flat earth

There is a widely known criticism that the Bible teaches a flat earth and that Christians in the past used to all believe in a flat earth, bullying any poor rebellious scientist or explorer the argued otherwise. It is a very prominent accusation leveled against Bible believing Christians with some very reputable figures behind it. Robert J. Schadewald, former president of the National Center for Science Education, claims that many of the early church fathers were flat-earthers.[1] Massimo Pigliucci, chair of the Department of Philosophy at CUNY-Lehman College, claims that for most of western history Christians believed in a flat-earth.[2]  Famous medical officer and historian Charles Singer writes, “The sphericity of the earth was, in fact, formally denied by the Church, and the mind of Western man, so far as it moved in this matter at all, moved back to the old confused notion of a modulated ‘flatland’, with the kingdoms of the world surrounding Jerusalem, the divinely chosen centre of the terrestrial disk.”[3]

I’m sure you are, like myself, reminded of the story of Columbus, in which our history textbooks taught us in elementary school and onward that Columbus was the one who discovered the earth was round and that he had to convince his superiors that he would not sail off the edge of the world in order to get funding for his expedition. But Columbus lived in the 15th century, so that must mean that prior to the 15th century everyone (including the authors of the Bible from the first century and earlier) thought the earth was flat too, right?

Naturally, pictures like this come to mind when thinking of Columbus and declaration that the earth was round.

Naturally, pictures like this come to mind when thinking of Columbus and his declaration that the earth was round.

So I began to research the issue myself and found that the vast majority of Christians maintained the same views, but a few were divided on the issue. There are Christians that do believe in a round earth and do not believe the Bible teaches a flat earth. But there are also Christians who maintain that, yes the earth is round, but agree that the Bible teaches the earth is flat.[4] Worse, there are Christians that do not believe in a round earth, but do believe the Bible teaches a flat earth. They are known as the Flat Earth Society, www.flatearthsociety.org. So to find clarity on the subject I researched the history of the flat earth myth as well as what the Bible actually says about the subject. Here are my findings:

Is the Earth Flat?

No, the earth is not flat, obviously. It is round and spherical, with a slight bulge at the equator due to the earth’s rapid rotation.[5] So then the question naturally follows; where and when did the flat earth myth originate?

History of the Flat Earth Myth:

When we look back at history it is easy to speculate that people thought the earth was flat, since it obviously appears to be flat and they did not have the ability to fly at high altitudes or travel into space to see earth’s curve. However, such speculation is shallow and inaccurate. Some ancient civilizations actually did understand the earth to be curved, especially those civilizations that were sea faring nations. After all, their boats and ships were traveling over the horizon and not falling off the edge of the earth. Additionally, the curve of the earth could be seen in that when ships appeared on the horizon, their mast would appear first, then the hull. Likewise, from the sailors perspectives, the tops of mountains would appear on the horizon before the shores did, evidence of the earth being curved.

Outside of how objects appeared on the horizon, there were other inclinations to the ancient Greeks that the earth was round. For example, during a lunar eclipse the earth casts a circular shadow on the moon as it slips into the shadow regardless of the earth’s orientation. This would only be possible if the earth was round.[6]

The first documented claim that the Earth was round came from Pythagoras in the sixth century BC.[7] Aristotle (384-322 BC) reasoned the earth was round.[8] As did Euclid, Aristarchs, Crates, Strabo, Ptolemy, and so on and so forth.[9]  Eratosthenes (276-196 BC), director of the great Library in Alexandria, Egypt, actually calculated the circumference of the earth! One day he read that in the Egyptian town of Syene the sun cast no shadows on vertical objects every year on June 21, meaning the sun was directly overhead. So naturally on June 21 Erathosthenes placed vertical sticks in the ground to see if the same results would happen in Alexandria. But in Alexandria, the sticks did cast a shadow. He figured the shadows must be due to the curve of the earth, so he measured the degree of divergence from the shadows on the ground to the sticks, which was about seven degrees. He then hired a man to pace out the distance from Syene to Alexandria, which came out to 800km. Since seven degrees is roughly 1/50 of the circumference of a circle, all one must do is multiply 50 x 800 and you get 40,000 km for the circumference of earth.[10] The current estimate of earth’s circumference is 40,075 km at its widest, and an average circumference of 40,041km.[11] It is remarkable how close Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the earth in the 3rd century BC with basic geometry.

According to physicist and cosmologist Dr. John Hartnett, “There is a common myth that ancient peoples thought the earth was flat. Some may have thought so, but most others certainly did not.”[12]

You may be thinking to yourself, well that is ancient Greece and Rome, but when Christianity came around in the first century everything changed, right? Wrong. When considering Christian early church fathers and theologians, only two within the entire history of early Christian theology can be accused of believing in a flat earth: Lactantius of the 4th century (200+ years after the origin of Christianity), and a 6th century Egyptian monk named Cosmas Indicopleustes (400+ years after the origin of Christianity).[13] Both men’s writings were almost completely ignored by the church, their writings having very little to no impact in medieval scholarship.[14] It should also be noted that Cosmas’ writings, being from Egypt, were not in Latin. His writings were not translated into Latin until 1706,[15] so no one in Europe would have been influenced by his writings until 1706.

