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Bible says the earth is round (Talk.Origins)

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Response Article
This article (Bible says the earth is round (Talk.Origins)) is a response to a rebuttal of a creationist claim published by Talk.Origins Archive under the title Index to Creationist Claims.

Claim CH131:

The Bible says the earth is round, showing that its authors were inspired to understand science beyond their time.

Source: Morris, Henry M., 1986. Science and the Bible. Chicago: Moody Press, pp. 13-14. Jeffrey, Grant R., 1996. The Signature of God. Toronto: Frontier Research Publications, p. 114.


CreationWiki response: (Talk Origins quotes in blue)

1. The passage saying the earth is round is Isaiah 40:22 (KJV): Blank2.gifHe sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. This passage may reasonably be interpreted as referring to a flat circular earth with the heavens forming a dome above it.

First of all, the English word "circle" is not the one that Isaiah originally used. Rather, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the KJV translators in trying to translate that word used the word "circle". The Hebrew word is 'chuwg' defined by Strong's Hebrew dictionary as the following:

Strong's Number: 02329, Transliterated Word: Chuwg, Definition: circle, circuit, compass

(BDB) vault (of the heavens), Word Origin: from (02328)[1]

The word is rarely used in the Bible, and found in just 3 places, Job 22:14 (KJV) ("he walked in the circuit of heaven"), Proverbs 8:27 (KJV) ("he set a compass upon the face of the depth"), and Isaiah 40:22 (KJV) ("he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth"). The word it comes from, 02328, is used just once in Job 26:10 (KJV) ("He hath compassed the waters with bounds"). It appears to carry the concept of an encompassing circuit or sphere, especially as seen from Job 26:10 (KJV) and Job 22:14 (KJV), but the rare usage makes it tough to tell. Nevertheless, there appears little justification for assuming it has to mean 'circle' rather than 'sphere', and 17th century King James English may not have even made that much of a distinction between the words 'circle' and 'sphere' when deciding which word to use.

Secondly, even if this is what Isaiah had in mind when he wrote this verse, the fact that the term that is actually used fits a spherical Earth still supports Divine inspiration. It shows that God had him use a term consistent with reality rather than what Isaiah thought was reality.

However the prophets, transcribing their visions and inspirations, often did not understand their writings in the way that people later understood them, made clear from Daniel 12 (KJV), in which God tells Daniel that his visions will not be fully understood until the "time of the end".

Besides, Talk Origins here is arbitrarily selecting an interpretation here that does not fit the passage.

Such an interpretation is consistent with other passages of the Bible which refer to a solid firmament [Gen. 1:6-20, 7:11; Ezekiel 1:22-26; Job 9:8, 22:14, etc.].

The meaning of the word "firmament", and the Bible references using the word "firmament", does not mean "solid" firmament, and it would be interesting to see where they got this idea.

Genesis 7:11 does not refer to the firmament. What it does refer to is "the windows of heaven" being opened. Talk Origins is simply adding its own meaning, just assuming that this is a reference to openings in a solid dome, to let rain through. However that does not fit the term "windows of heaven."

A window is something that you look through to see what is on the other side and it is usually opened to let something in or out. So what do we look though to see the heaves on the other side? The answer is the Earth's atmosphere. But what could actually open up the atmosphere? Given that this is a reference to the Flood there are two possibilities and they are not mutually exclusive.

  1. Genesis 7:11 says that "all the fountains of the great deep broken up." There is most likely a reference to a deep subterranean pool or pools of water. If it were deep enough, or driven by other possible geological influences, the pressure of the breakup would have shot water through the atmosphere pushing it aside like the opening of a window.
  2. There is evidence of asteroid impacts during the Flood. An asteroid of sufficient size would punch a hole in the atmosphere pushing it aside much like the opening of a window, besides providing a cause for the geological effects resulting in the flood.

The fact that windows is plural suggests that there was more than one opening, meaning that both of these could be the case. God probably use the term "windows of heaven" here because ancient Hebrew did not have a more precise way of describing these events.

Job 22:14 does not refer to the firmament, but it refers to "the circuit of heaven." It is interesting to note that one of the possible models for space time suggested by General Relativity is that space is actually a closed hyper sphere. With such a model, one could start at Earth travel away from it in a strait line only to arrive back at Earth again. Now, at the speed of light this trip would take many billions of years, but the point is that in such a model "the circuit of heaven" would be the circumference of the hyper sphere. Thank you, Talk Origins, for providing yet another example of Biblical scientific accuracy. By the way this model of space time has no relevance to the question of a bounded universe, since the matter of the universe could occupy only a small portion of the hyper sphere.

Job 9:8 does not refer to the firmament, but it says of God, "Which alone spreadeth out the heavens." This is not a reference to a solid dome, but the observed expansion of space. This interpretation is supported by Isaiah 40:22.

Ezekiel 1:22-26 does use the word firmament, but it is not in connection with heaven. Rather, it is part of a vision.

Gen. 1:6-20 does use the word firmament to describe the heavens. The word firmament is a translation of the Hebrew word "raqiya`" which means extended surface or level, or expanse. It comes from the root word "raqa`" which means to spread out, or stretch. An expanse means an open extent or expansion. According to General Relativity, space is not emptiness but an extremely large open extent that can expand and based on observation is indeed expanding. So the use of the Hebrew word "raqiya`" to describe the space within the universe fits the General Relativity description of space perfectly.

It is also consistent with the cosmology common in neighboring cultures.

This only shows that Talk Origins' is basing its interpretation of the passages on the cosmologies in question. It does not change the fact that Biblical terminology is entirely consistent with modern science.

Isaiah 11:12 refers to the "four quarters of the earth", but we don't take that as indicative of the earth's shape.

That is because it is a common idiom for the four directions of the compass. More recognizable as such are the Bible translations like the King James version that refer to the "four corners of the Earth", an idiom used commonly in literature into the nineteenth century.

2. The shape of the earth may already have been known in Isaiah's time. Ancient astronomers could determine that the earth was round by observing its circular shadow move across the moon during lunar eclipses. There is some suggestion that the Egyptians knew of the earth's spherical size and shape around 2550 B.C. (more than a thousand years before Moses). The Greek philosopher Pythagoras, who was born in 532 B.C., defended the spherical theory on the basis of observations he had made of the shape of the sun and moon. If this information was known by educated Greeks and Egyptians during biblical times, its use by Isaiah is nothing special.

All this shows is that Isaiah may have known that the Earth was round. It means that this particular idea possibly did not require inspiration, and puts the correction to TalkOrigin's errors in referring to the "firmament". But it is still another indication showing that when the Bible speaks on science it does so accurately. There are plenty of other examples, including the fact that this verse also indicates the expansion of space.

References

  1. Brown, Driver, Briggs and Gesenius. "Hebrew Lexicon entry for Chuwg". "The KJV Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon".
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