Re: Genesis 1 on ocean and atmosphere

From: Peter Ruest <>
Date: Tue Feb 21 2006 - 10:14:35 EST

David F Siemens wrote:

> Peter,
> I love your approach. We don't know the language source or the time of
> Genesis 1 so we don't know what to make of it, so we don't know how to
> interpret it. At least this seems to be one point you're trying to make.

not quite. My point was that the usual "accommodationist" approach bases its
judgements about how Gen.1 _must_ be interpreted on more assumptions than
evidence, as Pentateuch source criticism has done for over 200 years. I said,
"the belief that Gen.1 reflects a pagan mythological cosmology is based on
indirect inferences, which may be disputable", and listed a series of unknowns
usually replaced by such assumptions. But I didn't say or imply that we don't
know "what to make of it" or "how to interpret it".

> As to translations, I have found them slanted. NIV, alone among the many
> translations I have checked, has a note that "and the earth was" could be
> "became." It is not in the Spanish equivalent. They adapted the
> translation to the Scofield notes which promote the gap theory.

I couldn't find any "became" note or the gap theory in my 1967 edition of the
Scofield bible. They seem to have updated that. I don't think the gap theory is
of any use. But the Westminster Hebrew OT Morphology + Whittacker's Revised BDB
Lexicon (in BibleWorks 6) translates /hayah/ (qal) as "fall out, come to pass,
become, be". So, "became", as such, need not be ruled out. I don't know whether,
and if so, how much, NIV "adapted the translation to the Scofield notes". To me,
that seems unlikely, although NIV doesn't get the best marks in Leland Ryken's
excellent "The Word of God in English" (Crossway, 2002). Ryken seems to prefer ESV.

Of course, many translations are "slanted" in some ways. One particularly
disastrous example is /raqia^/ -> stereoma (XII) -> firmamentum (Vulgata) ->
firmament, Feste, etc. But in addition to the NIV (New International Version,
1984 US), "expanse" is used in ESV (English Standard Version, 2001), NAU (New
American Standard Bible with Codes, 1995), and YLT (Young's Literal Translation,
1862/1898); NLT (New Living Translation) has "space"; LBA (La Biblia de las
Americas, 1986) has "expansión"; LSG (Louis Segond with Codes, 1910) and NEG
(Nouvelle Edition Genève, 1979) have "étendue"; NRV (Nuova Riveduta, 1994) has
"distesa"; LEI (Leidse Vertaling, 1994) and LUV (Lutherse Vertaling, 1994) have

> A noted
> scholar, don't have my library along, declared that the birds fly in the
> /raquia`/, which is NOT what the text says.

In Gen.1:20, the flying creatures (/^oph/) are said to fly /^al-ha'arets
^al-pnee raqia^ hashamayim/, "above the earth across the expanse of the heavens"
(ESV), "above the earth in the open firmament of heaven" (KJV), "auf Erden unter
der Feste des Himmels" (Luther), etc. Armin Held and I discussed this in A. Held
& P. Rüst (2000), "Taking Genesis as inspired", PSCF 52/3, 212-214; as follows:

<< The same preposition /^al/, which usually means "on" or "above," is the
subject of [XXX]'s next concern, his belief that the ancients believed in a
solid dome as a firmament above the earth. His argument that /raqia^/, which he
translates as "firmament," rather than "expanse," and all of its cognate words
_always_ refer to objects which have solidity is not compelling, as we indicated
in our endnote 34. We don't quarrel with his idea that the preposition /^al/ in
Gen. 1:20 _can_ mean "in front of," and we agree that the text adds /pnee/,
"face," before /raqia^/. But although /pnee/, when used without /^al/, can mean
"before," "in front of," the prepositional phrase /^al-pnee/ means "over," "on,"
"in," or "over against," rather than "in front of." But even this translation of
/^al-pnee/ would not indicate a solid firmament, "in front of" which the birds
fly. The sunlit atmosphere looks to us like a blue backdrop, "in front of" which
we see birds flying. No matter whether they fly "on," "over," "above," or "in
front of" the "expanse" or atmosphere, there is nothing in the expression to
suggest a solid dome _under_ which they would fly. By substituting "surface" for
"face," in order to yield "on the surface of the firmament," [XXX] is similarly
unsuccessful, as this would make the birds fly _above_ the solid dome, making
nonsense of the statement. >>

