There has been a lot of to-do on the internet these days about whether or not the earth is flat.
There is a huge contingent of people who claim that not only is the Earth flat, the Bible clearly says it is flat. They claim that the powers that be say the Earth is a sphere in an attempt to remove Glory from God, and hide Him from the Earth because they're servants of the devil.
The Bible, oddly enough, actually talks about this in Romans.
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,[ in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. Romans 1:19-20
These two verses from Romans clearly show that all creation speaks to the Glory of God and does so for all men. Not only should this have a direct impact on your ἀπολογητικός (there are no atheists), it should show you that there is nothing men can do to hide the Glory of God that is made known through creation.
In fact, the more we learn about Creation, the more it will speak to God and His power.
There are a few that will say otherwise, though....
Imagine how I felt, then, when I saw the image here being posted on Facebook, claiming that the Bible describes a circular, flat earth.
Immediately I was thrown for a loop and wanted to investigate this for myself. Surely the Bible can't actually claim that the Earth is flat, can it!?
I'll let you decide for yourself.
Before we get into these passages, which I will absolutely go through one by one, let's discuss hermeneutics.
Hermeneutics is defined as, "the branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation, especially of the Bible or literary texts." Your hermeneutic is going to decide how the text appears to you and what the text says to you.
The goal of any hermeneutic should be to get you as close to the author's intent as possible, so that you can understand something in the way that it was written.
As a Lutheran, I will be leaning on a strong Lutheran hermeneutic. I believe that the Lutheran method of interpreting scripture will always get you closest to the original meaning and intent of the author.
Full Discloser: At the time of this writing, I am not fluent in Koine Greek or Hebrew, but am on a semiary path towards ordination. I should be fluent in both languages in about two years, at which point I'll revise this post if needed. That said: It won't be needed. This is all pretty clear in English.
What is the Lutheran Hermeneutic?
The Lutheran Hermeneutic is actually pretty simple and fairly easy to understand. I'll spend a few minutes breaking it down for you here so that you can understand as I begin grappling with these texts, and hopefully so that you can rightly handle God's word on your own!
Context, Context, Context
Step One is to determine the context of the text in question. You cannot take one verse, or one half of one verse, and build out an entire doctrinal concept on this.
The most common example of this is Prov. 23:7, where, in the King James, it reads, "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." The verse in question is not teaching that your thoughts direct your life. In fact, go read Proverbs 23:6-8 in any other translation (ESV linked) and you won't even be able to figure out where that verbiage normally appears.
Not only do you have to read the entire verse in question, you should also read the surrounding verses. You need to go as far back as you can to get the entire picture. Sometimes this means whole chapters.
Remember: The Monks that divided the Bible up into chapter and verse were primarily concerned with length, and not with dividing by idea. They were making a simple reference system that was not divinely inspired, and which actually kind of sucks.
You should also consider, to a lesser extent, the context in which the books themselves were written, as it can sometimes have a pretty profound impact on your understanding of the text regarding the author's intent.
Literal, but not Literalist
This is the most important one for this discussion. We believe, as Lutherans, in a literal interpretation of the text, but not a literalist interpretation of the text.
This means that we take the text, and by extension, God, at its (His) word. When Christ says, "this is my body" we just believe Him. When, in the middle of a poem with a lot of dramatic imagery, Job says, "The earth is laid upon great pillars", we do not automatically assume that there are actually pillars under the earth.
We take the text literally, but we are not wooden in our interpretation of it. The best example I can think of is the following Facebook post by a friend of mine:
In this post we can see that my friend takes a wooden literal interpretation of the text. It says that David will be King in the New Jerusalem and that we will all have one shepherd and follow his laws. It says that "David [...] will be [our] prince forever." (Ez. 37:24-25)
The wooden literalist reads this and assumes it's talking about King David. But, when we rightly divide the word (coming up next) we can understand that this is a prophecy about Jesus. This is a very strong gospel passage that speaks of the Messiah.
The problem is that Ezekiel didn't know that the Messiah's name was going to be Josh. What he did know, however, is that the Messiah would be a root from the stump of Jesse (Isaiah 11) so He grabbed the name of the greatest king from the line of Jesse (David) and used his name as a placeholder for Jesus' name.
Law And Gospel
As a Lutheran, I believe that rightly dividing the word (2 Timothy 2:15) means dividing the biblical passages between their component of law and gospel.
Every passage in the Bible is telling us something about God. Be it His character (law) or His compassion (Gospel). It is also telling us that we are helpless and hopeless without Him, so that we might be drawn to Him.
The Bible is not about you, it's about Jesus.
In this way, you cannot read and understand a passage of scripture unless you understand that it is proclaiming either or both the Gospel and the Law to you. In the passage above, about David, we can see that it is proclaiming the Gospel.
Deuteronomy 5, on the other hand, is clearly a law passage. It tells us who God is, and what God expects of us.
When looking at what some claim is scriptural support for the flat earth, we will need to determine if these flat earth Bible passages are giving us presentations of law or presentations of gospel. That is to say, what are these passages trying to teach us about God and our relationship to Him?
