The Raqia: A Rejoinder to Allfree & Davies

A recent paper by Mark Allfree and Matt Davies (Is the Firmament of Genesis Chapter 1 Solid?, 2015) maintains that the firmament of Genesis 1 is not described as a solid dome but rather as an empty expanse. The authors also reject any suggestion that the creation account of Genesis 1 is written as a theological polemic against pagan creation myths. Their primary concern is the historicity of Genesis 1 and its consistency with a modern worldview. This article contends that Allfree and Davies begin with a false premise and arrive at the wrong conclusion via a series of misguided arguments. 

Shared values

At the outset it is important to acknowledge common ground. Allfree and Davies share with us a broad and deep respect for the Word of God and accept the full inspiration of Scripture, happily affirming the statements in the BASF without reservation. Sincere Bible study requires humility and a careful respect for the Word as the God-breathed expression of truth.

The thesis

Allfree and Davies’ paper opens as follows:

‘There is a view that is gaining currency within Christadelphian circles that Genesis chapter 1, far from being a true historical account of the origins of the heavens and the earth, is a polemic against ancient near eastern mythology.’[1]

The view of Genesis 1 as an anti-pagan polemic is not new to our community and can be found as far back as the early 1900s, in an article penned by C. C. Walker:

‘Moses’ testimony was given to Israel in what might be called the infancy of the world, when men did not know the extent of the earth, let alone that of the sun, moon, and stars. And, as we believe, it was given (by God through Moses), not so much to instruct Israel in cosmogony in detail, as to impress upon them the idea that The Most High God is the Possessor of Heaven and Earth (Gen. 14:22). And this against the claims of the gods of the nations, as was abundantly proved in Israel’s history.’[2]

Allfree and Davies do not cite anyone who thinks that Genesis 1 can be either a true historical account of creation or a polemic against pagan creation myths, but not both, nor do they offer any justification for such a false dichotomy. Brother CC Walker clearly understood Genesis 1 to be both an anti-pagan polemic and a ‘true historical account of the origins of the heaven and earth.’

In the very next paragraph Allfree and Davies tacitly admit that their interpretation is not objective, but instead motivated by theological concerns:

‘According to this view, it is a mistake to view Genesis chapter 1 as a true historical account of the Divine work of creation. This was never its intended function. This allows for the accommodation of evolutionary theory into the creative narrative.’[3]

Again, there is no contradiction between the idea that Genesis 1 has a polemical purpose and the idea that it is ‘a true historical account of the Divine work of creation.’ These two concepts are perfectly compatible, and indeed many who accept the polemical function still believe the account to be true and historical.

The authors claim that placing Genesis 1 outside the category of pure history ‘allows for the accommodation of evolutionary theory into the creative narrative’, but never provide evidence for this. On the contrary, C. C. Walker did not believe the Genesis 1 account to be strictly literal, yet still rejected evolution. Similarly, evolutionary creationists can accept that Genesis 1 was intended to be understood literally whilst still holding that God employed an evolutionary process. Thus a non-literal reading does not provide an open door to evolution by default, not does a literal reading preclude it.

The solid firmament

Allfree and Davies summarise the case for a solid firmament as follows:

‘The reasoning is that ancient near eastern civilisations believed that the earth was flat, supported by two pillars, and that the firmament was a solid, dome-like structure in which the sun, moon and stars were set. …It is further reasoned that the writer of the book of Genesis, in his description of God’s creative work, assumes that this understanding of the cosmos is correct.’[4]

Unfortunately this is little more than a caricature. The argument for a solid firmament does not simply rest upon an assumption that the author of Genesis shared the cosmology of the pagans around him. Instead it is primarily based on the meaning of the Hebrew word rāqîa (translated ‘firmament’ in most Bibles). This word refers explicitly to a solid object: a ‘firmament’, in the context of Genesis 1.[5] Yes, it is also argued that belief in a solid firmament was consistent with the prevailing worldview—but this requires no assumptions, since the evidence from sociohistorical context supports it completely.[6]

Allfree and Davies also say:

‘Since we now know that the heavens are not solid, the conclusion is drawn that Genesis 1 does not align itself with modern scientific fact. Therefore we are at liberty to assume that Genesis 1 is not to be understood literally, rather it is a teaching story.’[7]

Again, this is a distortion of the actual argument being made. The reference to a solid rāqîa does not give us carte blanche to interpret Genesis 1 non-literally, or dismiss it as a mere ‘teaching story.’ The typical grounds upon which Genesis 1 is interpreted non-literally are predominantly extrabiblical (evidence for the age of the earth, distance from stars, speed of light, etc.) and the basis for reading it as a polemic is sociohistorical. Thus, even if it could be shown that the rāqîa is a non-solid expanse, this would not preclude a non-literal reading or a polemical function.

The authors go on:

‘For this reason, a correct understanding of the scripture teaching regarding the firmament has assumed great importance. The approach to Genesis 1 outlined above stands or falls on this issue alone. If it can be demonstrated that this is not the arrangement of the cosmos that is presented by scripture, in particularly the book of Genesis, then this case can be dismissed altogether.’[8]

For the reasons already noted above, this assertion is completely spurious. Allfree and Davies add:

‘After all, why would the Almighty God of truth (Deuteronomy 32:4) attack the religions of heathen nations by producing an account of creation which itself was not representative of actual events? On the contrary, Genesis 1 is an accurate description of the creative work of God in simple terms that anyone, in any age, can understand.’[9]

The irony here is that the second sentence answers the first. The creation account of Genesis 1 is deliberately written ‘in simple terms that anyone, in any age, can understand’ and that’s the whole point. As Brother CC Walker demonstrated, the polemical function is not compromised even if the account is not strictly literal; on the contrary, polemical and doxological literature commonly makes use of language we are not expected to interpret literally:

Exodus 15:11, ‘Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?’

Psalm 86:8, ‘None can compare to you among the gods, O Lord!’

To paraphrase Allfree and Davies: ‘Why would the Almighty God of truth (Deuteronomy 32:4) inspire the psalmist to write doxologies that affirm the existence of non-existent gods?’ The answer is that the psalmist is not affirming the existence of non-existent gods, despite the plain reading of the text; we are not supposed to take this literally. Allfree and Davies’ logic simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

In reference to academic articles supporting a solid rāqîa, the authors say:

‘Underpinning these articles is the belief that the Genesis account was written by men who adopted the language and understanding of the scientifically naive cultures that existed at the time. …It is reasoned that these ideas of ancient civilizations were used and adopted in the Genesis record to attack these other gods, and to show how great the God of the Israelites was.’[10]

This is incorrect. The argument is not that foreign ideas were ‘used and adopted in the Genesis record’, but rather that they were not foreign at all. The ancient Hebrews shared many of the prevailing ideas of their era: they believed the heart contained intellect,[11] wisdom, and the inner monologue,[12] while the kidneys were the organs of emotions and the psyche.[13]

They also shared much of the cosmology of their era; they honestly believed the rāqîa was a fixed, solid firmament that restrained the ‘waters above.’ They did not believe this because they borrowed or adopted it from surrounding cultures, they believed this simply because when they looked up that’s how the sky appeared to them.

