Does the Bible say the Earth is Flat or Spherical?
The Earth is not flat as flat-earthers claim and the Bible does not support this theory. The curious flat earth position can be refuted on both natural and biblical grounds.
As far as physical evidence goes, other celestial bodies—like the moon, the sun and planets that can be observed with the naked eye or telescopes—reveal that they are spherical in shape. Since these bodies are spherical in nature it stands to reason that the Earth is also. This reasoning is supported by the Bible in light of the fact that the Scriptures teach that the Universe constantly “pours forth speech” and “displays knowledge” to “all the Earth” (Psalm 19:1-4). Paul backed this up by the Spirit in different words (Romans 1:19-20).
In light of this, it’s no wonder that the ball-shape of the Earth was grasped in ancient times. For instance, Greek philosophers documented it in the 5th century BC. While this was theoretical, Hellenistic astronomy established the Earth’s sphericity as a natural fact in the 3rd century BC, computing the Earth’s circumference. This position was steadily embraced through Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages and finally proven beyond doubt in 1519–1522 via the circumnavigation of the globe by Ferdinand Magellan & Juan Sebastián Elcano (Magellan was killed in the Philippines by natives during the long expedition).
Further evidence of the Earth’s sphericity can be observed in plane flights and their accurate flight plans. There’s no account of a plane flying off the edge of the earth nor did Magellan’s expedition sail off the edge.
What the Scriptures say about the Earth
The Bible suggests the spherical nature of the earth suspended in empty space:
21 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
He spreads out the northern skies over empty space;
he suspends the earth over nothing.
As you can see, the Earth is described in terms of being circular, hanging over nothing in the canopy of the physical heavens. This suggests what scientists & common people alike have discerned through the ages—the Earth is globe-shaped and suspended in empty space.
We readily understand “grasshoppers” in the first passage as figurative language because (1) we know people are human beings, not insects, and (2) it specifies that the inhabitants of the Earth are “like grasshoppers.”
However, the word “earth” is not figurative, nor is the reference to the “heavens,” aka the physical Universe. “Earth” is a literal reference to our planet since verse 21 notes God’s creation of the Earth and verse 22 chronicles the LORD stretching out the heavens, that is, the Universe. It doesn’t say the Earth is like a circle, but rather describes the planet as “the circle of the earth.” Since the heavens “pour forth speech” and “reveal knowledge” “to all the earth” we understand that the earth is circular in the sense of being ball-like in light of the fact that we can observe the spherical nature of the Moon with the naked eye, as well as other bodies, particularly with the aid of quality telescopes.
Obviously neither passage is a detailed textbook on astronomy, but they support the basic idea that the Earth as an orb-like body suspended in the empty space of the Universe. The LORD knew we’d acquire important details through our astronomical observations and studies. Think about it like this: the Bible tells us a lot about the human mind, but it doesn’t give us details about the physical brain or brain surgery. We naturally obtain knowledge of the latter through specific studies. So it is with astronomical issues.
Speaking of space, some flat-earthers challenge: “Does space even exist?” Obviously. It’s what Job referred to above as “empty space” and “nothing.” Look up into sky on a clear night—THAT is space. It’s the physical heavens filled with celestial bodies that “pours forth speech” and “reveals knowledge” to all the Earth (Psalm 19:1-4). The above two passages don’t give a lot of detail, but God knew we’d gather exposition through studying the cosmos, exploring the Earth and making advancements in technology & travel, including space exploration, like Moon landings and unmanned robotic spacecrafts to Mars.
The Hebrew Word for “Earth” or “Land”
“Earth” in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word erets (EH-rets), which refers to either (1) planetary Earth or (2) a portion of dry land. In the above two passages—Isaiah 40:22 and Job 26:7—erets refers to planetary Earth whereas it refers to dry “land” as distinct from the “seas” in this verse:
God called the dry ground “land” [erets], and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
How can we tell if erets refers to global Earth or dry land? Simply by the context of the passage. “Context is king” is a hermeneutical rule for good reason.
Idiomatic Expressions in Scripture
Flat-earthers cite verses that refer to the ends of the Earth as evidence for their position, like these four:
If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to them or listen to them.
for he views the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.
Like your name, O God, your praise reaches to the ends of the earth; your right hand is filled with righteousness.
Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Whose hands have gathered up the wind? Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is the name of his son? Surely you know!
Do verses like these suggest an end to the Earth and therefore edges to our planet, which support the flat Earth model? Scripture interprets Scripture and truth interprets truth. For instance, we saw above that Scripture describes the Earth as circular, suspended over empty space; and, furthermore, natural evidence shows that celestial bodies like the moon, Mars and Sun are spherical in shape hanging in empty space. As such, the references to the “ends of the earth” in Scripture must be figurative language for the far reaches of the planet. It’s idiomatic speech, like “He’s a loose cannon” or “that was a piece of cake.” It’s not rocket science.
This verse lends credence:
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back its four winds so that no wind would blow on land or sea or on any tree.
