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Post new topic   Reply to topic    Reformed Theology Institute Forum Index » Old Testament » Heaven, the firmament and the waters
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PostPosted: 06-04-2017 2:53 pm
Post Number: 26054
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(Please forgive any discontinuities, gaps in logic or even incomplete thoughts as I posted this over two sittings and I may have lost some of the force in the interim...)

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

 Gen 1:1-2

For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
 Exodus 20:11

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.

 Gen 1:6-8

And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
  Gen 1:20

 In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.
 Gen 7:11

Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens.
 Psalm 148:4

As usual, there are a couple of intertwined thoughts that prompt me to ask a question. In this case they both have to do with domain or extent. And there is a chance this will be thoroughly addressed by the underlying Hebrew, so I ask your patience while I ask what may be obvious (but that I may be too ignorant to see). I offer a little of the thought process and the question itself.

The broader extent is that of what Moses is telling us God actually created (in Gen 1). Gen 1:1 is well known by all of us (in English!) and when reading it lately, I was particularly struck by the fact that heaven is here singular. In and of itself, that really isn't noteworthy because there is nothing in that term that a priori requires one of either the entire universe or earth's atmosphere to be in view. Even Exodus 20:11 seems pretty universal in scope ("...all that in them is..." must include the stars per Gen 1:16 - though it seems almost amazing that such a feat is written in three words almost seeming to be an afterthought - "...the stars also"). So from that standpoint, the conclusion that Moses' account in Gen 1 (and 2) is addressing God's creation of the entire universe - as opposed to that of earth and its immediate atmosphere - seems clear.

But in drilling down to the details, it seems that the waters (no pun intended) are a bit murkier. For almost right off the bat, the "heaven" of Gen 1:1 seems to be given context (in 1:6-8) as immediate to the earth. These waters are both above and below the firmament which God calls "Heaven" (in 1:8 - though I'm not sure why the translators here capitalized it but not in 1:1). And the extent of the firmament seems to be that in which the birds fly (1:20). But again we see the heavenly bodies :

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,

  Gen 1:16-17

So here, heaven seems to imply the universe. But what do we make of the firmament dividing betwen the waters above and the waters below? The flood account in Gen 7 describes the waters of the deep and the waters above ("...windows of heaven...") as flooding the earth. This seems to be a fairly strong reference to heaven being the immediate atmosphere of the earth.

Even Psalm 148:4 references (post-flood) waters above the heavens as well as the "...heavens of heavens..." - which is a pluralization of the Gen 1:1 heaven (I believe - please correct if I am wrong) and seeming to imply that the heaven of Genesis 1:7-8 (and by extension Gen 1:1?) is singular and local.  Which if read back into Exodus 20:11 would mean that the creation account could (on the surface, at least - and that may be the issue here) be talking about earth and its immediate surroundings.

But there are obvious problems with that. First, the creation of the lights. The sun, moon and stars are clearly not in the earth's atmosphere. So how is that understood in light of the separation of the waters? The light itself appears in the heaven that is immediate to the earth. So that is a potential explanation - but that would mean they already existed and only now did God create a firmament in which the light would reach the earth. That is, that the firmament implies natural laws of the propagation of that which was created on day 1 (light itself - not that which produces light). This really makes a hash of the creation account (if held).

So is the problem here that I am trying to drill down to details that are not to be understood as being in the creation account? Or is this remedied linguistically? Or is it simply the case that the only way to consistently read the text is to read "heaven" as always being something closer to "heavens" or "universe"? In the end, if the waters above are beyond space (or in deep space) this also answers the question satisfactorily as it clearly defines "heaven" of Genesis 1 to be all of space.

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PostPosted: 07-15-2017 12:03 am
Post Number: 26071
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A few thoughts...

