(Gen. 1:6) Does Genesis teach a three-story universe?

CLAIM: Critics argue that the “firmament” described in Genesis 1:6 refers to a covering over the Earth which is “strong as a molten mirror” (Job 37:18) or “like a curtain” (Is. 40:22). They argue that the Jews believed the sky was hard like iron, and God lived above this solid covering. Likewise, critics claim that the Jews believed that the lower story was Sheol or hell. However, since we have been to outer space and deep within the Earth’s crust, we now know that these are just pre-scientific myths.

RESPONSE: While the word “firmament” is used in Job 37:18 and Isaiah 40:22 as a hard shell, it does not always have this meaning. The NASB correctly translates this word as “expanse” instead of “firmament” in Genesis 1. In context, we see that the moon, sun, and stars exist in the expanse (Gen. 1:14), and the birds fly in this area (Gen. 1:20). Can we really believe that the author had a hard, iron shell in mind, when he includes descriptions like these? One of the best ways to understand the meaning of a word is to discern its context. Here, the context describes an expanse –not a hard shell. Moreover, the expanse of waters is most certainly rain, as the rest of these “pre-scientific” authors knew about quite well (Job 36:27-30; 37:13, 38:25-30; Ps. 104:3-6; 148:4-8; Prov. 8:28).