What Is the Firmament in the Bible?

Illustration of God creating the firmament.
Illustration by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld of God creating the firmament.

Culture Club / Getty Images

The firmament in the Bible is the tremendous dome-shaped expanse of sky separating the upper atmosphere or “waters” from the lower waters of the earth. On the second day of the creation account, God created the firmament:

Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” And that is what happened. God made this space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens. God called the space “sky.”
And evening passed and morning came, marking the second day. (Genesis 1:6–8, NLT)

The Firmament in the Bible

  • The firmament is first mentioned in the Bible in chapter one of the book of Genesis.
  • The firmament is a ceiling or dome-like vault stretching out to form a solid canopy over the earth, separating the heavens above from the earth below.
  • Sometimes, the firmament is called “heaven” in the Bible.
  • The word “firmament” comes from the Latin firmamentum and appears 17 times in the King James Version of the Bible, as well as other older translations.

Biblical Cosmology

People of the ancient near East, including the Hebrew people, shared similar beliefs about the origin and structure of the world. The earliest ideas seem to suggest that the sky was a solid dome, curtain, or heavenly dam, separating the waters of heaven from the earth below. God would “open the windows of heaven” to pour down rain on the land as well as blessings on the people of the earth (Genesis 7:11; 2 Kings 7:2; Malachi 3:10). In Job 37:18, the skies are described as “hard as a cast metal mirror.” Proverbs 8:28 says the Lord “made firm the skies above.” (ESV)

God created the firmament on day two of creation, dividing the existing formless mass of waters into layers. On day three, God separated the lower waters and caused dry land to appear. He also filled the earth with trees, plants, and other vegetation. On the fourth day of creation, God placed the sun, moon, and stars into the expanse of the firmament (Genesis 1:14–18).

Illustration of the fourth day of creation. God places the sun, moon, and stars in the firmament.
This illustration by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld shows the fourth day of creation.

Culture Club / Getty Images

Firmament in the Bible

The original Hebrew word (raqiyaʿ), translated as “firmament” in the King James Version of the Bible (and New King James Version), means expanse, spread out, space, or vault. Newer Bible translations use terms like “an expanse,” “vault," “sky,” and “canopy”  in place of "the firmament."

While a vast expanse of atmospheric space may seem like an empty void to the present-day mind, the firmament was perceived in the Bible as a solid canopy or arch intended to hold up the heavenly objects. This perception helps explain the application of the term “firmament.” The word appears nine times in Genesis 1:6–20 in connection with the creation.

The prophet Daniel depicts the “brightness of the firmament” (Daniel 12:3). In Psalm 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.” Worshippers are encouraged to praise the Lord “in His mighty firmament!” in Psalm 150:1.

In the book of Ezekiel during the prophet's chariot vision, the firmament is described as “the color of an awesome crystal, stretched out over” the heads of the living creatures (Ezekiel 1:22, 23, 25, 26). Ezekiel 10:1 says, “There in the firmament … appeared something like a sapphire stone, having the appearance of the likeness of a throne.” These illustrations of the firmament symbolize the seat of God’s power and sovereignty.

Depictions of the Firmament

The Bible uses graphic imagery to conceptualize elements of the firmament. The psalmist says God “opened the doors of heaven” to rain down heavenly manna for His people to eat. In Psalm 104:2, God stretched out the heavens “like a curtain.”  The prophet Malachi tells of God’s promise to open “the windows of heaven” and pour out uncontainable blessings of provision (Malachi 3:10, NKJV).

Ancient Hebrew Conception of the Cosmos
Ancient Hebrew Conception of the Cosmos.

Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University: BYU Campus Publications. White and Blue collection

Many images of the firmament have been captured by artists and biblical illustrators. In this drawing, we see how the ancient Hebrew people conceptualized the world as flat and circular, covered by a great solid dome (the firmament). We see the waters above the firmament, the sun, moon, and stars in the firmament, and the earth below. We also see the window openings or “portals” of heaven and the three-fold chamber room of heaven above where God dwells on His throne.

Woodcut engraving of sun, planets, and angels in the firmament.
Woodcut engraving (circa 1475) of the sun, planets, stars, and angels in the firmament.

Public Domain

This woodcut engraving (circa 1475) shows the sun, planets, and angels in the firmament.

Illustration of the ancient biblical perception of the cosmos showing the firmament.
Sixteenth-century illustration titled ‘Imaginative Representation of the Cosmos in the Middle Ages'.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

'Beyond the Stars' is a sixteenth-century illustration from a German book entitled ‘Imaginative Representation of the Cosmos in the Middle Ages.’ It shows an old man peering through an opening in the firmament to see the workings of the universe beyond.

Woodcut engraving of medieval philosopher-astronomer looking at the firmament.
Woodcut engraving (circa 1518) .

Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images

This woodcut engraving (circa 1518) shows a medieval philosopher-astronomer looking at the firmament.

Relevant Bible Verses  

Listed below is every occurrence of the term firmament in the Bible as rendered in the New King James Version (emphasis added).

Genesis 1:6–8
Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” Thus 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. So the evening and the morning were the second day.

Genesis 1:14-15
Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so.

Genesis 1:17
God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth,

Genesis 1:20
Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.”

Psalm 19:1
The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.

Psalm 150:1
Praise the LORD!
Praise God in His sanctuary;
Praise Him in His mighty firmament!

Ezekiel 1:22-23
The likeness of the firmament above the heads of the living creatures was like the color of an awesome crystal, stretched out over their heads. And under the firmament their wings spread out straight, one toward another. Each one had two which covered one side, and each one had two which covered the other side of the body.

Ezekiel 1:25-26
A voice came from above the firmament that was over their heads; whenever they stood, they let down their wings. And above the firmament over their heads was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like a sapphire stone; on the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it.

Ezekiel 10:1
And I looked, and there in the firmament that was above the head of the cherubim, there appeared something like a sapphire stone, having the appearance of the likeness of a throne.

Daniel 12:3
Those who are wise shall shine
Like the brightness of the firmament,
And those who turn many to righteousness
Like the stars forever and ever. 

Sources

  • Firmament. Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (pp. 576–577).
  • Firmament. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Vol. 2, p. 306).
  • Sky. The Lexham Bible Dictionary. 
  • Firmament. Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (pp. 461–462).
  • Firmament. Tyndale Bible Dictionary (p. 485).
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Fairchild, Mary. "What Is the Firmament in the Bible?" Learn Religions, Sep. 28, 2022, learnreligions.com/firmament-in-the-bible-6541258. Fairchild, Mary. (2022, September 28). What Is the Firmament in the Bible? Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/firmament-in-the-bible-6541258 Fairchild, Mary. "What Is the Firmament in the Bible?" Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/firmament-in-the-bible-6541258 (accessed December 1, 2022).