Re: joshua

Date: Thu Dec 12 2002 - 00:13:23 EST

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    Michael Roberts > 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? >

      Bob Schneider > As I argued in my PSCF article, "Does the Bible Teach a
    Spherical Earth?"
      (Sept. 2001, p. 159-169),,
      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
      litteram_ attests.

      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
      his cosmology.

      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.>>

    Having spent considerable time researching the issue of the shape of the
    earth in the OT, I find Bob's reply to be excellent. I wrote a similar paper
    that sets forth considerable relevant data. It is not on the web, but is
    published as "The geographical meaning of 'earth' and 'seas' in Gen 1:10" in
    the Westminster Theological Journal 59 (1997) 231-55. If anyone cares to see
    a copy, I can send one by email attachment.


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