Seminar "Physical Science & Bible"                                                        Dr. Robert C. Newman

Nyack College, Jan 4, 1984                                                          Biblical Theological Seminary

 

THE BIBLICAL FIRMAMENT

 

The Problem

 

            Early Jews and Christians commonly saw sky as dome

                        e.g., Talmud, Theophilus

            Modern liberals claim this is what Bible teaches

                        e.g., Fosdick, Schiaparelli, Von Rad

 

Evidence Alleged for Dome View

 

            Resemblance to other ancient views

                        Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek

            Etymology of Hebrew word for firmament raqiyah

                        hammer or beat out; but Ps 136:6, Isa 40:19

            "Pillars of heaven" imply solid sky, Job 26:11

                        but pillars of temple support nothing

            Sky pictured as heavy metal mirror, Job 37:18

                        translation problem with "mirror"; "sky"

                        compare two alternative translations with context

            Building stories in heaven, Amos 9:6

                        another transl. problem, cp. context

 

Evidence for Atmosphere Firmament

 

            Nothing about existence of space between firmament and earth, nor of opening such a space at creation

            Bible's picture of 3 heavens fits atmosphere‑firmament rather than dome‑firmament, 2 Cor 12:2‑4

            Heaven of heavens not God's dwelling, 1 K 8, Ps 148

            Heaven all around us, 2 K 6:17, Ex 20:21‑22

            Birds fly upon firmament rather than under it, Gen 1:20

                        compare atm. and dome views

                        how do bird fly "upon" atmosphere?

                        note Heb use of prepositions with non‑solid objects

                        Isa 17:13 carried "before" wind

                        Job 26:8 clouds "under" water

                        Gen 1:7 waters "upon" firmament

 

Conclusions

 

            Bible does not teach outmoded view here

            Translation tradition of Bible goes back to time when humans mistaken on this, though

            Can't expect liberal theologians to correct translation errors that favor their position

            Evangelicals with multidisciplinary training needed in various academic areas plus Biblical studies

 

For further reading:

 

See Robert C. Newman, “The Biblical Teaching on the Firmament,” STM thesis, Biblical Theological Seminary, 1972.  Reprinted as The Biblical Firmament: Vault or Vapor? (Hatfield, PA: IBRI, 2000).