Re: Genesis 1 on ocean and atmosphere

From: David F Siemens <>
Date: Fri Feb 17 2006 - 14:24:07 EST

I should have answered your earlier letter, but it is at home and I am on
the road. But this gives a second chance. My take on your approach is
that one can twist the language to fit almost anything desired. This fits
/raquia`/, which is "expanse" only by ignoring the birds flying in front
of it and heavenly bodies stuck onto it. That there is water above the
/raquia`/ also does not fit the notion that it refers to the atmosphere.
It certainly cannot apply to space. To try to connect Genesis 1 to modern
cosmology, I am convinced, demands twisting the ancient language into

On Thu, 16 Feb 2006 21:52:47 +0100 Peter Ruest <>
> Dear friends,
> someone asked me a question (off-line) which might interest others:
> > Was wondering about the Genesis text where it says that the earth
> was
> > covered in water (1:2) but then says the skies formed afterwards.
> Isn't
> > the reverse true from what we know? Atmosphere formed first, then
> the seas?
> This is a very good question! But it cannot be answered in just a
> few sentences.
> So, bear with me a little bit longer.
> As I don't know your own attitudes on Bible interpretation in
> general and the
> creation story in particular, I'd like to start with a few
> preliminaries.
> (1) In giving us the biblical revelation, God primarily wants to
> draw us to
> Himself and to His Son whom He sent to save us from perdition. Thus,
> whereas the
> fact of divine creation is essential, the way He did it is not. (2)
> He wants to
> enter into a personal relationship of love with everyone of us. This
> would not
> be possible if He used force of any kind, including intellectual
> proof (of His
> existence, etc.), as is evident from a parallel to His love He has
> created in
> human marriage, where we can experience the relationship between
> personal
> freedom and love, prospering best in the absence of any trace of
> force. Thus, we
> should not expect to be able to prove that some interpretation of
> the creation
> story corresponds to what was unknown at the time it was written (as
> this would
> amount to a proof of God). Nevertheless, compatibility between a
> feasible
> interpretation of a text and reality (even if unknown to the writer)
> seems a
> theologically reasonable hypothesis, particularly if we believe the
> Bible to be
> meant for all cultures and times. (3) In finding an interpretation
> of the
> biblical text, we have to refrain from assuming that modern concepts
> automatically correspond to those an ancient writer used. Rather, we
> have to
> consider what they could easily deduce from their own observations.
> The modern concept is that an atmosphere consists of any type of
> volatiles kept
> by gravitation around a planet or other astronomical object. The
> ancients (or
> any modern person who happens to never have been taught any
> science), on the
> other hand, would know about the sea and the clouds, as well as the
> space which
> usually separates them and the air that it contains: this space and
> air is what
> I would call "atmosphere" (in the anthropomorphic sense) when trying
> to
> interpret the creation story.
> In fact, "expanse" is the most reasonable concept one can deduce
> from the term
> /raqia^/, as it is used in Gen.1:6,7,8,14,15,17,20 and
> Eze.1:22,23,25,26 (and
> nowhere else), if we don't arbitrarily introduce foreign
> mythological concepts.
> Of course, clouds are found at different heights and may also be
> seen from above
> (from mountains), but this doesn't change the basic concept that
> they are
> usually above.
> Now, if we look at Earth's geological history, we notice the
> following plausible
> sequence: Earth accreted from planetesimals of increasing sizes;
> very early, it
> was hit by a Mars-sized body to form the moon, resulting in a global
> magma
> ocean, the original gaseous atmosphere escaping; later, comets
> brought new
> water, and more meteorites hit, producing a hot Earth surrounded by
> nitrogen,
> methane, water vapor and other gases (an atmosphere in the modern
> scientific
> sense), before the formation of an ocean; for some time, water
> condensing to the
> surface produced a slowly increasing, boiling ocean; with
> temperature
> decreasing, the cloud cover would get thinner, particulates and
> organic haze
> would decrease, increasing the amount of light reaching the surface;
> after the
> ocean cooled down below the dew point, the cloud cover separated
> from the ocean
> surface, and an "expanse" formed in-between. Thus, we first had an
> ocean, and
> later the "expanse" or "sky" or "atmosphere" (in the anthropomorphic
> sense)
> between the ocean and a thick cloud cover. - As our knowledge of the
> earth's
> geological history increases, the scenario sketched might have to be
> modified.
> By the way, in the earliest, boiling ocean, early prokaryotic life
> might
> possibly have existed already in suboceanic ducts or vents.
> In A. Held & P. Rüst (1999), "Genesis reconsidered", PSCF 51/4,
> 231-243
> (, we wrote
> (omitting the
> references to the scientific literature):
> "[The earth] accreted 4.55 Ga ago, and the moon apparently formed by
> the impact
> of a Mars-sized body 4.5 Ga ago. The earth was bombarded by
> planetesimals,
> differentiated into an iron core and a siliceous mantle in the
> molten state, and
> collected a secondary atmosphere and hydrosphere from volcanic
> outgassing and
> meteorite impacts. Sufficient cooling let a global ocean condense.
> At a relatively high temperature, a thick cloud of water vapor
> enveloping the
> whole earth prevented the penetration of any light to the ocean
> surface...
> Further cooling and chemical change of the atmosphere later
> permitted the sun’s
> light, still diffused by a permanent cloud cover, to reach the
> surface,
> producing day and night...
> [The /raqia^/] is the relatively thin layer, the lower atmosphere
> formed around
> the earth. The ancients knew the water cycle and would easily
> understand the
> /raqia^/ between the waters as the air space between oceans and
> clouds. The two
> were separated when the atmosphere cleared, after its temperature
> fell below the
> dew point, generating the global water cycle."
> Although there might be other possible ways of harmonizing Gen.1
> with what we
> know happened in the Earth's history, it seems clear that it is not
> necessary to
> claim conflicts. In fact, we don't even know, as yet, enough about
> what happened
> on Earth. But I hope this helps for the moment.
> Peter
> --
> Dr. Peter Ruest, CH-3148 Lanzenhaeusern, Switzerland
> <> - Biochemistry - Creation and evolution
> "..the work which God created to evolve it" (Genesis 2:3)
Received on Fri Feb 17 14:27:04 2006

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