On the surface, it seems that nothing is mentioned about the identity of the firmament in the New Testament. Christ apparently had nothing to say about this. His statement that heaven was God's throne, and earth his footstool identified the heaven where God dwells with the entire material universe, and directly contradicted Aristotle and the Greek philosophers. Jesus confirmed the Mosaic account of creation, and the prophecies of Daniel. For example, see Matthew 5:17, and Matthew 24:15. He referred to the Abomination of Desolation, which would be recognized at the Holy Place in Jerusalem at some future time, and he indicated that this would be a major sign to the Church. This was known to be an image of Zeus, and the worship of Zeus was well known to the Jews in Christ's time. Jesus also referred to a future time of "restoration of all things" in Matthew 17:11. This implies that something had become lost, or hidden, or needed to be set right, or corrected. Could the true identification of the firmament be part of this missing information that needs to be restored?
The worship of Zeus is alluded to in Acts 19:35, when the townclerk at Ephesus addressed the people who were gathered in the theatre, to defend their worship of Diana. A near riot arose because a silversmith named Demetrius felt that his business of making silver shrines for Diana was threatened by Paul's preaching of the gospel. The townclerk said to the citizens:
Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there that knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is a worshipper of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus?
The KJV has "Jupiter," which is the Roman name for Zeus, derived from "Deus pater" or "Father Zeus." Speaking Greek, the townclerk most likely mentioned Zeus, and Artemis rather than Diana. The image which fell from Zeus was likely a meteorite, and was venerated as a piece of the sky or something sent from the divine sky. This reference shows Zeus was identified with the sky, or heaven. He was, in fact, the supposedly rigid sphere of heaven, the blue sky of the day, and the night sky which held the stars in their positions. This would lead one to suppose that an image of Zeus might be in the form of a dome or a sphere. (Zeus was also depicted as a bull or as a swan in classical and medieval art.)
Another important New Testament reference to the firmament, although indirect, is found in 2 Peter 3. The Apostle Peter's description of the "last days" in his second epistle highlights the influence of the principle of uniformitarianism in geology. After exhorting his readers to give their attention to the prophecies of the scripture, and referring to "scoffers" who would deny God's intervention in the past, Peter mentioned the creation of the heavens, and commented specifically on the events of the second day of Creation Week. The order in which the events of creation are mentioned is significant, and confirms that the heavens, or the stars and galaxies, were formed before the earth. In verse 5, Peter says "the heavens were of old:" they were created on the first day. Then he says the earth was "standing out of the water and in the water." This refers to the earth's crust being formed on the second day. This implies the heavens, or stars and galaxies, existed before the second day. Peter indicated that men were "deliberately ignorant" about the interior structure of the earth, and the significance of the role of the earth's interior waters as a mechanism for the flood. Thomas Burnet (1635-1715) interpreted the passage this way in his Sacred Theory of the Earth. Men were willingly ignorant, Peter said, about the fact that the earth was so constituted, with internal waters, that a flood was possible. Peter wrote his comment to counter the effects of the corruption of the first chapter of Genesis. Scepticism about the earth's internal waters is certainly prevalent today.
Peter goes on to say the ultimate destiny of the earth is to be a fiery one. From a geophysical point of view, this would follow if the distribution of radioactive isotopes within the earth was similar to that of the earth's crust. If this were so, the earth's interior heat would increase with the time since creation, eventually melting the earth, so that no life would be possible. It would follow that the earth must be quite young, since such melting has not yet taken place.
Most geologists suppose the earth was formed in a molten state billions of years ago, and that the radioactive isotopes of uranium, thorium and potassium were somehow concentrated in the earth's crust and are not distributed throughout the interior, but this assumption may be invalid. One could argue that since the accumulated heat from radioactive decay of these isotopes within the earth has not yet melted the earth, the earth must be young.
The scriptures about waters within the earth's interior are indeed ignored, for the most part, by many Christians. Russell Humphreys has reviewed these scriptures, in an article in which he proposed that the "waters within the earth" are located at the earth's core.
