The Bible clearly teaches a flat earth cosmology. I know that many would argue otherwise in their attempts to make the cosmology of the Bible line up with scientific truth, but I think the Bible is very clear in what it says on this subject. My friend Rob Skiba has put together a good web page that in my opinion clearly shows that the Bible was written by authors who believed in a flat earth. They simply had no other model by which to go by. My view is not that the Bible is deliberately teaching flat earth cosmology as “scientific truth”, rather the Bible is a story that lays out the path to salvation, and in telling this story the authors speak from a flat earth understanding. They simply had no other grid from which they could refer to various aspects of creation. Humans need God to find the way to salvation, and that is the purpose of the Bible. On the other hand, humans do not need God to discover for themselves the reality of the world we live in. That is the purpose of science.
The Israelites were a primitive and violent tribe that God chose to begin to reveal Himself to. He wanted to lead them to salvation (and through them EVERYONE) and He was much less worried about teaching them actual science. The ancient Hebrews had essentially the very same cosmology as ancient Sumer, Egypt and Babylon. The Hebrews and the Canaanites had some very serious differences when it came to their understanding of God, and man’s purpose within God’s creation, but they both believed in a flat earth.
The ancient Hebrews understood that earth’s flat disk was surrounded by water on all sides, as well as above and beneath. They believed that the waters above were held back by the firmament: a solid fixed dome in the sky that had windows that were opened by God whenever He decided it was time to answer all of the prayers asking for rain. Abraham’s father was probably a pagan moon-worshiper and much of pagan cosmology became embedded in the Law, in the Psalms, and in the writings of the Prophets. These ancient conceptions of the world also entered into the New Testament, and I think Rob Skiba is absolutely correct when he sums up the issue by saying,
“The Bible is, from Genesis to Revelation, a flat-earth book.”
However, standing behind the controversial issue of the Biblical flat earth is the more important issue of hermeneutics: how do we understand and interpret the Bible? Is the Bible, from front to back, a perfect revelation of the will and character of God? Can we open a page anywhere and find literal truth that we can just draw from the text and apply to our lives today, without regard to context or common sense? Or is the Bible a progressive book, written by authors with differing theologies, sometimes conflicting, but all of them sharing their personal revelations from God with an inspired trajectory and divine end-point in mind? (That end-point being, of course, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.) If you have followed my writings over the past few years you will know that my view is increasingly tending towards the progressive view of the nature of the Bible.
I think that the flat earth controversy illustrates this issue perfectly, because if you are of the fundamentalist understanding that every story and every word of the Bible must be a perfect revelation of God’s will and character, must be historically accurate and precise, must be in line with modern (true) science, and must not be in conflict with any other passage of Scripture, then to be consistent you must defend the idea that the flat earth theory is true and accurate science!
Well, it’s not, and the Bible is not meant to be interpreted that way. The inspired Scriptures carried a violent primitive tribe out of polygamy and into monogamy. They carried them out of “eye-for-an-eye” and into “turn the other cheek.” They carried them from “never seek for the peace or prosperity of the Ammonite or Moabite” to “love your enemies.” They carried them from a culture of self-righteous vengeance to self-denying forgiveness. And that is just from Old Testament to New Testament! The inspired trajectory of the Scriptures also carries us beyond the letter of the Scriptures themselves! It has led us out of a culture that allowed for the keeping of slaves and into a culture where slavery is clearly immoral. It is also carrying us out of a culture of embedded gender inequality and into a culture where every human being, male or female, should be encouraged to share their gifts, whether preaching, teaching, or prophesying. Gifted and anointed women should not be forbidden from speaking in church simply because of a few sentences found in a letter written by Paul who was speaking into a situation that we do not know the context or dynamics of! Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
The inspired trajectory of Scripture also opens up the potential of human discovery, recognizing that Creation itself is a book written by God, declaring the glory of God, and revealing truth to the sincere seeker that ultimately points to God. Truth revealed in Scripture is fixed. There are no more words to be added to the Canon because it was completed 1900 years ago. However, truth revealed in creation is not fixed. Especially in this day and age we need to be willing to use our common sense in the face of many ongoing revelations about the nature of God’s creation. Sometimes this means that our old understandings of the meaning behind Scripture has to change. Dynamic revelation often impacts what we thought was “fixed” revelation when we come face to face with new information. Galileo helped to shift our understanding towards a heliocentric solar-system. William Wilberforce helped to shift our understanding towards embracing civil rights for all races. In the same way modern breakthroughs in science are impacting our understanding of human origins and our ideas of where we are going.
