We have been exploring common misconceptions regarding origins. Several such misconceptions pertain to the time between creation and the global flood. Here we explore the claim that the Bible teaches or at least implies that there was no rain before the flood. The claim is based on Genesis 2:5 which states, “Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the Earth; and there was no man to cultivate the ground.”
The context of the passage is the detailed account of the events of the sixth day of creation. Recall, Genesis 1 through Genesis 2:4 is the overview description of the events of the six days of creation and the seventh day of rest. Beginning in Genesis 2:5 and extending through the end of the chapter we read a more detailed account of the events of day six. We know this because Genesis 2 gives the details of the creation of the first humans, something that Genesis 1:26-31 states happened on the sixth day of creation.
Some critics have erroneously taught that Genesis 2:5-25 is a different account of the creation of the universe, one that is contrary to the account given in Genesis 1. But this is easy to refute by simply reading the text. Genesis 2:5-25 does not describe the creation of the universe, the earth, the land, the sea, the sun, moon, and stars – because these things had been created before day 6. Rather, Genesis 2 focuses on the events of day 6 – the creation of Adam and Eve. It gives details of the events of the sixth day that are not recorded in the overview of the entire creation week recorded in Genesis 1.
It is in this context that we encounter Genesis 2:5. On the sixth day of the creation week, God had not yet sent rain upon the ground. From this information, the only thing we can logically deduce is that by the sixth day of the creation week, it had not yet rained. Notice that this verse says absolutely nothing about whether or not it rained on day 7, 8, 9, 10, or any day thereafter. It only indicates that there had not yet been any rain by the sixth day – and only the first part of the sixth day before Adam had been created.
Does Genesis 2:5 suggest that the conditions of day 6 persisted until the flood year? Not at all. In fact, the same verse also states, “there was no man to cultivate the ground.” Clearly, this latter condition did not persist beyond the start of day six; Adam and Eve were made on the sixth day and there were many people by the time of the flood. Rather, the verse merely reports the conditions that existed at the beginning of the sixth day of creation. There is no textual or logical reason to assume that such conditions continued thereafter.
Why then do some Christians think that there was no rain between the time of creation and the global flood? The answer most likely has to do with a theory that was popular several decades ago. The canopy theory was proposed by some creation scientists to explain certain things in Scripture, such as the long lives of the pre-flood people, where the water for the flood came from, and what the “waters above” were in Genesis 1:7. It also attempted to explain certain scientific data, such as the evidence that the world originally had a more temperate climate in places that today are frozen, such as Antarctica, as well as evidence of giant insects which, we are taught, could not exist in our modern atmosphere.
The canopy theory was the suggestion that the original pre-flood earth was enveloped by a sphere of water vapor located on top of the atmosphere. The theory suggested that this canopy created a greenhouse effect, creating a subtropical climate from pole to pole. Since temperature differences create weather (like hurricanes), the thought was that such a canopy would prevent strong weather and perhaps even prevent rainfall. But how could plants exist without rain? One suggestion was that a different type of water cycle existed before the flood, with the earth being watered by mist (perhaps suggested in Genesis 2:6) and underground water sources. (But again, Genesis 2:6 only addresses the conditions that existed in the early part of the sixth day.)
The weight of the vapor canopy may have increased atmospheric pressure, allowing insects to grow much larger since they could take in more oxygen. Some suggested that the canopy would have offered increased protection from harmful cosmic radiation – such radiation can cause mutations. And with such protection, perhaps people would have lived much longer. The theory postulated that the canopy collapsed at the time of the flood, and was responsible for much of the water of the flood.
It was a really neat idea, but it is almost certainly wrong. To be clear, the Bible does discuss waters above or upon the expanse (the sky). And some creationists, in the past, argued that these “waters above” were a vapor canopy. But that doesn’t necessarily follow. Water and vapor have the same chemical composition, but the Hebrew language normally uses a different word for vapor (הֶ֥בֶל hebel) than it does for water (מָּֽיִם mayim). Yet, Genesis 1:7 uses the word for water (not vapor) to describe the waters above the expanse. Nor do we have any reason to think that the waters above entirely surround the globe. They might exist in some places, and not in others, just like the waters below (seas) exists in some places and not others.
In fact, most Bible scholars have argued that the waters above the expanse described in Genesis 1:7 are clouds. In Job 38:9 God indicates that clouds covered the Earth during the creation week. Furthermore, clouds are liquid water droplets in suspension that are above the expanse from our perspective. Job 26:8 specifically tells us that clouds are made of water.
So it is very doubtful that Genesis 1:7 could be referring to a vapor canopy. Furthermore, Psalm 148:4 refers to the waters above the expanse as still existing. Yet, Psalm 148:4 was written long after the global flood. So it cannot be referencing a canopy that collapsed during the flood. Whatever the “waters above the expanse” are, they still exist, or at least they did at the time the Psalms were written – long after the global flood.
It was a neat idea because it explained so much. But we must note that the Bible doesn’t actually say that there was such a canopy, nor that it did any of the things it was supposed to do. Some people have elevated the canopy theory in their minds almost to the level of Scripture, but it really isn’t. The canopy was a scientific hypothesis that explained much of the data of the Bible, but was never directly taught in the Bible. And, as a scientific hypothesis, the canopy model has not withstood scientific scrutiny.
