It is always a question between my editors and myself, “Should Heaven be capitalized?”
As someone who sometimes writes fast and then trusts my team of trusty editors, (sometimes too much!) to make my writing clear, readable, and with proper punctuation, I never really thought about the capitalization of the word Heaven.
The capitalization, or not, of “Heaven” I left up to the wisdom of my editors. But sometimes, they don’t agree with each other.
One time, my newspaper editor husband, in editing some of my words made the word “heaven” lowercase citing that according to AP Stylebook (the grammar that rules newspaper writing) the word “heaven” should not be capitalized. I remember feeling just a bit irked, but who am I to argue against the eminent style guides?
The Chicago Manual of Style agrees saying, that as a rule, you should not capitalize “heaven”. Notice the word “should”.
But these style guides also suggest the capitalization of the first letter of religious terms.
Capitalization In the Bible
My rules and usage of capitalization are based on my knowledge of the English language and grammar. The Bible we have today, the preserved word of God, was not written in English.
The original languages of the Bible were Hebrew for the Old Testament and Greek for the New Testament. When the translators translated from the manuscripts of these ancient languages, they did not have the rules of capitalization that English readers and writers use today.
Other than proper nouns, the Bible translators capitalized words as they felt were necessary. While the Bible translators followed strict rules of translation, they had different rules for the use, or non use, of capitals.
Capitalizing Pronouns of Deity
One thing that I am very careful in doing with my writing is to capitalize pronouns referring to deity. I was taught from a very young age that capitalizing deity pronouns shows respect and honor to God. This is called reverential capitalization. Even today when I see lowercase divine pronouns referring to God, I feel bothered.
But pronouns of deity are not capitalized in the Bible. When I write Bible verses, from out of my Bible onto the board on my Sunday School room for my young students, I have to quell the urge inside me NOT to capitalize pronouns referring to God, because they are not capitalized in the Holy Bible.
Heaven IS Capitalized in the Bible – Once
The lack of capitalization rules the translators had, and the resulting lack of capitals, the word “heaven” usually appears as a common noun in the Bible. While I have not felt it necessary to research other Bible translations, the only place in the King James version of the Bible that the the word “Heaven” starts with a capital “H” is found in Genesis 1:8:
“And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.” (KJV)
The word “heaven” is not capitalized in the New Testament either.
Before using this verse as an authority that God, in His Word, and therefore in our words about Him, wants the word “Heaven” to be capitalized, consider the capitalization found two verses later in
Genesis 1:10 “And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters called the Seas: and God saw that it was good.” (KJV)
While there is a modern argument for the word “Earth” to be capitalized, as in the sentence, “I live on planet Earth”, nobody thinks about or capitalizes the general word “seas”.
But back to the Bible translators, they felt that in this verse both “Earth” and “Seas” deserve a capital letter.
The capitalization of words employed by the Bible translators in this verse show the fact that these scholars had no strict rules concerning correct capitalization.
On an interesting side note, the same linguistic authority, according to the AP Style of Writing, the guidebook of newspaper grammar, the word “Earth”, referring to our planet, needs a capital “E”.
Heaven Is A Unique Place and An Actual Place
The first mention of the word “heaven” is in the first verse of the Bible,
Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”
This verse uses the word “heaven” as simply space — an area.
The word “heaven” refers to both a general but very vast space and a specific place. Depending on what you are referencing, depending on whether or not “heaven” deserves a capital “H” — or not.
What makes this question even more confusing is that many times the space, and the place, are the same thing. This is because Heaven is part of the spiritual realm.
When referring to the area of heaven, the space of heaven, the atmosphere, or outer space, this is an area. It should not be capitalized. This is the same as saying “I live in town”. The word “town” is a general vicinity.
Saying that God is in heaven, meaning a vast area of space which could include our atmosphere and even the space that composes our dwelling place on Earth, then “heaven” should not be capitalized.
But since He created, or maybe more accurately, made a space, since He fills all, then it would be correct to say that the word Heaven is a proper noun referring to a real place, the dwelling place of God.
This dual character of Heaven is seen in the phrase “kingdom of heaven” when Heaven meets Earth. Take Matthew 4:17 as an example:
“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (KJV)
The kingdom from the heavenly area, the abode of God, God’s kingdom, will come to earth.
However when “Heaven” refers to a particular place, as in the sentence, “God sent Jesus Christ from Heaven to Earth”, this sentence utilizes two different and distinct places, in this instance “Heaven” should be capitalized, just as you would capitalize other names of specific places.
When using “Heaven” as the name of a particular place, it is a proper noun and in today’s English writing, like all other proper nouns including place names, should begin with a capital letter.
Heaven vs. Heavens
The Bible refers to more than one “heaven”. Here are two instances of the word “heavens”, the first reference in the Old Testament and the first reference in the New Testament:
Genesis 2:1 “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. (KJV)
Matthew 3:16 “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him” (KJV)
These verses, and many other verses that reference the word “heavens” seems to refer to an area, a vast specific location, having different parts but the same name.
And then there is the wonderful promise of
2 Peter 3:13“Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” (KJV)
Heaven as An Adjective
All of the above discussion focused on the word “Heaven” as a proper noun. When using the word “heaven” as an adjective, a word describing a noun, then it should not be capitalized.
An example would be using the word heaven to describe a noun in glowing terms such as, “The dessert was simply heaven in a dish”.
Concluding Thoughts on Should Heaven be Capitalized?
Whether or not you choose in your writing to capitalize the word “Heaven” is your conviction. There is no industry standard.
The capitalization or not, of this particular English word is entirely up to each particular person. Whether you or you don’t, readers should neither criticize nor embrace either your proper English grammar or your Christian faith, by this matter of personal conviction.
There are far more pressing matters to concern yourself with, the most important is making sure that you too are part of the redeemed creation that will go to that sacred place called Heaven.
If the concept of heaven excites you, as it should, check out Heavenly New Insights of Paul’s Ephesians Prayer.