I am increasingly convinced that the split between “science” and “religion” several hundred years ago was actually necessary, allowing humanity to peer into the mysteries of creation without stubborn religious preconceptions, orchestrated for a final end-of-the-age convergence between science and Holy Spirit-uality! Yes, SCIENCE may perhaps come full-circle and find itself face-to-face with God…
But back to the recently revived controversy of heliocentrism vs flat-earth. Do we accept the flat earth model simply because “the Bible tells me so”? Or do we recognize that the ancient Hebrews were not scientists and God chose to communicate salvation to them in a language that they could understand? Do we dare recognize that the inspired trajectory of Scripture leads us away from flat-earth and into the brave new world of modern scientific discovery?
According to the flat-earth model what is normally considered the North Pole becomes the center of the earth’s fixed and stationary disk. The South Pole, rather than being a point at the bottom of a globe, is instead understood to be the outer rim of this stationary disk. Notice that this totally changes the distances between continents from what we are used to with the global model. Distances are compressed at the center and expanded at the outer rim, supposedly the impassable barrier of Antarctica.
Now if flat-earth theory is true then it should be testable. I haven’t spent too much time on this subject but I did come up with a test. According to the global model the circumference of the spherical earth is about 25,000 miles. The flat earth model instead views the outer rim of the disk of the earth as having a circumference of 25,000 miles. This would mean that pairs of cities that exist on parallel longitudes would vary in distances apart based on their distance from the North Pole (the center). For example, consider Rome and Tokyo (in the Northern Hemisphere) and Johannesburg and Sydney (in the Southern Hemisphere). They are paired on roughly parallel longitudes, but in the flat earth model the closer to the outer rim they are, the further apart they must be. If flat-earth theory is true then airline flights from Johannesburg to Sydney near the outer rim must cover a far greater distance than flights from Rome to Tokyo near the center.
Of course all of modern science is based on the global model of the earth, which tells us that Rome is 6,150 miles from Tokyo, and Sydney is 6,870 miles from Johannesburg. Google apparently buys into the global model of the earth, and so do the airlines too. They actually have the audacity to claim that they can fly passengers from Johannesburg to Sydney in less time than it takes to fly them from Rome to Tokyo! (See pic below)
So where does this leave the flat-earth model and its claims? This can’t possibly be true if we chart these flight paths on a flat-earth map. Clearly, if flat-earth is true, then the airliners must be deceiving their passengers! Perhaps the corporate airlines are in on the massive flat-earth coverup with NASA!
However, if the global model of the earth is true, then these distances and flight times make perfect sense. The distances between these parallel cities are affected by their distance from the equator and the two poles, rather than their distance from the center of a flat disk. Back in the real world flights between both pairs of cities each cover roughly one quarter of the total circumference of the globe, as shown below.
Of course I could be wrong about all this, and I am open to being corrected. In fact, I am interested in seeing what an “accurate” flat earth map would look like that takes into account these distances and flight times! But I highly doubt such a thing is possible…
This has been a fun and interesting exercise for me here on a Wednesday afternoon, but the bigger problem at the root of this issue, let us not forget, is “how do we read our Bibles?” My belief is that those who read their Bibles literally (without taking into account context, common sense, and the progressive nature of Scripture’s inspired trajectory), are not proving that they take the Word of God seriously. No indeed, this means that they are not taking the Word of God seriously enough!