By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)
For years, skeptics of the Bible have made the claim that the writers of Scripture were extremely scientifically challenged; and that this scientific ignorance manifested in their writings.
It is claimed, for example, that Moses taught that there is a solid dome around the Earth. This is based on a misunderstanding of the definition of the word “firmament” as used in the Book of Genesis:
Genesis 1:6-Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.”.
Our English word “firmament” comes from the Latin word firmamentum. This was translated from the Greek word steréōma, which was itself a translation of the original Hebrew word rāqîa. As you can see, this word translated as “firmament” has a great deal of linguistic history! So, what does the original Hebrew word rāqîa actually mean? Was Moses teaching that there is a dome around the Earth?
Let’s study how this word rāqîa, and its’ corresponding verbal form rāqa, are used throughout Scripture.
First, the word rāqîa itself simply means something which is expanded.
“The King James version’s word appears to come from the Vulgate’s word firmamentum , which in turn appears to stem from the Septuagint’s translation, σ τ ε ρ έ ω μ α ( stereoma)…The Hebrew word is ע י ק ר ( raqia ), meaning “extended surface” [1, p. 956]. Lexicons [2, p. 591] say it comes from the verb ע ק ר ( raqa ), whose primary meaning is “to stamp … stamp down … spread out” [6, p. 347]. One 19th-century lexicon [2, p. 692], uncontaminated by 20th-century cosmology, adds to the list of the verb’s meanings the interesting phrase “to expand.””. (D. Russell Humphreys, PH. D. Starlight And Time: Solving The Puzzle Of Distant Starlight In A Young Universe, 570-580 (Kindle Edition); Green Forest, AR; Master Books)
As another excellent resource has pointed out:
“The waters were separated, and above the earth was a firmament (6). The English word goes back to the Latin firmamentum, which in turn rests upon the Greek stereoma, both of which carry the idea of solidness.3 However, the emphasis in the original Hebrew word raqia is not on the material itself but on the act of stretching out or the condition of being expanded. The word “expanse” (ASV, marg.) is more appropriate. In several places in the OT the act of stretching out the heavens is prominent (see Job 9:8; 26:7; Ps. 104:2; Isa. 45:12; 51:13; Jer. 51:15; Zech. 12:1). Evidence that God is the Creator rests upon the act of stretching out rather than upon the character of that which was formed.4 Throughout the OT interest centers in God’s relationships to nature and to man. God is the Creator, and from that declaration the OT moves on to show that nature is a creature and a tool. Likewise God judges, delivers, and cares for man.” (George Herbert Livingston, B.D., Ph.D., Beacon Bible Commentary: Volume One, 407-420 (Kindle Edition); Kansas City, Missouri)
Second, our passage in Genesis gives us some more detailed information about the meaning of the word “firmament.”
Genesis 1:20-Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.”
Please note that the word “firmament” could have reference to the place where birds fly, I.e., the space above the Earth (what we would call the atmosphere).
We also learn from studying Genesis one that the “firmament” had reference to the place where the heavy bodies were located:
Genesis 1:14-18-14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; 15 and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. 16 Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. 17 God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.
It seems pretty clear to me at this point that the word “firmament” simply meant “Heaven.”
In fact, is there is still any doubt, look at what else Genesis 1 tells us:
Genesis 1:8-And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day.
Did Moses teach that the firmament is a solid dome surrounding the Earth?
Not at all!
The word firmament is another name for heaven, which God has “stretched out.”
If critics of the Bible would actually study their Bible, then their objections would vanish like a puff of smoke.
Third, by studying other passages of Scripture which use the word rāqîa, and its’ corresponding verbal form rāqa, we find further evidence of these conclusions.
