[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: A Reply to
"The Flat-Earth Belief of Bible Writers"
The claim was made by Adrian Swindler ([ref004]Winter Issue,
that the writers of the Bible believed and wrote in the Bible that the
earth was flat. Mr. Swindler used several passages to prove his
contention on this matter. In this article, I intend to review those
passages and show what the Bible writers were really saying in them.
First, I want to quote Mr. Swindler's article concerning Bible scholars:
"That the Bible contains mistakes in every area mentioned by Mr.
Tillett is a truth widely recognized by _reputable_Bible_scholars_,"
(emphasis JM). I would like to ask a question: "What _reputable
Bible_scholars_ take this position?" Is Mr. Swindler referring
to men such as Ian Wilson and Richard Elliott Friedman? If so, then
Mr. Swindler refers to scholars (and I use this word with hesitation,
realizing that anyone can be called a scholar) who believe in _higher
criticism_. I often wonder why these "scholars" even bother
to call themselves Bible believers! Why not just disregard the Bible
completely and become atheists? Higher criticism does away with
miracles and the supernatural happenings mentioned in the Bible. By
the time "higher critics" get through with the Bible, it
becomes just an ordinary book. To do this, they completely disregard
the evidence in favor of the Bible's being an extraordinary book.
Maybe Mr. Swindler could tell us which reputable scholars who believe
in the _inerrancy_ of the Bible believe that it contains mistakes
in all of the areas mentioned by Mr. Tillett. Now we know what Mr.
Swindler is talking about when he mentions "reputable Bible
scholars." He is talking about scholars who do not believe in the
_inerrancy_ or _infallibility_ of the scriptures. _No_reputable
Now let us deal with the passages that Mr. Swindler produced to show
that Bible writers believed the earth was flat. The first passage was
24:1-2: "The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof; the
world, and they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the
seas, and established it upon the floods." Is there anything in
this passage that would make anyone think the earth was flat? Absolutely
not! In commenting on these verses, Albert Barnes says, "The word
used here--_tebel_--is a poetic word, referring to the earth
considered as fertile and inhabited--the habitable globe..." (_Barnes
on_the_Old_Testament_, Psalms I, p. 215). In the Hebrew dictionary of
_Strong's_Exhaustive_Concordance_of_the_Bible_, we see the same
meaning for this word: "... the earth (as moist and therefore inhabited); by
extens. the _globe_; by impl. its _inhabitants_..." (p. 122).
Does this sound as if the psalmist was saying that the earth is flat?
He used a word that recognized the earth is round, a globe. Barnes
continues: "As the earth appeared to be surrounded by water, it was
natural to speak of it as _founded_ also upon the waters.... The
earth has been elevated above them, so as to be a residence for animals
and for men," (p. 218). This passage does not teach that the earth is
flat; rather it teaches that the earth is round because of the usage
of the word _tebel_.
The next passage Mr. Swindler used was [ref006]Daniel 4:10: "...
I saw, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height
thereof was great." When one reads the context of this verse, it
can be easily seen that this was one of Nebuchadnezzar's visions.
There is nothing in this verse to indicate that the writer thought
the earth was flat. Why could Nebuchadnezzar not have seen a vision
of the round earth and a tree in the center of it? The tree had
reference to himself, and the vision was showing that he would become
great and powerful and then he would fall. Mr. Swindler thinks this
passage proves a flat-earth concept because verse 11 says, "...
and the sight thereof (was) to the end of all the earth." We
need to remember, however, that this was a vision, a dream, and many
things are possible in visions and dreams that are not possible in
reality. For example, in a dream I once had, some dogs were chasing
me, and I came to a tree that was higher than I could climb, so I
jumped and landed in the top of the tree. Now we all know in reality
that I cannot just jump and land in the top of a tall tree, but in the
dream this was possible. So what would have kept it from being possible
for Nebuchadnezzar to see a tree in his dream standing in the center of
a round earth and it be so tall as to be seen by all the earth? Nothing!