The authors continue:

‘But it is a total assumption to then conclude that therefore that is what Genesis 1 is describing also.’[14]

This is incorrect. There is no assumption required, because the Hebrew word translated ‘firmament’ (rāqîa) refers explicitly to a solid expanse.[15] Allfree and Davies add:

‘The significant difference between the writings of ancient near eastern civilizations and Genesis 1 is that the latter is the word of God, and therefore there is no need to bring Genesis 1 into line with the beliefs of the ancients.’[16]

This is the logical fallacy of special pleading, and repeats the mistake of misrepresenting the argument the authors seek to refute. Nobody is arguing that Genesis 1 needs to be brought into line with the beliefs of the ancients. It is already in line with the beliefs of the ancients. Allfree and Davies are the revisionists, trying to make Genesis 1 fall into line with 19th century science and cosmology.

The authors cite Younker and Davidson (2011) to argue that belief in a solid ‘sky’ was less commonplace than scholars believe:

‘”There have been some who continue to suggest that the ancient Hebrews borrowed cosmological concepts, including the idea of a solid domed heaven, from the Mesopotamians. However, even this idea had to be scuttled when more recent work by Wilfred G. Lambert could find no evidence that the Mesopotamians believed in a harddomed heaven; rather, he traces this idea to Peter Jensen’s mistranslation of the term “heavens” in his translation of the Enuma Elish. … There is no evidence that the Mesopotamians ever believed in a solid heavenly vault.”’[17]

Firstly it is notable that this quote addresses a claim that is not made by Christadelphian exegetes (‘that the ancient Hebrews borrowed cosmological concepts, including the idea of a solid domed heaven, from the Mesopotamians.’) This makes it unfit for purpose by default.

Secondly the citation leans on the findings of the late Bro. Wilfred G. Lambert, a professional historian and archaeologist renowned as a world authority on Assyriology and Near Eastern Archaeology. But what were those findings exactly?

Younker and Davidson say Lambert ‘could find no evidence that the Mesopotamians believed in a harddomed heaven.’ The key word here is ‘harddomed.’ Allfree and Davies neglect to inform their readers that Lambert did not deny the Mesopotamian belief in a solid heaven; he merely pointed out that they believed it was a solid disc rather than a solid dome:

‘All water known to man either comes down from the sky or up from the ground. Hence, the sky must be water. The first chapter of Genesis provides the closest parallel to the division of cosmic waters. On the second day of the week of creation, God put a ‘firmament’ between the upper and lower waters, which corresponds to the ‘skin’ in Enūma Eliš IV 139.’[18]

Lambert states explicitly that the firmament of Genesis 1 corresponds to the “skin” in the Akkadian “Enuma Elish”, a creation story in which the firmament is made from skin. Lambert’s research therefore refutes their case, rather than strengthening it.

In pursuit of additional academic support against the solid rāqîa, Allfree and Davies quote the following sources:

  • Keil & Delitzsch’s Commentary on the Old Testament (1857-78)
  • Speaker’s Commentary (1871)
  • Expository Dictionary of Old Testament Words (1939)
  • Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (1981)
  • Expositor’s Bible Commentary (1976-92)

The first three books are outdated; they represent legacy scholarship based on nineteenth century (or even eighteenth century), lexical research. TWOT admits that the literal meaning of rāqîa is ‘“an expansion of plates,” i.e. broad plates, beaten out’[19] but goes on to claim that the concept of a solid rāqîa was imported to the LXX via Alexandrian speculation. Since the author of this article[20] offers nothing to substantiate this theory (which is little more than an ad hoc rationalisation), it can be disregarded.

EBC’s assertions that ‘the Hebrew word, rāqîa, has no such meaning [i.e. solid expanse]’ and ‘the sky was not regarded as a hard vault in which the heavenly orbs were fixed’ are simply not supported by the evidence of Scripture or the relevant scholarly literature.

Allfree and Davies conclude:

‘(1) that the debate as to the precise meaning of raqia is nothing new, and (2) contrary to what Enns says, the scholars do not agree on the etymology of the Hebrew word raqia.’[21]

This is a gross misstatement. There is virtually no debate as to the precise meaning of rāqîa, so Enns is right to say that scholars agree on its etymology. Allfree and Davis provided no evidence to the contrary.

Scholarship and interpretation

Having quoted academic sources to support their argument, the authors go on to tell us we can’t trust scholars anyway:

‘All of these so-called scholars are astray from Bible truth on a number of key first principles. None of them understand the Truth of the Gospel in its entirety, as defined by “the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12). So we may legitimately ask why we should put our trust in any of them.’

This is more special pleading. The fact that scholars may not understand Gospel truth in its entirety has no bearing on the question of whether or not they understand the correct meaning of Greek and Hebrew words in Scripture (which Allfrees and Davies, like most of us, do not). Why should we trust them on this matter? For the same reason that we trust doctors, dentists and nurses: because they are qualified professionals. Allfree and Davies add:

‘The Bible is its own interpreter, and surely the best way of seeking to understand the meaning of Genesis 1:6-8 is to compare scripture with scripture. As Gaebelein has observed above, “we must seek what clues there are from the biblical text itself”.’[22]

Yet casual statements such as ‘The Bible is its own interpreter’ are as reckless as they are ill advised. Scripture is sometimes its own interpreter, but not always. That is precisely why we need to know the socio-historical context, which we can learn from historians of the ancient world. The Bible is a high context document, produced by a high context society in a high context culture. Its writers assume an audience familiar with this context, which is why many Scripture often lacks certain details.

A case in point is Ezekiel 8:14, where the prophet is shown ‘women weeping for Tammuz.’ Who is Tammuz and why are the women weeping for him—or her? We’re not told. How can we find out? Allfree and Davies’s proposal that ‘the Bible is its own interpreter’ will not help because this is literally the only verse in the Bible where Tammuz is mentioned, and it tells us nothing. Why is the identity of Tammuz not explained by the inspired writer? Because this information was already known to the original audience; it is assumed knowledge. Thus the Bible is sometimes its own interpreter, but by no means always.

Modern audiences lack assumed knowledge, which is why we must often work harder to comprehend the Bible’s message. Allfree and Davies’ refusal to acknowledge this principle leads them to commit serious exegetical errors in their attempt to force a reading of Genesis 1 & 2 that is consistent with 19th century science. Ironically, if we hold the authors strictly to the principle of intertextuality, we find Scripture confirming that the rāqîa is solid.[23]

The heavens

The authors claim there are three different heavens: (a) the heaven where God dwells (which has always existed),[24] (b) the ‘heaven’ created by God in Genesis 1:1, (c) the ‘heaven’ created by God in Genesis 1:1,[25] and (d) the ‘heaven of heavens’ where the celestial bodies reside.[26] Yet nowhere in Scripture do we find anyone compartmentalising heaven into three different spaces, as Allfree and Davies have done. Their differentiation is purely arbitrary, and involves over-reading verses which are variously literal and poetic as if they were all concrete statements from equivalent genres.

By claiming that the rāqîa is not solid, Allfree and Davies also place themselves in the awkward position of claiming they accept the Genesis creation account as a literal historical narrative while selectively dismissing parts of it as merely figurative. The irony is that there is simply no need for such contrived concordism in the first place: it doesn’t refute a non-literal reading of the Genesis creation, it doesn’t add anything of value to YEC or OEC, and it doesn’t rebut the Evolutionary Creationist position.

The authors summarise their interpretation of the Genesis cosmology as follows:

‘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)’[27]

The generic reference to ‘heaven’ (Ecclesiastes 5:2; I Kings 8:43) is not disputed, but the other items demand closer inspection.

