Babylonian Flat Earth map

Does the Bible Support a Flat Earth?

 


Flat Earth Bible Verses With Notes


It might be hard to tell by just reading a few isolated Bible passages but the cosmological view was that the earth was surrounded by water on all sides and that the boundaries of the habitable zone was the ground and the firmament. Springs in the ground and windows in the firmament could allow for the water to flow into the habitable zone. Inside the habitable zone the water and the land were separated but the outer perimeter of the land was thought to be made of water. A good representation of this is found in the image below. I’ve edited it slightly for missing parts. It should be noted that this construction differed from one time period to another but only slightly. For example, the gate of heaven going through the top of the firmament was a late idea. Earlier people believed the deities were in the skies.

Early Bible Cosmology

Early Bible Cosmology According To The Bible

 

The ancient Assyrians held a similar view of the cosmos and created a number of reliefs that depict the cosmos. In the following relief dedicated to the sun God Shamash, the waters of the deep are show, as are the sun, moon, and stars below a firmament.

Tablet of Shamash, Ancient Cosmos

Tablet of Shamash, Ancient Cosmos

Structure of the earth according to Genesis 1

It is difficult not to picture the image above when reading the passages from the creation narrative. In the beginning was just water, the deep, the chaos. This was the abode of the mythical water deity in most ancient mythologies. In Canaan that deity was named Yamm which is coincidentally the Hebrew word for water. Yamm’s sea creature was named Lotan which translates into the Hebrew Leviathan. Hebrew mythology is that El/Elohim (eventually YHWH) mastered the watery deep. In Canaanite mythology it was through El’s son, Ba’al. Early Hebrew mythology was similar except El was the master of the watery deep and of the Leviathan. More than that can be read in the article “No, The Leviathan Was Not A Crocodile“. It was upon this primordial waters that all things were created. The Mesopotamians refereed to this as the Absu/Apsu. Like the Mesopotamians, the biblical authors believed a cosmos of 3 distinct parts. First was the watery deep. Second was the skies containing the deities and the firmament. Third was the earth which also contained Sheol below the surface.

Genesis 1:2
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Genesis 1:6-10
And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

Genesis 1:14-18
And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good.

The Firmament and it’s windows

Few ancients believed the sky to be anything but a solid dome. The dome was thought to contain water above it and the celestial bodies and clouds below it. This view is easily seen in the OT when it speaks of the sky and the firmament. It is easy to see why this view was so prevalent. Standing on nearly any hill or rooftop and looking on all directions produces an image of a circular disc and a blue dome. Blue being associated with water would naturally lead one to believe there was some water behind the dome. This theory was buttressed by the fact that said water would occasionally fall from the dome.

When the floods came in Noah’s tale, they came from the sky and the springs in the ground. This flooding was thought to be of water that formed the boundary of the cosmos. Some have tried to argue that the Hebrew word for firmament “raqia/רָקִיעַ“, means something other than a solid dome. However, given the etymology of the word and what we know from other Biblical passages and ANE texts, one must assume it was a solid dome. The Bible describes it as holding back waters and having windows and doors. It’s also described as being firm and glass-like. It would be in error to conflate raqia/רָקִיעַ with the sky generically. Genesis 1:20 is the best proof of the firmament being a separate entity from the skies. The birds are said to fly above the earth (land), across the face of the firmament (because it has a surface), and the firmament is located in the heavens (sky).

Paul H Seely, probably best known for his research on the firmament and it’s understanding throughout Hebrew and other ANE cultures. I highly suggest reading his article in the Westminster Theological Journal, titled “The Firmament and the Waters Above“. One point that he makes which is particularly interesting for understanding how the Hebrews interpreted their own scripture was that the second temple commentary and teaching about the firmament abounded with speculation of what the firmament was made out of.

Jews speculated as to what material the firmament was made of: clay or
copper or iron (3 Apoc. Bar. 3.7). They differentiated between the firmament
and the empty space or air between it and the earth (Gen. Rab. 4.3.a; 2 Apoc.
Bar. 21.4). They tried to figure out how thick it was by employing biblical
interpretation (Gen. Rab. 4.5.2). Most tellingly they even tried to calculate
scientifically the thickness of the firmament (Pesab. 49a).
(The Firmament and the Waters Above, WTJ 53 (1991), 236)

There should be little doubt that the firmament was thought to be a hard structure from the earliest times until roughly the early Medieval period. There is a movement in modern Christianity that teaches that the firmament once existed but was done away with after the flood of Noah. Essentially their purpose was to hold back the pre-ordained flood waters. That is theoretically why the firmament was attested to in ancient times but not today. However, I think it’s a silly notion because the firmament was just on facet of the biblical construction of the world. Additionally, where did the water all go and if God can snap his fingers to get rid of the water (or create the entire universe) then surely he wouldn’t really need a barrier to contain water which could easily be spoken into existence.

