In recent years books such as 90 Minutes in Heaven (Don Piper, 2004), 23 Minutes in Hell (Bill Wiese, 2006), and Heaven is for Real (Todd Burpo, 2010) have become highly popular, selling millions of copies of books through offering readers extended accounts of time in heaven or hell in an out-of-body experience. Are these kinds of books biblically accurate?
Is 90 Minutes in Heaven biblically based? Is Heaven is for Real biblically accurate? What about 23 Minutes in Hell?
First, it must be noted that these books are experience-based. In other words, there is no physical or human way to prove whether the person did or did not have the experience.
Second, a look at the Bible offers no examples of a person dying and then returning with lengthy stories of an afterlife experience. Jesus raised three people from the dead during His earthly ministry, several were raised at the time of His death (Matthew 27:50-53), and the apostles sometimes raised the dead to life. However, in each case no account is given of the testimonies of heaven or hell for those raised. This also neither proves nor disproves today's modern afterlife accounts.
Third, the two visions of heaven given in the New Testament are those of the apostles Paul and John. Paul experienced a vision of the "third heaven" or the heaven where God dwells that is recorded in 2 Corinthians 12. He claimed he did not know if it was a vision or really happened. If he did not know, how could those who have similar experiences today (if real) know for certain?
In Revelation, the apostle John experiences a vision of the future, including experiences in the heavenly realms. He, likewise, recorded his experiences as God commanded, yet did so with great reverence and respect. Both Paul and John saw things they were not allowed to tell (2 Corinthians 12:4; Revelation 10). Further, John ended his account with God's warning not to add to or take away from the words, stating, "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book" (Revelation 22:18-19).
Taken together, the above biblical passages indicate that a believer could possibly have a "vision" of heaven and that God can even raise a person from the dead. However, these two events are not recorded in the Bible as taking place at the same time in the same person. No such accounts are given of a person visiting hell and returning to life, though John gives descriptions of future judgment in his vision in Revelation.
Believers should view today's afterlife accounts, therefore, with great caution. While it is possible God gives someone a vision of heaven, there are no accounts of a person literally going to heaven and returning (except Jesus, of course). Further, those who had these visions in the New Testament were very careful to give God glory and to use the event to encourage believers. Third, in all cases, today's claims of afterlife stories have no way to be verified and at most "maybe" happened. Therefore, any such accounts must be carefully evaluated and seen at most as only a possible vision rather than a true visit to heaven. As 1 Thessalonians 5:21 warns, "test everything; hold fast what is good."
Does the Bible tell us what Heaven is like?
Does the Bible say anything about near-death experiences?
Is our time of death appointed?
What happens after death?
Will everyone go to heaven? Who will go to heaven?
Truth about Eternity