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Genesis 1:1-2:3; God Creates Our World, Part 10

by Karl Kemp  
7/20/2014 / Bible Studies

We continue the discussion of the firmament that God created on the second day of creation, above which He put all of the excess water on the earth, as an important step in His recreation of the earth for man.

Paul H. Seely persuasively argues for this view of the firmament; see Extended Note H, "The Bible and Science." I'LL INCLUDE SOME EXTENSIVE EXCERPTS FROM WHAT PAUL SEELY SAID ON THIS TOPIC FROM EXTENDED NOTE H (in the Appendix of the original 273 page paper. I believe this is very important, and interesting):

Excerpts from "The Three-Storied Universe" by Paul H. Seely ("Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation," March, 1969):

The relationship of science to Scripture is this: "The Bible gives redemptive truth through the scientific thoughts of the times without ever intending that those scientific thoughts should be believed as inerrant" (page 18). I agree that God accommodated some scientific details to the ancient viewpoint (including the idea that the earth is stationary and the sun rotates around the earth; the idea that the stars are smaller than the moon and the earth; and the idea of a solid firmament that we are discussing), but His word teaches us many things related to science that we desperately need to know, that He is the Creator of everything that exists in both the spiritual and the physical dimensions, for example, and that He created Adam and Eve as the first humans. The truth about God's creating everything that exists out of nothing (and that most of what so-called science in our day teaches about the evolution of life, or humans, or animals is gigantic error) is theological truth too.

"It seems that in reaction to unbelief [especially referring to attacks on the Bible coming from Christians, or so-called Christians], the current shibboleth [speaking of a test for Christians, especially Christian leaders, to prove that they are orthodox (see Judg. 12:6)] of would-be theological orthodoxy is, 'The Bible is inerrant whenever it touches on matters of science' " (page 18). A major purpose for Seely in this article is to show that this "shibboleth" is a mistake. It is rather easy for sincere, intelligent Christians to get out of balance in one direction, or another; we desperately need the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches.

Seely discusses the "firmament" in some detail in this article. One of his main points is that the viewpoint of the Bible is that the firmament is solid. He points out, for one thing, that the ocean above the firmament spoken of in Gen. 1:6, 7 requires a solid firmament. He also mentions that Ezek. 1:22-26 are an important cross-reference in that the same Hebrew noun used for the firmament in Gen. 1:6, 7 is used of a solid firmament in those verses written by Ezekiel. He also refers to Job 37:18 to confirm this same point.

I'll quote a few sentences from what Seely says under the heading, "Waters Above the Firmament." "The deep ([Hebrew] 'tehom') of Genesis 1:2 is divided in Genesis 1:6, 7 into two bodies of water. The body of water below forms the earthly sea (Genesis 1:9); and the water above, since it is the other half of the 'tehom', forms a heavenly sea. ... ...the opening of the windows of heaven allows a great deal of water to be poured out on the earth. (Genesis 7:11)

Secondly, the water is above the firmament. (Genesis 1:7) Catastrophists and other science-Scripture harmonizers are forever putting this water below the firmament. [[We should make every legitimate effort to harmonize what the Bible says with modern science. But Seely is concerned (and I believe in most instances rightly so) that many Christians are spending a lot of energy and creating a lot of heat trying to force a harmonization between things that cannot be harmonized (for example, some of the ancient scientific viewpoints reflected in Genesis chapter 1 with our more accurate scientific knowledge of the universe).]] This water, so far as the Bible is concerned, is on the far side of the sun, not between the sun and the earth" (page 20).

I'll quote part of what Seely says under the heading "Other Evidence." "Although extra-Biblical concepts are not absolute proof of what the Bible idea is, it is significant that the ancient world thought of the sky as a solid dome above the earth or as solid concentric spheres in which the heavenly bodies were implanted [and in which they rotated around the earth on a daily basis; it wasn't until the days of Isaac Newton (1642-1747) and his discovery of the laws of gravity and motion, that we could understand how one body could orbit around another body without being supported.]. (Seely has a footnote, "See the articles on 'firmament' in 'The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible' and in 'Dictionary of the Bible' - William Smith, Vol. 1, Part II.") ...

It has been thought by some that since the 'birds fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven,' (Genesis 1:20), the firmament must be mere airy expanse. However, the Hebrew of Genesis when properly translated reads, 'let the birds fly above the earth before or 'in front of the firmament.' Genesis 1:20 when properly translated proves that the firmament is a solid plate, not a gaseous expanse. ..." (page 20).

