By Charles H. Welch
Heavenly Places. This subdivision of the great term "heaven" is justified by reason of its dispensational importance, and the words play a great part in setting forth the distinctive character of the Mystery. These "heavenly places" were known at least in part in other ages, the expression "the heaven, and the heaven of heavens" already noted suggests that such a superior sphere was known, but no prophet, evangelist or apostle, ever dreamed that a redeemed company would find their sphere of blessing there, least of all a company made up of alien Gentiles. First let us examine the word itself.
Epouranios. This word is composed of epi "upon" and ouranios "heavenly", the adjective form of ouranos "heaven". Epouranios occurs in the N.T. twenty times. It is translated as follows: celestial, heavenly, in heaven, heavenly places, heavenly things, high places and they that are heavenly. It is attached to several nouns as "heavenly Father" , "celestial bodies", "heavenly kingdom", "heavenly calling", "heavenly gift" and "heavenly Jerusalem". Whether each and every one thus defined is /not only "heavenly" but at the same time "in heaven" the context must decide. For example, the Hebrews had tasted the heavenly gift and the power of the age to come (Heb. 6:4), but no one seriously believes that these Hebrews were in heaven at the time they are said to have tasted this gift. The heavenly Jerusalem will descend from God out of heaven and come down either to the earth itself or near to it; it will be heavenly in character, but not be in heaven itself.
The word epouranios occurs in Matthew, John, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, 2 Timothy and Hebrews, and this wide distribution has given the unthinking reader a reason to reject the peculiar claim of the church of the Mystery to these heavenly places as their sphere of blessing. A concordance is a most useful and valuable TOOL, but even valuable tools can do great damage if handled carelessly. Something more is needed than a quick glance at a list of occurrences in a concordance before judgment can be pronounced upon the meaning of any particular reference.
Upon examining the Epistle to the Ephesians, we discover that the word epouranios is there used in a form which occurs nowhere else, * and that this form occurs in five passages in the epistle. (* The form en tois epouraniois, which is in question, does not occur in the LXX: we have made no slip up here as the comment of a recent writer would lead his hearers to believe.) These occurrences we will indicate before passing on to their peculiar grammatical form.
The form in which these five references to heavenly places occurs is unique. It is found in no other part of the N.T. Where the remaining fifteen occurrences use the word epouranios simply, the epistle to the Ephesians uses it in a phrase en tois epouraniois "in the heavenly (places, things, sphere)" and never merely to define something as heavenly in character. When Paul addressed this epistle to the saints which are AT Ephesus, the words en Epheso do not mean that they were "Ephesian" in character but that they were living somewhere. They were actually residing "IN Ephesus". When the Apostle reminded the Ephesian masters that they also had a Master IN heaven, there could be no two thoughts about the fact that this Master was not only heavenly in character but in position. He was there. The word "where" indicative of place is used of the present position of Christ "Where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God" (Col. 3:1). This is said to be "heaven itself" (Heb. 9:24) and in "heavenly places" (Eph. 1:20).
While en followed by a plural can mean "among" (Col. 1:27), it can also mean "in", for no one supposes that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob dwelt "among" tabernacles, they had enough common sense to dwell "in" them. The strange expression "upon the heavens" loses its strangeness when we realize that the firmament is stretched out under the original heaven of Genesis 1:1. (See article FIRMAMENT.)
The Apostle has not only given these five references which indicate the exalted and peculiar position of Christ and His church, he has assisted us further by giving an explicit statement in Ephesians 4:10 concerning the Ascension. There Christ is said to have "ascended far above all heavens", the word translated "far above" being huperano. This position is so far above all heavens, that by ascending to this sphere, Christ is said to have filled all things.
Many words used in the English language are derived either from Latin or Greek. Some words are derived from both tongues, and are employed severally as the genius of the language dictates. Thus the Greek huper becomes the Latin super, and while we retain the Greek in such terms as hyperbolic, we often favour the Latin equivalent super, and say super-abundance, not huper-abundance; super-annuate, not huperannuate; super-impose, not huper-impose.
