What is meant by “heavens” in the context of the book of Genesis? This notion can have more than one meaning and it is important to see in what way these meanings are compatible with other biblical texts, and first of all with all the texts from the book of Genesis. In the first book of the Bible, the sky, without which no physical heavens would have been possible, would have been created only on the second day, but in spite of that the creation of “heavens” would have happened on the first day of creation. The creation on the first day of “heavens” would have been prohibited by the lack of space. This situation doesn’t have anything to do with miracles. To create “heavens” before the sky as Genesis chapter 1 says is not a supernatural action, it is an absurd situation. This is also an obvious contradiction which shows the incompatibility between the descriptions offered by the book of Genesis and reality.
“1 In the beginning when God created* the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God* swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (Genesis 1; 1-5 NRSV)
And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ 7 So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8 God called the dome Sky.
And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.” (Genesis 1; 6-8 NRSV)
Anyone can compare the two texts. There isn’t anything else in them other than what is written. We have on the first day the “heavens”, meaning the atmosphere of the earth, outer space and God’s place, and only on the second day was the dome of the sky created. If this isn’t a contradiction I wonder what it is.
On the first day of creation or in the beginning, no physical “heavens” could have been created with the lack of sky. Consequently, the book of Genesis got it wrong. Under the waters, “heavens” are not what we mean by them. What kind of physical “heavens” would have been created deep under the waters of the primeval sea? The image generated by the book of Genesis in connection with the beginning is the initial chaos, the waters which would have covered everything, earth, the place for the sky, and all.
Noah’s Flood would have been a repetition on a smaller scale of the initial “flood”, the watery chaos which would have covered the earth. The mythological sense of the second Flood would be that when God became upset with His creation He returned the earth to the initial chaos from which the whole creation started. Of course, these aren’t real facts but mythological imagination.
The majority of the biblical commentators see the following meanings of the plural “heavens” used by the book of Genesis:
“Contrary to popular belief in the contemporary Church, according to Scripture there is not one, but three Heavens in the Universe created by God in the beginning (CP Gen 1:1). Note that Heavens is plural (except KJV Bible, where it is recorded in the singular form Heaven, although it is also plural in the Textus Receptus Mss from which KJV Bible is translated). The first Heaven is the atmospheric Heaven. This is the atmosphere surrounding the surface of the earth - the locality of the clouds (CP Gen 1:6-8; Psa 77:17-18; 104:1-3, 13). The second Heaven is the vast stretched out expanse of sky above earth’s atmosphere where the sun, moon and stars are located – the Firmament (CP Gen 1:14-17; 15:5; 22:17; Psa 19:1; 150:1; Isa 13:13). The Third Heaven, or Heaven of Heavens, is the dwelling place of God – Paradise – where Jesus sits at God’s right hand on the Throne of Heaven (CP De 10:14; 26:15(A); 1Ki
8:27, 30, 39, 43, 49; 22:19; 2Chr 6:18; 18:18; Neh 9:6; Psa 80:14; Isa 14:12-14; 40:22; 66:1; Eze 1:22-26; Amos 9:6; Mt 5:34; 6:9; 7:21; Lu 23:43; He 4:14-16; Rev 2:7; 3:21; 4:1-11).”
The first heaven is the atmospheric heaven; the second heaven is the vast stretched-out expanse of the sky above Earth’s atmosphere, and the third heaven, or heaven of heavens, is the dwelling place of God – Paradise – where Jesus sits at God’s right hand on the Throne of Heaven. There isn’t any way that they could have existed before the second day of creation so the first line of the Bible which says that in the beginning God created the “heavens” and the earth, is wrong. Even the place in which God’s Kingdom is located couldn’t have had any meaning without the existence of the first two aspects of what “heavens” is understood to be.
John Wesley, an important religious figure, understood heavens as the world, including the whole frame and furniture of the universe. Wesley in his apologetic attitude has maintained that the whole frame and furniture of the universe had been created before the creation of the sky but the book of Genesis places the creation of the sun, moon, and stars which represent the most important part of that furniture, in the fourth day. In other words, no material heavens could have been created before the creation of the sky and Wesley was wrong. How could the whole frame and furniture of the universe have been created without a location for the celestial bodies? The sky, outer space, is a necessary condition for the existence of the furniture of the universe. The postulate advanced by the Bible is utterly impossible and it doesn’t require one to be a big specialist in astrophysics to see in the book of Genesis that the sky was created only on the second day of the creation and, consequently, in the first day there weren’t such things as the frame and the furniture of the universe.
