EVOLVING INTERPRETATIONS OF THE BIBLE'S "COSMOLOGICAL TEACHINGS"--OR--DOES THE BIBLE "TEACH SCIENCE?"
by Edward T. Babinski
The Bible does not list the number of planets in our solar system. Back then, planets were called "wandering stars" because they appeared to be tiny lights in the sky like all other "stars," but the ancients noted that some "stars" did not rotate in the same enormous circle each night round the pole star as did all the rest. In fact, the word "planet" is derived from the Greek word for "wanderer." The "wandering stars" known by the ancients included Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Add the above five "wanderers" to the sun and moon which also traced their own unique paths across the sky, and you get a total of seven major heavenly objects that stood out from the stars. The ancients imagined that these seven were special gods overseeing the earth below. For instance, the Babylonians referred to the "watchful eye" of Shamash, the sun, who notes all things; and a prayer to Nergal (Mars) states, "With Sin (the Moon) in Heaven thou perceivest all things." Compare the Hebrew notion that "these seven [lights] are the eyes of the Lord which range [wander] to and fro throughout the earth" (Zechariah 4:10). Nor does the Bible reveal that its authors were aware of the earth being one more "wandering star" like the rest. Instead, "the heavens and the earth" are spoken of as the two halves of creation with the earth forming a firm foundation and the heavens "spread out" above it in an equally "firm" fashion.
Also, according to Genesis 1:16 only "two" great lamps were created (the Hebrew term translated as "great lights" in Genesis, means literally, "great lamps"--the two great lamps being the "Sun" and the "moon"--with no recognition of the fact that every twinkle in the sky might be another great lamp like the sun, or perhaps be a planetary body larger than the earth with many moons (great lamps) of its own. Rather, the Bible depicts stars as relatively small objects, created after the earth and "set" in the firmament above it, which may even "fall" to earth at its end when the "earth is shaken" and they "fall like ripe figs" from the sky, and the "heavens are rolled up like a scroll" to be "created" anew: "There was a great earthquake... and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casts her figs when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places." Rev. 6:12-14; and, "I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth" Rev. 7:1 "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea." Rev. 21:1
Astronomers, not theologians, discovered that we live on one planet out of 9 known planets in our solar system, circling one star out of nearly a billion in our galaxy, a star that lies near the end of one curved arm of that galaxy with over a hundred billion additional galaxies lying hidden in the depths of space--and only sited recently by mankind's first space telescopes. Furthermore, beyond our system of planets lay a gargantuan ring of matter, i.e., the Kuiper belt (visually confirmed in the late 1990s), and our Kuiper belt resembles similar rings of matter that have been observed circling nearby stars. So it is assumed that our star looks from a distance pretty much like other nearby stars. Most recently, over 60 large Jupiter-sized planets have been detected circling nearby stars, one recently visually confirmed. As astronomers continue to develop more powerful telescopes they may eventually focus on smaller planets orbiting nearby stars, planets the size of earth. As far as such scientific visions of the cosmos are concerned, one does not seek them out in the Bible. Yet many Christians today continue to seek out "scientific" truths in the Bible.
DOES THE BIBLE TEACH MODERN MAN TO APPRECIATE THE SIZE OF THE MODERN COSMOS THAT ASTRONOMERS HAVE DISCOVERED?
Some modern Bible readers cite two verses in the Psalms as though they were inspired premonitions of modern scientific knowledge of the cosmos. Instead, such verses merely demonstrate the relativity of "awe" concerning the size of the cosmos in both ancient and modern minds:
[Can] the heavens above be measured?
The phrase, "cannot be measured," refers in Hebrew to any great height, or number of finite things that no one would dream of measuring or counting one by one. Take for instance this verse: "As the host of heaven cannot be counted, and the sand of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the descendants of David." (Jer. 33:22) In reality, the "descendants of David" total an incredibly smaller number than that of the stars as measured by modern astronomy. But to the ancients even the far smaller number of stars visible to the naked eye, and the number of the "descendants of David," appeared equally "immeasurable." Compare, Genesis 41:49, "Joseph stored up grain in great abundance like the sand of the sea, until he stopped measuring it, for it was beyond measure." Such great quantities were simply defined as "immeasurable" to the ancients. Two thousand years later we have ways of measuring (within limits of error) formerly immeasurable things, including the sand in the sea, the depths of the earth, the heights of the clouds, and distances to the moon, sun, stars, even the most distant galaxies. So today, "measuring the heavens" is somebody's job.
Another verse even more popular than the first is this one:
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou are mindful of him?
Does this verse demonstrate that the Psalmist was inspired by God to teach how small man appears when confronted with the size of the modern cosmos? No. Back in those days the "heavens" referred to the clouds, and to the sun, moon and stars that the psalmist believed did not lie far above the clouds, along with the angelic heavenly realm lying not far above the sun, moon and stars. For instance, ancient Hebrew psalmists drew a parallel between the height of the "clouds" and the wondrous height of their Lord's "truth":~ "For Thy loving kindness is great to the heavens, And Thy truth to the clouds." (Psalm. 57:10). Comparing the heights of God's truth to the heights of the clouds no longer impresses modern man. Today we look down upon the clouds from aircraft and measure "heights" in light-years.
