Saturday, April 21, 2007


I received the following e-mail the other day:

Hey Bill!

I wanted to ask you a question and maybe if you have time, get your thoughts on it.

Do you think there are different levels of heaven? I was reading in 2 Corinthians 12 last night and Paul is talking about boasting. He talks about a man at the beginning of the chapter that went to the third heaven … . He then calls this third heaven "Paradise". And … when Jesus was on the cross he told the thief that "today you will be with me in Paradise" However, later when Jesus appeared to Mary he said, "Do not touch me for I have not ascended to the Father." BUT, he told the thief that “TODAY you will be with me in Paradise.” Furthermore, when we die, the Bible says that we will have a new body, a spiritual body in Heaven. Again, when Jesus came back on the third day he still had the nail marks in his hands and the spear gash in his side. Had he not received a new body? Because he hadn't been with the Father yet? I didn't know if the Greek sheds more light on this or maybe if you had more study in this.

Also, here are a few scriptures I found regarding the "heavens" plural or the "highest heavens."

Deut 10:14
Psalm 148:4
Ephesians 4:9-10 (this one confused me a little)
Hebrews 8:1

Thanks for your time.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Wow. It’s going to take a lot of doing to answer all your questions. I’ll try to get to them all, the easiest ones first.

1. Did Jesus have a new body?

Yes, Jesus had a new body and it was quite different from His previous body. First of all, it was not always recognizable to His disciples. He seems to have been able to make Himself recognizable or even invisible to them at will. The story in Luke 24:13-31, about His appearance to the two disciples shows this. “But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him” (verse 16). “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight” (verse 31). Mary had difficulty recognizing Him at the tomb, thinking He was the gardener till He spoke her name (John 20:1-16). Later, when He appeared at the Sea of Galilee, the disciples seemed to be unsure of who He was (John 21:4, 7). Also, locked doors didn’t seem to hold Him back (Luke 24:36; John 20:19, 26).

We have to remember too, that though this was a new body, it was still a body, not just a ghost or spirit. A spiritual body is still a body. He could be touched; He could eat (Luke 24:38-43).

I believe that even in His glorified body, the wounds will always be visible, so that we can remember His sufferings for us through all eternity. In a future appearance in Heaven, John still sees Him as “a Lamb standing as slain” (Revelation 5:6).

By the way, we won’t receive our spiritual bodies until the resurrection.

2. The third heaven/levels of heaven

In the Hebrew Old Testament, the word used is HASHAMAYIM, literally “the heavens.” It is always, I believe, used in the plural (actually the dual) form in Hebrew. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). While scholars debate this form, the dual usually is used of things in pairs, like hands, feet, eyes. If we read the whole account in Genesis 1, we get the idea that there are two heavens: the “expanse,” where the sun, moon and stars are (verses 7, 8, 14-16), and “the open expanse of the heavens” where the birds fly (verse 20). These would correspond to our modern ideas of the atmosphere or sky and outer space.

In Deuteronomy 10:14 and elsewhere, mention is made of (literally) “the heavens and the heaven of heavens,” which the NASB erroneously translates “heaven and the highest heavens.” “Heaven of heavens” is a common Hebrew way of saying “the very highest heaven.” Remember the “Holy of Holies”?

So God created two heavens in Genesis 1 – the atmosphere and outer space. The “third heaven” that Paul speaks of would be that highest (uncreated?) heaven where God Himself dwells.

Hebrew 4:14 tells us that Jesus “has passed through the heavens.” When He ascended, He passed through the two created heavens and is now with the Father in the “third heaven,” where He is “exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26).

So Paul was caught up to the dwelling place of God.

3. Paradise

Paradise is a Greek word which originally came from the Persians. It was the word used of a walled garden or park. It is used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) to translate the Hebrew word for “garden” (Genesis 2:8). ‘The LORD planted a garden (paradeisos) in Eden.”