The firmament of the heaven

The authors identify the firmament of heaven as ‘the heaven of heavens’, quoting Deuteronomy and Nehemiah in support:

‘The heavens—indeed the highest heavens—belong to the LORD your God, as does the earth and everything in it.’[28]

‘You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, along with all their multitude of stars, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You impart life to them all, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.’[29]

Analysis: both of these verses use the same word for ‘heaven’ and ‘heavens’ (šāmayim). ‘Heaven of heavens’ is clearly a superlative like ‘king of kings’ (not a spatial reference), and neither Deuteronomy 10, nor Nehemiah 9, nor Genesis 1 defines ‘the heaven of heavens’ as ‘the firmament of the heaven.’

Conclusion: Allfree and Davies’ interpretation is not supported by Scripture.

The waters above the firmament

The authors identify the waters above the firmament as clouds, quoting Psalms in support:

‘He gave a command to the clouds above, and opened the doors in the sky.’[30]

‘For your loyal love extends beyond the sky, and your faithfulness reaches the clouds.’[31]

‘When he established the heavens, I was there; when he marked out the horizon over the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above, when the fountains of the deep grew strong, when he gave the sea his decree that the waters should not pass over his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him as a master craftsman, and I was his delight day by day, rejoicing before him at all times…’[32]

Analysis: all of these verses use the same word for ‘heaven’ and ‘heavens’ (šāmayim). None of them define ‘the waters above the firmament’ as ‘clouds.’ On the contrary, as the authors themselves note, clouds are defined as ‘the doors of heaven’ (Psalm 78:23, Psalm 108:4). In other words, they are not ‘waters’; they are the portals through which water is released from the cosmic reservoirs (note that this makes it impossible for the clouds to be waters and portals simultaneously).

Allfree and Davies define the waters above the firmament as the clouds, but the text itself contradicts this:

‘So God made the expanse and separated the WATER under the expanse from the WATER above it. It was so. God said, “Let the WATER UNDER the sky be gathered to one place and let dry ground appear.” It was so. God called the dry ground “land” and the GATHERED WATERS he called “seas.” God saw that it was good.’[33]

This shows plainly that there is water above the firmament and water under the firmament; both are described using the word ‘water.’ The gathered water below the firmament is referred to specifically as ‘seas’, indicating that it is literal water. Yet Allfree and Davies read the text thus:

‘So God made the expanse and separated the WATER under the expanse from the CLOUDS above it. It was so.’[34]

The Hebrews knew clouds were not water.[35] They did not say ‘water’ when they meant ‘clouds’, and they did not say ‘clouds’ when they meant ‘water.’ There is no mention of clouds in any of these verses.

Allfree and Davies provide no evidence that ‘firmament’ really means ‘empty space.’ The impossibility of this non-literal interpretation is demonstrated when we attempt to use it to replace the word ‘firmament’ wherever it appears in Scripture:

‘God said, “Let there be an EMPTY SPACE in the midst of the waters and let it separate water from water. So God made the EMPTY SPACE and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. It was so.

…and let them serve as lights in the EMPTY SPACE of the sky to give light on the earth.” It was so.’[36]

The last verse here is particularly pertinent. Allfree and Davies believe the firmament is the sky, yet Genesis 1:15 says that the firmament is in the sky. Following Allfree and Davies’ interpretation, this would mean the firmament is an empty space in the sky—but since the sky itself is an empty space, this would be saying the firmament is an empty space in an empty space. The reasoning here is self-defeating. [37]

The authors do not explain how the sun and moon can be placed ‘in the firmament’[38] (as Genesis 1:15 says), while at the same time the birds can fly ‘in front of [Heb. ‘on the face of’] the firmament’ (as Genesis 1:20 says).[39] Additionally, if the ‘waters above the firmament’ are the clouds (as they claim), then how can the sun and moon be ‘in the firmament’? This would mean the clouds are actually above the sun and the moon, and that the birds that fly across the face of the firmament can fly to the moon, or even the stars.

Conclusion: Allfree and Davies’ interpretation is not supported by Scripture.

The waters below the firmament

The authors identify the waters below the firmament as seas, quoting Proverbs in support:

‘When he established the heavens, I was there; when he marked out the horizon over the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above, when the fountains of the deep grew strong, when he gave the sea his decree that the waters should not pass over his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him as a master craftsman, and I was his delight day by day, rejoicing before him at all times…’[40]

Analysis: this passage does not define seas as ‘the waters under the firmament.’ The waters below the firmament are first mentioned in Genesis 1:6-7,[41] where they cover the earth completely. In Genesis 1:9 this vast body of water is partially withdrawn from the land and separated into ‘gathered waters’, which God calls ‘seas.’[42] Thus the ‘waters under the firmament’ are actually the primal, unformed waters; the seas themselves are the result of a divine process that shapes them into distinguishable bodies of water.

Conclusion: Allfree and Davies’ interpretation is not supported by Scripture. While this point is a minor one, it flags a larger problem: Allfree and Davies are careless with the text, often conflating concepts that Scripture unambiguously differentiates.

The rāqîa

Allfree and Davies examine five additional passages in connection with the idea of a solid rāqîa: Exodus 24:10,[43] Job 37:18,[44] Psalm 104:2,[45] Ezekiel 1:22-28,[46] and Isaiah 40:22.[47] Exodus 24:10 describes a vision of God with a sapphire platform beneath His feet. The platform is described as ‘clear like the sky itself.’ This comparison implies translucence; thus the sky is compared here to a solid object through which light can pass (like a sapphire).

Job 37:18 is completely unambiguous. Allfree and Davies follow the KJV, which says, ‘Hast thou with him spread out the sky, which is strong, and as a molten looking glass?’ Their comment on this is as follows:

‘“Strong” is the Hebrew ‘chazaq’, and denotes the idea of mightiness. There is nothing in this word that implies that the sky is solid.’[48]

It’s worth noting the fallacy they commit here:

  • chazaq means ‘strong’
  • Allfree and Davies take the English word ‘strong’ and replace it with a synonym (‘mighty’) which has a different lexical range
  • they use one of the meanings in the lexical range of ‘mighty’ to replace the word ‘strong’
  • in short: they begin with ‘strong’, switch to ‘mighty’, then replace ‘mighty’ with ‘greatness’

This is the fallacy of equivocation, and reflects a subjective approach to Bible study.

The semantic range of chazaq is actually narrower than ‘mighty’, and includes ‘strong’, ‘severe’, and ‘hard’ (depending on context). Its primary meanings refer to physical power, which fits naturally with the concept of a solid sky. On its own this may not be sufficient to prove the case, but chazaq is used here in conjunction with rei: the Hebrew word for ‘mirror’ (‘looking glass’ in the KJV), and a mirror is undoubtedly a solid surface:

רְאִי (reʾî): n.masc.; ≡ Str 7209; TWOT 2095e—LN 6.221 mirror, i.e., a flat piece of polished metal (possibly with an ornamental handle), which makes a reflection for face and hair care (Job 37:18+)[49]

This becomes obvious when we check more accurate Bibles:

NET: ‘Will you, with him, spread out the clouds, solid as a mirror of molten metal?’ NRSV: ‘Can you, like him, spread out the skies, hard as a molten mirror?’ NASB95: ‘Can you, like him, spread out the skies, strong as a molten mirror?’ ESV: ‘Can you, like him, spread out the skies, hard as a cast metal mirror?’

