Re: The firmament -- a solid barrier to concordism

From: Walter Hicks (
Date: Sat May 25 2002 - 09:24:29 EDT

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    I deeply respect your knowledge and the manner in which you present
    things. However, I believe that in your message there is a danger of
    missing some important things. Allow me the opportunity to elaborate.

    For ancient people to think that the earth if flat, the sky is a bowl
    shaped object overhead and that the water that falls from the sky must
    be located up there somewhere, is not cosmology. It is pure and simple
    observation. When I was a kid, before anyone "taught me better", that is
    exactly what I thought --- by observation, not by reading the bible.
    When my father told me that the earth was round and people lived on the
    other side, I thought he had gone crazy --- since people on the bottom
    side would clearly fall off. So to say that the ancient cultures had
    that perception of the world in the Genesis 1 and elsewhere is not
    exactly rocket science. The very fact that many cultures believed such
    is a clear indication of just how "obvious" it was to everybody at that
    time --- and for a long time afterwards in non-scientific cultures. God
    just did not attempt to overrule the perception of their senses.

    However, Genesis 1 does _not_ present itself as a description of the
    scientific universe, but rather as a description of how it came into
    being. In other words, _history_, not science. Now that history that is
    presented has some remarkable features.

    1.) It says that there was a beginning -- as was "demonstrated" in 1961
    (despite the then prevalent scientific theory).
    2.) it says that light was one of the first aspects of creation. -- now
    a part of modern "big bang" theory
    3.) It says that life came into being as a gradual process from the
    simpler forms, then up through the higher animals and then man -- which
    we have found to be true only in the last few hundred years.

    In short -- God's background HISTORY of how He created mankind.

    Now all of this is, to me, beyond any possibility of coincidence and it
    would be absolutely amazing if it came from something that was intended
    to be a theological statement _only_ and _not_ a revelation of some of
    the historical aspects of how God created what we observe. Absolutely no
    doubt that there is a great spiritual message ---- but to say that there
    is ZERO valid historical/physical revelation does the passage a great
    disservice IMHO.

    If "concordism" has now become a standard ASA word, how about
    "theologyism" for the diametrically opposed viewpoint that is often
    espoused? I'd rather like that.

    (I do expect a slam dunk by George and others -- so I am prepared. I
    will do a Glenn Morton and let this be my last word on the subject.)


