Is Genesis 7:11 ("the windows of heaven") figurative or literal?

(Chris Falter) #1

Continuing the discussion from Fossils out of order?:

Why should we apply this important exegetical principle only to one verse in Genesis? If “the windows of heaven” are figurative, and the water flowing down in the flood is figurative, then the flood itself should be figurative. And if the windows and the water are literal, then a worldwide flood should be literal, too.

Would you agree, my friend John (@johnZ) ?

And we should we apply this important exegetical principle to only one chapter in Genesis? Let’s extend it right to the very beginning! If the windows/water/flood are figurative, then we must interpret the days of creation in Genesis 1 in a figurative way, and if the windows/waters/flood are literal, then we must interpret the days of creation as literal 24-hour days.

Would you agree, my friend John?

EDIT: Added “@JohnZ” so my friend John would receive a notification.


I see what you did there.

(George Brooks) #3

Hmmmm… so in the Book of Jonah… because the city of Nineveh is REAL … then the fish in which Jonah spent three days … that must be real too ???


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(Chris Falter) #5

I see two very plausible ways to interpret the Book of Jonah, and I’m not sure which is better.

  1. It is a parable. Like all parables, many of the details are true-to-life.
  2. It is an historical account that includes miraculous aspects.

As for Genesis, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) would lead me to believe that

The Bible speaks truth when it touches on matters pertaining to nature, history, or anything else.

If the account of Noah is deemed to be an historical account of a global flood, rather than some other literary form, then I have to accept the whole account as historical, and not just pick and choose between the parts that I like and the parts that I can’t nimbly explain. It’s right there in black and white: the windows of heaven opened, the waters above the heaven flowed through, and a global flood ensued. Indeed, the CSBI also states:

WE AFFIRM that Genesis 1-11 is factual, as is the rest of the book. WE DENY that the teachings of Genesis 1-11 are mythical and that scientific hypotheses about earth history or the origin of humanity may be invoked to overthrow what Scripture teaches about creation.

And furthermore:

WE DENY that Scripture should be required to fit alien preunderstandings, inconsistent with itself, such as naturalism, evolutionism, scientism…

So yes, acceptance of factual historicity in Genesis 1-11 necessarily implies literal windows of heaven were opened. Science says there are no windows and no dome of heaven over the earth? According to the CSBI, such science is an alien preunderstanding, a mere hypothesis, and Scripture is not required to fit it. As the CSBI states further:

“Genuine” science will always be in accord with Scripture. Science, however, based on naturalistic presuppositions will inevitably come in conflict with the supernatural truths of Scripture.

So some conflict between Genesis 7 on the one side, and the worldly scientists and philosophers on the other, is inevitable. Am I worried that some unenlightened scientists might suppose that a heavenly dome and windows in that heavenly and a worldwide flood 6 kya and a 7 ky universe are religious myth? No! I can accept the scientific observations, but just apply different, Biblical presuppositions.

Q: How did the Apollo astronauts get to the moon?
A: That’s easy! The windows opened for them.

Q: And NASA’s interplanetary probes?
A: You’re having a hard time accepting the plain meaning of the Bible, I see. But the windows opened for them, too.

Q: The Apollo astronauts took pictures of the earth. There was no dome of any kind visible.
A: According to the rabbinic tradition, the dome of the heaven was formed of ice. The ice layer is very thin, so it’s for all practical purposes transparent.

Q: How thin would the ice of the dome of heaven have to be to be invisible?
A: The burden of proof is on you, if you don’t want to believe the Bible.

Q: Given the amount of water that is needed to flood the earth to a level that would wipe out villages in the Andes and Himalayas, how would such a thin layer support that weight? Wouldn’t the ice crack long before the windows opened?
A: You just explained rainfall!

Q: Seriously, if you want me to listen to you, you’re going to have to produce some physics equations from the fields of optics and mass/gravitation that explain how the ice dome of heaven would be thin enough to be transparent, but thick enough to support the weight of the water.

So it should be very clear…

…I can adhere to the CSBI if I just apply Biblical presuppositions instead of man’s naturalistic presuppositions to the observations.

EDIT: Added italics.


How does a dome surround a globe? If such a dome is made of thin ice, have our rockets, spaceships, and satellites broken the dome? Is it punctured? Shattered?