[See text file containing a posting on Peter's prophecies about modern science.]
In Paul's writings there is an interesting account of a man being caught up to heaven and hearing "unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." (2 Corinthians 12:2-5.) In those days, anyone caught up to paradise, which is identified with "the third heaven," might well have been shocked to see that the rigid sky did not exist. The Corinthians would likely have understood Paul's reference to the third heaven in the context of the three-fold division of the universe by Pythagoras: Ouranos, the zone of the air; Cosmos, the region from the sphere of the moon to the sphere of Saturn, and Olympus, the sphere of the fixed stars. Paul's experience seems to be reflected in 1 Corinthians 15:40-41 where he speaks of "one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars," but makes no mention of the spheres which were supposed to carry them around. These spheres, postulated by the Greek philosophers, would have been of special interest to Paul's readers in Corinth. Paul ignored the fifty five spheres of Aristotle when he identified paradise with the third heaven. Not only would it have been unlawful to question the existence of the rigid sky, the terminology for describing the universe from a scientific point of view was not yet developed, and so the things this man heard, if they had anything to do with science or cosmology, would be properly described as "unspeakable."
The New Testament, as a whole, is remarkably free of statements supporting the Greek cosmology and the idea of a solid sky, as one would expect of a book written under the inspiration of God's Spirit. Perhaps this man's experience was a factor which influenced the apostles, probably Peter and John, who selected the writings which were to be included in the New Testament Canon, to exclude writings which might have supported the cosmology of their age.
Paul also wrote in Romans 1:25 that men had "changed the truth of God into a lie," which may refer to attempts to introduce corruptions into the text of the scripture in the Hellenistic period to make the cosmology of scripture conform to the grocentric cosmology of the Greeks.
The architect Vitruvius, who lived in the first century AD, included some comments on cosmology in his treatise On Architecture, written in Latin. He wrote:
Mundus autem est omnium naturae rerum conceptio summa caelumque sideribus conformatum. Id volvitur continenter circum terram atque mare per axis cardines extremos. Namque in his locis naturalis potestas ita architectata est conlocavitque cardines tamquam centra, unum a terra inmane in summo mundo ac post ipsas stellas septentrionum, alterum trans contra sub terra in meridianus partibus, ibique circum eos cardines orbiculos circum centra uti in torno perfecit, qui graece apsides nominantur, per quos pervolitat sempiterno caelum. Ita media terra cum mari centri loco naturaliter est conlocata.
Here is a translation of the passage:
The universe is the total conception of the whole system, and the firmament with its ordered constellations. It rolls continually round the earth and sea, on the furthest poles of its axis. For there the power of nature like an architect, has contrived and placed the poles at the top of the universe and behind the very stars of the Great Bear, and the other opposite, under the earth in the regions of the south; and there has constructed rims of wheels (which the Greeks call asides) round centres as in a lathe, about which the firmament for ever rolls. Thus the middle of the earth and sea is set by nature in the central place.
Curiously enough, although the word 'firmament' appears in the English translation, there is no mention of the word firmament in the original Latin text. Apparently, in the time of Vitruvius, the word 'firmament' did not refer to the sky. A firmamentum, in those days, was 'a strong point in an argument'.
Here is another cosmological passage from Vitruvius, translated, wth the original Latin word noted where 'firmament' appears in the English translation:
Now while these twelve signs possess each the twelfth part of the firmament [mundi] and continually turn from east to west, through these same signs in the opposite direction the stars of the moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun himself and also Mars, Jupiter and Saturn as though they revolved upon a rising staircase of degrees, each with an orbit of its own, wander in the firmament [mundo] from west to east.
In translation, the words caelum and mundo in the above passages were translated "firmament", because our English word "firmament" conveys the sense of these words [ie, the rigid sphere of heaven] as used by Vitruvius. Only in later centuries was the Latin word firmamentum applied to the sky.
Copyright © 1996 by Douglas E. Cox
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