As Paul uses the word in 2 Corinthians 12:4, it’s apparently synonymous with “the third heaven” in verse 2. In Revelation 2:7, it seems to have the same meaning, “the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God,” although later, in Revelation the tree of life is located in the New Jerusalem.

So if Jesus had not ascended to His Father on the third day, how could He promise the repentant thief that he’d be with Him “today,” the day of His death (Luke 23:43)?

I’ve consulted a number of commentaries and I can’t find anyone who deals with this question. So here goes my take, though I can’t be dogmatic. By the way, most of these thoughts are not original with me.

In Genesis 3:22-24, Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise, the garden of Eden. Paradise was apparently removed from the earth, possibly at the flood.

If it was removed to heaven, it would have apparently been sitting nearly empty for thousands of years. The Old Testament seems clear that all who died during the Old Testament period went to a place called Sheol (Greek: Hades), whether they were righteous or wicked. It was believed that Sheol or Hades had two compartments, one where the wicked were in torment and the other called Abraham’s Bosom, where the righteous were. See the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. Perhaps this was Paradise.

After Jesus died on the cross, He descended into Hades – Abraham’s Bosom and set free the souls of the righteous dead. This idea is based on passages such as Ephesians 4:8-10 and 1 Peter 3:18-19a. If this interpretation is correct, then Jesus’ promise to the thief was referring to this visit to Abraham’s bosom.

The chronology would then be:
-- Jesus died
-- He went immediately to Hades (Acts 2:31?). There He did two things:
-- proclaimed His victory to the lost (1 Peter 3:19) and
-- released the saved from Abraham’s bosom and moved Paradise to Heaven.
-- He rose
-- He appeared to various people over a 40-day period (Acts 1:3)
-- He ascended to His Father (Acts 1:9; 2:33; Ephesians 1:20-22; Hebrews 8:1)

Like I said, I can’t be dogmatic about this.

Bill Ball

Friday, April 20, 2007


Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), well-known French mathematician and philosopher, was also a devout Christian. His best-known work was his PensÄ—es, a volume of loosely assorted thoughts on God and man. In his observations on man, he wrote: “What sort of freak then is man! How novel, how monstrous, how chaotic, how paradoxical, how prodigious! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, repository of truth, sink of doubt and error, glory and refuse of the universe!” “Is it not as clear as day that man’s condition is dual? The point is that if man had never been corrupted, he would, in his innocence, confidently enjoy both truth and felicity, and, if man had never been anything but corrupt, he would have no idea either of truth or bliss.” “ … we have an idea of happiness but we cannot attain it. We perceive an image of the truth and possess nothing but falsehood, being equally incapable of absolute ignorance and certain knowledge; …” He then goes on to say, “ … so obvious is it that we once enjoyed a degree of perfection from which we have unhappily fallen.”

Pascal was a Jansenist, a member of a Roman Catholic sect which was highly suspect in the church because its teachings seemed a bit too close to the Calvinistic Protestantism of his day. As a Jansenist, he held a high view of the Scripture. The above observations, though they show clear rational thinking and a knowledge of human psychology, obviously are colored by his knowledge of the Word.

Recent events in the news somehow show how modern and relevant Pascal’s observations are. The senseless shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, which left 33 people dead comes to mind. Not simply the event itself, but all the talk that followed. Add to that Don Imus’ foot-in-mouth and all the talk that followed that. (I won’t even mention the bad tech foul the other night at the Spurs/Mavs game, that possibly cost a ref his career.)

We talk and talk: TV shows, newspapers, newsmagazines, even Oprah. Everyone has an opinion. But as we listen to all the opinions we realize that Pascal was right: Man (humankind, to be politically correct) is both a ‘repository of truth” and a “sink of doubt and error.” We seem to have no ideas of what’s right and what’s wrong and why and what to do about it. We spend a lot of time trying to fix blame.

Pascal understood. He understood the truth of Genesis 3. I believe we must go to this chapter and the one preceding to really get a handle on what’s wrong.

