The Study of the Early Earth

Exploring God's Creation of our World

{6} Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” {7} God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. 8 God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day." Genesis 1:6-8

The Water Vapor Canopy Theory

The Waters above the Atmosphere (Genesis 1:6-8)

The Opening of the Floodgates (Windows) of the Heavens (Genesis 7:11-12, 17)

Introduction. What is the Water Vapor Canopy? It is an hypothesized stratospheric umbrella of water vapor that seems to have enveloped the earth and its original atmosphere from the second day of Creation (Gen. 1:6-8) until its dissipation in the forty-day torrential rains of the Great Flood (Gen. 7:11-12). 

The water vapor canopy was first presented in a credible Biblical / Hydrological format in the book, The Genesis Flood (1961), co-written by the late Dr. Henry M. Morris and Dr. John C. Whitcomb. Morris later wrote a commentary on the entire book of Genesis, The Genesis Record (1976). In this latter book he stated, 

A worldwide rain lasting forty days would be quite impossible under present atmospheric conditions; so this phenomenon required an utterly different source of atmospheric waters than now obtains. This we have already seen to be the “waters above the firmament,” the vast thermal blanket of invisible water vapor that maintained the greenhouse effect in the antediluvian world. These waters somehow were to condense and fall on the earth.

Here is a link to a graphic, illustrating something of what a Water Vapor Canopy would like and how it would function. (Back to Index)


I believe the Water Vapor Canopy theory is the most plausible explanation of the details of the Second Day of Creation and the rain details of Noah's Flood for the following reasons:

(1) The text of Gen. 1:6-8 seems to demand a Water Vapor Canopy of some sort. By the end of the first day of creation, the earth was in an unformed and empty state. It consisted of a watery matrix (Gen. 1:2). Darkness covered the deep, but the Spirit of God was hovering or even vibrating over the surface of the waters. On the second day, God said, "Let there be an expanse (rqya, 7549), and let it separate the waters from the waters" (Gen. 1:6). The term has been translated extended surface, or expanse, or firmament, or sky, or vault, or dome. Whatever the translation, rqya refers to an atmosphere that was to separate the waters on the surface of the earth from the waters which were above it. The next verse records what God did: "God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so" (Gen. 1:7). "God called the expanse heaven (literally, "heavens"). And there was evening and there was morning, a second day" (Gen. 1:8). The important thing for our discussion is that, by means of an expanse or extended surface or atmosphere that He created, God successfully separated the waters that were underneath this atmosphere from the waters that were above. I have heard it argued that the waters above the expanse were merely clouds. That is a strictly uniformitarian view, and it is a false view. Both Moses and God knew the difference between "waters" (the plural mayim, 4325) and a cloud (the singular nn, 6051), which almost always appears in the singular. The word "cloud" does not appear in the book of Genesis until after the Flood. In the book of Genesis, it appears but 4X in 3 verses – in Gen. 9:13, 14, 16. The best conclusion is that no cloud existed prior to the Flood. What did exist was a water vapor canopy. This water vapor canopy was like a gigantic global terrarium. It accounted for a controlled environment, and, at the proper time, an enormous amount of rain

(2) There was something that caused the entire earth to be warm. Man and woman, in the original environment God created, were naked (Gen. 2:25). God's original intent for man was to propagate and spread over the entire earth (Gen. 1:26-28). Without a controlled, relatively warm environment, that would be unfeasible for humans without clothes. Moreover, geology has unearthed fossil plants and animals in polar regions. For example, frozen mammoths and rhinoceroses have been found buried in Arctic regions. Moreover, petrified tropical forests have been unearthed in Norway.This requires globally uniform temperatures prior to the Flood. Incidentally, WordExplain does not accept the dates given in this article about Norway. The dates in the article are arrived at by means of invalid assumptions. See "The 10 Best Evidences from science that confirm a young earth." See also "Radioisotopic Dating of Rocks in the Grand Canyon."

(3) Something had to account for uninterrupted torrential global rain for well over a month! There had to be enough water high up above the atmosphere that, when condensed, could cause torrential rain around the entire globe continuously for forty days and nights (Gen 7:11-12, 17). There is presently not nearly enough moisture in all the clouds of the whole earth to cause an enormous, continuous rain of that magnitude non-stop over a period of forty days. Obviously, the hydrological system of the entire earth was different before the Flood than it is now, afterwards. Incidentally, I am not maintaining that the water vapor canopy was solely responsible for the waters of the Flood. Probably the water vapor canopy accounted for only a fraction of the total Flood waters. Most of the water of the Flood was from a subterranean source. (See the Hydroplate Theory.)