Since the sun had not yet been created where did the light come from? The question highlights one of the features of the Genesis narrative, that God created light independently of the light-bearers. God uses the sun to regularly shine light on the world; but the sun is not the original source of the light. God's creative word is. It's quite difficult to imagine what the world looked like for those first three days, of course, but that is not an accident; the power and wisdom of God are being displayed. The first divine command brings into being a physical phenomenon called “light.” The light appears in the midst of the original state of darkness. Subsequent to the first fiat God performs a second action that separates the light from the darkness. With this separation there are now two states that are distinguished: light and dark. God names the light “day” and the darkness is named “night.” Genesis 1:3–5 tells us about the organizing of phenomena that are part of the created order of things. How did we come to live in a world in which there is a regular cycle of a period of light, called “day,” and a period of dark, called “night?” The answer is provided for us in these verses. The regular cycle of days, composed of a period of light and dark, begins at the point at which the separation takes place. This conclusively decides the issue of whether the days of Genesis 1 are historical or literary. The days are the result of God’s creational activities. They are part of the created order and are never conceived of in Genesis 1 or any other part of Scripture as anything other than the first days of earth’s history.

Note however that while the work of the first day of creation is complete, However, there is something missing. On days 3–6 the Lord took note of a specific completed work and announced, “It was good.” The first fiat, the creation of light, includes the statement of divine approval; however, with the next act of God, the separation of light and dark and the beginning of the daily cycle, the appreciative observation is missing. Why? Both the creation of the original day (included in the work of Day 1) and the separation of waters (the work of Day 2) will require more work on God’s part before they are brought to the point of completion.

In the case of the first day, it will not be until the work of the fourth day is complete that the days and nights are under their normal “governors”: the sun and moon. The work of separating waters will not be complete until the lower waters that have been separated by the sky from the upper waters (water inside clouds) are themselves separated from the land. On the fourth day the forming of the sun, moon and stars bring the night and day to the point of completion. At that time, and not before, the statement of divine appreciation is appropriate. This point reinforces the chronological character of the narrative. Day 4 must be subsequent to Day 1, since the work of Day 1 is not completed until Day 4. Similarly, Day 3 must be subsequent to Day 2, since the work of separating the waters is not complete until then.

The very order of creation events suggests a divine intention to draw mankind’s attention away from those two heavenly objects, sun and moon, that have become the objects of worship in unbelieving cultures. The sun and moon are not gods that give life. They are creatures made for a specific purpose and under the dominion of their Creator. Though written several centuries ago, Calvin anticipates this very objection.

    It did not, however, happen from inconsideration or by accident, that the light preceded the sun and the moon. To nothing are we more prone than to tie down the power of God to those instruments the agency of which he employs. The sun and moon supply us with light: And, according to our notions we so include this power to give light in them, that if they were taken away from the world, it would seem impossible for any light to remain. Therefore, the Lord, by the very order of the creation, bears witness that he holds in his hand the light, which he is able to impart to us without the sun and moon. (See Calvin, Commentary on Genesis).

Quite simply, God alone rules all of His creation, including time, which is ultimately contingent upon Him alone.

God made the firmament and separated it with the waters above and below. Avoid falling into the canopy theory trap. Here God is pursuing the important creative work of separation from a formless state bringing order, distinction, and aggregation. It is a basic dictate of wisdom to build a house before one fills it, Proverbs 24:3-4. That the first three days speak of "forming" and the second three days speak of "filling" is precisely the order one would expect where literal acts of creation are involved. That Genesis 1:2 prefaces the work of creation with the fact the world was formless and void would also be expected where the purpose of the narrative is to show how something was formed and filled.

There is water both above and below the sky, but they aren't contiguous as there is a relatively waterless space in between. The spirit of God hovering over the waters describes the original state of the physical realm, telling us that the “heavens and earth” that were created did not appear originally in the state that we now observe them. Three characteristics of the primal creation made it unsuitable to be the home of mankind. The creation, with particular, but not exclusive, focus on the earth, was undifferentiated or without organization (formless), without the living things over which mankind would be given dominion (empty) and dark. Giving form, filling with creatures and bringing light into the darkness summarizes the work of God in the rest of the creation week.

There is much material in Scripture that deals with the nature of the raqi‘a (generally translated firmament or expanse). The word raqi‘a occurs 17 times in the Hebrew Bible in the nominal form: nine times in Genesis 1 (vv. 6, 7 [3x], 8, 14, 15, 17, 20), five times in the book of Ezekiel (1:22, 23, 25, 26; 10:1), twice in the Psalms (19:2; 150:1), and once in Daniel (12:3).

