Genesis 1:6-8 says that God set his dome, which we call the firmament or sky to separate the waters above from the waters below. Do we reject the scientific theories of the universe, atmosphere, et al and accept the Bible's teaching that the sky is blue and rain falls because there's a dome in the sky holding back the sky river (much as the ancient Egyptians believed)?
Does the Bible teach that there is a solid dome in the sky embedded with stars holding back a river in the sky, such as the ancient Egyptians believed? The purpose of this arictle is to answer the question by explaining the meaning of the Hebrew word “firmament” or “expanse” which first occurs in Genesis 1:6-8. Here is the passage.
Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day. Genesis 1:6-8 (NASB)
Hebrew Meaning of the Word “Expanse”
The Hebrew word that is translated as “expanse” in the NASB is raqia. This word is translated as “firmament” in the KJV Bible and “vault” in the NIV Bible. The Hebrew word occurs seventeen times in the Old Testament (Genesis 1:6, 7 (occurs three times), 8, 14, 15, 17, 20; Psalm 19:1; 150:1; Ezekiel 1:22, 23, 25, 26; 10:1; Daniel 12:3). In Genesis 1 the word always has the idea “of something that is created by being spread out.”
The basic meaning of the noun is determined by a consideration of the verb raqia. Here the basic idea is “to spread out,” and specifically the spreading out of the earth at creation (cf. Ps. 136:6; Isa. 42:5; 44:24) or the spreading out of the sky (cf.Job 37:18). In Isa. 40:19 the meaning is to overlay or plate (with gold). A raqia, then, is something that is created by being spread out either by stretching (e.g., a tent) or by hammering . . .
Therefore in Genesis 1:6-8, the word refers to space that was created between the waters – the waters below and the waters above. Psalm 19:1 uses raqia to the heavens being stretched out. Both Psalm 150:1 and Daniel 12:3 actually refer to heaven being stretched out. In Ezekiel 1:22, 25, 26 raqia refers to an area above the heads of the “living beings.” In Ezekiel 1:23 raqia has a different meaning or nuance since it refers to the wings of the “living beings” being spread out. Then in Ezekiel 1:25-26 it becomes clear that raqia is an area above the angels and God appears above the raqia. This helps us understand that raqia does not refer to a solid dome with a sea of water or a river of water above a dome. It refers to an expansion or an expanded area.
The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis provides a detailed explanation of raqia as follows:
This term, often rendered as firmament, is translated as expanse (Gen 1:6; Ezek 1:22; 10:1, etc.), skies (Ps 19:1 samayim, heavens), or heavens (Ps 150:1; Dan 12:3) in NIV. In Gen 1 :8, God called the expanse, samayim. The term is hyponymous to samayim; i.e., what raqia refers to is included in what samayim refers to, as in the expanse of the sky (Gen 1: 14, 15, 17, 20). Cf. Akk. burumu, firmament (of the heavens) (CAD B:344-45).
Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament defines raqia in detail. The reader should notice that . . .
raqia may refer to a limited space, such as that of the canopy over the cherubim, under the throne in Ezekiel’s vision (1:22, 26). Or it may refer to the broad “expanse of heaven” (Dan 12:3, NASB), as it does in thirteen of its seventeen occurrences.
That is, raqia refers to a region that has been stretched out or has extent. Keil & Delitzch summarizes the meaning of raqia in Genesis 1 as “to stretch” or “to spread out.”
. . . from raqia to stretch, spread out, then beat or tread out, means expansum [sic], the spreading out of the air, which surrounds the earth as an atmosphere.
The Jewish scholar Nahum Sarna agrees. He says,
The Hebrew noun raqia is unparalleled in cognate languages. The verbal form is often used for hammering out metal or flattening out earth, which suggests a basic meaning of “extending.”.