The New Bible Commentary explains this phrase in the context of verses 14-24:

‘The power and wisdom of God are also displayed in the phenomena of summer: in the lightning of summer storms (15), the clouds so delicately balanced (16), the hot south wind (17), the blazing sky as hard as bronze (18) and the blinding light of the summer sun (21). God’s wisdom is so much greater than Job’s that Job cannot even understand how these phenomena work (15–16, 18), let alone control them.’[50]

Allfree and Davies make some attempt to tackle the meaning of rei, but their explanation is problematic:

‘“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 sky. 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.’[51]

This paragraph contains multiple errors. Firstly the authors claim that Job 37:18 is telling us the heavens are transparent. Yet there is no reference to transparency in this verse. Secondly they claim a mirror appears to be transparent. But anyone who has ever seen a mirror knows this is not true: a mirror is reflective, and when you look into it you see what it reflects. That is the whole point of a mirror. If it was transparent it would not function as a mirror.

Thirdly their interpretation appears based on the anachronistic assumption that a glass mirror is referred to here, which is simply not the case: in Job’s era, mirrors were made of solid metal (typically brass[52]) as the Hebrew clearly demonstrates: the word yatsaq (translated ‘molten’ in the NET Bible and NASB95) refers explicitly to a process of pouring or casting, and the word rei refers to a mirror.[53] Thus the sky is being compared to a mirror of cast metal: a hard, solid surface. Job 37:18 simply cannot be wrested to say what Allfree and Davies need it to say; it refutes them completely.

Psalm 104:2 and Isaiah 40:22 both invoke the image of a tent to describe the sky.[54] Allfree and Davies explain this as follows:

‘Neither of these passages are intended to be a commentary on the physical nature of the heavens:

(1)    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…”).
(2)    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 tent.
(3)    The heavens are above us, as if we are dwelling under the canvas of a tent. Again, this is clearly the language of simile.’

Yes the references to tents and curtains are similes, but a simile draws a comparison with a specific property of the object used as a simile. What property of the tent is being used here? Allfree and Davies sidestep this question by claiming the verse refers to the ease with which a curtain is stretched out or a tent is pitched, yet from the context it is obvious that the concept illustrated here is not ease of performing an action, but physically stretching out an object used as a covering. The authors can only escape the true meaning of the simile by misrepresenting it completely.[55]

Critically, Allfree and Davies offer no evidence that the original audience of Scripture understood the references to rāqîa in Genesis 1 as ‘clearly the language of simile.’ Instead they approach the text from a 19th century western perspective and assume the intended meaning was consistent with their own concordist interpretation. This is completely anachronistic; it places modern concepts in the minds of the ancients and does not allow them to mean what they plainly say.[56]

Bible scholars accept that the biblical writers described the world as they perceived it to be. When they compared the sky to a tent, it was because they understood the sky to be tangible. When restored to its proper context, the quote from Psalm 104 is shown to be part of a wider reference to a solid rāqîa:

‘He covers himself with light as if it were a garment. He stretches out the skies like a tent curtain, and lays the beams of the upper rooms of his palace on the rain clouds. He makes the clouds his chariot, and travels along on the wings of the wind.’[57]

Here the skies are be ‘stretched out like a tent curtain’, while God’s ‘upper room’ is supported by ‘beams’ laid across ‘the rain clouds.’ This is concrete language, not to be dismissed lightly. It describes the physical composition of the heavens through the eyes of the ancients.

On Isaiah 40:22, Matthews, Chavalas and Walton observe:

‘The picture of the universe described here is the common cosmological view of the ancient Near East. The sky was a dome that arched over the disk of the earth, which sat on top of a primeval ocean. Under the ocean was the netherworld, virtually a mirror image of the space above the earth. Thus, the entire universe was an enormous sphere, cut in the center by the earth.’[58]

Ezekiel 1:22-28 is likewise very explicit. Here rāqîa appears four times:

‘Over the heads of the living beings was something like a platform [rāqîa], glittering awesomely like ice, stretched out over their heads.’[59]

‘Under the platform [rāqîa] their wings were stretched out, each toward the other. Each of the beings also had two wings covering its body.’[60]

‘Then there was a voice from above the platform [rāqîa] over their heads when they stood still.’[61]

‘Above the platform [rāqîa] over their heads was something like a sapphire shaped like a throne. High above on the throne was a form that appeared to be a man.’[62]

Allfree and Davies say:

‘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 firmament.’[63]

This misses the point completely. It doesn’t matter if we interpret the vision literally or not; what matters is that the rāqîa is described and depicted here as a physical object.[64] Thus we are left in no doubt as to how this concept was understood by the ancients: they believed it was solid.

The authors go on:

‘The point Ezekiel is making is that just as ice is transparent, so was the firmament that he saw in vision.’[65]

But ice is not transparent: it is translucent.[66] This is because ice is solid, just as the rāqîa was believed to be. Notice also that rāqîa in these verses is described as a ‘platform’ over the heads of the cherubim, ‘glittering awesomely like ice’, with God’s throne upon it. A footnote in the NET Bible refers to this platform as a ‘dome’ (see also the NRSV[67]), leaving us in no doubt as to its composition: the rāqîa is a solid object.[68]

The conceptual world of the Ancient Near East

The ancients described the cosmos in language that modern readers would consider phenomenological: language describing the world and its events as they appear to the observer. Today such language is commonly used in a figurative sense, but in the Ancient Near East it was understood literally.[69]

Scriptural descriptions of ‘heaven’ are a case in point. In the Bible, ‘heaven’ is a generic term for the expanse above Earth and the dwelling place of God.[70] Modern readers can be forgiven for thinking that when Scripture uses words which are translated as ‘sky’ it refers to a vast open space high above our planet, but Pilch (2012) reveals the error of this assumption. Heaven is first mentioned in the Genesis creation account, where the Hebrew words rāqîa and šāmayim are variously translated ‘expanse’, ‘heaven’, and ‘sky.’ The primary definition of rāqîa describes something that is solid:

רָקִיעַ (rā·qîaʿ): n.masc.; ≡ Str 7549; TWOT 2217a—LN 1.5–1.16 expanse, firmament, i.e., an area of atmospheric space, either relatively close to the ground or in the upper limit of the sky and heavens (Ge 1:6, 7(3×),8, 14, 15, 17, 20; Ps 19:2[EB 1]; 150:1; Eze 1:22, 23, 25, 26; 10:1; Da 12:3+), note: though to the modern mind the expanse of the sky is a void of empty space, it is perceived as a “solid” space (hence firmament) and is so a kind of base to hold up highly heavenly objects such as water or a throne, see also domain LN 7.26–7.53’[71]

The rāqîa is a physical ‘ceiling’; a ‘firmament’, as some Bibles render it.[72] The primary function of this solid expanse is to separate the waters upon the earth from those above.[73]

In biblical cosmology the sky also contains heavenly bodies: sun, moon, and stars. These are not located far beyond our planet in the vacuum of space, but upon the face of the sky itself. While the stars are fixed, the sun and moon are capable of motion.[74] The sky is presumably impermeable, but occasional reference is made to openings which allow the passage of natural elements and other objects[75] sent by God.[76] Divine communication also comes from the sky, sometimes in the form of extreme weather conditions.[77]

The distinction between the sky and the realm of God is described in physical rather than metaphysical terms. One Jewish tradition implies it is possible to travel through a hole in the sky to God’s dwelling place on the other side[78] (a concept alluded to in Genesis 11:4; 28:12). The same tradition provides examples of worthy persons who have made this journey.[79]

The metaphysical heaven is described in later OT literature as a place where the enthroned Yahweh holds court with divine beings.[80] This is an important affirmation of God’s sovereignty and omnipotence. He is Lord of the earth, of all living creatures, and even of the heavens themselves.[81] By the Christian period ‘heaven’ has become synonymous with the presence of God,[82] yet Pilch reminds us that the NT concept should not be conflated with modern theology.[83]

Pilch’s analysis of the ANE heaven is extremely useful from an exegetical perspective. Too often we unintentionally superimpose modern meanings on biblical language, subconsciously driven by a need to reconcile the text with our own modern, scientific understanding of the world. Genesis 1 is a case in point: even Christians who pride themselves on their literalism will nevertheless insist that ‘rāqîa’ is equivalent to our modern word ‘sky.’ But this is concordism,[84] not literal interpretation.

