Page 5-12: summer 1990
THE FLAT EARTH: STILL AN EMBARRASSMENT TO BIBLE INERRANTISTS
As I proved in an earlier article ("The Flat-Earth Belief of Bible Writers,"
Winter Issue, 1990, pp. 9-11), the Hebrews conceived the world as a three-
storied structure that included a flat-earth belief. That they believed in such
an unscientific concept should not surprise us, because they were surrounded
by pagan cultures much older than theirs whose cosmologic views were very
similar. The Hebrews had simply borrowed this concept from their pagan
neighbors. In Man and the Cosmos, Lars Thunberg described the pagan
cosmology of two of those pagan neighbors:
The Babylonians thought of heaven as a great vault, immobile and
solid, whose foundations rested on a vast ocean (apsu, meaning "the
deep"). Above the vault (dome, firmament) was the "dwelling of
the gods" from which the sun comes through a door every morning
and returns every evening through another door. The earth was
supposed to be a mountain, hollow underneath, also supported by
ap-su. The abode of the dead, sheol, the land of darkness and the
shad- ow of death, was just above the hollow interior but inside the
earth' crust. The Egyptians held similar ideas. As fanciful, and
even naive, as these ideas appear now, they represented the think-
ing of the day" (1985, pp. 26-27).
The similarity of these pagan ideas to the Hebrew conception of the cosmos
should be apparent to everyone who is familiar with the Old Testament scrip-
In the lead article of this issue, however, Jerry McDonald, a
Church-of-Christ preacher in Oskaloosa, Kansas, took exception to my first
article on this subject. In so doing, he said that no scholar who believed in
the inerrancy of the Bible would take the position that there are mistakes in
the original autographs of the Bible. That was a rather simplistic observa-
tion. It states the obvious and needs no comment. It is a lot like saying a
theist would never say that God does not exist.
But what is this "original autographs" business? There are absolutely
NONE, so how could anyone know that there were no mistakes in them? The
copies we do have are obviously not the same as they once were. In 1958,
Professor Morton Smith of Columbia University discovered in a monastery near
Jerusalem a letter containing a missing fragment of the Gospel of Mark that
had been deliberately suppressed by Bishop Clement of Alexandria. It origi-
nally followed Mark 10:34 where Jesus, after predicting the approaching death
of the "Son of man," said, "... and after three days he will rise again":
And they came unto Bethany, and certain woman, whose brother
had died, was there. And coming, she prostrated herself before
Jesus and says to him, "Son of David, have mercy on me." But the
disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with
her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway a great
cry was heard from the tomb. And going in where the youth was,
he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But
the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him
that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb they
came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six
days, Jesus told him what to do and in the evening the youth comes
to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained
with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the king-
dom of God. And thence arising, he returned to the other side of
Jordan," (Secret Gospel, p. 14ff).
In present versions, this same young man is apparently mentioned in Mark
14:51: "And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about
his body; and they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away
This secret gospel was suppressed by Clement because the Carpocratians
were using it to prove that Jesus approved of homosexual activity. This
fragment was about the raising of Lazarus, and, like most accounts of the
gospels, it varies from John's version. Professor Smith thinks that homosex-
uality was probably not involved here but rather the description of a typical
mystery school initiation--a ritualized and symbolic death and rebirth of the
sort so prevalent in the Middle East at that time. The point is clear, howev-
er, that we don't have all of the old copies now, so how much more has been
excised, added, and altered? No one can tell.
A similar case concerns what the voice in Luke 3:22 said after the baptism
of Jesus. Justin Martyr quoted it as, "Thou art my Son, today have I begot-
ten thee." He said that this was in the "Memoirs of the Apostles," (Dialogue
with Trypho, p. 190 & ciii 6). The Codex Bezae, the Old Latin, Clement of
Alexandria, Augustine, and other western authorities quoted it the same.
But is it that way in your copy? No! So is the Bible complete? Infallible?
Inspired of God? The fact is that we can determine very little about who
wrote and when they wrote most of the Bible.