The Bible & The Flat Earth
Let's go ahead, now, and take a look at the verses in this meme and see what they say. The quality of the meme is pretty low res and I'm having a hard time finding the original version of it, but we'll soldier through!
The Earth is a Circle
The first passage listed is Is. 40:22, "It is He who sits above the circle of the Earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who streches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;"
The meme is obviously referencing the first half of the verse where it says the circle of the earth. The immediate thought here is that it commits the same fallacy as that King James verse from earlier, wherein it references only part of the verse and attempts to build a doctrine around it.
When we look at this entire passage in context we can see that it isn't so much a passage describing for us, scientifically, the shape of the earth, but rather it is showing us our size in comparison to God: That is, we are small ("inhabitants like grasshoppers").
The focus on the Earth being a "circle" is a bit of a mis-focus, because it isn't the portion of the verse that the writer is concerned with. Isaiah isn't attempting to teach us about the Earth, but rather about God and His authority over it.
Moreover, when we use an interlinear cross-reference Bible, we see that the Hebrew word here really just implies a certain roundness, and is a root word used in many circular-like descriptions things, such as areas of geography, balls, compasses, and large piles of things.
The point being, the Hebrew word here doesn't necessarily mean a flat, round disc, but rather just something vaguely circular. It could be flat, round disc, but could also be a sphere.
It's also commenting on His great sovereignty, that He is in control and above all things. He is the one who created everything, who is stretching out the Heavens (universe).
Are we to take a wooden approach and read this as saying that the Universe is literally a tent? No. Rather, it's saying that, like a tent, the universe is stretched out.
The cross-references here are going to be Job 22:14, wherein the Lord's place above Heaven is referenced, and Hebrews 8:1-2 where the Tabernacle is mentioned as the tent in which He dwells.
Made With A Compass
The next verse is Proverbs 8:27, which this meme somehow gets the word "compass" from, despite it never appearing in the text. The context for this verse is going to start at Proverbs 8:22 and run all the way through verse 31.
This passage of scripture is not speaking of creation, or giving us any technical details of creation. When we read it in context (if you want, start even earlier than I recommend), we see that it is Wisdom speaking, and telling us that He (Wisdom) knows the Father, and has been with Him always, and that if we listen to Wisdom we will have salvation.
This is a Gospel passage. It is also a fairly sturdy passage on the existence of the Trinity. Wisdom, in this case, is the Holy Spirit, and this passage is describing the regeneration of the believer.
Alternatively, you could pull Christ out of this passage, and explain how Christ has always been with the Father, and was the power by which The Father created (Cross Reference would be John 1:1-2).
What this passage is not talking about, however, is the shape of the Earth. In fact, my Bible translates this word as circle again, and, again, uses the same Hebrew (חוּג) word that really just implies a general roundishness.
Laid Upon A Face
The passage referenced here is Genesis 1:2, but there is an immediate problem when you read it.
"The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters."
The problem here is that the meme is saying something that this verse isn't saying. The meme claims that this verse states the earth is laid upon a face. That is, there is a flat surface upon which the earth rests.
But that isn't, at all, what that verse is saying, is it? It says that the Holy Spirit hovers (or, broods, like a chicken) over the earth. But it never mentions what the earth itself is laid upon.
This verse actually shows the omnipotent power of God, that He can call forth matter out of nothingness and creates everything ex nihilo.
The next one is Job 26:10 which is another verse sporting our favorite Hebrew word חוּג. The second half of this verse, though, is really what they're talking about. It says, "at the boundary between light and darkness", which this meme then turns around and says, "is bounded".
But of course that really doesn't mean anything. Bounded? The earth has boundaries? Of course it does. It isn't infinite. Both globe and flat earth people would agree on this point.
The real issue of contention here between the two camps is going to be the nature and location of those boundaries, which this verse does not comment on.
And once again, the purpose of this verse isn't to describe the physical world, but rather to describe God's place above it, and his control over it (Law). Just look up a verse to Job 26:9 and you'll see it speaks about how he commands the rain.
For this point the meme uses Job 38:13, which my version doesn't even translate as 'ends', but rather as 'skirts'. And once again, the purpose of this verse isn't to teach us anything cosmological, but rather to show us that evil cannot hide from the Lord.
The whole verse speaks about how God will use daylight to shake evil out of its hiding. To say that this verse is teaching that the earth literally has ends, and that the sunlight grabs those ends and literally shakes the earth so evil people can be exposed is a bit absurd.
This is, once again, a law passage that can be clearly cross-referenced with John 3:19-21
Does Not Move
The verse mentioned here is Psalm 93:1, which reads, "The Lord Reigns; he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes the world is established; it shall never be moved."
Here we have that same Proverbs Fallacy committed, wherein we're only looking at a fraction of the verse and attempting to build doctrinal statements off of it.
