Thursday, July 19, 2012

When Genesis 1:6 and Culture Collide

This is where we get a taste of the cosmology of the ancient world, which was certainly not the same as our own:

 וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים יְהִ֥י רָקִ֖יעַ בְּתֹ֣וךְ הַמָּ֑יִם וִיהִ֣י מַבְדִּ֔יל בֵּ֥ין מַ֖יִם לָמָֽיִם׃

“Now God said, ‘Let a dome be in the midst of the waters, and may it separate the waters from the waters.’”

We’re not yet told what this “dome” is (we discover that in verse 8, much the same way we discover that the “light” turned out to be “day” in verse 5 yesterday).

The word רָקִיעַ (raqiya) is often translated “expanse” (e.g., see the NASB and ESV). According to the Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT), it’s more like a “beaten metal plate, or bow…the firm vault of heaven.”

When we look up at the sky from our vantage point here on earth, it does look bow-shaped, almost like a dome encasing us in the earth’s atmosphere. The ancients had no idea that we were on a ball-shaped planet, no matter what popular Christian apologetics might tell you. (If you’re thinking of Isaiah 40:22, you might want to look up
חוּג [khūg], the word for “circle” in that passage. It doesn’t mean “sphere.” Check out the entry for this in HALOT. Also, consider what the point of Isaiah 40 as a whole may be trying to make.)
This dome was considered to separate waters that were conceived to be above it (rain would be released through small “hatches” or “floodgates” throughout this dome) and the seas would be below it (which is why it speaks of waters being separated from each other).

God used language that people in the ancient world understood. It was not important that he describe the earth in scientific terms—the main point is to communicate the message that he did in fact create this earth for us to inhabit. And if that requires “dome” language (which the ancients did understand), then so be it.

Lend Me Your Thoughts

What do you make of the word רָקִיעַ? If you see anything I missed, please let me know. 

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