The story in Genesis 3 begins in a garden, an apparently perfect garden. Genesis 1:31, says that all that God had made “was very good.” In this garden God placed the man that He had created (Genesis 2:7, 8), also apparently perfect and then created a woman as “a helper suitable to” him, also apparently perfect. (See A SUITABLE HELPER) They were God-like beings, created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26, 27).

So the stage is set: a perfect couple in a perfect location, all the food you want to eat; a cushy job. Naked with no shame. It just doesn’t get any better than this. Problem: there’s one prohibition. They were not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17), or penalty of death.

So what happened? The serpent tempts the woman. (We’re told elsewhere that this serpent is none other than Satan himself, a fallen being: Revelation 12:9). The woman takes the fruit of the forbidden tree, hands it to her man (who the Hebrew text says was “with her”), he eats it, and suddenly everything goes wrong.

Now I don’t believe this was some sort of magic tree. They gained knowledge of good and evil by disobeying. It was simply a test case. God had put them in a perfect environment. God apparently wanted the willing obedience of the man and woman. He gave them the freedom of choice to obey or disobey. And they disobeyed.

We see the results of the fall immediately: Guilt – a broken relationship with God and with each other; shame; attempts to cover the shame (See LIES WE (CHRISTIANS) BELIEVE ABOUT OURSELVES); and excuses.

Paul tells us in Romans 5:12, that through this act, sin (guilt) and death entered the human race. So when we look at man today we see, as Pascal did “that man’s condition is dual.” We see great acts of love, courage and heroism. We see horrible acts of hatred, cowardice and murder. Sometimes by the same person.

And we waste a lot of time and energy trying to shift the blame, just like the first man and the first woman. “The woman YOU gave to be with me – she gave it to me and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). “The serpent deceived me and I ate” (Genesis 3:13). We make ourselves loin coverings of leaves to hide our nakedness (Genesis 3:17) and never do take the blame or responsibility. Sound familiar? Turn on your news broadcasts and/or talk radio and you’ll hear more of the same.

But the beautiful thing is that God Himself takes care of our guilt and our shame. In the Genesis’ story we read that “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and covered them.” And He’s done the same for us and our guilt and shame. “He made Him who knew no sin (Christ) to be sin (a sin offering) on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Bill Ball

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


People have often asked me why I never went on in my education to get a Ph.D. I suppose I have many reasons: I’m lazy. When I had the money I didn’t have the time and when I’ve had the time I didn’t have enough money. My wife says she wouldn’t support me through one more year of education. I’m not smart enough. I’m smart enough already.

All of these excuses have some element of truth in them I suppose, but there’s also another reason – I just don’t like titles. I know that a doctorate is (usually) an earned degree. I also know that my credentials as an educator will always be a bit suspect without a Doctor’s degree. I also know a few doctors who love that title.

Many of my friends and colleagues have D.Mins. Somehow I have a hard time calling them by their titles. I usually don’t. In the book No God but God, David Wells has a chapter entitled “The D-Min-ization of the Ministry,” in which he bewails the professionalization of the ministry. He calls these degrees “minimalist.” He claims that they give a show of advancement, in a world where image matters as much as reality. I think he’s probably going too far.

I just don’t like titles. I’m haunted by Jesus’ words in Matthew 23. He tears into the scribes and Pharisees in this chapter. In verse 5, He says “… they do all their deeds to be noticed by men” and goes on to condemn their love of external show in the way they dress and where they sit. In verse 7, He says that they love “ … respectful greetings in the market places, and being called by men, ‘Rabbi.’”

Then in verses 8-10, He tells His disciples “But do not be called Rabbi, for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father, for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.” Pretty strong!

Look at Luke 22:25, 26: … “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.” I’ve very seldom been called by any of these titles, so I guess I’m doing okay, right? And if I don’t get a doctor’s degree people won’t call me that anyway.

But I call my physician “Doctor Stigall” (though usually I just call him Brian) and my pastor “Pastor Phil” (though usually it’s just Phil; he doesn’t like “Doctor Phil” for some reason). Many of my students call me “Professor Ball” or “Prof Ball” (even though my official title was Assistant Professor. You need a Doctorate to be a full professor. I’ve never been too concerned about that.

