Does the Bible Teach a Solid Firmament?

Critics of a literal Genesis interpretation will attempt to claim that the Bible teaches an erroneous Eastern Cosmology, therefore the Creation account must be taken figuratively.  Specifically, the Bible is said to teach a solid raqiya, which is Hebrew for firmament (KJV) or expanse (NIV, NASB).  Since we know that the sky isn’t really solid, we must therefore conclude that Genesis is meant to be taken figuratively.  Immediately, the astute Biblical scholar will ask, what DOES the Bible say about the raqiya?

Scripture Interprets Scripture

The methodology of Biblical interpretation is a completely different, and extensive, topic in it’s own right.  But it will suffice to say here that we will be looking for Scripture to interpret Scripture.  That is, since Scripture is the inerrant Word of God, and ONLY Scripture is inerrant, the only way to truly understand Scripture is through Scripture.  In more every day terms, we must take Scripture for what it says without forcing upon it what others say about it or what we think about it.  When we start forcing others’ ideas or our own preconceived notions upon the Word of God, we risk shipwrecking the Biblical message.

Where is the Raqiya Described?

Gen 1: 6-8: “Then God said, “Let there be an expanse (raqiya) in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters. God made the expanse (raqiya), and separated the waters which were below the expanse (raqiya) from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. God called the expanse heaven . . .”

God is describing the “expanse” as that which is “in the midst of the waters” and the waters are “above the expanse”.  So the raqiya is in the midst of and above the waters.  Let’s say I am attempting to describe the sky to someone who no scientific knowledge, as God was attempting with Moses, if I described the sky as an “expanse” (raqiya) that is in the midst of waters (clouds) and below waters, would I be wrong or figurative?  No, so God is neither erroneous in his cosmology nor figurative in his description.

Gen 1:14: “Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse (raqiya) of the heavens to separate the day from the night. . .”

Gen 1:17:  “God placed them in the expanse (raqiya) of the heavens to give light on the earth,”

Now it seems that the raqiya exists beyond our Earth since God placed the moon and the sun in it.  There is no distinction made here between the raqiya that is below and “in the midst” of the waters and the raqiya that the lights are placed in that is obviously beyond our Earth. 

Gen 1:20: “Then God said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse (raqiya) of the heavens.” “

This verse is saying that birds can fly “in” the raqiya.

There are, arguably, other references to the raqiya in the Old Testament, however since we are dealing with what Scripture has to say about the creation account specifically, I will end the references here.

What did the Jews Believe About the Firmament?

In describing why theistic evolutionists view the Bible as teaching a solid raqiya, I will quoting from the recent discussion with Thomas.  The main argument seems to be that since the people who lived back in the day, whom Thomas calls “the ancients”, believed that the raqiya was solid, then the Bible erroneously taught them this.  Thomas says:

When Elihu says that the skies are hard as a mirror of bronze (Job 37:18), he is giving us a clue to how the ancients, including the Jews, saw the skies. I think if you look at the ancient Greeks, Babylonians, Egyptians, and Mesopotamians, you will find similar ideas about the cosmos. You may disagree with Elihu, but I do not think the children of Israel who were reading Genesis did.

Firstly, we need to refrain from getting confused between to very distinct issues.  There is a hugedifference between a God inspired writer adapting to his own limited scientific knowledge and God accommodating His description to human error.  Let me say again, there is a HUGEdifference.  Such accommodations on God’s part leads us to question the inerrancy of all Scripture based on ancient scientific understanding.  A logical slippery slope ensues:  The ancient idea of morality regarding human responsibility were erroneously based upon a lack of scientific knowledge, we know today that brain chemistry is what decides the behavior of human beings.  That is not a far-fetched position, a growing minority of the scientific community argues this way.

Bluntly:  What “the ancients” believe about the Bible doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with what the Bible says.  The vast majority of the ancients, including all of those that Thomas mentioned, believed that the God of Jews didn’t exist; does that belief have merit just because they existed a long time ago?  Of course not.

Secondly, if today we say “the sky is blue” to a person who is a member of a “primitive” society, and they happen to define the “sky” as “the solid expanse over our head”, this does not make our original statement, “the sky is blue,” in error. Their thought-concept is indeed in error, but our original statement is not—even if we both happen to use the same word, “sky”, to describe different concepts.  So when God said “raqiya” and Elihu and the rest of the Jews took it to mean “hard as bronze”, does this make God wrong in his original description of “expanse”?  No.  Does it mean that God is teaching them a solid expanse?  Of course not.

Biblical Support for a Solid Firmament

There are two places in Genesis, where Thomas believes a solid raqiya is supported by the text.  He says:

It is no contradiction to say that the sun, moon, and stars are placed in a solid firmament. They are “placed” as in “fixed” or “attached.”

I am assuming that Thomas is referring to Gen 1:17:  “God placed them in the expanse (raqiya) of the heavens to give light on the earth,”.  What is this verse saying about the sun, moon and stars?  That God placed them.  That is all Scripture says.  Could we read here that the sun, moon and stars were placed into a solid firmament?  Of course.  But aren’t those heavenly bodies fixed in their orbits?  Were they not placed in their orbits by God? 

If I am attempting to describe to someone, with no scientific knowledge, why the moon keeps coming back, day after day and year after year, am I wrong to say that the moon is “placed” or “fixed” there?  Of course not. 

The ironic part about this argument is that Thomas puts all kinds of stock in how the ancients viewed cosmology in regards to a solid firmament, but ignores their cosmology in regards to the movement of heavenly bodies.  Being geocentric, the ancients certainly observed the continuous reappearance of the moon as “movement” of the moon.  Yet, I’m sure they would describe the moon as “fixed” since it’s reappearance is certain.  “Fixed” and “orbital movement” are not mutually exclusive ideas.  In fact, modern cosmology describes the moon as “fixed in it’s orbit”.  Are we really going to say the Bible is teaching erroneous cosmology just because God didn’t mention orbital movement?

Bluntly:  Scripture only says that the heavenly bodies were “fixed” or “placed” in the expanse.  It says nothing about what they were fixed in was MADE of.  So to read a solid expanse into “fixed” is to put your own preconceived ideas onto the text.

Thomas also says:

Also, you will notice that other translations have the birds flying “across” rather than “in” the expanse. You could also describe birds flying across the (inside) roof of a barn. No problem at all.

