THE BIBLE DOES NOT TEACH THAT THE EARTH IS FLAT
NOR ON PILLARS; BUT THAT IT CAN BE OBSERVED AS SPHERICAL
A rather common accusation made against the Bible in skeptical circles is that it teaches a view that promulgates a "flat earth" and contains other primitive cosmological/natural data like a solid, domed sky. Here we will have a look at some of the verses commonly used to assert this position.
It should be understood that the Hebrews, like all ancient near eastern cultures, lacked the scientific terminology we use to describe things today. We should not expect descriptions of "tectonic plates" or of "molten lava." Hebrew lacked the specific words that are often used to day to describe cosmological phenomena. Yet even today non-technical words are often used to describe the world figuratively. Terms today and in ancient times were used for reporting cosmological phenenoma such as reporting that the sun rises or sets or expressions referring to the extent of the horizon as being flat and finite when the context is limited to describing what one visually observes of a cosmoloical phenomena, the earth often does appear flat and finite - key words which would have been most useful in describing cosmological phenomena.
So we will not address certain words and verses that use "phenomenological" language - i.e., sunset, sunrise, or references to sun and stars moving. As we still use such terms today, in spite of hundreds of years of "knowing better," it should not reflect badly upon the use of such language in the Bible.
Now to the verses in question. We will use the KJV as our English citation-source for the most part here, since it is the one most commonly used by skeptics in this arena.
THE HEAVENS ARE PORTRAYED AS HAVING BEEN STRETCHED
Some descriptions of the sky in the Bible indicate to skeptics that some sort of solid mass is involved.
Jer. 10:12 He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion.
(Note - "world" here is the Hebrew "tebel" - see below.)
Is. 40:22 "It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in...."
Even today one can legitimately describe the sky has the stretched out heavens with respect to what the human can observe. The sky in fact does appear to spread out over us as a curtain. Such a great expanse often makes one feel as small as a grasshopper. None of this to be taken literally unless we all are actually bug eyed grasshoppers.
Do these imply a physical dome of some sort? Actually, it is not possible to determine one way or another, for the Hebrews (like many cultures of this time) lacked a word-concept of infinite physical space. With that in mind, we may ask how they would describe the sky as it exists, and metaphor is the most probable choice. We surmise that the sky as a "stretched" space or object comes as close to capturing "infinity" as one can without the word-concept. But is there any less ambiguous assertion about the sky? Some note verses like this:
Ps. 150:1 Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.
The word here which we render "firmament" is:
7549. raqiya', raw-kee'-ah; frm H7554; prop. an expanse, i.e. the firmament or (apparently) visible arch of the sky:--firmament.
Indications are, however, that this raqyia is not always the solid structure that "firmament" implies.
On the other hand, raqyia can refer to a solid mass as in the ancient solid water (ice) canopy that was situated above the earth in preflood days:
THE EARTH IS DESCRIBED AS A CIRCLE OR SPHERE
Is. 40:22 "It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in..."
Job 26:10 He hath compassed the waters with bounds, until the day and night come to an end.
Prov. 8:27 When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth...
Skeptics will assume from these verses a concept of a flat, circular, pancake-like earth. In each case, the Hebrew word here is exactly the same, as Strong's tells us:
2329. chuwg, khoog; from H2328; a circle:--circle, circuit, compass.
And here is where we alert the reader to another key word-concept that is missing in Hebrew: There was no varying word for a "sphere" - a three-dimensional circle. It is not that the Hebrews or anyone else lacked the concept of sphericity (for obviously, they could conceive of it plainly when, for example, they ate pomegranates for breakfast!), but that they simply did not create a second word for it.
Some may [cite] in reply here the KJV version of Is. 22:18, "He will surely violently turn and toss thee like a ball into a large country: there shalt thou die, and there the chariots of thy glory shall be the shame of thy lord's house." The Hebrew word here, however, is:
1754. duwr, dure; from H1752; a circle, ball or pile:--ball, turn, round about.
This word no more indicates sphericity than our other word, for it is used by Isaiah elsewhere thusly:
Is. 29:3 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, the soldiers could not camp in the shape of a sphere around the city! Based on this and other usages, this word appears to be making a statement about a circular pattern rather than giving reference to a given shape.
The Hebrew word dur is best translated in the following passages as a slingstone, not a ball. (See 1 Sam. 17:49-50, 25:29; Duet. 29:28; I Kings 9:7; Prov. 26:8; Jere. 7:15, 10:18, 16:13, 22:26-28).
THE EARTH IS DEPICTED AS HAVING ENDS
Not only is the earth (planet) a circle (Prov. 8:27; Isa. 40:22), but the Bible tells us that the earth's horizon, "boundary of light and darkness," is curved (Job 26:10). These combine to give the picture of a sphere or at the least a hemisphere.
Ps. 22:27 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.
Ps. 59:13 Consume them in wrath, consume them, that they may not be: and let them know that God ruleth in Jacob unto the ends of the earth. Selah.
Ps. 19:4-6 Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.
Job 28:24 For he looketh to the ends of the earth, and seeth under the whole heaven...