Hence, any similarities between Ps. 8:3-4 and modern day cosmic angst is merely relative.
Those little earth-centered, heaven-encrusted universes of the [Egyptians, Babylonians and] Hebrews seem quaint enough to us, who have formed, thought by thought from within, the immense modern Cosmos in which we live--planned in such immeasurable proportions, and moved by so pitiless a mechanism... Yet what a splendor dazzles us in these great halls! Anything less limitless would now be a prison.
--Logan Pearsall Smith, All Trivia
No doubt the size of the cosmos, even the "heights of the clouds," must have felt intangibly huge to the ancients. In some ways their cosmos may have even felt more intangibly huge to them than our cosmos does to us, because we can fly round the globe, above the clouds, gaze at photos of outer space, and open a book on astronomy and read the distances to stars and galaxies set down for us in tangible numerical form. Of course, knowing what he know today about the heights of the heavens, we are not likely to make the same poetic analogies as the ancients, like comparing the Lord's "truth" to the "height of the clouds," which sounds less grand than it did to the ancients.
THE HOLY HEAVENS OF THE HEBREWS
Neither do we believe, along with the ancients that climbing a mountain or a tower brings us literally nearer to God. For instance, the Babylonians built towers, called ziggurats, reaching toward heaven to attract the attention of Marduk and the lesser gods. (Compare the Bible's tale of the "tower of Babel." Gen. 11:5) Mountains were like nature's ziggurats. Abraham ascended a mountain to sacrifice his son to the Lord. Moses spoke to the Lord after having ascended a mountain. (Ex. 19:20) Jerusalem was built on a holy hill nicknamed "Mt. Zion." Jesus was transfigured on a mountaintop. And the resurrected Jesus was seen on a "mountain which Jesus had designated" in Galilee (Mat. 28:16), or is said to have ascended into heaven from a mountain near Jerusalem (Acts 1). Other Bible verses that illustrate an ancient belief in nearby "holy heavens" include:
The Lord came down [from heaven].
He bowed the heavens and came down.
--2nd Samuel 22:10
Elijah was lifted up by a whirlwind to heaven.
--2 Kings 2:11
Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended?
Angels "ascended and descended" on a "ladder" reaching to "heaven."
Ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending
upon the Son of man.
The ancient Babylonians, Assyrians and Hebrews, pictured angels (seraphim, etc.) with bird-like wings flying through the earth's atmosphere to a "heaven" lying directly above the earth rather than through light-years of space lacking an atmosphere and where bird-like appendages would prove useless.
"Manna," the food supplied to the Hebrews in the wilderness, falls from heaven.
--Exodus 16, Numbers 11 and Deuteronomy 8
Angels who told of Jesus's birth "went away from [the shepherds] into heaven."
A "star [of heaven]...went on before the [wise men], until it came and stood over where the child [Jesus] was"
Such a "star" would have to be incredibly small to lead the wise men and then stand directly above the house where Jesus was born. Such a tale also helped reinforce belief in the holiness of the heavens, since those heavens were depicted as being able to direct people in a miraculous fashion.
The heavens were opened unto him [Jesus at his baptism], and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven...
At "the Ascension," "[the resurrected Jesus] was lifted up...and a cloud received him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9), whereupon Jesus took his seat "in the heavens...in the true tabernacle [tent], which the Lord pitched."
And Jesus will return in the sky "seated at the right hand of Power" with the "clouds of heaven."
The Lord will descend from heaven... and we shall be caught up... in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
--1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17
Heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending upon him [Peter], as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth.
...a door standing open in heaven, and the...voice...said, Come up here.
And there was a great earthquake...and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. And the sky was split apart...and [men] hid themselves in caves...and said to the mountains...hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne.
I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
The "heavenly city," the "New Jerusalem" "comes down out of heaven" to earth.
--Revelation 3:12, 21:2
God is in heaven, and you are on the earth.
