The Ancient Universe and the Cosmic Temple
By J. Richard Middleton (2016)
Read the Full Article

When the Bible was written, there was a different cosmology than in 21st century North America. The authors believed that the planets and the sun revolved around the earth, a dome above the “heavens” held the waters in, and the pillars of the earth supported that dome and contained a flat earth. Today, we hold a different cosmology with a more complete picture of the vast and complex nature of the universe. Sermons might compare cosmologies, discuss God’s immanence and God’s transcendence, and consider the spaces in which God has chosen to dwell.

Cosmology: the science of the origin and development of the universe; way of understanding the universe.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
-Job 38:4-7 (NRSV)

What to Consider

  • What are your beliefs about the origins of the universe? What are your parishioners’ beliefs? What might this article stir up in your congregation?
  • What does the architecture and structure of your church building (or wherever your congregation gathers to worship) say about God’s presence there?
  • What does your cosmology say about who God is and how God acts?
  • What does your congregation emphasize more: God’s transcendence (unreachability and distance) or God’s immanence (nearness)?


How to Go Deeper

  • Preach a series on the places where God dwells. You might talk about the cosmos, the Temple, Jesus, the Church, or within Christians.
  • Discuss the dedication of the Temple (1 Kings 8), focusing on the relationship between God’s immanence (nearness) and God’s transcendence (unreachability and distance). Reference other places where God dwells as similar points where God’s immanence and God’s transcendence overlap.
  • Read Exodus 20:8-11, the commandment to honor the Sabbath. Consider the assertion in this article that God’s rest on the seventh day was a way of displaying God’s commitment to dwell in the universe as Lord. Connect this to participation in the Sabbath as a way to recognize that God not only dwells in the universe but also amongst us as Lord.

Relevant Scripture

All references in parenthesis refer to Lectionary readings. For more information on what the Lectionary is, please click here. For additional Lectionary resources click here.

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About the Author:

Zach is currently a PhD student at Fuller Theological Seminary researching the role of leaders in congregational change. His calling in life is to train and equip pastors to faithfully lead local congregations. When not studying, he'll most likely be watching Sporting Kansas City score goals or hiking with his wife and two kids.


  1. Reed Metcalf February 8, 2017 at 11:43 pm

    I find Middleton’s exegesis helpful. The comparison and contrast of Gen 1 with other ancient Near Eastern creation stories–especially the Enuma Elish–is an often repeated song. While it is good and necessary, I appreciate the additional light from Middleton’s essay regarding creation as God’s temple. It is exegetically, theologically, and, dare I say, apologetically helpful for ministering to the Christian who has dug his or her heels in on Young Earth Creationism.

    On a separate note, I like the new connection between John 1 and Gen 1 in light of Middleton’s argument: as John tells us that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, so now Gen 1 tells us that God created the cosmos and then dwelt in it with us, his creatures. This of course opens other issues and questions–is God inside or outside of time, is this Christian panentheism, etc.–but for now, I am willing to simply appreciate the naive surface-level implication I’ve pointed out here.

    • AustinF May 19, 2017 at 5:16 pm

      Just be careful not to impose a genre (ANE Cosmology) upon Moses who was writing by inspiration of the Spirit. Also be careful in acting like the Christian who “dug his/her heels in on Young Earth Creationism” is automatically in the wrong. The plain normal sense of Scripture is always preferable (until common sense can’t explain a text, in which case you have to do more study). The creation account is very very different from other ANE creation accounts by the way. Similar in a way, yes, but the Genesis account is totally unique.

      • JarrodCraw May 27, 2017 at 11:00 am

        I don’t think that we should be afraid of the similarities between ANE creations accounts and Genesis. They all, of course, are distortions of the truth. They’re bound to get some of the details right while missing many others. One of the key unique themes of Genesis vs. the other accounts is the fact that creation is strictly that – created. They’re no sense of deity being imposed upon the sun or the moon or the earth. There’s only one being, and he’s bringing all of this into existence. Even if we believe in a literal-24-hour-day creation, we should not discount the idea that it’s polemical against the pagan nations that surrounded Israel in the time of Moses (and still applicable today when addressing Hindus).

        • JarrodCraw May 27, 2017 at 11:02 am

          *Hindus or other religions that still have a pluralistic view of gods and creation. Makes me think of the movie “Avatar” and the whole Mother Earth theme…nothing new under the sun…

        • AustinF June 13, 2017 at 4:32 am

          Sure, I am not afraid to see the similarities, but at the same time there are huge differences as you noted. My issue is when we impose an interpretation based on a certain genre without allowing the author to write outside that genre. Good point about the polemic, however, everything in the Bible could implicitly be a polemic against every counter-Christian ideology, philosophy, etc. in some sense. Whether Moses meant it to be a polemic, I can’t know for sure, because it doesn’t seem to specifically be that.

      • aidenkang June 9, 2017 at 1:33 pm

        While I agree with u that “the plain normal sense of Scripture is preferable”, can u elaborate what u mean by common sense? For me, I think when there’s overwhelming scientific evidence telling us that the earth is not 10,000 yrs old that qualifies as common sense.

        • AustinF June 13, 2017 at 4:28 am

          Well, I don’t know of much in the realm of “overwhelming scientific evidence telling us that the earth is not 10,000 years old…” Sure, modern scientific interpretation of data tells us that the Earth is billions of years old, but much of that is based on a lot of conjecture, including and not limited to dating techniques, rejection of what a universal flood could have affected in terms of geography, etc.

          So what I’m saying is that the plain normal sense of Scripture, aka interpreting Genesis 1 literally without imposing a genre on it because we don’t like the ramifications of the interpretation and are afraid to go against the wisdom of the world. Especially considering that Moses took the time to clarify what a day of creation was, “evening and morning.”

  2. aidenkang June 9, 2017 at 1:20 pm

    Sounds very similiar to John H. Walton’s interpretation of Genesis 1, specifically his book, The Lost World of Genesis 1.

  3. August 29, 2017 at 2:59 am

    This is fun to think about especially in light of the recent total solar eclipse!

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