To see other posts in this series, please go to the series’ page.
In Scientific Facts in the Bible: Amazing Truths Written Thousands of Years Before Man Discovered Them, Ray Comfort quotes Isaiah 40:22 (NKJV) and writes,
Scientists are beginning to understand that the universe is expanding, or stretching out At least seven times in Scripture we are told that God stretches out the heavens like a curtain.
It isn’t hard to see why Comfort might think cosmic expansion is what is being referred to here in Isaiah 40:22. But there are other explanations that cohere far better with the ancient Near Eastern views of the author and audience than an advanced understanding of cosmic expansion.
STRETCHING OUT THE HEAVENS
The verb translated as “stretches out” in the NKJV and most other English translations is a participial form of nāṭâ – “to stretch out, spread out, extend, incline, bend” (BDB). Here in Isaiah 40:22, nāṭâ is compared to the pitching of a tent using the verb mātaḥ (a hapax legomenon) to express synonymous parallelism: “and spreads them [vayyimtāḥêm] like a tent to live in.” This is our first clue that Comfort’s interpretation is wrong.
What is the purpose of a tent? Primarily, it’s for shelter from the elements. In particular, a tent protects from rain – water from above. In Psalm 104, nāṭâ shows up again when the psalmist writes, “You stretch out [nôṭe from nāṭâ] the heavens like a tent” (v. 2, NRSV). Above the heavens, Yahweh “set the beams of his chambers on the waters” (v. 3). Remember, for many in the ancient Near East, including the biblical authors, above “the heavens” was an ocean (Genesis 1:6-8). The psalmist writes that it is upon these waters that Yahweh builds upper chambers. Thus, for the psalmist, the “heavens” are the “tent” that hold back a cosmic ocean, protecting those dwelling on the earth.
A second clue that Comfort’s interpretation is off comes from the fact that the idea of “stretching out” the heavens isn’t unique to Israelite cosmology. For example, in the Babylonian Epic of Creation (i.e., Enuma Elish), the deity Marduk (Bel) takes the corpse of Tiamat and with “[o]ne half of her he set up and stretched out as the heavens. He stretched the skin and appointed a watch with the instruction not to let her waters escape” (IV.138-139). Benjamin Stanhope notes that the language of “stretching of this skin serves the same function of retaining the waters in the Babylonian myth as it does in the Bible. Did the priests of Marduk discover relativity physics as well?”
It is plain to see that the biblical author in Isaiah 40 was not referring to cosmic expansion, a concept foreign to his own context, but rather was thinking of something far more mundane for them (though novel for us). The heavens above held back a cosmic ocean and they had been spread out by the god of Israel to hold them back. To turn this into a reference to cosmic expansion is by its very definition eisegesis since it exchanges the cultural context of the biblical author for the context of the modern reader.
This post ends my series examining Comfort’s Scientific Facts in the Bible. It also ends (for the time being) my work in the “Invasion of the Bible Snatchers” series. For a little while at least I hope to turn my attention to other topics. I hope I’ve shown that the Bible is far more interesting when read within its own historical context than readers like Comfort and his ilk give it credit for. I also hope I’ve shown that the apologetic impulse that turns ancient texts into prescient pieces of literature does a great disservice to the apologetics industry. By employing such shoddy exegesis, it lays bare the impoverished state of Christian pop-apologetics. So often, those who would wield the biblical texts have no training in the original languages in which they were written, no training in hermeneutics, and no understanding of the history of the regions in which these texts were written. Of course, the obvious solution should be more education but for so many apologetics the route they actually travel is to double-down on their bad takes.
Comfort is no exception.
 Ray Comfort, Scientific Facts in the Bible: Amazing Truths Written Thousands of Years Before Man Discovered Them (Bellflower, CA: Living Waters Publications, 2016), 14.
 Unless otherwise noted, all quotations of biblical texts are from the New Revised Standard Version.
 Translation taken from W. G. Lambert, Babylonian Creation Myths (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2013).
 Ben Stanhope, (Mis)Interpreting Genesis: How the Creation Museum Misunderstands the Ancient Near Eastern Context of the Bible (Louisville, KY: Scarab Press, 2020), 107. It should be noted that when Stanhope cites Enuma Elish for this part, he mistakenly refers to tablet V rather than tablet IV in his citation.
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