If so, then maybe I should change the name of my blog!! :)

A few people have been asking me whether I plan to do regular posts on New Testament Sunday School topics, as I had been doing with the OT.  I would have to say that my tentative answer is either “maybe” or “probably not.” While I would love to do so, this semester at school is proving to be my busiest ever and I can’t imagine myself having enough time to dedicate to writing anything that would be worthwhile sharing. However, I do hope to find relevant materials that I can point you to as often as possible.

The content of this post was prepared and sent to me by my friend Dean Hunsaker. I appreciate him taking the time to research this important question.

The Problem of John 3:13

John 3:13

NIV No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.

NASB No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.

NLT No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven.

NRSV No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

KJV And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.

Is Jesus saying that no one ever has ascended into heaven?

What about OT ascent stories like — Enoch (Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5), Moses (Exodus 24:9–11; 34:29-35); Elijah (2 Kings 2:11); Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1–8); or Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1; 10)?

Further, what is the point of the thrice-yearly ritual ascent to the temple to “see the face of the LORD” (Exodus 23:15, 17; 34:20, 23, 24; Deuteronomy 16:16; 31:11; 1 Samuel 1:22; Psalms 42:2; Isaiah 1:12) when real ascent isn’t possible?

What about other ascent into heaven stories:

New Testament (Acts 8:39; 2 Corinthians 12:2, 4; 1 Thess 4:17; Revelation 1-22).

BoM (1 Nephi 1:8; 11:1, 19; 14:13; 15:1; 2 Nephi 4:25; Alma 19:6; 3 Nephi 28:13, 36; Ether 3:1-14).

D&C (D&C 76; 137).  PoGP (Moses 1:1; Moses 6:64; Moses 7:27).

Other (Apocalypse of Moses 37:5; Apocalypse of Abraham 12:10; Wisdom of Solomon 4:11; 1 Enoch 39:3-4; 52:1; 2 Enoch 7:1; 3 Apocalypse of Baruch 2:2).

Is Jesus saying that it is impossibile for human beings to ascend into heaven — no one has or ever will? Does he agree with the Midrash on Exodus 19:20 “Neither Moses nor Elijah ever went up to heaven, nor did the Glory ever come down to earth”? (Mekilta de Rabbi Ishmael, trans. J. Z. Lauterbach [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1976], 2:224; compare Deut 30:12; Baruch 3:29; 2 Esdras 4:8).

Does the Greek text Help?

Greek /English

kai / And

oudeis / no man

anabebeken / hath ascended up

eis ton ouranon / to heaven,

ei me  / but

ho / he

ek tou ouranou / that from heaven,

katabas  / came down


ho huios / the Son

tou anthropou / of  man

ho on en to ourano / which is in heaven.


Greek Helps:

GR “anabebeken” means literally “to go up” and is commonly translated “arise,” “ascend,” and “climb.”

GR “ei me” means literally “if not” and is commonly translated, “but,” “except (that).”


What does the text mean?
1. NLT: No one else has ever gone to heaven and returned, but Jesus.
2. Local Context: Jesus doesn’t mean “no one” throughout time, he means there is “no one” Nicodemus can talk to that has ascended to heaven, but Jesus.
3. Context: The new birth isn’t brought on through heavenly ascent and descent of Moses or Elijah, but by the ascent and descent of the Son of Man.
4. D&C 88:6: The purpose of ascent into heaven is to descend and teach what was learned, like Jesus did.
5. Prov 30:4: Jesus is inviting Nicodemus to answer the question, Who can of their own power ascend into heaven, or descend? What is his name, and what is his son’s name? Surely you know! (BTW, Moses, Enoch and others were “taken up” they did not “climb” on their own power).


Dean has presented the question here very well and offered some possibilities for how we can interpret Jesus’ words. Does anyone have any further insights into this question?  Was Jesus denying the possibility of heavenly ascent or did he mean something else altogether?

I won’t offer my own explanation at this point, but I just recently read a great answer to the question posted by BYU Professor William Hamblin as part of his “An Enigmatic Mirror” column on Patheos. You can check out the specific post here.

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