All patristic and medieval commentators agreed there is a dome-like or tent-like structure in the heavens that keeps the waters above from flooding the earth. Since Scripture didn’t explain the raqi‘a's physical composition, there was considerable difference as to the nature of the raqi‘a, but since Scripture affirmed its existence, the existence of a “strong body” in the heavens that held back the waters above was unquestioned until the Reformation.

John Calvin was one of the first exegetes to suggest that the raqi‘a was simply the air (what we now call the atmosphere). The entire Christian tradition had previously affirmed that the raqi‘a was a firm boundary between the air and the waters above. Calvin was also one of the first to reject the traditional translation of raqi‘a as firmamentum, claiming that since the raqi‘a was simply the air above us, it should be translated “expanse” rather than “firmament.” Calvin also rejected the entire Christian tradition by arguing that the water above the firmament was simply the clouds. Calvin’s argument in his commentary on Genesis is instructive:

    I know not why the Greeks have chosen to render the word ________, which the Latins have imitated in the term firmamentum; for literally it means expanse.... Moses describes the special use of this expanse, ‘to divide the waters from the waters,’ from which words arises a great difficulty. For it appears opposed to common sense, and quite incredible, that there should be waters above the heaven. Hence some resort to allegory, and philosophize concerning angels; but quite beside the purpose. For, to my mind, this is a certain principle, that nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere.... [T]he waters here meant are such as the rude and unlearned may perceive.... We see that the clouds suspended in the air, which threaten to fall upon our heads, yet leave us space to breathe.... Since, therefore, God has created the clouds, and assigned them a region above us, it ought not to be forgotten that they are restrained by the power of God, lest, gushing forth with sudden violence, they should swallow us up: and especially since no other barrier is opposed to them than the liquid and yielding air, which would easily give way unless this word prevailed, ‘Let there be an expanse between the waters.’

I know of only two of the Westminster divines who commented upon the question, but both affirmed something like Calvin’s view. George Walker claimed that most recent divines taught that the firmament is that airy region that “reacheth from this globe of the Earth and the Sea, to the starry heavens, even to the sphere of the Moon,” and that “this firmament is the place where waters are engendered in the clouds and which from thence descend and water the earth.”(See George Walker, The History of Creation (London, 1641)) John White concurs, suggesting that the meaning of raqi‘a is only the spreading out, not the firmness, of the heavens. He claims that the term “firmament” sometimes means the whole aerial heavens up to the sphere of the stars, and sometimes means just the lower regions between the earth and the clouds. (See John White, A Commentary upon the First Three Chapters of Genesis (London, 1656). BY the way, Turretin concurs wholeheartedly with this approach; see Institutes of Elenctic Theology.)

For a thorough treatment of the word, raqi‘a, see Robert C. Newman The Biblical Firmament: Vault or Vapor?, available here: https://www.amazon.com/biblical-firmament-Vault-vapor/dp/0944788807

See also: https://bylogos.blogspot.com/2010...enesis-and-ancient-cosmology.html which reflects my personal view of not doing hermeneutics with scientific theories as a presupposition. In order to approach the Genesis account text correctly, it will be important to see how the rest of the biblical witness approaches it. The fourth commandment takes the whole of it as an historical and literal event, Exod. 20. The apostle Paul understood the work of the first day to be an historical and literal event, 2 Cor. 4. The apostle Peter understood the work of the second day to be an historical and literal event, 2 Peter 3. The Lord Jesus understood the creation of male and female on the sixth day to be an historical and literal event, Matt. 19. Our Lord also understood the institution of the Sabbath to be an historical and literal event, including the order in which Gen. 1-2 describes the events as having happened, Mark 2. If the biblical witness as a whole is important to us, it will not be possible to ignore the way the text has been understood, as well as doctrinally and morally applied, on the basis that the things related were actual events which happened in time and space according to the literal meaning of the words.
AMR (a.k.a. Patrick)
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PostPosted: 07-16-2017 1:15 pm
Post Number: 26073
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Cool stuff. Mind if  I copy that elsewhere?
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PostPosted: 07-18-2017 8:43 pm
Post Number: 26074
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Good Post Very good post Patrick. It is spot on with sound biblical exegesis.

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