Biblical Cosmology

The Bible does not really state a specific cosmology, as is even acknowledged by people trying to find one in the Bible:

The Biblical cosmology is never explicitly stated

So how come many claim the Bible teaches the world is flat and the heaven is a dome above the earth? They follow a simple procedure:

... so it must be pieced together from scattered passages.

Right. We just pick a few words all across the Bible, and there we have Biblical cosmology. Context and interpretation be damned. This short article will not lower itself in trying to argue those texts with them who fully believe this is a valid methodology. We leave that to Sir Isaac Newton (Matthew 24:29). But it just follows the same methodology to arrive at the opposite conclusion.

The Earth doesn't move. Or does it?

The favorite choice phrases for the people who claim the Bible teaches that the earth doesn't move:

  1. 1 Chr. 16:30: “He has fixed the earth firm, immovable.”
  2. Ps. 93:1: “Thou hast fixed the earth immovable and firm ...”
  3. Ps. 96:10: “He has fixed the earth firm, immovable ...”
  4. Ps. 104:5: “Thou didst fix the earth on its foundation so that it never can be shaken.”
  5. Is. 45:18: “...who made the earth and fashioned it, and himself fixed it fast...”

Case proven. Let's now argue the opposite case and claim the Bible teaches that the earth moves:

  1. Ps. 99:1: “The Lord reigneth ... let the earth be moved.”
  2. Job 26:7: “He ... hangeth the earth upon nothing.
  3. Is. 24:19: “the earth is moved exceedingly.”
  4. Is. 44:24: “I am the Lord that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself;”

The Earth is flat. Or is it round?

The idea that before modern science people, especially Christians of course, believed the earth was flat, is an invention from the 19th century. But about every schooled individual in the Middle Ages believed that the earth was spherical. As the excellent Wikipedia article on the Flat Earth mythology says:

the Historical Society of Britain listed this modern belief in regard to the medieval era as the number one in its compendium of the ten most common historical illusions.

Sailing ships descend below the horizon. A simple observable fact that means that the idea of a spherical earth is within most people's grasp. But let us not be discouraged by that, and find the Bible verses that so clearly say the earth is flat. The following are cited in support for this statement:

  1. Dan. 4:10-11: “I saw ... a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof great. The tree grew ... and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth.” The earth must be flat else the tree would not be visible to the ends of the earth.
  2. Matthew 4:8: “Again, the devil taketh [Jesus] up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them.” Same argument, the Bible writers clearly state here that they believe that from a high enough mountain you could see the whole world.
  3. Rev. 1:7: “7 Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him.” Same argument.
  4. Is. 24:5 and Is. 44:24: according to Dr. Robert M. Price and Reginald Finley Sr we can translate this that at creation God “spread out the earth.” According to them, the same word, raqa', is used in other places for “flattening” or “pounding.” They don't give references, and it's hard to find good examples, but perhaps they refer to verses as Ex. 39:3 and Jer. 10:9.

Case proven. Let's now argue the opposite case and claim the Bible teaches that the earth is not flat:

  1. Job 38:14: “[The earth] is turned as clay to the seal; and they stand as a garment”: the earth rotates.
  2. Ps. 104:9: “Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over; that they turn not again to cover the earth.” (how can a flat surface be covered by water? It would fall over the edges...)
  3. Is. 40:22: “It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth”
  4. Job 26:10: “He hath encircled the waters with bounds”: The King James translators translated this with compass, but exactly the same word is used as in Is. 40:22.
  5. Prov. 8:27: “when he set a circle upon the face of the depth”: see comment above.
  6. Luke 17:31-34: “In that day, he which shall be ... I tell you, in that night there shall be ...”: day and night simultaneously on earth.

It might be interesting to note that the Hebrews had no separate word for sphere, a three dimensional circle. Despite our opponents claiming it had. It seems the Hebrew word for circle also has the meaning of sphere.