(Chris Falter) #7

Following the CSBI, I would conclude that the Israelites were only able to perceive half of the ice layer, so they called it a dome.

Following the CSBI, I would conclude that the windows open for them, just as they opened to allow the waters of heaven to flow down (in the opposite direction) and flood the earth.


[quote=“Chris_Falter, post:7, topic:4558”]Following the CSBI, I would conclude that the Israelites were only able to perceive half of the ice layer, so they called it a dome.

Following the CSBI, I would conclude that the windows open for them, just as they opened to allow the waters of heaven to flow down (in the opposite direction) and flood the earth.

I hope this doesn’t come across as rude, but you give a lot of power and authority to CSBI.

The position of inerrancy is a philosophical derivation–something the Bible itself does not teach about itself. And yet this is your starting point for interpretation. That’s all well and good, I suppose, but when the result is “God opening and closing invisible windows for Apollo 13 and Sputnik,” the conclusions frankly start to sound ridiculous.

Honestly, I’m even wondering if you’re being serious or if this is some kind of joke… :unamused:

(George Brooks) #9


I think your attempt to compare the Jonah miracle with other kinds of miracles is a bit slipshod.

I DO think the Jonah miracle is quite different from most other miracles.

Let’s look at your list. I’ll group them into what I think are relevant categories.

The first grouping is from the New Testament:
[1] to walking on the Sea of Galilee,
[2] to feeding five thousand with seven items of food,
[3] to instantly healing lepers and blind people and lame people,
[4] to bringing people back from the dead,
[5] to rising from the dead oneself?

Since I’m a Unitarian on a Trinitarian forum (and even before I made that realization), I tend
to avoid categorizing miracles from the New Testament. Nothing good comes of it, I find.
So, I really have no plans of exploring these events today, or any day, on BioLogos.

Your other 2 (plus 1 duplicated from your New Testament list) seems fine to discuss/compare:

[6] to bringing people back from the dead, ( Old Testament version of [4] )
[7] Ten Plagues,
[8] to the parting of the Red Sea,

Even to this day, people are being declared DEAD … and then arise despite the diligence of the medical practitioners. So I don’t find this kind of miracle particularly amazing.

The Ten Plagues? Surely you’ve seen a documentary or two where they provide naturalistic explanations for the sequence of plagues… even down to the slaughter of the first born. I find these presentations as plausible… even if I’m not quite convinced at the moment.

Parting of the Red Sea? I have already posted on these boards about Napoleon actually leading his modern army across a short-lived (MASSIVE) sandbar off a branch of the Red Sea. And, interestingly, Napoleon almost got drowned by the rapidly raising waters over the same sandbar. (I’ve never been able to determine if ANY men from the ranks did drown.) If Napoleon knew about this option, then certainly ancient witnesses from the locality would ALSO know this sometimes happens … and it inspired inclusion in the Exodus writings! So… my problem with this part of Exodus is not the crossing the water part - - it’s HOW MANY crossed the waters.

So… what is my dogged fixation on Jonah spending 3 days in a fish?
1) No fish mouth is big enough.
2) Even the largest whales have rather narrow throats … that would make swallowing a human impossible.
3) Even if we assume there is enough air in the stomach of this unknown sea creature … the stomach acids would do its job and digest Jonah to death long before the 3rd day.
4) And there are PLAUSIBLE figurative interpretations for why Jonah spent 3 days in the “waters of chaos” - - usually related to the ancient idea of visiting or dwelling in the Underworld/Afterlife!!!

Other miracles on which I tend to fixate would include:

  1. the talking donkey;
  2. Samson’s magic hair;
  3. Killing 3000 people on the roof of what could only have been a relatively small (collapsed) Philistine structure;
  4. Noah’s impossibly cunning Ark performing an impossible function for impossibly too many creatures for impossibly too long; and …
  5. OF COURSE … the ridiculous story of Adam and Eve in Eden.

(George Brooks) #10


I think this is by far the most sensible interpretation of Jonah !

(James McKay) #11

He’s actually quoted two different documents here – the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and the 1982 Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics.

Links to both the above would have been appreciated, together with an indication of which quote comes from which document. I had to google for both of them.