Thomas must be referring to the NIV translation of Gen 1:20, “And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.”  So yes, you could say that birds could be flying across the roof of a barn, or across a solid raqiya.  But you could also, just as easily, say that the birds are flying across an open expanse of sky.  If am describing bird flight to you and I say, “That birds just flew across the sky”.  Was I wrong in my description?  No.  Am I trying to teach you that the sky is solid?  No.  So to attempt to argue that the creation account is describing a solid raqiya by describing birds as flying “across” it is again reading into Scripture what you have already decided is there.

Again, Scripture only says that birds fly “in the open expanse” or “across the expanse”, it says nothing about what they are flying across is MADE of. 

 Conclusion

To give credence to “the ancients” beliefs of a solid sky is in essence saying, “Well these people believed it, and they lived a long time ago, therefore it must be what the Bible taught them.”

Genesis says that God places the water “in the midst” and “above”, and then “places” or “fixes” the heavenly bodies in the raqiya.  That is the extent of the description of the “expanse”.  Therefore, I argue that the raqiya is intended to refer to that which serves to separate the earth from all that is beyond it.  We could, if we wanted to, read into Scripture that the raqiya is described as solid.  However, as we’ve seen, Genesis 1 was perfectly designed to allow that interpretation which is in agreement with modern science, for it says nothing more than that God created the expanse or its constituent elements while remaining completely silent about what those elements were. 

It only depends upon where one started: if one starts with the presupposition of a solid sky, one will read into the text a solid sky. If one starts with a modern conception, the text permits that as well.  Plainly, the Bible just doesn’t say what the raqiya is made of, and so any position that we take in that regard is mere speculation.  For one take the position, as Thomas does, that on the basis of a solid sky the entire Genesis account must be take figuratively, one must absolutely ignore all the other evidence from Scripture of a literal creation week.

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16 Comments on “Does the Bible Teach a Solid Firmament?”

  1. freidenker85 Says:

    Boy, I sure understand why Christians (and Anglo-Saxon critics of Christianity) make such a big deal of this whole “firmament” thing. Since I was raised Jewish and lived in Israel all my life:

    A.My native tongue, besides Israeli Sign Language, is Hebrew and
    B.In Israel, studying theology is mandatory starting second grade.

    Now that I’ve carefully stroked myself with my “credentials” (hah), let me just point out to something that requires very little credentials at all, besides being Israeli and a native Hebrew speaker:

    “Rakiya” is still a word in modern Hebrew, and it simply means “sky”. The Hebrew passages don’t use terms like “fixed”, and the only reference in Bereshit for this whole Rakiya thing is that “at first there was one blue expanse and afterwards, there were two.

    Actually, I vividly remember my Torah teachers telling me that what God did was put one ocean on the earth and another up in the sky.

    At any rate, this has no bearing on a fixed earth (since there was no such usage in Hebrew, I still have a Hebrew Tanach at home, so I can check the original verse if you tell me which was it) or on any special biblical cosmology.

    Actually, “Yekum”, being “Universe” in Hebrew is a term meant to denote the earth and the skies, period. At least that’s what my Torah teachers taught me. They could be wrong, of course. According to them, also, the stars are not outside of this universe and are merely plastered, along with the “Me’orot”, the moon and the sun, on the sky for the good of mankind. It doesn’t say anywhere whether this turns around that or the other.

    I also remember us learning about an amazingly similar tradition outside of the bible, being the Babylonian one with “Te’imat” being a kind of Babylon-like Pandora. This ancient monster was torn into two pieces, one being the skies and the other the ocean. There’s also similar etymology between “Te’imat” and “Ma’im”, being the Hebrew word for “water”.

  2. Eric Kemp Says:

    Freidenker!

    Hey, it’s been awhile! Wait, did you and I just agree on something?

    Thank you for your input. It’s always good to hear from the perspective of God’s people, truly. Especially one that is a native Hebrew speaker. As you suggest, I agree that the Pentatuch just doesn’t say what the sky is made of, it just calls it sky. It’s interesting that you say there is no Hebrew usage that makes the Earth fixed. It’s fascinating then, how anyone can take it as such.

    If you are referring to where it says the Heavenly bodies are fixed, that is Gen 1:17. If you are referring to the Earth being fixed, I am not sure on that reference. I’ve heard theistic evolutionists quote a verse somewhere in Psalms where either David or Moses likens the Earth to being “immovable”. Immovable is being used as a figure of speech there, to describe God’s upholding and sustaining of the Earth, but they choose to think of it differently.

    That is also interesting about Babylonian creation stories also having a splitting of the waters. I wonder why this similarity to the Genesis creation story is ignored.

    For my own edification, what is “Bereshit”?

    Also, please keep that credential stroking on your own side of the blogosphere ;p

    Eric Kemp

  3. Thomas Says:

    Bear with me. This is a lengthy comment.

    Eric,

    Thanks for being willing to engage me on this topic at such length. I think this is a healthy conversation, and I hope that it will serve to bring us both to a truer understanding of God’s word as we seek to serve him and represent him to a fallen world.

    My reply will be based heavily on two articles by a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia named Paul H. Seely, who writes articles on the Bible and science. (He does, incidentally believe the Bible is inerrant, but he is okay with the Bible speaking in terms of the cosmology of the day.) One of the articles is called “The Firmament and the Water Above” and the other is called “The Three-Storied Universe.” Both can be easily found using Google and are well worth your time. I would be happy to provide the url, but they are pretty lengthy and I don’t know how to link inside a comment.

    To begin, let me describe your idea of the raqiya and the waters above it. Please let me know if I am misrepresenting your description, but it seems that you believe that the raqiya contains water (which you think is synonymous to clouds) and that there are waters (also clouds) above the raqiya. You also seem to say that there is a (separate?) raqiya above the clouds that includes space, since God placed the sun, moon, and stars there. Again, let me know if I am not representing you correctly.

    First, I think that by saying the raqiya is both in the midst of the waters and above it, you are misreading the text. When God says, “Let there be a raqiya in the midst (or middle) of the waters to separate water from water,” he is clearly talking about the raqiya being in the midst of the original waters, before they were separated. The raqiya’s purpose is to form a separation from waters below and waters above (“to separate water from water”). When you read about these waters in Gen. 1:7 and Psalm 148:4, you will see them described as “the waters above,” not as the waters inside and above. The “waters” are not inside the raqiya.

