Is Heaven a Metaphor in the Bible?

Is Heaven a Metaphor in the Bible? November 14, 2015

There is such a thing as being too rigidly literalistic. But sometimes we fall into the opposite pitfall and treat things as metaphors when ancient people would have assumed they were statements of literal fact. I’ve mentioned the “heart” as one example in the past.

Is “heaven” another?

Keith Reich has been blogging about the spectrum of meanings the word translated as “heaven” has in the Bible. Here are links to part 1, part 2, and part 3 of that blog series.

I don’t disagree with him that “heaven” meant the region above us skywards and also the place where God dwells. But it seems to me that, as in the case of the heart as the location of human cognition, the two meanings overlapped completely, because just as people did not know that the heart is not literally the location where cognition occurs in the human body, so too ancient people did not think that the sky was anything other than literally the place where God dwells.

What do blog readers think? Is heaven ever purely metaphorical in the Bible?

Brian LePort also referred to the whole of Genesis 1-3 in the context of dead metaphors in the Bible, and included this cartoon:

Biblical metaphors and savvy readers


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  • It seemed obvious to me that, in Genesis, “heaven” meant the sky above.

    Since that time, theologians (and others) have added a lot of furniture to heaven, that does not seem to belong in the sky.

  • Michael Wilson

    I think the idea likely changed in concept over the millennia, so Jesus and Genesis could have different ideas. The treatment of heaven in ancient text has the feel of the metaphorical though I don’t think authors would feel it was metaphor, only that heavenly realities are different than mortal ones. For instance when tge song of Deborah speaks of the stars fighting Sesira, it is not that the stars could be observed to do anything interoperable as fighting but it was understood that the stars were a form of the gods under YHWHs command and the fighting was under their magical influnce. The stars aren’t objects metaphorically refered to as angels or gods, they are those beings, but their form and action are not like mortal beings. Like wise, God’s throne is up above the stars, but it isn’t a throne as we have thrones and while perhaps a bird might be able to fly so high as to reach it, it was understood to be reachable by means of magic in a way that one could not similarly use to reach a tall tower or mountain peak physically.