Use of "Heaven" in the Bible (§ 1).
Heaven the Abode of God (§ 2).
Heaven the Symbol and Source of Salvation (§ 3).
Use of the Plural, "Heavens " (§ 4).
1. Use of “Heaven” in the Bible. The Old Testament has no comprehensive term for the universe, which is designated as heaven and earth; although in the Wisdom of Solomon and II Maccabees it is called "world" (Wisd. of Sol. i. 14, and often; II Macc. vii. 9, 23, and often). This term is employed in the New Testament with the same connotation (John xvii. 5, xxi. 25; Acts xvii. 24; Rom. i. 20; cf. "the foundation of the world," Matt, xiii. 35, xxv. 34; Luke xi. 50; John xvii. 24; Eph. i. 4; Heb. iv. 3, ix. 26; I Pet. i. 20; Rev. xiii. 8). In other passages, however, "world " implies the dwelling-place of mankind as defiled with sin and death, and with Satan for its lord instead of God. The phrase "heaven and earth" is accordingly retained to denote the universe (Matt. v. 18; Mark xiii. 27; Luke xii. 56; Acts iv. 24; James v. 18; cf. Eph. i. 10; Col. i. 16, 20; II Pet. iii. 7, 13; Rev. xxi. 1). In a physical sense heaven denotes the place of the stars and constellations (Gen. i. 14; Jer. xxxiii. 22; Matt. xxiv. 29; Heb. xi. 12; Rev. vi. 13, etc.) and of the clouds (Gen. i. 9; Deut. xxviii. 23; Ps. cxlvii. 8; Matt. xxiv. 30; etc.), and its power and phenomena influence the earth (Job xxxviii. 33; Matt. xvi. 2-3; James v. 18). Beneath the heaven lies the earth (Job ii. 2; Prov. viii. 28), which it encloses so as to form a unity (Eccl. i. 13; Luke xvii. 24; Acts ii. 5; Col. i. 23). The heaven is a "firmament" (Gen. i. 6, 8; Ps. xix. 1), which is supported by the mountains as pillars (Job xxii. 14). With the heaven is conjoined the earth, thus forming the cosmos which will pass away to make place for a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness shall dwell (Ps. cii. 26; Isa. xiii. 13; Joel ii. 30-31; Luke xxi. 33;
II Pet. iii. 7, 10; Rev. vi. 12-14).
2. Heaven the Abode of God. Heaven is, moreover, the throne of God (Ps. ii. 4; Isa. lxvi. 1; Ezek. i. 1; Matt. v. 34; Acts vii. 49; Heb. viii. 1), and in heaven is the divine temple (Isa. vi.; Rev. xi. 19), which is the prototype of the earthly sanctuary (Ex. xxv. 40; Acts vii. 44; Heb. viii. 5). It is the dwelling-place of God (II Chron. xx. 6; Ps. cxv. 3; Eccles. v. 2), who looks from heaven upon the earth (Ps. xiv. 2; Isa. lxiii. 15; Lam. iii. 50), and speaks from thence (Deut. iv. 36; Neh. ix. 13); so that words spoken from heaven are eternal in their validity (Heb. xii. 25), since what comes from heaven comes from God and is binding unconditionally on the earth and on man (Matt. xxi. 25-26; Mark i. 11; Luke iii. 22; John iii. 13). All deeds done on earth, and especially the forgiveness of sins by Christ, bear a distinct relation to heaven or to God (Matt. ix. 6 as compared with xvi. 19), who hears prayer while he is in heaven (I Kings viii. 30 sqq.; II Chron. vi. 25 sqq.; Neh. ix. 27-28; Ps. xxxiii. 13; Luke xi. 13; etc.). When the exaltation and absolute sovereignty of God are to be emphasized, he is termed "the God of heaven" (Gen. xxiv. 7; Neh. i. 4-5; Ps. xcvi. 5), who reveals from heaven his wrath against iniquity (Rom. i. 18; I Thess. iv. 16; II Thess. i. 7-8). Sins which require the vengeance of God cry to heaven (Gen. iv. 10; I Sam. v. 12; Luke xv. 18,21), and, in like manner, he who prays turns toward heaven (Mark vi. 41; John xvii. 1; etc.), since God is exalted above all the earth (Ps. lxviii. 15; Dan. iv. 23) and his will is manifested from heaven (Deut. iv. 36), his holy mandate being absolute (Deut. xxxiii. 26; Ps. lvii. 3; lxxxix. 2). The designation of God as “my father," "your father which is in heaven," and the like in Matthew and Mark (Matt. v. 16, 45, 48; Mark xi. 25; etc.) is intended to inspire confidence in his goodness, especially as he is represented as saying: "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. lv. 9). Hence God is besought to rend the heavens (Isa. lxiv. 1), and a sign from heaven is desired to prove the Messiahship of Jesus (Matt. xvi. 1, cf. xxiv. 30; Luke ix. 54). The ascension of Christ to heaven symbolizes his exaltation to divine honor and glory (Luke xxiv. 51; Acts i. 9-11; cf. John iii. 13; Heb. iv. 14; I Pet. iii. 22), and necessitates unconditional obedience and recognition on the part of man (cf. Acts ii. 34-36 with Eph. i. 20-22; Phil. ii. 9-11).