“There are many OT passages that refer to God having “stretched” or “spread out” the heavens, some using the verb [ rāqa , related to rāqîa . Many of them use [ nā t ā h meaning ‘to extend, stretch out’, and sometimes translated ‘bowed’. There are two other verbs, m ā tach ( ) and t āphach ( ), ‘to spread out, extend’. 16 These passages are primarily referring to the events on Day 2 (the lemma of the Hebrew verb is inserted): 1. 2 Samuel 22:10—He bowed [ nātāh ] the heavens and came down 2. Job 9:8—who alone stretched out [ nāt āh ] the heavens 3. Job 26:7—He stretches out [ nātāh ] the north over the void 4. Job 37:18—Can you, like him, spread out [ rāqa ] the skies? 5. Psalm 18:9—He bowed [ nātāh ] the heavens and came down 6. Psalm 104:2—stretching out [ nātāh ] the heavens like a tent 7. Psalm 144:5—Bow [ nātāh ] your heavens, O L ORD , and come down! 8. Isaiah 40:22—who stretches out [ nātāh ] the heavens like a curtain, and spreads [ mātach ] them like a tent to dwell in 9. Isaiah 42:5—Thus says God, the L ORD , who created the heavens and stretched them out [ nātāh ] 10. Isaiah 44:24—Thus says God, the L ORD … who alone stretched out [ nātāh ] the heavens, who spread out [ rāqa ], the earth by myself 11. Isaiah 45:12—my hands that stretched out [ nātāh ] the heavens 12. Isaiah 48:13—my right hand spread out [ tāphach ] the heavens 13. Isaiah 51:13—the L ORD , your Maker, who stretched out [ nātāh ] the heavens 14. Jeremiah 10:12—and by his understanding stretched out [ nātāh ] the heavens 15. Jeremiah 51:15—and by his understanding stretched out [ nātāh ] the heavens. 16. Ezekiel 1:22—the likeness of an expanse [ rāqîa ] … spread out [ nātāh ] above their heads. 17. Zechariah 12:1—Thus declares the L ORD , who stretched out [ nātāh ] the heavens.” (Jonathan D. Sarfati, PH.D., F.M., The Genesis Account: A Theological, Historical, And Scientific Commentary On Genesis 1-11, 4446-4473 (Kindle Edition); Powder Springs, Georgia; Creation Ministries International).
Fourth, I believe we need to consider why so many skeptics of the Bible hold to this notion of a solid dome being the “firmament.”
The more I have learned about the critics of the Bible, the more I have come to see that one of the things which fuels their vehemence against the Sacred Text is their affirmation that the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy) was not written by Moses (who lived nearly fifteen hundred years before Jesus was born).
Instead, they maintain that the Torah (another designation for the Pentateuch) was actually written by anonymous scribes who lived around the sixth century B.C., and that these editors were heavily influenced by an ancient Babylonian text known as the Enuma Elish (which is the Babylonian creation myth).
Regarding the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, there is a great deal of evidence. For example, McDowell has shared these interesting proofs:
1B. R.H. Rfeiffer writes: ‘There is no reason to doubt that the Pentateuch was considered the divine revelation to Moses when it was canonized about 400 B.C.’ (Pfeiffer, JOT, 133) 1C. Ecclesiasticus, one of the books of the Apocrypha, written about 180 B.C., gives this witness: ‘All this is the covenant book of God Most High, the law which Moses enacted to be the heritage of the assemblies of Jacob’ (Ecclesiasticus 24:23 NEB). 2C. The Talmud (Baby Bathra, 146), a Jewish commentary on the Law (Torah) dating from 200 B.C., and the Mishnah (Pirqe Aboth, I, 1), a rabbinic interpretation and legislating dating from 100 B.C., both attribute the Torah to Moses. 3C. Likewise, Philo, the Jewish philosopher theologian born approximately A.D. 20, held Mosaic authorship: ‘But I will…tell the story of Moses as I have learned it, both from the sacred books, the wonderful monuments of his wisdom which he has left behind him and from some of the elders of the nation.’ (Philo, WP, 279) 4C. The first century A.D. Jewish historian Flavius Josephus writes in his Josephus Against Apion (11:18): ‘For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another (as the Greeks have) but only 22 books (our present 39), which are justly believed to be divine; and of them, five belong to Moses, which contain his laws, and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death.’ (Josephus, WFJ, 609)” (Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict, 458-459; Nashville, TN; Thomas Nelson Publishers).
It also needs to be pointed out that the study of archaeology has continually corroborated the authenticity of the Book of Genesis, especially in documenting the locations, names, details, and other facts of the world of Moses that later editors would not have been aware.
