Bible doubters, even ones who claim to be Christians, often make the accusation that the Bible of teaches a flat Earth. They do this in order to undermine the authority of the Scriptures concerning origins and thereby insert a wedge of doubt by which they can introduce millions of years of microbes-to-man evolution into the Scriptures. In other words, they use a wedge of doubt to subvert Biblical authority and supplant it with the authority of modern man. In the end, it really does come down to what we hold as our ultimate authority: God’s revealed Word or the word of fallible, finite men who weren’t there and suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness.
For example, Bible doubters often cite Isaiah 40:22 as proof of a flat earth. The passage reads:
“It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth…”
Bible doubters immediately seize upon the word “circle,” noting that a circle is a flat 2-dimensional shape and certainly not a 3-dimensional sphere. Of course, their entire analysis is based on a modern understanding of the word circle. When interpreting the Bible, it is important to note the context of the passage as it was originally intended to be understood.
For example, James Patrick Holding of Tecktonics.org comments on the word rendered “circle” here in this passage:
“Apologists dealing with this issue often cite Isaiah 40:22 with the explanation that Hebrew, having no specific word for sphere, may here indicate a spherical earth. Of course we may also read into the text a flat circle, as Seely does. Interestingly, Seely attempts to confirm his own interpretation by making an error exactly like that of a skeptic I once confronted on this issue:
“If Isaiah had intended to speak of the earth as a globe, he would probably have used the word he used in 22:18 (dur), meaning “ball”.”
‘And I will camp against thee round about, and will lay siege against thee with a mount, and I will raise forts against thee.’
Obviously, unless they were professional gymnasts as well as tacticians, the soldiers could not camp in the shape of a sphere around the city! Based on this, this word appears to be making a statement about a circular pattern rather than specifying a given shape.
Seely offers two citations in support of a ‘flat earth’ view that we need not spend much time on: Daniel 4:10, 11 and 20, and Job 37:3. The Daniel passage is actually a statement by a pagan king, which doesn’t mean that the Bible endorses that view. And it is a vision, and is therefore not intended to be a picture of reality any more than Pharaoh’s dream of cannibalistic cows and even cannibalistic ears of wheat (Genesis 41). And Job 37:3 hardly requires a flat-earth reading — it merely states that lightning occurs all over the earth. Even if it did teach a flat-earth reading, it would prove only that Elihu believed such a thing — not everything reported in the Bible is endorsed in the Bible.
As is standard to note in such cases, the statements of characters in the Bible are not automatically granted inerrancy unless the speaker is either God or indicated to be inspired of God.”
One website tries to make its case for the Bible teaching a flat earth by making the following statement and then quoting commentaries by liberal teologians. [We remind our readers as always that neither the notes in your Bible nor commentaries upon the Bible are inspired, only the Bible itself is inspired]:
“Ancient Israel imagined the earth to be a flat disk (Isa 42.5) resting on a foundation or pillars (Job 9.6). It is surrounded by the ocean (Pss 24.2; 136.6). It has four corners (Isa 11.12; Ezek 7.2; job 37.3; 38.13) and an edge (Isa 24.36) or ends (Isa 40.8; Job 28.4; Ps 48.11; Jer 6.22; 25.32). It also has a center or navel (Ezek 38.12). Except for the implication that Jerusalem is the earth’s center, ancient Israel’s view of the world did not differ from that of other ancient Near Eastern peoples.”
Of course, in order to make the Bible appear to support a flat earth, Bible doubters must insist that we interpret it in a woodenly literal fashion without consideration of allegory, figure of speech or the passage’s reference frame. For example, weathermen will tell you that the sunrise and sunset will occur at such-and-such time. This does not mean our meteorologists believe that the sun revolves around the earth, but rather indicates that they using the reference frame of the earth for making their observations.