Moreover, the Hebrews had to be warned, many times, not to worship what lay "above" them, i.e., "the sun, moon, and stars, all the host of heaven." (Deut. 4:19; 17:3; 2 Kings 17:16; 21:5; 23:5; Jer. 7:18; 19:13; 44:17,19,25) They never suspected that the earth was just as much a "heavenly object" as all the stars they "looked up to." They never suspected that the earth was an integral part of them, sailing among the other "heavenly bodies." If they had, then they would never have been tempted to "worship" objects that lay "above" their heads--because the earth lay equally "above" all those other heavenly objects depending on one's perspective. Or as Nietzsche once put it, "So long as thou feelest the stars as an 'above thee,' thou lackest the eye of the discerning one." (Friedrich Nietzsche, "The Sage as Astronomer," Beyond Good and Evil)
For thousands of years (until the Protestant Reformation), pagans, Jews and Christians agreed that the stars lay "above" man and "nearer" to God, while Christians added that the earth was a "sink of impurity" with hell lying at the earth's center. Such a view was inspired by Biblical passages that spoke of the heavens above the earth as the holy abode of God and angels (Ps. 115:16; Eccles. 5:2; Gen. 11:5,7; 28:12; Isa. 40:22; Heb. 8:1,2; 2 Kings 2:11; 2 Sam. 22:10; Luke 2:15; Mat. 23:22; 26:64; Acts 1:9), with sheol, hades, the land of the dead, hell, lying beneath the earth (Job 11:8; Ps. 71:20; 88:3,6; 1 Sam. 28:8,13,15; Amos 9:2,3; Philip.2:10; Rev. 5:13).
Today, of course, we know that the sun, planets and stars lying "above the earth" are not "nearer to God" nor "nearer to a heavenly/spiritual realm" than we are on the earth's surface. And, contra Psalm 115:16, that states, "The heavens are the heavens of the Lord; But the earth He has given to the sons of men;" some dare to believe that maybe God has "given" not just "the earth" to man, but also "the heavens" to explore.
EVOLVING INTERPRETATIONS OF THE BIBLE'S "COSMOLOGICAL TEACHINGS"
Does the Bible "teach science," or have different Christian interpreters over the ages simply picked verses that they already believed to be the "most scientific" and played up those, while downplaying or disregarding other verses that were more difficult to reconcile with their view that the Bible "teaches science?"
My point is this: Ever since the Hellenistic world rejected the notion of a flat earth, Christian theologians have been trying to explain away, reinterpret, or ignore all of the Bible's verses that implied the earth was flat. Then, after geocentricity fell prey to heliocentricity, the stationary earth-centered verses too were explained away, reinterpreted, or ignored. That left only young earth creationist verses, which, of course, old earth creationists explain away. How the explaining away process works in practice, at least concerning the flat earth verses, can be seen below.
HOW TO EXPLAIN AWAY FLAT EARTH VERSES IN THE BIBLE
Example 1:~ Daniel 4:10,11 says, "There was a tree in the midst (or center) of the earth, and its height was great. It reached to the sky, and was visible to the end of the whole earth." Such visibility (i.e., "a tree of great height at the center of the earth and seen to the end of the whole earth") implies a flat earth. However, this verse may be explained away as depicting a "mere dream" of Daniel's, viz., a "metaphorical image" of the extent of Nebuchadnezzer's kingdom. However, the fact that flat earth imagery surprised no one in the story of Daniel also implies that it was taken for granted. And a similar verse that mentioned being taken to a great "height" and being "shown" "all the kingdoms of the world [lit. Greek, 'cosmos']," occurs in the New Testament as well, where again it is taken from granted. (See Example 4 below.)
Example 2:~ Isaiah 42:5 and 44:24 states that at creation God "spread out the earth"--the Hebrew verb for "spread" being used elsewhere in Scripture to depict a "flattening" or "pounding." Also, if the earth was not "spread out," but "rolled up tightly like a ball" at creation, the writer could have said so. We find the requisite Hebrew construction in Isaiah 22:18, where a man is "rolled up tightly like a ball." Hence the earth at creation was spoken of as being "flattened or pounded flat" at creation.
Round-earth creationists at this point usually change the subject by concentrating their "scientific" attentions on another verse in the book of Isaiah, "He who sits above the circle of the earth" (Isaiah 40:22), that they say implies a spherical earth. It doesn't. Just read the verse in context: "Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in." (Isaiah 40:21-22)
Isaiah's "circle" thus reflects ancient notions of a flat earth. Study these other verses in Isaiah: "Who stretched out the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth" (51:13). "I will ascend to heaven: I will raise my throne above the stars" (14:13).~ So we have "foundations" with the heavens "stretched out" above them, and a throne that lay "above the stars" with God "sitting above...the earth" (40:22). That is not spherical-earth language, as the Biblical scholar E. J. Young has pointed out, Isaiah 40:22 describes God as seated on the zenith, the highest point directly overhead.~ Thus the verse implies that "earth's dwellers," "all mankind" according to Ps 33:13, 14, are clearly visible from a very high point directly overhead. Such imagery fits most naturally the conception of the earth below as a flat disc, not a globe. Moreover, there is an obvious link between Isaiah's "circle of the earth" and the "circle" inscribed at creation on the flat surface of the waters in Job 26:10 and Proverbs 8:27.