In Harmony of the Gospels, A. T. Robertson, M. A., LL. D., Litt. D.,
one of Jerry's old fundamentalist scholars whom the Church of Christ has
used for years, said this about the Bible writer Luke:
Luke is the first critic of the life of Christ whose criticism has
been preserved to us. Others had drawn up narratives of certain
portions of Christ's work. Others still had been eyewitnesses of the
ministry of Jesus and gave Luke their oral testimony. Luke sifted it
all with care and produced an orderly and reasonably full narrative
of the earthly ministry of Jesus. We cannot reproduce all the
sources Luke had at his command, but it is clear that he followed in
the main our gospel of Mark, as anyone can see for himself by
comparing the two Gospels in this Harmony. Both Matthew and Luke
made use of Mark. But they had other sources too.
So here is your scholar, Jerry! He admits that Luke and the writer of
Matthew were about as inspired as you are. The very fact that Luke wrote
his gospel shows that he considered all others questionable and that he was
going to give the straight dope to Theophilus. If Luke had thought the
other gospels were correct and complete, all he would have had to do was
point to them as faithful accounts of the story.
So with the theory of "inerrant original autographs" put to rest, we can
now turn to Jerry's views on scholarship. He didn't care too much for my
scholars. Ian Wilson and Richard Friedman are indeed two of them, but
others would include the 100+ translators of the New American Bible and The
Good News Bible. To these can also be added the ones who gave us The
Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible and the 74 who compiled the New Jerome
And that is only a start. My scholars are the professors of philosophy
and religion at the major universities in this country and Western Europe.
These are honest people in their fields, who will not sell out to ignorant and
prejudiced fundamentalists. On the other hand, Jerry's "scholars" are the
old manipulators who are adept at using possibility answers to "explain" the
insurmountable inconsistencies, contradictions and absurdities in the Bible.
Possibly this, maybe that, it could be, it might be--this is their strength.
My! My! It's so easy to pull the wool over the sheep's eyes.
Jerry's 19th century scholars have presided over nearly 300 fighting
fragments of Christianity that cannot agree on much of anything. Of course,
even the scholars disagree on a multitude of interpretations. The Church of
Christ has been relying on characters like these for almost two hundred years
and has at least 10 divisions, all of which claim to be the "one true church."
The "doctors" of this church are constantly at one another's throats, with J.
D. Bales (Harding College) and Thomas B. Warren (Freed-Hardeman College)
disgreeing vehemently over marriage issues and other interpretative matters.
As editor of The Spiritual Sword, Warren tried with pontifical pronouncements
and "definitive" treatment of all subjects to write the creed for the church.
It didn't work!
Jerry even quoted three 19th century scholars whom, if they were still
alive, he would not even allow in his pulpit on Sunday morning, men who
believed that baptism is not essential, that babies should be baptized, that
pouring and sprinkling in baptism is acceptable and that a 1000-year literal
reign of Jesus is coming. Jerry loves them when he can use their deceptions,
possibilities, and perversions, but he would never give them the right hand
As for the opinion of scholars, I think even Jerry has heard of Bultmann.
He, knowing of the three-tiered structure of the world taught by the Bible,
made this cogent observation:
The whole conception of the world which is presupposed in the
teaching of Jesus in the New Testament generally is mythological,
i.e., the conception of the world as structured in three stories,
heaven, earth, and hell; the conception of the intervention of
supernatural powers in the course of events; and the conception of
miracles, especially the conception of the intervention of supernatu-
ral powers in the inner life of the soul, the conception that men
can be tempted and corrupted by the devil and possessed by evil
spirits. This conception of the world we call mythological because it
is different from the conception of the world which has been formed
and developed by science since its inception in ancient Greece and
which has been accepted by all modern men, (Jesus Christ and
Mythology, 1958, p. 15).
