What Is the Firmament? Definition and Meaning in the Bible

The firmament is mentioned in Genesis as part of the origin story of God creating the heavens and the earth. Discover the form, meaning, and significance of the firmament as we look at the Bible and artwork through history.

Christianity.com Editorial Staff
What Is the Firmament? Definition and Meaning in the Bible

And God said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters." And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day (Genesis 1:6-8).

Firmament Definition

The definition of the firmament can be essentially summarized as the arch or vault over the earth and sky that separates the earthly realm from what is beyond.

Merriam-Webster simply defines the firmament as “the vault or arch of the sky; heavens.”

According to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, from the Vulgate firmamentum, which is used as the translation of the Hebrew raki'a, or raqia. This word means simply "expansion." It denotes the space or expanse like an arch appearing immediately above us. They who rendered raki'a by firmamentum regarded it as a solid body. The language of Scripture is not scientific but popular, and hence we read of the sun rising and setting, and also here the use of this particular word. It is plain that it was used to denote solidity as well as expansion. It formed a division between the waters above and the waters below (Genesis 1:7). The raki'a supported the upper reservoir (Psalms 148:4). It was the support also of the heavenly bodies (Genesis 1:14), and is spoken of as having "windows" and "doors" (Genesis 7:11; Isaiah 24:18; Malachi 3:10) through which the rain and snow might descend.

The Firmament in the Bible

In the story of creation, as found in Genesis, God formed the firmament to divide the "waters above" the earth from the "waters below" the earth. As part of the cosmic design, the firmament is the formation above the atmosphere of Earth, understood as an immense stable arch. According to Genesis 1:8, God called the firmament Heaven, giving it significance beyond just the border between the earth and beyond.

According to biblical cosmology, the firmament, seen as the sky from earth, is essentially a fixed upside-down container over the Earth, colored blue from the heavenly waters above it. The water for rain, snow, hail, etc. was stored outside the raki’a, which had "windows" to release them onto the earth. Genesis 7:11 mentions these windows, stating “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened.”

Drawings of the Firmament

Throughout history, many people have attempted the interpret the visualization of the firmament through artwork. While each distinct, they share a similar overview of the firmament’s place and meaning in the cosmos.

Above is a diagram representing features in the early Hebrew conception of the Universe. Ralph V. Chamberlin. "The Early Hebrew Conception of the Universe". The White and Blue. Vol XIII no. 11, Dec. 24 1909. pp. 84-88

The Flammarion engraving is a wood engraving by an unknown artist that first appeared in Camille Flammarion's L'atmosphère: météorologie populaire (1888). The image above depicts a man crawling under the edge of the sky, depicted as if it were a solid hemisphere, to look at the mysterious Empyrean beyond. The caption underneath the engraving (not shown here) translates to "A medieval missionary tells that he has found the point where heaven and Earth meet..."

Firmament Bible Verses

- "To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork." Psalm 19:1 ESV

- "And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years," Genesis 1:14 ESV

- "Can you, like him, spread out the skies, hard as a cast metal mirror?" Job 37:18 ESV

- "And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day." Genesis 1:6-8 ESV

- "He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved." Psalm 104:5 ESV

- "Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!" Psalm 148:4 ESV

- "And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever." Daniel 12:3 ESV

- "It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;" Isaiah 40:22 ESV


Originally published June 19, 2019.