There is a stark contradiction between what the book of Genesis says about the creation of the “heavens” and the creation of the dome of the sky. The creation of the “heavens” would have happened, according to the book of Genesis, before the creation of the dome of the sky.
Wesley’s notes on Genesis 1; 1 contain the following text:
“1:1 Observe here. 1. The effect produced, The heaven and the earth - That is, the world, including the whole frame and furniture of the universe. But ‘tis only the visible part of the creation that Moses designs to give an account of. Yet even in this there are secrets which cannot be fathomed, nor accounted for. But from what we see of heaven and earth, we may infer the eternal power and godhead of the great Creator. And let our make and place, as men, mind us of our duty, as Christians, which is always to keep heaven in our eye, and the earth under our feet.Observe 2. The author and cause of this great work, God. The Hebrew word is Elohim; which (1.) seems to mean The Covenant God, being derived from a word that signifies to swear. (2.) The plurality of persons in the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The plural name of God in Hebrew, which speaks of him as many, tho’ he be but one, was to the Gentiles perhaps a favour of death unto death, hardening them in their idolatry; but it is to us a favour of life unto life, confirming our faith in the doctrine of the Trinity, which, tho’ but darkly intimated in the Old Testament, is clearly revealed in the New.Observe 3. The manner how this work was effected; God created, that is, made it out of nothing. There was not any pre - existent matter out of which the world was produced. The fish and fowl were indeed produced out of the waters, and the beasts and man out of the earth; but that earth and those waters were made out of nothing. Observe 4. When this work was produced; In the beginning - That is, in the beginning of time. Time began with the production of those beings that are measured by time. Before the beginning of time there was none but that Infinite Being that inhabits eternity. Should we ask why God made the world no sooner, we should but darken counsel by words without knowledge; for how could there be sooner or later in eternity?”
I reproduced this rather lengthy quotation from John Wesley’s work because it is symptomatic with regard to a certain attitude towards the understanding of the book of Genesis. “Whole frame and furniture of the universe” cannot be an acceptable interpretation for the first line from the book of Genesis, and that is because all which is covered by this expression – sun, moon, stars, and other celestial bodies – were created on the fourth day, according to the Bible. If the book of Genesis was the result of God’s inspiration it would be impeccable in all details, but instead it is a contradictory description of creation. It is the book in which so many details don’t harmonise with each other.
What says Wesley in his texts? We are human beings, and for this reason we shouldn’t ask any difficult questions, rather we should believe. But do we have to believe any absurdity, only because God’s name is attached to it? The beauty of God and His character are seen in the extraordinary order of the universe and not in the absurd accounts of creation given by the Bible.
What does “heavens” mean, in Genesis chapter 1? John Wesley didn’t try to explain that, but passed over it, as if he didn’t notice any contradiction. He replaced explanations with a moral teaching about the secondary role of human knowledge in connection with God. If God didn’t want to be known, why did He send revelations? If He wants to be known correctly why do we get such absurdities? It is possible that God didn’t send anything to humankind about the creation of the world, giving us the chance to know everything about this topic through His revelation in nature.
On the other side, the authors and editors of the ancient Scriptures have considered the stories of creation a necessary part of any religious writings. Almost all big religions contain the creation of the world, its beginning, and where is the case, its end. How could an important religion such as the Jewish tradition lack the creation of the world? It would have been very hard to build a religion without the foundation given by the creation stories. According to this logic we have in the Bible narratives about the creation of the universe which are contradictory and nonsensical and which are considered to be inspired by God but are only a human creation.
In other words, the stories about the creation of the world are the foundation myths of most religions, and for this reason a similar myth had to be laid as the foundation of the Jewish religion, in order to transform it into a credible system of religious beliefs. If someone would consider that the book of Genesis is too original to be human, I would say that it is too naïve and contradictory to be divine. The human imagination isn’t too poor to be able to invent stories similar to the narratives from the book of Genesis. The stories of creation from the Bible are filled with the same religious symbols as other legends from the Near East about the same theme, plus the idea that man would have been created or fathered by a supernatural human being having an unlimited power.