And I'll quote part of what Seely says under Conclusions. "The aim of the Bible is to give redemptive truth. It never intended to teach science, nor does it ever claim to be 'inerrant whenever it touches on science.' It does not correct the errant science of the times in which it was written, but rather incorporates that pre-scientific science into its redemptive message. It is left to man, to whom God gave the cultural mandate (Genesis 1:28), and the common grace to fulfill it, to discover the truth about science. ...."

Excerpts from "The Firmament and the Water Above; Part I: The Meaning of 'raqia' (...'firmament') in Gen. 1:6-8" by Paul H. Seely ("Westminster Theological Journal" 53, 1991, pages 227-240.):

Seely points out in his first paragraph that many conservative scholars from Calvin to the present time have defined the "raqia" as an atmospheric "expanse" and denied the concept of a solid "firmament." In his second paragraph Seely says, "The historical evidence, however, which we will set forth in concrete detail, shows that the raqia was originally conceived of as being solid and not a merely atmospheric expanse. ... The basic historical fact that defines the meaning of raqia in Genesis 1 is simply this: all peoples in the ancient world thought of the sky as solid. ..." (pages 227, 228). Seely then goes on for some eight pages showing that the ancients thought of a solid firmament and gives several examples from more recent days where it has been found that scientifically naive peoples (like those who have been found on isolated islands, in parts of Africa, among American Indians, etc.) typically believe in a solid firmament.

"When the original readers of Genesis 1 read the word raqia they thought of a solid sky. And so did virtually everyone else up to the time of the Renaissance! [The Renaissance started in the 14th century AD.] After the time of Christ there were occasional dissenters, but by and large Jews and Christians, Greeks and barbarians all believed the firmament was solid. ...

Astonishing as it may seem to the modern mind, with very rare exceptions the idea that the sky is not solid is a distinctly modern one. Historical evidence shows that virtually everyone in the ancient world believed in a solid firmament. Accordingly it is highly probable that the historical meaning of raqia in Genesis 1 is a solid firmament. Certainly anyone denying the solidity of the raqia in Genesis 1 bears a heavy burden of proof. ...

... 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 'shamayim' (heaven[s]) is broader in meaning than raqia. It encompasses not only the raqia (Gen. 1:8; Psalm 19:6; 148:4) but the space above the raqia (Psalm 2:4; 11:4; 139:8) as well as the space below (Psalm 8:8; 79:2). Hence birds fly in the heavens [above the earth and below the raqia], but never in the raqia. Rather, birds fly 'upon the face' or 'in front of' the raqia (Gen. 1:20). ..." (pages 236, 237).

Excerpts from "The Firmament and the Water Above; Part II: The Meaning of 'The Water above the Firmament' in Gen. 1:6-8" by Paul H. Seely ("Westminster Theological Journal" 54, 1992, pages 31-46):

"... In the ancient world a virtually universal agreement existed among all peoples everywhere that the sky (firmament) was a rock-solid dome over the earth beneath which were the sun, moon, and stars. In the case of the 'water above the firmament' that universal agreement did not exist" (page 31). Seely goes on for several pages showing that although this view did exist in ancient Mesopotamia, it was not widely held in other places.

"... In the light of 'Enuma Elish' [[This "so called Babylonia Creation Epic" has much in common with the creation account of Genesis chapter 1; there are gigantic differences too; for one thing this pagan document speaks of the pagan gods (including Marduk) but knows nothing of God.]] (and Egyptian literature), what then is the historical meaning of the 'water above the firmament'? The answer is that 'the water above the firmament' was conceived in the ancient Near East not as terrestrial clouds, nor as a canopy of water between the sun and the earth, nor even as galactic vapor, but as a sea of water...above a dam-like firmament which serves as a 'ceiling' to the universe with the sun, moon, and stars beneath it. ...

... By the time of the Renaissance...the pressure on the [Christian] church from the outside to give up its belief in water above the starry firmament had become quite strong. Consequently, the idea began to be entertained that perhaps 'the water above the firmament' referred only to terrestrial clouds. ..." (pages 37-40).

"The divine intent of this picture was not to communicate natural science, but to teach the fact that the God of Scripture is Creator and absolute Sovereign over the supposedly independent forces of the natural world. This is an important revelation which men still need today. ...