Deut. 28:64-5 And the LORD shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood and stone. And among these nations shalt thou find no ease, neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest: but the LORD shall give thee there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind...
In each of these, it is supposed, the author is thinking of opposite ends of a flat earth. Let's look at the key words used among these verses.
The word used for "ends" is:
7097. qatseh, kaw-tseh'; or (neg. only) qetseh, kay'-tseh; from H7096; an extremity (used in a great variety of applications and idioms; comp. H7093):-- X after, border, brim, brink, edge, end, [in-] finite, frontier, outmost coast, quarter, shore, (out-) side, X some, ut (-ter-) most (part).
This word has a broad usage throughout the OT. It can signify the termination of a period of time, or of an action. But let's look exclusively at geographic connotations of some sort.
Gen 23:9 That he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he hath, which is in the end of his field; for as much money as it is worth he shall give it me for a possession of a burying place amongst you.
Gen. 47:21 And as for the people, he removed them to cities from one end of the borders of Egypt even to the other end thereof. (Note: "Borders" here is yet another Hebrew word, gebuwl.)
Ex. 25:18-9 18 And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat. And make one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end:
Josh. 15:5 And the east border was the salt sea, even unto the end of Jordan. And their border in the north quarter was from the bay of the sea at the uttermost part of Jordan:
1 Sam. 9:27 And as they were going down to the end of the city, Samuel said to Saul, Bid the servant pass on before us, (and he passed on,) but stand thou still a while, that I may show thee the word of God.
Another word used for "end" is this one:
657. 'ephec, eh'-fes; from H656; cessation, i.e. an end (espec. of the earth); often used adv. no further; also (like H6466) the ankle (in the dual), as being the extremity of the leg or foot:--ankle, but (only), end, howbeit, less than nothing, nevertheless (where), no, none (beside), not (any, -withstanding), thing of nought, save (-ing), there, uttermost part, want, without (cause).
This word most commonly is translated "nevertheless" - as in this verse:
Num. 13:28 Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there.
So we have a fairly strong word here, one that seems to favor the skeptical position. But now let's look at the words which come out as "earth." The first is one that we shall have cause to refer to often:
776. 'erets, eh'-rets; from an unused root prob. mean. to be firm; the earth (at large, or partitively a land):-- X common, country, earth, field, ground, land, X nations, way, + wilderness, world.
This is the word used to indicate "earth" in Genesis 1:1 and in later parts of Genesis involving creation and the Flood. So, do we have an earth with ends? The answer is, not necessarily. The word is used over 2500 times in the OT, and elsewhere it is used to indicate a limited space, as in these examples:
Gen. 12:10 And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land.
Gen. 13:7 And there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram's cattle and the herdmen of Lot's cattle: and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land.
Gen. 20:15 And Abimelech said, Behold, my land is before thee: dwell where it pleaseth thee.
Gen. 42:33 And the man, the lord of the country, said unto us, Hereby shall I know that ye are true men; leave one of your brethren here with me, and take food for the famine of your households, and be gone:
1 Sam. 29:11 So David and his men rose up early to depart in the morning, to return into the land of the Philistines. And the Philistines went up to Jezreel.
2 Sam. 24:6 Then they came to Gilead, and to the land of Tahtimhodshi; and they came to Danjaan, and about to Zidon...
So what can be said here? It is far from clear that any of the original verses citations referring to the "ends" of the "earth" are indicating a flat earth with edges. They might be - but they might not be. Ps. 22:27, for example: "All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD, and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee." This is a reference to peoples rather than geography; physical ends of the earth could hardly "remember" anything! Job 28:24 says, "For he looketh to the ends of the earth, and seeth under the whole heaven..." - which might seem like a problem, until we consider the context of the verse:
Destruction and death say, We have heard the fame thereof with our ears. God understandeth the way thereof, and he knoweth the place thereof. For he looketh to the ends of the earth, and seeth under the whole heaven; To make the weight for the winds; and he weigheth the waters by measure. When he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the lightning of the thunder: Then did he see it, and declare it; he prepared it, yea, and searched it out.
We are obviously dealing with poetry here - not a scientific treatise. So the bottom line: It cannot be absolutely asserted that a flat earth is in view here, in any of these verses. One would have to get into the minds of the writers to know for certain that a flat earth is intended. (We might add:
1) that we still use the phrase "ends of the earth" today - so that we can hardly criticize the use of the phrase in the Bible!;
2) This last phrase, at any rate, is a quote of Job - in which case, it may be argued that we are simply being told what he believes!)
Now there is a second word that translates as "earth" in some places -- but it only occurs 38 times in the OT:
8398. tebel, tay-bale'; from H2986; the earth (as moist and therefore inhabited); by extens. the globe; by impl. its inhabitants; spec. a partic. land, as Babylonia, Pal.:--habitable part, world.
This is used in the Psalms verse in particular, and here:
1 Sam. 2:8 He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and he hath set the world upon them.
Hebrew noun, mātsûq, occurs only twice in the OT, both in 1 Samuel.
