Water above firmament

@CarsonWeitnauer Just to throw this out there, I do have a resource that makes the case based on translation, but also he does mention something that might rebut the idea that ancient people thought they were looking at a solid arch. Gleason L. Archer Jr. in New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties makes the case for raqia meaning expanse. He says,

Genesis 1:6-8 presents the second stage: the formation of an “expanse” (raqia) that separated between moisture in suspension in the sky and moisture condensed enough to remain on the earth’s surface. The term raqia does not mean a beaten-out metal canopy, as some writers have alleged-no ancient culture ever taught such a notion in its concept of the sky-but simply means “a stretched-out expanse.”

Then he goes on to explain why in some technical language about translation, which if anyone is interested I’ll be happy to quote. He then concludes by saying.

“Therefore, the noun raqia can mean only “expanse,” without any connotation of a hard metal plate.”

So, he seems to think the word simply means expanse. The only thing I’m not sure of is when he says, the term raqia does not mean a beaten-out metal canopy, and that no ancient culture ever taught such a notion, if he means just that notion specifically, or simply solid in general.

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Hi @joncarp,

Thank you for adding this into the conversation. I am learning far more about the word ‘raqia’ than I have ever explored before - and it is thanks to this interesting discussion!

I would be interested in Archer’s technical explanation.

It is so interesting to me that the scholars are disagreeing about their facts. For instance, in this article, “THE FIRMAMENT AND THE WATER ABOVE”, by Paul Seely, a significant number of observations are enumerated to establish a conclusion that the ancient belief was that the sky was solid:


To add another voice, my friend Hugh Ross argues this way in his book Navigating Genesis:

Some critics and skeptics of the Bible claim that the rāqîa‘ and shāmayim in verse 8 refer to the solid brass dome of ancient mythology. They cite Job 37:18 as support for their view: “Can you join him [God] in spreading out the skies, hard as a mirror of cast bronze?” However, it should be noted that the word “as” indicates the use of a figure of speech. The picture continues in Job 37:21: “Now no one can look at the sun, bright as it is in the skies after the wind has swept them clean.” In ancient times, no humanly crafted surface reflected light more effectively than a polished bronze mirror. The simile in Job 37 simply compares the Sun’s brightness on a clear day to the painfully bright reflection of light from such a mirror.

Interestingly, if we go to a standard Hebrew grammar, such as BDB, we find this for raqia:

n.m. extended surface, (solid) expanse (as if beaten out) — firmamentum

1. (flat) expanse (as if of ice), as base, support.

2. the vault of heaven, or ‘firmament,’ regarded by Hebrews as solid, and supporting ‘waters’ above it.

I found this article, from a Jewish perspective, to help illuminate the reasoning behind why a standard Hebrew grammar would identify the raqia as a solid thing:

Hi @CarsonWeitnauer,

I know what you mean, I am definitely learning a lot more about this topic. Although, I think what I am learning the most, is that I have a lot more to learn! I think I am going to start by reading the book by Hugh Ross that you mentioned, Navigating Genesis. If you can recommend any additional books I would be interested in any suggestions. In The Gospel Coalition’s answer to this question Stop Saying the Ancient Israelites Believed the Sky Was a Big Solid Dome with a Heavenly Sea Above It they discuss the book, Interpreting Eden by Vern Poythress. Have you ever read this book? If so, would you recommend it? I might read it after Navigating Genesis.

As far as the articles you mentioned, it is interesting how Paul Seely seems to come to the exact opposite conclusion as Gleason Archer does! Which definitely motivates me to want to learn more about this topic. As far as Archer’s technical explanation, he says:

This is quite evident from Isaiah 42:5, where the cognate verb raqa is used: “Thus says the God Yahweh, the Creator of the heavens, and the one who stretched them out [from the verb natah, ‘to extend’ curtains or tent cords], the one who extended [roqa] the earth and that which it produces [the noun se’esaim refers always to plants and animals].” Obviously raqa could not here mean “beat out,” “stamp out” (though it is often used that way in connection with metal working); the parallelism with natah (noted above) proves that here it has the force of extend or expand. Therefore, the noun raqia can mean only “expanse,” without any connotation of a hard metal plate.