Just as there are not literally “four winds” there are not literally “four corners of the earth.” This is simply figurative language for the furthest reaches of the Earth in all four basic directions—North, South, East and West. We use the same idiomatic expressions today when we say “people from all corners of the globe came to the event.”
I should add that, idiomatic or not, all four directions can be pinpointed on the globe: The North and South poles refer to the vertical ends of the Earth while opposite points of latitude/longitude would refer to East and West, depending on where you dwell on the planet. For instance, I live in Northeast Ohio, USA, so the Italian island of Sardinia would be “East” to me and the middle of the Northern Pacific Ocean would be “West” and the farthest point East/West would be the wastelands near Jiuquan in Western China, which is the express opposite side of the world to me.
I should also point out that some references to the ends of the Earth in Scripture refer to remote inhabitants and not land, as seen here:
May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.
“The ends of the earth” here is clearly figurative and not literal since it refers to people living far away and not to literal edges of the planet. See Psalm 98:3 and Isaiah 45:22 for similar examples. Just as we don’t take “the ends of the earth” literally in this context, so we don’t take it literal in the above context.
Scriptural References to the “Pillars” of the Earth
Flat-earthers claim that the Earth literally rests on pillars due to passages like these:
When the earth and all its people quake,
it is I who hold its pillars firm.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s,
and on them he has set the world.
1 Samuel 2:8 (ESV)
Both of these passages are poetic literature, which explains why they’re formatted in verse. The word “pillars” refers to foundations, which is why the NIV uses “foundations” in the latter verse instead of “pillars.” Are there literal pillars holding up the Earth? No. This is simply poetic language comparing God’s Earth to a large building of that time period and the architecture thereof. It is literally true, however, that the LORD “holds” the foundations of the Earth and other celestial bodies suspended in empty space, as disclosed here:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
By comparing our planet to a large structure in biblical regions in ancient times, we understand that the Earth is God’s masterful construction. He owns it (Psalm 24:1), reigns supreme over it (Psalm 47:7 & Matthew 11:25) and holds its foundations (Psalm 75:3 & 1 Samuel 2:8), guaranteeing its permanence (Psalm 104:5 & Ecclesiastes 1:4). Even when the LORD makes a new heavens and new earth for the eternal age to come God won’t be creating a new Earth from scratch. He plainly says “Behold, I make all things new” not “I make new things” (Revelation 21:1-5). The new Earth will be the same basic planet, but awesomely renovated with the horrible mar of sin, pain and death removed forever.
Psalm 104:5 says that the Creator “set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.” All this means is that the Earth cannot be moved from the foundation God has set for it. What is the Earth’s specific foundation in the Universe, physically speaking? Obviously its perpetual orbit around the Sun. The Earth cannot be moved from this foundation, unless of course the Sovereign LORD chose to do so (Psalm 103:19 & 135:5-6).
So the Mighty Christ is the spiritual foundation of the Earth (as well as the entire Universe) while the planet’s orbit around the sun is the physical foundation.
Picturing a Flat Earth in the Universe
The above illustration shows how absurd a flat Earth would look in the Universe. Flat-earthers complain that this is a fraudulent portrayal of their model, but it’s (obviously) intentionally amusing. So let’s consider a couple of serious examples of a flat earth approved by flat-earthers:
These more “authentic” renditions don’t help much, do they? Honestly, the idea of a flat earth is laughable and simply doesn’t gel with the knowledge God has supplied us through our nightly exposure to the starry panorama that constantly “pours forth speech” and “displays knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-4). Other nearby celestial bodies are plainly spherical in nature and so is the Earth. Note for yourself:
As you can see, the Bible doesn’t support the idea of a flat Earth. Instead it suggests a circular Earth that’s suspended in empty space with a stable foundation. While the Scriptures don’t go into detail on these matters, the physical heavens God created do by constantly “revealing knowledge” to “all the earth,” which is genuine astronomy (not astrology).
This article is important because flat-earthers will sometimes phrase their arguments from the false premise that their position is undeniable truth completely supported by the Almighty in Holy Scripture. For instance, they’ll say things like “Does God tell the truth? Does the Holy Spirit lie?” which of course presumes that the LORD somewhere says in the Scriptures that the Earth is flat. But, as we have seen, the Scriptures don’t actually teach this. It’s a lie.
The Enemy loves this particular lie because it unnecessarily marginalizes Christians as silly religionists who can’t see the forest for the trees because of their blind embracement of myths easily disproven by God’s very own creation (the Earth & Universe). As such, believers who adamantly subscribe to the flat earth paradigm pretty much destroy their “witness” or, at least, severely damage it.
I should add that this isn’t an issue to fight over and separate. If a fellow believer insists that the Earth is flat, what’s that to you or me? They should be respected as human beings with the right to draw their own conclusions. Besides, it’s not like this is an essential issue of salvation. As they say: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things charity.”
At the same time, we shouldn’t allow this curious position to go unchallenged by the truths of Scripture, as well as the nature of the Universe obvious through the naked eye, research, exploration, technology and common sense.
For details on God’s purpose for the vast Universe in eternity see Eternal Life (“Heaven”) — What will it be Like?
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