In the 7th century lived Venerable Behe, an English monk known for his scholarly work in history, theology and science. More importantly, Behe considered the earth a spherical orb.[16] Saint Hildegard (1098-1179), Roger Bacon (1220-1292), Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), John Buriden (1301-1358) and Nicholas Oresme (1320- 1382) all maintained a round earth.[17] University of California Santa Barbara emeritus professor of history, Jeffrey Burton Russell, writes, “A few–at least two and at most five–early Christian fathers denied the sphericity of earth by mistakenly taking passages such as Ps. 104:2-3 as geographical rather than metaphorical statements. On the other side tens of thousands of Christian theologians, poets, artists, and scientists took the spherical view throughout the early, medieval, and modern church. The point is that no educated person believed otherwise.”[18]

This image comes from Saint Hildegard’s Liber Divinorum Operum from the 12th century, showing the four seasons on a curved earth.

This image comes from Saint Hildegard’s Liber Divinorum Operum from the 12th century, showing the four seasons on a curved earth.

13th century scholar and astronomer Johannes de Sacrobosco wrote, “If the earth were flat from east to west, the stars would rise as soon for Westerners as for Orientals, which is false.”[19] Clearly there was no widespread notion of a flat earth among scholars. As world renowned paleontologist and science historian Stephen Jay Gould writes, “There never was a period of ‘flat earth darkness’ among scholars (regardless of how many uneducated people may have conceptualized our planet both then and now). Greek knowledge of sphericity never faded, and all major medieval scholars accepted the earth’s roundness as an established fact of cosmology.”[20]

The following image appears comes from Johannes de Sacrobosco’s Tractatus de Sphaera (On the Sphere of the World) written in 1230 AD. It showcases the knowledge that the appearance of ships on the horizon testified to a curved earth.

The following image comes from Johannes de Sacrobosco’s Tractatus de Sphaera (On the Sphere of the World) written in 1230 AD. It showcases the knowledge that the appearance of ships on the horizon testified to a curved earth.

Furthermore, the claim that 15th century explorer Christopher Columbus was the first to discover that the world was round is, and by now you should agree, false. Also false, is the claim that Columbus’ expedition was opposed because the royal authorities thought he was going to sail off the edge of the planet. Columbus’ expedition was actually opposed because it was widely known that the earth was round, but more importantly it was known how large the earth was (remember the works of Eratosthenes). What wasn’t known was the existence of North and South America. So it was assumed that traveling west from Europe to India would mean traversing one large super ocean, and thus, be too far of a journey. In other words, Columbus’ voyage was opposed because no one thought he could logistically make it across such a vastly massive ocean. As Samuel Morrison, a renowned maritime historian, wrote on the subject, “The sphericity of the globe was not in question. The issue was the width of the ocean.”[21] Gould agrees, “As a major critique, they argued that Columbus could not reach the Indies in his own allotted time, because the earth’s circumference was too great.”[22]

Even NASA’s website, in explaining the curvature of earth’s surface, makes reference to the claim that Columbus’ expedition being opposed due to belief in the earth being flat is a false notion.[23]  Additionally, Columbus was a Bible believing man.[24] So surely there would be some conflict between his faith and his knowledge of the earth being round, if the Bible taught such. There, however, was no such conflict, because the Bible does not teach a flat earth. So where did this historically-incorrect myth come from? It can be sourced back to 19th century American writer Washington Irving, who concocted the flat earth claims in his 1828 biography about Columbus called,  History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus.[25] This biography has since, in more modern times, been highly criticized for its false claims.

 

Russell writes, “It was he [Irving] who invented the indelible picture of the young Columbus, a ‘simple mariner,’ appearing before a dark crowd of benighted inquisitors and hooded theologians at a council of Salamanca, all of whom believed, according to Irving, that the earth was flat like a plate. Well, yes, there was a meeting at Salamanca in 1491, but Irving’s version of it, to quote a distinguished modern historian of Columbus, was ‘pure moonshine. Washington Irving, scenting his opportunity for a picturesque and moving scene,’ created a fictitious account of this ‘nonexistent university council’ and ‘let his imagination go completely…the whole story is misleading and mischievous nonsense.’”[26]

This picture is taken from the 16th century astronomy textbook, On the Sphere of the World.

This picture is taken from the 16th century astronomy textbook, On the Sphere of the World.

So we’re up to the 15th century and still there is no case for Christianity propagating a flat-earth cosmology. There is hardly any mention of it anywhere in history at this time. Moving onto the 17th century, there is still no history of flat earth claims and Christianity. There is however historical record that Jesuit missionaries introduced the round earth cosmology to Ming China, which was still at that time under the impression earth was flat. That is, Christian missionaries introducing the round earth to other parts of the world, which doesn’t sound like the works of a religion that believes in a flat earth. Moving onto the 18th century, the age of Enlightenment, where there was popular skeptical inquiry of religion from all of academia. Yet no where during this time do we see Christianity criticized for flat-earth cosmology.[27] Not one word from Franklin, Condillac, Condorcet, Diberot, Gibbon, or Hume about a flat earth? It seems rather odd that these men would not have used such a fallacy as ammunition against Christianity. That is, unless, there was no grounds for making such a claim.

