Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The noun ουρανος (ouranos) means heaven, but its signature function as distant abode of the deity appears to be a relatively modern invention. The Creator, as the Hebrews knew, has no locality and is everywhere. And even if heaven is equated with space, the earth sits in space and space is hence everywhere too.
Still, the ludicrous notion of heaven being the abode of God, whilst located "out there, out there somewhere" is prevalent even among moderns today. An embarrassing majority of Christians, for instance, holds that the Second Coming of Christ entails his arrival from outer space and his subsequent landing on clouds of water vapor in earth's atmosphere. But although Acts 1:11 and 1 Thessalonians 4:17 appear to suggest this, Jesus never left earth (Matthew 28:20) and the clouds that will serve as his platform are formed not from water but from witnesses (Hebrews 12:1).
The noun ουρανος (ouranos) derives from a hugely old Proto-Indo-European root "ur-", which also gave us both the noun "water" and the verb "to urinate" (from ουρον, ouron, urine, which also explains the noun ουρανη, ourane, meaning chamber-pot). The ancient root "ur-" also has to do with the Sanskrit noun vari, meaning water, and the Avestan (Zoroastrian) noun var meaning rain.
To the ancients, heaven was primarily a rain-maker; the place where rain came from — but this is still not all. The word for rain, βροχη (broche) comes from the verb βρεχω (brecho), which means to wet or saturate. Both these words are typically not reserved for water falling from the sky, but also cover other kinds of wetting: brewing, steeping or even the overflowing of rivers, the soaking up of water by a sponge and of course the imbibing of fluids by a thirsty drinker. And that means that even the familiar act of baptism is a form of raining (see our article on the verb βαπτιζω, baptizo).
The key to all this is that these words discuss the act of making available liquids that clients may soak up and process. And it's the process part where the rub lies. Plants grow because of their intake of water, and animals stay alive because of it. Crucially, when an animal drinks, the water comes out the other end whilst carrying contaminants and wastes. And the same thing happens to the earth when rain falls on it: rivers form, and flush dust and dirt away toward the sea.
Heaven is any origin of any agent that flushes, cleanses and allows growth. And note the obvious similarity between the Greek verb βρεχω (brecho), meaning to rain, and the Hebrew verb ברך (barak), meaning to bless. The other major "water well" of the body is the eye (the Hebrew word עין, ayin, means both eye and well). The eye absorbs information (by looking) and produces water to clean the heart of painful experiences (by crying), which obviously works via the same procedure (Ecclesiastes 1:18).
The Hebrew word for rain is יורה (yoreh) or its related noun מורה (moreh). The latter noun not only means rain; it also means teacher (Judges 7:1, Job 36:22). And both these words are closely related to the noun תורה (tora), which also serves as the name of the hallowed collection of teachings known as the Torah.
Both the Hebrew word for land or earth (ארץ, 'eres) and the Greek one (γη, ge) describe any situation in the here and now that's capable of growth and correction by means of any kind of fluidic agent, whether in the physical or mental realms (Acts 14:17, Hebrews 9:23). Heaven (שמים, shamayim in Hebrew) denotes both the source of that agent, and the blueprint of what earth may finally become, after its many seasons of cleansing (Hebrews 8:5, Matthew 5:48, 6:10, Revelation 21:1-2).
Note that in the Greek classics, the noun ουρανος (ouranos) was never used in plural (the Hebrew equivalent שמים, shamayim, is a plural form). The lavish used of the plural form of our noun ουρανος (ouranos) in the New Testament demonstrates that the authors where writing out of a typical Hebrew mentality rather than a Greek one.
Our noun ουρανος (ouranos) is used 282 in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derives the following derivations:
- Together with the preposition επι (epi), meaning on or upon: the adjective επουρανιος (epouranios), meaning heavenly; the opposite of επιγειος (epigeios), meaning earthly. This word differs from ουρανιος (ouranios; see below) in that the latter emphasizes essence whereas the former emphasizes location (relative to earth). Our word επουρανιος (epouranios) is applied to the Father (Matthew 18:35), information (John 3:12), mentalities (Ephesians 1:3), organizational structures (Ephesians 6:12), celestial bodies, whose created task it is to serve as signs (Genesis 1:14, 1 Corinthians 15:40), and of course the heavenly kingdom (2 Timothy 4:18) and the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22). This adjective is used a total of 20 times see full concordance.
- Together with the adjective μεσος (mesos), meaning middle: the noun μεσουρανημα (mesouranema), meaning mid-heaven. This noun has intrigued many but it's simply a navigational term that denotes the meridian. It's a word like μεσημβρια (mesembria), which means mid-day, and denotes the straight-overhead. Our noun μεσουρανημα (mesouranema) occurs in Revelation 8:13, 14:6 and 19:17 only.
- The adjective ουρανιος (ouranios), meaning heavenly in a qualitative sense, as opposed to επουρανιος (epouranios; see above), meaning heavenly in a directional sense (relative to earth). It's mostly applied to the Father, but also to the heavenly host (Luke 2:13) and a heavenly vision (Acts 26:19). This adjective is used 6 times; see full concordance.
- Together with the suffix of origin -θεν (-then), meaning from: the adverb ουρανοθεν (ouranothen), meaning from heaven (Acts 14:17 and 26:13 only).
The noun ουρα (oura) means tail, and in the classics may describe the tail of an animal or the rear end or a marching army. It probably inspired the word ουρος (ouros), watcher (of the rear guard), and thus the noun οικουρος (oikouros), guardian of the house; someone who stays behind and guards the premise when the rest is out working or trading.
Probably to the surprise even of native Greek speakers, our word ουρα (oura), tail, is not formally related to the previous, ουρανος (ouranos), heaven, which ultimately relates to the PIE root "ur-", meaning water. Instead, our noun ουρα (oura) derives from the PIE root "hers-", meaning to flow. And if that's not odd enough, this root "hers-" became erro in Latin, from which English gets the ever useful word "error".
All this means that "to err" is essentially to go against the flow, to go in the direction that is opposite the direction of the main marching column, or the main consensus, or received wisdom, tradition, norms or directorates. And it means that the tail-end of an organism is the end from which flows emanate. These flows normally carry wastes that are dissolved in water that was first imbibed, but in humans these flows may also carry words on emotions that were first heard and absorbed. When Jesus speaks of living water coming from one's within (John 7:38), a link to urinating from one's tail-end is obviously implied.
Our noun ουρα (oura), tail, appears 5 times in three verses, all in Revelation; see full concordance.