Genesis 1-3 is not a historical narrative in the modern sense,[85] and cannot be compelled to surrender a message it does not contain.[86] Instead it is written under inspiration in the genre of a typical ANE primeval protohistory (though its specific content makes it unique within the ANE, as many scholars have noted), describing creation and God’s purpose with it.[87] The inspired writer was concerned more with the spiritual rationale behind creation than the mechanics involved,[88] and this was recognised by his original audience.[89] What they saw in Genesis 1-3 was a traditional narrative reflecting certain concrete realities with historical elements for a polemical and theological purpose.

The theology of the Genesis creation

Theology is an inherent feature of the Genesis creation account,[90] as illustrated in specific statements about the nature and identity of God, His mode of creation, His interaction with creation, and His dealings with humanity. Both here and elsewhere in Genesis, statements of this type have a creedal function, defining key aspects of the Hebrew faith.

Almost every verse of the Genesis creation narrative is pregnant with meaning. God is alone (monotheism, Genesis 1:2 cf. Exodus 20:3 ); He is sole creator (omnipotence, Genesis 1:3 cf. II Kings 19:15); He creates with purpose (teleo-eschatological framework, Genesis 1:26 cf. Numbers 14:21 & Matthew 5:14-16); He sustains all life (literal & spiritual food, Genesis 1:29 cf. Exodus 16:4 & John 6:27); He forms legal contracts, passes judgement and covers sin (covenant relationship, sin, atonement, Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:14-19, 21 cf. Genesis 17:1-8, Revelation 13:8).[91]

Thus we have the distinctive spiritual elements of ontology, teleology, hamartiology, soteriology and eschatology which comprise the foundation of Judeo-Christian doctrine. Interpreted theologically, the Genesis creation reveals a microcosm of the complete Christian message: the only true, omnipotent God created us to reflect His glory, providing all our needs.[92]When we turn from Him in sin, He offers to redeem us through an eternal covenant made possible by the sacrifice of His Son, so that our original relationship might be restored.

Conclusion

Allfree and Davies argue their interpretation is correct, yet with the exception of a few outdated sources they argue purely on the basis of personal opinion. When a writer asks us to accept his thesis on his own authority we are right to reject it unless he is recognised as an authority (e.g. an expert in Greek and Hebrew). Allfree and Davies have no such authority, and cannot find current authorities that support with their interpretation. All the evidence is against them.

The authors conclude their article by saying, ‘We must not allow our minds to be befuddled by the ideas of men.’ But while they do refer to a number of scholars in an endeavour to demonstrate uncertainty among them, they also claim ‘We have come to this conclusion by simply reading the text and allowing the scriptures to interpret themselves.’ This is an easily made but critical mistake.

In reality these brethren do not simply read the text and allow the Scriptures to interpret themselves. Just like everyone else, they go to a translation produced by mainstream Christian scholars. These scholars themselves relied on the work of other scholars who compiled a version of the Hebrew and Greek texts, involving the reconciliation and determination of the best text in the event of discrepancies. Allfree and Davies also vary in their use of the KJV, NKJV and NIV (once) in addition to the meaning of Hebrew words. In short: they are relying on scholarship whether they realise it or not.

Of course we shouldn’t defer to scholars uncritically. Where they can make a contribution we must weigh the evidence and arguments. Considering all the relevant passages is clearly most critical—but even then we are resting on the work of scholars.  We must carefully discern between good and bad arguments on the basis of evidence and merit. When we realise that the ancients must be allowed to mean what they say, passages such as the Genesis creation account actually become more comprehensible[93] and harmonise properly with the rest of Scripture. There is no need to force anachronistic interpretations.

21st Century Christians too often forget that we are not the original audience of Genesis: it was written for us, not to us. As latecomers to the creation account we must strive to understand how its first audience understood it. This approach informs our understanding of the details, offering a legitimate basis for alternative interpretation while preserving the essential meaning. [94] The net result is greater insight into the original purpose of Genesis 1-3 and a coherent exegesis which is valid for all ages.[95]

Anachronistic debates over strict historical and scientific accuracy have no relevance to documents that make no claim to possess these features. When we read the ancient texts in a way that is sympathetic to their language and period,[96] we share the eternal truths first revealed to the primeval believers.[97] Provided the original context is properly recognised, their core message remains the same regardless of when they are read, or by whom.
______________________________________________

[1] Allfree and Davies, Is the Firmament of Genesis Chapter 1 Solid? (2015).

[2] Walker, ‘Is it wrong to believe that the earth is a sphere?’, The Christadelphian (50.590.348), 1913.

[3] Allfree and Davies, Is the Firmament of Genesis Chapter 1 Solid? (2015).

[4] Allfree and Davies, Is the Firmament of Genesis Chapter 1 Solid? (2015).

[5] ‘If the writer wanted to communicate the idea of a nonsolid divider, his choice of the word raqia was particularly unfortunate since its verbal cognate raqa (“stamp, beat, spread out”) is used of hammering metal into thin plates (Exod 39:3) and hence suggests that a raqia was something hammered out, an idea consonant with both Egyptian and Sumerian views of the sky. In addition a Phoenician cognate (mrq) means “plating.”’ Paul H. Seely, ‘The Firmament and the Water Above’, The Westminster Theological Journal 53 (Westminster, UK: Westminster Theological Seminary, 1991), 238.

[6] ‘It is true that Genesis 1 is free of the mythological and polytheistic religious concepts of the ancient Near East. Indeed it may well be antimythological. But, as Bruce Waltke noted when commenting on the higher theology of Israel as it is found in Genesis 1, the religious knowledge of Israel stands in contrast to Israel’s scientific knowledge.41 In addition, the religious knowledge of Israel, though clearly superior to that of its neighbours, was expressed through the religious cultural forms of the time. Temple, priesthood, and sacrifices, for example, were common to all ancient Near Eastern religions. It should not surprise us then to find the religious knowledge of Israel also being expressed through the merely scientific forms of the time.’ Seely, ‘The Firmament and the Water Above’, 227.

[7] Allfree and Davies, Is the Firmament of Genesis Chapter 1 Solid? (2015).

[8] Allfree and Davies, Is the Firmament of Genesis Chapter 1 Solid? (2015).

[9] Allfree and Davies, Is the Firmament of Genesis Chapter 1 Solid? (2015).