Does any Bible translation of Isaiah 40:22 drop the word "circle" and insert the word "sphere" into the text? I have not found one that does. In fact even Evangelical Christians have warned their brethren against the naivety of the "spherical" interpretation of Isaiah 40:22. (See for instance David C. Downing's book, What You Know Might Not Be So: 220 Misinterpretations of Bible Texts Explained (Baker Books House, 1987). Another Evangelical scholar, Paul Seely, has asked his brethren to note that "One could just as well argue that God had revealed the sphericity of the earth to the Babylonians and the Egyptians because their writings also use the expression, 'the circle of the earth.' We know, however, they believed the earth was flat. Isaiah 40:22 is logically incapable, therefore, of being a proof that the Bible speaks of the sphericity of the earth."
Example 3: Isaiah 11:12 declares, "Gather (them) from the four corners of the earth," and Revelation 7:1 adds, "I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth." Young earth creationist Henry Morris suggests that rather than "corners," a more precise translation of the Hebrew is four quarters of the earth, which simply means the four directions. This, of course, begs the question of why four (presumably flat) directions (North, South, East, and West) remained the norm for the ancient Hebrews, even to the extent of a psalmist rejoicing, "He removes our transgressions from us, as far as the east is from the west" (Psalm 103:12), which, on the globe, is not infinitely far away.
Example 4: Matthew 4:8 states that "The devil took him (Jesus) to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world [Greek, 'cosmos'], and their glory." One could see "all" the kingdoms of the world from a very high mountain if the world were flat. This verse has been explained away as a "vision" of all the world's kingdoms, a vision received on a very high mountain. However, such a "vision" could have been granted Jesus in his sleep, so why did the devil "take Jesus" to a "very high mountain" to show him such things? Also compare Example 1, above. Furthermore, Jewish writings composed between the Old and New testaments, like, The Book of Enoch, share an unquestionably flat earth perspective.
Example 5: Throughout Scripture the shape and construction of the earth is assumed to resemble that of a building having a firm immovable foundation, and a roof (or canopy). "He established the earth upon its foundations, that it will not totter, forever and ever." (Psalm 104:5) "The world is firmly established, it will not be moved." (Psalm 93:1) "For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and he set the world on them." (I Samuel 2:8) "It is I who have firmly set its pillars." (Psalm 75:3) "Who stretched out the heavens... and established the world." (Jeremiah 10:12) "Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in" (Isaiah 40:22) "Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain." (Psalm 104:1,2) "In the heavens... in the true tabernacle (tent), which the Lord pitched, not man." (Hebrews 8:2-3) "The One who builds his upper chambers in the heavens, and has founded his vaulted dome over the earth." (Amos 9:6) "Praise God in his sanctuary, praise him in his mighty firmament." (Psalm 150:1)
Creationists other than flat earthers view these verses as metaphorically true. However, that begs the question of why the Bible's authors relied exclusively on flatness metaphors. Why no roundness metaphors, and no plain declarations that the earth's shape and construction was that of a sphere?
As readers may have noticed by now, it is impossible to demonstrate the superiority of a spherical interpretation in any of the above cases. Indeed, those who reject flat earth representations focus their Biblical attention elsewhere, a favorite verse being Job 26:7 "He stretches out the north over empty space, and hangs the earth on nothing." The Hebrew for "on nothing" in this verse means literally, "without anything," and thus it may be paraphrased, ".without support other than God Himself." Foes of the flat earth interpretation of the Bible emphasize the difference between this verse and ancient Hindu cosmology wherein a flat earth was supported on a turtle's back, which swam on the back of an elephant, which stood on the back of something else, ad infinitum, proving that a flat earth requires supports ad infinitum. However, leaving Hindu mythology aside, the ancient Egyptians, who were also flat earthers, did not feel the need for supports ad infinitum. An ancient Egyptian ideogram actually portrays a single eye, connected with two hands and feet -- representing ka, a personal power -- directly supporting a flat earth disc, i.e., without further assistance. Other Egyptian texts speak of divine power as "The Support of all things," and an Egyptian god claims, "I laid the foundations of all things by my will." Khepra, another Egyptian god, "conceived a place to stand. He uttered its name, the standing place at once came into being." Thus, Egyptian flat earth notions only differed from Job's verse in answering the question of "Who" "...hangs the earth on nothing, or without anything."
Also compare Proverbs as raising a question that perhaps the author of Job wished to answer in terms of "Who." -- "Who has established all the ends of the earth?" (Prov. 30:4)~ "He (Yahweh) hangs the earth, without anything, on nothing." (Job 26:7). "He established the world by his wisdom: and by his understanding he has stretched out Heaven." (Jeremiah 10:12).
Most importantly, notice that Job 26:7 neglects to mention the earth's shape at all, so it is even less effective than Isaiah 40:22 when trying to find a verse in the Bible that speaks of a spherically shaped earth. While other verses from Job declare, "(God's) measure is longer than the earth." (11:7, 9) "Who stretched the line on (the earth)?" (38:5) And, "He looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens." (28:24), all of which are found in the Book of Job and all of which imply a flat earth.
Another fact that makes it questionable to try and use Job 26:7 to prove something "scientific" is that in the Book of Job, Job is rebuked by God for speaking without wisdom. Compare the verses below:
Job Spouting Wisdom to His Friends
(5) The departed spirits tremble under the waters and their inhabitants.
