Is the firmament of Genesis chapter 1 solid?
God dwells in heaven
We begin from first principles. The scriptures teach us that God Himself dwells in heaven:
- “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few” (Ecc 5:2)
- “Hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and do according to all that the stranger calleth to thee for: that all people of the earth may know thy name, to fear thee, as do thy people Israel; and that they may know that this house, which I have builded, is called by thy name” (1 Kings 8:43. See also vv 30,39,49)
- The LORD is in his holy temple, the LORD’s throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men (Psalm 11:4)
- “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision” (Psalm 2:4)
The scriptures also teach us that God is “from everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 90:2). He is “immortal, invisible, the only wise God” (1 Tim 1:17). This being so, we may conclude that the heaven in which God dwells must also have always been. When, therefore, we read in Genesis 1:1 that “in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”, it follows that the heaven referred to that had a beginning is a different heaven from the heaven in which God dwells.
That this is so is confirmed by the prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the temple, in which he says, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?” (1 Kings 8:27). We further conclude from Solomon’s words that there is not only a “heaven” which cannot contain God, but also “the heaven of heavens” which cannot contain God. This point is of great significance, and is confirmed by other scriptures:
- “Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the LORD’S thy God, the earth also, with all that therein is” (Deut 10:14).
- “Thou, even thou, art LORD alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee” (Neh 9:6)
Nehemiah provides us with the further insight here that “the heaven of heavens” is where “all their host” reside – that is, the sun, moon and stars (see Deut 4:19). These scriptures thus clearly demonstrate that, in addition to the heaven in which God dwells, there are two different heavens, styled in Nehemiah “the heavens”, and “the heaven of heavens”.
The firmament in Genesis
We are now in a position to apply this understanding of the heavens to Genesis 1. Careful reading reveals that the same hierarchy of heavens are present in the text, thus:
- In verses 6-8 we read of a specific “firmament” which was created to divide the waters above from the waters This is called “heaven”.
- In verses 14-19 we read of the “firmament of heaven” (v14 and v17) into which God places the sun moon and stars. Genesis 1:20 informs us that God created the fowls of the air, to fly “in the face” (NKJ), or in front, of the “firmament of heaven”.
These scriptural distinctions are not appreciated by the proponents of the idea of the solid firmament and they are important to identify in order to show that the order of things set out in Genesis is accurate.
The waters above the firmament
In Genesis 1:6-8 we read, “And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day”. The work of the second day was thus to create the firmament, called “Heaven”. This specific firmament separates the waters below the firmament – the “seas” according to Genesis 1:10 – from the waters above the firmament.
The question is, what do “the waters which were above the firmament” represent? Rather that resorting to the writings of ancient near east mythology, let us allow scripture to tell us: “When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth: when he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep: when he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth: then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him” (Prov
8:27-30). These words of the wise man are clearly based upon the Genesis record of creation. The heavens separate “the clouds above” from “the fountains of the deep”. We therefore conclude that “the waters which were above the firmament” are “the clouds above”.
This is confirmed by the testimony of other scripture:
- “Though he had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven” (Psalm 78:23). The clouds are described as “from above” – and using Hebrew parallelism they are equated with “the doors of heaven”, from whence the rain
- “For thy mercy is great above the heavens: and thy truth reacheth unto the
clouds” (Psalm 108:4). Again, the parallelism in the verse illustrates that the clouds are “above the heavens”.
We thus conclude that in Genesis 1:8, the “firmament” that God called “heaven” represents the sky, the atmosphere, that intervenes between the clouds and the seas. Clearly this is not solid, and the scripture does not present it to us as if it is solid.
The firmament of heaven
On the fourth creative day, God made the sun, moon and stars, and in connection with the creation of these heavenly bodies, the narrative introduces us to the “firmament of heaven”: “And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day” (Genesis 1:14-19). We note that these heavenly bodies are
said to reside, not within the heaven, but “the firmament of the heaven”. This is in keeping with Nehemiah’s testimony that the sun, moon and stars dwell within “the heaven of heavens” (Neh 9:6). This is that region beyond our atmosphere, we know as outer space.
This “firmament of heaven” is clearly a different “firmament” to the one created on day two. This becomes especially apparent when we consider the creation of the fowls of the air on the fifth creative day.
