it’s pretty clear, right after the whirlwind incident, that Jehoshaphat was still alive. And since we agree that Elijah’s letter was sent after Jehoshaphat had died, this would seem to settle the matter. The letter was sent some time after the whirlwind incident. You call the events of chapter 3 “vignettes” of time gone by – so basically the narrative jumps back years into the past and then jumps back in chapter 4, allowing Jehoshaphat to pop back into the story briefly, even though he’s dead. But surely this manoeuvre serves no purpose other than to allow Jehoshaphat to be dead even though he is clearly depicted as alive. There’s no natural reason to introduce this. All we are really seeing is the ongoing work of Elisha, now that he is the prophet. Chapters 3 and 4 follow on smoothly from chapter 2, where Elijah is taken out of the picture.

  17. JJ

    “But surely this manoeuvre serves no purpose other than to allow Jehoshaphat to be dead even though he is clearly depicted as alive. There’s no natural reason to introduce this”

    Not so Glenn. I don’t think you’re being careful enough with the details. Jehoshaphat already dies in 1 Kings 22:50, so it’s reasonable to question how we can find him alive a few chapters later in 2 Kings 3.

    “Chapters 3 and 4 follow on smoothly from chapter 2, where Elijah is taken out of the picture.”

    If you want to hold to this, then may I ask, does chapter 2 also follow “smoothly” from chapter 1?

    If yes – then the translation took place after Ahaziah’s death. So, as I asked you before about the contradictory verses, when did Ahaziah die? If he dies in the 18th year of Jehoshaphat’s reign, then Jehoram’s co-regency begins in the 17th year of Jehoshaphat’s reign and Elijah can send his letter before his translation. If Ahaziah dies in the 25th year of Jehoshaphat’s reign, then Jehoram’s co-regency begins in the 23rd year of Jehoshaphat’s reign, and Elijah can send his letter before his translation. What you need is a theory that reconciles all the contradictory verses AND shows Ahaziah dying before Jehoram takes the throne.

    If no – then why is this manoeuvre legitimate for you to make, but not so when I suggest 2 Kings 3 doesn’t follow directly from 2 Kings 2, because the author is showing us a brief prequel to Elisha fully taking over Elijah’s ministry.

  18. “If yes – then the translation took place after Ahaziah’s death. So, as I asked you before about the contradictory verses, when did Ahaziah die? If he dies in the 18th year of Jehoshaphat’s reign, then Jehoram’s co-regency begins in the 17th year of Jehoshaphat’s reign”

    Granting this, so far no problems arise.

    “and Elijah can send his letter before his translation.”

    No – this is impossible, even given what I quoted from you so far. Remember, the letter was not sent during the co-regency. It was sent after Jehoshaphat’s death, and as we can see in 2 Kings, Jehoshaphat was alive after the whirlwind.

    Now, as for Jehoshaphat’s death, 1 Kings 22:41-50 reads like a summary of the life of Jehoshaphat, a summary that is given before some of the details are spelled out later. And later – just a chapter later – we read about the whirlwind incident, then Elisha becoming the prophet, then Jehoshaphat agreeing to help the North, then Jehoshaphat calling for the prophet, who was now Elisha rather than Elijah.

    I don’t think I’ll manage to convince you of this JJ so I won’t try further to do so. But at very least I hope you can appreciate why any reader could easily pick up the text and simply read the chronology off the page, wherein Elijah was taken by a whirlwind while Jehoshaphat was alive, then Elisha was the prophet while Jehoshaphat was alive, and the Jehoshaphat died and Jehoram became King, and then he received a letter from Elijah.

  19. Having done some work on the chronology of the kings it seems most likely that there was a co-regency. Nevertheless, the statements in Chronicles suggest that Elijah’s letter arrives during Jehoram’s (of Israel) sole reign and after Jehoshaphat’s death.

    The question is when the whirlwind event occurred.

    The structure of Kings follows a rough chronological sequence. The Northern and Southern kings are dealt with in the order of their coronations, but their entire reign is discussed before the next king. Kings is quite consistent in doing this but it means that dead men can reappear if they are discussed in the context of the other kingdom.