Russell writes, “In my research, I looked to see how old the idea was that medieval Christians believed the earth was flat. I obviously did not find it among medieval Christians. Nor among anti-Catholic Protestant reformers. Nor in Copernicus or Galileo or their followers, who had to demonstrate the superiority of a heliocentric system, but not of a spherical earth. I was sure I would find it among the eighteenth-century philosophes [sic], among all their vitriolic sneers at Christianity, but not a word. I am still amazed at where it first appears.”[28]

So where did it first appear? Claims that Christianity maintained a flat earth mentality did not appear until the 19th century, which alone should raise some scepticism being 1,800 years after the origin of the religion. Irwing’s Columbus biography, though the beginning of published flat-earth claims against Christianity, did not take hold until the time ofAntoine-Jean Letronne (1787-1848), who was an academic with anti-religious prejudices that were evident in his 1834 book On the Cosmographical Ideas of the Church Fathers.[29] This was subsequently followed by William Whewell’s 1837 book History of the Inductive Sciences, in which Whewell points out Lactantius and Cosmas to prove that the entire medieval period adopted a flat-earth cosmology, ignoring the overwhelming majority of other Christians that did not maintain a flat-earth cosmology.[30]

 

Also during the 19th century, Darwin’s Evolution theory began to take shape, which naturally met opposition from Christians. And so it was claimed that religion and science were at odds with one another. At least, that is what was declared by John Draper’s 1874 book The History of Conflict Between Religion and Science, and Andrew Dickson White’s 1896 book, A History of Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. In both books gross exaggerations are made of Christians, including the claim that Christianity is a flat earth believing religion. Unfortunately these claims have persisted today in academia, despite modern academia’s criticism of both books for their false dichotomization of western history as a war between science and religion.[31]

Russell writes,The reason for promoting both the specific lie about the sphericity of the earth and the general lie that religion and science are in natural and eternal conflict in Western society, is to defend Darwinism. The answer is really only slightly more complicated than that bald statement. The flat-earth lie was ammunition against the creationists. The argument was simple and powerful, if not elegant: ‘Look how stupid these Christians are. They are always getting in the way of science and progress. These people who deny evolution today are exactly the same sort of people as those idiots who for at least a thousand years denied that the earth was round. How stupid can you get?’ But that is not the truth.”[32]

Biologist, chemist, and geologist Dr. Jerry Bergman writes, “This history clearly supports, not a war of religion against science, but instead a war of evolutionary propagandists against religion.”[33] Gould writes, “I would not be agitated by these errors if they led only to an inadequate view of the past without practical consequences for our modern world. But the myth of a war between science and religion remains all too current, and continues to impede a proper bonding and conciliation between these two utterly different and powerfully important institutions to human life.”[34]

If one searches the history books for flat-earth believing Christians they might be put off at the miniscule amount that can be unearthed. If it is so transparent that the Bible taught a flat-earth, then why would the overwhelming majority of Christians in the entire history of Christianity NOT believe in a flat earth? The most reasonable and obvious answer is that the Bible does not teach that the earth is flat.

Oh, how I wish that was the end of the story for the flat earth. But it is not. In the late 19th century John Dowie began a campaign in the little town of Zion, Illinois to propagate the theology of a flat-earth. After he died in 1906, Wilbur Voliva took over as the organizations leader until he, himself, died in 1942. It is noteworthy that the movement was very unsuccessful in converting most of the Zion residents to their flat earth dogma, and after the death of Voliva, the movement died.[35]  They were, however, not the only flat earth organization.

Another flat earth organization is the one founded by Charles K. Johnson of LancasterCalifornia, who died in 2001. The organization is known as the Flat Earth Society of America. Again, like that of Zion’s small organization, they never had more than 100 members.[36] Johnson also went onto to claim that the sun was as far from earth as San Francisco is from Boston and that the sun and moon were both the same size, about 51 km in diameter.[37]

The Flat Earth Society today is led by Daniel Shelton, who oddly enough believes in evolution and global warming, but not in a round earth…[38] This is troubling for those who claim that creationists believe in a flat earth (aside from the fact that creationists don’t make this claim), since Shelton believes in evolution, something creationists do not adhere to. So out of the few remaining flat-earth believers, we see a belief in evolution. Both are theories that creationists do not adhere to. With all this considered, it can be concluded that claiming creationists preach a flat earth is incredibly false. However, as troubling as it might be to know that there are Christians that still maintain that the earth is flat, it is worth while to note that Shelton’s following is only in the hundreds, maybe a thousand.[39] While the rest of the Christian population in America totals 228 million as of 2008.[40] A thousand flat-earthers versus over two hundred million Christians that don’t believe in a flat earth (not counting the billion other Christians worldwide) should be enough to convince skeptics and critics, that a flat-earth cosmology is not a part of Christianity.

Lastly, before I end this segment on the sad history of the flat earth myth, I think it would be appropriate to share one humorous quote from Shelton: “I haven’t taken this position just to be difficult… To look around, the world does appear to be flat, so I think it is incumbent on others to prove decisively that it isn’t. And I don’t think that burden of proof has been met yet.”[41] That is, the work of countless astrophysicists, cosmologists, and other bright minds amidst rigorous scientific disciplines for the last 100 years in combination with the countless photos of earth from space, have yet to provide Shelton with sufficient proof. It is humorous to say the least. But it is even more laughable when people try to project this dogma onto Christianity as a whole.