When the once barren Hannah gave birth to Samuel, she offered a prayer
of praise and thanksgiving. In that prayer, she extolled the majesty of
the Creator, stating, "The pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and he
hath set the world upon them" (2:8). "The pillars of heaven" (Job
26:11) and "the pillars of the earth" (Job 9:6; Ps. 75:3) are
metaphorical expressions by which the heavens and the earth are
compared to an edifice raised by the hand of God, placed upon a
foundation of his making. Job 38:4 records the words of the Lord using
this same figurative language, "Where wast thou when I laid the
foundations of the earth?"
Complete Biblical Library Hebrew-English Dictionary - Kaph-Mem.]
This second word [that translates as "earth" in some places -- but it only occurs 38 times in the OT:
8398. tebel, tay-bale'; from H2986; the earth (as moist and therefore inhabited); by extens. the globe; by impl. its inhabitants; spec. a partic. land, as Babylonia, Pal.:--habitable part, world.
This is used in the Psalms verse]:
carries the implication of the peoples of the earth rather than any sort of reference to geography. Where it is used it certainly cannot be seen as favoring a flat earth.
LONG AND BROAD
Here is a verse that comes up for critical review:
Job 11:9 The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea.
This is supposed to indicate a measurable earth with "length" - but "earth" here is that slippery old 'erets, and in light of the fact that a fixedly measurable body like "sea" is used in parallel, we are justified in reading 'erets here in its less "global" sense.
Is. 42:5 Thus saith God the LORD, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein:
The word "spread" here is taken to mean a flat earth. But hold the phone: It also says that God "spread" that which "cometh out" of the earth - i.e., the plants and animals. Does this mean that the plants and animals are flat, too? Obviously not. The word here (raqa' - related to the word used for the sky, above) therefore indicates creative formation, not shape.
JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH
Ezek. 5:5 Thus saith the Lord GOD; This is Jerusalem: I have set it in the midst of the nations and countries that are round about her.
Some will [cite] this verse which is translated in some versions as saying that Jerusalem is in the "center" of the earth - which is said to fit in with a flat earth. But that particular translation has a few bugs in it. The word here for "midst" is --
432. tavek, taw'-vek; from an unused root mean. to sever; a bisection, i.e. (by impl.) the centre:--among (-st), X between, half, X (there-, where-) in (-to), middle, mid [-night], midst (among), X out (of), X through, X with (-in).
"Countries" is the word 'erets again. "Nations" is --
471. gowy, go'ee; rarely (short.) goy, go'-ee; appar. from the same root as H1465 (in the sense of massing); a foreign nation; hence a Gentile; also (fig.) a troop of animals, or a flight of locusts:--Gentile, heathen, nation, people.
439. cabiyb, saw-beeb'; or (fem.) cebiybah, seb-ee-baw'; from H5437; (as noun) a circle, neighbor, or environs; but chiefly (as adv., with or without prep.) around:--(place, round) about, circuit, compass, on every side.
The implication here seems far more political and religious than geographical, especially when we consider that the book of Ezekiel then goes on to condemn Israel for adopting the practices of the "countries" ('erets) all around them. (Thus some translations will now say that Jerusalem is "most important" rather than using words which indicate a geographic connotation.)
SITTIN' IN THE CORNER
For this objection we'll be crossing the Testaments. Let's start with the OT:
Is. 11:12 And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.
Some will [cite] this as evidence of a flat, SQUARE earth - which is a little odd, after it is argued so often that a flat, CIRCULAR earth is in mind! But let's look at this word "corners" --
3671. kanaph, kaw-nawf'; from H3670; an edge or extremity; spec. (of a bird or army) a wing, (of a garment or bed-clothing) a flap, (of the earth) a quarter, (of a building) a pinnacle:-- + bird, border, corner, end, feather [-ed], X flying, + (one an-) other, overspreading, X quarters, skirt, X sort, uttermost part, wing ([-ed]).
"Earth" is our familiar word 'erets, so the same constraints apply as above. But what about "kanaph"? It indicates compass points: Note how it emerges elsewhere --
Gen. 1:21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged [kanaph] fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
Ex. 19:4 Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, [kanaph] and brought you unto myself.
The word can also refer to clothes:
1 Sam. 15:27 And as Samuel turned about to go away, he laid hold upon the skirt of his mantle, and it rent.
...and in a few places, it is translated "ends." But the reference to "four" kanaph, and the application to wings (of birds, cherubim, etc.), along with reference to the specific nations which the Israelities are to return from in the verse previous (Is. 11:11), make it far more likely exegetically that this word indicates compass points.
We should note, however, one often-[cite]ed exception:
Job 38:12-3 Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days; and caused the dayspring to know his place; That it might take hold of the ends (kanaph) of the earth, that the wicked might be shaken out of it?
However, "earth" is again that slippery old 'erets - so one cannot say whether it is indeed meant in a global sense here. (Even so, this is manifestly metaphorical: One does not suppose that this suggests that the light itself actually picked up the earth and snapped it around like a towel! We may suggest that the "end" here might refer to the artificial dividing line between night and day.)
But now to a NT citation:
Rev. 7:1 And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree.
Once again, it is likely that we are dealing with compass points, owing to the reference to the winds. The word here is:
137. gonia, go-nee'-ah; prob. akin to G1119; an angle:--corner, quarter.