Fowl in the open firmament of heaven
Those who subscribe to the solid dome theory of Genesis 1 lay great emphasis on the fact that Genesis 1:20 describes the birds as flying in front of the raqia. Enns, for example, states that “according to Genesis 1:20, the birds fly in front of the raqia (in the air), not in the raqia11”. But this confusion has arisen because of a failure to differentiate between the heaven, and the firmament of heaven. Note what the text says: “Then God said, Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens” (Genesis 1:20 NKJV). The birds are consistently described in scripture as “the fowl of heaven” (Genesis 7:23) and they fly “in the midst of heaven” (Revelation 19:17), but here in Genesis 1:20 they are said to fly across the face of, or in front of, “the firmament of the heavens”. The Hebrew ‘paniym’ does indeed convey the idea of ‘before’, or ‘in the face of’, and this is how it appears to an observer standing upon the earth – when the birds fly in the midst of heaven, they appear to be flying in front of the heavenly bodies which are set in the firmament of the heavens. The careful Bible reader will conclude that the birds fly in the firmament created on day two called “heaven”, but in front of the “firmament of the heavens”. Neither firmament are solid and the text does not give us any reason to believe this.
We are now in a position to summarise our findings thus far.
|God||Dwells in heaven (Ecc 5:2; 1 Kings 8:43)|
|The firmament of the heaven||The heaven of heavens (Deut 10:14) Heavenly bodies reside here (Neh 9:6)|
|The waters above the firmament||The clouds (Prov 8:27-30; Psa 78:23; 108:4)|
|The firmament||The sky/atmosphere
Birds fly here (Gen 7:23; Rev 19:17)
|The waters below the firmament||Seas (Prov 8:27-30)|
The diagram below will help us to visualise the arrangement.
11 The firmament of Genesis 1 is solid but that’s not the point. Pete Enns, biologos.org, Jan 14, 2010
“The God said, Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens” (Gen 1:20 NKJV). The birds fly in front of “the firmament of the heavens”
This arrangement is in perfect harmony with the Psalmist’s ascription of praise in Psalm 148: “Praise ye the LORD. Praise ye the LORD from the heavens: praise him in the heights. Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts. Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light. Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens. Let them praise the name of the LORD: for he commanded, and they were created” (Psalm 148:1-5). Observe how that, according to the Psalmist, the waters are said to be “above the heavens”, but the sun, moon and stars are associated with the “heaven of heavens”.
Five other scriptures are frequently advanced in support of the solid dome theory of the firmament – Job 37:18, Ezekiel 1:22-28, Exodus 24:10, Isaiah 40:22 and Psalm 104:2. These will now be briefly examined.
In Job 37, Elihu asks Job the question, “Hast thou with him spread out the sky, which is strong, and as a molten looking glass” (Job 37:18). It is pointed out that the Hebrew for “spread out” is ‘raqa’, the verbal form of the Hebrew noun ‘raqia’. It is then concluded that since Elihu compares the sky to a “molten looking glass”, the raqia must therefore be presented as being solid. In connection with this we would make the following observations:
- Elihu invites Job to consider two elements of the sky, its strength, and its resemblance to a looking
- “Strong” is the Hebrew ‘chazaq’, and denotes the idea of mightiness. There is nothing in this word that implies that the sky is solid. That the heavens are appropriately described as being mighty is clear from the following testimonies:
- “O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! Who hast set thy glory above the heavens… When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?” (Psalm 8:1-4)
- “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalm 19:1)
- “Looking glass” is the Hebrew ‘rehee’, which is derived from the verb ‘raah”, meaning ‘to see’. Elihu is asking Job to compare himself with the greatness of God, who has handcrafted the The idea being conveyed here is not that the heavens are solid, but that they are transparent, just like a mirror appears to be when one looks into it, in spite of their glorious majesty. That a mirror is solid is beside the point.
If the idea that the rakia is solid is in the reader’s mind beforehand, then it can easily be read into the text in Job 37:18. But there is nothing within this verse that indicates that this is its intended meaning.