One of the most interesting evidences of this which could be cited comes from the discovery of the now-famous Ebla Tablets:
“Sixteen thousand clay tablets from the third millennium B.C. were discovered at Ebla in modern Syria, beginning in 1974. Biovanni Pettinato dates them 2580–2450 B.C. and Paolo Matthiae suggests 2400–2250 B.C. Either period predates any other written material by hundreds of years. Apologetic Importance of the Tablets. The importance of the Ebla tablets is that they parallel and confirm early chapters of Genesis. Although clouded by subsequent political pressure and denials, the published reports in reputable journals offer several possible lines of support for the biblical record (see ARCHAEOLOGY, OLD TESTAMENT). Tablets reportedly contain names of the cities Ur, Sodom and Gomorrah, and such pagan gods mentioned in the Bible as Baal (see Ostling, 76–77). The Ebla tablets reportedly contain references to names found in the book of Genesis, including Adam, Eve, and Noah (Dahood, 55–56)….There are significant implications in the Ebla archives for Christian apologetics. They destroy the critical belief in the evolution of monotheism (see MONOTHEISM, PRIMITIVE) from supposed earlier polytheism and henotheism. This evolution of religion hypothesis has been popular from the time of Charles *Darwin (1809–1882) and Julius *Wellhausen (1844–1918). Now monotheism is known to be earlier. Also, the force of the Ebla evidence supports the view that the earliest chapters of Genesis are history, not mythology” (Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia Of Christian Apologetics, 208 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books)
The claim that the Book of Genesis relies on much later Babylonian creation myths is shattered when we compare the two accounts, as well as when we analyze the historical circumstances of both documents. Bill Cooper has provided this excellent information for us:
“The Enuma Elish, otherwise known as the Babylonian Epic of Creation, burst onto the academic scene in the 1870s. Its discoverer and first translator was the Assyriologist, George Smith. 2 It caused a great deal of excitement amongst both Bible-believers (of which George Smith was one) and the critics, and the table below (based on George Smith’s table) shows why…The Enuma Elish certainly doesn’t ‘agree’ with Genesis in anything like a theological sense. Nor does it ‘agree’ in any sense with Genesis over the days of creation, the orders of created beings, and so on. Rather, the Babylonian epic only agrees with Genesis loosely about the chronological order of the Creation, but even that is achieved only by straining things a bit….How anyone, Bible-scholar or not, can read the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis, and then suggest that it owes its authorship to such malevolent nonsense as this, I do not know.”. (Bill Cooper, The Authenticity Of The Book Of Genesis, 541-566 (Kindle Edition).
Yet what is really fascinating is how the evidence of history demonstrates that the Book of Genesis actually influenced the Babylonian narrative!
“As for Genesis being the younger of the two accounts, A H Sayce, Professor of Assyriology at Oxford, largely took over George Smith’s work of translation after Smith died in 1876. He was particularly interested in the Enuma Elish, translating it afresh and bringing all his expertise to bear on the text. He had little time for the ‘Higher Critics’, denouncing their subjective guesswork and often childish puns, and after examining the Enuma Elish in great depth and, tellingly, publishing its text he has this to say of it: “ Since the death of George Smith other fragments of the Epic have been discovered, and we now know more exactly what it was like. It was an attempt to throw together in poetic form the cosmological doctrines of the chief Assyrian or Babylonian schools and combine them into a connected story. But the attempt breathes so thoroughly the air of a later philosophy which has reduced the deities of earlier belief to mere abstractions and forces of nature, that I much doubt whether it can be assigned to an earlier date than the seventh century BC.” 6 Now this is interesting, very interesting indeed. We have seen already how the Book of Genesis is traceable all the way back to Moses (and even beyond in its clay tablet form, particularly the early chapters). In other words, it is immensely older than the 7th century (700-600) BC in which the Enuma Elish was composed. But what happened about a hundred years earlier than the writing of the Enuma Elish, to account for the ‘air of a later philosophy’ which had such a telling and mollifying effect upon the more demonic excesses of earlier Babylonian beliefs? We must recall here the taking captive of the Ten Tribes of Israel by Assyria in the year 722 BC, perhaps a hundred years or more before the Enuma Elish was composed. Now, it has to be said that the Israelites of the Northern Kingdom were