    Keep in mind that being in the midst of something is not the same as being permeated by something. I can be in the midst of the water of a swimming pool, but there is no water inside me.

    It is only by assuming that the waters above and supposedly inside the raqiya are clouds that you can come close to escaping the difficulty of having the sun, moon, and stars inside it. You can come close, but you still do not escape the difficulty because there are still unidentified waters above these heavenly spheres. There are not two raqiyas, only one, and its location is under the waters, not above it. So what are these waters that are above the raqiya? What is your interpretation?

    Speaking of clouds, it seems to me that you are making a huge assumption when you say that the waters above are clouds. Why wouldn’t Moses just use the word for clouds? After all, he does in Genesis 9:13-14, and there are numerous other references to them in other parts of scripture. Or why wouldn’t he just use the word for “mist” or “vapor?” Instead of using these words, Genesis 1 talks about an actual body of water that was separated into two bodies of water, and to do this you need a physical raqiya. Later, when God sends the waters of the flood, he does this in part by opening the windows of the raqiya and letting these waters fall onto the earth (Genesis 8).

    Instead of using the words cloud, mist, or vapor, Moses uses the word raqiya, a poor choice, according to Seely, if he was trying to show his readers that it was not solid. Remember that raqiya’s verbal form, raqa, means “to stamp, beat, or spread out” and is used in Exodus 39:3 of hammering metal into thin plates. In fact, the Egyptians and Sumerians believed that the dome of heaven was made of beaten metal. If Moses wanted to communicate that the sky was not solid, it would seem like he would have used a different word. You can render raqiya “expanse,” but it is a solid expanse.

    As far as the issue of birds flying in the expanse, let me quote Seely in his article “The Three-Storied Universe”:

    “It has been thought by some that since the “birds fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven,” (Genesis 1:20), the firmament must be mere airy expanse. However, the Hebrew of Genesis 1:20 when properly translated reads, “let birds fly above the earth before or ‘in front of’ the firmament.” Genesis 1:20 when properly translated proves that the firmament is a solid plate, not a gaseous expanse.”

    Now, I don’t know Hebrew, but this guy apparently does, and he says that there isn’t really room for an alternate understanding of where the birds flew. And if the birds are flying before or in front of the raqiya, then that further serves to show that the raqiya is solid. You do not fly in front of an empty space.

    As for your objection about the movement of the sun, moon, and stars across the background of the stars, I agree that this undermines the reality of a solid sky, but it does not necessarily mean that the ancient Hebrews or the Bible did not speak of a solid sky. The book of Enoch, for example, says that there were several openings in the raqiya to allow the sun to go through.

    In conclusion, you say that I am reading my idea of the firmament into scripture, but I could just as well say that you are reading a modern understanding of the universe into scripture. I have tried to show you from the Bible that a modern understanding simply does not fit. This does not undermine the Bible’s authority. It simply means that God chose to speak spiritual truths to people in a language that they can understand. It does not seem to be his intent to give them a science lesson.

    I look forward to your reply. Have a blessed Lord’s Day.

  4. freidenker85 Says:

    LOL, WHAT? Okay, the Hebrew of Bereshit Alef, Pasuk Tet-Za’in (Genesis 1:17) goes:

    “Va’yiten Otam Elohim Ba’rakia Ha’shama’im LLe’ha’ir Al Ha’aretz”

    This means, in very plain Hebrew:

    “And God has given (!) them upon the expanse of the sky to shed light upon the earth”

    What? Fixed? I know what this is all about: This is about English translators who used over-eloquence in their translations and in passing created schisms in Christianity (this is a bloated exaggeration, of course, but you can definitely see now why the Hebrew tradition had no problems at all with this verse)

    I’m sorry, but anyone trying to blame the Tanach for being geocentric based on this verse is simply wrong, simply because the verse doesn’t say anything even remotely similar to “fixed” in the original version of the Tanach. That some Christians think the Tanach was written in English and King James’ Version is the original word of the prophets doesn’t change that.

    Anyhow, about the Babylonian tradition of the creation story and the Sumerian utter plagiarism of Noah’s ark (A person called Gilgamesh was ordered by the gods (gasp) to build an ark and put animals in it while a flood kills the sinner is downright plagiarism, no way around it) weren’t overlooked in my theology class. In fact, modern Judaism readily accepts the fact that the Tanach had about 3 different authors with very peculiar traditions. There’s even a difference in the way each of these hypothetical authors use the name of God! One (Genesis 1) calls him “Elohim”, another (Genesis 2!) calls him “Yehuva”, another calls him “El”. This is one of the reasons why I was taught by well-educated theology teachers that the modern biblical scholars decreed that the Tanach was written by human beings!

    The religious justification was that the actual words were inspired by God, but the words themselves written by upstanding scholars in the Israelite and later, Judean community. This is not a problem either for me if I’m donning the biblical critic’s hat or for you as a devout Christian (or Muslim or Jew)

    Let me further point. that the aforementioned stories, the creation story and Noah’s ark, are probably adaptations made to fit the monotheistic and transcendental idea of God.

    The Go’im viewed their gods (or even those who worshipped Yehuva alongside other gods) as palpable and not abstract. In that respect, I think my first shock of Christianity was that they somehow feel perfectly comfortable with such a crass objectification of the perforce abstract identity of God. If God could suddenly reside or be or even be related to a palpable thing (a human being called Yeshua Ben Yosef) – then this simply contradicts everything the Tanach tells the Jewish people. No wonder the Talmud scorned Christianity – the very idea seems to spit traditional Judaism in the eye!

    Now I will gracefully disappear in a whiff of endless hours on campus. Have a good week!

  5. Eric Kemp Says:

    Thomas

    Long posts are the best kind!

    I was wondering when you were going to bring Seely into this.

    “The raqiya’s purpose is to form a separation from waters below and waters above (“to separate water from water”). When you read about these waters in Gen. 1:7 and Psalm 148:4, you will see them described as “the waters above,” not as the waters inside and above. The “waters” are not inside the raqiya.”

    Alright, I see what you’re saying. I stand corrected.