Religions concern with the spiritual aspect of the human condition, gods and goddesses (or a single personal god or goddess), the creation of the world, a human being’s place in the world, life after death and how to escape from suffering in this world or in the next. Every nation has created its own god in its own image and resemblance.
The description of the creation of the world, from the book of Genesis, must be seen in the wider context of the world religions. It is a religious explanation of the existence of the universe. The explanation was required by human curiosity and the need to establish a system of religious beliefs and wasn’t sent by God from heaven.
According to the book of Genesis, God created first His own realm and after that the human world, and only on the fourth day of creation did He create the cosmos. In order for God to exist He needed His own space but that space had to also be eternal, uncreated because he couldn’t have created His own space from outside space. There isn’t anything outside space to have real existence, therefore not only God is eternal but His space also. In other words, God couldn’t have created His own space; He needed it to always be there.
What was before the creation of God’s heavens? Was He without a realm or a Kingdom? It was a time when God was alone, without heaven? The idea of the creation of heaven, as a spiritual realm at the beginning, brings one to a very absurd conclusion. God wouldn’t have always had His own space or Kingdom; it was a time when God was not the Creator and when space as we know it hadn’t existed. If God is an infinite Reality one would expect that He would have always had His own space. The book of Genesis contradicts this assumption when it says that there is a beginning of creation and the Kingdom of God is included in that beginning. That beginning would have been the starting point of God’s entire creation, angels, Paradise and so on. The necessary conclusion from the creation of “heavens” at the beginning is that God wouldn’t have eternally been the Creator, therefore He would have been for an eternity only a potential God.
He didn’t have always His own Kingdom because there is a beginning in time when He started His creation.
On the other side, one can ask about the relationship between God and space in general. How could heaven, presumably God’s own space, be created at the beginning and have a limited extension in space if God is an infinite Reality? If God is infinite is He not everywhere? God cannot be confined in a limited space because He is spatially infinite and the space of the cosmos cannot be a spatial limit for Him, and neither could the inexistence of the cosmic space have been another limit.
In other words, it is more than absurd to believe that God would have created, at the beginning of the creation, space per se, because He couldn’t have existed at that time without space already in place. God outside space is a strange concept and an impossible reality. If God started the creation at a certain point in time, this is the moment when He became an actual Creator therefore He wouldn’t have been a Creator for eternity. Nevertheless, God couldn’t have started the creation with “heavens” because without “heavens”, understood as God’s place, He couldn’t have created anything. God is in “heavens” and where there isn’t “heavens” He also isn’t there. Before the beginning there wasn’t “heavens” as the book of Genesis says, hence the biblical narratives of creation make God’s existence impossible.
One could say that “heavens” refers in the first chapter of the book of Genesis only to the earthly atmosphere and to outer space, but not to God’s space or Paradise. I would disagree because without the sky, meaning the earthly atmosphere and outer space, there isn’t any other space in which God could have had His Paradise.
The only physical location found for God by the book of Genesis, which is not a very generous space, and probably not suitable, is the face of the waters. Nevertheless, God would have sent the wind over the face of the waters but the waters couldn’t have had a face or surface if the sky hadn’t been created at the time. In order for the waters of the oceans and seas to have a surface swept by the wind from God, a space between the waters from below and the waters covering the earth would have been an absolute necessity. Let’s compare the following two texts:
“In the beginning when God created* the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God* swept over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1; 1-2 NRSV)
“6 And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ 7So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.” (Genesis 1; 6-8 NRSV)
According to the second text, above outer space are the waters from above, hence it couldn’t have been God’s Paradise. The entire story is absurd from the beginning to the end. If “heavens” would refer only to the earthly atmosphere and to outer space, above them the space would be filled with water, according to the book of Genesis, and such a place wouldn’t be suitable for God’s Paradise, hence “heavens” in all three dimensions has to be in the sky, not above the dome of the sky. Above the dome of the sky is only water, it is what the narratives of creation form the Bible state.