Genesis 1:20
Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.”

Psalm 19:1
The heavens tell out the glory of God, the vault of heaven reveals his handiwork.

Genesis 7:11
In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened.

Deuteronomy 28:12
The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands.

Psalm 78:22
Yet he gave a command to the skies above
and opened the doors of the heavens;

Job 38:22
22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
or seen the storehouses of the hail,

Proverbs 8:28-29
28 when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,

Malachi 3:10
10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.

Revelation 4:1
After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”

The Watery Deep

The watery deep (Akkadian Apsu) in ANE thought was the primordial soup that all things came from. The Babylonian Creation Epic starts very similar to the Biblical creation narrative, with just the watery deep. Many people believed that the water was completely surrounding the earth, however, some believed the space above the firmament contained various weather element like rain, hail, wind, etc. These views differed from one time period to the next. The watery deep also contained springs which sent water up through the land. In the modern age we know these to be water tables, not an endless abyss of water. The land was thought to have been spread out over the water and then enveloped by it, by means of the firmament.

When on high no name was given to heaven,
Nor below was the netherworld called by name,
Primeval Apsu was their progenitor,
(Enuma Elish, COS 1.111)

Genesis 7:11
In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened.

Psalm 24:1-2
1 The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
2 for he founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters.

Proverbs 8:27
27 When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,

Job 38:16
16 “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
or walked in the recesses of the deep?

Job 11:8-9
7 “Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
8 They are higher than the heavens above—what can you do?
They are deeper than the depths below—what can you know?

Psalm 136:6
6 who spread out the earth on the waters,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

Psalm 104:5-9
He set the earth on its foundations;
it can never be moved.
6 You covered it with the watery depths as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
7 But at your rebuke the waters fled,
at the sound of your thunder they took to flight;
8 they flowed over the mountains,
they went down into the valleys,
to the place you assigned for them.
9 You set a boundary they cannot cross;
never again will they cover the earth.

Above the Firmament

Above the firmament was were a number of things depending on the time period you lived in. Early people believed it was mostly just water controlled by gates. Deities resided in the skies but not above the firmament. The earliest deities were thought to live on the mountain tops that touched the clouds. Later people were more aware that rain came from the clouds and the view was that above the firmament was abode of the most high god, such as we find in the book of Enoch. In the time Enoch was written, the stars were thought to be made of fire and the abode of the most was likewise a fiery place, rather than watery. The association of God with fire should not be a surprise as YHWH was a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21), and when He descended on Mt Sinai He did so in fire (Exodus 19:18). Moreover, Ezekiel speaks of fire being on the mountain of the Lord. At other times people conceived the space above the firmament as just being the throne of God for the heaven of heavens which was controlled by a gate.

Ezekiel 28:14
You were anointed as a guardian cherub,
for so I ordained you.
You were on the holy mount of God;
you walked among the fiery stones.

2 Enoch 47
who is it who has counted the dust of the earth or the sand of the sea of the drops of rain of the dew [of the clouds] or the blowing of the wind?
Who is it who has plaited the land and the sea together with indissoluble bonds, and cut the stars out of fire, and decorated the sky and put in the midst of them…

Psalm 148:4
4 Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!

Isaiah 40:22
22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to live in;

Stretching of the Earth and Skies

One of the most telling phrases in the Bible is that the earth and sky are always described as stretched out. Sometimes they are described like a scroll. Certainly this imagery would only make sense if the reader envisioned a flat surface. It makes more sense when considering the land was thought to have been place on top of the water, as we already read previously.

Isaiah 44:24
24 Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,
who formed you in the womb:
I am the Lord, who made all things,
who alone stretched out the heavens,
who by myself spread out the earth;

Job 9:8
who by himself spread out the heavens

Psalm 104:2-3
2 wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
3 you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,

Job 37:16-18
16 Do you know how the clouds hang poised,
those wonders of him who has perfect knowledge?
17 You who swelter in your clothes
when the land lies hushed under the south wind,
18 can you join him in spreading out the skies,
hard as a mirror of cast bronze?

