Friday, 23 August 2013

Does the Bible Promote a Flat Earth Cosmology? Part 3

Does the Bible promote a flat Earth cosmology or a modern cosmology? Part 1 looked at the cosmology set out in Genesis chapter 1, part 2 looked at the many other references to a flat earth cosmology (FEC) in the Bible. This part will now look at verses that Christians have said suggest a modern cosmology.

The Circle of the Earth

The one usually cited is this:
Isaiah 40:22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
    and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
    and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
For example here, here and here.

It is curious because I also cited in in part 2 as a verse supporting a flat Earth cosmology. The claim is that the ancient Hebrews had no word for sphere, so when they said "circle of the earth" they meant sphere. Well, maybe. But maybe not. Maybe they really meant circle.

The Hebrews did have a word דּוּר or "dur", which can mean ball, but can also mean circle. It seems to me that if they had really meant sphere they would have used this word, rather than  חוּג or "chug", which seems to be more specifically a circle. All that said, both words are used only three times in the Bible, and really we cannot be certain of the exact meaning in either case.

However, I am not aware of any Bible that translates the word as sphere (or globe, ball, etc.); it does seem presumptuous of apologists to press this alternative translation when their Bibles do not.

At best this verse is ambiguous either way, at worst it indicates a flat Earth. And yet this is the verse that gets so often cited as proving that the Bible promotes a modern cosmology.

Suspended over nothing

Job 26:7 He spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing.
This is a popular verse to cite in this context, and it is pretty weak. A disk stood on pillar is suspended over nothing.

It is also claimed that references to spreading out the sky indicate that the universe is expanding. That is quite a reach! Rather more likely, this is refering to God building the firmament.

Although not canonical, the Book of Enoch gives some insight into beliefs of the time (and is cited in the Bible; Jude 14-15). Enoch is taken by the angel Uriel to the ends of the earth, and sees for himself the terrible nothing that exists out there (see also here).

Other Verses

Most of the rest of these verses come from here:

Matthew 12:40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

The "heart of the earth" could indicate the centre of a sphere. If that is the case, then Jesus spent three days in the molten core of the Earth; was that really what the author meant?

Ephesians 4:9 (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?

Why "lower parts of the earth" implies a spherical world I do not know.
Proverbs 8:27 I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,

I have to confess to not understanding this. The Hebrew word that is translated here as "horizon" is more likely "circle", so this seems to be saying God marked out a circle in the waters of the deep - this is the flat Earth - and then put the heavens on the firmament. Okay, the horizon does look like a circle on a spherical world, but to claim this necessitates a spherical world is just bizarre.

The Gospel of Luke

Luke 17:34 I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. 35 Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.”

This is a more interesting one, so I left it until last. Jesus is saying when the kingdom of God comes, it will be unexpected - people will be working and sleeping. It could be argued that if some are working and others are sleeping that must refer to people on opposite sides of the world. I am unconvinced; I find it very doubtful Jesus was talking about people in Australia when he specifically said his message is for the Jews (and one apologist points out that the Biblical authors had no knowledge of these far away people).

On the other hand, the author of Luke is believed to be a well-educated gentile, writing in Greek, so of all the Biblical authors, he is the one we might reasonable expect to believe the world is spherical. Furthermore, he would have wanted to promote the idea that Jesus' message was for all the world. Comparing Luke to Matthew 24:40-41, Matthew has all the people working, none sleeping. Does Luke mean it could be day or night, or is he thinking about people living on the opposite side of the world?

It is arguable either way. But really it does not matter. Luke's belief in a spherical world came from pagan philosophers, not God.


As mentioned earlier, it does seem that the ancient Hebrews had no specific word for sphere, so the argument may be made that we would not expect the Bible to say that the world is spherical. This is a fair point as far as it goes, but ignores all the other verses that allude to the flat Earth cosmology in other ways. Genesis 1 is quite clear that the earth was created fist, then the firmament, then the sun and moon - all quite reasonable in a flat Earth cosmology, but utter nonsense in a modern cosmology.

The conclusion is clear. The Bible promotes a flat Earth cosmology.

So what?

The usual reason that people reject evolution and embrace creationism is because of what it says in the Bible - it says God created each "kind" in the Bible, therefore it is true. If you take the Bible as literally true, though, then you should believe the Earth is flat - that is what the Bible says.

Of course, no Christian today does that (though historically many have; despite the evidence, they have believed the Earth is flat because that is what the Bible says). Modern creationist ignore what the Bible says when it suits them, and adhere to "Biblical inerrancy" when it suits them.

The Bible is literally true - but only when I say it is.

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