This word is used only 9 times in the NT, and it does refer, for example, to street corners (Matt. 6:5) and to cornerstones (Mark 12:10). But the context, the reference to the "four winds," supports the idea of compass points. (And once again, this is a phrase we STILL use, so we cannot really be that critical!)
FOUNDATIONS AND PILLARS
There are a few words that indicate to skeptics that the earth is on top of some sort of supporting system. Let's start with "foundations" -
Ps. 104:5 Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever.
2 Sam. 22:16 And the channels of the sea appeared, the foundations of the world were discovered, at the rebuking of the LORD, at the blast of the breath of his nostrils.
Job 38:4 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
Zech. 12:1 The burden of the word of the LORD for Israel, saith the LORD, which stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him.
We have selected these verses as samples, for they encompass the entire range of words used for "foundation(s)" in reference to the earth. Now let's consider each word in the Hebrew.
Ps. 104:9 uses this word:
349. makown, maw-kone'; from H3559; prop. a fixture, i.e. a basis; gen. a place, esp. as an abode:--foundation, habitation, (dwelling-, settled) place.
This word, used only 17 times in the OT, has the connotation of a living place or "home." For example:
Ps. 33:14 From the place of his habitation he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth.
Clearly this has nothing to do with physical foundations. Now 2 Sam. 22:16 uses:
4146. mowcadah, mo-saw-daw'; or mocadah mo-saw-daw'; fem. of H4144; a foundation:--foundation.
This word occurs only 13 times in the OT. Here is how it is used in places where the earth (or heaven) is not referenced:
Deut. 32:22 For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.
Ps. 18:7 Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth.
Is. 58:12 And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.
Jer. 51:26 And they shall not take of thee a stone for a corner, nor a stone for foundations; but thou shalt be desolate for ever, saith the LORD.
Clearly we have something of a mixed bag here. We have something that can be seen as physical, obviously, but we also do not have anything to indicate exactly how this mowcadah acts as a "foundation" for the items in question. (By the way, "earth" in the relevant verses is mostly that vague 'erets, and in a couple of places tebel!)
Job 38:4 uses:
245. yacad, yaw-sad'; a prim. root; to set (lit. or fig.); intens. to found; reflex. to sit down together, i.e. settle, consult:--appoint, take counsel, establish, (lay the, lay for a) found (-ation), instruct, lay, ordain, set, X sure.
This word seems inclined to the idea of "foundation" in both an abstract "beginning" sense and a physical "building" sense. Note how it is used elsewhere:
Ex. 9:18 Behold, to morrow about this time I will cause it to rain a very grievous hail, such as hath not been in Egypt since the foundation thereof even until now.
Josh. 6:26 And Joshua adjured them at that time, saying, Cursed be the man before the LORD, that riseth up and buildeth this city Jericho: he shall lay the foundation thereof in his firstborn...
1 Kings 5:17 And the king commanded, and they brought great stones, costly stones, and hewed stones, to lay the foundation of the house.
1 Chr. 9:22 All these which were chosen to be porters in the gates were two hundred and twelve. These were reckoned by their genealogy in their villages, whom David and Samuel the seer did ordain in their set office.
So here, a "physical" idea is possible - but not necessary. Finally, here is Zechariah's word:
3248. yecuwdah, yes-oo-daw'; fem. of H3246; a foundation:--foundation.
This odd word appears only 5 times in the OT, 3 times in Zechariah. Here are the other citations:
Ps. 87:1 A Psalm or Song for the sons of Korah. His foundation is in the holy mountains.
Is. 28:16 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation (muwcad!): he that believeth shall not make haste.
Zech. 4:9 The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto you. (Zec. 8:9 similar)
There is probably not enough here to go on. Zechariah's word-choice in 12:1 may have been influenced by the parallel and equally-spaced usages in his book rather than by any notion of what the physical structure of the earth was. Bottom line: These words offer no necessary proof - much less sufficient detail - to assume the idea of an earth with unmoving roots.
But what about our other word, "pillars?" In most cases where a pillar is referred to (as in a building) one of two words is used: matstebah or 'ammuwd. The latter word IS used by Job in reference to "pillars" of the earth and of heaven (9:6, 26:11) - but note the context of the verses:
Job 9:5-10 Which removeth the mountains, and they know not: which overturneth them in his anger. Which shaketh the earth out of her place, and the pillars thereof tremble. Which commandeth the sun, and it riseth not; and sealeth up the stars. Which alone spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea. Which maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south. Which doeth great things past finding out; yea, and wonders without number. Lo, he goeth by me, and I see him not: he passeth on also, but I perceive him not.
Job 26:11 The pillars of heaven tremble and are astonished at his reproof.
In both cases we are dealing with a situation that is charged with poetic indications (pillars that can be "astonished?") and we are obliged not to read things too literally. (Same also, Ps. 75:3.) That leaves one verse, 1 Sam. 2:8 -
[1 Sam 2:6-8]:
(1 Sam 2:6 NKJV) "The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up.
(1 Sam 2:7 NKJV) The LORD makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up.
(1 Sam 2:8 NKJV) He raises the poor from the dust And lifts the beggar from the ash heap, To set them among princes And makes them inherit the throne of glory. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD's. And He has set the world upon them."