This was a dream, and the rules of dreams do not coincide with the
rules of reality. The meaning of the tree's being seen from the ends of the
earth was only as Mr. Barnes says: "It could be seen, or was visible
in all parts of the earth. The Greek here for _sight_ is _xutos_,
_breadth_, _capaciousness_.... The vision which Nebuchadnezzar
had here, of a tree so conspicuous as to be seen from any part of the
world, was one that would naturally be applied to a sovereign having a
universal sway," (_Barnes_, _Daniel_I_, p. 250).
There is nothing here to prove that this writer had a flat-earth
The next passage Mr. Swindler used was [ref007]Matthew 4:8:
"Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and
sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them."
Mr. Swindler said, "The only plausible reason for the 'very high
mountain' was that the altitude would make it possible to see the ends of
the earth. Only on a flat earth would this be remotely possible."
Where does Mr. Swindler get the idea that the word _world_ in this
passage refers to the whole earth? In the Bible, the word _world_
refers to many things. In [ref008]John 3:18, it refers to
the people on the planet. In [ref009] 1 John 2:15-17,
it refers to the wickedness of men. In [ref010]Luke 2:1, the word
refers to all of the provinces of the Roman Empire. So why does Mr.
Swindler think that the word _world_ in [ref011]Matthew 4:8 refers to
the whole planet? Because without that interpretation there would be no
way to prove his point. However, let us place a different interpretation
on the verse. Dungan says: "Rule 7. The proper definition of a word
may be used in the place of the word. If the trial be made in this way,
and the definition is wrong, the sense of the passage will be so destroyed
as to make it apparent. It need only be stated that the true meaning of a
word will give the same sense that the word would give,"
(_Hermeneutics_, pp. 188-189). So let us substitute another word in
the place of the word used in [ref012]Matthew 4:8 and
see if it makes any sense. "Again, the devil taketh him up into an
exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of Palestine
(the world), and the glory of them." Now, what would be so hard about
that? Barnes says that "we need not suppose that there was any
miracle when they (the kingdoms) were shown to the saviour,"
(_Barnes_, _Matthew_and_Mark_, p. 35). If, however, the word
world does refer to the whole earth in the passage, we need to remember
that Satan had the power to perform supernatural happenings. It is
possible as H. Leo Boles said that "the devil may have had
supernatural power and presented Jesus with a mental vision of 'all the
kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them,'" (_Commentary_of_the
Gospel_According_to_Matthew_, p. 102). We do not know from the context
if Jesus literally saw the kingdoms of the earth in a vision or the actual
power and the glory of these kingdoms. (See Boles' commentary for an
extensive explanation of this, pp. 102-103.) The context does not bring
this out. This passage does not necessitate or even imply a flat-earth
Swindler's next passage was [ref013]Job 38:22: "Hast
thou entered into the treasures of the snow? or hast thou seen the
treasures of the hail?" Again, I find nothing in this verse to
necessitate or imply the flat-earth concept. Barnes says, "The simple
appeal to Job here is, whether he could explain the phenomena of snow and
hail. Could he tell how they were formed? Whence they came? Where they
were preserved and how they were sent forth to execute the purposes of
God? The idea is that all that pertained to snow was distinctly understood
by God and that these were facts which Job did not know of, and which he
could not explain," (_Barnes_, _Job_II_, p. 202). How does
this necessitate or even imply a flat-earth concept?
The next passage was [ref014]Psalm 104:3,
13: "Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who
maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind....
He watereth the hills from his chambers: the earth is satisfied with the
fruit of thy works." Here Mr. Swindler really stretches the
imagination to get the flat-earth concept. How in the world does this
teach a flat-earth concept? Would it be impossible for God to dwell above
the earth and cause it to rain upon the earth and the earth still be
round? IF so, then it would be impossible for the rain to fall on a round
earth! Quite ridiculous! This merely means that God made his abode above
the earth and that he is the giver of the rain and all good gifts. Nothing
here necessitates or even implies a flat-earth concept. When the space
shuttle goes into outer space, we speak of it as being above the earth.
Does this mean that we have a flat-earth concept? No! And it does not
mean that the psalmist had a flat-earth concept either.
The next passage was [ref015]Genesis 1:6,
7: "And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the
waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the
firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the
waters which were above the firmament: and it was so." How do these
verses show that the writer thought the earth was flat? They do not!
Again Mr. Swindler stretches the imagination to try and prove his point.