What The Bible Doesn’t Say:

So we can agree that the flat earth myth isn’t rooted in Christianity. Yet, still, those that maintain a flat earth in modern times are almost solely Christian. Clearly there is a connection, and that has lead many to thumb through the Bible and point out the many verses that seem to suggest the earth is flat. After all, even if Christians have historically not believed in a flat earth, if the Bible teaches a flat earth and the Bible is supposed to be the inherent word of God, then we have a serious problem, don’t we? How can the Bible be the word of an all-knowing God if it describes the earth as flat?

Schadewald points out the versus he believes testifies to a flat earth, “Disregarding the dome, the essential flatness of the earth’s surface is required by verses like Daniel 4:10-11. In Daniel, the king ‘saw a tree of great height at the centre of the earth…reaching with its top to the sky and visible to the earth’s farthest bounds.’ If the earth were flat, a sufficiently tall tree would be visible to ‘the earth’s farthest bounds,” but this is impossible on a spherical earth. Likewise, in describing the temptation of Jesus by Satan, Matthew 4:8 says, ‘Once again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world [cosmos] in their glory.’ Obviously, this would be possible only if the earth were flat. The same is true of Revelation 1:7: ‘Behold, he is coming with the clouds! Every eye shall see him…’”[42]

The following verses (all NIV) are used to support the claim that the Bible teaches a flat earth:

 

Job 37:3- “He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven and sends it to the ends of the earth.”

Job 38:13- “…that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?”

Psalm 104:2-3- “He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind.”

Daniel 4:11 – “The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth.”

Matthew 4:8 – “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.”

Revelation 1:7 – “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.”

Revelation 7:1 – “After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree.”

At first glance, yes, these verses seem to convey a flat four cornered earth. But as with all situations involving quoting the Bible one should always take into consideration context and use of language, and never isolate verses by themselves to pass judgment on them. Alone and out of context, a verse can mean whatever you want it to. So with that said, here is an explanation for these verses.

“He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven and sends it to the ends of the earth.” (Job 37:3): This verse, and others like it that refer to the “ends” or “edges” of earth, are commonly brought up as evidence of a flat earth since a round earth obviously does not have edges or ends. In the case of this verse, and others like it in the Old Testament, the Hebrew word used is “nk”[43] which is translated into, “ends” or “extremities” meaning lands far away. Which in proper context would denote a meaning of lighting striking all over earth, even in the remote far away regions. According to prominent apologist James Patrick Holding “… Job 37:3 hardly requires a flat-earth reading — it merely states that lightning occurs all over the earth. Even if it did teach a flat-earth reading, it would prove only that Elihu believed such a thing — not everything reported in the Bible is endorsed in the Bible.”[44] Holding makes a point to bring up that Elihu was speaking when this was said, and as is commonly pointed out, Job’s friends (one of which is Elihu) came to confide him with theology which proved to be inaccurate. So even if this verse is taken as the earth being flat (which it should not), it would then only be chalked up to the inaccurate theology of Elihu.

“…that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?” (Job 38:13): Theologian Paul H. Seely, who believes the Bible DOES teach a flat earth, argues, “In a clearly cosmological context, not just local, this verse speaks of dawn grasping the earth by its ‘extremity or hem’ …and shaking the wicked out of it. The verse is comparing the earth to a blanket or garment picked up at one end and shaken. A globe is not really comparable to a blanket or garment in this way. You cannot pick up a globe at one end. It does not even have an end.”[45]

However, Holding argues that the verse is being taken out of context, and when the previous verse (12) is taken into consideration the context can be clarified, “Are the wicked literally ‘shaken’ by the sunrise? Is the bringing of dawn accompanied by the sight of nighttime burglars rolling through the dusty streets of villages like tumbleweeds? Clearly this verse refers to no more than the visible horizon that the dawn ‘grasps’ as the sun rises. It is phenomenological and poetic in every sense of its expression.”[46] Holding’s argument is on point. If we are to take the description of the earth having edges literally, then one must also take the rest of the verse literal, which would necessitate wicked people being shaken from a flat earth after the sun somehow grabs a hold of its edges to shake it. Though no one would honestly believe the author meant this.

Methodist bible scholar and theologian Adam Clarke takes a different approach: “That the wicked might be shaken out of it? – The meaning appears to be this: as soon as the light begins to dawn upon the earth, thieves, assassins, murderers, and adulterers, who all hate and shun the light, fly like ferocious beasts to their several dens and hiding places; for such do not dare to come to the light, lest their works be manifest, which are not wrought in God.”[47] Thus again, we see a more proper use of this verse is that of a poetic and metaphorical nature, not literal.

 “He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind.” (Psalm 104:2-3): Anyone who has read Psalms knows it is a book of symbolic poetry. Beams of chambers on waters, wind with wings, wrapped with light as a garment; all metaphors one would expect in poetic writings, not literal descriptions.