Notice that the language above is poetic - not meant to be taken as literal scientific type observations.
[Compare Ps 75:1-3]:
(Ps 75:1 NKJV) "We give thanks to You, O God, we give thanks! For Your wondrous works declare that Your name is near.
(Ps 75:2 NKJV) The earth and all its inhabitants are dissolved; I set up its pillars firmly."
Again, the language is poetic - not meant to be taken as literal scientific type observations. Elsewhere in Scripture, the judgment of God upon the world at the end of the world is not described as a dissolving of everything as into a literal solution of chemicals. So "The pillars of heaven" (Job 26:11) and "the pillars of the earth" (1 Sam 2:8; Job 9:6; Ps. 75:3) are metaphorical expressions - the language is poetic not meant to be taken as literal, scientific observations - by which the heavens and the earth are compared to an edifice raised by the hand of God, and placed upon a foundation of his making. Job 38:44-49 records the words of the LORD using this same poetic / figurative language, "[The LORD said to Job, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God [angels] shouted for joy? Or who shut in the sea with doors, When it burst forth and issued from the womb; When I made the clouds its garment, And thick darkness its swaddling band…. [Etc.]"
So "Pillars" here is yet another word in Scripture which skeptics like to manipulate out of its context and declare that the bible has yet another flaw:
4690. matsuwq, maw-tsook'; or matsuq, maw-tsook'; from H6693; something narrow, i.e. a column or hilltop:--pillar, situate.
- and it is used only TWICE in the OT, here and 1 Sam. 14:5 --
The forefront of the one was situate northward over against Michmash, and the other southward over against Gibeah.
Here, it seems, there is no indication of physical pillars necessary at all (see also note on this verse above). At the very least the data is insufficient to decide one way or another. At the very worst it is simply a quote of the belief of Hannah, Eli's mother!
Ps. 103:12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.
A minor point on this verse - it is sometimes alleged that this indicates a flat earth, for on a globe, east does meet west. The Hebrew terms here - mazrach and ma'arab - are equivalent to saying, "the rising" and "the setting", so that it is essentially like our "sunrise" and "sunset". Obviously, we still use this sort of phenomenonological language today, so this verse can hardly be criticized on the same basis. Even so, it is a bit tricky to assert that abstract concepts like "east" and "west" are like physical objects that can meet around a globe and come to a grinding halt! One would suggest that they could proceed around the globe infinitely since they have nothing to run into!
As a side note, we should consider the verse previous to this one:
Ps. 103:11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.
So then - this reckons as a parallel to the next verse; and since the idea the Psalmist is putting across is that God's mercy and forgiveness are INFINITE, this seems to argue for an infinite distance along the earth - which would work either on a globe OR on a flat earth (after all, east and west don't stop at the edge, either!) - and for an infinitely high sky, we might add, as we proceed to...
Finally, we note this passage:
Matthew 4:8 Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them...
This verse in Matthew by no means implies a flat earth, nor a monstrous mountain large enough to oversee the earth. Indeed, I have always thought that the trip to the mountain was a cheap psychological ploy by Satan -- indeed, given what we know of the honor and shame dialectic of that social world, it fits as the premise of an "honor challenge" by placing Jesus in a pre-eminent position -- and that the showing of the kingdoms was accomplished by means of projecting images of some sort, as on a computer screen! Indeed, this is suggested by the parallel verse in Luke 4:5 -
The devil led him up to a high place, and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.
However, as anyone who has climbed mountains knows - and the writer of Matthew surely knew, if he lived in the area around Judea, as Matthew did - the higher up you go, the smaller things down below get, by your perspective. So it seems unlikely that (even if he did believe it a flat earth, personally) Matthew's offering is not compatible with a globe. Note that even on a flat earth, a high mountain would be a very poor place to observe the kingdoms of the world "in their glory." Furthermore, if Matthew was implying that a mountain existed from which all the world was visible, then obviously, the mountain would be visible from all parts of the world, and Matthew's reader's would roll over laughing and throw his book in the garbage! It is ludicrous to suggest that Matthew believed such a mountain existed. (The mountain in question was probably Mt. Quarantania, not far from the site where John probably baptized. It commands an incredible view of the Jordan Valley. Those who further wonder who gave this account seem to forget that Jesus was perfectly capable of doing so after the fact to his disciples.)
Matthew 24:30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
Revelation 1:7 Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.
Now there are a few verses some say indicate a close-by sky or a hardened dome in other ways than we have seen:
Rev. 6:13 And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.
Matt. 24:29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
In each case above it is said that the indication of stars falling to earth suggests a close sky with stars hung from it. But this fails to account for the fact that the Greek word here, aster, was used to refer to any object with the appearance of a star, including meteors - an anachronism which we preserve today in the expression, "shooting star."
At the same time, it is reckoned here and elsewhere that referring to the heavens as being "shaken" indicates a solid dome. But look at the Greek:
531. saleuo, sal-yoo'-o; from G4535; to waver, i.e. agitate, rock, topple or (by impl.) destroy; fig. to disturb, incitation:--move, shake (together), which can [-not] be shaken, stir up.