Thank you Carson, Jonathan for expanding my understanding, stretching my brain so to speak. My question though simple to me has multiple complex answers.

Moving forward through the Bible as mans knowledge increased so did His understanding. Consider the Rabbis private answer in
My Encounter with the firmament. I am blessed to have individuals help with these questions. I truly see how my knowledge of today limited my ability to see how ancient people saw things, it has been eye opening. As I said in my previous post

Truly one understanding of firmament does lead to deeper questions.

If expance is the correct answer what held up the water, or was the water the outer, upper atmosphere. Yep brings up more questions.


I totally agree with this. Work by Dr John H Walton and Dr Michael Heiser also concur

Thanks for the input it’s good to meet you James. Where do you hail from, WV USA for me. Please share your thoughts on this subject if you have time?

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Hi @joncarp, it sounds like an interesting book but I haven’t read it myself.

Here’s part of Dr. LeFebvre’s analysis of the same word that Archer discusses:

The Hebrew term rāqîa consistently refers to a physical surface that has been stretched out, like fabric stretched over a frame or like “hammered out gold leaf” (Ex 39:3; cf. Num 16:38). The Genesis text says that God “made” or “fashioned” (ʿāśâ) the rāqîa in the heavens, indicating that something material was “stretched out” by him (Ps 104:2).

Psalm 104:2 reflects on creation day two with the words, “stretch[ed] out the heavens like a tent.” And the author of Job, reflecting on creation day two, wrote, “Can you, like him, spread out [rāqa] the skies, hard as a cast metal mirror?” (Job 37:18). This perception is pervasive in the Bible. Exodus describes an encounter with God on Mount Sinai as a climb high enough to reach the dome of heaven and see through it to the feet of God: “There was under [God’s] feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness” (Ex 24:10). In that instance, God revealed “his feet” within the cultural expectations that his throne rested on the dome over the earth. Ezekiel saw a similar vision of God’s throne on top of a crystalline dome:

Over the heads of the living creatures there was the likeness of an expanse [rāqîa], shining like awe-inspiring crystal, spread out above their heads.

Day two envisions a world with a store of water overhead, comparable to the sea of water below. In the ancient worldview, it was thought that rain came from those heavenly “storehouses” when God opened “the windows of heaven” (see Gen 7:11; 2 Kgs 7:2, 19; Ps 78:23; 135:7; Is 24:18; Mal 3:10).

Day two describes the establishment of the heavens as a structure with stored rainwater ready to deliver.

From this argument, in terms of the meaning of the word as it is used in these passages, it seems like the firmament was conceptualized as a physical thing? Functionally, the firmament needs to hold water that can be released when God opens the firmament up. Visually, it appears solid, like something physical that is stretched out or like a clear kind of pavement.

An interesting discussion!

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Thank you Carson, for your continued research into this subject.

As far as the firmament is concerned I see the validity of it being something clear but solid being used to hold up the water. The sun, moon, and stars would be hidden if it had not been a clear substance.

While we have no way of knowing the exact amount of water above the firmament, that water was released as rain when the windows of heaven were opened.
I still have much to learn and appreciate your patience.

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Hi @mgaplus4,

Ok, interesting!

So, how do you understand Genesis 1:14-19? We read in that section that the lights are IN the firmament of the heavens. What does it mean that both the sun and the moon are IN this clear, solid firmament?

Being totally honest if I was seeing this with the limited knowledge they had. Doing my best to see through a naive lens I would be confused about it all. The sun would move across the sky then hide and another light would show up. I imagine at times they would also see the moon as we do some times and say what’s wrong they are both up there. It had to be scary at times. I also imagine the stars would appear brighter then.

Looking up it would all appear to be a solid curved surface.

We know alot more about things today.

It was all part of what was now called heaven in Gen. 1:8
Pondering this and gathering my thoughts, Adam was intelligent it begs to ask did he know the reality of the universe? I guess we cant know that can we.
Carson thanks for being who you are

Willing to listen

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Hi @mgaplus4, that makes sense to me.

