Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

The ESV translation uses the terms "Heaven" and "the heavens" in verses 8 and 9 of Genesis 1 in a way I find confusing:

8And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

9And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. ESV

Does the Hebrew indicate a plural in verse 9 and singular in verse 8, or is it more consistent with the singular used in both cases by the NET translation ("sky" and "the sky" respectively).

share|improve this question
    
Your question got me thinking about how the Hebrews believed in three heavens: the sky or firmament; the realm of the sun, moon, and stars (i.e., outer space); and the abode of God (the highest heaven). A good follow-up to your question might be, "In his teaching did Jesus also assume there are three heavens? If so, which is which?" References include Mt.5:18, Mt. 24:35 Mk 13:31, Lk 16:17, and Lk 21:33 (all of which contrast the permanence of God's word with the relative transience of heaven and earth); Mt 6:19, 11:25, 16:19, 18:18, 23:9, 24:30, and 28:18; Mk 13:27; Lk 10:21; and Jn 3:31. –  rhetorician Jul 26 at 23:32

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The word שָׁמָיִם is always plural in Hebrew; there is no singular. (We call this a plurale tantum). Gen. 1:8 has שָׁמָיִם without the article and the next verse has the same word with the definite article. You can translate it literally as “heavens”, or you can paraphrase it with the English singular “heaven”. But to translate it as “heaven” in one verse and “heavens” in the next verse is not a good idea.

share|improve this answer
    
"...not a good idea" - indeed. Although, @JackDouglas, to be fair, the 1901 ASV, the 1952 RSV, and the 1973 NASB (although not the KJV or the 1885 English Revised Version) all had the idea before the ESV, which seems to have inherited it. Perhaps the earlier translators recoiled from having "under the heaven" (sounds a bit stark?) in keeping with the KJV, and opted for the plural and retaining the article rather than adopting the NJB tactic of saying, simply, "under heaven". FWIW. –  Davïd Jul 26 at 14:06
    
Any comment fdb or @David about why it appears to be dual rather than plural in form? FYI Jack Douglas - HALOT says "plural of spatial extension" which seems helpful to me. The word for "water" does something similar. –  Susan Jul 26 at 23:19
    
It is plural, not dual. –  fdb Jul 26 at 23:23
    
Right, I wasn't meaning to argue with that point, just noting that it's a plural that looks an awfully lot like a dual. Maybe that's "just how it is." –  Susan Jul 26 at 23:32
1  
Found it in Waltke (p. 118): "For complex historical reasons, a few nouns have dual morphology but behave in no way as duals. The two most common are plurals: מים and שמים..." Good enough for me! –  Susan Jul 27 at 11:46

Morfologically, shamayim is not plural, but dual, i.e. it means a group of two (two heavens). However, it is usually understood as singular (either heaven or heavens in English) with no real indication of dual or plural in the meaning.

share|improve this answer
1  
That is wrong. The ending for the plural is –īm, and that for the dual is –ayīm. šāmayīm is the plural of an unattested *šāmay; the –ay- is part of the stem (as in Akkadian šamû or Arabic samāʼ) and is not part of the dual ending. In Hebrew the dual is in fact only used for natural pairs. You can read about this is any Hebrew grammar, e.g. en.wikisource.org/wiki/Gesenius%27_Hebrew_Grammar/… –  fdb Jul 27 at 8:56

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.