Why is the sky referred to as “heavens” in Genesis 1:6-8?



I am currently bust with a Bible study of Genesis and I am confused about something. In Genesis God said: "Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth". If the first heaven is the atmosphere i.e the sky. Then why does God mention heaven as it was already created before actually creating the space "sky"?

Also, why does God say "heavens" instead of "heaven" If the first heaven is the atmosphere then only the first heaven needs to be mentioned and the other heavens are irrelevant? And if God is talking about more than one heaven then which heavens? As the outer space heaven is only created on the fourth day.

I hope you understand my questions.

Thank you in advance.


"Then God said, "Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day" (Genesis 1:6-8).

The translation you are using is not literal and so it is confusing you a bit.

"Expanse" translates the Hebrew word raqia, which means to spread out or to hammer out. "Waters" translates the Hebrew word mayim, which means the various bodies and forms of water. "Heavens" is the Hebrew word shamayim. The "im" ending is like adding "s" onto the end of a noun in English. It means the word is plural.

However, some words are always plural even if only one is being referred to. In English, we call these "plural nouns," such as herd or flock. The words are singular but we know there is more than one animal in a herd or bird in a flock. In Hebrew, there are some words that are always used in the plural but in English, they may be plural or singular. An example of this is the word elohim, which means "God" in English -- a singular, but it is plural in Hebrew. Shamayim is similar. It is always used as a plural in Hebrew but it means "heaven" or "heavens" in English, depending on the context. I suspect from the Hebrew point of view space goes out in multiple directions, so it should always be plural. But in English, we see space as a contained volume, so it can be one or many.

What we have on the second day is God separating the waters on the earth from the water in the sky (the clouds). In other words, the Hebrews understood that clouds were suspended water. The region in between was a heaven, which in English we would say "sky."

The Bible uses "heavens" to refer to three different expanses:

  1. It can refer to the region where birds fly, which we call the sky or the atmosphere (I Kings 21:24).
  2. It can refer to the region occupied by the planets and stars, which we call outer space (Isaiah 13:10).
  3. And it can refer to the region where God dwells and has His throne (Hebrews 9:24).

That is why you find Paul mentioning a man caught up to the third heaven (II Corinthians 12:2), he is referring to going to where God dwells.

In other words, a lot of the difficulties come from the different ways Hebrew speakers and English speakers discuss space or regions. But your translation also caused problems by trying to translate "waters" as "heavens" also.

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