John Bunyan's 'The Pilgrim’s Progress' (published 1678) makes reference to "crossing the River" in order to get to the Celestial City. Chapter 20 mentions that only Enoch and Elijah did not have to cross the River. FAITH is needed to make the crossing from this life to the next.

In Chapter 34 Christiana crosses the River, along with many other pilgrims. All have been summoned to make the crossing.

My question is about the origins of the expression "crossing over Jordan" and whether this is commonly understood as an allegory of the believer passing over from this life to the next, or if it could mean something else.

I'm looking for source material/references to help me trace this expression and understand how various Christian traditions understand it. Is “crossing over Jordan” a metaphor or a figure of speech for the believer passing from physical death to heaven?

  • While this question has Christian roots, it isn't really about Christianity. The reference as I undertsand it comes from Joshua 3:14-17. The Israelites were crossing from their old life into the promised land. Authors may use the symbolism of crossing the river Jordan for any number of allegorical reasons. Personally, I found the symbolism of freedom or rebirth more common than the symbolism of death. But that may only be due to the mix of books I've read. – JBH Apr 16 '18 at 3:18
  • @JBH - whilst I appreciate your comments and your insights, this is a genuine request for research material that I can use to answer a question. It seems very difficult to get questions answered on this site. I sincerely hope my question will be allowed to stay up. – Lesley Apr 16 '18 at 7:28
  • I understand your concern, but the site's focus is intentionally narrow. It is the study of Christianity (this Meta question will help). Perhaps said another way, this is a great place to ask what the various traditions believe. Therein might be the problem. Whose perspective are you looking for? There are many here. Although it would help if you edited your question to specify that you're looking for source materials. – JBH Apr 16 '18 at 7:56
  • @JBH - thank you and I have now edited my question accordingly. – Lesley Apr 16 '18 at 11:31
  • It has to derive from Hebrews 4 – Constantthin Dec 2 '18 at 13:26

The gospel song "I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger" (written in the 1800's) makes reference to crossing over Jordan to the beautiful fields beyond "where God's redeemed their vigils keep."

That's the earliest reference I've found, although there may be others.

This hymnal, dating to 1766, uses the metaphor, but not the actual phrase "crossing over Jordan" (see top of page 147): https://hymnary.org/hymn/PDIL1766/II.LXVI

In the Bible the Israelites had to "cross over Jordan" to reach the Promised Land. For Christians, the "Promised Land" is eternal paradise in Heaven, and the barrier one must cross to reach it - the metaphorical "Jordan" - is death.

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