(6) Naked is Sheol (the land of the dead) before him and Abaddon (place of destruction) has no covering.
(7) He stretches out the north (the sky) over empty space, and hangs the earth without anything, on nothing.
God Later Rebuking Job
(16) Have you entered into the depths of the sea? Or have you walked in the recesses of the deep? (compare verse 5 above)
(17) Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Or have you seen the gates of darkness? (compare verse 6 above)
(18) Have you understood (or examined) the expanse of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this! (compare verse 7 above)
Moreover, in the Book of Job, God also harassed Job with questions not only about how the earth was "supported," but concerning how it was shaped, and those questions likewise implied a flat earth: "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?" (Job 38:4)~ "On what were its bases sunk?" (Job 38:6)~~ (One could also compare Jeremiah 31:37: "If the . foundations of the earth (can be) searched out below, then I will cast off . Israel.")
So, Job 26:7 merely addressed the flat earth's support and foundations, while Isaiah 40:22 is not proof at all that the Bible speaks of a "spherical" earth.
What about the earth's movement? Are there any verses in the Bible that imply the earth rotates daily on its axis? Young-earth creationist, Henry Morris, asserts that he has found one, a single verse in Job that implies the rotation of the earth: "It (the earth) is turned as clay to the seal." (Job 38:l4, King James Version).~ Morris claims, "The figure, in context, is of a clay vessel being turned on a wheel to receive the design imprinted upon it by a seal or signet, like the earth as it turns into the dawning sun, gradually revealing the intricate features on its surface." Of course this "rotating earth" interpretation of Job 38:14 is very modern (neither Luther nor Calvin, nor Medieval scholars knew of it). Moreover, Morris relies on the King James Version of the Bible without acknowledging that other translations do not fit his interpretation:
"It is turned as clay to the seal."
--Job 38:14, King James Version [Morris' preferred translation]
"It is changed like clay under the seal."
--Job 38:14, Revised Standard Version and New American Standard Bible
"The earth takes shape like clay under a seal."
-- Job 38:14, New International Version
What Morris has failed to realize is that the King James Bible was written during the time of King James, during which they spoke Elizabethan English and the word "turned" was still used as a synonym for "changed" or "takes shape." We even use it that way occasionally today, as in "the milk turned sour." But that doesn't mean the milk was literally "turning or spinning" in its carton. In fact, Morris not only does not recognize the differences between Elizabethan English and modern English usage, but he ignores the meaning of the original Hebrew word being translated.~ The original Hebrew word in Job 38:14 does not mean literally "spinning or turning," it just means "changes or takes shape."
Secondarily, Morris imagines that the clay being "turned" is a "pot or vessel" on a spinner's wheel.~ But there is nothing in the verse to suggest that a "pot or vessel" or a "wheel" of any sort is being spoken of.~ So Morris has not only ignored the meaning of the original Hebrew, and invented his own private interpretation of the meaning of the Elizabethan word "turned" in this particular context, but also invented a host of other false things to go along with it!~ Archeological evidence suggests exactly the opposite, namely, that a flat clay tablet is being spoken of, whose surface is "changed" or "takes shape" by the pressing of a magistrate's (or businessman's) seal upon the flat clay as was common practice back then. The seals themselves could be flat or even cylinders rolled on the flat clay. Today there are thousands of such ancient clay tablets known to archeologists. And if the flat clay tablet is "changed" by the impression of a seal pressed upon it, and the clay tablet is a metaphor for "the earth" being changed by the light of dawn upon its surface, then you can easily see that the Book of Job is speaking of a flat earth after all. Consider the entire context of the verse in question:
"Have you ever in your life commanded the morning,
And caused the dawn to know its place,
That it might take hold of the ends of the earth,
And the wicked be shaken out of it?
It [the earth] is changed like clay under the seal:
And they stand forth like a garment
And from the wicked their light is withheld,
And the uplifted arm is broken."
(New American Standard Version of Job 38:12-15)
Another argument of Morris' is that Luke 17:34-36 implies "both the roundness and rotation of the earth." Speaking of Jesus' second coming, the passage states, "In that night, there shall be two men in bed: the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women will be grinding together ... Two men shall be in the field."~ In other words, says Morris, "This great event will take place instantaneously at night, in the morning, and in the afternoon. Such a combination would be possible only on an earth in which day and night could be occurring simultaneously, and that means a rotating earth suspended in space."
What Morris fails to notice is that Jesus' dictum that "No one knows the day or the hour," inspired Luke's added bedtime illustration. The point is, depending on when it happens, it might be like this, or like that. Besides, Morris' argument was not proposed till long after the rotation of the earth had become an accepted fact. If here as elsewhere, on Morris' reading, the biblical texts teach modern cosmology, why did the church never notice it until the rise of modern astronomy?
