Prior to Scientific findings of an expanding Universe a survey showed that most Scientist believed the Universe was eternal (without beginning). Now Scientists understand that the Universe had a beginning commonly identified as the “Big Bang”. This perspective is in keeping with Genesis 1 “in the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth”.

Before this discovery did the Church believe Heaven was somewhere in the distant outreaches of the Universe and has this new understanding caused the Church’s view to shift Heavens placement to other-dimensional?

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    This survey was recently republished in Scientific American. Essentially over 60% of Scientist surveyed in the late 50s when asked the age of the Universe stated that the Universe had no beginning. – Rick Jul 8 '13 at 12:28
  • I think this survey is a little misleading, because as the scientists no longer believe the universe is eternal, they now believe that the stuff that makes the universe, is eternal. ie, the pre-big bang "energy". so from a philosophical point of view, they just shifted their eternal gaze, but not much, materially has changed. Ie, the universe IN THIS FORM is not eternal, but its essence, all that is needed to make it, is eternal. I think surveys should dig deeper to see how the understanding has essentially changed. – Greg Balajewicz Jul 8 '13 at 12:44
  • I deleted my answer in light of your explanation. I am not sure how the understanding of Heaven (this world or another dimension) has changed overtime. – Greg Balajewicz Jul 8 '13 at 12:46
  • Greg, my question does not side with or against Science, it only takes a current Scientific perspective that is in keeping with the Genesis account of Creation and advances a question as a result of that perspective. – Rick Jul 8 '13 at 12:50
  • Based on your answer it would appear you hold an other-dimensional view of Heaven i.e. "Spiritual Realm". Thank you for your response! – Rick Jul 8 '13 at 12:52

Probably various people have held every possible shade of opinion on this issue. The idea that heaven is not a true "place" in the material world (in the sense that Earth is a place) is much, much older than the Big Bang theory. Remember that Christians have had the book of Genesis - which asserts that God created everything at some definite time in the past - for much longer than they've known about the Big Bang.

A common line of interpretation sees Genesis 1:1 as describing how God is the author all things visible and invisible. In this view, the heaven of verse 1 is not a place in the universe, but stands for spiritual things in contrast to material things. Augustine (City of God 11.33-34) thinks this the most probable reading, though he stresses that we shouldn't think that there's anything inherently "wrong" with matter - this is in opposition to the Manichean idea that the world is a kind of prison for souls.

One problem with this reading is that the rest of Genesis 1 seems to say that the same "heaven" is where birds fly (v20 uses the same Hebrew word). But as Thomas Aquinas observes (Summa Theologica 1.68.4), the word "heaven" is used in many senses elsewhere in Scripture. This is a common linguistic phenomenon even today, as for example le ciel in French may mean "heaven" or "sky", or even "space". So we find that "heaven" may mean the airy place where you find birds and clouds, or the place where stars and planets are (further subdivided by planetary orbits, etc.), or the state of being united with God. Notice that this last one is not described as a place, though by analogy we may think and speak of it as being a place. We speak of it as being "above" us, and associate it with the celestial bodies: which give light, are made by God, and are beyond our everyday commonplace experience. Sometimes this is done deliberately, for poetic effect.

Compare Basil the Great in Homilies on the Hexaemeron, who distinguishes between heaven (Genesis 1:1), the firmament (the starry vault, v6) and the atmosphere (v20), saying that the firmament and atmosphere are called "heaven" only by analogy with the true heaven. He dismisses all attempts at discovering what substances heaven might be made from - which was a common philosophical question. In the same way, John of Damascus (Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 2.6) declares that the essence of heaven is beyond our knowledge.

These and other authorities did try to "locate" heaven with respect to the Earth, using the best astronomy of the day. They believed that beyond the "sphere of the fixed stars", there was a final boundary sphere, the firmament, beyond which was the endless expanse of the "empyrean heaven". (And again, any part of this, from the atmosphere upwards, could commonly be called "heaven", as John of Damascus admits.) Once in the empyrean, however, there's no longer any notion of time or space. This comports with Aristotelian philosophy, which was tremendously influential. Boethius (in Quomodo substantiae) observes that the proposition "Incorporeal things are not in any place" is one which may make sense only to the educated - the full-blown concept of the timeless, spaceless, incomprehensible empyrean is a tricky one, and so it's easy to fall into a more naive conception of heaven as simply a faraway place. The point of the empyrean is not that it's "a place" beyond the stars, but that it's outside the ordinary material universe, of which the firmament was thought to be the boundary.

  • It might also be useful to include Paul's mention of "third heaven" in 2 Corinthians 12:2 and the three heavens interpretation of sky, space, spiritual heaven. I would guess that the concept of a "sphere" beyond the stars considerably predates Plato and that Moses might have at least been exposed to such in his Egyptian education. – Paul A. Clayton Jul 28 '13 at 17:57
  • Three Heavens more likely: Physical Reality, Spiritual Reality, Eternal Reality – Rick Jul 30 '13 at 11:58
  • Daaaang. One would thing you've written a book on this subject. :) – codedude Aug 18 '13 at 2:25

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