Did the Authors of the Bible Assume the Earth was Flat?
by Edward T. Babinski
"Conclusion [on the subject of whether or not the Bible teaches the earth is flat] It must be admitted outright that SOME of the items listed here COULD be interpreted as giving a false cosmology - but it is also possible to interpret them other ways."
- J. P. Holding, amateur apologist for an inerrant Bible.
Notice, Holding admits it's a matter of "interpretation."
For instance, look at these Bible verses:
"The devil took him [Jesus] up into an exceedingly high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them."
- Matthew 4:8
Shown "all the kingdoms of the world" from an "exceedingly high mountain?"
I suppose so, if the mountain was "exceedingly high" and the earth was flat.
Moreover, verses in the Bible's book of Daniel presume a flat earth the same way that verses in Matthew do:
"I saw a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was great.
The tree grew, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth."
- Daniel 4:10-11
Instead of an "exceedingly high" mountain from which "all the kingdoms of the earth" can be seen, Daniel pictures a tree "whose height was great," growing from the "midst" or center of the earth and "seen" to "the ends of all the earth."
Funny how such flagrantly flat-earth verses appear in both the Old and New Testaments, and both are based on the same simple idea that something "exceedingly high" or of "great height" could be seen by everyone on earth at once.
"Bible believers" like Holding will of course reply that such verses are only "apparently difficult" to explain, and not the "real truth" as they see it. But it is the "apparent difficulties" that remain in the Bible just as it was written, and they will always remain there, regardless of all the ingenuity employed in explaining them away. *smile*
I'll stick with the scholars who have shown beyond a reasonable scholarly doubt that ancient Near Eastern Egyptians, Babylonians and Hebrews were ALL flat earthers.
Even Jewish writings composed between the Old and New testaments, like "The Book of Enoch," are clearly flat earth in perspective:
And passages in Matthew (see above) and Revelation (below), demonstrate that the flat earth assumption had by no means vanished by the time the New Testament was written.
The author of the book of Revelation wrote in flat earth fashion: "I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth" (Rev. 7:1); and added elsewhere, "There was a great earthquake... and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casts her figs when she is shaken of a mighty wind." (Rev. 6:12,13). "Stars of heaven falling to earth" after the earth below has been "shaken," mirrors the way that the sun, moon, and the stars are portrayed in the creation story in Genesis, being "made" and "fixed" in the firmament above the earth. And just as those stars were "fixed" there, they would one day "fall to earth" like "figs" from a shaken tree after the earth below had experienced "a great earthquake," because to the ancients the whole of creation consisted of merely two halves, the earth below and the heavens above.
I should think that a perusal of the Bible should be enough to make anyone realize how naïve the Bible's view of the cosmos was. The Bible does not list the number of planets in our solar system. Back then, the most that anyone knew of about planets was to call them "wandering stars" since they appeared as mere tiny lights in the sky with the rest of the "stars," but the "wandering" ones did not rotate in the same circle each night around the pole star, as did all the other "stars" in the sky. Nor does the Bible reveal that its authors were even vaguely aware of the earth being just one more "wandering star" like the rest. And according to Genesis 1:16 only "two" great lamps (the Hebrew term translated as "great lights" in Genesis, means literally, "great lamps") were created, the "Sun" and the "moon"--with no recognition of the fact that the stars are also "great lamps." Rather, the Bible depicts "stars" as relatively small objects, created after the earth and "set" in the firmament above it, which may "fall" to earth at its end.
Astronomers, not theologians, discovered that we live on one planet out of many, circling one star out of many, that lies near the end of one arm of a spiral-shaped galaxy, again one out of over a hundred billion galaxies. Furthermore, a gargantuan ring of asteroids and other matter rings our solar system beyond Pluto, i.e., the Kuiper belt (visually confirmed in the late 1990s), and our Kuiper belt resembles similar rings of matter that have been observed circling nearby stars. So it is assumed that our star looks from a distance pretty much like other nearby stars. Most recently, over 60 large Jupiter-sized planets have been detected circling nearby stars, one even visually confirmed! And as astronomers continue to develop more powerful telescopes they may eventually focus on smaller planets orbiting nearby stars, planets the size of earth. As far as such astronomical discoveries are concerned, the Bible remains as ignorant as any "flat earth" book possibly could.
Even after the New Testament was written, and the early church fathers began commenting on its contents, some of them remained flat earthers. Even those early church fathers who adopted the Hellenistic spherical earth view, still believed the earth didn't move, and that the firmament above their heads was solid! Origen called the firmament "without doubt firm and solid" (First Homily on Genesis, FC 71). Ambrose, commenting on Genesis 1:6, said, "the specific solidity of this exterior firmament is meant" (Hexameron, FC 42.60). And Saint Augustine said the word firmament was used "to indicate not that it is motionless but that it is solid and that it constitutes an impassable boundary between the waters above and the waters below" (The Literal Meaning of Genesis, ACW 41.1.61). Such an interpretation of Scripture continued even up till the early Reformation period when Martin Luther insisted:
"Scripture simply says that the moon, the sun, and the stars were placed in the firmament of heaven, below and above which heaven are the waters...We Christians must be different from the philosophers [astronomers] in the way we think about the causes of things. And if some are beyond our comprehension like those before us concerning the waters above the heavens, we must believe them rather than wickedly deny them or presumptuously interpret them in conformity; with our understanding."
- Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis, Vol. 1, Luther's Works, Concordia Pub. House, 1958 To see a picture of Luther's view of the cosmos that was printed inside his translation of the Bible.
The early church fathers and Martin Luther must also have been aware of this Hebrew psalm that referred to "waters above the sun, moon, and stars":
"Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him stars of light! Praise Him highest heavens, and the waters that are above the heavens!"
- Psalm 148:3-4
Furthermore, when the book of Genesis described a "flood" that covered the whole world, and reduced the world to its pre-creation watery beginning, the story states that the "flood gates of the sky" were "opened." Neither did the author of that fable suppose that all the water above the firmament fell to earth, but instead he assumed that the "flood gates" had to be "shut" to stop more water from falling, and the creator had to promise not to flood the earth again with such waters. So, the Bible agrees with Luther that "the waters above the firmament" remained "up there," held firmly in place by a fimament--and this agrees completely with ancient tales of creation in which the world arose from a division of waters that encompass creation still, and which the creator keeps at bay via a firmament above the earth.
As for whether or not the Bible is "teaching" us something, or merely employing the ideas of its day without necessarily "teaching" them to later generations, that's pure theological doublespeak, because of course it's the "job" of theologians to draw out "teachings" from "holy" books, and claim to tell others what each verse in ancient "holy" books is "really saying" to modern man. It's quite a game. In fact, "Whole armies of Bible scholars and theologians have for centuries found respected employment devising artful explanations of the Bible often not meaning what it says." (J. S. Bullion, Jr.)
As I said above, if you want to know the cosmos, consult astronomers not the Bible or theologians. The same should go for "creation science" too.
Edward T. Babinski