The pre-scientific character of the Bible is obvious to all who will read it
Jerry spoke of "faulty translations," yet he uses the KJV. "Moreover,
brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God...." What? "Wot ye
not...." This is the nearly 400-year-old language of the KJV. There are
thousands of words that are either mistranslated or obscurely rendered and
several others that are now obsolete. Besides this, the KJV was too highly
colored in many places with the party opinions and ideas of those who trans-
lated it to be considered a faithful record. In the words of Dr. Macknight,
"It was made a little too complaisant to the king in favoring his notions of
predestination, election, witchcraft, familiar spirits, and kingly rights, and
these, it is probable, were also the translators' opinions. Their translation is
partial, speaking the language of and giving authority to one sect." And he
imparted this not to the translators alone but to those who employed them,
for even some of the translators complained that they could not follow their
judgment in the matter but were restrained by "reasons of state." So the
KJV is not a translation from the oldest MSS--there are no originals--but
merely a revision of the versions then in use. Those versions had only eight
MSS available, whereas there are about 700 Greek MSS now available. What
do these facts say about the reliability of the KJV?
With Jerry's complaints and quibbles about inerrant original autographs,
liberal scholars, and faulty translations out of the way, I can now address
the "rebuttal" arguments in his article. Space will allow us to reprint only
one of the graphics from my first article, so if you have saved the first issue
of TSR, you might want to keep it close at hand for reference purposes as I
analyze Jerry's "counterarguments."
PSALM 24:1-2. Jerry didn't seem to understand why I cited this passage.
My point here and throughout was to show that the graphic illustrations of
the NAB and The Interpreter's Bible were accurate in depicting the Bible
writers' conception of a three-tiered universe, with heaven, hell, and a flat
earth. A verse that touches on any one of those three tiers, as these do,
confirms the graphics that contain all three. Jerry said nothing about this.
But one of his scholars has tried to circumvent the obvious embarrass-
ment of this passage. Scholar Barnes said, "As the earth appeared to be
surrounded by water, it was natural to speak of it as founded also upon the
waters...." Natural indeed to the pre-scientific, ignorant primitive mind but
absolutely false nevertheless! In fact, Barnes' statement is an admission that
the writer was wrong and was basing his statements on appearance rather
than fact. Furthermore, Barnes himself is in error in this statement: "The
earth has been elevated above them (the seas)...." That is absolutely incor-
rect. The earth is not built upon the seas; it contains the seas. The vast
majority of the land is under the water with some rising above it. The Bible
is wrong; the earth (Barnes' and Strong's "globe") is NOT founded upon the
seas! Anyone should easily recognize that Jerry's scholars lived recently
enough to know from science that the earth is round, and that they simply
inserted scientific knowledge into their definition of tebel as meaning "the
earth" and by extension "the globe." By their extension, the earth is a
globe, but their extending the meaning of the word results in a vicious lie!
There is absolutely NO Hebrew word for globe in the sense of Earth, because
those ancients thought the earth was flat. By their extensions, Barnes
and Strong simply lied. They extended the truth, and that constitutes lying.
Young's Analytical Concordance has every instance where the words translat-
ed earth are used, and NOT ONCE does the root mean globe. Jerry's funda-
mentalist scholars have been clearly discredited.
DANIEL 4:10. The dream and interpretation of it in this passage were,
according to the story, inspired by God. This was not like one of Jerry's
dreams, which is caused by something he eats, but was a sensible dream
with a sensible interpretation. That dream clearly presented a flat earth with
a tree at the center that could be seen from the ends of the earth. This
expression was used over and over in the Bible, as it was here and in Job
38:13-14, and Bible writers used it because they thought the earth was flat
and had ends, just as most people did at the time of Columbus and before.
Jerry said, "We still use that language, even though we know the earth has
no ends." That's true, but the expression originated in a time when people
did think the earth had ends. Our language is filled with unscientific ex-
pressions, such as sunrise and sunset, that originated when people thought
they conveyed scientific fact. They are in our language, because we have a
tendency to retain such idioms long after we know them to be erroneous.
