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Sunday: A Flat Earth? — 24 Comments

  1. For this lesson to be a guide to help us properly study the Scripture, the author has fallen short (or the editors, perhaps) when they launch out on shaky, shaky grounds to show from Scripture that the earth is round. Jumping to Job 26:10 and Isaiah 20:22 where the word "circle" (depending on translation used) is used, it is confidently concluded that the Bible spoke long ago of a round, not flat, earth. The wording nor context of the verses will NOT support such a conclusion.

    In Job is means simply an enclosed border upon the waters and in Isaiah the idea is a semi circle canopy. The ancients did view the world as flat with an arching "vault" of sky above. Concept of a world as a sphere first shows up about the 6th century BCE, and the first scientific grounds for such around 300 BCE. It was not until Late Antiquity age (supposed to be between the 3rd and 8th century CE) that the spherical nature of earth was more generally adopted.

    I never use these verses for the purposes that the lesson has used them. It, in my view, creates another layer of looking a bit zealous for proving the Bible's veracity, than being true to the text and to history, for that matter.

    I am interested in hearing what others have thought of today's study.

    • Hi Kevin - Why is it so absurd to think that followers of the God of Abraham back then knew that the earth was round? Noah sailed the world and didn't fall off and I'm sure he shared not only his story with his grandchildren and their children but he probably also had the stories of Creation handed down from Adam and Eve about the earth's being created and I guess its shape. I looked up the meaning of the word circle while also trying to find the original word for circle in bible language (https://biblehub.com/topical/c/circle.htmhttps://biblehub.com/topical/c/circle.htm) and one of the definitions for circle was "A round body; a sphere; an orb." Maybe the original text used wording closer to the meaning of globe. The last question of the lesson said put yourself in the position of someone who lived thousands of years ago. If I do, I see the moon is round (circle), the sun is round, and I would probably conclude that the earth is round. I'd have to use something simple like this versus the movement of stars in the night sky changing positions until they repeat again the next year. I think people who believe the earth is flat still today would be able to explain that the star movements could still happen with a flat earth.

    • I have seen this claim before, especially regarding biblial "ancients":

      The ancients did view the world as flat with an arching "vault" of sky above.

      But I have not seen convincing evidence, and I remain highly skeptical. Here's why:

      I believe Adam had a pretty good understanding of nature and our solar system, and he passed this on to his descendants. Remember that people before the Flood lived almost 1000 years, and their intellect was much better than ours. No, they didn't have computers, but they didn't need them. They could have had quite advanced technology, as attested to bout "out-of-place artifacts," such as apparent batteries found deep under the current surface of the earth. The bottom line is that we don't know much about their society, but we should be slow to accept the evolutionary paradigm that the human population has advanced steadily in knowledge and understanding. I believe quite the opposite is true. It is impossible to estimate what was lost by the Flood. And then, more was lost by the intellectual lockdown of the "Dark Ages" when the Bible and truth was withheld from the people.

      It seems to me that, while we can't absolutely "prove" that the ancient patriarchs recognized the earth as spherical, but neither should we assume that they didn't.
      See also "Who Invented the Flat Earth?Who Invented the Flat Earth?"

      • Hi Jeanne:

        The language used in the bible and the dominate culture of the times in which the bible was produced indicates that a flat earth was the conceptual view of the earth. I have not problem with it. The inspiration doesn't move people out of their sphere of reality but works within it.

        As to Noah, we only know he floated for six months. Not really any indication he circumnavigated the globe.

        As to passing down knowledge: just looking at the myths that have developed over the millennia should tell us that truth gets corrupted. I don't see any suggestion that the nature of the earth was ever completely secured from time immortal.

        Again, it was the predominate view which means that most believed such, but it doesn't mean all believed such (as history does attest). I appreciate your reply.

      • Hi Inge:

        I am not sure either side can be proved or disproved with absolute confidence, so I am open to that. I just don't think the texts normally used in defense of the Bible being true that this lesson points out are good for defense for biblical accuracy. I think we should be fine with God working within the limited scope of knowledge bible prophets had at the time the inspiration was imparted. Yet, for the sake of argument, the "four corners" phrase means complete holding back and I would argue that it doesn't necessarily prove "flat earth thinking."

    • Kevin!--You've forced an oversize thinking cap on all of us! Anyway, I would just quietly suggest that the essence of all these "confusing texts" is planets apart from elongated discussions about "flat vs. spherical" etc. etc. etc.