    “It is only by assuming that the waters above and supposedly inside the raqiya are clouds that you can come close to escaping the difficulty of having the sun, moon, and stars inside it. You can come close, but you still do not escape the difficulty because there are still unidentified waters above these heavenly spheres.”

    The Bible doesn’t say what the “waters above” are. We could assume they are clouds and it would fit the text, we could also assume they are solid waters, and it would fit the text. You have chose the latter and I have chosen the former, and that’s fine. But to say that Scripture says in what form the waters are is to be misleading and dishonest.

    “There are not two raqiyas, only one, and its location is under the waters, not above it. So what are these waters that are above the raqiya? What is your interpretation?”

    Your right, Scripture makes no distinction between the raqiya that seperates the waters and the raqiya that the heavenly bodies were placed in. Scripture also doesn’t say what this raqiya is made out of, if anything. So again, we could read into the text that the raqiya is solid or we could read that the heavenly bodies some how must have waters above them.

    OR we could read the text for what it says, that there is an expanse between waters and the heavenly bodies were placed in an expanse and that’s it. Again, THE TEXT JUST DOESN’T SAY what the raqiya is or if there is or is not a distinction in the raqiya.

    “Speaking of clouds, it seems to me that you are making a huge assumption when you say that the waters above are clouds. Why wouldn’t Moses just use the word for clouds?”

    Are clouds not made of water?

    Are you saying that since Moses didn’t use the word for clouds, therefore the Bible is teaching solid waters and a solid raqiya? Come now, that’s a non-sequitor.

    “If Moses wanted to communicate that the sky was not solid, it would seem like he would have used a different word. You can render raqiya “expanse,” but it is a solid expanse.”

    The funny part about this is what freidenker has brought into the conversation. He says, if you read his comments, that no where in the Hebrew does raqiya by itself allow for anything solid. He’s a native Hebrew speaker and raqiya literally means “sky” and no Hebrew would ever take raqiya as solid.

    Also, at no point during this discussion have you turned to Scripture to explain your position. Only Scripture is inerrant, hence only Scripture can interpret Scripture without inaccuracy. You are literally ignoring the merits of Scripture interpreting Scripture. I think this quote of yours says it all.

    “In conclusion, you say that I am reading my idea of the firmament into scripture, but I could just as well say that you are reading a modern understanding of the universe into scripture.”

    Exactly. Scripture is silent on what the raqiya is made of. We can either assume that Scripture is teaching an ancient and erroneus Eastern Cosmology or that Scripture is exactly in line with modern science regarding the expanse. You have chosen the former.

    However, here is the difference; let me use another one of your quotes to illustrate . . .

    “I have tried to show you from the Bible that a modern understanding simply does not fit.”

    I know that you believe that you have done so, but in reality have not even attempted to do so. All of your explanations about the raqiya have come from your own opinion or the opinions of others (Seely being the only one named). Your explanations of the raqiya could not have come from Scripture because Scripture DOESN’T EXPLAIN the raqiya.

    But here is the MAIN point. In order to hold this view of the raqiya, a view Scripture is silent on, as your only reason for reading Genesis figuratively is to LITERALLY IGNORE several issues that Scripture is NOT silent on. You must ignore the literal meaning of yom, Exodus 20 (the commandment of the Sabbath), the words of Jesus, the theology of Paul, and the theology of original sin (“and God saw that it was good”). I explained this clearly in my previous article and you have steadfastly ignored them. But, this you must do continue to hold to your position on the raqiya.

    I have a sneaking suspicion that your view on the raqiya comes from an inner desire to reconcile the Bible to modern science, and a fear of what being a Creationist would mean. Don’t you think I know the ridicule I’m risking (and recieving) for being a young earth creationist? However, I would rather stand on the infallible Word of God, trusting the only Person who was present at the formation of the world, than the theories of fallible men.

    I want to encourage you, that standing on Scripture is a fight worth fighting, not compromising, and it’s a fight you can fight rationally, with zero blind faith required. In fact, I plan on posting next about how just because the majority of academia agrees with atheism, doesn’t mean they have the truth, or even the upper hand. I honestly hope and pray that you consider which you would rather follow, the words of men (even Christian men like Seely), or the Word of God.

    Unfortunately, this is my last lengthy comment on this subject. To be honest with you, I grow weary of arguing semantics with you. The Bible is literally silent on what the raqiya is made of. If you want to continue to spend time speculating on a subject the Bible is silent about, especially at the expense of the words of Jesus, then I can’t stop you. As for me, I’ll allow Scripture to interpret Scripture and allow the Bible to be silent on trivial issues.

  6. Thomas Says:

    “The Bible doesn’t say what the “waters above” are. We could assume they are clouds and it would fit the text, we could also assume they are solid waters, and it would fit the text.”

    The text DOES NOT allow us to assume they are clouds. Bear with me; I know you are getting tired of this particular discussion, but I think it is important to point out to literalists that their explanations of the firmament fall short.

    As you admit, the Genesis 1 account talks about the firmament and the waters above the firmament. Since the sun, moon, and stars are in the firmament, the waters simply cannot be translated as clouds. Forgive me for writing the painfully obvious, but the sun, moon, and stars are not located beneath clouds, Nevertheless, we do see “the waters above” falling onto the earth through windows in the firmament in the account of the flood.

    Can you offer another way of explaining the waters above?

    “Are you saying that since Moses didn’t use the word for clouds, therefore the Bible is teaching solid waters and a solid raqiya? Come now, that’s a non-sequitor.”

    No, I was only saying it is strange to refer to clouds with an obscure description if there is already a clear word for “cloud.” Clouds certainly have water vapor and dust in them, but it is hardly clear to describe a cloud to someone (who already understands what a cloud is, as other scriptures in Genesis point out) as water in the sky. If a person already has a word for clouds, it will only serve to confuse him or her if you talk about waters in the sky. Besides, I think the above argument makes it clear that it is impossible to define the waters above in this way.

    “The funny part about this is what freidenker has brought into the conversation.”

    I did read Freidenker’s comments, but he simply wrote that rakiya means “sky” in MODERN Hebrew. It certainly has come to mean “sky,” but the original word’s connotations with metal working informs us on the ancient Hebrews’ idea of the make-up of the sky.

    “Also, at no point during this discussion have you turned to Scripture to explain your position.”