A FIRM FIRMAMENT
Even the church fathers who adopted the spherical earth of the Hellenists did not consider that the earth moved. In fact, the early church fathers agreed that the firmament above their heads was solid. Origen called the firmament "without doubt firm and solid" (First Homily on Genesis, FC 71). Ambrose, commenting on Genesis 1:6, said, "the specific solidity of this exterior firmament is meant" (Hexameron, FC 42.60). And Saint Augustine said the word firmament was used "to indicate not that it is motionless but that it is solid and that it constitutes an impassable boundary between the waters above and the waters below" (The Literal Meaning of Genesis, ACW 41.1.61). Such an interpretation of a firm firmament continued even up till the early Reformation period when Martin Luther insisted:
Scripture simply says that the moon, the sun, and the stars were placed in the firmament of heaven, below and above which heaven are the waters...We Christians must be different from the philosophers [astronomers] in the way we think about the causes of things. And if some are beyond our comprehension like those before us concerning the waters above the heavens, we must believe them rather than wickedly deny them or presumptuously interpret them in conformity; with our understanding. (Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis, Vol. 1, Luther's Works, Concordia Pub. House, 1958 To see a drawing of Luther's view of the cosmos that was printed inside Luther's published translation of the Bible.
Besides Genesis, chapter one, Luther was also probably referring to a Hebrew psalm that referred to "waters above the sun, moon, and stars":
Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him stars of light! Praise Him highest heavens, and the waters that are above the heavens!
Furthermore, when the book of Genesis described a "flood" that covered the whole world, and reduced the world to its pre-creation watery beginning, the story states that the "flood gates of the sky" were "opened." Neither did the author of that fable suppose that all the water above the firmament fell to earth, but instead he assumed that the "flood gates" had to be "shut" to stop more water from falling, and the creator had to promise not to flood the earth again with such waters. So, the Bible agrees with Luther that "the waters above the firmament" remained "up there," held firmly in place by a fimament--and this agrees completely with ancient tales of creation in which the world arose from a division of waters that encompass creation still, and which the creator keeps at bay via a firmament above the earth.
Speaking of the most ancient representations of a firm firmament, the ancient Egyptians depicted the firmament in the form of a god's arched body with toes and fingers on the horizons of the flat earth below that was represented by a prone goddess. The Egyptians also employed the less mythologized form of a "wall-ring" to represent the firmament above the earth. The Babylonians in their creation epic, Enuma Elish, depicted the firmament being constructed out of the body of a dead goddess named "Tiamat," who was cut in half to form the firmament and heavens above, and the earth below. One Babylonian tablet fragment even mentions a "Tiamat eliti" and a "Tiamat sapliti," that is an Upper Tiamat (or Ocean) and a Lower Tiamat (or Ocean) that corresponds apparently to the Hebrew belief in "waters above and below the firmament" in Genesis 1:7.
Reformed Evangelical, Paul Seely, has had several articles on the firmness of the Biblical firmament published in a conservative Evangelical theological journal, (i.e.,"The Firmament and the Water Above," Part I, Westminster Theological Journal, Vol. 53 (1991) and "The Firmament and the Water Above," Part II, Westminster Theological Journal, Vol. 54 (1992)). Seely adds, "Even those who oppose my conclusion generally acknowledge that I did prove that until modern times all peoples everywhere on earth believed the sky was literally solid including the Egyptians in whose wisdom Moses was educated (Acts 7:22), and the Mesopotamians from whence came the patriarchs (Joshua 24:3)." Seely's research and conclusions were also cited favorably in the The NIV Application Commentary on Genesis (2002) by John Walton, a professor at Wheaton University (Billy Graham's alma mater).
A common attempt to try and explain away the firmness of the Biblical firmament ought to be noted here. Some translations of Genesis 1:20 say that "birds fly in the open expanse [=firmament] of the heavens." If the firmament is "open" and birds fly "in" it, then how could it be solid?
The famed Hebrew scholar, U. Cassuto, pointed out the problem with such an argument. Cassuto pointed out that the verse meant literally, "'Let birds fly on the face of (or, in front of) the firmament of the heavens.' It reflects the impression that a person receives on looking upward: the birds that fly above one's head are set against the background of the sky--in front of the firmament of the heavens." Other Old Testament scholars agree, "Genesis 1:20 states 'Let birds fly across the face of the firmament'... The firmament is regarded as having a face, that is a side turned toward, and, as we say, 'facing,' the earth. Across this the birds are to disport themselves." (H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis)
Therefore, translations of Genesis 1:20 should not read, "Let birds fly above 'in' the 'open' (Hebrew, paneh) expanse of the heavens," since paneh means literally "face" in Hebrew. Instead, the verse should read, "Let birds fly... across (or in front of) the face (paneh) of the firmament." Note that "paneh" is used elsewhere in Genesis to depict "darkness upon the face (paneh) of the deep," "the Spirit of God moved upon the face (paneh) of the waters," "upon the face (paneh) of all the earth," and "watered the whole face (paneh) of the ground." In other words a flat "face" is the meaning of paneh, exactly as mentioned numerous times in the very same chapter of Genesis. See also professor Walton's NIV Application Commentary on Genesis (2002) for further Evangelical authorities who agree that the literal meaning of Genesis 1:20 supports a firm firmament.