If we look at the entirety of Psalm 93 we can see that it is clearly about the power and authority of God above all things, and it ends with a strong Gospel verse (Ps 93:5) that states that we can completely trust in God because He is completely in control of all things.
Taking that into account, we see that "world" in this case isn't referring to the earth, but rather it's referring to the created order of things, at the head of which God is eternally seated.
The verse isn't saying the earth doesn't move, it's saying God's authority doesn't move.
Covered By A Dome
The next passage in question is Genesis 1:6-8, which, once again, doesn't have the word in question in it anywhere. In this case 'dome' is a modern equivalent of the King James preference, "Firmament", which is the older translation of the Hebrew רָקִ֖יעַ, which modern scholarship has taken to mean "expanse".
The King James is translated very differently in the Hebrew sections of the Bible than modern translations because, 400 years ago when it was first translated, that antiquated Hebrew was a dead language. The language itself has since been revived and, thanks to Christian scholars, is much more easily understood today. Our grasp of a lot of these terms has changed in the last half-millennia, and we no longer translate Raqiya (רָקִ֖יעַ) as 'firmament' but as 'expanse' because it more accurately portrays the idea behind the word.
In context, you can see that Moses is speaking of the two waters: The ground waters such as oceans and lakes, and the sky waters where the rain comes from. Taken in context, רָקִ֖יעַ refers to the space between those waters. It's the sky, not a lid or solid dome on the earth.
This, again, is a law passage showing God's complete sovereignty over the earth and all that is in it.
Contains The Sun, Moon, & Stars
This part is just ignorant block-headedness. Same chapter, but a few verses forward, we see the same word for expanse (רָקִ֖יעַ) used but this time in relation to the placement of the stars. If you're interested, the reference is Genesis 1:14-18.
If we translate רָקִ֖יעַ as "sky", I don't think any of you would be as confused about this. We often reference colloquially the 'stars in the night's sky'. That's what the author is doing here.
God created the stars in the sky, in the expanse, in heaven. We understand that these are available words to describe rather unavailable concepts to the ancient hebrews.
I'm glad that, at least these two errors aren't because the verse is out of context. Rather, this is an example of eisegesis, wherein the author of the meme came to the biblical text with an idea, and read that idea into the text instead of pulling the meaning from the text (exegesis).
Heavens Circle Around Us
This one literally references a book that isn't even in the Bible to get the point across, because it can't find a single verse in the Bible to even kind of support itself.
It references the extra-biblical Book of Enoch, which was never apart of Jewish cannon, nor Christian cannon. Why you would rely on such a book for supernaturally revealed truth is beyond me.
If anything this proves that most people who get taken in by these memes don't spend time reading and researching the verses in question in their context (this post took me 5 hours). Rather, they read the headline, see the reference and just assume it says what the meme claims it says.
"Oh look, the meme says the heavens circle around us and there's a reference so the Bible must say that too!"
As far as the heavens circling around us, they do and they don't. We know that we orbit the sun, and in that way the heavens do not circle us. However, when we observe space and the universe we see that everything is moving continually away from us. There is nothing in the universe that is moving towards us, or that is staying at a constant distance from us.
Moving towards us would imply that the object is moving in the same direction as us at a greater speed than us; whereas staying at a constant distance would imply the object is moving in the same direction as us at the same rate of speed as us.
But these are two things we don't observe. And because we don't observe them, and in fact observe the opposite - that everything moves away from us - we can reasonably assume that we are, quite literally, at the near center of the universe, if not the center.
That being the case, everything does sort of revolve around us. It is also an amazing testament to God and His love for us that we are at the center of His vast creation. He did all of this to sustain our life and give us something beautiful.
God be praised!
The Author of the Meme
The last thing I would like to talk about in this already lengthy piece is the author. I looked into this Straitway Truth and found that they are Hebrew Israelites.
Hebrew Israelites are the more modern incarnation of the very first heresy: The Judaizers. They believe that you have to keep all of the old testament laws in order to be saved, which was firmly put down by Paul in his letters, and by the first council in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-31).
The Hebrew Israelites are extremely legalistic and, in many cases, are blatantly racist, teaching that white people are all going to hell and that only black people can be saved (ignoring completely Galatians 3:28).
Now why would this matter, you ask? Because they are heretics, and as such you cannot trust their teaching. A bad tree cannot bear good fruit (Matthew 7:28).
You wouldn't trust Joel Osteen to teach the word of God correctly (I hope) on any subject, so why would you trust this group?
What about other memes?
"But Remy," You say, "You only did this one meme!"
Yeah, no joke, and look at how freaking long this is! I've looked at other memes, and you can feel free to look at them as well. They all make the same two mistakes: They eisegete the verse, reading their intent into them instead of pulling the meaning out, or they only quote part of a verse and ignore its context and intent.
If you have one that you feel doesn't do that and does prove a flat earth, feel free to leave it in the comments and I will consider it prayerfully as I did those listed here.
That said, The Bible does not teach that the earth is flat. Because the Bible isn't about the earth or its shape. The Bible is about Jesus.