    I think I have actually dealt with the firmament in Genesis 1 more literally than you have. I have referred also to Genesis 8, Job 38, and Psalm 148.

    “I have a sneaking suspicion that your view on the raqiya comes from an inner desire to reconcile the Bible to modern science, and a fear of what being a Creationist would mean.”

    I know what being a (6 day/24 hr) creationist would mean because I was one until last year or so. I didn’t always advertise it, but I was willing to look silly for it. I began to re-examine my views after reading two books (not on this topic) by Christians who mentioned in passing that they believed in evolution. Also, my father-in-law is not a Christian but he is a scientist who is absolutely convinced in the merits of evolution. I therefore started looking into how viable it was for a Christian to believe in evolution and became convinced that Genesis 1 was not meant to be read literally. And yes, Eric, the scientific case was very compelling. God’s two books should not contradict each other. Either science is looking at nature wrong or we are looking at the Bible wrong. I am no longer convinced by the creationists’ arguments that the heaps of evidence of today’s science is in error. Yes, take a stand on the Bible, but make sure the Bible is saying what you think it is.

    I haven’t finished searching this issue out for myself yet. I do want to address your questions, and I have started. But thinking through things and replying takes time. So enough, please, with the accusations that I am completely ignoring your arguments.

    I agree with you that things like the firmament and the waters above sound strange in our modern ears, but that is why it is helpful to try to understand how the original audience saw things, thought, etc. Creationists do this with other passages, too.

    Out of curiosity, have you read Seely’s two articles?

  7. freidenker85 Says:

    Thomas is right about something “rakiya” does follow the same Hebrew root (Raka, from the action “Rekiya) as doing subtle metal work, or more simply, to tweak matter for a suitable purpose.

    Sha’maim, by the way, the Hebrew word for “sky”, actually is a combination of two words: “Sham” and “Ma’im” and it literally means: “Water over there” or “water up there”, if you will. This works well with the proposition that the ocean is simply half of the original “sky”.

    I find it kind of weird that you two are arguing about the bible when you’re both using a translation of a translation, most of the globalization is thanks to the translation of the bible to Greek from Hebrew (and I know mistakes were amply possible), and the KJV, which is probably what many Christians use, is a translation from Greek, correct me if I’m wrong.

    But still, none of what you guys are saying could be accurate without referring to the original language in which the Tanach was written in.

    P.S,

    Thomas, the word “Rakiya” means sky in Modern Hebrew AND older versions of it. There does seem to be a a difference in the meaning of the two words, which might be important, but they do both refer to “what’s up there”. That’s as far as I went in my theology class, this was never a problem or an embarrassment to Judaism, there’s nothing in Jewish tradition that points out to a fixed earth, as far as I know.

    Regardless of etymology, are there any verses (other than Gen 1:17, which categorically disproves the fixed earth claim due to the fact that the Hebrew doesn’t say “fixed” at all) that point out to geocentrism? I’d be happy to look up the Hebrew in my Tanach (even atheist Jews have them in their homes!)

  8. Eric Kemp Says:

    Thomas

    “Since the sun, moon, and stars are in the firmament, the waters simply cannot be translated as clouds.”

    Ok, you must have missed the part where I tackled this assumption. You are assuming that the expanse is ONLY “between the waters”. Scripture says that the the expanse is “in the midst” and then it says “the sun, moon, and the stars” were placed in the expanse. It DOESN’T SAY that the expanse is ONLY “between the waters”.

    So you COULD assume that it is, if you wanted to, but you could also assume, that since the heavenly bodies were placed in the expanse, that the expanse is also above “the waters”, since modern science tells us that there are waters above (clouds) and that the heavenly bodies are above these clouds.

    Again, Scripture just doesn’t say that the expanse is ONLY “between the waters”. Don’t you see the assumptions your making all in the name of holding to your preconcieved notion?

    “but it is hardly clear to describe a cloud to someone (who already understands what a cloud is, as other scriptures in Genesis point out) as water in the sky.”

    Did Moses really understand that the clouds were made of water? If he didn’t (which is quite likely), then if I describe the clouds as “the water above”, am I wrong??

    “It certainly has come to mean “sky,” but the original word’s connotations with metal working informs us on the ancient Hebrews’ idea of the make-up of the sky.”

    Freid has already responded to this, I’ll allow his words to speak for him.

    “I think I have actually dealt with the firmament in Genesis 1 more literally than you have. I have referred also to Genesis 8, Job 38, and Psalm 148.”

    How can you even claim this when your entire point is that since the Bible is teaching an erroneus Easter Cosmology that the Genesis account should be take figuratively?

    “I therefore started looking into how viable it was for a Christian to believe in evolution and became convinced that Genesis 1 was not meant to be read literally. And yes, Eric, the scientific case was very compelling.”

    I would encourage you to read this: https://intelligentscience.wordpress.com/2008/06/08/is-theistic-evolution-viable/

    But I want to show you what you just said. You just told me that you started listening to other people (father in law), and read two other books, which convinced you that Genesis was to be taken figuratively. Don’t you see what’s wrong with this picture? You decided what the Bible “meant” on a topic without allowing the Bible to tell you what it meant! The merits of ONLY Scripture is inerrant and Scripture interpreting Scripture are completely lost on you. No matter how smart those guys are, their words aren’t Scripture and, next to God, they know nothing.

    But I’m curious. What about the scientific case for evolution was so convincing? I have a four year secular science degree, went through tons of bio, and was only convinced of how little they actually know.

    “I haven’t finished searching this issue out for myself yet. I do want to address your questions, and I have started. But thinking through things and replying takes time. So enough, please, with the accusations that I am completely ignoring your arguments.”

    I understand that you are working through these issues and I don’t expect you to know all things right away. I don’t mean to make accusations. It’s just, ignoring those issues is what you’re doing. It’s not an accusation, it’s what you must do to hold to your position. You may think that those things are a side issue, or “besides the point” of the firmament. But, the words of Jesus, and the context of the creation account, Exodus 20, Paul; those things ARE the point. And they SHOULD necessarily inform you on how to think about the firmament. But you are not doing this. You are focusing on the firmament as a separate issue heedless of what the rest of Scripture says about creation. It’s reckless, and a slippery slope.