[10] Allfree and Davies, Is the Firmament of Genesis Chapter 1 Solid? (2015).

[11] ‘It is the seat of intellect (Gen. 8:21; 17:17; Exod. 7:23; 2 Sam. 13:33; Jer. 7:24), the part of a man that reasons and gives consideration to the issues that confront him (Gen. 31:20; Prov. 10:8; 1 Sam. 4:20; Job 7:17; Isa. 42:25). Man’s basic disposition is centered there (Gen. 6:5; Exod. 4:11; 1 Kings 8:23; Jer. 3:16; 7:31) along with such virtues as courage (1 Sam. 17:32; 2 Sam. 17:10; Ps. 40:12; Ezek. 22:14). With the heart man makes plans and reveals his intentions (Exod. 35:34; Pss. 7:11; 37:4; Prov. 22:17; Isa. 63:4). His conscience also speaks to and from his heart (1 Sam. 24:6; 2 Sam. 24:10; Isa. 59:13).’ Eugene H. Merrill, Everlasting Dominion: A Theology of the Old Testament (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2006), 180.

[12] Genesis 8:21, ‘And the LORD smelled the soothing aroma and said to himself [Heb. ‘in his heart’]…’; Genesis 17:17, ‘Then Abraham bowed down with his face to the ground and laughed as he said to himself [Heb. ‘in his heart’]…’; Exodus 35:10, ‘ Every skilled person [Heb. ‘wise of heart’] among you is to come and make all that the LORD has commanded…’; Leviticus 19:17, ‘You must not hate your brother in your heart.’

[13] ‘The kidneys (kilyôt—always plural in the OT) are viewed in Old Testament physiology and psychology as being at the centre of human emotion and feeling. At the same time the term is either parallel to heart or is taken to be synonymous with it, suggesting in many places that it conveys cognitive or intellectual nuances. For example, David praises the Lord who counsels him and says “even at night my kidneys instruct me” (Ps. 16:7). …More generally, the kidneys are perceived at the core of one’s being, almost in the sense of a metaphor for the person himself.’ Merill, Everlasting Dominion: A Theology of the Old Testament, 180.

[14] Merill, Everlasting Dominion: A Theology of the Old Testament, 180.

[15] ‘רָקִיעַ raqia (956a); from 7554; an extended surface, expanse:—expanse(16), expanse of heaven(1).’ Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries: Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998) electronic edition.

[16] Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries, electronic edition.

[17] Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries, electronic edition.

[18] W. G. Lambert, Babylonian Creation Myths (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2013), 171.

[19] J. Barton Payne, “2217 רָקַע,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 862.

[20] The author was J. Barton Payne. He died in 1979; thus his contribution was based on much earlier research, which is now outdated.

[21] Allfree and Davies, Is the Firmament of Genesis Chapter 1 Solid? (2015).

[22] Allfree and Davies, Is the Firmament of Genesis Chapter 1 Solid? (2015).

[23] ‘We ought then on both biblical and hermeneutical grounds to interpret the nature of the raqia in Genesis 1 by the clear definition of raqia which we have in Ezekiel 1, and all the more so since the language of Genesis 1 suggests solidity in the first place and no usage of raqia anywhere states or even implies that it was not a solid object. This latter point bears repeating: there is not a single piece of evidence in the OT to support the conservative belief that the raqia was not solid.’ Seely, ‘The Firmament and the Water Above’, 239.

[24] ‘The scriptures teach us that God Himself dwells in heaven… 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.’ Allfree and Davies, Is the Firmament of Genesis Chapter 1 Solid? (2015).

[25] ‘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”.’ Allfree and Davies, Is the Firmament of Genesis Chapter 1 Solid? (2015).

[26]  ‘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.’ Allfree and Davies, Is the Firmament of Genesis Chapter 1 Solid? (2015).

[27] Allfree and Davies, Is the Firmament of Genesis Chapter 1 Solid? (2015).

[28] Deuteronomy 10:14.

[29] Nehemiah 9:6.

[30] Psalm 78:23.

[31] Psalm 108:4.

[32] Proverbs 8:27-30.

[33] Genesis 1:7, 9-10.

[34] Genesis 1:7.

[35] ‘The water above the firmament is not clouds as some rationalize (and we shall delineate this fact more fully in Part II), for while the sun, moon, and stars are in the raqia (v. 14), the waters of the upper primeval ocean are above the raqia (v. 7).47 This ocean over the raqia, indeed resting upon it (Gen 7:11; 8:2; Ps 148:4), tells us quite clearly that the firmament is a physical part of the universe.’ Seely, ‘The Firmament and the Water Above’, 238.

 

[36] Genesis 1:6-7, 15.

[37] ‘We see then that Gen 1:17 and 1:20 testify that the raqia is not air or atmosphere. The verbal cognate of raqia, as well as the use of the verb hWf (“made”), in 1:7 imply the raqia was solid. More important, the purpose and function of the raqia imply its solidity, for it functions as a horizontal dam (cf. 7:11; 8:2; Ps 148:4), holding back a mighty heavenly ocean.’ Seely, ‘The Firmament and the Water Above’, 238.

[38] ‘Gen 1:17 also testifies that the raqia is not air or atmosphere for it says that God placed the stars (and probably the sun and moon) “in the raqia or the heavens.” But the stars are not located in the air or atmosphere. So we know the raqia (in which 1:17 locates them) cannot be air or atmosphere. Even if 1:17 is construed as phenomenal language, the raqia still cannot be air or atmosphere. For the stars do not look like they are located in the air or atmosphere. Rather (as anyone can tell on a clear night away from city lights) they look like they are embedded in a solid vault which is exactly why scientifically naive peoples believe in a solid vault, and why 1:17, in accordance with that belief, says God placed the stars in the raqia.’ Seely, ‘The Firmament and the Water Above’, 237.

[39] ‘The fact that it was named “heaven(s)” in Gen 1:8 and birds fly in the heaven(s) (Deut 4: 17) seems to imply the raqia was not solid. But the word samayim (heaven[s]) is broader in meaning than raqia. It encompasses not only the raqia (v. 8; Ps 19:6; 148:4) but the space above the raqia (Ps 2:4; 11:4; 139:8) as well as the space below (Ps 8:8; 79:2). Hence birds fly in the heavens, but never in the raqia. Rather, birds fly upon the face or in front of the raqia (Gen 1:20).’ Seely, ‘The Firmament and the Water Above’, 237.

 

[40] Proverbs 8:27-30.

[41] ‘God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters and let it separate water from water. So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. It was so.’

[42] ‘God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place and let dry ground appear.” It was so. God called the dry ground “land” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” God saw that it was good. ’

[43] ‘[A]nd they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear like the sky itself.’

[44] ‘[W]ill you, with him, spread out the clouds, solid as a mirror of molten metal?‘

[45] ‘He covers himself with light as if it were a garment. He stretches out the skies like a tent curtain.’

[46] ‘Over the heads of the living beings was something like a platform, glittering awesomely like ice, stretched out over their heads  Under the platform their wings were stretched out, each toward the other. Each of the beings also had two wings covering its body. When they moved, I heard the sound of their wings—it was like the sound of rushing waters, or the voice of the Almighty, or the tumult of an army. When they stood still, they lowered their wings. Then there was a voice from above the platform over their heads when they stood still. Above the platform over their heads was something like a sapphire shaped like a throne. High above on the throne was a form that appeared to be a man.  I saw an amber glow like a fire enclosed all around from his waist up. From his waist down I saw something that looked like fire. There was a brilliant light around it, like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds after the rain. This was the appearance of the surrounding brilliant light; it looked like the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I threw myself face down, and I heard a voice speaking.’

