Rain Water Versus A Heavenly Sea In Genesis 1:6–8 -- By: Vern S. Poythress

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 77:2 (Fall 2015)
Article: Rain Water Versus A Heavenly Sea In Genesis 1:6–8
Author: Vern S. Poythress

Rain Water Versus A Heavenly Sea
In Genesis 1:6–8

Vern S. Poythress

Vern S. Poythress is Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary.

It has become commonplace among some scholars to say that ancient Near Eastern people believed that the sky was a strong solid dome, holding up heavenly waters above it.1 In support of the theory of a heavenly sea,

scholars cite texts, not only from ancient Near Eastern myths2 but from the Bible itself. Genesis 1:6–8, it is said, is one such text.

I maintain that, instead of a heavenly sea, we should be thinking about rain water in clouds.3

I. Positive Understanding Of Genesis 1:6–8 As Phenomenal Language

We cannot undertake a full analysis of every text that has entered the argument. But we may at least sketch out the directions in which an analysis might proceed. We will presuppose the results of my previous two articles in this series in the Westminster Theological Journal, the first on modern myths and the second on correlations with providence in Gen 1.4

The second article, in particular, offers an interpretation in which the “expanse” (רָקִיעַ) in Gen 1:6–8 is the same as “heaven” (שָׁמַיִם, v. 8).5 Both words refer flexibly to what is above us. (The word heaven can also refer to the invisible dwelling of God with his angels.) Depending on the context and the weather and the time of day or night, we may see clouds (by day), sun in a blue sky, stars and sometimes the moon in a black night sky, and black sky when there is a cloud cover at night. In many contexts the word heaven (שָׁמַיִם) is roughly equivalent to our modern English word sky. We can comfortably speak of a cloudy sky, a blue sky, a red sky (at sunset), and a night sky. Likewise, the Hebrew term for heaven covers the same spectrum (1 Kgs 18:45; Gen 1:14–15). The expression “waters that were above the expanse” designates water above a cloudy sky, that is, water inside clou...

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