The question of whether the Bible says anything about the shape of the Earth has long been contested. Many people assume the scriptures were written in a literal way, leading them to conclude that the Bible simply states that the Earth is flat. But does the Bible really support this claim?
In this article, we will explore the various theories about what the Bible says about the shape of the Earth and discuss the implications of this information. We will weigh up the evidence to determine if the passages in the Bible are truly literal and interpretive, and draw conclusions from these facts to come to an informed decision.
The scientific evidence has firmly established that the Earth is round, rather than flat. This was claimed by the Greek astronomer, Ptolemy, in the second century and has since been proven by many different sources. In the 16th century, the Italian scientist Aristarchus of Samos proposed that the Earth rotated around the Sun, a theory which was later developed by Galileo and confirmed by Copernicus.
These scientific theories have been backed up by numerous experiments and observations that put forward a compelling argument for the Earth being round. The most famous of these is the historic voyage of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus who set sail in 1492, relying on his knowledge of the roundness of the Earth to reach the Americas.
The most frequently cited biblical evidence for a flat Earth comes from the book of Isaiah, where it is said that God “sits enthroned above the circle of the Earth”. This phrase is often interpreted as a reference to a disc-shaped object. However, a more likely interpretation is that the “circle of the Earth” is in reference to the horizon, which appears to be a circle when viewed from the surface.
In the book of Job, it is written that “God… stretches out the North over the empty space and hangs the Earth on nothing”. This phrase implies that the Earth is round, as a sphere cannot “hang” on anything. Additionally, there are several passages which refer to a “rising” or “setting” sun; something that would not be possible on a flat surface.
In ancient times, it was widely accepted that the Earth was flat. Both Greek and Near Eastern populations believed this to be true, and it is likely that the authors of the Bible were influenced by this belief. It is therefore unsurprising that the passages of scripture which appear to support a flat Earth go unrevised, as their writing predates the scientific discoveries made in the 1500s and beyond.
Furthermore, any attempts to revise these passages may have been strongly opposed by traditionalists and church authorities at the time, further cementing the idea that the Earth is flat within the Bible.
The evidence presented in the Bible is inconclusive, and it is clear that the passages which appear to suggest a flat Earth are not necessarily literal. For example, the phrase “circle of the Earth” is more likely to refer to the horizon, and the phrase “hang the Earth on nothing” implies a spherical shape.
It is important to remember that much of the Bible was written in ancient times, when a flat Earth was the commonly accepted belief. The authors of the gospel would be unlikely to challenge this notion, or risk the ire of traditionalists and religious leaders.
Modern Christian views on the shape of the Earth are quite varied, ranging from literal interpretations of the Bible to more nuanced and scientific explanations. Many people believe that the Bible is not to be taken literally and see no contradiction between the scriptures and current scientific knowledge.
Likewise, there are those who view the bible as infallible and insist that the Earth is flat, despite the clear evidence to the contrary. These individuals often reject scientific theories and dismiss them as heretical or potential vehicles of deception.
The implications of a flat Earth are far-reaching, affecting almost every aspect of our understanding of the universe. If the planet is indeed flat, the stars and planets would be arranged differently and their trajectories through the night sky would be significantly different than what we observe today.
Likewise, the distances between faraway objects in the universe would be different and the scale of the universe would be drastically altered. Consequently, if a flat Earth were true, our understanding of the universe would have to be entirely rewritten.
The implications of a flat Earth have also been explored in a political sense. In recent years, flat Earth theories have become closely associated with right-wing conspiracy theories, with some fringe groups claiming that a flat Earth provides evidence of a global elite or secret government attempting to control our perception of reality.
These theories often rely on misinterpretations of the bible, or verses taken out of context, to support their claims of a flat Earth. While there may be room for debate on the true shape of the Earth, it is important to remember that these theories must be put into the correct context and be backed up by evidence.
Ultimately, the Bible does not explicitly state that the Earth is flat—although some passages may appear to suggest so. More likely, these references are merely poetic metaphors or attempts to explain difficult concepts in simpler terms. There is little evidence to suggest that the authors of the Bible intended to write a literal description of the universe.
This is part of the enduring beauty of the scriptures—that they can be interpreted in different ways and have the potential to teach and inspire us in ways that science alone cannot. We should always strive to apply both scientific facts and spiritual principles to come to an informed conclusion.