Did Enoch and Elijah (Elias) Ascend into Heaven?

Photo: opusdei.or.ke Photo: opusdei.or.ke

In His night conversation with Nicodemus, the Savior says, And no man hath ascended up to Heaven, but He that came down from Heaven, even the Son of man Which is in Heaven (Jn. 3:13). Many opponents of Christ see in this phrase a contradiction in the words of Scripture, for the Old Testament relates how Elijah ascended into Heaven and how God took Enoch to Himself. Let’s try to sort this issue out, using the Tradition of the fathers of the Church as the key to Scripture.


First, let’s consider the story of Enoch. The apostle Jude says that Enoch was the seventh from Adam (cf. Jude 1:14). There are two phrases in the Bible about the end of his earthly life: In the Old Testament it says, And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him (Gen. 5:24); the apostle Paul also says about Enoch that by faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him (Heb. 11:5). There is nothing about Heaven in either phrase. It says only that Enoch was translated, but does the relocation really have to be to Heaven? Enoch was moved to a certain place, but it was not that place to where Christ ascended. St. Gregory Palamas says, “God carried away Enoch too, but did He take him to Heaven? Certainly not! For no man hath ascended up to Heaven, but He that came down from Heaven.[1] St. Theophylact of Bulgaria speaks just as apophatically about Enoch’s fate: “Thus, that he was translated alive, and that he is still alive we know, but where or how is unknown, because Scripture does not speak about it.”[2] Therefore, there is not even the slightest foundation upon which to say that the words of Christ contradict the life story of this righteous one.

There is another aspect in analyzing the Old and New Testament texts that deserve special attention. The Savior speaks of Himself as an active participant in the Ascension to Heaven, but Enoch was passive in his translation. It should be emphasized that the Savior Himself ascended into Heaven, and God translated Enoch, not to Heaven, but to a particular place.

What happened with the other Old Testament righteous one, who, like Enoch, has not yet tasted death? Where did the Prophet Elijah ascend to?

Enoch and Elijah, 17th century icon from the History Museum in Sanok, Poland. Photo: dustoffthebible.com Enoch and Elijah, 17th century icon from the History Museum in Sanok, Poland. Photo: dustoffthebible.com

The Prophet Elijah

The question of Elijah’s ascension is more difficult and more interesting. What do we know about the prophet Elijah and his ascension into Heaven? In the Synodal translation of the Bible it says, [T]here suddenly appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and sundered them both; and Elijah was taken up by a whirlwind into Heaven (4 Kg. 2:11). It would seem that this is a clear contradiction to the words of Christ, that no man hath ascended up to Heaven, but He that came down from Heaven, even the Son of Man (Jn. 3:13). Did the Savior really not know this story with Elijah? Did the apostle John, giving us these words of Christ, really not know the story? Why didn’t Nicodemus, the expert in the Law and Prophets, immediately refute the Savior’s retelling of the ascension of Elijah? Probably because in the Savior’s time, Fourth Kings did not say that the prophet Elijah ascended into Heaven.

The thing is that the text taken for the basis for the translation of the books of the Old Testament into Russian (the so-called Synodal translation)[3] was the Masoretic—a text which the Jews-Masoretes redacted all the way up until the tenth century AD, “smoothing out” the prophetic and Messianic spots.

But in the Church, maximum authority belongs to another translation of the Old Testament books—the translation of the seventy. This work was carried out in the third to second centuries B.C. by Jewish sages. This text was used by the apostles and the holy fathers living in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. This translation was used as a foundation by Sts. Cyril and Methodius. Let’s see what it says about the ascension of Elijah into Heaven:

And it came to pass as they were going, they went on talking; and, behold, a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and it separated between them both; and Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind as it were into Heaven (4 Kg. 2:11).

The only difference from the Masoretic text is in the words “as it were” (“яко”), but the meaning changes dramatically. Elijah was taken not into Heaven, but as if into Heaven—that is, he was raised up into the air. How did the holy fathers understand this spot in Scripture?