THE BIBLE'S GEOCENTRISM
For most of recorded history people imagined that their feet were planted on firm ground, terra firma. The view presented in the Bible is no exception. The Bible depicts the earth as the firm, immovable, "foundation" of all creation:
Thou, Lord, in the beginning didst lay the foundation of the earth.
The sun, moon, and stars were created only after "the earth" below was created. (Gen. 1:9-18)
Who hath established all the ends of the earth?
He established the earth upon its foundations, so that it will not totter, forever and ever.
The world is firmly established, it will not be moved.
--Psalm 93:1 and 1 Chronicles 16:30
Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?.Who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? Or who laid the corner stone thereof?
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and he set the world on them.
It is I who have firmly set its pillars.
Who stretched out the heavens...and established the world.
The only time the Bible depicts the earth as moving is during an earthquake:
The earth quaked, the foundations of heaven were trembling.
--2 Samuel 22:8
The earth quakes, the heavens tremble.
I shall make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken from its place.
There was a great earthquake...and the stars of the sky fell...as if shaken from a tree.
Though the Fathers of Protestantism (Luther and Calvin) agreed with the Catholic Church of their day that the earth was a sphere, neither Protestant nor Catholic theologians could see a way to avoid the Bible's "teaching" that the earth does not move. Just how plain the verses are that depict an unmoving earth can be seen above, while the related idea that everything else in the cosmos moved around the earth, can be seen in the verses below. Unfortunately, many people today view these verses through modern helio-centric eyes, and are quick to simply ignore them, but in times past they caused quite a bit of controversy. So modern readers must pay greater attention in order to understand what all the controversy was about.
The Bible says, "He [God] can command the sun not to rise" (Job 9:7), rather than, "He can command the earth to stop moving." That God would direct His command at the sun rather than the earth, is what one should note in this case, just as Luther and Calvin did.~ Likewise, Martin Luther pointed out that when the book of Joshua spoke of the miracle of "Joshua's long day," that day was lengthened because, "Joshua commanded the sun to stand still and not the earth." (Joshua 10:12) A modern reader must keep his eye on what object God's own command was directed at in order to understand the nature of the controversy. Did God "do" what the Bible depicts Him as "doing," or not?
The Bible also states: "The sun rises and the sun sets, and hastening to its place it rises there again." (Eccles. 1:5, NASB) The mere mention of seeing something "rise" or "set" could be disregarded depending on one's perspective, but speaking of the sun "hastening to its place" so that it may "rise there again," is not so easily explained away. It means the author of Ecclesiastes believed that the sun moved daily around the earth. Compare Psalm 19:4-6, "In [the heavens] He has placed a tent for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; it rejoices like a strong man to run its course, its [daily] rising from one end of the heavens, and its circuit to the other end of them."
As for the stars, the Bible teaches that they too move: "From their courses they [the stars] fought against Sisera." (Judges 5:20, NASB). "The One who leads forth their [starry] host by number... Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power not one [star] is missing." (Isaiah 40:26, NASB) Keep in mind that the stars in question are the ones the ancients saw circling nightly round the pole star each night. And according to the book of Job, whole constellations of stars are "led forth" by God, i.e., "Can you lead forth a constellation in its season, And guide the Bear with her satellites? Do you know the ordinances of the heavens, Or fix their rule over the earth?" (Job 38:31-33, NASB)
Modern astronomy teaches the reverse of the verses above:
The earth spins each day (rather than the sun "hastening to its place to rise again").
The earth spins each night (rather than the stars"coursing" around the heavens).
The earth is what God would have had to "command" not to move, and what Joshua would have needed to command to "stand still" (rather than God commanding the sun not to move).
The earth is what God would have had to "lead forth" and "guide" in "its season[al]" movement around the sun (rather than God "leading forth," "guiding," and "fixing" non-existent "ordinances of the constellations").
Some Christians still side with the Bible over modern astronomy, like Dr. Gerardus Bouw, who rejects that the earth spins and moves annually round the sun. Bouw believes the reverse is true, based first and foremost on the Bible verses mentioned above. In fact, he is the president of the "Association for Biblical Astronomy" http://www.geocentricity.com/ and he wonders how any Christians who say they believe the Bible can ignore its verses concerning the earth's immobility, and the daily (and seasonal) movement of the sun, stars and constellations, especially when the Bible adds that God is doing the moving (and commanding the halting) of the sun and stars. Is God a liar? Does the Bible depict God "commanding" and "leading forth" things that don't really move? Dr. Bouw believes the Bible means what it says. Besides, when God is depicted as moving the sun and stars (daily and seasonally), or stopping the sun (miraculously), or shaking the earth (creating an earthquake), such actions are demonstrations of God's "might." They are either that, or "mighty deceptive" language for God to have "inspired." Like telling people who start their cars and step on the gas that, "God leads forth the trees which speed by on the roadside... Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power not one is missing!" (cf. Isaiah 40:26). Therefore Bouw remains a Bible-based geocentrist.