The relation between the contents of the two quoted biblical texts is that in order for the first one to be possible the second one had to already be in place. As a matter of fact, in the book of Genesis the order is reversed and that completely invalidates the entire story. First “heavens” were created and only after that the dome of the sky was set in place. In the meantime, the daylight was also created, again in the absence of the sky and of the sun. The stories of creation aren’t only totally incredible but they are utterly absurd. Heavens before the light and the sky, daylight in the depth of the waters without sky and its natural source, the sun or waters above the sky represent a unique collection of nonsense which couldn’t have been inspired by God.
From where did God send the wind? God couldn’t have sent the wind from the sky, because the book of Genesis tells us that there wasn’t such a place until the second day. Where were the angels, where was Satan, if it wasn’t sky? If in heaven dwell angels and in future will also be the saints, heaven has to be understood as a sort of physical location because angels and saints exist in space and time.
According to the book of Genesis, we have the earth covered with waters and also a wind swiping the face of the waters, but without sky the waters from above and the waters covering the earth would have been in continuity with no free space between them. Only an empty space would have allowed free movement of the wind but that space would have meant the existence of sky. Without sky, waters of the primeval sea would have been a compact expanse of water filling the infinite space until the second day of creation. Having an infinite extension in space, such waters couldn’t possibly have had any face or surface.
If heaven, understood as the Kingdom of God, is a world of heavenly beings or angels, what is their consistency? Are they made from light? A positive response probably would be the most common answer to this question. How is it that at the beginning the light was not yet created, and the earth was in darkness, but the angels were made from light? Is it possible or rational to have spiritual heavens but not yet light? Did God create light twice, once for heavens and once more for the earth? Was there a heavenly light before the creation of the light which had replaced the sunlight until the fourth day of creation? The account from the book of Genesis doesn’t say anything about a heavenly light. The impression is that the light created on the first day of creation refers to the first light in the universe and it was made after the creation of “heavens” and the earth. Nevertheless, the angels would have been created at the beginning before the light and before the sky.
The “heavens” with a lack of sky, and also the earth, were under water at the beginning, under same universal expanse of water, and “darkness covered the face of the deep” therefore we don’t have any basis on which we can presume the existence of angels as beings of light before the alleged creation of the light in the first day of creation. If God dwells in an unapproachable light He was always surrounded by light, therefore light is eternal and not created, as the book of Genesis says. At the same time, if the angels were formed from light and their existence was previous to the creation of daylight, God would have created light before the moment indicated by the book of Genesis.
In other words, if “heavens” were created before the daylight and as the angels in “heavens” probably are entities of light, light would have been created at the same time as “heavens” and that means that light was created sooner than the Bible says.
Most importantly, speaking about the creation of “heavens”, in Jeremiah 4; 23, it is written that while the earth was waste and void, the “heavens” had no light. Strangely enough, the Bible tells us that “heavens” were created in darkness, because light was created after the creation of “heavens” and only after the creation of Earth. If by “heavens” Jeremiah understood both the spiritual heaven and also the terrestrial atmosphere and outer space as he should, he contradicted the book of Genesis which says that light was created before the sky.
“23 I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light.” (Jeremiah 4; 23 NRSV)
We know, from the book of Job, 38; 4-7 that heavens were created first and only afterwards the earth was created.
“4 ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6 On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone 7 when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings* shouted for joy?” (Job 38; 4-7 NRSV)
The information that the “heavens” had no light, from Jeremiah 4; 23, strengthened by the assertion that light was created only after the creation of Earth, from the book of Genesis, sustains the idea that “heavens” in the book of Genesis were created in darkness. This is nevertheless impossible because the presence of God brings light and “heavens” would have been illuminated by His light, according to the description of heavens made by the prophets and by the apostle John. If God was in heaven, light was also there, but Jeremiah says there was no light there.
“16 It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen.” (1 Timothy 6; 16 NRSV)
The Bible is very confused regarding what was in place at the beginning of creation. Some references speak about chaos and darkness and others about God dwelling in light. The order of creation is reversed and we find in the book of Genesis the creation of “heavens” before the creation of sky, even if the existence of “heavens” necessarily needs the existence of sky. We also find the creation of daylight without the space in which it could have travelled and without its source, the sun.