St. John Chrysostom: “Elijah ascended as if into Heaven, because he was a slave, but Christ ascended into Heaven itself, because He was the Lord.”[4]

St. Cyril of Jerusalem: “This one ‘as if into Heaven’ (4 Kg. 2:11), but Christ directly into Heaven.”[5]

St. Photios: “And Elijah, as a slave, was taken to the aerial heights, but not into Heaven, but as it were into Heaven (4 Kg. 2:11). The Lord, as the Ruler of all, ascended not as it were into Heaven, but truly into Heaven did He ascend.”[6]

Euthymius Zigabinos, quoting Blessed Theodoret of Cyrrhus, says, “He commands them (the angels) to open the everlasting gates, as they had never before been opened for human nature. For none among men has ever passed through them. Although the great Elijah ascended, it was not into Heaven—but as if into Heaven.”[7]

St. Maximos the Greek: “And Elijah was taken not into Heaven, but as if into Heaven.”[8]

Our hymnography also speaks about the prophet’s relative ascension:

St. Andrew of Crete sings thus: “Elijah the charioteer once ascended by the chariot of the virtues as to Heaven and was carried above earthly things. Consider then, my soul, this ascent.”[9]

St. Romanos the Melodist notes that although the prophet Elijah was lifted up, he was not blessed to enter into Paradise: “Elijah, sitting upon a fiery chariot, ascended, as if into Heaven, as is written, but not reaching Heaven.”[10]

It follows from these quotes that the prophet Elijah was not taken into Heaven. So then where? And where is he now? The prophet was elevated into the air (“as it were into Heaven”), however this heaven is not one and the same as the spiritual Heaven—Paradise. St. Symeon the New Theologian contemplates this rather apophatically: “Elijah was taken in a fiery chariot, and before him Enoch, but not into Heaven, but to some other place—not of his own power, although he was translated.”[11] St. Gregory the Dialogist gives a more cataphatic image. He describes the place where the prophet Elijah abides thus: “Elijah was caught up into heaven, but the aerial one, which is distinct from the incorporeal one… so he was appointed to a secret region of the Earth, where he ought to dwell in bodily and spiritual peace hitherto, until, at the end of the world, he will again appear on the Earth to pay the debt of death.”[12]

The Prophet Elijah ascended as it were into Heaven, but not of his own power, but on a fiery chariot, with angelic assistance, as St. Photios wrote.[13] Thus the prophet Elijah’s human nature and human infirmity were manifested in his ascension, as he was unable of himself to ascend into the heavens, but was borne up by angels. In ascending, Christ displayed His Divine nature and omnipotence. St. Gregory the Dialogist says, “Elijah ascended into the sky on a chariot as proof that he, as a man, could not do so without aid. This aid was rendered him by angels, when he ascended into the aerial heaven; for he could not of himself ascend there, because his natural weakness did not allow him to separate from the Earth. Meanwhile, as the Savior did not need a chariot, so He did not need the angels, for by His own Divine power the Creator ascended into Heaven, because He was returning to there from whence He descended. He entered there where He had habitation from the ages: for, although He ascended as man, as God He possessed both Heaven and Earth.”[14] Therefore, the Savior, the Son of Man, Himself ascended into Heaven, as He promised, but Elijah was raised into the air and placed in a secret region of the Earth.

If Elijah was taken as it were into Heaven, then what is that Heaven to which the Savior ascended? As St. John of Damascus says, the Son of God “becomes Man, but does not leave Heaven and the bosom of the Father,”[15] and, having divinized human nature, “ascends to where He was before as God.”[16] The Son of God, the Second Hypostasis of the Holy Trinity, having assumed human nature, elevates it to the “bosom of the Father,” or, as the Gospel says, to the right hand of God (cf. Mk. 16:19), to where neither man nor angel can climb—to where only the Spirit searches out the depths of God.


We have touched upon God’s mysterious concealment of the two Old Testament righteous ones. The prophet Elijah and Enoch were translated to some secret earthly place, where they await the apocalypse. The prophets did not ascend into Heaven; there is no contradiction here with the words of Christ pronounced in His nighttime conversation with Nicodemus: No man hath ascended up to Heaven, but He that came down from Heaven, even the Son of man Which is in Heaven (Jn. 3:13).

