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The Biblical Background of Heaven: shamayim and ouranos

June 15th, 2008

I. The Greek Classical View of Heaven (Acts 14:8-18)

A. “The word always has a double reference” (Kittel, 497).

1. Cosmological sense (starry heavens)

2. Theological view (habitation of the gods/myth)

=>”The gods have come down to us” (Acts 14:11)

B. Ouranos meant both physical and metaphysical in Greek culture, and eventually came to denote by the New Testament period a guiding principle (as astrology in the Roman World). This concept of heaven became a flurry of philosophical activity from Homer, Pythagoras, Aristotle, and Plato, and others. In fact, Plato taught that heaven (ouranos) was the starting point for absolute knowledge (Phaedrus, 247b).

II. Old Testament/shamayim

A. shamayim is identified with raqia (Gen. 1:6-8)

B. a place of fixed references (Gen. 1:14; Ps. 119:89)

C. The Bethel Story and the dwelling place of God (Gen. 28)

D. The God of heaven formula (Deut. 26:15; 32:40; Ex. 9:29,33)

E. Source of all blessing (Gen. 49:25; Deut. 33:13; 1 Ki. 8:35)

F. Especially salvation-history (Dan. 7:17)

III. New Testament/ouranos

A. Jn. 3:9-12; 6:33 Jesus’ source

B. Acts 1:9-11; 2:34 Jesus will come again

C. 2 Cor. 5:1-9 Heaven holds all to me

D. Eph. 1:3 etc. The Christian’s position

Robert M. Housby