      I Samuel 2:8 nicely summarizes this whole discussion for me and affirms my faith! It's the story of a childless woman who has, in answer to a direct pastoral prayer, and along with her husband, just presented her young son to the very pastor who had prayed that she could have a child.

      Her prayer is beyond lofty! And in it, one of our "problem texts" shows up in the last phrase of verse 8: "...for the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and he hath set the world upon them." KJV

      But in the New Living Translation it simply states: "For all the earth is the Lord's, and he has set the world in order."

      And so there it is. She is simply relishing the blessed thought that God is indeed in charge of all things on this planet. And using the language available to her.

      Might we do the same? All of the "questionable texts" in this week's lesson are easily answered by studying the earnest efforts of large teams of translators whose recent works (Bible translations) seek to grasp the original thought, rather than getting bogged down in figurative phrases that we, in science saturated 2020, like to reduce to scientific dictums.

      Try it! Just between the New Century Version and the New Living Translation, most all of the vexing flat-earth/spherical earth texts are most refreshingly presented, without each of us having to pretend to be science scholars.

      • Hello David!

        Very good to hear from you! I appreciate, as always, your astute insights. Yes, figurative language and translation is very much involved in our discussion (not to forget Hebrew phrases and words that have no clear interpretive character). As I have suggested elsewhere, similar to your view of not "becoming bogged down in figurative phrases," that the bible isn't addressing flat or non flat earth. It isn't trying to be scientific and to defend one way or another is really folly. Similar to trying to answer did Jesus enter the MHP or HP when He ascended to heaven out of the book of Hebrews. The book isn't written to answer that question and thus the answers really aren't there. But when we realize the book is comparing the earthly sanctuary, ministry and priesthood to the heavenly sanctuary, ministry and priesthood of Christ and that the former is met its fullness in Christ, we arrive at better answers, healthier discussions.

  2. Aristotle argued for a spherical earth using these reasons: 1) The gradual disappearance of ships over the horizon, 2)The shape of the curved shadow of the earth on the moon during eclipses, 3) The variation of a star’s elevation with latitude. The fact that one sees new stars as one moves north or south on the earth’s surface.

    The early Christian Church accepted Aristotle’s spherical earth. But a few malcontents with the monk Cosmas Indicopleustes, in his Christian Topography, described a square earth with a heavenly vault, much like an Egyptian model. Tertulian also was a flat-earther.

    It is my understanding that Hebrews were flat-earthers. A couple of bible verses that comes to mind include Joshua 10:12 which give specific geographic localities in which they stood still. Isaiah 40:22 says that God sits throned on the vaulted roof of the earth, whose inhabitants are like grasshoppers. The earth was considered essentially flat is clear from Daniel, who said, “I saw a tree of great height at the center of the earth; the tree grew and became strong, reaching with its top to the sky and visible to the earth’s farthest bounds – Daniel 4:10-11. Only a flat earth could see a tree reaching the sky (dome) from “the earth’s farthest bounds.”

    And in the New Testament the earth also implies a flat earth. Matthew 4:8 says “The devil took Him to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the work in their glory.: From a sufficiently high mountain, once could see all of the kingdoms of the world, but only if the earth were flat. Same applies in Revelation 7:1 that refers to “the four corners of the earth” and corners are not generally associated with spheres.

    And the purpose of this lesson is to point out “figurative language”. For those who have seen the movie “Men in Black” there a passage that is perfect for the question “What evidence would you find that the earth is flat or round. And the movie stated: 1,500 years ago everybody KNEW that the Earth was the center of the universe. 500 years ago, everybody KNEW that the Earth was flat. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.

    • Aristotle may have believed the earth to be round, but he also taught the earth to be the center of the universe. The church in the middle ages held to the same. 1 Chr 16:30; Ps 93:1, 104:5; 1 Sam 2:8; and Ps 19:4-6 proved it. Galileo was threatened with the stake for his views that the earth moves. He recanted but muttered "But it does move."

      The lessons have seemed to drift away from teaching how we may interpret the Bible for ourselves and more to reaffirming Adventist beliefs. Could we arrive at those beliefs in our own study? Perhaps we can't be trusted to do so.

      • Dana, I think lessons started with theory of interpretation and are now are on application, picking subjects where there on a lot of different views, some of which affect our trust in the Bible.
        Is it possible that there will come a time like Galileo when our life could be at stake because of our understanding of what the Bible teaches?

