Genesis 1:6a

BHS:וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים יְהִ֥י רָקִ֖יעַ בְּתֹ֣וךְ הַמָּ֑יִם

ESV: And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters”

NLT: Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters”

My translation of the BHS: Let there be some distance between the waters.

Maybe better: Let there be some solid border that will keep the waters above separated from the waters below.



It appears that the MT implies and distance or space or expanse between the waters which makes me think of an empty space. The other translations say that there is a solid body of some kind: Firmament? But when you look up the word it does refer to something solid also. The ESV and others that use distance as an idea miss the mark so I’m going to have to correct my translation. The BDB (Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew Lexicon) says, “1. (flat) expanse (as if of ice, cf. כְּעֵין הַקֶרַח), as base, support (WklAltor. Forsch. iv. 347) Ez 1:22, 23, 25 (gloss? cf. Co Toy), v 26 (supporting י׳’sthrone) 10:1. Hence (Co Ez 1:22) 2. the vault of heaven, or ‘firmament,’ regarded by Hebrews as solid, and supporting ‘waters’ above it, Gn 1:6[1]



LXX: Καὶ εἶπεν ὁ Θεὸς, γενηθήτω στερέωμα ἐν μέσῳ τοῦ ὕδατος

BETS: And God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the water”

NETS: And God said, “let a firmament come into being between the water”

OSB: Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the water”

My translation of the LXX: Let there be a solid mass in the middle of the water



It looks like the LXX supports the idea of something solid rather than a mere distance. “στερέωμα, τος n; στηριγμόςb, οῦ m: a state of firm, inner strength—‘firm position, being firm in, firmness, steadfastness.’[2]


VUL:  dixit quoque Deus fiat firmamentum in medio aquarum

DRB: And God said: Let there be a firmament made amidst the waters

NAB: Then God said, “Let there be a dome in the middle of the waters”

My translation of the VUL: And God declared that a firmament exist in the middle of the water


It appears the Latin doesn’t add much to the understanding of “firmament.” the sky fixed above the earth, the firmament[3]


English Translations with variant readings:

NASB: Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters”

GW (God’s Word Translation): Let there be a horizon in the middle of the water

ISV: Then God said, “Let there be a canopy between bodies of water”

LEB: And God said, “Let there be a vaulted dome in the midst of the waters”

LB: And God said, “Let the vapors separate to form the sky above and the oceans below.”

TM: God spoke: “Sky! In the middle of the waters!”

NCV: Then God said, “Let there be something to divide the water in two.”

NIRV: Let there be a huge space between the waters.

NIV: Let there be a vault between the waters


Observations & Discussions & Commentary quotes of interest

Prior to the second day, it seems that the earth was completely surrounded by a thick layer of water, perhaps in the form of a heavy vapor.[4]

When speaking of this “firmament” one Commentary says, “This term (BDB 956, KB 1290) could mean “to hammer out” or “to stretch out” as in Isa. 42:5. This refers to the earth’s atmosphere (cf. 1:20) depicted metaphorically as an air vault or inverted bowl above the surface of the earth (cf. Isa. 40:22).[5]

A lengthy comment from another commentary attempts to explain the “expanse” thoroughly considering other uses of the word in future passages. It says, “On the second day of God’s creative activity, He said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. The word for firmament comes from a verb that means “to beat, stamp, beat out, and spread out.” The noun in this instance is best rendered by an expanse. Whitcomb and Morris suggest that God suspended a vast body of water in vapor form over the earth, protecting it from the destructive rays of the sun (p. 229). This would accomplish two things: it would provide a means for the longevity attested to in chapter 5, and it would also provide a water source for the Flood in 6–9. This theory is an attempt to explain the tropical conditions that existed on the early earth. One must note that the term firmament in verse 8 must include the area above the canopy, or this suspended vapor body, as well as below it. This must be so, because in verse 17 God set the sun and moon in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, seemingly the same as in verse 8 when it says, And God called the firmament Heaven. With a second evening and morning, another day of creative activity was ended.”[6]

Okay, here’s another commentary with a relevant discussion of the “firmament.” It says, “As Adam Clarke points out, firmament is a most unfortunate mistranslation.14 Firmament means “something firm” and seems to imply a sky something like a solid vault in which the sun, moon, and stars are fixed like light bulbs. The error had its beginning in the translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek which was made in the third century B.C. and which we call the Septuagint. The ancient Greeks conceived of the sky as a solid crystalline sphere. It was their false science which determined the Greek word used in this verse. The error was copied by Jerome in the Latin Vulgate and in turn by the translators of the King James Version. Modern science has ridiculed what it thought to be a biblical error when it was actually a scientific error of another era!15 The true meaning of the Hebrew original here is that of something ‘stretched out’ or ‘extended’ like a tent, and the better translation is ‘expanse.’ As such it exactly fits the earth’s atmosphere, which is here intended.”[7]

More comments: “a firmament] This word reproduces the Lat. firmamentum; LXX στερέωμα. The Hebrew râqîa denotes (see Heb. Lex.) “extended surface, (solid) expanse” (as if beaten out; cf. Job 37:18). For the verb raq‘a=beat, or spread, out, cf. Ex. 39:3, Num. 17:4, Jer. 10:4, Ezek. 1:22, “and over the head of the living creatures there was the likeness of a firmament … stretched forth over their heads above.” Compare Job 37:18, “canst thou with him spread out (tarqi‘a) the sky which is strong as a molten mirror?” See Ps. 19:1, 150:1, Dan. 12:3, where “firmament” = sky.”[8]

Several Commentators include graphics of what the ancient Semitic view of the universe might have looked like. Here is one of them.



CLV (Chuck Larsen Version): Let there be some solid border that will keep the waters above separated from the waters below.

  1. confer, compare.

Wkl H. Winckler.

  1. confer, compare.

Co C. H. Cornill.

v verse.

Co C. H. Cornill.

[1] Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 956.

n neuter

m masculine

[2] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 677.

[3] Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short, Harpers’ Latin Dictionary (New York; Oxford: Harper & Brothers; Clarendon Press, 1891), 752.

[4] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 33.

BDB A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament by F. Brown, S. R. Driver and C. A. Briggs

KB The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament by Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner

[5] Robert James Utley, How It All Began: Genesis 1–11, vol. Vol. 1A, Study Guide Commentary Series (Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International, 2001), 25.

[6] Edward E. Hindson and Woodrow Michael Kroll, eds., KJV Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1994), 11.

14 A Commentary and Critical Notes, I, 33.

15 Free, op. cit., pp. 23–24.

[7] Lee Haines, “The Book of Genesis,” in Genesis-Deuteronomy, vol. 1:1, The Wesleyan Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), 26.

[8] Herbert E. Ryle, The Book of Genesis in the Revised Version with Introduction and Notes, The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1921), 8–9.