    It does not appear that Elijah and Elisha have a dedicated biography (as do the kings) so their mention is in the context of the various kings’ biographies.

    As Jehoshaphat’s reign began before Ahaziah (of Israel) his coronation AND death are going to be discussed before Ahaziah’s coronation and death, even if Ahaziah dies before Jehoshaphat, which he does.

    Basically the chronology has to be reconstructed.

    2 Kings 2 stands isolated. It is placed after the death of Ahaziah (of Israel) and before the coronation of Jehoram (of Israel). That is, it is unlike the rest of Kings it does not appear within the biography of one of the kings of Israel. This may be because the event occurred about this time, or it may be because we hear no more of Elijah in Kings and the next collection of prophetic stories concerns Elisha.

    I think it best to consider Elisha performing miracles after the cloak at the Jordan. This would mean the whirlwind antedates Jehoshaphat’s death and thus also Jehoram’s (of Judah) sole reign and the letter.

  20. Yep, that’s exactly what I see here, bethyada.

  21. JJ


    This of course only makes sense if we think it’s good practice to interpret clear and obvious statements of Scripture in light of what is less clear and less obvious. So then Elijah wasn’t really replaced by Elisha after his translation (“Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place”), but instead continued on as a prophet for years later. Elijah wasn’t translated into heaven (“Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven”) but rather he went into the sky and was placed back on earth. The theory of sons of the prophets is in fact correct (“It may be that the Spirit of the LORD has caught him up and cast him upon some mountain or into some valley”), even though Elisha tried to steer them away from it (And he said, ‘You shall not send’”)…etc, etc.

    The theory that Elijah writes his letter after his translation takes this approach, which for me makes it the worst option. The alternative theory, that Elijah wrote his letter as prophecy, has no explicit foundation in Scripture, which makes it the second worst option, but at least it doesn’t attempt to re-interpret the clear and obvious. Another alternative theory, that Elijah wrote his letter during the co-regency of Jehoshaphat and Jehoram, is not perfect, but the arguments against it are at best inconclusive. For example, if we use the principle “their entire reign is discussed before the next king,” then Jehoshaphat dying (2 Chr. 21:1) doesn’t necessarily precede the events of 2 Chr. 21. Glenn’s arguments against this are based on speculation. If I may also speculate, perhaps Jehoshaphat at the end of his reign gave full co-regency to his firstborn Jehoram, and not wanting to play favorites, he gives gifts to the rest of his children at the same time. He then goes away for a few months to battle and during that time Jehoram establishes his throne and starts to kill his brothers. Elijah then writes his letter and is translated afterwards. I’m not going to defend this, but would just point out that arguments from 2 Chr. 21 are based on what is “less clear and less obvious.”

    Most importantly, all these theories suffer from the major weakness of Jehoram’s co-regency starting in the 17th year of Jehoshaphat’s reign. This is problematic because we know Jehoram’s reign lasted only eight years (2 Chr. 21:5), which is dated from the beginning of his co-regency in the 24th year of Jehoshaphat’s reign (2 Kings 8:25). There is no mention in Scripture of Jehoram (of Judah) having a reign of fourteen years (from the 17th year of Jehoshaphat’s reign). And when we discover the eight year reign of Jehoram agrees with the dating of the Lucianic text, it gives us good reason to believe that the MT actually gets the chronology wrong:

    Kings of Israel Mas. Luc.
    Ahab 38th year of Asa 2nd year of Jehoshaphat
    Ahaziah 17th of Jehoshaphat 24th of Jehoshaphat
    Jehoram 18th of Jehoshaphat 2nd of Jehoram (Judah)

    Kings of Judah Mas. Luc.
    Jehoshaphat 38th Year of Asa 11th of Omri
    Jehoram 5th of Jehoram (of Israel) 1st or 2nd of Ahaziah
    (from J. Maxwell Miller, Journal of Biblical Literature)

    The Lucianic text states that Ahaziah dies AFTER Jehoshaphat’s reign, which not only matches up with the length for Jehoram’s reign, but simultaneously solves the problem of Elijah’s letter, translation, and the events of 2 Chr. 21 – all of which happen after Ahaziah dies and during Jehoram’s reign. (This makes even more sense than the theory I presented previously, suggesting that Ahaziah didn’t die right away.)