    Loren Haarsma wrote:
    > People of the Ancient Near East (ANE), when the Old Testament was
    > written, believed in a particular physical cosmology. They believed
    > that the earth was a flat disk with a solid dome firmament above it,
    > primordial waters above the sky which were held back by the
    > firmament, and primordial waters below the earth. This physical
    > picture of the cosmos was a common belief, as supported by amble
    > evidence from archeology, from other written sources of that era, and
    > from the Bible itself. It is clear from many biblical texts that the
    > Old Testament authors themselves believed the physical picture of ANE
    > cosmology. Unfortunately, modern English translations usually gloss
    > over this fact. (The N.I.V., for example, sometimes substitutes
    > "sky" for firmament and often substitutes "clouds" for the waters
    > above the firmament.)
    > Old-earth Concordist interpretations of Genesis 1 reinterpret several
    > Hebrew words in order to make the chronology of Genesis 1 try to
    > agree with modern science. Numerous (sometimes conflicting)
    > concordist reinterpretations of those Hebrew words have been offered
    > in books, in articles, and on this e-mail list. While concordism can
    > be appealing, it relies on redefining Hebrew words in ways which are
    > foreign to the original authors' understandings of the words. Such
    > redefinition of words, I believe, is a deeply serious hermeneutical
    > problem.
    > Paul Seely has an excellent article online at
    > which explains in greater depth the ANE physical picture of the
    > world. The article also explains the original meanings of the Hebrew
    > words which refer to the firmament and the primordial waters.
    > Seely's article includes numerous references. I also recommend the
    > book "Portraits of Creation," which includes an excellent chapter on
    > the same topic.
    > In this post, I don't want to repeat their careful analysis of the
    > Hebrew words. Instead, I want to point out these three things: (1)
    > Besides Genesis 1, there is a great number of biblical passages which
    > also refer to physical picture of ANE cosmology. (2) Interpreting
    > these passages in light of ANE cosmology helps us understand their
    > message. Numerous passages praise God for creating the physical
    > structures of ANE cosmology --- and some in some of those passages,
    > God speaks in the first person to take credit for creating them! (3)
    > There is a hermeneutical danger in attempting to redefine these
    > Hebrew word, in ways foreign to the original authors' thoughts, in an
    > attempt to match Genesis chronology to modern science.
    > --[1]--
    > Here is an incomplete list of passages which refer to the physical
    > structures of ANE cosmology (the firmament, the waters above the sky
    > and/or the waters below the earth):
    > Genesis 1:1-22, Genesis 7:11-20, Genesis 8:1-5, Genesis 9:13-16,
    > Genesis 11:4, Genesis 49:25,
    > Exodus 15:8, Exodus 20:4, Exodus 20:11,
    > Deuteronomy 5:8, Deuteronomy 33:13, Deuteronomy 33:26,
    > Judges 5:6,
    > 2 Samuel 22:8-17,
    > Job 20:6, Job 22:12-14, Job 26:8-14, Job 35:5, Job 36:27-30, Job 38:4-38,
    > Psalm 9:1-6, Psalm 29:3-10, Psalm 74:13-17, Psalm 89:9-12, Psalm 90:2,
    > Psalm 102:19-25, Psalm 104:1-9, Psalm 135:6-7, Psalm 136:5-9,
    > Psalm 139:8-9, Psalm 146:6, Psalm 147:4-8, Psalm 148:1-7,
    > Proverbs 3:19-20, Proverbs 8:22-29, Proverbs 25:3,
    > Isaiah 14:12-15, Isaiah 24:18-19, Isaiah 40:12, Isaiah 40:21-26,
    > Isaiah 42:5, Isaiah 45:8, Isaiah 45:18, Isaiah 48:13, Isaiah 51:6,
    > Isaiah 51:13, Isaiah 65:17, Isaiah 66:1-2,
    > Jeremiah 4:23-27, Jeremiah 10:11-13,
    > Ezekiel 1:1, Ezekiel 1:22-28, Ezekiel 10:1, Ezekiel 32:7-8,
    > Daniel 4:10-11,
    > Hosea 10:7,
    > Habakkuk 3:9-11,
    > Revelations 4:1-6, Revelations 15:2, Revelations 20:11
    > I expect there are more passages besides those listed above. Also, I
    > didn't bother to include in this list other passages which, for
    > example, refer to the God of Israel as "the God of heaven and of
    > earth." Today, when we think about the place called "heaven," we
    > probably think of it in a sort of science-fiction parallel-dimensions
    > sort of way. In ANE cosmology, "heaven" was physically located above
    > the earth. So when the Old Testament authors refereed to "heaven and
    > earth," they were thinking "every part of the cosmos."
    > Theologically, the claim that Israel's God was God of every part of
    > the cosmos is a claim that is in sharp contrast to the "gods" of the
    > surrounding cultures, which were thought to be gods of specific
    > tribes or gods of specific parts of the cosmos (the sky, the ocean,
    > the sun, the moon, the underworld, etc). When the Old Testament
    > authors said that the God of Israel was the "God of heaven and
    > earth," they were using the same _physical_ picture of the cosmos
    > (flat-earth, solid firmament, waters above and below the earth) as
    > the surrounding cultures in the ANE; however, the authors were making
    > a _theological_ claim which was radically opposed to the beliefs of
    > the surrounding cultures.
    > --[2]--
    > For many of the passages listed above, it could be argued that the
    > language is poetic. Some of the passages listed above, by
    > themselves, do not prove that the author believed in the physical
    > picture of ANE cosmology. However, for many of the passages listed
    > above, the language of the text itself (even in the English
    > translation) makes a compelling case that the author really did
    > believe in the physical picture of ANE cosmology. When your read
    > those passages with ANE cosmology in mind, it helps you understand
    > the theological message.
    > A few examples:
    > Genesis 49:25. Jacob is blessing his son Joseph. "With bitterness
    > archers attacked him; they shot at him with hostility. But his bow
    > remained steady, his strong arms stayed limber, because of the hand
    > of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of
    > Israel, because of your father's God, who helps you, because of the
    > Almighty, who blesses you with blessings of the heavens above,
    > blessings of the deep that lies below, blessings of the breast and
    > womb."
    > Keeping in mind ANE cosmology, Jacob is saying that the Almighty
    > blesses Joseph with blessing from the very top of creation (the
    > heavens above) to the very bottom of creation (the deep that lies
    > below). You can't get more blessed than that.
    > Exodus 20:4. God says, "You shall not make for yourself an idol in
    > the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the
    > waters below."
    > In ANE cosmology, "heaven above, earth beneath, and waters below"
    > is both a poetic _and_ a literal way of referring to "the whole of
    > creation."
    > Psalm 104:1-9. Praise the Lord , O my soul. O Lord my God, you are
    > very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty. He wraps
    > himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like
    > a tent and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He
    > makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. He
    > makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants. He set the
    > earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. You covered it with
    > the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. But
