[ref001] The Skeptical Review (Volume One, Number Three) [ref002] [ref003]The Skeptical Re
The Skeptical Review (Volume One, Number Three)
[ref003]The Skeptical Review: 1990: Number Three: The
Flat-Earth: Still an Embarassment to Bible Inerrantists
As I proved in an earlier article ([ref004]"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 shadow 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 thinking 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
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
observation. 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 originally followed [ref005]Mark 10:34 where
Jesus, after predicting the approaching death of the "Son of
man," said, "... and after three days he will rise
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
kingdom 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 [ref006]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
homosexuality 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, however, that we don't have all of the old copies
now, so how much more has been excised, added, and altered? No one
A similar case concerns what the voice in [ref007]Luke 3:22 said
after the baptism of Jesus. Justin Martyr quoted it as, "Thou art my
Son, _today_have_I_begotten_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_Bible_Commentary_.
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
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 translated 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."
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
embarrassment 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 incorrect. 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
translated _earth_ are used, and NOT ONCE does the root mean
_globe_. Jerry's fundamentalist scholars have been clearly
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 [ref010]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 expressions, 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.
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 consequences of this substitution.
The same word _kosmos_ was used in [ref012]Mark 16:15:
"Go into all _Palestine_ and preach the gospel...." Well,
On this verse, Jerry had his scholars contradicting each other and
himself. 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 miraculous showing of all kingdoms of the earth _in_a
vision_! This is a fundamentalist nightmare. Their own scholars
disagree with each other, and all they can propose is maybe, possibly,
could be, perhaps, it is possible, _ad_infinitum_ 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
11:4. The language and context here clearly shows an anthropomorphic
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 confounding 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 it.
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 science.
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
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,
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_
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 useful, eh?
My use of [ref018]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 referred to, it teaches the three-tiered structure,
including the flat earth.
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
expression originated in a time when people did believe the earth was
flat. In my comments on [ref020]Daniel
4:10, I addressed the issue of unscientific
idioms. The same principle applies here, so nothing more needs to be
said about it.
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.
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 intelligence would make a statement like that? [ref023]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
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.
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 [ref027]Acts 12:4? The NAB and
GNB translators made [ref028]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.
However, 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
religious 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 [ref029]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
Farrell 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 horrendous mistakes.
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
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.
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