    “This may be because the event occurred about this time, or it may be because we hear no more of Elijah in Kings and the next collection of prophetic stories concerns Elisha. ”

    I would take it that from 2 Kings 3 and onwards we have a “collection of prophetic stories” concerning Elisha. 2 Kings 3 opens speaking of the reign of Jehoram (Judah), and if Lucianic chronology is correct, then Jehoshaphat is at the end of his reign in a one year co-regency period with Jehoram. The translation hasn’t occurred yet, but Elisha has already started working in independent prophetic capacity at this time, though I agree that it’s “best to consider Elisha performing miracles after the cloak at the Jordan,” and that’s why we only see Elisha performing miracles in subsequent chapters.

    “This would mean the whirlwind antedates Jehoshaphat’s death and thus also Jehoram’s (of Judah) sole reign and the letter.”

    The translation happens after Ahaziah’s death (whose entire reign was discussed before Jehoram, 2 Kings 3), then according to Lucianic dates, the whirlwind postdates Jehoshaphat’s death.

  22. JJ

    Kings of Israel
    Ahab 38th Year of Asa
    Ahaziah 17th of Jehoshaphat
    Jehoram 18th of Jehoshaphat

    Ahab 2nd year of Jehoshaphat
    Ahaziah 24th of Jehoshaphat
    Jehoram 2nd of Jehoram (Judah)

    Kings of Judah
    Jehoshaphat 38th Year of Asa
    Jehoram 5th of Jehoram (of Israel)

    Jehoshaphat 11th of Omri
    Jehoram 1st or 2nd of Ahaziah

  23. “So then Elijah wasn’t really replaced by Elisha after his translation (“Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place”), but instead continued on as a prophet for years later.”

    No, JJ – bethyada and I – and the text itself – are saying that Elisha *did* replace Elijah as prophet after the whirlwind.

    “Elijah wasn’t translated into heaven”

    You are getting tripped up with the word “heaven” rather than “sky” – as though they are different words in biblical Hebrew. They are not. The birds fly in heaven, according to the Hebrew Bible. “Translated” is just a hangover from the view that Elijah went to another world (a non-physical world… but still in a physical body!), but Elijah was certainly taken up into the sky (the heavens, hashamayim), just as the text says. Something similar happened to Philip in the book of Acts, but his being taken was rather less dramatic.

    As for the timeline of Jehoshaphat, Elijah, Elisha and Jehoram, this has all been explained from the text of the Old Testament and doesn’t need to be revisited – Or at least, as I indicated last time, I won’t be revisiting it.

  24. I agree with Glenn on this one that Elijah was not taken to 3rd heaven before the resurrection of Jesus. For my take on this phenomenon, including what happened to Enoch, see here:

  25. Richard Hesketh

    I seem to remember that Jesus said that No man had entered into heaven except for the Son of Man. Surely that includes Elijah.

  26. Glenn, I totally agree with your summation. Elijah was just taken off the scene, much as the pattern of Philip, which has been my understanding, and what I have taught for years. Apparently, Elijah went on to live in another area, just outside of Palestine, for several more years, which I understand that this “letter” was written some eight years after the “whirlwind” caught away in the Spirit experience. Azotus, the destination of Philip’s new location, was some 34 miles away from where Philip ministered to the Eunuch. I guess that upwards of a forty-mile radius could be the pattern for where Elijah had been at, when the “letter” was written.

    You must remember that the Kingdom of Israel had been searching earlier for the whereabouts of Elijah for nearly three years in which they could not find him, before the showdown at Mt. Carmel. Elijah had resided near the brook Cherith, and was fed miraculously by ravens with heavenly manna, and later in the area north of Tyre, at Zarephath, at the widow’s house, just north above the Kingdom of Israel, which is about forty some miles away coincidentally… It would not be a great feat then for Elijah to remain inconspicuous and in obscurity for several more years out of the area completely, by the leading of God’s Spirit.

