The scriptural argument
What does the phrase, the ‘stretching of the heavens’
(natah ha-shamayim), refer to in the Scriptures?
1 The phrase
appears in the books of Job, 2 Samuel, several of the Psalms,
Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah, but it does not appear in
Genesis nor anywhere in the Pentateuch. Did God create the
heavens (the stars and galaxies) and then stretch these within
a fixed empty space, or did He stretch space as a whole and
the galaxies’ positions within it? Did all this occur during
Creation Week and then end, or are ‘the heavens’ still being
stretched today? Alan Pace recently referred to Dr Russell
Humphreys’ “now famous 17 verses on the stretching out
or spreading out of the heavens” in the latter’s 1994 book,
Starlight and Time.
2 The implication of this analysis, also
citing Dr John G. Hartnett and Dr Charles Taylor, is that the
Hebrew word natah should not be interpreted as relating
3 I respectfully disagree. I believe that an
expansionist interpretation of these verses, that is, the view
that a ‘stretching of the heavens’ may still be occurring
today, remains perfectly reasonable within their scriptural
context. Whether this is actually occurring today, however,
remains an open question.
The Hartnett/Humphreys view
Formerly, Hartnett thought these verses could describe a
cosmological expansion of space,
4 but he no longer believes
that. He asserts that the very “idea that the biblical text
could at all allude to expansion of space … now seems quite
5 He published this revised view in 2011.6
Thereupon Humphreys, who previously held an expansionist
perspective on the ‘stretching’ verses as well, also came to
change his point of view, agreeing with Hartnett.
has recently reaffirmed his view that the Hebrew verbs
cited in these passages “cannot be used for [describing]
cosmological expansion”. Those who might hold the latter
view he accuses of eisegesis.
8 The expansionist view is more
and more under assault within the creationist community—it
is apparently seen as merely an extension of presuppositions
related to big bang cosmology (inflation, dark energy, etc.).
Whether true or false scientifically, the idea that possible
present-day expansion in the context of the ‘stretching of
the heavens’ verses should be rejected on scriptural grounds
is, in my opinion, unwarranted.
The ‘Hartnett/Humphreys view’, as I shall refer to it
here, constrains how we should interpret many of these
verses by limiting them to the idea of the heavens and/or of
space being able to be so stretched only so far ‘as a tent’.
Humphreys asks: “why would God compare the material
being stretched to such materials as tent curtains, which
can extend their dimensions by only a few percent before
10 It may be a good question to ask with respect to
the model that Humphreys is developing, but perhaps it is
the wrong question to ask with respect to what I believe to
be the chief intention of Scripture in these passages.
The fabric issue and the tent/curtain analogy
In my assessment, the Hartnett/Humphreys view places
an unwarranted focus on the question of fabric, both in
presenting a particular creationist model and in critiquing
“the rubber-sheet analogy of modern big bang cosmology”.
While the fabric referred to in these verses is not irrelevant
in discussing this topic, it may be secondary to the actual
role of the tent in nomadic life and to what the biblical
writers may have been intending to convey.
Understanding ‘stretching of the heavens’ in
Scripture—a call for balance
One or more leading creationist cosmologists have become committed to the view that scriptural references to the
‘stretching of the heavens’ cannot possibly refer to cosmological expansion, labelling such a position eisegesis. But have
they, in fact, moved in the direction of eisegesis themselves in some of their interpretation of these verses? There is no
strong scriptural reason for creationists to be wedded to the view that these ‘stretching’ verses cannot possibly have any
present-day context. If expansion is still occurring, God may intend this to be a present-day witness to mankind. Accepting
that some form of expansion might be occurring today does not pre-suppose acceptance of big bang cosmology. On
the contrary, big bang presuppositions have led secular cosmology today into a severe crisis. Creationists should take
advantage of this situation in our apologetics, while also explaining that possible present-day expansion of the heavens,
while not required, is also not inconsistent with Scripture. Ultimately, we need balance in how we approach this issue.