Neither does Dr Bouw (who holds a degree in astronomy from Case-Western) have the slightest doubt that the "scientific evidence" will in the end support his stationary-earth view rather than modern astronomy.
Well meaning "creationist" Christians are always attempting to stick their thumbs in the Bible and pluck out modern scientific plums--"proof" texts that they claim demonstrate modern astronomical concepts such as the earth's "sphericity" and "daily rotation." The Bible is a big book to be sure, and one can find many things in it if one looks hard enough. Alas "modern science" is not one of those things.
Simply consider the fact that every one of the "six days" of creation according to the Hebrew story is devoted to creating things for the earth, or on the earth. Even on the first day of creation the Hebrew creator "separates the light from the darkness" simply to set up the initial cycle of earth "days and nights, evenings/mornings," then creates a firmament to separate the primeval waters and so the earth's dry land could appear, then creates plants in the earth; then the Hebrew creator "makes and sets" in the firmament the sun, moon, and stars "to light the earth and for sign and seasons on earth;" then fish, birds and land animals to fill the earth (not to fill Mars or Venus or anyplace else), and finally man to tend the garden there. How much more earth-centered could a creation account be? The whole cosmos in six earth-days.
However, if anyone wants to know the cosmos, I suggest they consult astronomers, not the Bible, nor theologians. The same goes for other fields of science as well. In fact, relying on the Bible to discover what "science teaches" amounts to playing up some verses and downplaying others. It's a game that theologians have been playing for centuries.
Most interestingly, those playing the game ignore verses that claim "God" Himself is performing a specific activity. For instance flat earth verses in the Bible speak of God "spreading out the earth" at creation (Isaiah 42:5 and 44:24); God "drawing a circle [of the earth] on the surface of the waters" (Job 26:10 and Proverbs 8:27), or God "spreading the [flat] earth on the waters" (Psalm 136:6). While geocentric verses in the same Bible speak of God firmly establishing the earth that it may not be moved, and God commanding the sun, moon, stars (and constellations of stars), to move (or to cease moving on occasion) above the earth. One cannot simply downplay some verses in which God is depicted as doing those things, while playing up verses in which God is depicted doing something else, like "creating" different "kinds."
In fact, one has to wonder if both the cosmologies and creation accounts of the ancients might not have been equally based on mere appearances. For instance, all ancient Near Eastern accounts of creation depicted the heavens curved over a flat earth, perhaps because that's the way the heavens appear--even to modern day childlike observation (The Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics conducted a study during the 1980s on the mental sophistication of children and discovered that almost one-half of children aged ten years and younger in the United States and other countries believe the earth is flat. And those who say it is round picture "round" as a giant pancake or a curved sky covering a flat ground. One in four thirteen-year olds also believes the earth is flat.) The blue appearance of the sky may have prompted the ancients to think in terms of the blue of the sea, and thus be the basis for their belief that the cosmos lay in the midst of primeval waters with a firm firmament holding back "the waters above."
Hebrew "science" in general is marred by a naive appeal to appearances: To the author of Lev. the rabbit (must have appeared to) "chew cud" (11:6). And grasshoppers, crickets, locust and other insects (must have appeared to) walk on only "four" legs (11:20-24 and 42) with no mention being made of their remaining two legs. In similar fashion, the Bible has much to say about the all-directing heart of man, his life-blood, and his soul-breath, i.e., the pounding heart, the whistling breath, and the sharp color of blood, together with its lack being a sign of death, attracted the attention of the ancients. While the brain, a silent unobtrusive organ, was overlooked, and therefore not granted the meagerest mention or symbolic association in the Bible, unlike the heart, bowels and kidneys which are granted mention. Yet today we know that the brain is our chief directing organ, the center of our conscious life, and the throne of our soul. All of which goes to prove that the authors of the Bible dwelt more on symbolic appearances than on scientific facts.
This same reliance on appearances may have also led the ancient imagination to conclude that plants and animals were created in the same forms in which they already appeared, i.e., "after their kind."
FOR FURTHER REFERENCES AND DISCUSSION OF ANCIENT NEAR EASTERN COSMOLOGIES BY A CHRISTIAN WHO IS WELL VERSED IN THE TOPIC, VISIT THE WEBSITE OF STEPHEN MEYERS AND READ HIS COMMENTARY WITH PICTURES, ON GENESIS, CHAPTER ONE:
Genesis 1:9-13 DAY 3, Circle of the Earth by Stephen Meyers
Genesis 1:9-13 DAY 3, Pillars of the Earth by Stephen Meyers
Genesis 1:9-13 DAY 3, Ends of the Earth by Stephen Meyers