“The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth.” (Daniel 4:11): This verse provides probably the most imperative lesson on context. That is, if one were to actually read all of Daniel 4 they would see that this verse is describing a vision, a King’s dream. Do the fantastic details of YOUR dreams constitute literal reality? Of course not. So we should not therefore penalize the Bible for containing the description of a King’s fantastic dream. Furthermore, the King was not a Jew, but a pagan. According to Holding, “The Daniel passage is actually a statement by a pagan king, which doesn’t mean that the Bible endorses that view. And it is a vision, and is therefore not intended to be a picture of reality…”[48]

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.” (Matthew 4:8): How could Jesus see the all the Kingdoms of the world from a high mountain unless the world was flat? Theologian Albert Barnes explains, “It is not probable that anything more is intended here than the kingdoms of Palestine, or of the land of Canaan, and those in the immediate vicinity. Judea was divided into three parts, and those parts were called kingdoms; and the sons of Herod, who presided over them, were called kings. The term ‘world’ is often used in this limited sense to denote a part or a large part of the world, particularly the land of Canaan. See Romans 4:13, where it means the land of Judah; also Luke 2:1, and the note on the place.”[49]

Expositor John Gill takes another approach, pointing out the supernatural aspects of Satan’s visit to Jesus, “Now the view which Satan gave Christ of all this, was not by a representation of them in a picture, or in a map, or in any geographical tables, as some have thought; since to do this there was no need to take him up into a mountain, and that an exceeding high one; for this might have been done in a valley, as well as in a mountain: and yet it could not be a true and real sight of these things he gave him; for there is no mountain in the world, from whence can be beheld anyone kingdom, much less all the kingdoms of the world; and still less the riches, glory, pomp, and power of them: but this was a fictitious, delusive representation, which Satan was permitted to make; to cover which, and that it might be thought to be real, he took Christ into an high mountain; where he proposed an object externally to his sight, and internally to his imagination, which represented, in appearance, the whole world, and all its glory.”[50]

So we have two different possibilities, one in which Jesus is literally taken to a mountain top to see the regions of Canaan which was commonly referred to as the kingdoms of the “world.” The other possibility being a supernatural apparition from Satan which corresponds to their instantaneous arrival to a mountain top, which is only possible via the supernatural. Besides, even if the earth was flat, you still couldn’t see all the kingdoms of the world on the simple premise of atmospheric haze preventing visibility to far off lands. Something any ancient man standing on a hill or mountain top would be aware of. That is, visibility is not infinite and cannot go as far as one may physically travel.

“Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.” (Revelation 1:7): Here is another verse being taken far from context. The book of Revelation is a book of prophecy for the end times and the second return of Christ. Thus there are a few ways that this verse can be understood. The one popular explanation is that the return of Jesus will be widely publicized on television, internet, etc. It is today, in this modern time, very possible for “every eye” to see Jesus. The other, more agreed upon, explanation is related to the Day of Judgment in Revelation 20 when God judges the entire earth, and thus “every eye” would see Jesus sitting to the right of God’s throne, clothed in the clouds, a common symbol for majesty and glory. Obviously, Jesus’ second return will have supernatural implications, and thus it may be very possible for Jesus to appear to every individual at a supernatural level when He returns. Just as it is possible for God to be anywhere and everywhere at once since He is not bound by our natural dimensions, likewise Jesus would not be either, and it would therefore be possible for everyone to see Him at once.

One can go still further to say that even if the earth was flat, Jesus appearing in a cloud in the sky would still not make it possible for everyone to see him considering the horizontal distance of the known land. Even the ancients were well aware of the vast size of the earth regardless of whether the earth was flat or round. A vision in the skies in one area would hardly be visible at all a thousand miles away. It is therefore more appropriate to understand this verse in a supernatural sense.

“After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree.” Revelation (7:1): This verse seems to suggest a flat rectangular earth with four corners. The four corners are not in relation to corners on a flat surface, but are in fact reference to the four points on a compass.[51] This is supported by Ezekiel’s similar reference to the four corners of Israel (Ezekiel 7:2). Gill agrees, “Four angels are mentioned, in allusion to the four spirits of the heavens, in Zec 6:5; and though the earth is not a plain square with angels, but round and globular, yet it is said to have four corners, with respect to the four points of the heavens; and though there is but one wind, which blows sometimes one way, and sometimes another, yet four are named with regard to the above points, east, west, north, and south, from whence it blows.”[52]

At that, it is clear to see that the charges of flat-earth cosmology leveled against the Bible can hardly stand in the face of critical analysis of the text. The Bible doesn’t speak of a flat earth. But then why do modern flat earthers tend to be Christians? A key consideration is that people who believe in a flat earth draw their conclusions from their own visual experience regardless of whether they’re Christian or not. Those who are Christian however, will come across particular verses, like those mentioned above, and fit them into their pre-conceived opinion of the earth being flat. Others are roped into it by the teachings of their pastors. Either way, they are, unfortunately, all the more brazen about it since they feel justified in their beliefs since (in their opinion) the word of God agrees with them, and are much less likely to change this opinion on the earth since such a change could be perceived as compromising on God’s word. This is the reason why the few remaining flat earthers tend to be Christian.

What the Bible Does Say:

So if the Bible doesn’t preach a flat earth, does it preach a round earth? Some would argue that it does:

Isaiah 40:22- “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.”