...God has sometimes allowed his inspired penmen to advert to the scientific concepts of their own day. This fact in no way effaces the point and purpose of Genesis 1 to reveal the sovereign power and glory of the one true Creator. The divinely intended message of Genesis 1 does not err, but stands out in glorious contrast to the dark mythological polytheism of its own time, and by its divinely inspired excellence endures yet today as a bright revelation for all time" (pages 45, 46). (Now we are ready for Gen. 1:9.)]] (9) Then God said, 'Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear'; and it was so. [[Compare Job 38:8-11; Psalm 104:1-9 (There is widespread agreement that these verses deal with the Genesis 1 creation, not Noah's flood.); and Jer. 5:22. As we have discussed, the large amounts of excess water had already been separated from the earth and placed "above the expanse [firmament]." In order for the dry land to appear it still was necessary to drain the waters from what was to become "dry land." Draining the waters probably included cutting channels/rivers that would facilitate the waters flowing into the seas. It is also possible that some (or all) of the land that was to become "dry land" had to rise in elevation, but I doubt that idea was intended in this verse.]] (10) God called the dry land earth ["called the dry ground 'land' " NIV], and the gathering of the waters He called seas; and God saw that it was good. (11) Then God said, 'Let the earth sprout vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them'; and it was so. (12) The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good. (13) There was evening and there was morning, a third day. (14) Then God said, 'Let there be lights in the expanse [firmament] of the heavens to separate the day from the night [See under Gen. 1:18.], and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years [[Ancient Israel's calendar, with its days, (lunar) months, seasons, and years was based on the daily rotation of the sun, moon, and stars about the earth (actually the earth was rotating daily on its axis and the earth was rotating annually around the sun, but they didn't know that then) and the monthly phases of the moon (caused by the moon's rotation about the earth every month, starting with the new moon; to be precise, a lunar month is 29.530588 days).

I'll quote part of what H. C. Leupold says regarding the meaning of "for signs" here ("Exposition of Genesis", Vol. 1 [Wartburg Press, 1942], page 73). "Now here used in the broadest possible sense. Indeed, the luminaries are signs from various points of view. They are 'signs' to devout faith, declaring the glory of their Creator (cf. Ps. 8 and 19). They are 'signs' by which men get their bearings, or the point of the compass by day or by night. They may convey 'signs' in reference to future events (Matt. 2:2; Luke 21:25). They furnish quite reliable 'signs' for determining in advance the weather to be expected (Matt. 16:2, 3). They may be 'signs' of divine judgments (Joel 2:30; Matt. 24:29). That they may well serve in all these capacities is clear both from Scripture and from experience. ...."]]; (15) and let them be for lights in the expanse [firmament] of the heavens to give light on the earth'; and it was so. (16) God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. [[As I mentioned, I believe the creation account of Gen. 1:1-2:3 clearly speaks of the sun, moon, and stars being created on the fourth day (not before the fourth day). That causes a problem with modern science, BUT IT FITS PERFECTLY WITH THE EARTH-CENTERED VIEWPOINT OF THE SCRIPTURES. (I'm speaking of the earth being the center with respect to the sun, moon, and stars, not with respect to God or heaven). I list quite a few verses to demonstrate the earth-centered viewpoint, with the earth being stationary, of the Scriptures in Extended Note G ("Galileo's Trial and the Interpretation of Scripture").

I'll list some verses that were used to "prove" that Copernicus (1473-1543) and Galileo (1564-1642) were very wrong to say that the earth moves around the sun: Josh. 10:12, 13; 1 Chron. 16:30; Psalm 19:4-6; 93:1; 104:5; Eccl. 1:5; Isa. 38:8; and Acts 2:19. The Roman Catholic Church had a much stronger scriptural basis to argue for a stationary earth than the Christians of our day who argue for a six-thousand year old earth and universe (or close to six-thousand years) have for their viewpoint. Furthermore, most of the scientists of Galileo's day agreed with the earth-centered viewpoint, against Galileo.

You could argue, based on the genealogies of Genesis chapters 5 and 11, that Adam was created some six-thousand years ago (we'll discuss this topic later in this paper), but (from my point of view) that is very different than arguing that the earth (universe) was created some six-thousand years ago. God didn't have the Bible written to correct the scientific views of the ancient world. If He would have had His spokesmen correct the scientific viewpoints of their day, it would have thrown up gigantic barriers against accepting the really important things that He wanted to say through His spokesmen.

For one thing, as many have pointed out, the writers of Scripture (in a manner typical for man) often speak of things as they appear to the senses, as they seem to be.

((I had a nine-paragraph footnote: "Thus Genesis' description of the 'expanse [firmament]' is phenomenological [as things appear to an observer on the earth]... (Kenneth A. Matthews, "Genesis 1-11:26" [Broadman, 1996, 1997, 2001], page 150). Matthews has a footnote, "As B. Ramm explains, the Bible's 'language about astronomy, botany, zoology, and geology is restricted to the vocabulary of popular observation. What can be seen through microscope or telescope is not commented on. Phenomenal language is true because all it claims is to be descriptive' ('Protestant Biblical Interpretation,' 3rd ed. [...Baker, 1970], 210)."