  27. Alvin

    The last King Elijah talked to was Ahaziah and in that year he was taken up to heaven aka the sky. 7 to 10 years later this letter comes from him that tells me that he did not go to the 3rd heaven but merely moved to a different location. The funny part of it all is this all the prophet knew he was leaving but they still search for him for 3 days which tells me that they knew he wasn’t in heaven but was still on this earth. Just because they didn’t find him means nothing because when God hide him 3 years for Ahab no one could find him either

  28. Al

    John 3 states that “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven”. This emphatic statement is a problem to the physical move to the Spirit realm position. The sin price had not been paid in Elijah’s lifetime. It is also interesting that the transfiguration account does not delineate between Moses and Elijah (assuming Elijah came from Heaven and Moses from Abrahams Bosom). Prior to Jesus’ death it was stated that He knew all things, that is that He was omniscient (John 16:30). The traditional position on the Transfiguration, is that Moses and Elijah came from the spirit realm etc and taught Jesus of the nature of His death. Since He already knew all things it is the opposite that is more likely. Jesus meets with the representatives of the Law and the Prophets and teaches them of His soon to occur death and that they will soon be free to return with Him to Heaven.

  29. I just think that the whole Transfiguration account can be simply explained, as Jesus did, in that,… “Tell the Vision to no man…” In other words, it was just a vision, not an actual event, yet with Jesus being the only literal being in the vision. If you ever have had a vision, then you know that you are the only “literal” being in such an event, as the scene unfolds. This is the same pattern as to what occurred to John on Patmos when receiving the Apocalypse.

    • Al

      In the case of Patmos it is John and the Lord only. At the transfiguration it is Jesus with Peter, James and John. We also see that Moses and Elijah are in some kind of conversation with Jesus. Adding to this we have the “Bat Kohl” the voice of God. My question would be: if it was a vision is there any other vision with multiple participants? I would be curious on your take on Samuels appearance to Saul. In do you see that as a vision or a direct appearance?

    • James Hogan

      Daniel. 7: 13. I gazed into the visions of the night and there before me was one like a son of man coming with the clouds of Heaven. Is this also not an actual event or the foretelling of some future event?

  30. As I said, Jesus was the only literal participant in the vision that the three disciples saw.

    This vision was similar, in respects, as to what Saul of Tarsus experienced on the road to Damascus. In this vision, Saul was an actual participant, and Jesus was the supernatural manifestation, yet those standing nearby Saul saw no one else besides Saul, but did hear a voice…

    Moses is dead. He died on the Plain of Mamre. Elijah, as the blog writer pointed out, which I agree with, believes that Elijah died a natural death. In my view, they are both awaiting resurrection from the dead, at which point, they will be active in the Kingdom of Christ.
    As far as the voice from heaven following the Transfiguration, this same witness was made before earlier in the ministry of Christ.
    As I said also, Jesus told his disciples that this was a…VISION,…there need not be then, no other conjecture, since we are dealing the very words of Christ that are recorded.

    As far as Saul and the “ghost of Samuel,” that is no vision. Nor, is it related at all to our topic. It was a seance. The witch or “medium,” was surprised, since such apparitions usually take ectoplasm from the medium, to manifest. In this instance, it came from another source, probably Saul himself, which the medium recognized. This may very be why Saul was exhausted, as noted in the text, as mediums in whom ectoplasm is taken from, complain of extreme fatigue or weakness.
    This is just my view which gives me the best understanding. Such differences, as we have, seldom result in anyone’s mind being changed. I have always found “revelation,” to come from God, from within our thought process.

    This could not be a real apparition of Samuel, as the “dead know not anything” (Ecclesiates 9:5). Nor does this account match the popular Church belief that such saints, as Samuel was, are NOW residing in heaven, as this “Samuel” told Saul, that he would be with “him” the very next day, referring to the abode of the dead.

  31. Al

    Thanks Joe, we are both on the same page in terms of Elijah and the blogger. I am curious about your interpretation of the transfiguration as a vision. The Greek work used for vision is used 12 times in the NT. Twice it is definitely used of things seen with the natural eye albeit unusual things and 9 times of a direct revelation to an individual. I thing we need the assistance of a Greek grammar specialist here. It is possible that Jesus said don’t tell what you have seen with your eyes or don’t tell what you have perceived in the spirit. It is interesting to me that in all other instances this word is used the perception is only by one person. Never shared.