Now granted, in context, this language is metaphorical. So then what is meant by the “circle” of earth? It could be a genuine remark at the sphericity of earth, since the word used for circle; “chud,” refers to a circular, spherical or round object according to Barnes.[53] Gill writes, “It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth,…. Or, ‘the globe’ of it; for the earth is spherical or globular: not a flat plain, but round, hung as a ball in the air; here Jehovah sits as the Lord and Sovereign; being the Maker of it, he is above it, orders and directs its motion, and governs all things in it.”[54]

Seely disagrees, arguing that if Isaiah wanted to describe the earth as a sphere he would have used the word “dur” which means “ball.”[55] The counter argument, however, is that dur can have multiple meanings as well. Case in point: Dur is used in Isaiah 29:3 to describe camping around a city to lay siege to it. In this context, dur must be used in accordance with encircling or rounding around the city, since one cannot obviously camp spherically over a city, at least not in ancient times. Therefore one cannot argue that Isaiah would have used “dur” if he wanted to convey a sphere, since it too has multiple meanings. So it remains possible that Isaiah was referring to earth as a spherical object.

The last reference I would like to make that the Bible supports a round earth is a deduction from the following verses:

Job 26:10- “He marks out the horizon on the face of the waters for a boundary between light and darkness.”

Luke 17:31-34- “On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left.”

Matthew 24:47- “For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

After reading those verses we can establish from Job that as one side of the earth is in daylight, the other is in night, from Luke that when Jesus returns some will be in bed while others will be working out in the field, and from Matthew that Jesus’ return will be in an  instant, like a flash of lightening.  The implications are this; that the sudden instance Jesus returns there will be people in bed at night and others out in the field working during the day. This could only be possible if earth was spherical with people experiencing daylight while others experienced night.

Thus, between Isaiah 40:22 and a deduction from Matthew 24:47, Luke 17:31-34 and Job 26:10, one could assert that with some confidence that the Bible speaks of a round spherical earth.

Final Thoughts:

It is my hope that after reading this you can agree that Christianity has never been one that maintains a flat earth cosmology and that the Bible does not teach a flat earth. Unfortunately, this myth has spread like an infectious disease, being gladly accepted by those with a predetermined dislike for Christianity and religion in general. Dr. Danny Faulkner, Chair of the math and Science Dept and Professor of Astronomy and Physics at the University of South Carolina, declares, “Many critics of creationists attempt to malign by suggesting that what creationists teach is akin to belief in a flat Earth. This attack is easy to refute, because the Bible does not teach that the Earth is flat, and virtually no one in the history of the church taught this. In fact, the belief in a flat Earth is a 19th century myth that was concocted to discredit critics of Darwinism. The supposed lesson of this myth was that the Church got it wrong before, so the Church has a chance to redeem itself by getting it right on the issue of evolution. This false lesson has been indelibly impressed upon common perception.”[56]

Bergman writes, “The idea that Christians once commonly believed in a flat earth for theological reasons is a myth. The story was invented to promote the claim that Christians have widely resisted scientific advancement due to doctrinal constraints.”[57]

Unfortunately, historically and scripturally inaccurate portrayals of Christianity (or in this case Intelligent Design, which is not affiliated with any religion) remain today.

Unfortunately, historically and scripturally inaccurate portrayals of Christianity (or in this case Intelligent Design, which is not affiliated with any religion) remain today.

Russell writes, “Contortions that are common today, if not widely recognized, are produced by the incessant attacks on Christianity and religion in general by secular writers during the past century and a half, attacks that are largely responsible for the academic and journalistic sneers at Christianity today. A curious example of this mistreatment of the past for the purpose of slandering Christians is a widespread historical error, an error that the Historical Society of Britain some years back listed as number one in its short compendium of the ten most common historical illusions. It is the notion that people used to believe that the earth was flat–especially medieval Christians. It must first be reiterated that with extraordinary few exceptions no educated person in the history of Western Civilization from the third century B.C. onward believed that the earth was flat.”[58]

 flat earth t shirt

With that I’m left with the image of a thought provoking T-shirt from an anti-religious T-shirt brand. The T-shirt shows a flat earth and reads, “Teach the Controversy.” I completely agree! Even though the T-shirt is obviously under the influence of the false notion that Christianity teaches a flat earth. I say, let us indeed teach the controversy. The controversy that Christians never maintained a flat earth cosmology which was unfairly smeared on them by a handful of biased historians in an effort to propagate an unnecessary and unwarranted war between science and religion. Let us all become properly educated on the controversy and put an end to this ignorance of religion and history which blemishes our culture.


[1] Schadewald, R., (Winter 1981) “Scientific Creationism, egocentricity, and the flat earth,” Skeptical Inquirer, Pp. 44

[2] Pigliucci, M., (2002) Denying Evolution; Creationism, Scientism and the Nature of Science, (Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates) pp. 38.

[3] Singer, C., (1917) Studies in the History and Method of Science, (Oxford: Clarendon Press) pp. 352

[4] Seely, P.H. (1997) “The geographical meaning of ‘Earth’ and ‘Seas’ in Genesis 1:10,” Westminster Theological Journal 59(2): pp. 231-256.

[5] Cain, F., (September 2009) “Earth’s Circumference,” http://www.universetoday.com

[6] Williams, A. & Hartnett, J., (2005) Dismantling the Big Bang, (Green Forest, AR: Master Books) pp. 24.