(Christy Hemphill) #12

I’m just curious how the CSBI got elevated to what appears to be a kind of creedal, canonical, divinely inspired status in your book. It was a human product of almost exclusively American men who had a specific agenda and adversary in mind. Do you really think all true Christians are subject to its authority from now on, or are there any circumstances which would call for reevaluating some of its premises and conclusions?


I don’t agree with the exegetical principle as implied. (Sorry if I implied that, but I was being a bit sarcastic… sorry for that too) For example, when Jesus said he came not to bring peace but the sword, there are a number of literary implications. Peace was meant literally, while sword was meant figuratively as a description of disagreement and struggle between people, relatives even. Sometimes that resulted in real swords being used to settle the disagreements, but that really wasn’t the primary intent of the word. The word “sword” also implied “the word of God” as later epistles mentioned Ephesians 6, the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God. Does the fact that “sword” is figurative mean that the disagreements are not real, or that the word “peace” had some non-literal meaning? Not at all.

The windows of heaven, or floodgates of heaven is a figurative(using metaphorical language) phrase, but applying to a literal heaven, not a figurative heaven where it doesn’t rain. The water coming down (it doesn’t say ‘flow’), raining down and falling on earth is assumed to be real… there is no literal reason for it to be taken as figurative.

The real exegetical principle is that the use of a figurative word, a metaphor, or a similie in a phrase, sentence or paragraph, cannot be taken to mean that the entire
phrase, clause, sentence or paragraph is figurative.

(Henry Stoddard) #14

I feel that the windows of heaven are to be taken figuratively. The ancient Hebrews and others knew that the rain came from above; however, they did not understand how this was accomplished. Thanks to the modern revelation of God and modern science through which the Creator works, we now understand how the world operates. Also, I feel that the Deluge of Noah was a local event. Even Hugh Ross and the Progressive Creationists accept that view. :relaxed: God bless.

I also wish to add something else that is relevant here. I feel that the Book of Jonah is actual history. We must remember that God created the fish that swallowed Jonah. I am quite sure that it was used for a special purpose and it did not procreate. I will give another example that I believe all here will appreciate. I will ask this: Could many types of dinosaurs have swallowed human beings? That would not have been a miracle and the stomach acids would have dissolved the people; however, we must remember that Jonah’s case was a miracle. Therefore, he did not dissolve. :smile_cat:


Maybe a tad off-topic, but I’ve never read a literal-interpreter of Genesis 1 that takes the following literally:

“Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.’ And it was so.” (Genesis 1:11, italics added)

“And God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.’ And it was so.” (Genesis 1:24, italics added)

It seems that, rather than creating by fiat (as would be the position held by any literal interpreter I’ve ever come across), God is actually empowering and authorizing the land to create on his behalf…


Of course, you will believe what you believe. But you will have difficulty convincing anyone else who examines your statements. Your claim that no fish mouth is big enough… the megamouth shark (a plankton eater) has a four foot wide mouth. The whale shark is more than twice as big as the megamouth and has a mouth five feet wide, and the basking shark is almost as big as the whale shark, with a 3ft 3in wide mouth. These are all fish, and they mainly eat plankton. All of them have a mouth big enough to inhale a human.

As for the rest, if the mouth is big enough in spite of your denial, then I assume there is a way, including perhaps that Jonah was not ingested and remained in the mouth.

(Henry Stoddard) #17


You are correct, my friend. I actually see a type of evolutionary creationism here. It may not be in exact order; however, I still see this here. I enjoy communicating with you. Also, I am referring back to George. I do not feel that Adam and Eve is a ridiculous story. George, you need to have more respect for others here. Also, George, what would have Joseph Priestley and Daniel Whitby said to this statement?

(Henry Stoddard) #18

Good response, JohnZ. I must concur.

(George Brooks) #19

@JohnZ, You obviously think I haven’t spent any time researching this.

  1. Do you think the Bible says Jonah spent 3 days in a fish’s MOUTH?
  2. The biggest whales in the world don’t have a throat that will accommodate a human.
  3. Even if he did get into an air pocket in the stomach … he would be DEAD in hours… not in 3 days.

Is there NO STORY that I can tell you that would find too incredible to believe?

I can only assume there is not. If it’s a CRAZY STORY … it is perfect.

(Henry Stoddard) #20

Again, George, I must repeat that Jonah and the special fish is a story of the miraculous. Why can you not accept the possibility? In any case, have a good day, George.