Consequently with Ephesians 4:10 plainly written, we are at liberty to speak of the super-heavens, as a definition of the peculiar sphere of the church of the Mystery, conscious that we are not adding a word to the inspired testimony but are honestly giving in this compact form the combined intention of the two sets of expressions en tois epouraniois and huperano panton ton ouranon.
The nature and extent of this analysis makes it impossible for us to take note of every difference of opinion that is current, but in one or two cases, silence may be misinterpreted and damage done to the cause of truth. We therefore make an appendix to "Heavenly places" in order to examine a point of view expressed soberly by a believer and teacher who has stood for the principle of right division, and for Acts 28:28 for a great number of years. We quote:
There is therefore, in the following comments, no thought of impugning the veracity, honesty and conviction of the brother who has abandoned the idea that "heavenly places" is the future sphere of blessing for the church of the Mystery, for that is the focal point both of his teaching and our examination.
We readily admit, in common with many commentators, that the words "in heavenly places" as found in Ephesians 1:3 are not necessarily the translation of the Greek en tois epouraniois, the word "places" being understood and supplied, and not found in the original, but the same criticism could be levelled at the translation "High places" in Proverbs 8:2, Ezekiel 16:24 and Numbers 23:3, for neither of the Hebrew words so translated has the word for "place" attached to it. It would be possible to object to the insertion of the word "place" in Numbers 23:3, the word there translated "an high place" being the Hebrew word shephi, yet Balak had no difficulty in suggesting to Balaam that he go to "another place" (Num. 23:13) where the Hebrew word for "place", maqom, is inserted. We introduce these examples simply to show that we must beware of sweeping statements, for by proving too much we prove nothing. Ephesians 1:3 may mean "among heavenly beings", but it can mean "in heavenly places", for if the addition of "beings" be legitimate so also can the addition of the word "places". It is evident that if Ephesians 1:3 is the only passage to which we can turn, we reach a position of stalemate. God however, has not left the members of this high calling in the dark, the phrase en tois epouraniois occurs again in Ephesians 1:20. There the reference is to the Ascension which, as Ephesians 4:10 affirms, was "far above all heavens, that He might fill all things", even as Ephesians 1:20-23 reveals that Christ our Head is seated at the right hand of God, far above all principality and power, the church thus associated with Him there being "the fulness of Him that filleth all in all". Place seems to be indicated here. Colossians 3:1-4 uses the adverb "where" (Greek hou), indicating that the Saviour is in a "place" and that place "the right hand of God". Now it is not denied that Christ is there, but it is taught that where we read in Ephesians 1:20, "and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places", we should interpret the later phrase "among heavenly beings", bringing the passage into line with the translation already offered of Ephesians 1:3. Let us examine the context.
Wherever Christ is conceived of as sitting now is not among heavenly beings, but far above them. "Far above all", huperanos, a word which is repeated in Ephesians 4:10 ''Jar above all heavens". Hebrews 4:14 teaches us that the ascended Christ "passed through the heavens", dierchomai (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1, 16:5), but not only so, in Hebrews 7:26 Christ is said to be "higher than the heavens". Again, the Apostle goes out of his way to enumerate the orders of "heavenly beings" which are beneath the exalted position of the Saviour. "All (not some) principalities and powers and might, and dominion" and then, as in Romans 8:39 where he adds "nor any other creature", so, here, to ensure that the entire universe is conceived of, he continues "and every name that is named"-and yet further, every name that is named "not only in this age, but also in that which is to come".
How is it possible, in view of these explicit statements, to teach that "where Christ sits" is "among" heavenly beings? But this is not all. Paul quotes from Psalm eight, "And hath put all things under His feet." Now did this quotation stand alone, we should admit that it does not add anything more to that already seen, but the fact is, Paul had quoted this passage on two other occasions, and has given them such a peculiar exposition as to render further discussion unnecessary. Here are his own words, and his own peculiar deduction:
When, therefore, Paul added the quotation from Psalm eight, he clinched the interpretation "in heavenly places", for it is impossible after seeing this isolated and exalted position to believe that it is after all "among heavenly beings".
We are indebted to Mr. Alexander Thomson, in an article published in The Differentiator, for a clarifying word on Philippians 3:20.