Take for example, Isaiah 42:5 says:
“Thus says God the LORD, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which comes out of it; he that gives breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk in it:”
The bone of contention is that spreading out the earth allegedly implies a flat earth, but this is reading too much into the text. Do we say that geologists who affirm sea floor spreading must also affirm a flat earth? No, because use of the term “spreading” does not necessarily imply flatness. This is a classic non sequitur; the conclusion does not follow the proposed evidence. This is also a classic example of trying to find prooftexts for a preconceived notion.
What about Job 9:6, which speaks of a God “Which shaketh the earth out of her place and the pillars thereof tremble.” This verse clearly describes an earthquake. Does this mean that the Bible affirms literally pillars of the earth? Not really. For example, in Job 26:11, we read a similar passage, this time stating “The pillars of heaven tremble and are astonished at his reproof.” The pillars were astonished at his reproof? Clearly we’re dealing with a figure of speech here. The image of the pillars of earth [or heaven, for that matter] trembling are simply a useful image for depicting the instability of an earthquake. Only a woodenly literal interpretation would have it otherwise.
Psalm 24:1-2 says:
“The earth is the LORD’S and the fulness thereof the world and they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas and established it upon the floods”
Far from saying that the earth is surrounded by the seas, neither this verse nor Psalm 136:6 [“To him that stretched out the earth above the waters for his mercy endureth for ever”] state rather that the earth rests above the waters or floods, which is true enough from a reference frame of someone looking at islands and continents jutting out of the sea. We do caution the reader that the Psalms contain a lot of poetic language, a fact our critics should be well aware of; nevertheless it is intellectually painful to relate how often Bible doubters quote the Psalms and insist that they be interpreted in a woodenly literal fashion in order to make their “case.”
Likewise, when the Bible refers to the ends of the Earth or corners of the world, this is a figure of speech derived from the use of maps. We say today that we intend to take the Gospel message to the ends of the earth, but we do not infer a flat earth; likewise, we refer to the four corners of the globe but we never imagine it to be flat any more than we imagine that a standard map of USAmerica requires a country devoid of the Rockies, Cascades and the Appalachians.
The final reference from our quote is misleading. The verse can be rendered the “navel of the land” or “center of the land” [translations rendering the word “land” as “world” or “earth” make nonsense of a figure of speech that was intended to denote Jerusalem, which is situated in the midst of the land of Israel. This is simply a matter of correct context.
As we’ve seen [and we could easily demonstrate this with other verses commonly used by Bible doubters as well], in every case our critics have either misunderstood the context of the passage or tried to force a woodenly literal interpretation on the text, refusing to consider either normal figures of speech or the frame of reference.
Again, we must ask ourselves why they do this, especially those who do so in the name of Christendom? The answer is simple: they believe that science has proven an old earth and/or microbes-to-man evolution and thus they use a wedge of doubt, the erroneous claim taht the Bible teaches a flat earth, to subvert Biblical authority and supplant it with the authority of modern man. The irony for the compromising Christians is that they accept the ultimate authority of the modern scientific consensus inconsistently and arbitrarily, for the very scientific consensus which affirms millions of years of microbes-to-man evolution, having chained itself to pure naturalism, equally denies he physical bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, the existence of the soul and the reality of a personal God who is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him – things they would unequivocably affirm as true Christians. Jesus truly spoke when he said in John 3:12, “If I tell you of earthly things and you believe not, how shall you believe if I tell you of heavenly things?” In other words, if we deny the earthly claims of Scripture [the Creation, Fall, world-covering Fall and dispersal at Babel, and other historical claims of the Bible], how can we believe the heavenly things it asserts [like the resurrection, salvation and eternal rewards].
I do think that many of these compromising Christians are well-meaning; they wish to make the Bible more palatable to an unbelieving world. Yet in attempting to make the Bible more scientifically palatable, they are undermining its very authority and supplanting the ultimate authority of Scripture for the authority of the current scientific consensus. This is not only inconsistent and arbitrary, as noted, it is also ultimately self-defeating. How do we defend a thing by undermining it?
Again, in the end, it really does come down to what we hold as our ultimate authority: God’s revealed Word or the word of fallible, finite men who weren’t there and suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness.
Rev Tony Breeden