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Does Psalm 115:16 prohibit aerial or space travel, or does the dominion mandate of Genesis 1:28 extend into outer space?
I am somewhat frequent patron of your website, and I have found many fascinating perspectives on science and the biblical worldview. I have noticed—and I agree with—your assessment concerning what scripture says about life on other planets (or rather the lack thereof). What would your views be, however, on human colonization of space? As a space enthusiast myself, I have long been fascinated by this concept (I recently finished Gerard K. O’Neill’s The High Frontier). As a creationist, however, I have sometimes wondered if such an endeavor would be in accord with scripture. I have sometimes heard the entire space program itself criticized as un-biblical given passages such as Psalm 115 (“The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s, but the earth hath he given to the children of men”) and the biblical dominion mandate being limited to the Earth. I believe Henry Morris himself once wrote an article on “The Bounds of the Dominion Mandate.” What are your thoughts?
– P.K., USA
Thank you for contacting Answers in Genesis. As we’ll see, the Psalm 115:16 passage really has nothing to do with space exploration, and nowhere else in Scripture is the concept spoken of in a negative light. We must remember that the Psalms are poetic literature and sometimes they conceptually portray people or angels in heaven worshipping God (see Psalms quoted below).
The heavens are not specifically designated in God’s Word as man’s domain. However, I should also point out that God never says the heavens are for angels either, and yet we see numerous examples in Scripture of angels being in the heavens—and none of these instances are portrayed as wrong or negative. The essence of the passage is that heaven is where the throne of God is, and He alone controls heaven and the rest of the universe. Even if the Hebrew word is extended to include the atmospheric and interstellar heavens (as it often does), this still does not mean that God is prohibiting men from flying in airplanes or rockets, but rather that He is in control of these places as well as earth.
The Bible simply does not go into much detail about whether or not mankind has been given dominion of space, but we can look at some relevant passages as we attempt to reach a conclusion. If the expanse (translated as firmament or vault in some English Bible versions) also includes the sun, moon, and stars—as Genesis 1:14–15 seem to imply—then it would follow that man would have been given dominion of outer space as well. In fact Psalm 8:6 states that mankind has been given dominion over the works of God’s hands. Why wouldn’t this include “
the moon and the stars,” which are said to be “
the work of [God’s] fingers” (Psalm 8:3) a few verses earlier?
Part of the confusion about Psalm 115:16 is likely due to the fact that it was written in the form of antithetic parallelism. This is a very common poetic device in Hebrew, in which the first line of the couplet explains a concept and is followed by the second line that promotes a contrasting idea. In this verse, the truth that the heavens belong to God is contrasted with the idea that He has given earth to men.
Some common English translations render Psalm 115:16 this way:
The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s: but the earth hath he given to the children of men.”
The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s; But the earth He has given to the children of men.”
The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to man.”
The heavens are the heavens of the Lord; But the earth He has given to the sons of men.”
The heaven of heavens belongs to the Lord: but he has given the earth to the sons of men.”
The heavens are the Lord’s heavens, but the earth he has given to the children of man.”
The Hebrew word translated as “heaven” and “heavens” in this passage is shamayim, and it actually occurs in the plural form back-to-back in this passage. A similar wording is found in Deuteronomy 10:14; 1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chronicles 2:6; 6:18; Nehemiah 9:6; and Psalm 68:33. These passages use the singular form (shameh) followed by the plural form (shamayim) and are translated as “the highest heaven” or “the heaven of heavens.”
The rendering of Psalm 115:16 in the KJV, NKJV, NIV, and LXXE seem to indicate that that the heaven in this passage refers to the heaven where God’s throne is, rather than the heavens of outer space. But even if this is understood to include outer space, it still does not specify that mankind is not to go there—it means that God rules over this realm. Remember that another passage says, “
The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). Also, Psalm 139:8 states, “
If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there” (Psalm 139:8, (NASB)). In these verses the earth is described as belonging to God, yet man is obviously allowed to be here (and we know from other verses that we have been given dominion over the earth). Also, if a man ascended into heaven, God would be there.
Numerous verses reveal that angels are and will be in the heavens, so we should not view this realm as being strictly reserved for God alone.
And the heavens will praise Your wonders, O Lord; Your faithfulness also in the assembly of the saints. (Psalm 89:5)
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; Praise Him in the heights! Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His hosts! (Psalm 148:1–2)
Thus the Lord my God will come, and all the saints with You. (Zechariah 14:5)
“Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 18:10)
“For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.” (Matthew 22:30)
“And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matthew 24:31)
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” (Matthew 24:36)
Finally, in Genesis 1:28 we read that God blessed Adam and Eve and then told them to “
be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Since man was given dominion over the birds of the air, mankind would presumably have the right to “get airborne” to fully carry out this command. Notice that God did not say “you now have dominion,” or “you now have subdued.” This was a command that implied future action. I think it seems reasonable that God gave mankind the authority to develop aerial technology in order to be able to better study and have dominion over birds (as well as aqualungs and submersibles for studying and having dominion over sea life).
We can infer from these truths that God would allow and approve of humans developing space-travel as a means of studying the earth, moon, and other celestial bodies from a large-scale perspective.
Perhaps Psalm 8 would be the best text to support this point.
O Lord, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth,
Who have set Your glory above the heavens!
Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants
You have ordained strength,
Because of Your enemies,
That You may silence the enemy and the avenger.
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen—
even the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air,
And the fish of the sea
that pass through the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth!
I hope this has been helpful.