    “Out of curiosity, have you read Seely’s two articles?”

    Portions, not fully. I’ve read his main points while doing research on your position.

  9. Thomas Says:

    Eric, I feel very frustrated because it seems like you are changing positions on the firmament between your most recent comments.

    This is what you wrote in a previous comment:

    [quoting me]
    ” ‘The raqiya’s purpose is to form a separation from waters below and waters above (“to separate water from water”). When you read about these waters in Gen. 1:7 and Psalm 148:4, you will see them described as “the waters above,” not as the waters inside and above. The “waters” are not inside the raqiya.’

    “Alright, I see what you’re saying. I stand corrected.”

    Did you forget, or are you changing your mind?You agreed that there are no waters inside the firmament, only above it. I repeat, since the sun, moon, and stars are inside the firmament, what are the waters above? They are NOT clouds because there are no clouds above the heavenly spheres.

    Regarding my changing views on creation, evolution, et al, let me say that I was willing to look again at my position and hear out the case of Christian evolutionists. I don’t think I am forcing my view onto the Genesis 1 text. I looked at the text again, and yes, I listened to people who had insight into the text and saw that they had very good points. There is nothing wrong with reading commentaries or listening to people who know a lot about the Bible when trying to understand it. Guidance is good, but the guidance must be tested with the text and with the conscience. This is an honest effort to understand on my part, Eric. Yes, I see some difficulties, but I see more difficulties on the side of the literal creationists.

    Yes, what I had learned about evolution was on my mind when re-reading the Genesis text, but I didn’t force it into the text, as far as I can tell. I will be happy to tell you a couple of things I found convincing. You can reply if you wish, but don’t expect me to get in a discussion on these here. The ones I can remember off the top of my head:

    1. There is a long list of ways to tell how old the earth and universe are. They all seem to agree that both are pretty ancient.

    2. The fossil record seems to show a progression from simple to complex organisms in ascending strata. They also seem to demonstrate that some species existed when others did not.

    3. The human DNA contains the same mistakes, duplicates, garbled script, etc. as primates and other previous organisms.

    4. Petrified fesces seem to show that the diet of dinosaurs contained no flowering plants, i.e., dinosaurs existed before flowering plants.

    5. Most species in Australia have pouches. Rough counterparts in South America do not. The original organisms in Australia seem to have had pouches and passed them on to following species, whereas the original organisms in S.A. did not.

    6. The existence, despite claims to otherwise by AiG, of intermediate species.

  10. Eric Kemp Says:

    Thomas

    “Eric, I feel very frustrated because it seems like you are changing positions on the firmament between your most recent comments.”

    I have no desire to frustrate you so hopefully I can clear up any confusion.

    “Did you forget, or are you changing your mind?You agreed that there are no waters inside the firmament, only above it. I repeat, since the sun, moon, and stars are inside the firmament, what are the waters above? They are NOT clouds because there are no clouds above the heavenly spheres.”

    Thomas, let me be very clear here, if I was in error, I have no problem admitting as much. However, this is not the case. I stated in my last post, as clearly as I could, the following:

    You are assuming that Scripture is saying that the only raqiya that exists is the one we, today, think of as the sky. However, Scripture says no such thing.

    It literally says that there is a raqiya “between the waters” and then it says that the heavenly bodies were “placed” in the raqiya. Were the heavenly bodies placed between the waters? Scripture doesn’t say. Were the heavenly bodies placed above the water? Scripture doesn’t say. Can you conclude that the raqiya does NOT mean what we today call “space”? You could, but Scripture just doesn’t make a distinction. Scripture just says there is an expanse between waters, and an expanse that the heavenly bodies were put into. Saying anything else, or drawing any conclusion from Scripture is to practice eisegesis.

    “I don’t think I am forcing my view onto the Genesis 1 text. I looked at the text again, and yes, I listened to people who had insight into the text and saw that they had very good points.”

    This is exactly my point. You allowed others to tell you what the Scriptures meant to say about a small portion of the text, with, so far, no regard for what the rest of the Bible says about that text.

    “There is nothing wrong with reading commentaries or listening to people who know a lot about the Bible when trying to understand it.”

    At the expense of the rest of Scripture interpreting Scripture, yes there is.

    “This is an honest effort to understand on my part, Eric. Yes, I see some difficulties, but I see more difficulties on the side of the literal creationists.”

    I know it is Thomas, and I know where your heart is. You’re going have to do alot more than “the raqiya could have been solid” to show that Creationists have a problem.

    “Yes, what I had learned about evolution was on my mind when re-reading the Genesis text, but I didn’t force it into the text, as far as I can tell.”

    I want to say that, honestly, everything you have said so far says otherwise. Including this sentence. But look, I’m not saying it’s your fault. It is the presupposition of our time that man’s mind and man’s knowledge (especially of the scientific variety) is ultimate over God’s mind. Or that God’s mind must conform to what man’s mind “knows”. Thomas, you must recognize this assumption and reject it.

    “1. There is a long list of ways to tell how old the earth and universe are. They all seem to agree that both are pretty ancient.”

    There are three major assumptions that radiometric dating makes that invalidates an Old Earth as a scientific conclusion. If you’d like to hear them explained, I’m more than willing.

    “2. The fossil record seems to show a progression from simple to complex organisms in ascending strata. They also seem to demonstrate that some species existed when others did not.”

    This is actually false. The Cambrian fossil record shows complex animals first, with a descending “top-down” evolution afterwards. Read my article, “The Cambrian Explosion: A problem for molecules-to-man evolution”.

    “3. The human DNA contains the same mistakes, duplicates, garbled script, etc. as primates and other previous organisms.”

    Here, evolutionists assume the similarity = molecules-to-man evolution. When in reality, similarity could just as easily = a God who created the animals similar.

    “4. Petrified fesces seem to show that the diet of dinosaurs contained no flowering plants, i.e., dinosaurs existed before flowering plants.”

    How could we possibly know what is and isn’t in 65 million year old (and older) poo? How did they know the animal wasn’t a carnivore? Or it was an omni-vore that just had meat for it’s last meal? There are so many holes in this one that I don’t even know where to begin . . .

    “6. The existence, despite claims to otherwise by AiG, of intermediate species.”

