googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Does the Bible Say the Earth is Flat?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Does the Bible Say the Earth is Flat?

In recent posts, I've talked about how critics of the Bible read obvious, literary expressions as literal so that they may make a straw man caricature of the Bible. Because these are usually poetic references and were never intended to be literal, it is groundless to suggest they demonstrate how the Bible is errant. However, there are a few passages that aren't poetic and some people claim these show that the Bible teaches the earth is flat.

There are two passages most often cited. The first occurs in Daniel 4:9-11:

“O Belteshazzar, master of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in thee, and no secret troubleth thee, tell me the visions of my dream that I have seen, and the interpretation thereof. Thus were the visions of mine head in my bed; I saw, and behold a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was great. The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth:”

In this passage, Nebuchadnezzar is describing a dream he had to Daniel. In the dream, he saw a tree that was so tall that someone could see all the earth from the top. Since the earth is a sphere, there is no way to see the whole earth at once no matter how tall the tree is. Even from outer space, we could only see the half of the earth which faced us. The only way to see the entire earth at once would be if the earth were flat so does this passage suggest a flat earth? Certainly not!

The fatal flaw in this argument is that it is simply a record of Nebuchadnezzar speaking and the Bible doesn't necessarily endorse what he is saying. Perhaps Nebuchadnezzar truly believed the world is flat. So what? That doesn't mean the world is flat. Did you notice in verse 9 how his comment also suggested there are other gods? Does this mean that Bible teaches there are other gods? Of course it doesn't. So in the same passage in which Nebuchadnezzar makes one incorrect statement (that there are other gods), he also made another incorrect statement (that the world is flat). Neither of these are teachings of the Bible.

Besides that, however, there is a certain ambiguity in the word “earth.” It is not unusual to use the words “earth” or “world” to mean only the inhabitants of the earth or even a limited part of the earth. In Luke 2:1, Caesar decreed, “that all the world should be taxed.” Certainly doesn't mean the literal earth would pay taxes so obviously this refers to the people in the earth. More over, the Romans were aware there were other nations not under Roman rule that would not have been included in the decree so the word “world” in Luke is understood to mean only the vast Roman empire. Likewise, Nebuchadnezzar may have only meant one could see from the tree the entire, vast kingdom of Babylon.

The other event used by critics is the account of Jesus being tempted by the Devil. This is recorded in both Matthew 4 and Luke 4. Luke 4:5 is perhaps the more descriptive: “And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.”

A very careful reading of the passage is called for here. Compare the passage in Luke to the passage in Daniel. Concerning the tree, Nebuchadnezzar said, “the sight thereof to the end of all the earth.” But of the mountain, Luke says the Devil, “shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.” Do you see the difference? Like the tree in Nebuchadnezzar's dream, here the gospels mention a mountain seemingly so tall that one can see all the kingdoms of the earth from the top but the passage doesn't really say that, does it? It says that while on a mountain, the Devil “showed” Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.

There was obviously something supernatural occurring. Notice how Jesus was at one moment in the wilderness (Luke 4:1), the next moment on a high mountain (Luke 4:5), and the next moment on the pinnacle of the temple (Luke 4:9). I believe the Devil and Jesus traveled supernaturally to some high mountain and against the back drop of such a spectacular view, the Devil supernaturally flashed images of the kingdoms of the world. Indeed, what else could it be? Surely the first century gospel writers would have noticed there are no especially high mountains in Jerusalem. Also, if anyone has ever been on a tall mountain, he would know you can't really see anything except miles of expanse. It's impossible to make out individual buildings. Why would the gospel writers have included such details?

Finally, consider how neither of these passages overtly say the world is flat. Critics point to them only because they could be viewed in a way that suggests the world is flat. I believe the plain reading of the words suggests otherwise.

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