Yet God is by no means restricted to heaven, and I Kings viii. 27 expressly declares: "The heaven and heaven of heavens can not contain thee." In Christ, therefore, there is access to God through faith (Rom. v. 2; Eph. ii. 18). God is present throughout the world (Ps. cxxxix; Jer. xxiii. 23- 24), but his earthly congregation is in a special sense his "habitation" (Eph. ii. 22) and his temple (I Cor. iii. 6).
3. Heaven the Symbol and Source of Salvation. As contrasted with the earth, heaven represents a higher and eternal order (Matt. vi. 20; Mark x. 21; Luke xii. 33; II Cor. v. 1; Phil. iii. 20; Col. i. 5; Heb. x. 34; I Pet. i. 4). It is, therefore, the place of the prototype of the earthly symbolic ordinances of salvation (Ex. xxv. 40; Acts vii. 44; Heb. viii. 5), and from it come the actual means of salvation (John vi. 51; I Cor. xv. 47 sqq.). It is the abode of the true and eternal means of salvation (Matt. v. 12; Col. i. 5; I Pet. i. 4), as well as of the righteous who have been perfected (Heb. xii. 23; comp. Luke x. 20) and of the angels and "ministering spirits" who are to appear on the earth at its renewal (Mark xii. 25; Luke ii. 15; Rev. xxi. 1 sqq.). It thus becomes evident that the "kingdom of God" is regarded as situated in heaven (Dan. ii. 44; cf. Ps. ciii. 19), so that Matthew terms it the "kingdom of heaven" (Matt. iii. 2). It is present on earth wherever its boons, which are righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost (Rom. xiv. 17), are possessed by man, but it will not be revealed in all its glory until the power of evil is annihilated (Matt. vi. 10, 13). Thus it was heaven to which Christ was exalted together with those who were raised with him (Eph. ii. 6; Col. iii. 1-4), and it is there that they have their citizenship (Phil. iii. 20).
4. Use of the Plural “Heavens”. The Hebrew plural "heavens" is represented in the great majority of instances by the singular in the Septuagint, this number being found also in the Apocrypha, except in the Wisdom of Solomon ix. 10, 16, xviii. 15. In Matthew, Paul, Hebrews, and II Peter the plural is more frequent than the singular; but in Mark the plural is found only in i. 10-11; xi. 25-26; xiii. 25; in Luke only in Acts ii. 34, vii. 56, and probably Luke x. 20, xxi. 26; John avoids the plural altogether in the Gospel and the Epistles, and uses it in the Apocalypse only in xii. 12. There is no distinction in meaning between the singular and plural, except in II Cor. xii. 2, where a "third heaven" is mentioned, this being glossed in xii. 4 as "paradise." This statement evidently rests upon a threefold division of heaven, into the sky, heaven in the religious sense, and the dwelling-place of God. The distinction between the physical heaven and the abode of the blessed is self-evident, and Heb. ix. 11 (R.V.) expressly states that the latter is "not of this creation." It is necessary, moreover, to distinguish between this heaven, where the majesty and goodness of God are manifested, and the absolute divine supremacy, "dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see" (I Tim. vi. 16). In the Epistle to the Hebrews, in like manner, no stress can be laid on the variation between the singular and plural (ix. 24, xi. 12, xii. 26 as contrasted with i. 10, iv. 14, vii. 26, viii. 1, ix. 23, xii. 23, 25), nor does the author distinguish between the "heavens" and "heaven itself" (ix. 24), except in so far as the latter corresponds to the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle (comp. x. 19-23). Jesus is accordingly described as "higher than the heavens" (vii. 26) and as having "passed through the heavens" (iv. 14, R.V.), and thus as being exalted above all who are in heaven or who await admission there (xii. 23), therefore implying a distinction between God and heaven, but not between the "heavens." The parousia will shake heaven and earth, and create a new cosmos, which will be "a kingdom which can not be moved" (xii. 27-28).
The fact that Satan and evil spirits appear in the presence of God in heaven according to I Kings xxii. 19-22; Job i. 6 sqq.; Zech. iii. 1 sqq.; and Rev. xii. 7-8 merely implies that they work only with the permission of God. The statement that the heavens are unclean in the sight of God (Job xv. 15), moreover, must be regarded as a hyperbole of Eliphaz the Temanite to bring Job to a realization of his sinfulness. This can not be paralleled with such passages as Heb. ix. 23, especially as the heavenly world is represented as "true" (Luke xvi. 11; Heb. viii. 2, ix. 24). It may also be noted that the view that "heaven" occasionally connotes "God," as in Luke xv. 18, 21, is clearly untenable from Matt. v. 34, vi. 10.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: H. Schultz, Alttestamentliche Theologie, 2 vols., Göttingen. 1888, Eng. transl., Old Testament Theology, Edinburgh, 1892; W. Beyschlag, Neutestamentliche Theologie, 2 vols., Halle, 1895; Eng. transl., New Testament Theology, Edinburgh, 1896; the lexicons of Cremer and Thayer, s.v. όυρανός; I. C. Craddock, The Heaven of the Bible, Philadelphia, 1897; R. Winterbotham, The Kingdom of Heaven here and hereafter, New York, 1898; and cf. the sections in the works on systematic theology.