    Intermediates do not exist. To call something n “transitional” fossil, you must first assume molecules-to-man evolution to be true. If you do not, all you have are two similar (or not so similar) species. This is a huge topic in itself and I’d love to get into with you.

    However, and this is my main point to you. All the above examples are assuming that humans know better than God. And all those points are only viable for a “Christian” to believe in, if you ignore my exhaustively aforementioned Scriptural evidence.

  11. Thomas Says:

    Come now, Eric. You did say that you “stand corrected” when I replied about the firmament not being in the waters. Surely you aren’t denying what can be clearly read in print, are you?

    Read verses 6-7, especially verse 7.

    6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so.

    God separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. No mention of water in the expanse here. “In the midst” does not have to do with being permeated by. If you are in the midst of something, that something is not in you.

    Thanks for your replies on the evidence for evolution. I have read creationist answers (remember that I have been in the creationist camp for quite a while), but quite frankly, they are just not that convincing. Check into the argument on marsupials again. It’s not so easy to counter that. Also, I would take a closer look at the DNA evidence. It’s not very easy to dismiss. Coming To Peace With Science by Falk is a good resource on these. Also, rather than write off “poo,” perhaps you should actually take a look into that argument.

  12. Eric Kemp Says:

    Thomas

    “Come now, Eric. You did say that you “stand corrected” when I replied about the firmament not being in the waters. Surely you aren’t denying what can be clearly read in print, are you?”

    Yes, I did. I admitted that Scripture wasn’t saying that the expanse was “in” the waters. When have I back tracked on that?

    Thomas, it’s like I’m pointing out several assumptions that you’re making and you’re ignoring them. I’m showing you that you are assuming that the raqiya is also NOT ABOVE the waters, and that the heavenly bodies were NOT PLACED above the waters. Scripture is silent about both. It’s an assumption you are making based on Scriptural silence.

    “I have read creationist answers (remember that I have been in the creationist camp for quite a while), but quite frankly, they are just not that convincing.”

    This is again you making blanket statements without having tackled the issues. It seems to be becoming a pattern, ignoring your assumption of the ultimacy of the human mind and ignoring what the rest of Scripture has to say about Creation.

    As to your statements regarding my level of education on the issues you brought up: I have carefully reviewed the evidence on those issues many times over. Evidence must be interpreted. Evolutionists want you to believe that there is only one way to look at the evidence they gather, and that the conclusions they make (regarding molecules-to-man evolution) are rock solid scientific fact. I assure you that neither is true. However, you’ve already stated that you don’t want to discuss these issues (or, frankly, any other issue besides the firmament) and it seems that you’ve, sadly, already made up your mind and are not open to what a fellow Christian has to say.

  13. Thomas Says:

    Eric,

    I apologize for confusing your statements and then accusing you of changing your position. Please forgive me. I didn’t understand what you were saying, so let me start again. You seem to be saying that there is an expanse, then heavenly waters, and then more expanse. The first expanse roughly corresponds to our atmosphere, where the birds fly; the heavenly waters are clouds; and the expanse beyond the clouds includes all of space, where the moon, sun, and stars lie. Lastly, you agree with me that there is a clear separation between the expanse(s) and the waters above, i.e., clouds. Have I got this right? Please set me straight if I have not.

    Your position effectively means that there are two raqiyas, or at least two distinct parts of the raqiya. Please look at verses 6-7 again.

    “And God said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so.

    It’s pretty unambiguous here. The raqiya’s purpose is to separate. It lies between the earthly waters and the heavenly waters. Please look again at verses 14-17.

    “14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth”

    It seems to me that you are looking at this text through the eyes of a 21st century reader who knows where the sun, moon, and stars really are, and you are inserting the idea that the raqiya extends beyond the waters above in order to fit that understanding. But there is no warrant for inserting that idea in this text. We just read that the raqiya is between the earthly and heavenly waters. In the above verses, God puts the celestial bodies in the raqiya. There is no reason for assuming that the NIV’s “expanse of the sky” in verse 17 is any different than the expanse which “God called sky” in verse 8. You have argued that I am inserting my worldview here, but I think it’s the other way around: you are inserting a 21st century understanding of space into a text that presents the ancient peoples’ view of the universe.

    I don’t think this understanding disturbs scripture’s accuracy. I think it simply tells us that God spoke in terms that the Hebrews would understand because his main intention was to communicate that He alone is God the Creator.

    In reply to other statements from your previous comment:

    “This is again you making blanket statements without having tackled the issues. It seems to be becoming a pattern, ignoring your assumption of the ultimacy of the human mind and ignoring what the rest of Scripture has to say about Creation.”

    I will endeavor to consider the creationist arguments more fully, Eric, but you really had no reason for assuming that I have not “tackled the issues.” I have grown up with creationist arguments and have at least a basic understanding of how they answer evolution and an old earth. I agree that I probably should go back to listen again to creationist arguments.

    Also, I agree that the human mind is limited, but I think we can know a lot more about the past than you think we can.

    “your statements regarding my level of education”

    I made no statements or implications about your level of educaton. I have no doubt that you are very educated and intelligent.

    “It seems that you’ve, sadly, already made up your mind and are not open to what a fellow Christian has to say.”

    Not wanting to get distracted from our conversation on the firmament is not the same as being unwilling to hear arguments on evidence for evolution and an old earth. Not wanting to get into a conversation with you on this topic is not the same as having a closed mind. These are assumptions and judgments, Eric. Please try to be more careful and accurate when you say things about me.

    I am willing to hear what my fellow Christians have to say, but I would rather do that on my own. I am not a scientist, only someone who can sort through information from both sides of the argument, and I think that a blog is not the best place for conducting that search.

  14. Eric Kemp Says:

    Eric

    “I apologize for confusing your statements and then accusing you of changing your position. Please forgive me. I didn’t understand what you were saying, so let me start again.”

    No problem. I wasn’t clear enough the first time around.

    “You seem to be saying that there is an expanse, then heavenly waters, and then more expanse. The first expanse roughly corresponds to our atmosphere, where the birds fly; the heavenly waters are clouds; and the expanse beyond the clouds includes all of space, where the moon, sun, and stars lie. Lastly, you agree with me that there is a clear separation between the expanse(s) and the waters above, i.e., clouds. Have I got this right? Please set me straight if I have not.”

    You got it.

