The Firmament and the Water Above Part I: The Meaning of raqiaʿ in Gen 1:6-8 -- By: Paul H. Seely

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 53:2 (Fall 1991)
Article: The Firmament and the Water Above Part I: The Meaning of raqiaʿ in Gen 1:6-8
Author: Paul H. Seely


The Firmament and the Water Above
Part I: The Meaning of raqiaʿ in Gen 1:6-8

Paul H. Seely

Standard Hebrew lexica and a number of modern biblical scholars have defined the raqiaʿ (רקיע, “firmament”) of Gen 1:6–8 as a solid dome over the earth.1 Conservative scholars from Calvin on down to the present, however, have defined it as an atmospheric expanse.2 Some conservatives have taken special pains to reject the concept of a solid dome on the basis that the Bible also refers to the heavens as a tent or curtain and that references to windows and pillars of heaven are obviously poetic.3 The word raqiaʿ, they say, simply means “expanse.” They say the understanding of raqiaʿ as a solid firmament rests on the Vulgate’s translation, firmamentum; and that translation rests in turn on the LXX’s translation στερέωμα, which simply reflected the Greek view of the heavens at the time the translators did their work.4 The raqiaʿ defined as an atmospheric expanse is the historical view according to modern conservatives; and the modern view of the raqiaʿ as a solid dome is simply the result of forcing biblical poetic language into agreement with a concept found in the Babylonian epic Enuma Elish.5

The historical evidence, however, which we will set forth in concrete detail, shows that the raqiaʿ was originally conceived of as being solid and not a merely atmospheric expanse. The grammatical evidence from the OT, which we shall examine later, reflects and confirms this

conception of solidity. The basic historical fact that defines the meaning of raqiaʿ in Genesis 1 is simply this: all peoples in the ancient world thought of the sky as solid. This concept did not begin with the Greeks.

The question, however, arises in the modern mind, schooled as it is in the almost infinite nature of sky and space: Did scientifically naive peoples really believe in a solid sky, or were they just employing a mythological or poetic concept? Or were they, perhaps, just using phenomenal language with no attending belief that the sky actually was a soli...

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