I'll quote part of what John Calvin said on this topic under Gen. 1:16 ("Genesis" [Crossway Books, 2001], pages 22, 23). "...Moses described in popular style what all ordinary men without training and education perceive with their ordinary senses. Astronomers, on the other hand, investigate with great labor whatever the keenness of man's intellect is able to discover. Such study is certainly not to be disapproved, nor science condemned with the insolence of some fanatics who habitually reject whatever is unknown to them. The study of astronomy not only gives pleasure but is also extremely useful. And no one can deny that it admirably reveals the wisdom of God. Therefore, clever men who expend their labor upon it are to be praised, and those who have ability and leisure ought not to neglect work of that kind.

Moses did not wish to keep us from such study when he omitted the scientific details. But since he had been appointed a guide of unlearned men rather than of the learned, he could not fulfill his duty except by coming down to their level. If he had spoken of matters unknown to the crowd, the unlearned could say that his teaching was over their heads. In fact, when the Spirit of God opens a common school for all, it is not strange that he chooses to teach especially what can be understood by all.

When the astronomer seeks the true size of stars and finds the moon smaller than Saturn, he gives us specialized knowledge. But the eye sees things differently, and Moses adapts himself to the ordinary view.

God has stretched out his hand to us to give us the splendor of the sun and moon to enjoy. Great would be our ingratitude if we shut our eyes to this experience of beauty! There is no reason why clever men should jeer at Moses' ignorance. He is not explaining the heavens to us but is describing what is before our eyes. [Also, Moses and the other writers of Scripture were limited to how much God chose to reveal to them.] ...."

I'll quote a few sentences from what John H. Walton says on this topic ("Genesis" [Zondervan, 2001], pages 87-90). "There is not a single example of God revealing scientifically transcendent information to the Israelites. [[Walton has a footnote here, "An intriguing and detailed discussion of this can be found in P. Seely, "Inerrant Wisdom" (...Evangelical Reform, 1989), 1-21. .... I quote extensively from Paul Seely in Extended Note H. I have included some informative excerpts from Seely that deal with the firmament under Gen. 1:8.]] In fact, the evidence is to the contrary. Consider the following four examples: [I'll just quote his third example:] The movements of the celestial bodies and the understanding of weather all are described in terms similar to that in the rest of the ancient Near East. ..." (pages 87, 88). "Are we so presumptuous as to think that inspired text, to be 'true,' must somehow incorporate our view of science into its discussions of origins?" (page 90).

I'll also include an excerpt from Charles E. Hummel ("Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation," Vol. 38, No. 3, September 1986). After mentioning several attempts by some Christians to square the creation account with the details of modern science, Hummel says, "...they attempt to find answers to questions the text does not address.... ... ...any extent to which Genesis teaches modern scientific concepts would have made its message unintelligible to its first readers, and to most of the people who have lived during the last three thousand years. ..." (page 185).

I continue with this important theme in Extended Note H, "The Bible and Science." (For one thing, as I mentioned, I quote extensively from Paul Seely there, who was mentioned by Walton earlier in this footnote.) In that Note we also discuss inerrancy and the Bible. I suggest you read Extended Notes G and H. They are available in the original 273 page paper. As I mentioned at the beginning of this paper, I still have some copies of that paper. This is the end of the nine-paragraph footnote.) )) The earth seemed to be the stable, unmovable center of the visible universe, with the sun, moon, and stars rotating around the earth. Also, it was very clear to God's people, based on what God had revealed to them (special revelation), that the earth had been created (recreated) especially for man, and that it was the earth, not the sun, moon, or stars, that was God's chosen center of activity for man.

God could, of course, have included many verses in the Bible that would satisfy modern science. He could have revealed, for example, that the earth rotates on its axis and it rotates around the sun. That would have provided an effective apologetic tool for the generations that lived after science discovered that the sun-centered viewpoint is correct after all, but He clearly didn't choose to reveal that information in the Bible. For one thing, incorporating such details would have been terribly confusing and distracting for the large number of earlier generations; it would certainly have seriously detracted from God's primary purpose for the Bible. Anyway, for those who have a heart open to God, He has more than adequately demonstrated to each generation (very much including our own) that the Bible is His book, a unique book. Those who begin to open their hearts to the God who is there and to examine the Bible always find that it reveals the things men need to know, including the fact that He (and He alone) can save from sin, spiritual death, darkness, Satan, and eternal judgment.

