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After the Flood abates, God reassures Noah that it was a one time event:

Genesis 9:13 (ESV)

I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

The most obvious interpretation is that this is a rainbow, and that it was something new. But rainbows are a physical consequence of having rain and sun.

God spells out the significance of the sight: the earth will not be flooded again. But should we interpret this as an already-familiar sight being used as a reminder, or did He somehow change things then, and rainbows had not appeared before the Flood? Or was it not actually a rainbow at all, but some other phenomenon with which we are no longer familiar?

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To close voters: I think the question is fine. It is asking if the "bow" is a rainbow and why that should be significant according to the text and context. Little opinion is needed to answer this question beyond reasonable assumptions. –  fredsbend Sep 2 at 17:41

6 Answers 6

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Jesus spoke in parables that were full of very familiar imagery to his hearers, turning them into spiritual lessons.

The Lord commanded Abraham to circumcise all his male descendants, a custom which was already being practiced before the time of Abraham, but God made it a token of his covenant with Abraham.

Likewise, there's no reason to believe that rainbows, being a natural phenomenon, did not exist before the Flood. But as a part of God's covenant with Noah, he gave them a new, special significance.

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This seems like the most parsimonious answer, and therefore likely the correct one. –  Rex Kerr Oct 9 '11 at 4:24
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Hadn't it never rained before The Flood? If so, then the rainbow would be a new phenomena –  warren Oct 10 '12 at 15:50
    
@Warren: That's a highly twisted and rather nonsensical concept that some YEC came up with to try to explain the idea of the rainbow being a new phenomenon, so you're essentially presenting a circular argument. What Genesis says is that it hadn't rained yet at the point where Adam and Eve showed up on the scene, but the Flood was over a thousand years later. –  Mason Wheeler Oct 10 '12 at 16:14
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@MasonWheeler - it's neither "highly twisted" nor "nonsensical". You may disagree, but name-calling isn't necessary. –  warren Oct 10 '12 at 18:41
    
@Warren: I'm familiar with the theory, and it requires atmospheric conditions such that no living creature capable of living before the Flood would be able to sustain life after the Flood, or vice versa. And IMO that's nonsensical, and moreover it's completely without scriptural support. The Bible says that there was a great change in the nature of mankind at the Fall, but it says nothing about an equally significant fundamental change, affecting not only man but all life on Earth, at the time of the Flood. –  Mason Wheeler Oct 10 '12 at 18:45

There are several theories about major differences in climate pre and post flood. There is some reason to believe that our atmosphere had a rather different makeup before the flood: perhaps along the lines of perpetual heavy cloud cover.

In these scenarios it is entirely possible that a natural phenomenon like a rainbow had actually never been observed before and that it was burned across the sky in all its glory when they climbed out of the ark.

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I wish people would leave comments when downvoting answers instead of leaving us to guess what the problem was. This view does seem to be consistent with Genesis 1-8 in that there are no descriptions of sunlight or shadows as far as I can tell, and you need directed sunlight to see rainbows. –  Rex Kerr Sep 30 '11 at 14:39
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@RexKerr: I know this isn't the only view out there but I tried to present it as a possible explanation. If there is an objection to this being a possible explanation I'd love to hear it. (The downvote might just be part of a revenge downvote streak I got today. Life as a moderator :-/ ) –  Caleb Sep 30 '11 at 14:44
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I didn't downvote this, but I've heard a pretty good objection to that theory: in order for the air to be able to support such heavy cloud cover and high humidity, the atmospheric pressure would have to be several times higher than it is now, different enough that whatever life (especially higher life forms such as mammals) that could survive in one environment would not be able to live in the other. That would pretty much screw up the entire point of the Ark... –  Mason Wheeler Sep 30 '11 at 16:11
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@Mason Wheeler - That's a good objection to "all the waters of the flood were in the air". This answer only requires a thin gauzy layer of clouds, enough to make sunlight somewhat diffuse; I'm not sure that's physically plausible either (how do you maintain the cloud cover without sun striking the land/oceans to evaporate water?) but at least it could avoid the air pressure problem. But this is sounding like extended discussion, so I should stop. –  Rex Kerr Sep 30 '11 at 17:43
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It wouldn't make much sense to rescue all those animals, than change the climate, so that most of them die. –  user unknown Oct 3 '11 at 6:06

The bow is a rainbow.

The pre-flood world was very different. It's not clear there was rain before the flood.

Genesis 2:5-6 2:5 And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. 2:6 But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.

Genesis 1:6 tells us there was water above the sky. This could have been a layer of clear ice keeping the atmosphere in and under greater pressure. This would explain how some larger dinosaurs (dragons) could breathe despite having relatively small nostrils, and dragonflies could grow with wingspans of over two feet (see Meganeura). (Insects breathe by diffusion which limits their size.) This layer was destroyed in the flood and is no longer there.

Genesis 1:6 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

Genesis 7:11 In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.

The tear around the earth (see fault line in the mid atlantic and others) is a witness to the breaking open of the fountains of the great deep. The windows of heaven could be a reference to the layer of ice above the sky.

There were also no seasons before the flood, as seasons only came after the flood:

Genesis 8:22 While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.

