In both the Jewish and Christian scriptures, we find the entire realm of creation divided into just three descriptions, the heavens (or sky), the earth (the land or ground), and the seas (or the waters) and rivers.
In contemporary English, we understand that there is a difference between the words heaven and sky, and the words earth and land (or ground). However, in both the Hebrew and Greek Bible texts, these fine distinctions that we accept because of our modern technology can’t be found.
So, Genesis 1:1 can be literally and very accurately translated as saying:
‘In the beginning, The God created the sky and the land.’
For this is what the words found there really mean, since it was the first man’s view of creation from the place where he was standing.
There was just the land beneath him and the sky above him.
At the time, men had no understanding of the earth as a planet or of a cosmos of stars, because they had never seen the earth as a globe floating in space, as most of us have done today.
Nor did they have any idea what the stars and planets were, as we now do.
So, they had just one word to describe the earth, land, or ground, and just one word to describe the skies or the heavens (the realm of God).
Therefore, to clarify what is actually meant in each instance where these single words are found, translators have used many English words to translate them. And as you will see, something as simple as selecting the wrong synonym can give us quite a different view of the meanings of some very common Bible verses.
Realize that the Greek word ourano can be correctly translated as heaven, heavens, sky, and skies, depending on the context and tense. But if the translator chooses the wrong English word to translate it in a particular instance, most people will reach a wrong conclusion because of the nuance that the particular English word implies.
You might notice, for example, the account of where the Prophet EliJah was snatched away in a celestial chariot (at 2 Kings 2:11). If you ask most people where they think he was taken, they’ll say (as their Bibles put it), ‘into heaven, where he went to live with God.’ However, this isn’t true, because the Bible tells us that King JehoRam later received a letter from Elijah (see 2 Chronicles 21:12).
Therefore, we must assume that God had used the celestial chariot to take him into ‘the sky’ (the proper translation here), where he was then sent to another place here on the earth. (For more information as to why he couldn’t have gone into the presence of God, see the linked document, ‘The Hereafter.’)
So, where is heaven?
Understand that the Bible word that is translated as ‘heaven’ (ourano) means any place that is above the ground of planet earth; So in any given instance, ourano can be speaking of the atmosphere around us, or of open space, or of another planet or galaxy, or possibly even of someplace outside of the space-time continuum, as we understand it. Therefore, we really have no idea of where God meets with His spirit sons (as mentioned in Job) or what that place really looks like…
And that we have no concept of what ‘being taken to heaven’ really means!
Likewise, the Greek words ge, ges, and gen can be translated as earth, earths, ground, grounds, land, or lands, depending on the context and tense. And notice how a wrong choice of English words affects how we view what Jesus said at Matthew 5:5, for example.
This verse reads in Greek:
‘Makarioi oi praeis hoti outoi kleronomesousin ten gen,’
‘Blest the meek, for they will/inherit the (earth, ground, or land).’
Some Bibles translate Jesus as saying, ‘The meek will inherit the earth.’
However, other Bibles quote him as saying, ‘The meek will inherit the land.’
So, do you see the difference that the nuances (‘earth’ or ‘land’) make here?
Yet, understand that both word choices are equally correct, since they are both translated from the same Greek word, and your understanding of the meaning depends on what you prefer to believe.
For a good example of the problems that are created by the wrong use of the words ge, ges, and gen, see the linked document, ‘Isaiah 24 – Is It Speaking of Armageddon?’
You might also consider the symbolic words found at 2 Peter 3:5, 6, which we have translated as saying:
‘The thing that they don’t want to understand is this:
That the ancient sky and land were out of the water, but (in obedience to God’s instructions) they stood together between the waters.’
Shouldn’t this verse read ‘heavens and earth,’ as the words are translated in other Bibles?
No, for notice that Peter was talking about the things that had happened to the earth in the time of Noah, and he was explaining where all the water came from. He was saying that the earth’s ancient atmosphere and the surface of the land below it was once located ‘between the waters’… That is, there was water under the ground that arose at that time, and there was also water high in the sky that fell to the earth.
So he was saying that the water came from both above and below.
Obviously, he wasn’t saying that the water came from the heavenly presence of God;
He was saying that it came from somewhere in or above earth’s atmosphere, and from under the ground!
Also, what did John see that he described at Revelation 21:1?
Did he see ‘a new heavens and new earth,’ or a ‘new sky and new land,’ as we have quoted him as saying?
Well, he actually saw something disappear, and then something new came into existence.
So, do you think that he saw the realm of God (or the entire universe) and the globe of the earth (of which he had no concept) go away and then something new coming to take their place?
Rather, it just makes good sense that what he saw was the land beneath him and the sky above him disappear.
And then they were replaced by a new land and a new sky.
So, ‘land and sky’ is the better translation in this case.
The Bible text and translator notes are public domain. Everything else is either copyright to their respected owners (all rights reserved), or available under a Creative Commons license. Our Bible text, translator notes, and commentaries use CamelCase for Biblical names. Our official websites are 2001.bible, 2001translation.org, and 2001translation.com.