  3. Hmm! I have to admit that the statements I read about the earth's shape are more figures of speech than statements of scientific fact. I am actually quite amazed at the level of understanding of spherical geometry and its application to astronomy demonstrated by the Babylonians. The Greeks were the first to write down the idea in about the 5th Century BC although there is some evidence that they received the information from elsewhere. I suspect that the belief that the earth was flat was not as universally held as some would have us believe. Certainly, the round earth idea was not universally accepted, but it was known.

    Perhaps we should not try and make a scientific point from the references we find in the Bible today.

  4. Does it matter what the people in the Bible time believed? I don't believe it does.

    However what do people mean when they say the Bible taught that the earth is flat? What they are trying to prove is that the Bible is/was wrong.
    So address the actual question. The answer is - Actually the Bible doesn't directly address the issue.
    There are texts whose figurative statements seem to refer to the shape of the earth but are not definitive proof either way.

  5. I guess I don't understand the point of today's lesson. Exactly why is this important spiritually?

    • Secular people sometimes try to cast shade on the Bible by claiming that it teaches a flat earth and that it is not trustworthy. This lesson addresses that claim and shows that the claim is without foundation.

  6. I feel that I've studied the wrong lesson by the time I read the comments, which I do sometimes to get a better understanding. I accept the information by faith that the Holy Spirit has lead the writers to speak to us all on the subject that God would have us see and understand as we draw nearer to Christ's return. I guess it's all in one's perspective. Take your audience in consideration, there are those of us out here that believe in the plainness of God's word who look beyond the complications of the scientific's which get in the way of I love you Lord, help me to do your will. All the more reason to pray before studying the Word.

    • I understand some of your frustration at some of the issues brought to light in this discussion but bear in mind that the participants in this forum come from a wide range of backgrounds. And some of these issues are important to us.

      A little illustration. A friend and I went to hear a concert where the main piece was Beethoven's 3rd Piano Concerto. It was a magnificent performance and I thoroughly enjoyed it. My friend was a piano tuner and he said that the performance was spoiled because the C above middle C on the piano was a few "cents" flat. To him, every time that note was played, he flinched.

      The issue is that you cannot unlearn what you have learned - it is always there.

      I have a serious background in science BSc(Hons) and PhD. I cannot unlearn my scientific background, nor do I want to give up my faith in God. I have spent a lifetime resolving the perceived conflicts. I don't have all the answers either, but I share my journey here in the hope that it will encourage others who face similar conflicts in their lives.

      • I also appreciate your honesty as a scientist as you share, Maurice. I am not a trained scientist, but I have not lost my faith due to science, and leave what I can't know or understand in those categories of "wait and see." I have come to realize both sides have to have doses of faith to maintain their views within either science or Scripture.

  7. A simple reasoning to prove that the earth is round, is that if you depart from the Pacific Ocean and fly east to get to South America, and then continue that same direction to get back to the Pacific. Then that evidently proves that the earth is round.
    On the other hand if you never return then it can prove the earth is flat.
    I think pictures from the satellite have also shown that the earth is round.
    So, let's just believe the reality.

      • Mathematicians had a pretty good grasp of the roundness of the earth 500 years ago. The trouble would have been that they would have used formulas to prove it, and that reduces their understanding audience considerably.

  8. In past lessons, we studied about how biblical writers personal experiences had impact in the way they expressed the revelations God gave them. It is possible that several verses quoted above had been limited by their finite minds.
    God bless you all. I appreciate your interest in the word of God.
    I love you so much.

  9. Does it matter that the earth is flat, round, spherical or square? One thing we know for sure and securely believe, is that Jesus walked here, lived and died and rose again the third day; ascended from here and is coming Back here to claim those who accepted His sacrifice for their sins. This we believe!

    • I too rejoice in the fact that Jesus thought that people were so important that he lived and died here and is coming back. But I also live in a real-world where we are commissioned to preach the Gospel to all. That is where we need to consider how others think and develop their world view. I have to interact with people that have misconceptions about what Christians believe and in that context, knowing what they believe and why they believe it is important. I will grant that the flat-earth is a bit of a tangent in this lesson but I can think of plenty of examples of misperceptions that color the thinking of unchurched folk that we need to meet.

    • I am with you on this as it seems the point of Scripture is more about God saving man from himself than what dimension the earth is formed in. Thanks for this thought.


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