Originally a Persian word meaning “park” or “enclosure,” paradise first appears in the Septuagint with reference to the garden of Eden (Gen. 2) and became associated with a pristine state of perfection free of suffering. In apocalyptic literature the loss of this original paradise represented the loss of the presence of God in human experience, and therefore redemption was imagined as the recovery of paradise whether it was on earth or in heaven. At the end of the world the righteous would be rewarded by a return to paradise.

Although paradise was initially an earthly garden, New Testament writers lifted it above the evils of this world. Paul says that his visionary flight to the “third heaven” carried him into paradise (2 Cor. 12.1–4), and according to Luke 23.43 Jesus tells the penitent thief that at the moment of death they will be together in paradise. Yet Jesus also is reported to have said that the eschatological paradise described by Isaiah (35.5) was manifested in his ministry (Matt. 11.5) and that the qualities of Eden were revealed in his person (John 4.10–14). Clearly, early Christian writers believed that the traditions of paradise were fulfilled in Jesus and his ministry.

Gregory Shaw