MATTHEW 4:8. The only reason for taking Jesus to an "exceedingly high
mountain" was for a visibility factor that would show him ALL the kingdoms of
the world, just as taking him to the highest point of the temple was to give
falling distance. Jerry appealed to Dungan and the hermeneutic principle of
word substitution. I agree wholeheartedly with this principle and will, to
Jerry's embarrassment, shortly use it myself. However, Jerry wants to
substitute Palestine for the world in this passage, so let's look at the conse-
quences of this substitution. The same word kosmoswas used in Mark 16:15:
"Go into all Palestine and preach the gospel...." Well, well, well!
On this verse, Jerry had his scholars contradicting each other and him-
self. Barnes said, "... we need not suppose that there was any miracle
when they (the kingdoms) were shown to the savior." But Boles said, "The
devil may have had supernatural power and presented Jesus with a mental
vision of 'all the kingdoms of the world....'" So Jerry goes along with
Barnes who claimed only a tiny world was involved and therefore no miracle
happened, but then he quoted Boles who gave the devil credit for a miracu-
lous showing of all kingdoms of the earth in a vision! This is a fundamen-
talist nightmare. Their own scholars disagree with each other, and all they
can propose is maybe, possibly, could be, perhaps, it is possible, ad infini-
tum and ad nauseam. So please explain something, Mr. Boles et al. Why
take Jesus to an "exceedingly high mountain" only to show him a MENTAL
VISION? Hogwash and balderdash! Barnes, Jerry, et al, how much could you
tempt a person by showing him the glory of Palestine? Glory? What glory? A
depressed, primitive, third-worldlike area! You and your pitiful scholars are
batting exactly zero, and you don't get any better.
GENESIS 11:4. The language and context here clearly shows an anthro-
pomorphic god was afraid that, if he left the people to their own devices,
they would reach heaven where his throne was. Yes, Jerry, those writers
were just like you were in your childhood, but they had no one to teach them
science as you had. The only reason you don't feel the same way about
the distance to the stars now is because you have been taught scientific
facts. It isn't because you're an adult but because you have been taught that
the earth is not flat and that the stars are billions of miles away. Science is
your teacher and not the Bible. Hold to the Bible and you, like the Amish
and the people of Zion City, Illinois, will believe the earth is flat. We can at
least credit them with honesty. They believe this because they believe the
Bible, but you are trying to explain these things away.
Jerry's scholar Leupold carried no weight at all with his foolish comment:
"It cannot but work harm to let this situation continue." How ridiculous!
Those people couldn't have hurt a thing with their ziggurat. Many of them
were built in that area at this time. Language didn't come from a god con-
founding their speech; it developed from grunts and growls and has been
changing ever since. The English of 500 years ago was so different from
ours that, if we were taken back in time, we wouldn't be able to understand
JOB 38:22. This Bible writer had no idea how snow and ice are formed,
so he had his god pose this as a problem for Job. Jerry's Barnes gives us
another idiotic and unsupported statement, but the scholars who translated
the NAB, The Interpreter's Bible, and MATC understood clearly that god
was telling Job that he stores up the snow and hail. But we know very well
how hail and snow are formed; it is no mystery at all. Job's god lied to him
and told him he kept the snow and hail "ready for times of trouble, for days
of battle and war." We know, of course, that there was no god involved,
merely an uneducated, pre-scientific writer.
Let's look, for example, at the questions this god allegedly asked Job.
They are either questions that little children in school could easily answer or
those that are based on erroneous conceptions. "What holds up the pillars
that support the earth? Who laid the cornerstone of the world?" (v:6).
ANSWER: There ain't any, and nobody! "Who closed the gates to hold back
the sea?" (v:8). ANSWER: Nobody, because there are no gates. "Have you
walked on the floor of the ocean?" (v:16). ANSWER: People have, so what?
"Do you know where light comes from or what the source of darkness is?"