This word is used of physical objects being shaken, but it is also used of intangible objects:
Luke 21:26 Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.
Acts 2:25 For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved:
2 Thess. 2:2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
So, it is quite possible to read this verse in Revelation in terms of "disturbed" rather than "shaken" in a physical sense.
There are also a few verses in the OT that are used for this. 2 Sam. 2:28 says, "Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations of heaven moved and shook, because he was wroth." Sounds pretty bad, until you read the verses following: "There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it. He bowed the heavens also, and came down; and darkness was under his feet. And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: and he was seen upon the wings of the wind..." And so on - quite poetic, obviously far from literal. Joel 2:10 says, "The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining..." But the Hebrew word here is important: 7493. ra'ash, raw-ash; a prim. root; to undulate (as the earth, the sky, etc.; also a field of grain), partic. through fear; spec. to spring (as a locust):--make afraid, (re-) move, quake, (make to) shake, (make to) tremble.
Note the "field of grain" reference. This is the sort of word that might be used to describe a visual phenomenon like the Northern Lights - it does not necessarily indicate a shaking, solid dome. Finally, Is. 13:13 says, "Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the LORD of hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger." But this is yet another Hebrew word without physical connotations:
264. ragaz, raw-gaz'; a prim. root; to quiver (with any violent emotion, espec. anger or fear):--be afraid, stand in awe, disquiet, fall out, fret, move, provoke, quake, rage, shake, tremble, trouble, be wroth.
The reference, then, in line with God's referenced wrath, is more likely to refer to an inspiration of fear than a literal shaking of what is supposedly a solid dome.
Job 37:18 says, "Hast thou with him spread out (raqia) the sky (shachaq), which is strong, and as a molten looking glass?" (Techincally, this verse being spoken by Elihu would not be a problem, but we'll add it here anyway.) Shachaq is an unusual word that appears only 25 times in the OT, mostly in Job and Psalms, and seems to be a synonym for raqia. It is also used for the clouds in Isaiah 45:8. Finally, it is best related to Deuteronomy 28:23: "And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron." This verse refers to drought, not solidity in the sence that the hardness of brass and iron represent the inflexibility of day after day with no rain, i.e., drought.
Genesis 11:4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
This verse was once popular among critics, but not much any more. The words "may reach" are an insertion of the KJV. The reference is now recognized as meaning that the tower was to be dedicated unto heaven, not built to reach it. Of course, even if it did have the other meaning, it only reflects what men "said" at the time -- not that they were right about what they said.
We will add one other passage a reader suggested, chock full of positive data:
Job 26:7-10 He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing. He bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds; and the cloud is not rent under them. He holdeth back the face of his throne, and spreadeth his cloud upon it. He hath compassed the waters with bounds, until the day and night come to an end.
26:7 fits gravitational attraction as opposed to an endless stack of turtles! 26:8 matches that water vapor makes up clouds. The throne is taken to be the moon and would describe an eclipse. For 26:10, the boundary between night and day on a spherical earth illuminated by the Sun must be a circle. At the time the book of Job was written there was no theory of gravity, no knowledge of a spherical earth, and no knowledge of water vapor. How did the writer know?
CONCLUSION RELATIVE TO THE BIBLE'S TESTIMONY OF THE SHAPE OF THE EARTH
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. The Bible lacks specifics in this regard (i.e., precise distances and descriptions as were often offered up by the pagans), and so leaves the answer, "Does the Bible teach bad cosmology?", quite ambiguous in a few places. But for the majority of the citations we have seen, there is no such ambiguity, merely misinterpretation by skeptics and/or poetry. We are justified in our assertion that there is no proof that the Bible teaches a false cosmology.
OBSERVATIONS OF THE CURVATURE OF THE EARTH
SAILING STRAITS OF GEORGIA AND PUGET SOUND
Constitution in the San Juan Islands of Washington State USA is 1600
feet high. From it, you can see about 40 miles of the Straits of
Georgia and Puget Sound. I sailed for years in those waters, and I am
very familiar with the sea charts. When I go up there I see the shores
and islands laid out just as they are on the chart on the table in my
boat — with one difference. The charts are flat, and the real world is
clearly laid out on a spherical bulge. This really surprised me the
first time I noticed it.
SAILING OFF THE SHORE OF THE FLORIDA PANHANDLE
used to sail at night off the shore of the Florida panhandle. It’s
often too hot to enjoy sailing in the daytime. The land there is flat
as a pancake and only a few feet above sea level. At night, sitting at
the tiller, sailing straight out into the quiet Gulf, the lights ashore
disappear one after another, until you seem all alone on the empty sea.
This happens about five miles out. But if you stand up, they all appear
again at once. Sit down, and they disappear. Just a difference of two
or three feet in the altitude of your eyes puts the lights above or
below the horizon.
SWIMMING IN A VERY STILL LAKE
I am swimming in a very still lake, when I put the pupil of my eye half
an inch above water level, I can see the bulge of the surface of the
water between me and objects as close as a hundred feet away. I noticed
this as a child, even in large swimming pools. This may be an illusion
of some sort, but I think I’m seeing the curvature of the Earth.