The argument in the last sentence refers to the fact that the same preposition
/^al/ is used for "above" (the earth) as well as for "above"/"over against" (the
face of the heavens). The endnote 34 mentioned refers to our previous paper,
A. Held & P. Rüst (1999), "Genesis reconsidered", PSCF 51/4, 231-243;;it reads:

<< 34 The verb /raqa^/, "to spread out," from which the noun /raqia^/ is
derived, designates covering a support with a thin layer of a substance whose
nature is irrelevant. Of course, if a metal sheet is "spread out," this may be
achieved by hammering, but in other cases, "hammering" or "making firm" cannot
apply. Thus, a /raqia^/ may be a thin gold layer covering an idol (Isa. 40:29),
but also a layer of vegetation covering the land (Isa. 42:5 uses /raqa^/ for
both the land and what comes out of it). The basic meaning of /raqia^/ is a
thinly spread-out layer. Some cognate words in Hebrew are: /raq/: (1) thin,
slight, (2) a little, only; /raqiq/: flat bread; /riqqu^im/: spread-out (metal
sheets, cf. Num. 16:38); in Assyrian, /rakaku/: to make thin; /rukku/: sheet,
plate; in Arabic, /raqqa/: to be thin; /marquqa/: farmers’ flat bread; /rakaáh/:
to spread out a stain; /rukáh/: extension of an area; in Syrian, /riqo^/: to
make thin. >>

> When you demonstrate how the
> /raquia`/ in Ezekiel is air, I'll take your approach seriously. But then
> you should also explain how to //raqa`/ the air to form the /raqia`/ when
> the ancients did not have a term for air except in motion.
> Dave

In Ezekiel, /raqia^/ can easily be translated "expanse" or "space". I don't
assume the Lord needs a solid dome to place his throne on top, in order to be
carried around by the four flying cherubim. Nor do I think such an otherworldly
appearance of the Lord lends itself easily to find out the nature and
consistency of what was underneath his throne. Even though that /raqia^/ was
"shining like awe-inspiring crystal", we cannot conclude with any certainty that
it _must_ have been solid. It doesn't say it was _made of_ crystal. Neither does
it help much if we read in Rev.4:6 that "before the throne there was as it were
a sea of glass, like crystal". We cannot even be sure that this "sea of glass"
was solid, as it says "as it were..." (/hôs thalassa hyalinê/). We also talk of
crystal clear water, even when it is not frozen. Therefore, we are left with
Gen.1 alone to find out what /raqia^/ means, as it occurs nowhere else.

You ask: how to /raqa^/ ("spread out") the air to form the /raqia^/ ("expanse")?
Of course, to /raqa^/ ("spread out") some transparent medium, or even empty
space, can form a /raqia^/ ("expanse")! I never said /raqia^/ is primarily the
air. I said it's an "expanse", whatever it contains - if anything. In the
context of Gen.1, it corresponds to the lower atmosphere between the ocean and
the clouds. Of course this contains air, and I'm sure the ancient Hebrews knew
this from experience (why would flying birds flap their wings?), even though
they may not have had a specific word for it (using /shamayim/, heavens, or
/ruagh/, wind, instead).

Could God "spread out" the lower atmosphere? This is what happened on the second
creation day: "The two [ocean and clouds] were separated when the atmosphere
cleared, after its temperature fell below the dew point", as we wrote in
"Genesis reconsidered".


Dr. Peter Ruest, CH-3148 Lanzenhaeusern, Switzerland
<> - Biochemistry - Creation and evolution
"..the work which God created to evolve it" (Genesis 2:3)
Received on Tue Feb 21 10:19:00 2006

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Feb 21 2006 - 10:19:09 EST