[7] Russell, J.B. (August 4, 1997) “The Myth of the Flat Earth,” http://www.veritas-ucsb.org

[8] Williams, A. & Hartnett, J., (2005) Dismantling the Big Bang, (Green Forest, AR: Master Books) pp. 23-24.

[9] Russell, J.B. (August 4, 1997) “The Myth of the Flat Earth,” http://www.veritas-ucsb.org

[10] Sagan, C., (1980) Cosmos, (London:MacDonald & Co.) pp.14-15.

[11] Cain, F., (September 2009) “Earth’s Circumference,” http://www.universetoday.com

[12] Williams, A. & Hartnett, J., (2005) Dismantling the Big Bang, (Green Forest, AR: Master Books) pp. 23.

[13] Bergman, J., (August 2008) “The Flat-Earth Myth and Creationism,” Journal of Creation, 22(2) pp. 116.

[14] Gould, S.J., “The Late Birth of a Flat Earth,” pp. 3, which can be accessed here: http://www.inf.fu-berlin.de/lehre/SS05/efs/materials/FlatEarth.pdf

[15] Gould, S.J., “The Late Birth of a Flat Earth,” pp. 3, which can be accessed here: http://www.inf.fu-berlin.de/lehre/SS05/efs/materials/FlatEarth.pdf

[16] Gould, S.J., “The Late Birth of a Flat Earth,” pp. 1, which can be accessed here: http://www.inf.fu-berlin.de/lehre/SS05/efs/materials/FlatEarth.pdf

[17] Gould, S.J., “The Late Birth of a Flat Earth,” pp. 3, which can be accessed here: http://www.inf.fu-berlin.de/lehre/SS05/efs/materials/FlatEarth.pdf

[18] Russell, J.B. (August 4, 1997) “The Myth of the Flat Earth,” http://www.veritas-ucsb.org

[19] As quoted in Robert Kulwich’s “What Columbus Already Knew,” (Oct 2010) http://www.npr.org

[20] Gould, S.J., “The Late Birth of a Flat Earth,” pp. 2, which can be accessed here: http://www.inf.fu-berlin.de/lehre/SS05/efs/materials/FlatEarth.pdf

[21] Morrison, S.E. (1942) Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus, (Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co.) pp. 89.

[22] Gould, S.J., “The Late Birth of a Flat Earth,” pp. 2, which can be accessed here: http://www.inf.fu-berlin.de/lehre/SS05/efs/materials/FlatEarth.pdf

[23] www-spof.gsfc.nasa.gov/stargaze/Scolumb.htm

[24] Lang, J.S. (1999) 1,001 Things You Always Wanted to Know About the Bible but Never Thought to Ask, (New York, NY: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) pp. 19.

[25] Bergman, J., (August 2008) “The Flat-Earth Myth and Creationism,” Journal of Creation, 22(2) pp. 117.

[26] Russell, J.B. (August 4, 1997) “The Myth of the Flat Earth,” http://www.veritas-ucsb.org

[27] Gould, S.J., “The Late Birth of a Flat Earth,” pp. 3, which can be accessed here: http://www.inf.fu-berlin.de/lehre/SS05/efs/materials/FlatEarth.pdf

[28] Russell, J.B. (August 4, 1997) “The Myth of the Flat Earth,” http://www.veritas-ucsb.org

[29] Russell, J.B. (August 4, 1997) “The Myth of the Flat Earth,” http://www.veritas-ucsb.org

[30] Gould, S.J., “The Late Birth of a Flat Earth,” pp. 3, which can be accessed here: http://www.inf.fu-berlin.de/lehre/SS05/efs/materials/FlatEarth.pdf

[31] Gould, S.J., “The Late Birth of a Flat Earth,” pp. 5, which can be accessed here: http://www.inf.fu-berlin.de/lehre/SS05/efs/materials/FlatEarth.pdf

[32] Russell, J.B. (August 4, 1997) “The Myth of the Flat Earth,” http://www.veritas-ucsb.org

[33] Bergman, J., (August 2008) “The Flat-Earth Myth and Creationism,” Journal of Creation, 22(2) pp. 120.

[34] Gould, S.J., “The Late Birth of a Flat Earth,” pp. 5, which can be accessed here: http://www.inf.fu-berlin.de/lehre/SS05/efs/materials/FlatEarth.pdf

[35] Bergman, J., (August 2008) “The Flat-Earth Myth and Creationism,” Journal of Creation, 22(2) pp. 115.

[36] Bergman, J., (August 2008) “The Flat-Earth Myth and Creationism,” Journal of Creation, 22(2) pp. 116.

[37] Bergman, J., (August 2008) “The Flat-Earth Myth and Creationism,” Journal of Creation, 22(2) pp. 116.

[38] Wolchover, N., (June 2011) “Ingenious ‘Flat Earth’ Revealed in Old Map,” http://www.livescience.com

[39] Wolchover, N., (June 2011) “Ingenious ‘Flat Earth’ Revealed in Old Map,” http://www.livescience.com

[40] This is according to the 2012 Census, Table 75, which can be accessed here: http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0075.pdf

[41] Wolchover, N., (June 2011) “Ingenious ‘Flat Earth’ Revealed in Old Map,” http://www.livescience.com

[42] Schadewald, R.J. (1995) “The Flat-Earth Bible,” http://www.lhup.edu

[44] Holding, J.P. (December 2000) “Is the ‘Erets (Earth) Flat?” http://www.answersingenesis.org

[45] Seely, P.H. (1997) “The geographical meaning of ‘Earth’ and ‘Seas’ in Genesis 1:10,” Westminster Theological Journal 59(2): pp. 239.

