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Don Stewart :: What Were the Waters Above?

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Don Stewart
One of the difficulties found in the first chapter of Genesis concerns the term waters above. The Bible says:

Thus God made the expanse, and divided the waters which were under the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse (Genesis 1:7).

What are the waters that existed above the earth? Several explanations have been brought forward.

The Clouds

The simplest explanation of waters above the expanse seems to be clouds. The basic meaning for the expanse is the sky. The clouds can truly be said to be above the sky/atmosphere and yet at the same time in the sky/atmosphere. The Book of Proverbs speaks of God establishing the clouds in the sky at the creation.

When He established the clouds above, when He strengthened the fountains of the deep (Proverbs 8:28).

Rain Reservoir

Some feel the term is a poetic description of the rain reservoirs in God's lofty abode.

He waters the hills from His upper chambers; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of Your works (Psalm 104:13).

Water Vapor Canopy

Some interpreters believe that the waters above are referring to a water vapor canopy that was above the earth prior to the Flood of Noah. This canopy trapped the sun's rays more effectively than our present atmosphere does and gave a semi-tropical climate to every part of the world. It is from this canopy that the waters for the Flood came.

Astronomer Donald B. DeYoung lists the arguments in favor of a water vapor canopy.

1.The initial separation of water above and below the firmament (expanse, sky, atmosphere) may refer to the origin of a canopy (Gen 1:6,7)

2.Genesis 2:5,6 hints that the early earth did not experience rain. A canopy would have greatly affected weather patterns, very likely limiting precipitation.

3.During the great Flood, the windows or floodgates of heaven were opened for forty days and night (Gen. 7:11,12). The present-day atmosphere could not hold enough moisture for such a lengthy deluge. Thus, the sky was likely different in the past in a way that could have included a vapor canopy.

4.Many ancient cultures have traditions telling of a canopy-type phenomenon above the earth. The Babylonian creation account, Enuma Elish, refers to Mummu, representing fog, clouds, or mist. Perhaps this was a canopy description.

5.There is abundant evidence of a warmer earth in the past. We have found fossils of palm trees in Alaska, crocodiles in New Jersey, and petrified wood in the desert. A canopy would have warmed the entire earth like a blanket. Seasonal cold and heat are first mentioned after the Flood in Genesis 8:22.

6.A canopy would have increased atmospheric pressure, perhaps doubling its present value. This may explain the mystery of the flying reptiles, such as the pteranodon with its seventy-foot wingspan. In today's world it is doubtful that such creatures could fly. With higher air pressure in pre-Flood time, however, they may have been buoyed up by the increased air pressure. These magnificent creatures were certainly created and designed to fly above the early earth.

7.The canopy may hold the key to understanding the longevity in Old Testament chronologies, and also giantism of plants and animals in the fossil record. Increased air pressure can be very beneficial to health, as evidence by experiments with hyperbaric or high altitude pressure surgery. The healing process is sometimes found to accelerate when the patient is placed under higher than normal air pressure. The vapor canopy may also have increased the human lifespan by absorbing harmful radiation. The aging process is still not well understood today, so it is difficult to speculate on the beneficial effects of a pre-Flood canopy.

A biblical hint that a type of canopy may be restored during millennial times is in Psalm 148:4,6, which decribes waters that will be above the heavens forever and ever. Isaiah also mentions future weather protection above Mount Zion (Isa. 4:5,6). (Donald B. DeYoung, Weather And The Bible, Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1992, pp. 110-112).

Problem With Canopy Theory

The problem with this view is that the waters above seemed to have existed after the Flood. The psalmist wrote:

Praise Him, you heavens of heavens, And your waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord, For He commanded and they were created. He has also established them forever and ever; He has made decrees which shall not pass away (Psalm 148:4-6).

This passage, however may refer to the future state of the heavens, not as they exist today.


The waters above could refer to either the clouds, a poetic description of the reservoir of rain, or a water vapor canopy that covered the pre-Flood earth. It is not possible to be certain as to which of these three is the correct understanding of the term.

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