[47] ‘He is the one who sits on the earth’s horizon; its inhabitants are like grasshoppers before him. He is the one who stretches out the sky like a thin curtain, and spreads it out like a pitched tent.’

[48] Allfree and Davies, Is the Firmament of Genesis Chapter 1 Solid? (2015).

[49] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[50] D. A. Carson et al., eds., New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition (4th ed.; Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 481.

[51] Allfree and Davies, Is the Firmament of Genesis Chapter 1 Solid? (2015).

[52] Exodus 38:8, ‘He made the large basin of bronze and its pedestal of bronze from the mirrors of the women who served at the entrance of the tent of meeting.’

[53]Bronze mirror. Mirrors in antiquity were made out of bronze and were very hard and difficult to break. The imagery was appropriate to the sky on those dry, hot summer days when the heat of the sun reflected on the rock and dirt through the still, golden haze. Additionally in the ancient world it was believed that the sky was a solid dome or disk.’ Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (electronic ed.; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Job 37:18.

[54] See also Psalm 19:4.

[55] ‘As for Isaiah, he never says God made a curtain or tent or scroll as Genesis says God made a raqia. Rather he says the sky is like a curtain or tent or scroll. His statements are always poetic similes, but Gen 1:7 is not a simile (nor is it just phenomenal language). Gen 1:7 makes a prosaic statement about the creation of a part of the universe, a part just as physical as the earth, sea, sun, or moon. The statements in Genesis and Isaiah are not really comparable.’ Seely, ‘The Firmament and the Water Above’, 238.

[56] ‘Conservative writers usually try to avoid this implication of solidity by stressing the meaning “expanse” or “thinness” for raqia and pointing out that Isaiah also speaks of the sky as a curtain or tent (Isa 40:22) or scroll (Isa 34:4). But in Isa 42:5 the earth is called an “expanse” (raqia) without in any way implying that it is not solid. So even if the raqia in Genesis is translated “expanse,” this in no way implies that it is not solid. And even though gold can be beaten very thin, it never loses its solidity.’ Seely, ‘The Firmament and the Water Above’, 238.

 

[57] Psalm 104:2-3.

[58] Chavalas, et al., The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, Isaiah 40:22.

[59] Ezekiel 1:22.

[60] Ezekiel 1:23.

[61] Ezekiel 1:25.

[62] Ezekiel 1:26.

[63] Allfree and Davies, Is the Firmament of Genesis Chapter 1 Solid? (2015).

[64] ‘Above the cherubim lies what looks like a spread of glittering crystal. On top of this there seems to be a sapphire throne, which bears a glowing, radiant figure. …“[E]xpanse”—the same word is used in Gn. 1:6–8. The idea here is of a firm platform which separates the cherubim from the throne.’ Carson et al., eds., New Bible Commentary, 720.

[65] Allfree and Davies, Is the Firmament of Genesis Chapter 1 Solid? (2015).

[66] Even if ice was transparent, this still wouldn’t change the fact that it is solid. Transparent objects are physical; thus a transparent rāqîa cannot be simply equated with an immaterial expanse.

[67]  Ezekiel 1:22-23, 25-26 (NRSV), ‘Over the heads of the living creatures there was something like a dome, shining like crystal, spread out above their heads. Under the dome their wings were stretched out straight, one toward another; and each of the creatures had two wings covering its body. …And there came a voice from above the dome over their heads; when they stopped, they let down their wings. And above the dome over their heads there was something like a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was something that seemed like a human form.’

[68] ‘But in Ezekiel 1 the nature of a firmament is described. This is the clearest description of a raqia found in the OT. It was a divider of some kind over the heads of four cherubim (vv. 22-25), and on top of it was a throne with a man on it (v. 26). As to the composition of this firmament, it looked like “”terrible crystal or ice.” Inasmuch as the throne mentioned was apparently sitting on this firmament (cf. Exod 24:10) and the firmament looked like crystal or ice, it is apparent that the firmament is solid and is certainly not mere atmosphere or space or simply phenomenal language. Nor does anyone to my knowledge doubt that it was solid. Even conservatives admit the firmament in Ezekiel 1 is solid.’ Seely, ‘The Firmament and the Water Above’, 239.

[69] ‘Only by taking Genesis l out of its historical context could one say that raqia means merely “an atmospheric expanse” or, as the more sophisticated conservatives say, “just phenomenal language.” In the ancient world the sky was not just phenomenal. The ancients did not just refer to the appearance of the sky as being solid. They concluded from the appearance that the sky really was solid, and they then employed this conclusion in their thinking about astronomy, geography, and natural science. The raqia was for them a literal physical part of the universe, just as solid as the earth itself. Solidity is an integral part of its historical meaning. When the original readers of Genesis 1 read the word raqia they thought of a solid sky.’ Seely, ‘The Firmament and the Water Above’, 236.

[70] ‘In the Bible, heaven refers either to the physical sky above the earth or to the realm of God.’ John J. Pilch, A Cultural Handbook to the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012), 7.

[71] Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament), 1997, electronic edition.

[72] ‘It is as firm and solid as the earth (Job 37:18), yet the psalmist says that God stretched out the heavens “like a tent” (Ps. 104:2; see also Isa. 40:22). This sky is supported by pillars (Job 26:11).’ Pilch, A Cultural Handbook to the Bible, 7.

[73] Genesis 1:6-7, ‘God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters and let it separate water from water.” So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it.’

[74] ‘A countless number of stars (Gen. 15:5) were affixed in the sky (Gen. 1:14-18), but the sun and moon coursed across it.’ Pilch, A Cultural Handbook to the Bible, 7.

[75] This applies equally to rāqîa and šāmayim; see for example Genesis 7:11, where God opens ‘the floodgates of the heavens [šāmayim].’ Such statements suggest there was little distinction between rāqîa and šāmayim in the minds of the ancients.

[76] ‘There were also windows in the sky (Isa. 24:18) through which God could shower the earth with gifts or punishments: rain (Gen. 7:11; Luke 4:25; Acts 14:17), manna (Exod. 16:14; Ps. 78:24), even the wind or spirit (Num. 11:31; Job 26:13; Ps. 135:7; Jer. 10:13; Matt. 3:16; Acts 2:2; 1 Pet. 1:12).’ Pilch, A Cultural Handbook to the Bible, 7.

[77] ‘The sky serves as a vehicle for audio-visual communication from God. “He works signs and wonders in the sky and on earth” (Dan. 6:27). The rainbow is one such sign (Gen. 9:12-17). Thunder, the “voice of God”, is another sign (Exod. 20:22; Jer. 25:30). Meteorological phenomena announce God’s intentions to those who know how to interpret them (Luke 21:11, 25).’ Pilch, A Cultural Handbook to the Bible, 7.

[78] ‘According to the ancient Israelite tradition, God created an open sky for Adam “so that he might look upon the angels singing the triumphal song. And the light, which is never darkened, was perpetually in paradise” (2 Enoch 31:2-3). Of course, after the disobedience of the first creatures that opening to the other side was closed. In fact, Israelite tradition in general believed that this hole or opening was permanently closed. Yet God could open it as desired.’ Pilch, A Cultural Handbook to the Bible, 8.