(4) Something had to account for the staggering longevity of human life before the Flood and the precipitous decline in longevity afterwards. The average life-span of the Pre-Flood Patriarchs, not counting Enoch, was a staggering 912.22 years! The average life-span of the Post-Flood Patriarchs was only a third of that, 332.89 years. See "The Declining Life Span of the Patriarchs Before and After the Flood." Obviously conditions prior to the Flood were far more conducive to longevity than they were afterwards. My hypothesis is, at the least, that a Water Vapor Canopy would deflect many harmful ultraviolet rays. Man's immune system was not compromised then as it was after the Flood. Even a number of Creation Scientists who accept the validity of the record of the Flood in Genesis 7 shy away from positing that a Water Vapor Canopy accounted for the long life of our earth's earliest ancestors. For example, Answers in Genesis seems to attribute the decline in life span to genetic mutations. However, even a casual glance at the table their article displays shows that the single deciding factor in rapidly declining longevity was living after the Flood as opposed to living before it. It is transparent to me that the earth's environment before the Flood was far more conducive to longevity than was the environment afterwards.

(5) There is, at the very least, a hint in the text of Scripture that the water cycle before the Flood was different than the one afterwards. Moses recorded there was a time when the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth (Gen. 2:5), and when, in fact a mist customarily used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground (Gen. 2:6). Few creation scientists and conservative exegetes even support this hint. They argue that the author was only saying that there was no rain until after man arrived on the scene on the sixth day of Creation. But if they are correct, what was the point of recording that a mist customarily watered the ground back then? I have lived in western Kansas, where farmers could expect a mere 18-20 inches of precipitation per year. Yet they planted wheat, even though weeks might go by before any rain came. There was no need for Moses to record that a mist customarily watered the earth if vegetation appeared on the third day, and man on the sixth. His point of no rain and a customary mist makes sense only over a long period of time – the pre-Flood earth. To buttress my point, why did Moses bother recording that a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden (Gen. 2:10)? What was the point of that if it rained regularly, as it does today? And whatever happened to the first two rivers, the Pishon and the Gihon (Gen. 2:11, 13)? May I submit that they no longer exist because something dramatic happened that completely altered the landscape, the Universal Flood of Noah. The fact that Moses described exceptional gold in the land of Havilah along with the presence of bdellium and onyx (Gen. 2:12) demonstrates to me that he is describing things as they used to be – in the Pre-Flood Earth. What I am trying to drive home is the point that there were conditions that differed dramatically before the Flood compared to what they are today. Too often, I fear, even Creation Scientists try to read today's conditions back into the Pre-Flood order of nature. There were some fundamental differences then. Something had to change from what it used to be compared to what it is today. To assume things were the same back then as they are today flies in the face of what the Scriptures teach. And it evidences, I fear, a conceding of unique biblical history to the arbitrary evolutionary dogma of uniformitarianism. (Back to Index)

Objections to the Theory

A. It doesn't fit the dogma of evolution. Predictably, secular geologists have ridiculed the whole idea of a Universal Flood and the idea of a Water Vapor Canopy. Sadly, in my view, notable Christians, such as Bernard Ramm, have denigrated the idea that the Bible is a reliable source of scientific data. But their evolutionary explanations make a mockery of the Scriptures. Furthermore, evolution is an exceedingly flawed model for accounting for all the data that we have.

B. Too much heat. Sadly also, in my view, many Creation Scientists have tossed the Water Vapor Canopy theory overboard. One of their biggest objections is that a water vapor canopy holding more than two meters of rain would cause the Earth's surface to be intolerably hot. My response is that even these Creation Scientists are presuming a uniformitarian view of the world back into a pre-Flood era, an era in which they have no experimental knowledge. In other words they are assuming that the pre-Flood earth was exactly the same as ours is today. I believe they have misinterpreted and ignored the clear teaching of Genesis 1:6-8 and Genesis 7:11-12, 17. Things were different back then. How can we know that the physics were the same back then as they are today? Clearly they were not. There was enough water somewhere up in the air to precipitate out upon the earth for forty days and nights solid. That condition no longer exists. Furthermore, the fountains of the deep that existed prior to the Flood no longer exist. Or if they do, they are but a shadow of what they used to be. Things were different then than they are now. I am not a geologist, and I am not a meteorologist. But no one disagrees that there used to be a frigid Ice Age on our planet. On North America, the latest (Wisconsin) ice age reached as far down as Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. But earlier glaciation reached as far south as Kansas and Missouri. (See the parent article.) What caused these glaciations to creep southward from the North Pole? May I suggest that, when the water vapor canopy began collapsing, whatever heat that condensation emitted was ultimately more than offset by the frigid air from outer space descending upon our earth. As the water drained off the earth, the Ice Age began to develop with a vengeance. We know of mammoths with vegetation quick-frozen in their digestive tracts. I refer the reader again to the chart of the findings of frozen mammoths and rhinoceroses up in the Arctic. Obviously, too much heat was not the problem at the collapse of the Water Vapor Canopy. The problem was too much cold!

C. The Biblical rqya (expanse, 7549) must include all of space, the realm in which stars exist (Gen. 1:14). Bodie Hodge elaborates this objection:

Aside from the scientific analysis, there may be a much bigger issue at play: if the canopy really was part of earth’s atmosphere, then all the stars, sun, and moon would have been created within the earth's atmosphere. 