[46] Holding, J.P. (December 2000) “Is the ‘Erets (Earth) Flat?” http://www.answersingenesis.org

[47] Clarke’s commentary can be accessed here: http://bible.cc/job/38-13.htm

[48] Holding, J.P. (December 2000) “Is the ‘Erets (Earth) Flat?” http://www.answersingenesis.org

[49] Barnes’ Notes can be accessed here: http://bible.cc/matthew/4-8.htm

[50] Gill’s Exposition can be accessed here: http://bible.cc/matthew/4-8.htm

[51] Hodge, B., (2006) “Don’t Creationists Believe in Some ‘Wacky’ Things?” as written in Ken Ham’s The New Answers Book 1, (Green Forest, AR: Master Books) pp. 199.

[52] Gill’s exposition can be accessed here: http://bible.cc/revelation/7-1.htm

[55] Seely, P.H. (1997) “The geographical meaning of ‘Earth’ and ‘Seas’ in Genesis 1:10,” Westminster Theological Journal 59(2): pp. 238.

[56] Faulkner, D., (August 2001) “Geocentrism and Creation,” http://www.answersingenesisi.org

[57] Bergman, J., (August 2008) “The Flat-Earth Myth and Creationism,” Journal of Creation, 22(2) pp. 114.

[58] Russell, J.B. (August 4, 1997) “The Myth of the Flat Earth,” http://www.veritas-ucsb.org

Comments
  1. Mark says:

    Hi Matt,

    I don’t think the Bible teaches a flat or a spherical Earth. If in the future, we discover that the Earth is actually a hypersphere or a torus, I’m sure people will find Biblical passages supporting it.

    Isaiah 40:22 is a wash, because it can be equally interpreted as a circular disk or a sphere. In fact, it may make more sense to think of it as a disk, because it makes more sense to be above a disk than a sphere. A disk has two potential directions that could be above, while in a sphere, every direction is potentially above it. Nevertheless, the main point of the verse is that God is far superior to man. Trying to draw other tangential conclusions from the verse completely misses the point.

    Job 26:10 is also a wash. This verse only mentions that the horizon is a boundary between light and darkness. For this one, a sphere definitely has a boundary between light and dark, but so does a disk. However, the disk would have an even clearer boundary between light and dark (i.e. the top and bottom). The sphere would have a gradual transition. Like Isaiah 40, this passage is emphasizing that God is so much more powerful than we can even imagine. The things that we can see (like the boundary between light and dark) don’t even begin to show his awesome power!

    For Luke 17:31-34, I think you are just misreading the passage. It says, “on that day” people will be out doing things that people do during the day. It then says, “on that night” people will be doing things that people do during the night. I think the better interpretation is that this “rapture” will not be over in a “sudden instance” (where it is night and day at the same time in different parts of the earth) but rather it will take time (where it will be night and day in the same place). To further support this point, look back to verse 30. Verse 30 says that Jesus’s return will be like the flood or when Sodom was destroyed. Certainly, both of those events were unexpected (which is the point of this passage) and neither of those events concluded in an instant. Based on Genesis 19:23-28, Sodom and Gomorrah took at most approximately 24 hours to destroy. From the sun rise of one day (when the destruction started) to the sunrise of the next, there was still “dense smoke.” That makes me believe the destruction ended shortly before sunrise the next day. Also, in the flood, certainly people didn’t drown the instant it started raining, so this plausibly took a day or longer. Finally, verse 31 proves that The Event will not be instantaneous, because people will have time to go back inside their houses.

    If you interpret this passage as talking about day and night being simultaneous, why don’t you also interpret Genesis 1 that way? In fact, by this logic, one could argue that Creation “week” was completed instantaneously, because night and day occur simultaneously on the earth. I think it is safer to assume that the author is talking about a single location on earth unless they specifically say they are now talking about a different place.

    Finally, I believe Matthew 24:47 is emphasizing the unexpectedness of lightning more than its duration. If you continue reading, you’ll see that everyone will have time to mourn, to watch Jesus return, and the angels will gather up the believers “from one end of heaven to the other.” It doesn’t say everyone will be gathered instantaneously and simultaneously. It says people will be gathered sequentially (which by definition is not instantly).

    In conclusion, it is not correct that to say that the Bible teaches a flat earth or a spherical earth. It may be possible to guess the presuppositions of the authors, but clearly the authors are not even remotely implying that we should believe one or the other position. Ultimately, the shape of the earth does not change the fact that God desires that none perish and that all come to repentance.

    • matthew2262 says:

      Thank you Mark. That was actually a very imformative critique of my article. I appriciate that and I will honestly admit that your interpretation does have a much stronger case.

      Thank you for your comment.

  2. matthew2262 says:

    Boller, Paul F (1995). Not So!:Popular Myths about America from Columbus to Clinton. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-509186-1.

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