And no man hath ascended up to heaven

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Adventists and others often use the following verse to show that Catholics are wrong in saying that the souls of the dead can go to heaven immediately after death:

(Joh 3:13 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.

From this verse, they conclude that, because the souls of those who died before Jesus rose from the dead had not gone to heaven, souls must be unconscious after death.

However, this argument would not convince many Catholics.  If heaven is where we are to end up, and where the souls of the saved dead go after death, then the interpretation of Adventism, viz. that prior to the time of Christ, souls did not enter that place, then Catholics have no problem with that part of the Adventist claim.

The Catholic scenario, as I see it:

The souls of the dead went to sheol, the place of the dead, also called the Limbo of the Fathers in Catholic texts.  Jesus came as man, and, after preaching to the spirits in prison (sheol) and rising from the dead, heaven was opened, man was reunited with God, and souls could enter heaven.

From the Catholic Encylopedia:

In the New Testament, Christ refers by various names and figures to the place or state which Catholic tradition has agreed to call the limbus patrum. In Matt. 8:11, it is spoken of under the figure of a banquet “with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of Heaven” (cf. Luke 8:29; 14:15), and in Matt. 25:10 under the figure of a marriage feast to which the prudent virgins are admitted, while in the parable of Lazarus and Dives it is called “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22) and in Christ’s words to the penitent thief on Calvary the name paradise is used (Luke 23:43). St. Paul teaches (Eph. 4:9) that before ascending into Heaven Christ “also descended first into the lower parts of the earth,” and St. Peter still more explicitly teaches that “being put to death indeed, in the flesh, but enlivened in the spirit,” Christ went and “preached to those souls that were in prison, which had been some time incredulous, when they waited for the patience of God in the days of Noah” (I Pet 3:18-20).

From Karl Keating’s Catholic Answers site, in the article on Purgatory:

“[the Bible] speaks plainly of a third condition, commonly called the limbo of the Fathers, where the just who had died before the redemption were waiting for heaven to be opened to them.

So Catholics are not ignoring this text; rather, we have accepted it for 2000 years – this view already existed in Judaism at the time of Christ.

For another discussion on this subject, see Jimmy Akin’s blog – “No One Has Ascended To Heaven”, where different possible explanations are given.  See also his “Jesus’ Descent Into Hell”.

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