HOW HIGH DO YOU HAVE TO GO TO SEE THE CURVATURE OF THE EARTH
BY HOW IT WORKS TEAM · 30/08/2016
"According to optical researchers, while we can fool ourselves into thinking we see the curvature of the Earth from high mountains, this is usually wishful thinking.
should be able to detect it from an aeroplane at a cruising height of
around 10,600 metres (35,000 feet), but you need a fairly wide field of
view (i.e., 60 degrees) and a virtually cloud-free horizon. The reality
is that clouds, hills and mountains mean we rarely get to see the kind
of perfectly flat horizon where the curve would be most obvious.
However, you can detect the curve of the Earth from ground level at the coast with a pair of binoculars – just look for distant ships on the horizon and you’ll see that their hulls start to disappear before their masts and other superstructure. Ancient Greek scientists, who spotted this without any optical aids, used this to conclude that the Earth was round.
DO YOU WANT TO PROVE THAT THE EARTH IS ROUND
on a plane, and fly to Cape Town, South Africa, or Melbourne, Australia
— two major cities located in the Southern Hemisphere. There, you won’t
be able to see the North Star.
This might seem like an expensive trip, but it’s one part of an experiment that can be done to disprove the Flat Earth Theory — a theory at the center of a popular new documentary — Behind the Curve — that is now streaming on Netflix.
The documentary follows several people who espouse the Flat Earth Theory, which is the belief that the Earth is a plane or a disk, and try to generate support for their cause through Internet videos, social media, podcasts, meetings, and even international conferences.
Jason Steffen, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at UNLV, works in the field of exoplanets (planets that orbit distant stars) and has a history in experimental studies of dark matter, dark energy, and gravity. For more than 10 years, Steffen was also a member of the science team for NASA’s Kepler mission. Discoveries from that mission revolutionized our understanding of planets and planetary systems, Steffen said.
As such, he was able to help us break down reasons why the Flat Earth Theory falls flat.
OK, so how do we know — scientifically — that the Earth is a sphere?
At a very basic level, we can see the Earth’s curvature through satellites that we’ve launched into space. Additionally, through the use of high-powered telescopes, we’ve been able to examine planets both in our solar system and beyond, and all of them are spherical in shape.
There is a very deep, fundamental reason why the Earth is round: the force of gravity depends upon the distance between two interacting objects, and the only three-dimensional object you can make with a single distance is a sphere. We can measure the behavior of gravity in the laboratory with a variety of highly sensitive experiments. Each of these experiments shows that the force of gravity depends only on the mass of the two objects and the distance between them. If, on the other hand, you wanted to form a flattened object using gravity alone, the force of gravity would have to depend upon two, perpendicular distances in two perpendicular directions.
Now, let’s backtrack to the time before satellites and telescopes. Why did people once think that the Earth was flat?
The primary reason that ancient people believed that the Earth was flat was that it looks flat from our vantage point on the ground. Most people throughout history never traveled more than a few miles from their place of birth, so the horizon that they saw was always the same. Moreover, most people were more worried about meeting the necessities of life than they were about the shape of the Earth.
misconception that the Earth must be flat because it looks flat to us
arises simply because the Earth is big. The height of an adult is much
less than one millionth of the Earth's radius. In order to see the
curvature of the Earth in a single field of view, you would need to be
perched above the surface a sizable fraction of that radius, and one
millionth wouldn't be considered "sizable.”
What clues changed their thinking?
This state of affairs started to change about 2,500 years ago during the Iron Age, especially with the Greeks. There are two primary reasons that the Greeks knew the Earth was round:
• Lunar eclipses. First, they saw that during a lunar eclipse the shadow of the Earth always had a round profile. This happened regardless of the time of night that the eclipse occurred, the season, or the direction that the shadow crept across the Moon's surface. The only object that casts a circular shadow no matter how you shine a light across it is a sphere. Any other shape would not be able to cast a round shadow under this variety of circumstances.
• Star patterns. The second observation is how the pattern of stars changes as you move north and south. If you were to stand at the North Pole, Polaris (the North Star), would be directly overhead. On a flat Earth, Polaris would always be visible — no matter how far away from the North Pole you moved, it would still be above the horizon. However, by the time you reach the equator, Polaris is on the northern horizon, and it disappears entirely once you move into the southern hemisphere. You can't see Polaris from Australia. In fact, the ancient Greeks calculated the circumference of the Earth using this effect and produced an answer that was strikingly close to what we measure today.
If you want to prove that the Earth is a sphere, here’s an experiment you can do today:
Quito, Ecuador and Nairobi, Kenya are two cities on the equator. Fly to either and you'll see Polaris on the northern horizon. Cape Town, South Africa and Melbourne, Australia are well south of the equator. Fly to either and you won't see Polaris at all. A few minutes drawing the predictions of the two competing models on a piece of paper is sufficient to exclude one of those models. And, this isn't the only demonstration you can do from the ground.
Flat Earth theorists say that if the Earth is a spinning sphere, why can’t they feel it? How did scientists first prove that the Earth rotates?