    > at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took
    > to flight; they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the
    > valleys, to the place you assigned for them. You set a boundary they
    > cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth.
    > This Psalm clearly refers to the stretching out of the firmament,
    > the existence of waters above the earth, and the raising up of the dry
    > land out of the waters below. This psalm literally praises God for
    > making the solid firmament, dividing the primordial waters, and
    > raising the land out of the waters..
    > Prov.8:22-29. Wisdom personified says, "The Lord brought me forth as
    > the first of his works, before his deeds of old.... I was there when
    > he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the
    > face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed
    > securely the fountains of the deep, when he gave the sea its boundary
    > so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out
    > the foundations of the earth."
    > Despite the English mistranslations, you can see ANE cosmology
    > throughout this passage. Again, the passage is praising God making
    > the firmament, dividing the primordial waters, and raising up the dry
    > land out of the waters below.
    > Is.48:13. The prophet quotes God, "My own hand laid the foundations
    > of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I summon
    > them, they all stand up together."
    > Note, this is God himself saying that he made these things.
    > Job 38:4-10. Again, God is the speaker. "Where were you when I laid
    > the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off
    > its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across
    > it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone -
    > while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for
    > joy? Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the
    > womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick
    > darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in
    > place, when I said, 'This far you may come and no farther; here is
    > where your proud waves halt'?"
    > Again, God is referring to the physical elements of ANE cosmology
    > and taking credit for making them.
    > Much of this is poetic language. It is also literal language. When
    > you combine archeological evidence, other ANE literary sources, plus
    > all of the Biblical texts, it becomes clear that (1) the Old
    > Testament writers really did believe the physical picture of ANE
    > cosmology: a flat earth, a solid firmament, and primordial waters
    > above and below the earth; and (2) the Holy Spirit inspired the Old
    > Testament writers to praise God for making these things -- sometimes
    > putting the words in God's own mouth.
    > --[3]--
    > The chronology of Genesis 1 makes perfect sense if you have the
    > physical picture of ANE cosmology in mind. The chronology of Genesis
    > 1 does not match modern science. It _cannot_ match modern science
    > simply because there is no solid dome firmament, no waters above the
    > sky, and no primordial oceans below the dry land.
    > So why shouldn't we redefine these Hebrew words, in ways foreign to
    > the original authors' thoughts, in an attempt to match the Genesis 1
    > chronology to modern science? What's wrong with that?
    > We should discuss that question. And to open discussion, let me ask
    > the following question: On what basis, then, would we criticize a
    > theologian who might want to redefine the word "prophet" from "one
    > who speaks God's words" to "one who calls us to live better lives and
    > be nicer to the poor;" or redefine the word "prayer" from "speaking
    > with God" to "attuning oneself to the reality of one's own being and
    > the cosmos;" or redefine "God's law" to mean "good guidelines for
    > living in society;" or redefine "resurrection" to mean "a
    > psychological event in which Jesus' teachings took hold in the
    > disciples' hearts and emboldened them to become teachers themselves."
    > All of those redefinitions could be done in the name of making the
    > Bible more in line with modern science.
    > I think we should use the same hermeneutical principles on Genesis 1
    > which we use on every passage of scripture: Taking into account the
    > background knowledge of the author, the original audience, the
    > historical context and the type of literature, we ask ourselves what
    > message the passage would communicate from the author (and therefore
    > from God) to the original audience. The original author and audience
    > of Genesis 1 (and all the other passages listed above) believed the
    > physical picture of ANE cosmology. The original author and audience
    > would have known the creation myths of surrounding cultures --
    > cultures which shared the same physical picture of ANE cosmology but
    > disagreed about the theology. Keeping all that in mind as we read
    > Genesis 1, the message is clear. The original message had no
    > interest in teaching, and no interest in correcting, the mistaken
    > physical picture of ANE cosmology. The original message was a
    > radical theological message: There is _one_ God, the God of Abraham,
    > the God of Israel, who made _all_ of creation. (There are more
    > theological messages in Genesis 1 besides that, but that's the first
    > obvious message.)
    > Paul Seely says it well in the above-referenced web article, which I
    > quote here.
    > "The biblical approach that I believe better relates science to the
    > Bible [than concordism] is to accept the historical-grammatical
    > meaning of Genesis 1. Admit that it reflects the cosmology of the
    > second millennium B.C.... Admittedly, this does not uphold the
    > common but unbiblical assumption that the divine inspiration of
    > Scripture cannot entail concessions to ancient "science." But, there
    > is no biblical reason why the theological message in Genesis 1 cannot
    > be eternally valid, while the package in which it came was a temporal
    > concession to the people of that time. Indeed, it was Jesus who
    > taught that divinely inspired Scripture can and does include
    > concessions to hardened hearts, concessions in the area of faith and
    > morals (Mark 10:5). How much more then is concession possible in the
    > area of mere science? We might add that, according to Scripture, the
    > development of scientific knowledge was delegated by God to humankind
    > (Gen. 1:26-28). The divine purpose of biblical inspiration,
    > therefore, is not to reveal science but to inform us of God's
    > standards of faith and morals (2 Tim. 3:16). It is time for
    > evangelicals to lay aside extra-biblical definitions of biblical
    > inspiration, and agree with Jesus that inspired Scripture can contain
    > concessions. Genesis 1 is a concession. Or, as a modern missionary,
    > aware of the imperative need for divine revelation to be clothed in
    > the terms of the culture to which it comes, has explained: Genesis 1
    > is a case of divine contextualization."
    > Loren Haarsma

    Walt Hicks <>

    In any consistent theory, there must exist true but not provable statements. (Godel's Theorem)

    You can only find the truth with logic If you have already found the truth without it. (G.K. Chesterton) ===================================

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