In Making Sense of the Old Testament, Dr. Tremper Longman writes:

God did not reveal himself in some type of transcultural way (which is in fact an inconceivable notion). God’s people lived in a specific culture, and he condescended to address them by using the conventions of their day. We see this most clearly in the fact that he spoke to them in Hebrew. In order for us to hear God’s Word today, we must bridge the cultural gap by translating the Hebrew into English. Such a task entails learning the linguistic conventions of Hebrew and working hard at rendering God’s message in a modern idiom that reflects his ancient intention.

But it is not just language that is at issue here. Images, such as God as a shepherd (a royal image in the ancient Near East), drew from the contemporary experience of the ancient people of Old Testament times. Literary genres such as the treaty form of Deuteronomy arose in the ancient Near East and are not recognizable immediately today, because we do not use such forms.

As I have reflected on the scholarship we’ve discussed in this conversation, it seems to me that to take Genesis 1 as a scientific text is both anachronistic and falsifiable.

It is anachronistic because the scientific discipline had not yet been invented and was not part of the default assumptions of the Biblical writers. We are bringing our assumptions to the Bible and expecting the Bible to meet our standards. It seems to me that a humbler route is to let the Biblical text set the terms of engagement.

It is falsifiable because some of the claims, taken literally as reporting physical facts about the universe, are not reflective of our current understanding. As a matter of fact, there is no clear, solid dome that holds up half the earth’s water and contains the heavenly lights.

But that does not mean the text has nothing to offer us. Rather, within the cosmology of the ancient near eastern mindset, God reveals many important and ever-challenging truths about the earth, humanity, and our purpose in life.

To mention just one theme, the late Dr. John Sailhamer, a former president of the Evangelical Theological Society, made this point in his commentary on Genesis 1:

As a praise of God’s grace, the theme of the remainder of the creation account (1:2–2:25) is God’s gift of the “world” to humankind. First, God prepared the land for humankind by dividing the waters and furnishing its resources (1:2–27). Then he gave the land and its resources to his creatures as the place of divine blessing. The gift of the land was then safeguarded by a call for obedience (2:16–17).

One remaining concern, then, is that if we attempt to understand Genesis as a scientific text, we might inadvertently miss the unique theological and ethical framework that it provides for our lives.

Carson, your last post is why I enjoy connect so much. I am seeing the bible in a much different light that has helped me so much. My interaction of this nature for me was rare.

For the last 28 years since accepting Jesus I have been involved in helping young men and women overcome life controlling issues of varying natures. Most of those rarely if at all ever read or studied the Bible. Most had no Pryor relationship with Christ. Keeping things basic helped them to stay focused on Christ and who He is. However as they developed a thirst for the word questions arose.
I endeavored to keep it personal, relational and as simple as possible.

The in depth posts I have found here invigorated me in my pursuit of ultimate truth.
I have semi-retired now but rarely had these types of engaging discussions.

Many here have been a great blessing to me.


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Hi @mgaplus4, I am grateful for your words of encouragement! It really is a joy to discuss God’s word with our brothers and sisters in Christ from around the world. I look forward to learning more about the Scriptures from our discussions here.

Hi Carson! Reading this in the wee hours of the morning when I should actually be sleeping, my brain is all a jumble having read things I have never heard about. :crazy_face: I just wanted to address this question you asked:

Am I correct in understanding you to be saying it is your belief that the Bible says the lights are actually in the firmament because they are actually in it or is your point that the Bible says the lights are in the firmament because that is how they appeared to be to the people in those days?

The science discussions in this forum are interesting because I’ve only ever heard any teaching on the interpretations of Genesis from the perspective of the Answers in Genesis ministry as one example. I had no idea there are Christians out there with such a variety of viewpoints in Genesis! It is quite fascinating and humbling.

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Hi Carrie,

I am so encouraged that we can meet each other in Connect, discuss the text from our different backgrounds, and hopefully grow in our love for God, our knowledge of the Scriptures, and our respect for each other during the conversation! I agree that it is fascinating and humbling to be learning together like this!!

Thanks for the follow-up question to clarify. Let me start by listening to you!

In Genesis 1:14 we read (KJV):

And God said, Let there be lights IN the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night…

In Genesis 1:15 (KJV):

And let them be for lights IN the firmament of the heaven

Genesis 1:17 (KJV):

And God set them IN the firmament of the heaven

What do you think it means that God himself said that the lights are IN the firmament of the heaven?