Here Mr. Swindler used a translation that uses the word dome in the place
of firmament or expansion. The only problem with the word _dome_
being used here is that people think of a dome as a bubble that covers
something flat. The word _expansion_ or _firmament_, however, is
a much better translation. This _expansion_ or _firmament_
surrounds the whole earth. Leupold says that it is "an air space
encircling the earth," (_Leupold_on_the_Old_Testament_,
_Genesis_I_, p. 59). What this does is to keep the waters on the
earth and the waters (mist, fog, rain, etc.) above the earth apart so that
the sun can shine and we can live upon it. Without this expansion, we
could not live on the earth. How does this necessitate or even imply a
flat-earth concept? It does not!
The next passage was [ref016]Job 38:12-14:
"Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days; and caused the
dayspring to know his place; that it might take hold of the ends of the
earth, that the wicked might be shaken out of it? It is turned as clay to
the seal; and they stand as a garment." Mr. Swindler said,
"Notice also that the KJV refers here to 'the ends of the earth.'
This would indicate a flat earth, since there are no ends to a
globe." We who today know that the earth is round will say such
things as, "That person would follow you to the ends of the
earth," yet we realize that the earth has no literal ends. What is
so difficult about understanding this passage? Does this phrase
necessitate a flat-earth concept? No! Does it even imply it? Not unless
our language today implies such. Mr. Swindler, like so many others today,
will do anything possible to prove that the Bible was not inspired by God,
even if it means that they neglect the fact that the Bible speaks in
figures of speech in many places. They refuse to allow the Bible to speak
in such a way that man can understand. Why?
The next passage was [ref017]Job 28:7: "He
stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon
nothing." How does this passage necessitate or even imply a
flat-earth concept? It does not! Mr. Swindler says that Job was wrong in
verse 11: "The pillars of heaven tremble and are astonished at his
reproof." Does this necessitate the flat-earth concept? No! Barnes
says, "That is, the mountains, which _seem_ (emphasis JM) to
bear up the heavens," (_Barnes_, Job II, p. 46). Is there
anything difficult about this passage? No! Does it necessitate or imply a
flat-earth concept? No! He is speaking poetically here. What is wrong
The next passage was [ref018]Isaiah 14:13:
"For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will
exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of
the congregation, in the sides of the north." Here the king of
Babylon was merely placing himself above what he ought to be. He
envisioned himself as being as powerful (if not more powerful) than God
and reigning in heaven. Now, as for his concept of the earth's shape, I do
not know what that was, but rest assured that the Bible writer here was
not teaching the flat-earth concept. He was merely showing the king of
Babylon what his concept was of where he would be reigning. It says
nothing at all about the shape of the earth.
The final passage was [ref019]Isaiah 40:22:
"It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the
inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens
as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in." The word
for circle in this passage is the Hebrew word _khoog_, which, when in
its masculine form as it is here, means "a circle, a sphere,"
(_The_Analytical_Hebrew_and_Chaldee_Lexicon_, p. 249). Therefore,
this verse does deal with the shape of the earth; it shows that the earth
is a circle or a sphere. It says that God dwells above this sphere or
circle and the inhabitants of this earth are as grassphoppers in his
sight. This verse does not teach or even imply the flat-earth concept.
In order for Mr. Swindler, Mr. Till, and others of the
agnostic/atheistic belief to discredit the Bible on this and other
subjects as well, they must go to faulty translations, place
misinterpretations upon passages, and show pictures from dictionaries
about what some thought about the earth's shape. However, they cannot
discredit these verses, because I have shown that none of the verses that
Mr. Swindler brought up teaches or even implies what Mr. Swindler, Mr.
Till, and others of their belief say that they do.
Mr. Till says he is not sure of his position, and I assume that Mr.
Swindler takes the same position. Mr. Swindler seems to be sure, however,
that the Bible is not inspired or inerrant. I wonder why? Mr. Swindler
said, "The Hebrews were inspired by nothing more than their political
and religious motivations." I wonder how Mr. Swindler knows that this
is true? I wonder how he can be so certain? I have taken his article
apart, point by point, and have shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that his
belief is false.
I must insist, therefore, that Bible believers still believe in the
inerrancy of the word of God.
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