Dcn. Peter Mikhalev
Translated by Jesse Dominick



[1] Homily 53.1

[2] Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews

[3] The King James version of the Old Testament (and most English versions thereafter) were also translated from the Masoretic.

[4] Second Homily on the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ

[5] Catechetical Homilies

[6] Homily on the Ascension of the Lord

[7] Commentary on Psalm 23

[8] Objection to Samuel the Judaizer

[9] The Great Canon, Ode 8

[10] Kontakion for the Ascension of the Lord

[11] Divine Hymns

[12] Homily 29, Delivered in the Church of the Holy Apostle Peter on the Ascension of the Lord

[13] “The Lord, as the Ruler of all, ascended not as it were into Heaven, but truly into Heaven did He ascend. Elijah was taken by fiery horses, that is, by the angelic powers, appearing in this form; such an understanding of the events shows that the prophet completed his aerial ascension not above the sky, but, having reached it, he stopped his extraordinary ascension.” Homily on the Ascension of the Lord

[14] Homily 29

[15] Homily Against Nestorius

[16] Ibid. 

Helarder6/3/2023 7:52 pm
Thanks for this important topic
Jesus Cruz5/7/2021 3:11 am
So Jesus Christ is the only one who knows the truth about . Enoch and Elijah ? Why Jesus Christ didn't said where they went or where God took them , if it's another place that looks like heaven but is not the real heaven and if Jesus Christ is the only one to be raised in heaven ? As a son of God or Jesus Christ is also God himself because. God , Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit of God are the same and knowing as the Holy trinity ?
Ben Bollinger5/11/2020 11:50 am
Excellent article! With it, I was able to develop this idea a bit more to give us a better picture as to what happened to these great saints https://ancientinsights.wordpress.com/2020/05/11/where-did-enoch-and-elijah-go/
Michael Scott4/5/2020 11:31 am
What of Zion?
Ibe Izuoma 2/9/2020 9:16 pm
I can not but accept these accounts as truth. Translation didn't mean rapture nor 'taken away that he may not see death' mean aboding in heaven. It seems a sentiment or an easy tell to believe that both men went to heaven because the 'went upwards' such as ascension to the Christians would mean a venture I to heavens just as white depicts good and black bad. But I must ask, can there be a catchy lead to where these men, Enoch and Elijah were taken to? Thank you.
Ralph DSouza8/3/2019 5:13 am
Thanks very much.Excellently explained. God bless.
Rev James5/14/2019 11:34 pm
God bless for this for God word tell us flesh and blood can not enter the kingdom of heaven ,for when it is time for these two to finish what God has for them to do as the two candle ,or some call them the two wittiness that will stand in the street and speak God's word then they will be killed for 3 days then God will have them stand up and will be as Jesus said what must happen to all to be in our living souls 1cor 15 51 God bless keep giving God,s word as it is written amen Rev James
Emmanuel k Amoo12/6/2018 11:17 pm
This subject Matter was very helpfull to me.Thank you very much.I wish that I was your student.So that I can be acquainted with the foreknowledge of Christ Jesus who is himself God. This shows that God is not a man that he lie.I really thank all your panels who baldly speak the truth. God richly bless you all for a great job done.
Editor10/22/2018 10:54 am
Hi, Donna. Thanks for your question. The section on Enoch in this article addresses it pretty well, including quotes from two great Scriptural commentators among the saints!
Donna Carter10/21/2018 12:04 pm
The rest of Hebrews 5:11 states, By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death. If he did not see death, wouldn't that mean he went to heaven?


Carlos Leгo9/4/2017 4:33 am
I have a doubt about the catholic orthodoxy: what happens with the soul of christians between the death and the resurrection? It sleep or stay in vigil state and pray for us that living in this world? Thanks. Carlos Leгo.
Ben Marston8/7/2017 3:53 am
Thank you. that was helpful. I sent it to a cousin who is an evangelical Greek scholar for his consideration.
Jerusalemite8/4/2017 4:41 pm
Thank you, very instructive!
Here you can leave your comment on the present article, not exceeding 4000 characters. All comments will be read by the editors of OrthoChristian.Com.
Enter through FaceBook
Your name:
Your e-mail:
Enter the digits, seen on picture:

Characters remaining: 4000

to our mailing list

* indicates required