[79] ‘These were mainly holy people like Enoch (see Gen. 5:21-23 and the books of Enoch dating from the third century B.C.E. to the third century C.E.) but especially prophets like Elijah (2 Kings 2:11), Daniel (Dan. 7-12), Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:1), and John (Rev. 4:1-2).’ Pilch, A Cultural Handbook to the Bible, 8.

[80] ‘The prophet Micaiah reports this experience: “I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven [Hebrew šāmayim, thus literally the sky] standing beside him on his right hand and on his left” (1 Kings 22:19). The throne is the symbol of royal authority in a monarchic society. It symbolises the monarch’s ability to effectively control the behaviour of the kingdom’s subjects and to extract loyalty from those subjects.’ Pilch, A Cultural Handbook to the Bible, 8.

[81] ‘In the Israelite tradition, Isaiah wrote: “Thus says the Lord: The sky is my throne” (Isa. 66:1 LXX). And Matthew’s Jesus echoes this belief: “But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven [the sky], for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool…” (Matt. 5:34-35; see also Matt. 23:22).’ Pilch, A Cultural Handbook to the Bible, 9.

[82] ‘In the New Testament, heaven is clearly the destiny and destination of righteous believers (2 Cor. 5:1; Eph. 2:6; Phil. 3:20; Rev. 11:12). Yet heaven in these instances is less a place than a presence or, more accurately, being with God for all eternity. Heaven, especially in Matthew, is a metonym for God.’ Pilch, A Cultural Handbook to the Bible, 9.

[83] ‘It is very useful to keep in mind the differences between the Bible and theology in their use of the word “heaven.” Readers of the Bible can’t go wrong by substituting “sky” all of the time, whether referring to the physical sky or to the divine realm, the abode of God and the spirits. When contemporary theologians speak of heaven, they usually are referring to a human state or condition of bliss and happiness which is rooted in the vision and enjoyment of God, technically called the “beatific vision.”’ Pilch, A Cultural Handbook to the Bible, 9.

[84] Concordism is the idea that Scripture is consistent with scientific evidence, when both are correctly understood. It is particularly common among fundamentalists whose view of inerrancy does not allow the prima facie meaning of Scripture to contradict verifiable scientific facts (though they tend to draw the line at evolution). This requires them to insist that ‘rāqîa’ does not refer to a solid canopy—despite the clear meaning of this word—because we all know the sky is actually a vast expanse of air.

[85] ‘Recognizing the literary technique and form and noting the literary background of chs. 1–11 does not constitute a challenge to the reality, the “eventness,” of the facts portrayed. One need not regard this account as myth; however, it is not “history” in the modern sense of eyewitness, objective reporting. Rather, it conveys theological truths about events, portrayed in a largely symbolic, pictorial literary genre. This is not to say that Gen. 1–11 conveys historical falsehood. That conclusion would follow only if it purported to contain objective descriptions. The clear evidence already reviewed shows that such was not the intent.’ Sanford LaSor, W., Hubbard, D. A., Bush, F., Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 74.

[86] ‘Revelation does not give a scientific cosmology. That lies outside its province. …Revelation does not enter into the mysteries of molecular physics, or the development of the life-germ, or the way in which it operates on material organisms. All these it relegates to science, whose function it is to investigate them.’ Robert Roberts, “The Bible True; Darwin and Huxley Refuted,” The Christadelphian 13, no. 142 (1876): 157-158.

[87] ‘The Bible does not speak in the literal and strictly scientific language of the nineteenth century, but in the language of the day in which it was written (although it frequently anticipates the discoveries of modern science and uses word in harmony therewith). Any other style of writing would have failed to give information to those reading it.’ D. Clement, quoted in “The Creative Order—Mosaic and Geological”. The Christadelphian 21, no. 238 (1884)), 176.

[88] ‘Genesis 1–3 (and for that matter, much of the book of Revelation), is not intended by its original inspired author to be taken literally. “How it all began” and “How it will all end” is veiled (and must be for fallen mankind) in literary genre.’ Utley, R. J. D. 2001. How it All Began: Genesis 1-11. Study Guide Commentary Series. Vol. Vol. 1A (19). Bible Lessons International: Marshall, Texas.

[89] ‘Genesis 1–11 is not a scientific document, but in some ways modern science parallels its presentation (order of creation and geological levels). It is not anti-scientific but pre-scientific. It presents truth: 1. from an earth perspective (a human observer on this planet); 2. from a phenomenological perspective (i.e. the five senses; the way things appear to the human observer). It has functioned as a revealer of truth for many cultures over many years. It presents truth to a modern scientific culture but without specific explanation of events.’ Utley, How it All Began: Genesis 1-11, 13.

[90] ‘The book of Genesis introduces primary theological themes that form the core of both the Old and New Testaments. The opening words of the book establish creation, of which mankind is the highest accomplishment, as the unique prerogative of God, a purposeful process that by its very nature is affirmed as good (1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). Sin is introduced as willful disobedience (ch. 3), permeating the human condition (4:1–16; 11:1–9) and leading to divine judgment (3:14–24; 6:5–8:22).’ Myers, A. C., The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 409.

[91] The Genesis creation account probably began as an oral tradition, with formal recitation involving some explication of the theological themes. The written version does not do this, possibly reflecting a certain amount of assumed knowledge.

[92] ‘According to the Genesis account, there is one God, the sovereign Creator, to whom all the universe owes its being and whom it is expected to obey. Within that created universe, men and women have a place of honour, having been made in the divine image. We reflect God’s nature and represent him on earth.’ Carson, D. A. 1994. New Bible Commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed.) (Ge 1:1–2:3). Inter-Varsity Press: Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill.

[93] For example, it is difficult to see how the rāqîa can separate ‘the water under the expanse’ from ‘the water above it’ (Genesis 1:7) unless it is a physical canopy. You cannot support a large body of water on thin air.

[94] ‘To take a literary passage and demand it to be literal when the text itself gives clues to its symbolic and figurative nature imposes my biases on a divine message. Genre (type of literature) is the key in a theological understanding of “how it all began” and “how it will all end.” I appreciate the sincerity and commitment of those who, for whatever reason, usually personality type or professional training, interpret the Bible in modern, literal, western categories, when in fact it is an ancient eastern book.’ Utley, How it All Began: Genesis 1-11, 16.

[95] ‘Genesis 1–11 is a theological necessity for understanding the rest of the Bible but it is an ancient, literary, succinct, artistic, eastern presentation, not a literal, modern, western presentation.’ Utley, How it All Began: Genesis 1-11, 16.

[96] ‘Certainly the historical-grammatical meaning of raqia is “the ordinary opinion of the writer’s day.” Certainly also it is not the purpose of Gen 1: 7 to teach us the physical nature of the sky, but to reveal the creator of the sky. Consequently, the reference to the solid firmament “lies outside the scope of the writer’s teachings” and the verse is still infallibly true.’ Seely, ‘The Firmament and the Water Above’, 238.

[97] ‘Genesis reflects true knowledge but not exhaustive knowledge. It is given to us in ancient (Mesopotamian) thought forms, but it is infallible theological truth. It is related to its day, but it is totally unique. It speaks of the inexpressible, yet it speaks truly. Basically it is a world-view (who and why), not a world-picture (how and when).’ Utley, How it All Began: Genesis 1-11, 14.

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