What is the firmament in Genesis 1:6-8?
The firmament is part of the account of creation (Genesis 1-2). Many people are interested in creation and how God created everything that we see. So first, let me briefly highlight how Genesis 1-2 shows creation.
There are many different views on how God created, many of them based on the Scriptures. The first two chapters of Genesis can be taken literally, metaphorically, poetically, and so forth. But when you look at these first two chapters, here are some observations that may help you:
- Genesis 1:1 gives the most general statement about creation. It tells us when it happened (In the beginning), who did it (God), and what was involved (the heavens and the earth).
- Genesis 1:2-2:3 describes in more detail how God created all of these within the framework of seven days.
- Genesis 2:4-25 further drills down into more details about the sixth day and the creation of humanity.
These are not separate events. God didn’t create the heavens and the earth, and then in the second verse of Scripture start over with a chaotic earth. The story unfolds from general to specific descriptions of what God did. Each day begins in the evening and ends in the next evening, containing an evening and a morning. This is why the Jewish day begins in the evening.
NOTE: Another framework has been presented called the “Forming and Filling” hypothesis. It states that days 1-3 were days that God formed parts of his creation and days 4-6 were days that God filled these parts of creation.
So within this framework, the firmament is mentioned in Genesis 1:6-8 and Genesis 14-20. All of these references will help us to understand what the firmament was. It is discussed on day two of creation. In Genesis 1:2, the Spirit is hovering over the waters. These waters may refer to the chaos of the globe before God transformed any part of it.
God places the firmament between these waters to make two different bodies of waters so that the firmament is described. One body of water under the firmament is the oceans. The body of water above the firmament is called the heavens. Most scholars believe the water above the firmament is the water droplets that will rain down upon the earth from clouds and the atmosphere.
Translators have called the firmament “the expanse,” “the skies,” and “the heavens.” Perhaps the best way to understand what it was is to think of the atmosphere. This is the place where birds fly (Genesis 1:20). He also created lights in the expanse, the sun, moon, and stars (Genesis 1:14-18).
Science explains to us that these three types of bodies of light are not actually in the atmosphere. They are in space. But for the ancients, the earth was split into three places.
- Under the earth or metaphorically the oceans, underworld, and Sheol, the pit or the grave,
- The earth where Humans and all types of creatures lived,
- The heavens where the birds, the atmosphere, space and celestial bodies like planets as well as stars exist, heaven, where God and all of the celestial beings live.
For the ancients, the heavens included the atmosphere and everything beyond it. They would’ve understood the sun, moon, and stars to be in this third realm. So the expanse is probably the atmosphere that separates the waters and land from everything above them from the atmosphere and sky to outer space.