Though the shape of the Earth had been settled for over two millennia, a scientist by the name of Leon Foucault designed an experiment in 1851, using a very long pendulum, that showed both that the Earth is round and that it rotates. If you place the pendulum at the North Pole, the direction of its swing changes with respect to the ground and completes a full circle each day. Placing the same pendulum on the equator yields no change at all in the direction of the swing. These facts, and the behavior of the pendulum when it is placed anywhere else, agree with Foucault's prediction.
Are there other clues that prove the Earth spins on its axis?
We can see the effects of the Earth's shape and rotation in several other ways:
• The six jet streams on the Earth — and how their directions relate to each other — is a consequence of the Earth's shape and rotation.
• Artillery gunners must correct for the rotation of the Earth as the shell flies through the air above the surface.
• Modern naval guns can shoot far over their visible horizon due to the Earth's curvature.
• Hurricanes and (most) tornadoes rotate counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere while they rotate clockwise in the southern hemisphere. Fun fact: Toilets and sinks are too small to reliably reproduce this effect, despite the rumors that they flush or drain in the opposite direction in the southern hemisphere.
The next time you’re at a party, impress your friends with this enlightening experiment
Hold a pencil in front of you, looking down at the tip. Rotate it so that its tip is spinning counter-clockwise. Keep rotating it with your fingers in the same direction as you slowly turn the pencil over so that you are looking at its eraser. Now, the eraser will be spinning clockwise. Slowly rotate it back, while continuing its spin, will bring the tip to the top, rotating counter-clockwise.
JASON STEFFEN, NATALIE BRUZDA
NATALIE BRUZDA (702) 895-5132; NATALIE.BRUZDA@UNLV.EDU
ASTRONOMY, COLLEGE OF SCIENCES, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, TIPS TOPICS TRENDS
Is it possible to see the curvature of the Earth with the naked eye?
It’s not possible to see the horizon curve left to right in your field of view from any height achievable by most people, the earth is just much too big. The cruising height of a U2 spy plane (70,000ft) is only a tiny fraction of the earth’s diameter (42 million feet). On a large 3ft beachball the spy plane’s height to scale would be 1.5mm above the surface. Any left top right angulation of the earth’s surface would be imperceptible.
All the examples given are of objects disappearing over the horizon as they get further away, or are the effects of the lenses used in the photos, or are optical illusions. The lens effect is very easy to demonstrate even at ground level; it’s easy to make a flat horizon curve downwards or upwards at the edges depending on where in the frame it is.
Try this example. At 10000 metres the horizon is 357 km away. Normal angle of vision is 55 degrees but let’s say you move your head left and right to see a 90 degree field of view. The two furthest points you can see on the horizon are away in the distance 357 km away 90 degrees apart, so the line between them is the hypotenuse of a large right triangle. They are 504 km apart, which is 0.012 of the circumference of the earth. That’s 4 degrees of curvature, (0.021 by 360) which I think would be very hard to perceive.
Originally Answered: Is there any place on Earth where you can see the curvature of the Earth clearly?
Like people said, the ocean. Or even better a big but perfectly flat lake. It doesn’t need to be that, ideally you can see across it. Go out in a kayak or something, and look at the shore. Then jump into the water, so your eyes are not far above the surface, which probably means a meter or so lower than they were before, and look at the surface again.
But you don’t even need to see it bending away from you. Almost anywhere, the horizon is a circle around you, right? If the earth were flat, it wouldn’t be. You could look into the direction of the Eiffel tower no matter where you are, and you’d either see the eiffel tower or some other building or mountain blocking the view. But there’s a heap of mountains where you can stand and look down and all you see is the horizon, not the Eiffel tower or anything higher that gets in the way.
You can also sometimes get a feel for it in an airplane.
But a better way to prove with an airplane that the world is round is to keep buying tickets that head approximately east. You can pretty much do this if you start from somewhere near the equator. And of course you quickly come back to where you started. In theory you could do this in other directions, but you run into places with small population and no flights between them, if you try another great circle. But an example would be to take the world’s longest commercial flight, from Singapore to San Francisco(e.g. KAYAK mobile - free iPhone, Android and BlackBerry apps on KAYAK) . You can keep your smartphone on most of the flight (except take-off and landing) and use the compass to verify that you’re heading more or less East the whole time. Fly to Rio de Jeneiro, via Panama (KAYAK mobile - free iPhone, Android and BlackBerry apps on KAYAK) which takes you basically southeast the whole time. Fly from there Southeast to Johannesburg (KAYAK mobile - free iPhone, Android and BlackBerry apps on KAYAK). From there fly to Singapore via Abu Dhabi (which takes you in a NNE direction at first but then something like ENE after that).
In each of those flights you won’t be heading dead east, but youllbe able to use your compass to prove that you’re not heading west at all. Yet you come back where you started. Absent some weird ad hoc explanations about compasses and GPSes all lying in the same way, you can see that you headed in a roughly easterly direction and continued that way for the whole trip but ended up back where you started. That would only work if the earth was spherical or cylindrical.
You can of course also see the earth’s round shadow on the moon, but I guess if you doubted that the earth is spherical you would doubt that the darkness on the moon is earth’s shadow, and anyway that wouldn’t rule out a disk shape.