To be honest, this word study is taking me a lot longer than I expected! If I waited until I finished looking up all the verses and came up with an organized way of answering all my research questions, I wouldn’t write anything for a couple more weeks.
So here’s a bit about what I’ve found so far.
I was a little surprised to find that the word “heaven” appears 691 times in the King James Version (and 692 in the ESV); I knew this would be a big study, but I didn’t expect so many verses. For this part of the word study I’m primarily using the KJV, so I can use the Strong’s concordance.
As I began researching, I expected to find several words translated as heaven that don’t mean “the place where God dwells,” but mean something like “air” or “atmostphere,” and I was correct.
The following Hebrew words are translated as “heaven” in the KJV
- galgal (translated as “wheel” [8x], “heaven” [1x], “rolling thing” [1x], “whirlwind” [1x]),
- shachaq (translated as “cloud” [11x], “sky” [7x], “heaven” [2x], small dust” [1x])
- shamayim (translated as “heaven” [398x], “air” [21x])
The Aramaic word shamayin is used in Ezra and Daniel and is translated as “heaven” 38x.
The following Greek words are used throughout the New Testament:
- basileia (translated as “kingdom of God” [71x], “kingdom of heaven” [32x], “kingdom” [20x], “Thy/Thine kingdom” [6x], “His kingdom” [6x], “the kingdom” [5x], “My kingdom” [4x])
- epouranios (translated as “heavenly” [16x], “celestial” [2x], “in heaven” [1x], “high” [1x])
- mesouranema (translated as “midst of heaven” [3x])
- ouranothen (translated as “from heaven” [2x])
- ouranos (translated as “heaven” [268x], “air” [10x], “sky” [5x])
So, now I’m looking through the 398 occurrences of the word heaven in the OT and the 268 occurrences in the NT. Actually, I’ve only made it through Job so far . . .
I promise a more interesting post later!
As I mentioned in my first post about heaven, there are many differing views of heaven. Every organized religious group has a different concept of heaven, and it seems like every teacher or writer within those groups has a different view. I think this is because we have relatively little information about the afterlife in general and heaven in particular. We have to interpret Jesus’s teachings and the writings of those few people who have gone to heaven and returned (the Apostles John and Paul, for example).
All that to state a couple of basic assumptions as I study this topic. First, I don’t think that my study/conclusions will be the final word on the topic. I’ll be adding my ideas to the many others already published. Even within historic, orthodox Christianity there are different views about heaven. Second, I believe the Bible is the inspired, infallible word of God and I plan to base my study on the word of God. However, I’ll also look at historic confessions of faith, sermons, books, songs, and poetry for added insight.
Here are some of the questions I have as I begin this study:
- How is heaven described in the Bible?
- What was the Old Testament view of heaven?
- Did the Old Testament concept of heaven change with added Scripture?
- How did (or did) the view of heaven change in the New Testament?
- What were Jesus Christ’s teachings about heaven?
- What were the Apostles’ teachings about heaven?
- Is it right to present heaven as the final goal of salvation?
- Similarly, is it right to ask “If you died today, do you know for sure you would go to heaven?” [Author’s note: My WordPress editor tells me that the phrase “know for sure” is redundant. I know that, but I consistently hear people phrase the question that way. Just last night I heard a preacher ask this question, so I deliberately wrote it that way.]
- Will we have bodies in heaven?
- Is there an intermediate state between life on earth and eternal life in heaven?
- How does my view of heaven affect my everyday life?
- On what basis do I accept or deny someone’s teaching about heaven?
What are some questions you have about heaven?
I’ve thought a lot about heaven lately, partly because of our book club’s study of The Five People You Meet in Heaven and partly because Dr. Watson, the Minister of Education I worked under for 6 years in Guam, entered into eternity last week. Whenever someone I know passes away, heaven seems much more real.
I decided to do some more research about what the Bible says about heaven. Recently, some long-accepted beliefs of mine have been challenged and sometimes I found that I was holding to ideas that were not in Scripture, so I wanted to investigate what the Bible has to say about heaven and try to look at the Scriptures with a fresh perspective.
Now, when people talk about heaven, they’re not always referring to the same thing. They may use the same term, but they explain it in different ways. A quick Google search shows that
- Ancient Egyptians believed “departed souls would undergo a literal journey to reach Heaven, along the way to which there could exist hazards and other entities attempting to deny the reaching of Heaven. Their heart would finally be weighed with the feather of truth, and if the sins weighed it down their heart was devoured.”
- Maria Shriver believes heaven is “a beautiful place where you can sit on soft clouds and talk… If you’re good throughout your life, then you get to go [there]… When your life is finished here on earth, God sends angels down to take you heaven to be with him.”
- Notre Dame’s Jesuit Biblical Scholar John McKenzie says, “The traditional views of heaven and hell are about 95% mythology.”
- Barbara Walters says, “Heaven is a place where you are happy.”
- According to researchers at Baylor University, “U.S. adults [were polled] about who (and how many) will get into heaven, 54% of respondents said at least half of average Americans will make it through the Pearly Gates.”
- “Everyone is going to hell according to someone’s religion.”
I clicked on six links and found six different views. I suspect I could keep clicking on links and only find differing perspectives.
I thought this video segment was really interesting. Stephen Colbert interviews Lisa Miller, Newsweek’s religion editor and author of Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife. They discuss the many views of heaven and which ones they think are the best. I think it’s interesting that Lisa credits Dante with the best heaven and says the Jews “invented” heaven.
I couldn’t embed the video, so here is the link: http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/310027/june-02-2010/lisa-miller
Well, this post became a long introduction to the topic of heaven. I plan to write several posts that look at Scripture passages that refer to heaven and to share some quotes, essays, and songs that I’ve read about heaven.
What are some views of heaven you’ve heard others describe? How would you describe heaven?
I enjoyed this humorous and convicting post that reveals the true discontent in our hearts.
Jesus, it seems like You didn’t get the memo by Stephen Altrogge