The fact that the Bible is filled with prophecies, many of which have already been fulfilled, is sufficient to demonstrate that this is God's book - there is no book like it. ((I had a footnote: For a discussion regarding the fact that prophecies in the Bible confirm that God is God and the Bible is His book, and for a listing of some of those prophecies, see pages 8, 9 of my paper on selected passages from the book of Isaiah on my internet site. As discussed there, God frequently makes the claim that He, and He alone, is able to give such prophecies and then bring to pass the things prophesied.)) Those who open their hearts to God and His Word will find more than sufficient confirmation that He is real, that the Bible is true, and that He will meet the deepest needs of their hearts and lives.

God calls people to submit to Him in repentance and faith. Faith in Christ isn't a leap into the dark (it is a leap into the arms of the God of the Bible, a leap in accordance with His Word), but repentance and faith involve the heart and require going beyond logical evidence that will satisfy the intellect. God wants/demands our hearts - and He won't settle for less.]] (17) God placed them [the sun, moon, and stars] in the expanse [firmament] of the heavens to give light on the earth, (18) and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. [[Genesis 1:14-19 build on Gen. 1:2-8, and the interpretation of Gen. 1:14-19 given here builds on the interpretation of Gen. 1:2-8 given above. Having a more literal translation for the key words in the center of verses 14 and 18 will be helpful: "to separate [or, distinguish (Hebrew verb "badal")] between [Hebrew preposition "bayin"] the day and ["bayin"] the night" (Gen. 1:14); "to separate [or, distinguish ("badal")] between ["bayin"] the light and ["bayin"] the darkness" (Gen. 1:18). ((I had a footnote: As discussed above, and with the confirming evidence given in Extended Note E (I quoted much of this confirming evidence above, under the word "darkness" of Gen. 1:2), the dominant use of the Hebrew verb "badal" throughout the Old Testament (and all-the-more-so since the Hebrew preposition "bayin" was used here in Gen. 1:14, 18, as it was in Gen. 1:4, 6, 7 and other verses of the Old Testament) rather strongly favors seeing a separation of things that must be separated, and kept separated, like the holy from the unholy, and the good from the evil.)) Although it isn't as obvious here in 1:14-18 as in 1:2-5, I believe there is a symbolic component for the words "light," "darkness," "day," and "night" here in 1:14 and 18 too.

((I had a five-paragraph footnote: As we discussed above, physical light and darkness were undoubtedly included along with the strong symbolic/spiritual component of the light and darkness of Gen. 1:2-5. Here in Gen. 1:14-18 there is some obvious emphasis on physical light in that the "lights/luminaries" that God created on the fourth day were created, for one thing, "to give [physical] light" on the earth. Nevertheless, it seems that the far-more-important symbolic/spiritual component of light and darkness are included here too (building on Gen. 1:2-5).

Apparently we can say that at least one reason God chose to create our world with a daytime, nighttime cycle (speaking of physical light, darkness, daytime, and nighttime) was to provide His people with a constant reminder of the all-important reality that apart from God's kingdom of light, there is the all-too-real kingdom of sin, Satan, darkness, and death. (These evil things haven't been abolished yet, but Jesus Christ will abolish them from God's kingdom soon. They have already been defeated through His atoning death.) It seems that God went out of His way in the Mosaic Law, which was the foundation for the old covenant (which in turn provided the foundation and framework for the new covenant), to provide His people (all who had ears to hear) with constant reminders of the reality of sin, Satan, darkness, and death. (The creation account of Gen. 1:1-2:3 was part of the Mosaic Law, and part of the Old Testament. It was not written for people who were limited to the information contained in these verses.)

Not only was physical death a constant reminder of sin and its penalties and consequences under the old covenant, but God clearly showed in the Mosaic Law that physical death was an enemy, something that was not good, something that was unclean and defiling. (Death is still called an enemy in the New Testament [1 Cor. 15:26; 2 Tim. 1:10; Rev. 20:14; 21:4].) It was not part of God's good creation. If the sons of Israel came in contact with death, they became defiled, unclean; they were to be excluded from the camp of the people of God for seven days until they had been cleansed through the ashes of a sacrificed red heifer. (See Numbers chapter 19.) For those Israelites who had been set apart by God in a special sense, like the priests (see Lev. 21:1-4), and much more so for the high priests (Lev. 21:10, 11), or for those with a Nazarite vow (see Num. 6:6-12), to come in contact with death was a more serious matter and must be avoided (as far as it was possible). Such reminders of sin and its penalties and consequences were designed by God to help humble His people and to help motivate them to put Him and His Word first place in their hearts and lives and to fear sinning against Him.

We will finish the five-paragraph footnote in Part 11. We finish this paper in Part 11.

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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