  32. Al, I did as you suggested, and looked up the Greek text, for the word in Matthew 17:9, translated “vision.” The word in Greek, is “όραμα.” In the Strong’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words, it is defined to mean a “vision,” or “supernatural spectacle,” the latter of which is a great definition of a vision. In modern Greek, this word still means the same,…”vision.”

    I am not sure why you have disbelief in this account being a “vision,” but I am fully satisfied with the text as being quite accurate.
    I sure do agree with you and the blogger on the issue of Elijah. Fare you well.

  33. Kevin

    Ok, so your whole argument is based on a huge error that you made. First off 1 and 2nd kings is written at the same time as 1 and 2nd chronicles. We know that elijah and elisha are probably the writers of 1 and 2nd kings and the chronicles were written by the kings themselves or most likely their royal scribes all four books were written during the same time. Now concerning your thoughts on 2 chronicles 21 where jehoram receives a letter this obviously happened before Elijah ascended into Heaven, we can easily figure this out by looking at 1 and 2nd kings and figure out when Jehoram is mentioned in the timeline, and he is found in 1 kings 22 at the end of the chapter, so there you have it. Elijah did not ascend until 2nd kings chapter 2 giving plenty of time for the letter incident. You had some nice thoughts, but they are wrong and do not line up with scripture.

  34. Kevin

    However I can tell you where Elijah does pop up after his ascension. He pops up alongside Moses when Jesus is transfigured into all his glory. But of course as we all know he arrives from Heaven so…..

  35. Kevin, thank you for your nice thoughts. (I am assuming that’s a respectful term or you wouldn’t have used it.) They are very short and don’t really grapple with the extent of the evidence discussed here in the article and in the subsequent comments.

  36. Joe Spickard

    Oh, Kevin, I am not sure when I have read such a number of baseless claims without any documentation. Permit me to illustrate:
    Elijah and Elisha did not write Kings. No respected Bible authority has ever offered that…but you do…hmmm… Indeed, Biblical tradition, both Jewish and Christian, states that Jeremiah wrote Kings, and that Ezra, wrote Chronicles. Just a cursory glance at an encyclopedia would tell you this, much less a Bible Commentary.
    Moreover, textual critics maintain, that these two books were not written at all, at the same time, despite your specious claim. Indeed, textual critics state that Ezra borrowed from Kings.
    This leaves then, your Bible chronology of events, somewhat erroneous.
    According to again, noted Bible authorities, this letter of Elijah’s was “sent” to King Jehoram, some EIGHT years after Elijah took his “whirlwind” ride. The authoritative Reese’s Chronological Bible says that Elijah went up into the whirlwind about 868 B.C. Eight years later, in 860 B.C., Elijah sends a letter, or writing, to Jehoram. One of these noted Bible authorities, J. Vernon McGee, of the yesteryear “Back to the Bible” radio series, taught this in the exact same time sequence.
    But who needs documentation from respected Bible authorities, when you arbitrarily know better.

  37. Joe Spickard

    Kevin, again your presumption is showing.

    Jesus called the entire event, a “vision.”

    It was not literal.

    If you had read the earlier comments on this thread, instead of jumping in with your unsubstantiated opinions, you would have read already, that according to the Strong’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words, a “vision,” is a “supernatural spectacle.”

    Fare you well.

  38. Transfiguration

    Matthew 17:9
    As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Don’t tell anyone about the VISION until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

    This is what Jesus said to Peter, James, and John after the Moses and Elijah experience. As others have mentioned… He HIMSELF called it a “vision.” I could be wrong, but if it was just a vision and not actually a brief interaction with the dead, the vision’s point was to show how the law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah) testified as a witnesses to the Father’s declaration of Him being well pleased with His Son, Jesus.

    The other thing to consider is this point made in the OT…

    Deuteronomy 18:10-12
    No one among you is to make his son or daughter pass through the fire, practice divination, tell fortunes, interpret omens, practice sorcery, cast spells, consult a medium or a familiar spirit, or INQUIRE OF THE DEAD. Everyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and the LORD your God is driving out the nations before you because of these detestable things.

    I honestly have a hard time rectifying this OT reference with the transfiguration scene, if the transfiguration scene actually involved the dead.

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