Was Elijah taken to Heaven in a chariot of fire or in a whirlwind?

Question from a reader:

On page 359 of your Heaven book, you mention speaking with the saints of old: “I would like to ask Elijah about being taken away in the chariot.” Elijah and Elisha were separated by a chariot of fire, but both NIV and KJV say in II Kings 2:11 that Elijah “went up to Heaven in a whirlwind.”  

Answer from EPM staff:

The ESV Study Bible is helpful here:

In biblical tradition, both chariotry and fire have strong associations with God’s self-disclosure. Both images come together in the most common natural form of divine appearing (Theophany) in the Old Testament: the Thunderstorm—the storm cloud representing the divine chariot or throne (Ezekiel 1; Hab. 3:8) and the fiery lightning bolts representing the divine weapons (Ps. 18:14; Hab. 3:11). In response to this particular theophany, Elisha took hold of his clothes and tore them in two pieces. This is perhaps part of a mourning ritual, but it also suggestive of leaving his old life behind, as he picks up instead the cloak of Elijah to symbolize Elisha’s prophetic call.

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