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).

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    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 '14 at 23:32

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.

  • "...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. – Dɑvïd Jul 26 '14 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 '14 at 23:19
  • It is plural, not dual. – fdb Jul 26 '14 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 '14 at 23:32
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    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 '14 at 11:46

The King James Bible, the Douay-Rheims Bible, the Webster Bible, and other rigidly translated versions translated the word, shamayim in both Genesis 1:1 and in Genesis 1:5 as "the heaven". However, after the waters were divided and made into the earthy world, the heavenly worlds, and other visible matter bodies, Those lights were called the heavens (plural). In Genesis 1:1 the Hebrew text shows that the definite direct object flag (‘eth) is placed before the noun shamayim (heavens) and (ve’et or, and ‘eth) is placed before the noun ‘erets (earth) to flag or mark shamayim and ‘erets as being ‘joint’ definite direct objects of the verb, bara (created). God's Day-One Creation "the heaven and the earth" is a dual phrase, i.e. it means a "single" group of "two watery identities," more particularly described in verse two as "the waters". On day-one, before the waters were divided, the creation was not a pair, but rather, the heaven and the earth was a dual--a single gaseous-like body of waters--undivided--without form and void (having neither shape nor volume). Likewise, "mayim" (the waters of verse two) is also a very special Hebrew dual (Kee, A study on the dual form of mayim' waters--that very heaven-and-earth pair described as a single entity.


God’s Day-One Creation A type of the Word of God. CircumspectNews.com. from http://circumspectnews.com/?page_id=2364

All things visible were made from those invisible gaseous waters and were each classified as being either, heavenly or earthly bodies--one of the two. That single body of invisible waters is a type of the previously invisible WORD of God that was made visible flesh at a certain point in time under the firmament and named, Jesus, the Christ (Heb. 11:1-3 and Romans 1:20)

  • You’re mixed modern secular cosmology with the historical understanding of cosmology and that’s not good hermeneutics. – Nihil Sine Deo Dec 15 '19 at 20:01

No. The Hebrew is Ha'shamayim. It means above the water, singular. The reason it appears to be plural is because of an often misunderstanding of the Hebrew language. In this instance, the sentence is a singular construct, meaning it is a singular heaven. Nouns are only plural in Hebrew when the sentence construct is plural. In this way we better understand what the author is attempting to describe.

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    The Hebrew word is plural and is treated as such in verbs and adjectives that agree with it – b a Dec 31 '18 at 0:17

Morphologically, 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.

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    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 '14 at 8:56
  • fdb "only used for natural pairs"? The link that you have provided stated "almost exclusively" for not natural pairs which means that are few exceptions. Please do a double check. Thanks! Waters and heavens are the two words that the number of them are debatable without the Masoretic symbols, since dual and plural for masculine noun have the same suffix. Perhaps the context, even the New Testament as the context, of the third heaven mentioned by Paul helps to decide if heavens in Genesis 1:1 was dual or plural? Since the sky was created on the second day, dual in Genesis 1:1 (2+1=3). Thx – Chin-Lee Chan Nov 27 '20 at 11:56

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