2 Kings 2:11 And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
John 3:13 "No man hath ascended up to heaven but he that came down from heaven, ... the Son of Man."
Some skeptics charge Jesus with missing out on Elijah being first to "ascend into heaven" but the solution is the same as it is today: The Hebrew word translated "heaven" in the first verse. shamiyim, simply means the sky, as "heavens" does metaphorically today. The "heavens" were also regarded as the abode of God, but at the time of 2 Kings there was as yet no conception of "Heaven" with a capital H as the special abode of God shared with His people.
The Greek word in the second verse, ouranos, can also mean the sky, but it is also used in the sense of God's realm (as in, the "Kingdom of Heaven" [ouranos]. Note John 3:27 "John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven." The word carries theological freight that shamiyim does not. Therefore, there is no conflict in these verses, for 2 Kings merely asserts where Elijah went physically and carries no theological overtones.
To this we need to add one more verse sometimes thrown in the fray:
Gen. 5:24 Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.
The same answer applies here, but note as well that this verse does not say that Enoch went to "heaven" -- a critic merely assumes that Enoch went to heaven in order to find a contradiction!
This leads into a secondary objection:
1 Cor. 15:50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
It is observed that Elijah and Enoch were both corrupt flesh and blood persons who could therefore not "inherit the kingdom of God." But neither Elijah nor Enoch did "inherit the kingdom of God" - they were simply taken away, Elijah into the physical sky, Enoch to an unspecified place. We do not know what their current state is.
Objection: So your defense is that Elijah could not have gone to Heaven because the Old Testament had no concept of Heaven.
Not exactly. The lack of a developed theological conception of Heaven in OT times simply shows that the author of the passage was not trying, via the account of Elijah being taken up to heaven, to relate that Elijah went to dwell with God in a particular locale. As my response showed, the verse simply leaves Elijah's destination in that sense unclear.
It is clear that the men of that day didn't think Elijha's ascent was a forever deal: 2 Kings 2:16 NIV, "Look," they said, "we your servants have fifty able men. Let them go and look for your master. Perhaps the Spirit of the Lord has picked him up and set him down on some mountain or in some valley.
In short, supposing that Elijah's trip had something to do with a Christian concept revealed hundreds of years later is anachronistic.
Additional note: A reader contribued this point which adds to our own:
The text is , especially in the area of knowledge although it does apply to the physical too.
When it comes to spiritual things, whether it be the gaining of spiritual knowledge or the entrance into heaven (literally) man cannot achieve this on his own.
He can only gain this knowledge or the literal entrance into heaven by the power of God moving upon him (mentally, physically or spiritually). Note:
Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son’s name, if thou canst tell? Proverbs 30:4
For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Acts 2:34
Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me: and where I am, thither ye cannot come. John 7:34