I think the difference is that these are “professional” titles. They describe us by what we do, not what we are. But see what Paul says of his title in 1 Corinthians 15:9. He says he is “not worthy to be called an apostle.”

A lot of people in the ministry use “Reverend” as a title. I hate that title. I don’t use it on myself and won’t use it on others, even if they expect me to. Many of my students are called by this title, but I usually call them either by their first names, or Mr. or Mrs. or Ms something or other. Sometimes even brother or sister so and so.

I don’t know how this title, Reverend” began to be used of people. It’s not found in any modern translation of the Bible. It is found once in the King James Bible. Psalm 111:9: “Holy and Reverend is His Name.” The Hebrew word is NORAH. It’s a passive participle form of the verb for fear, and means something like “to be feared.” “Awesome” is a good modern translation. God’s Name is awesome, I’m not (even though I’ve been called that by a few overenthusiastic students)!

Now I’m not trying to sound humble. It’s just that Jesus has warned us of assuming too much honor for ourselves. I actually get very nervous when people flatter me, because I enjoy it. And I know that I should beware “when all men speak well of (me)” (Luke 6:26) He deserves all the glory!!!

Bill Ball

Friday, April 6, 2007


I believe that, while “Christian America” is a myth, we who are Christians can and should be thankful that we live here. One of the main reasons for giving thanks is that America is not a Christian nation. Nor is it a Moslem nation nor a Buddhist nation. It is, however, a religious nation.

One of our greatest blessings is the first amendment to our constitution:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for the redress of grievances.”

Though this amendment has been the cause of much controversy, and has been interpreted, misinterpreted and reinterpreted by our courts and others, it still stands as a great guarantee of freedom for the Christian.

A good number of the nations of the world have some sort of established religion. And where religion is written in the constitution of a country, persecution of dissenters is inevitable.

In nations where Islam is the official or dominant religion, Christians suffer discrimination, persecution, torture and even death. But the same is true of Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions. We like to point the finger at Muslims and we often hear claims that violence is endemic to Islam, but militant Hinduism and militant Buddhism are also violent. And in nations where some brand of Christianity is official or dominant, others suffer. A glance at church history, even in this country should make that clear.

Perhaps Lord Acton’s famous saying is true: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” although I believe that power simply brings out the corruption that already lies within us. “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

The Bible makes it clear that human governments are set up by God to maintain justice and peace. “ … For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. … For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. for it is the minister of God for you …” (Romans 13:1, 3, 4). “ …I urge that … prayers, … be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1, 2). One of the tools for this is the use of force – violence, if necessary. ‘… does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is the minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” (Romans 13:4).

But this is not the way for those of the church. The way of those who belong to Christ is of a different order altogether. “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors,’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant” (Luke 22:25, 26). The two realms are, in a sense, incompatible.

Those who framed our Bill of Rights seem to have understood this, whether from their own observations or God-given wisdom. And I believe this is what makes America great!

We in this nation enjoy this freedom. Yes, there are many instances where Christians are discriminated against, mocked and even persecuted, but these are relatively minor in comparison with what our brothers and sisters are enduring in other nations, whether religious or secular. And they are usually not government instigated.

So where am I going with this? I think we ought to get over it, to stop wringing our hands and crying “ain’t it awful” whenever we don’t get our own way, and take advantage of the liberties we have.

We’re told we can’t pray at football games or in school – but we’re not forbidden to pray.

A judge is fired for refusing to remove the Ten Commandments from a public building – but nobody told him he couldn’t try to practice them.

Our children are taught secular theories of origins in the public schools – but we’re not told we have to believe them or that we can’t teach the biblical accounts at home.

Our task is not to “return America to God.” Our task is to live for Jesus Christ within this nation and to point Americans (and others) to their need for Jesus Christ.

And we need to pray for the leaders of this nation. And we need to thank God for America.

Bill Ball