(v:19). ANSWER: What a question! It reminds me of an old "little moron"
joke. In a class discussing the relative importance of the sun and the moon,
the teacher asked, "Which is more important, the sun or the moon?" The
little moron answered, "Why, the moon is more important! It gives us light at
night when we need it; the sun is there in the daytime when it's already
light." This entire chapter in Job is laughable to anyone educated in
GENESIS 1:6-7. Jerry quibbled over the meaning of dome, expansion,
firmament, and vault and then quoted Leupold again, who said that the
firmament surrounding the earth is simply an air space. Now where did
Leupold get that? Ipsi dixit will not do. What scripture did he rely on? It
is simply an explanation without evidence. As fundamentalists are so prone
to do, Jerry accepted it and then said that this air keeps the mist, fog, and
rain apart from the earth. So Jerry is still a child. I've seen all of those
elements in very close connection with the earth but never at all separated.
To test the soundness of his theory, let's use Jerry's hermeneutic trick
and substitute air for firmament:
And God said let there be lights in the air of the heavens to
separate the day from the night... and let there be lights in the
air of the heavens to give light upon the earth.... And God made
the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the
lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also. And God set
them in the air of the heavens to give light upon the earth, (Gen.
Now isn't that something? All of those heavenly bodies up there in the air!
That means they are all within 200 miles of the earth. Does this mean the
moon is not 238,000 miles away? The sun is not 93 million miles out in
space? How do our space vehicles get past that vast array of bodies that are
all up there in the air?
Let there be air in the midst of the waters, and let it separate
the waters from the waters. And God made the air and separated
the waters which were under the air from the waters which were
above the air. And it was so. And God called the air heaven,
Now isn't that a shocker? Is there actually water above the AIR? Mind you,
that is not in the air but above the AIR! Not water in the firmament but
water above the firmament! Are the sun and moon and all the stars up there
in the AIR? Jerry's Dungan (a real scholar) and hermeneutics are very use-
My use of Psalm 104:3, 13 was misunderstood by Jerry (so what else is
new?). Check the NAB graphic illustration again, and you will see that the
throne of god is above the dome and the floodgates (sluices) need merely be
opened from god's palace. Also, the expression "who lays the beams of his
chambers in the waters" has reference to his throne established on the waters
above the dome. Since this language supports the graphic illustrations I re-
ferred to, it teaches the three-tiered structure, including the flat earth.
Job 38:12-14. Jerry tried to justify the Bible writers for saying "the ends
of the earth" on the grounds that people still say this. Just a tiny bit of
thought should have suggested to him that the expressionoriginated in a time
when people did believe the earth was flat. In my comments on Daniel 4:10,
I addressed the issue of unscientific idioms. The same principle applies here,
so nothing more needs to be said about it.
Job 26:7. Apparently, Jerry didn't realize I was answering an argument
that claims this verse teaches a global earth. It teaches no such thing, and
my statement on this should be read again with that context in mind.
Job 26:11. The fact that the writer speaks of the "pillars of the earth"
proves again that my graphic illustrations are correct. Jerry hangs in there
with his discredited Barnes who speaks of "mountains which seem to support
the earth," (emphasis, AS). Can you believe an adult of even average intelli-
gence would make a statement like that? Job 38:6 asks, "What holds up the
pillars that support the earth?" I suppose Barnes would have said the pillars
"seem" to support the earth. Barnes adds to what is written and deserves
the condemnation of Revelation 22:18.
Isaiah 14:13. Jerry misunderstood my use of this passage, even though
my argument was clearly directed against those who use it to prove the writer
thought the earth was round. My original statement should be reread with
that context in mind.
Isaiah 40:22 was used for the same purpose as above. I showed that this
verse does NOT teach a round earth. Poor Jerry thinks the old King James
per-Version is the correct one, even with its 20,000 errors. I wonder if
those translators were right when they substituted easter for passover in
Acts 12:4? The NAB and GNB translators made Isaiah 40:22 quite clear: "He
sits enthroned above the vault of the earth, and its inhabitants are like
grasshoppers; he stretches out the heavens like a veil, and spreads them out
like a tent to dwell in." Isn't that exactly what the graphic illustrations
showed? Of course it is! Isn't it nice to know that the heavens are spread
out like a tent? All the tents I have seen were domed over a flat surface.