Confusion About The Meaning of raqia
Those who claim that raqia refers to a solid dome with a sea of water or a river of water above it need to be aware that this confusion was caused by the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible. Harris, Archer Jr., & Waltke explain as follows,
In pre-Christian Egypt confusion was introduced into biblical cosmology when the LXX, perhaps under the influence of Alexandrian theories of a “stone vault” of heaven, rendered raqia by stereoma, suggesting some firm, solid structure. This Greek concept was then reflected by the Latin firmamentum, hence KJV “firmament.” To this day negative criticism speaks of the “vault, or ‘firmament,’ regarded by Hebrews as solid, and supporting ‘waters’ above it” (BDB, p. 956); cf. the rendering of Job 37: 18, “The skies, strong (hazaqam) as a molten mirror (cf. Ps 150:1, their “mighty expanse”), changed by the RSV to read, “the skies, hard.” Babylonian mythology recounts how Marduk used half of Tiamat’s carcass to form the heavens (shamamu held in place by a crossbar!). In the OT, however, Isaiah insists that God “stretches out the heavens [lit.] like gauze (doq, Isa 40:22); and even Ezekiel’s limited canopy (raqia) is “as the [lit.] eye of awesome ice” (Ezk 1:22), i.e. transparent, “shining like crystal” (RSV), though so dazzling as to be terrifying (KD; cf. Dan 12:3 brightness”).
In summary, raqia does not refer to a “solid structure” or “stone vault” such as a dome. In addition, the Bible never refers to a “sky river” or a “sea of water.” The Bible is not fanciful like the mythology of the Egyptians or the Babylonians. But the Bible does speak of water above and water below the expanse. The Bible does not refer to a metal dome holding back a sea of water.
Example of The “Expanse”
A better interpretation of Genesis 1:6-8 is that raqia refers to an expanse that separated a gaseous body of airborne humidified air or humidified vapor from water in a liquid state. Genesis 1:6-8 simply refers to a body of uncondensed humidified air that surrounded a body of liquified water since land did not appear until later in Genesis 1:9-11. That is, the expanse is not a physical barrier such as glass, metal or plastic. Instead it is a physical law that God implemented that separated liquified water from vapor. Also notice that Genesis 1:20 states that the birds fly above the earth across the open expanse. Psalm 148:4 suggests that the expanse extends into space.
While Genesis 7:10-12 does not refer to the “waters above the expanse,” our atmosphere with clouds, it refers to the “floodgates of the sky.” From human perspective the clouds, like gates, released the water. The worldwide flood occurred when God caused water to erupt from deep beneath the earth while water also poured down from heaven as rain. Here is Genesis 7:10-12,
It came about after the seven days, that the water of the flood came upon the earth. In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened. The rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights. Genesis 7:10-12 (NASB)
It is important to notice the word “floodgates” is translated from the Hebrew word, aruba and is in the plural. The Hebrew word means “window,” “lattice” or “very heavy rain.” It has a broad range of meaning. It is the best word to describe an extremely torrential rain. After the worldwide flood occurred, God stopped the very heavy rains.
Also the fountains of the deep and the floodgates of the sky were closed, and the rain from the sky was restrained . . . Genesis 8:2 (NASB)
When God caused the incredible torrential rain in Genesis 7, the rain did not just seem to be torrential. It was more than torrential. For example, the Weather Channel has reported that the amount of rain dumped from heaven can be excessive. An example is the article Six Incredible U.S. Rainfall Records. The article states that Puu Kukui, a mountain peak in Hawaii, had over nine feet of rainfall in March of 1942.
In March of 1942, Puu Kukui recorded nearly 9 feet (101 inches) of rainfall, which stands as the greatest precipitation total ever recorded in one month in the United States.
Try to imagine the rainfall that God caused. It was in excess of 9 feet in one month. We close with the answer to the question, “Does the Bible say the sky is a dome covered with sea of water?” The answer is, “No!” The Bible teaches that the expanse separated the gaseous body of airborne humidified air or humidified vapor from water in a liquid state. The land was then formed on the third day.
1. Victor P. Hamilton. The Book of Genesis 1-17, The New Testament International Commentary on the Old Testament. Eerdams Publishing. 1990. p. 122.
2. David Toshia Tsumur. “raqia”. New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis. Zondervan. 1997. vol. 3p. 1198.
3. J.B.P. raqia. Harris, Archer Jr., & Waltke. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Chicago: Moody Press. 1980. vol. 2. pp. 2217-2218.
4. Keil and Delitzsch. Genesis. Commentary on the Old Testament. Hendrickson Publishers. March 2006. p. 32.
5. Nahum Sarna. Genesis. The JPS Torah Commentary. The Jewish Publication Society. 1989. p 8.
6. J.B.P. raqia. Harris, Archer Jr., & Waltke. Ibid.
7. Henry Morris. The Genesis Record. Baker Book House. 1988. pp. 194.
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