Ezekiel 1 and Exodus 24
Ezekiel chapter 1 contains Ezekiel’s vision of the cherubim. In verse 22 Ezekiel sees a representation of the firmament: “And the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creature was as the colour of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above”. He then sees a vision of the throne of God Himself, which is said to be above the firmament: “And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it” (Ezekiel 1:26). The firmament is compared to “the terrible crystal”, and it is maintained that implied in this is its solidity. This is compared with Exodus 24: 10 where Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel ascended the mountain, “And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness”. Again, emphasis is placed on the “paved work of a sapphire stone”, with its suggestion of solidity.
- Ezekiel 1 is clearly a vision. The four living creatures with wings, and the wheels full of eyes, are not to be interpreted literally, neither is the vision of the
- In any case, there is nothing in Ezekiel 1 that suggests that the firmament is being presented as solid. It is compared with “the terrible crystal” not because crystal is solid, but because of its colour: “And the likeness of the firmament… was as the colour of the terrible crystal” (Ezekiel 1:22). “Crystal” is the Hebrew ‘qerach’ which means ice. In fact the word is found seven times in the Old Testament, and it is variously rendered “ice” three times, “frost” three times, and “crystal” once. The point Ezekiel is making is that just as ice is transparent, so was the firmament that he saw in
- Exodus 24 is also making the same point. Under the feet of the God of Israel Moses and his companions saw as it were “the body of heaven in its clearness”. The Hebrew ‘tohar’ denotes purification, or cleansing, as can be seen from its usage in Leviticus 12:4: “And she shall then continue in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying (Heb. ‘tohar’) be fulfilled” (See also Lev 12:6).
- In any case we have to bear in mind that what Moses and his fellows saw was a They did not literally see “the God of Israel”, because John declare that “no man hath seen God at any time” (John 1:18). What they saw was an angelic manifestation of the God of Israel, because Steven tells us that Moses was “with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us” (Acts 7:38).
- In Ezekiel’s vision, the throne itself is said to have “the appearance of a sapphire stone” (Ezekiel 1:26). In Exodus it says that under the feet of the God of Israel, there was “as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone” (Exodus 24:10). The paved work of a sapphire stone is therefore part of the throne upon which God appeared to be seated, not heaven
- Again, it is easy to see how that when Exodus 24 and Ezekiel 1 are read with a preconceived notion of a solid firmament, this idea can be read into the text. But there is nothing within the text that demands that the firmament be understood as being solid.
Isaiah 40:22 and Psalm 104:2
These two passages compare the heavens to the stretching out of a curtain, or the pitching of a tent, and it is suggested that as tents and curtains are physical and solid, these scriptures are presenting the sky as solid:
- “It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in” (Isaiah 40:22)
- “Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain” (Psalm 104:2)
Neither of these passages are intended to be a commentary on the physical nature of the heavens:
- In both cases the references to the physical objects of tents and curtains are clearly similes and not a literal description (e.g. “like a…”).
- The emphasis is not on the structure of the heavens, but upon God’s creative power. The creation of the heavens was as easy for the Almighty as stretching out a curtain, or the pitching of a
- The heavens are above us, as if we are dwelling under the canvas of a tent. Again, this is clearly the language of
By looking at the simple context of these passages, and without approaching them with preconceived ideas, we can see that there is no foundation for the belief that the Bible is depicting a solid heaven.
This study has demonstrated that there is no substance to the notion that Genesis 1 presents the firmament to the reader as being solid. The solid dome theory is one of the main foundation arguments for those who seek to dismiss a literal understanding of Genesis in favour of an evolutionary process. . We thus conclude that the idea of dismissing a literal understanding of the heavens in Genesis 1 because it is based on ancient near eastern mythology has no basis.
By careful Bible reading we have seen the scriptures of truth are not based on ancient eastern pagan beliefs about the world. They are an accurate description of what has later been discovered as the correct order of things. We have come to this conclusion by simply reading the text and allowing the scriptures to interpret themselves.
The Lord God says, “The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Isaiah 66:1,2). This is the spirit with which we must come to the word of God. We must approach it with a spirit of humility, and we must tremble at its teaching. We must not allow our minds to be befuddled by the ideas of men. Instead, let us read the word with an open heart, and, comparing scripture with scripture, seek to understand its message.
Matthew Davies / Mark Allfree
(Nottingham Forest Road, 2015)