Troublesome Topic: The “Mansions” of John 14:1

Many of us memorized John 14:1 in the King James Version, “In my Father’s house are many mansions,” and there are many songs that have picked up on that terminology. The word “mansion” is also a word picture in English, one which has a very powerful impact on us, but unfortunately it conveys the wrong idea. The Greek word means “abode, or dwelling.” Since it states that this dwelling is “In my Father’s house,” it is most likely referring to the ancient practice of a son building an apartment as an add-on to his father’s house. The term “mansion” gives a very different idea to us today; it causes us to picture an opulent, extravagant, and luxurious structure that stands alone (not a smaller structure attached to a larger building).

Why does the King James Version translate the word as “mansion?” There is a very good reason. In the days of King James the English word “mansion” meant “house, dwelling, abode, stopping point on a journey.” The picture for people of that day was a house big enough to host guests who might come along. It wasn’t luxurious, and it did not have to be huge, but it was more than a shack. So the King James Version translates the word correctly; the problem is that the English language has changed since King James’s time. We should not use the word “mansion” when we read Jn. 14:1 because in today’s understanding of English it conveys a totally incorrect idea.

I believe Jesus was trying to communicate the concept of togetherness, nearness. He was not promising luxury, independence, and room service. He was saying God will have space for us and we will all be together and we will be close to God. When we get to heaven we will not each hang out in our own “mansions,” doing our own thing, while enjoying the creature comforts we only wish we had here on earth, rather we will hang out with God! How cool is that?

I fear that the use of “mansions” has contributed to an idea of heaven that is both wrong and self-centered. We picture heaven as being characterized by the luxuries we desire here on earth, rather than being characterized by purity and nearness to God. By failing to understand that the word “dwellings” points to nearness, we have created an idea of heaven that is totally centered around us and what we desire, instead of being centered around God, the One who deserves all our attention.

The next lesson is: The Right Kind of Grief