The Bible says the earth has a dome above it

Who knows what the Hebrew writes thought when thinking about the firmament? Dr. Robert M. Price and Reginald Finley Sr!

They must have been thinking of something like a giant version of the Astrodome. The “firmament,” as the very word, containing the element “firm,” implies, the underlying Hebrew denotes a solid dome of metal or crystal.

Solid dome of metal, well there you have it. And here some Bible verses to support the view:

  1. Gen. 1:6: “Let there be a firmament to separate the waters from the waters”. Firmament is dome of course.
  2. Deut. 28:23: “And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron.”
  3. Job 22:14: “He walketh in the circuit of heaven.”: God walks over the top of the dome.
  4. Job 37:18: “Hast thou with him spread out the sky, which is strong, and as a molten looking glass?”
  5. Ezek. 1:22: “nd the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creature was as the colour of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above”
  6. Is. 40:22: “It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers.”: circle should be read here as dome, say Dr. Robert M. Price and Reginald Finley Sr, so God sits on the dome and looks down on the inhabitants which look as grasshoppers from that distance.

And we don't have a list of Bible verses that assert there isn't a solid iron dome above our heads. For the very simple reason that the above verses don't claim there is a solid dome. This is read into the text.

I suggest interested readers to read Is the raqiya‘ (‘firmament’) a solid dome? by “James Patrick Holding”:

... the description of the raqiya‘ is so equivocal and lacking in detail that one can only read a solid sky into the text by assuming that it is there in the first place. One can, however, justifiably understand Genesis to be in harmony with what we presently know about the nature of the heavens.

The article proves that the Hebrew word raqiya`, which is translated by firmament in the King James, is not really defined in the Bible. The translation expanse would be a better one.

It's already clear in Gen. 1:8 where the firmament is called heaven:

And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

Birds fly in the heavens for example, clearly indicating that it was not solid. The same happens in Gen. 1:10 where the dry land is called earth:

And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

As James Patrick Holding says in another place:

By itself this verse tells us virtually nothing about the nature of the earth and seas.

And the nature of heavens. The Bible isn't a shortcut to scientific knowledge. All we can conclude on the use of the word raqiya' is therefore:

We therefore argue that raqiya‘ is intended rather to refer to that which serves to ‘separate the earth from all that is beyond it’, (that is, what we call the atmosphere, and interstellar space) and that because no differentiation is made otherwise, there is no reason why Genesis can not be read to permit a description of the heavens and the natural order as we know it.

What did the Bible authors believe?

This question is actually irrelevant. In case of the Bible we have to distinguish between the secondary authors, which were humans living in specific times and the primary author, which is God. For all we know the secondary authors might have believed the world was flat.

I personally doubt the secondary authors believed that. As soon as people start to think, one of the first “discoveries” is that the earth isn't flat. As Abraham came from an advanced astronomical culture, the Sumerians, they might have possessed the knowledge of the spherical nature of the earth and Abraham might have taken that with him and passed that on to his children. But I would agree this is speculation.

But it is irrelevant what the secondary authors believed. The Bible is written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. It is God who wrote the Bible, 2 Tim. 3:16 and 2 Pet. 1:21, and who has made sure we possess the Bible in accurate copies. These secondary authors did not completely realise and understand the full meaning of what they wrote, 1 Pet. 1:10-11.

Because God is the primary author, the Bible is infallible. Even in the verses where it describes the cosmos. Note that in many verses our opponents like to cite the Bible isn't speaking about the globe, but about people and kingdoms. But in the few verses that it does, it is reliable.

But the Bible isn't written in such a way that it will serve as a shortcut to scientific knowledge. Sometimes, with hindsight, we see that the Bible was correct and we understand the full meaning of a verse in scripture. See for example how the common phrase “stretched out the heavens” is currently understood by creation scientists. But deriving an essential correct cosmological model is deliberately not possible.


Point proved. I think. In case you want to see a more in depth look at the matter, see What Shape is the Earth In? by J.P. Holding.