ESV Matthew 18:19 "Again I say to you, if two of you may agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven".

The Greek ouranois is plural. 26 of 29 versions on Bible Hub put "heaven". Bereans Literal Bible, Darby Bible Translation and Young's Literal Translation all put "heavens".

YLT: ""Again, I say to you, that, if two of you may agree on the earth concerning anything, whatever they ask-it shall be done to them from my Father who is in the heavens".

My comment: If in the first heaven [e.g. Gen 8:2] and second heaven [e.g. Isaiah 13:10] we see God at work, as well as what was experienced in the third heaven [2 Cor 12:2], then surely we can be encouraged to believe God can answer our prayers on the earth.

Are the ESV, and others, deviating from the original with consequences?

What translation issues might be at work here?

[Edit: 2 Corinthians 12:2 "caught up to the third heaven" implies New Testament awareness of 1st and 2nd heavens.Also O.T.;1 Kings 8:27 "heaven and the highest heaven" more than one.]


1 Answer 1


I would say in this case, the plural form is just a Hebraicism and has no theological significance.

The Hebrew word for heaven is "shamayim" which has the ending of a dual form, related to "mayim" or "waters". This is a very old morphological form and does not mean that there are two of them anymore than there are two "waters".

Indeed the heavens above are separated from the waters below as described in Gen 1.1, reflecting the commonly held ancient near east view of the earth as being a square with water above and below.

All 99 places where "heaven(s)" appears in the Old Testament are always "shamayim" in Hebrew and are always the plural (dual) form. How they are translated depends on whatever sounds better to the reader's ear. There is no mention of a "first" or "second" heaven in the Old Testament.

By the way, you see the same issue with "mayim" or "waters" which are sometimes translated in singular or plural but are always the plural (dual) form in Hebrew. See, for example Is. 3.1 and Is. 1.22 where the same surface text Hebrew is translated differently based on whatever reads better in the view of the translator. We shouldn't develop a theology of the "first" and "second" water based on the fact that mayim is sometimes translated as singular and sometimes as plural.

The idea of different heavens dates to the apocalyptic literature starting in the late intertestamental period on, such as 2 Enoch. Here is the NICNT:

There is some debate as to the number of heavens currently believed in; some sources suggest five, others ten, though seven heavens are referred to in both Jewish and later Christian writings (Apoc. Moses 35:2; 2 Enoch 3–20; Ascension of Isaiah 3:11; Apoc. Paul 29. See further C. Rowland, Open Heaven, 381). For two reasons, however, Paul is thinking here of the highest heaven: (1) the preposition ἕως implies “up to,” “the ultimate,” and (2) the supernal connotations of “Paradise” (v. 4), which is a synonym for “third heaven.”

Barnett, P. (1997). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

This is also the period in which angels were named and elaborated upon (e.g. "Metatron") and there was a lot of interest in metaphysics, but influenced by Hellenism, there was a new desire to categorize and describe the structure of the spiritual realm, how it operated, who ran it, the various orders and ranks of spiritual beings, etc -- in a way very foreign to the Old Testament.

So definitely by the time of the New Testament, there was a popular acceptance of more than a single heaven, but seeing as how the Hebrew word was always plural (technically, dual), unless you see "first" or "second" in front of "heaven(s)", relying on the plural form to infer that it is a "first" or "second" heaven is unsound, especially when reading Greek accounts written by Jews of discussions that happened in Hebrew/Aramaic - and this explains why translations often ignore the singular or plural form and choose to use "heavens" as a synonym for "heaven" based on whichever sounds better to the reader's ear.

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