Why is this? A closer look at Genesis 1:14 reveals that the “waters above” may very well be much farther out—if they still exist today. The entirety of the stars, including our own sun (the greater light) and moon (lesser light) could not possibly be in our atmosphere, since they were made “in the expanse."

My response is this. After the First Day of creation, all that existed was the heavens (the plural of the noun shamayim8064) and the earth (Gen. 1:1). The plural noun shamayim exists 421X in the OT, all of them plural. So from the very beginning we understand that there was a plurality of heavens. At this stage, we would have to say that shamayim meant deep space, the framework in which God situated the earth, and later, on the Fourth Day, all the celestial bodies. The earth itself was an unformed, watery matrix on the First Day of creation (Gen.1:2). And it apparently had no atmosphere. That would not come until the Second Day. God also illuminated this stage of His creation (Gen. 1:3).

On the Second Day God commanded and created an extended surface (rqya, 7549), translated as "expanse" by the NASB (Gen. 1:6-7). He stipulated that it should be "between the waters" (the plural of mayim, 4325) (Gen. 1:6). The purpose of this "expanse" was "to separate waters (the plural of mayim, 4325) from waters" (the plural of mayim, 4325)" (Gen. 1:6).  The Hebrew noun mayim occurs 584 times in the MT, always in the plural.

The next verse relates that God performed exactly what he had commanded. "God made the expanse, and He separated between the waters (the plural of mayim, 4325) which were under the expanse and between the waters (the plural of mayim, 4325) which were above the expanse. And thus it came to be" (Gen. 1:7, JTB translation).

The next verse concludes the Second Day: "And God called the expanse heavens (the plural of the noun shamayim8064). And it came to be evening, and it came to be morning, day [the] second" (Gen. 1:8, JTB translation).

Allow me to point out something. Though the word "expanse"(rqya, 7549) exists only in the singular, the descriptive noun "heavens" the noun shamayim (8064), which God labeled the expanse, occurs only in the plural. That suggests to me that the "expanse" can appear in more than one setting.

By the end of the second day, the surface of the earth was covered with waters. Above the waters of the earth, there was an extended surface, the expanse. Above the expanse existed waters above the expanse. Above the waters above the expanse was empty space, the remainder of the heavens which God had created on Day One (Gen. 1:1). Let me suggest that this expanse between the two sets of waters was the atmosphere something on the order of what we know today. Let me suggest also that the waters above the expanse consisted of a water vapor canopy. If one does not like the term "water vapor," let me simply say that it was a canopy completely surrounding the earth and it consisted of waters. 

Arguing against Bodie Hodge, let me suggest that there is no need to insist that, when God placed lights in the expanse of the heavens (Gen. 1:14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19), He necessarily placed them in that portion of the expanse that separated the waters underneath the expanse from the waters above the expanse (Gen. 1:6-7). We have already seen that the entirety of the heavens is all of space (Gen. 1:1). From our vantage point today, that which is above us, the expanse, appears to be all of one fabric. However, when we board a jet airplane and ascend to a height of 35,000 feet, we can easily observe the difference between the atmosphere in which we live and the lack of atmosphere in which jet airplanes fly. And of course, we have seen photos of what outer space looks like.

So I conclude that the original term expanse could have more than one manifestation. It was, I believe, manifested in an atmosphere that separated earthly waters from celestial waters (Gen. 1:6-8). And it was also manifested in deep space that housed the sun, moon, and stars (Gen. 1:14-19).

In conclusion, I assert that Bodie Hodge's arguments against a water vapor canopy based on Biblical data do not hold water. (Back to Index)


Here are the facts that remain. Prior to the Flood there was enough water above the expanse (atmosphere) to condense non-stop for forty days and nights. We know that from Genesis 1:6-8 and Genesis 7:11-12, 17. There is not that much water up there now. Something happened to condense that enormous amount of water over a forty-day period. That something was God Himself. He triggered that event. So we simply have to admit we cannot fully explain scientifically how it all happened. But it happened. So we do not concede the legitimacy of uniformitarian science. Something was different back then that it is today. Remarkably different. God made it originally different than it is today, and He engineered the changes that made it different as it is today. If the Bible is an accurate record of cosmology, and I believe it is, then we have to believe the Bible.

Moreover something caused the fountains of the great deep to burst open (Gen. 7:10-11). That was a supernatural event caused by God. Again, this is not uniformitarian science, but it happened. Between the fountains of the great deep erupting and the stratospheric water condensing, the entire earth was covered for most of a year. (See A Chronology of the Great Flood.) God triggered both those events. That is not uniformitarianism. The Flood was an unrepeatable event. We can't conduct any experiments on it. And we can't conduct any experiments on the earth and atmosphere as they used to be. But the Flood happened, and it happened the way God recorded that it happened. And the way it happened was that there was enough stratospheric water to condense over a period of forty days and nights. The best explanation for that is a Water Vapor Canopy. I have heard of no other views that come close to explaining the details of the Bible accurately and at least attempting to explain the details scientifically. I remain a proponent of the Water Vapor Canopy Theory. (Back to Index)

(Scripture quotation taken from the NASB.)

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Updated November 27, 2018