Several scientific studies done by creationists have shown that any substantial canopy would make Earth’s surface temperature intolerably hot. Furthermore, we now have much better explanations for all the things that the canopy theory was supposed to explain. The longevity of the patriarchs is better explained by the genetic bottleneck that occurred on Noah’s Ark, the evidence of a more temperate global climate makes sense in light of the different distribution of the continents before the flood, water from underground makes sense as the primary source of water for the flood, and we now know that insects have active (not merely passive) respiration, in which case they could have been larger in the past without any substantial differences in the atmosphere.
Even if there had been a vapor canopy, it would be nearly impossible for such a structure to completely prevent rain. Rain occurs when the air temperature drops below the dewpoint in a sufficiently large volume. In any atmosphere in which there is moisture and changes in temperature, this condition will inevitably occur from time to time. It would even occur indoors if buildings had sufficient continuous volume. NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) is large enough that rainclouds have formed below the ceiling. Around 10,000 tons of air conditioning equipment are needed to prevent precipitation inside the building. So, there was almost certainly rain before the flood.
After the global flood, God promised Noah that He would never again destroy the entire world by water (Genesis 9:11). God used a rainbow as a sign of this promise (Genesis 9:12-17). Some people have assumed that this was the first time a rainbow ever existed – that it was a new creation that God made for Noah to institute His promise and that no one had ever seen a rainbow before the flood. They then further conclude that there must have been no rain before the flood if there were never any rainbows. But this reasoning is not cogent.
The Bible does not say that the rainbow seen at the end of the global flood was the first one to exist or the first one to be seen. It is the first one mentioned in Scripture, but that proves nothing. After all, the Bible does not mention anyone ever “going to the bathroom” before the flood – but we certainly cannot conclude that they didn’t! Arguments from silence are rarely cogent.
Rainbows are a natural and inevitable result of sunlight passing through water droplets. The refraction of light within a water droplet depends on the wavelength of the light, which we perceive as color. Different wavelengths refract by different amounts, which splits the relatively white light of the sun into the beautiful spectrum we see in rainbows. You can easily produce your own rainbow by spraying a fine mist of water into the air outside on a sunny day. Are we to believe that no one in the 1656 years between creation and the flood ever splashed some water into the air on a sunny day? And we have already seen that there are good reasons to believe that rain did occur before the flood. So there certainly would have been rainbows before the flood from time to time.
Genesis 9:11-17 does not teach otherwise. God is not creating a new, never-before-seen object here; rather He is using a familiar object and assigning it a new meaning: a symbol of His promise. Indeed, the Lord often used an existing object to symbolize something new and important. God used lambs and unleavened bread at Passover to commemorate the fact that He spared the Israelites from His wrath on Egypt (Exodus 12). But notice that God did not create lambs and unleavened bread at the time of the Passover; rather, He gave a new meaning to an existing creation. Jesus gave new meaning to the bread and wine at the Last Supper, using these elements to represent His body and blood (Luke 22:19-20). But He didn’t create the elements at that time; the Israelites had been celebrating Passover for centuries. Jesus merely gave a new symbolic meaning to the familiar elements. Likewise, at the end of the flood, God gave a new meaning to a familiar phenomenon.
Exegesis of Genesis 2:5
What then is the meaning of Genesis 2:5, and why does the Lord mention the fact that there was no rain on that day? Of course, God is free to report whatever details He selects regarding His description of the events of the sixth day. But the detail regarding the lack of rain at the beginning of the sixth day is provided to explain another detail – the lack of a certain category of plants.
The first part of Genesis 2:5 states, “Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted.” This may be confusing to some because plants were created on day 3 (Genesis 1:11-13), yet here we have a description of the beginning of day six that mentions a lack of plants. But notice that only certain types of plants were missing: namely, shrubs of the field and plants of the field. Other plants already existed because they had been supernaturally created on day 3.
The Hebrew word translated “field” in this passage is שָּׂדֶ֖ה (sadeh’) and usually refers to cultivated land – land that has been worked by human beings. Hence the “plants of the field” that were lacking on day six were plants that were the result of human agriculture – plants that have been sown by human farmers in ground that was previously tilled. Cultivated plants require human beings to plant them, and they require rain over the course of time.
So, Genesis 2:5 explains that there were no cultivated plants on the Earth originally, and the rest of the verse explains why. Namely, “the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground.” Clearly, there would be no plants that are the product of human agriculture and rainfall because there were no humans yet and rain had not yet fallen. This is the meaning of Genesis 2:5. There was a garden in Eden of course. But it had been planted by God, and not by man (Genesis 2:8). And how did the original plants survive for three days without rain? Genesis 2:6 explains that a mist arose and was sufficient to water the ground for those first days.
Critics sometimes accuse the Bible of having contradictions between the account of Genesis 1 and that of Genesis 2. But we have seen here that a careful reading of Genesis 2 is perfectly consistent with Genesis 1 and makes logical sense. It is explaining that the original Earth did not have fields of cultivated plants like we have today, and it gives the logical reason why.
 Snelling, A.A., Earth’s Catastrophic Past, 2009, p.667