Job 26:7-10
7 He spreads out the northern skies over empty space;
he suspends the earth over nothing.
8 He wraps up the waters in his clouds,
yet the clouds do not burst under their weight.
9 He covers the face of the full moon,
spreading his clouds over it.
10 He marks out the horizon on the face of the waters
for a boundary between light and darkness

Rev  6:13-16
…the stars in the sky fell to the earth, like figs shaken down by a gale; the sky vanished, as a scroll is rolled up…they called out to the mountains and the crags, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One who sits on the throne…”

The Foundations

The modern reader of the Bible might think that the phrase “foundation of the XYZ” is a generic phrase but it really is not. The ancients really believed that the earth was built upon a foundation, just like a house. It would be required in order to anchor the firmament and to keep the land within the sea without sinking. Moreover, laying a foundation for a sphere would be both impossible but also needless. The inside of a sphere requires no foundation, even if it’s hollow.

1 Chronicles 16:30
He has fixed the earth firm, immovable.

Psalm 93:1
Thou hast fixed the earth immovable and firm …

Psalm 96:10
He has fixed the earth firm, immovable …

Psalm 104:5
Thou didst fix the earth on its foundation so that it never can be shaken.

Isaiah 45:18
…who made the earth and fashioned it, and himself fixed it fast…

Job 9:6
He shakes the earth from its place
and makes its pillars tremble.

Job 26:11
The pillars of the heavens quake,
aghast at his rebuke.

Psalm 104:2-3
2 wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
3 you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,

Job 38:4, 6
4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
…….
6 On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—

The Realm of the Dead (Sheol)

Few people in the modern age really have a grasp on the biblical realm of the dead or the OT concept of the afterlife. It’s not completely their fault as the OT provides only a few details. However, the details provided usually fit well with the view of the surrounding cultures. Sheol is a very common feature in ANE texts. The earliest scriptures speak of a single place where the dead reside and it’s called Sheol. In ANE mythology, Sheol is designated for all of the dead. The idea of a celestial heaven after death isn’t a thing. Sheol was a cavernous place located below the crust of the earth but is protected from the watery deep. It is important to know that until the time of the 2nd temple period, all humans were thought to end up in Sheol. Even David and Hezekiah mentions their eventual fate of going to Sheol. The resurrection of the dead was first introduced 3rd Isaiah and Daniel which were much later works than the majority of the OT.

Isaiah 14:9-11
The realm of the dead below is all astir
to meet you at your coming;
it rouses the spirits of the departed to greet you—
all those who were leaders in the world;
it makes them rise from their thrones—
all those who were kings over the nations.
10 They will all respond,
they will say to you,
“You also have become weak, as we are;
you have become like us.”
11 All your pomp has been brought down to the grave,
along with the noise of your harps;
maggots are spread out beneath you
and worms cover you.

Numbers 16:30-33 – “But if the Lord brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the realm of the dead, then you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt.” 31 As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all those associated with Korah, together with their possessions. 33 They went down alive into the realm of the dead, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community.”

Psalm 88:3-6
I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
5 I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.
6 You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.

Ezekiel 26:19-21
“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When I make you a desolate city, like cities no longer inhabited, and when I bring the ocean depths over you and its vast waters cover you, 20 then I will bring you down with those who go down to the pit, to the people of long ago. I will make you dwell in the earth below, as in ancient ruins, with those who go down to the pit, and you will not return or take your place in the land of the living. 21 I will bring you to a horrible end and you will be no more. You will be sought, but you will never again be found, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

Isaiah 38:17-18
Surely it was for my benefit
that I suffered such anguish.
In your love you kept me
from the pit of destruction;
you have put all my sins
behind your back.
18 For the grave cannot praise you,
death cannot sing your praise;
those who go down to the pit
cannot hope for your faithfulness.


Conclusions


The simple answer to whether or not the Bible is a flat-earth book is a resounding YES.

I understand that that is troubling for many people who believe the Bible to be without error. There are a few things that we must conclude about the biblical cosmology. The first is that it was evolving over time. Moses’ view of the cosmos was different than that of Ezekiel. Second, that the cosmos in the Bible simply does not line up with what we know to be true in the modern age. I am aware that flat earth proponents believe such science is either fake or misinterpreted but until any of their theories survive peer review in the broader scientific community it’s a moot point. Lastly, if the Bible differs from reality someone has to be assigned blame. Are these differences due to man imposing his own understanding on the revelations of God? Are they due to the Bible just being an attempt to put words in the mouth of God? Were these corruptions to the text? Is it possible that these stories are just metaphors meant to teach higher theological ideas? I won’t weigh in on my own thoughts but it is important that one wrestles with these things rather than simply repeating the traditions handed down to them without thought.


 

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