From: Robert Schneider (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Wed Dec 11 2002 - 02:29:59 EST
Michael Roberts writes:
> Was Jesus a flat-earther?
> This is a serious question and what does it mean if we answer Yes?
> What about NT writers? How many of them were flat earthers?
> Or even OT writers?
As I argued in my PSCF article, "Does the Bible Teach a Spherical Earth?"
(Sept. 2001, p. 159-169), www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2001/PSCF9-01Schneider.htm,
claims that Isa.40:22a and Job 26:7,10 establish that the Bible teaches that
the earth is spherical are groundless. The Hebr. "chugh," which Morris and
other YEC's wrongly assert "literally means 'a sphere'," literally means "a
circle drawn with a compass" (as William Blake understood), and never means,
or implies, "a sphere." There is no other place in the OT texts, in my
view, upon which one can validly claim that the biblical writer understood
that the earth is spherical. The term "flat earth" has such a negative
resonance that I would avoid using it to describe what the OT writers
understood the earth to be. The Hebr. "eretz" means "the earth" as
distinguished from "the heavens"; "the dry land" as opposed to "the deep";
"the ground upon which people stand"; and other meanings. It would be
better to say that the biblical writers understood the earth to be a
circular mass resting upon the deep and overarched by the firmament. This
cosmological model, which they shared with other near-eastern peoples, made
a lot of sense for their day, but it is not ours. Like all cosmological
models it was provisionally true, and we should honor it as such, neither
explain it away with wrong-headed interpretations such as Morris' nor
dismiss it as "pre-scientific" or worse. However the OT writers
conceptualized the world, their focus was upon the Creator that brought it
into being. They were proclaiming theological, not scientific truth.
For the same reason, I would not use the "flat-earther" designation in the
case of Jesus. A quick perusal of my concordance shows that in several
instances the evangelists report Jesus as referring to "heaven and earth" in
the way reminiscent of the OT (i.e., as a merism meaning "the entire
creation"), and distinguishing "heaven" from "earth" as in "may your will be
done on earth as it is in heaven." Nowhere, pace our YEC colleagues on this
list and elsewhere, do I find Jesus pronouncing on scientific matters. I
would infer that Jesus shared the common cosmological conception of his
So also the other writers: despite the fact that the notion of a spherical
earth has become established in Greek cosmology by the first century AD, I
find no allusion to it in the other NT writings; the OT cosmology appears to
be preserved in 2 Peter 3:5-6 (a very late document in the canon), and there
are references to "the ends of the earth" (Acts. 1:8), and "the four corners
of the earth" (Rev. 7:1)--not to be taken literally, I think, yet not
suggestive of a spherical earth. The three-storey cosmology of the heavens
above, the earth beneath, and the waters under the earth of Exod. 20:4 also
appears (Rev. 5:3). Whether Christians should continue to hold to the OT
cosmological model or accept the Greek model of a spherical cosmos only
becomes an issue three centuries later, as Augustine in _De genesi ad
Back to Jesus. What does it mean if we answer "Yes" that Jesus did not
believe the earth was spherical? Does it make Jesus a "liar," as a
fundamentalist student of mine once said in response to my comments? No, I
explained to him, it illustrates what the Church understands the Incarnation
of Christ to entail. We believe with the author of Hebrews, that Christ was
in every respect like us, even to being tempted, except that he did not sin.
As the Calcedonian formulary affirms, Jesus shared our human nature
completely. That means he was not the Gnostic God walking around in a body;
it affirms that in emptying himself of divine power (Phil. 2:5-11), Christ
as the human Jesus not the divine Logos knew as his fellow-countrymen knew.
He shared our human limitations and that means that his human knowledge was
no greater than those he read the Scriptures with, and that is where he got
A "Yes" answer certainly does not mean that, therefore, the Bible is not
Now, Michael, you raise an interesting question in regard to the "Sun, stand
thou still" episode in Joshua: are we to interpret this event through the
lens of our present knowledge about the earth and the sun, and their
relationship? But, I'll leave that one to someone else, at least for now.
Peace on earth!
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