My, my, what you can learn from the Bible! This is the very verse medieval
churchmen quoted to prove the earth was flat! Now comes Jerry McDonald to
tell us it teaches the earth is round.
Those old churchmen understood the Bible much better than Jerry and his
deceptive, shifty, sly, and crooked commentators. Consider, for example, this
quotation from Man and the Cosmos:
We now come to the "dark ages" in the development of cosmology.
From Aristotle and Ptolemy until Copernicus thirteen centuries later,
no apparent advance had been made. It even took until A.D. 1000
for the West to accept a round earth and Ptolemy's system. Howev-
er, to understand the background of the Copernican revolution
that was to follow, we should know the important factors of those
intervening, nonproductive years, which included political and reli-
gious considerations affecting the study of cosmology.... In its
desire to stamp out any pagan influence, the church soon adopted a
rigid interpretation of Scriptures and rejected anything that might
even remotely challenge her influence. Lacantius (A.D. 240 ca.-
320), writing on the false wisdom of the philosopher, ridiculed the
belief in a round earth. His arguments were the ancient ones
about the impossibility of walking upside down and places where the
rain and snow fall upward. He quoted Isaiah 40:22, "It is He that
sits upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as
grasshoppers; he stretches out the heavens as a curtain, and
spreads them out as a tent to dwell in," (pp. 64-65).
Strange, isn't it, that Jerry and Lacantius quoted the same verse, one to
prove the earth is flat and the other to prove it is a globe? Lacantius had a
better understanding than Jerry, because the idea in this verse was the
ancient one in which God sat enthroned above a dome (vault, firmament,
expanse) that he had stretched out as a tent to dwell in.
Jerry alleged that Farrell Till is not sure of his position and assumes
that I take the same position. Well, he assumes far too much. I know Far-
rell quite well, and both he and I are very sure of our position. Also, I am
very sure the Bible is inspired but not by a god. No god would make those
Jerry bragged that he has shown my position to be false, but in fact he
has failed most miserably in this regard. That kind of attitude reminds me of
the little boy whistling to cover his fear as he goes by the graveyard.
I have clearly established the correctness of the graphic illustrations of
NAB, The Interpreter's Bible, and Man and the Cosmos. A dome over a flat
earth, which was built on the seas, with pillars reaching into the seas to
support the earth and sheol deep in that flat earth--this was the three-tiered
world of the Hebrews, the world their writers described in the Bible.
(Adrian Swindler's address is P. O. Box 695, Elmwood, IL 61529.)
NO TAKERS (continued from page 1)...
evidence that disputes the Bible inerrancy claim. In so doing, we try to give
the opposition a fair hearing. In this issue, for example, we are publishing
in its entirety an article that Jerry McDonald, a fundamentalist minister,
wrote in response to Adrian Swindler's flat-earth article in our first issue. Do
you know of any fundamentalist publications that would give us the same
Although we have received compliments and expressions of gratitude for
it, there is nothing particularly noble about our policy of publishing opposi-
tion materials. Our motives are entirely self-serving. We believe our position
on the inerrancy issue is a sound one and that its soundness can best be
demonstrated by giving the opposition the uncensored opportunity to respond
to our arguments. Each time we identify a contradiction or discrepancy in
the Bible text and a competent inerrancy spokesman fails to satisfactorily
"explain" it, the truth of our position should become more obvious to our
readers. In other words, we think that if we give the inerrantists enough
rope, they will eventually hang themselves.
From our vantage point, they appear to be proving us right.
MOFFITT-TILL DEBATE POSTPONED
At Jerry Moffitt's request, he and Farrell Till have mutually agreed to
postpone until next summer their debate originally scheduled for August 13,
14, 16, and 17 of this year. The location will remain the same (Independence,
Missouri), but the exact date will be announced later.
FREE SUBSCRIPTION: A free one-year subscription to The Skeptical
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