not exactly Biblical fundamentalists when it came to theology. The very reason why God expelled them from the land was their idolatry and their refusal to repent of that. Nevertheless, the knowledge of God was never entirely lost amongst them (it never is), and the sudden flooding of the land of Assyria (and with it Babylonia), with those who were once the Chosen People of God, must have had a considerable cultural impact on the native populations. Amongst the Israelites were some, if not many, who remembered the teachings of the Book of Genesis on the Creation. These would often have been told and listened to by the native population over that one hundred year span, and would certainly have had an impact upon those who, 55 years after the Assyrian Conquest, were sent back to settle a now empty Samaria, even claiming for themselves (rightly or wrongly) that they were Israelites. 7 Which means that we have a situation here that is most strange. It would seem from this that, rather than the Babylonian mythology affecting the Book of Genesis, as the critics have claimed for so long, it is the other way about. It is the Book of Genesis, or the somewhat dimmed memories of it amongst the displaced Israelites, which affected the Babylonian myth. That is why the Enuma Elish borrowed something of the structure of Genesis with regard to the order of creation, certainly enough for us to recognise one or two details, however vague. But who would have thought it? Things are opposite concerning the history of the Bible to what the critics and modernists have been telling us all these years.” (Bill Cooper, The Authenticity Of The Book Of Genesis, 576-600 (Kindle Edition))
The claim of the critics-that the Book of Genesis teaches there is a solid dome around the Earth-is false.
The critics of Scripture-instead of allowing the evidence to lead them to the proper conclusions-often choose rather to make up their minds and then twist the Word of God to try and justify their mistaken viewpoints.
Having accepted the naturalistic supposition that the traditional authorship of the Bible Books is flawed (despite the evidences to the contrary), they latch on to wild and unfounded suppositions and claim these are “rational” when they are anything but.
As for the claim that the Bible writers were scientifically unlearned and that the Bible contains scientific mistakes, I would be more than willing to examine that contention in more detail in a future study. The fact is, the writers of the Bible had access to incredibly advanced scientific foreknowledge that clearly demonstrated that they were inspired of God.
George Dehoff has well written:
“The Bible is not a textbook on material science. It is a textbook on religion the science of correct living. It was written hundreds of years before modern science was originated, yet it is scientifically accurate. Modern science has never disproved any statement in the Bible but has proved and demonstrated the truthfulness of hundreds of things which the Bible anticipated. The Mind which directed the writing of the Bible put into it many truths which were beyond the range of human comprehension and human knowledge at the time they were written.” (George Dehoff, Why We Believe The Bible, 633-638 (Kindle Edition); McLoud, OK; Cobb Publishing)
Friends, the Bible is true. Scores of evidences from several fields may be used to document this (the scientific foreknowledge of the Bible writers, prophecy and fulfillment, archaeological confirmation, supernatural unity, etc). Why not accept it as the Word of God and decide to be a wise builder who builds his life on the solid foundation of Scripture (Matthew 7:24-27)?
The God of Heaven has given us His Word; but we, as accountable beings, have violated that Word through sin (Romans 1:18-20). Sin itself separates us from God (Isaiah 59:1-2). If this problem of sin is not dealt with properly, it will lead to eternal separation from God (Romans 6:23). This is the very definition of Hell (Matthew 25:41-46).
Yet God loves you and I so very much that He sent His Son Jesus Christ to be a sacrifice for our sins (Matthew 20:28; John 3:16-17). Jesus, loving us so very much, went to the cross of Calvary and paid for the sins of every person (1 Timothy 2:6). He was buried, and three days later, He arose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).
While Jesus died for every person (1 John 2:2), only those who receive Him will be saved (John 1:12). The Word tells us how we receive Christ and His salvation:
Acts 8:35-39-35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. 36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” 37 Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” 38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.
If you are a Christian who has turned away from God, won’t you today repent of that sin and confess it to the Lord in prayer? God’s Word tells Christians:
1 John 1:9-If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.