The firmament of heaven is discussed earlier in Genesis 1:6-8 as that which divides the waters below (seas) from the waters above (rain).

Thanks for clarifying this Carson! I see that when the Bible says that GOD said, it is exactly what it says he says. I was trying to wrap my brain around the concept that you shared from Michael LeFebvre. I grew up learning the traditional or mainstream American way of interpreting the Bible but, as an adult, I have since read some things that went against what I have always been told was true but they made a lot of sense. Thank you for adding another layer and may I just say: :exploding_head: Thank you for adding to my further confusion, ahem, I mean understanding, of how we can interpret texts like Genesis 1. :joy: I am very interesting in learning more. :slight_smile:

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I think this is how the learning process goes! We have our idea, we learn about a different idea, we face confusion about which of the two ideas to accept, and then we come to the other side of the thinking process with a better understanding. That might be because we retain our original understanding with renewed confidence, we adopt the new perspective as we see that it is a better explanation, or we adopt a new interpretation that becomes a third perspective. I’m grateful that we’re all in this process of “intellectual discipleship” here in Connect!

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Carson, I think you summed that up very well! :slight_smile:

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My youth group leader in High School informed me about a fascinating theory on this concept. Scientists have observed, that the ideal environment is our own but with a layer of water surrounding the environment. This allows plants an animals to live longer. The theory goes that this was how the Earth was before the flood, and then the firmament was destroyed following the flood.

There are two key thing to support this. The first one is human longevity. As recorded in Genesis, humans would live for many centuries before the flood, however following the flood, you can notice a trend that life expectancy slowly begins ti decrease from generation to generation.

The second key thing is dinosaurs. The unique thing about reptiles is that they never stop growing. So if reptiles were living in a perfect environment that allowed them to live for a very long time, it stands to reason that the would continue to grow to gargantuan size.

I am studying to get a Master’s in Theology at Houston Baptist University. I just so happen to do a paper on the different creation stories in the Ancient Near East (ANE). As I studied, I came across the firmament in other Ancient Near East stories. This was interesting to me. These are the Egyptian and Israelite creation stories.

Shu (dry air) and Tefnut (moist air), they “mated and gave birth to Geb (the earth) and Nut (the sky)”. This is how the earth and sky were created, but Geb and Nut, even though they were brother and sister, were “in love and were inseparable”. Nut was pushed up high into the heavens to separate him from Geb because Atum was disapproving of their behavior and to create inhabitable space for Atum to reside”, Nut was being lifted high to the heavens Geb appeared parting the waters creating solid ground “for the sun god, Re, to rest”.

This is the space between the land and the firmament being the sky. When God separated the waters below, the waters above, creating the sky in between He “constructed this cosmis dam to separate the primordial sea into two bodies: the waters above the [sky] and the waters below the [sky]”. The “‘waters above’ are depicted as heavenly ocean located above the sky and therefore above the sun, move and stars, which are placed in the sky and therefore below the heavenly ocean”. Something like a water dam in the sky holding back a sea of water in the heavens keeping the waters “from flooding the world”. God creates a space where the sun, moon, stars, rain and the space for the birds to fly. The writer of Genesis is “describe[ing] three regions about the earth”. He is creating three distinct regions that are against, in or above a firmament. One: the space the birds can fly is against the firmament. Two: the space above that, is the firmament that holds the celestial bodies. Three: the area above the firmament, that is holding the celestial planets, is holding the rain waters of heaven waiting for God to release them. This suggests that the author believes that the earth was created “as a dome that holds up the rain of heaven until the rain is called forth by God and dispersed upon the earth”. Once the sky is created the waters “recede at the command of God, exposing the dry ground, also a created object” and land is created on the third day along with vegetation.

The belief of the ANE was that there was a dome over the earth holding back the water when Gen and Nut were separated and created the firmament/dome. Creation was connected to the god or goddess while Yahweh created everything out of His own power. He was separate from it. I am not sure if someone mentioned that already. I wasn’t able to read all the posts. But wanted to share this.