    “Your position effectively means that there are two raqiyas, or at least two distinct parts of the raqiya. Please look at verses 6-7 again.”

    The only Scriptural position I can hold is that the Bible says there is a raqiya that separates the waters and that holds the heavenly bodies. That’s all the Bible says.

    “It’s pretty unambiguous here. The raqiya’s purpose is to separate. It lies between the earthly waters and the heavenly waters.”

    You got it.

    “It seems to me that you are looking at this text through the eyes of a 21st century reader who knows where the sun, moon, and stars really are, and you are inserting the idea that the raqiya extends beyond the waters above in order to fit that understanding.”

    I’ve admitted as much a few times.

    “But there is no warrant for inserting that idea in this text.”

    I’m going to disagree with you there. There is no warrant for fitting ANY idea into this text. The text only says that the raqiya separates waters, and the heavenly bodies were placed in the raqiya. The Bibles description of the raqiya STOPS there. ANY other intepretation besides this, your position AND my position, is inserting into the text.

    However, your position of a solid raqiya is based solely on the intepretation of the ancients, which I’ve shown is meaningless, and the interpretation of other men. My position on a 21st century understanding of the expanse is supported by the rest of Scripture which demonstrates a literal interpretation of Genesis.

    “You have argued that I am inserting my worldview here, but I think it’s the other way around: you are inserting a 21st century understanding of space into a text that presents the ancient peoples’ view of the universe.”

    I’ve soundly debunked how the ancients interpreted these passages, so that has no bearing on our conversation. I’ve already admitted that I’m inserting my worldview here because THE TEXT JUST DOESN’T SAY. You’re inserting a solid raqiya here with no reason for doing so other than what Mr. Seely said and what the ancients believed.

    This is the part that you don’t seem to be understanding. The text says that the raqiya separates the waters. But the text doesn’t say that the raqiya ONLY separates the waters. That is, you are assuming, with no cause for doing so because the text is silent, that the raqiya only exists in one place. That the Bible is describing God putting the heavenly bodies “below” the waters when the text says no such thing. It only says that the heavenly bodies were placed in the raqiya without saying WHERE that is.

    “I don’t think this understanding disturbs scripture’s accuracy. I think it simply tells us that God spoke in terms that the Hebrews would understand because his main intention was to communicate that He alone is God the Creator.”

    Answer me this: how can the Bible teach an incorrect cosmology and still be accurate and inerrant? It’s literally a contradiction in terms.

    “Not wanting to get distracted from our conversation on the firmament is not the same as being unwilling to hear arguments on evidence for evolution and an old earth.”

    Our conversation about the firmament began when you responded to an article that had nothing to do with the firmament. You ignored every argument in the article, and continue to do so, and went straight to the firmament. So, your statement that you don’t want to get “distracted” is disingenous when the truth is that you don’t want to talk about ANYTHING else, even when that other thing was brought up first or has everything to do with with how a Christian should view the firmament.

    “Not wanting to get into a conversation with you on this topic is not the same as having a closed mind. These are assumptions and judgments, Eric. Please try to be more careful and accurate when you say things about me.”

    I don’t mean to make judgments, you have been nothing but cordial and honest throughout this discussion. However, I can only call it like I see it. What we’ve been doing for the past few weeks Thomas, is going back forth about a narrow topic while ignoring all the other issues that influence that topic. And if neither of us had been calling to discuss the other issues, that would be one thing. But from the very beginning I’ve exhorted you to consider what the rest of Scripture has to say and the most you’ve done is paid lip service to the idea with, “I’m still working through those issues.” May I suggest you take a few weeks away from any conversations, notions or conclusions about the firmament and research (from Scripture) what Scripture has to say about Genesis.

    Only recently has your other beliefs about evolutionary theory come to light. I have also offered to discuss how the evolutionary case makes several assumptions that invalidate their “factual” nature, and discuss how the evidence is intepreted by evolutionists. You, so far, seem unwilling to discuss this as well. I think that a blog is a great STARTING point for such research, because you can hear a good argument you’ve never heard before which can point you in the right direction. I believe I’ve made several such arguments over the past few months on this blog.

    The first assumption we must start with is the ultimacy of the human mind. That is, can scientific truth change or override God’s truth? Should we consider man’s truth and interpret God’s truth through it, or the other way around? The basis that starts Christians down the theistic evolutionary path is interpreting Scripture through the lens of modern evolutionary theory.

  15. Thomas Says:

    It looks like we’ve come to the end of the argument on the firmament, since I think everything that can be said has been said. I am sure that it is no surprise to you that I think my understanding is more true to the text. Despite your arguments concerning assumptions, I still think that your assumption of a part of the raqiya that extends past the “waters above” is foreign to the story and an unwarranted insertion into the text. But again, this is where we both shrug our shoulders and agree to disagree.

    You asked in your previous comment, “How can the Bible teach an incorrect cosmology and still be accurate and inerrant? It’s literally a contradiction in terms.”

    My understanding of Genesis 1 is that God is communicating (among other things) that he alone is God the Creator and that the pagan deities do not even exist. I do not think that Genesis 1 is concerned with giving the scientific details of how God brought the universe into existence. So I don’t think the Bible is TEACHING an incorrect cosmology, but I do think the Bible communicates to men within the understanding of the day.

    “May I suggest you…research (from Scripture) what Scripture has to say about Genesis.”

    It is certainly my intention to research and gain an understanding of how other scriptures view Genesis. May I likewise (sincerely) suggest that you read someone’s argument on how to understand Genesis 1 within a framework theory, if you haven’t already? If only for understanding how I and others arrive at our conclusions.

    As far as going back and forth with you on various scientific arguments, I thank you for the offer, but I cordially refuse, NOT because I don’t want to consider the literalist arguments or examine my assumptions. I honestly think that it would be more helpful to read on my own from opposing viewpoints and gather information for myself. I have the AiG website and creationist literature, and I also have your website’s various scientific arguments to look at at my leisure.

    Thanks for engaging me on this topic. May God bless and have mercy on us both in our quest for truth.

  16. Eric Kemp Says:

    Thomas

    May God richly bless you, may His face shine upon you, may the Lord lift His countenance upon you, and give you peace. Thank you for being honest and cordial through our differences. You are of course welcome back at any time.

    Eric Kemp


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