The catastrophe that caused the flood may have also caused the tilt in the earths axis that gives us our seasons. This would explain why we find large numbers of animal fossils under the Arctic (including, for example, camels).

The flood was a great catastrophe that gave rise to our current day geology and weather systems. There is no reason to believe there were conditions for a rainbow to form before the flood.

I believe the bow was a rainbow and the earth only had the right conditions for one to form after the flood.

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Without scriptural support for ice specifically, why assume it when it has so many physical problems (e.g. it would be shattered by tidal forces)? Also, 8:22 doesn't look like a list of new phenomena; Genesis 7:4 is pretty clear about there already being day and night. Overall the answer looks reasonably clever but I'm not so sure the scriptural support is good. –  Rex Kerr Sep 2 at 20:36
    
I said it could have been ice, and said why I would think that. 8:22 is the first time seasons are mentioned. Indeed day and night are mentioned from Genesis 1:5. I can't dogmatically say I am right, but I don't think you can use the bible to prove me wrong. I do have extra-biblical evidence to think that seasons did not occur before the flood, and that is that there are no growth rings in petrified wood found in Noah's ark. –  David yesterday
    
That is very strange reasoning since (1) there hasn't been time since the ark for wood to petrify, (2) lots of petrified wood does have tree rings clearly visible, and (3) the identification of the ark is highly controversial. (I assume you accept that the ice answer is mechanically impossible, sans divine intervention of a level that would equally well enable a layer of water, clouds, nothing, etc..) –  Rex Kerr yesterday

He (God) was referring to the milky way arch. It arches over the earth. Notice in the King James bible it clearly said "set My bow in the cloud; not clouds but cloud. Also that this was over the earth and not in the earth. This was purposely hidden because when you find the milky way you also find Orion which was mentioned twice in the book of Job. 9:9 & 38:28 I think. Definately in Job 38 though. A rainbow is seen when water drops meet the sunlight and again clearly the word in Genesis chp 3 says the rains had stopped and the ground was dry.

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Im sorry that was chapters 8 & 9 not chapter 3. It clearly says "over the earth" & not in the earth. God clearly verified that this was NOT a rainbow. Another form of the serpent in Revelations with the wave of water coming out of its mouth. (dillusion) God bless –  lee morgan Oct 10 '12 at 9:31
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Welcome to the site. that's a perspective I hadn't heard before. Have you got any citations for groups or organizations that take that interpretation? Generally, providing external support makes for better answers, as it eliminates the ability to accuse people of merely stating their own opinion. (For more, check the FAQ.) –  David Stratton Oct 10 '12 at 13:53
    
These would be good for a new visitor, too. meta.christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/… (And please DON'T take this as criticism or discouragement to participate. It's not meant that way at all. –  David Stratton Oct 10 '12 at 14:00
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Are you suggesting that the Milky Way--that is, the rest of our galaxy--didn't exist (or its light could not be seen) until after the Flood? Or do you also take the it-was-always-there-but-this-is-what-it-means interpretation? –  Rex Kerr Oct 10 '12 at 18:02
    
@ Rex it God knows the truth but which do you believe.? The rainbow or the milkyway. Go to you tube and type in milky way arch under search and watch I believe a 5 minute video. It will show you the bow over the earth. King James version was written before these new translations aand they misinterpreted it because maybe they didnt know. Alot of truth is supressed. New living translation and some of those others are the devils work. For instance. Godhead was mentioned three times in king james. New living translation doesnt mentiion it at all... –  lee morgan Oct 11 '12 at 9:42

The King James version stipulates a rainbow on an angel's head; as well as another having the seal of the Living God on the forehead.Is this not one and the same ? I bear " the set bow in the cloud" on my head; though it was not put there by my choice, I have come to recognize it for what it is. Jesus says of the Holy Spirit, even the Spirit of truth, He shall testify of me. When reviewing this passage, the words: Spirit, truth, and even; spelled out my name. Coincidence, I don't think so. What 'Christianity' has done to the God of Abraham is truly a sin; Jesus came to fulfill the Law, not to destroy it.

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Welcome to the site. However, it seems you've mistaken the purpose of this site. I hope you choose to participate further, but before you do, you should read How we are different than other sites? and then the help page and What makes a good supported answer? –  David Stratton Feb 2 at 14:29
    
To be fair, this is an old question and is not exactly asked within today's site guidelines. –  fredsbend Feb 2 at 16:40

I think the bow in the cloud is literally the image of God's bow, His weapon for war, besides His double-edged sword. It could be why it was shaped like that (even in the scientific sense, since all scientific explanations are God's creation). The symbolism and meaning of that is what was stated in the Bible.

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Do you have an references for this answer? Where does scripture (or anyone) say that God has a bow? –  LCIII Sep 2 at 12:47
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Also, a complete rainbow is a full, perfect circle. The Earth just gets in the way of the bottom of it when you see one. –  fredsbend Sep 2 at 17:37
    
Welcome to the site. Thank you for sharing, but the site strives to be academic, using sources and citations to support answers. The site is not a discussion forum. Once you reach 20 rep you can chat about whatever you want. Please see Guidelines for writing effective answers and What is a well-sourced, dispassionate answer? After that, please edit this post or delete it. I hope to see you post again soon. –  fredsbend Sep 2 at 17:37

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