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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Bible Cosmology

Critics of the Bible often point out the fact that it promotes a primitive and inaccurate cosmology that would not be present in a book inspired by an omniscient god. Such an inaccuracy, they say, is certainly proof that biblical authors were not inspired by a god who created the universe and, therefore, since that is one of the central attributes of the christian god, that god does not exist.

However, much like the biblical account of the creation, a proper understanding of the Hebrew language goes a long way in answering some of these issues.

In this post, I am not attempting to answer every issue regarding Bible cosmology, and other issues will be addressed in future posts.

My Earth, it has four corners...

There are many verses in the Bible which refer to the Earth as having corners. If the Biblical authors understood the Earth to be a sphere, then clearly they would know that it has no corners. These verses seem to show their belief in a flat, squared Earth. One such verse is Isaiah 11:12, which says,

“And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.”

Verses like this are most likely being used metaphorically for several reasons. First is the fact that the Hebrew word used for “corners” is “kanaph”. This word refers to compass points, meaning that the verse more likely refers to nations in all directions.

In addition, this usage of “four corners” must be intended as a metaphor because even if biblical authors did believe that the Earth was flat, other biblical verses make it clear that they would have believed it to be a circle, not a square, such as 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:”

Finally, this idiom, “the four corners of the Earth,” is one which is still in common use today, despite our modern knowledge of the universe. If we still use this phrase today, despite our relatively advanced knowledge, then it is not inconceivable to think that they would use it regardless of their cosmological views.

Pillar's and Foundations

The Bible also refers to the Earth's foundations and pillars in ways that seem to hint at geocentrism. It seems to teach that the Earth is stationary atop some kind of support system. In the entire Bible, there are only a few words used for “foundation”: Makown, mowcadah, yacad, and yecuwdah.

Makown is used to mean a home or living area, as in Psalms 33:14, which says,

“From the place of his habitation he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth.”

Therefore, it is not used to refer to a physical support system holding up a structure.

Mowcadah is a word used to refer to a physical support structure, as well as being used in an abstract way, such as in Isaiah 58:12,

“And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.”

Here, it is clearly being used in an abstract sense, meaning that there is no reason that this word must necessarily refer to a literal support system.

Yacad is also used in both a concrete and an abstract sense. In 1 Kings 5:17, for example, it is used literally.

“And the king commanded, and they brought great stones, costly stones, and hewed stones, to lay the foundation of the house.”

And in 1 Chronicles 9:22 and 2 Chronicles 3:3, the same word is used in a way that is not only metaphoric, but also has nothing to do with the idea of a foundation.

“All these which were chosen to be porters in the gates were two hundred and twelve. These were reckoned by their genealogy in their villages, whom David and Samuel the seer did ordain in their set office.”
“Now these are the things wherein Solomon was instructed for the building of the house of God. The length by cubits after the first measure was threescore cubits, and the breadth twenty cubits.”

Here, again, we see that it is possible for this word to be used to imply a physical foundation, but the versatility of the word also means that this interpretation is not necessary.

Yecuwdah is also used literally and as a metaphor, such as in Isaiah 28:16,

“Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.”

At first, this may seem like a literal usage, until one considers the implication that the city of Zion would then be built on the physical, tangible body of Jehovah. Clearly, this is not a literal use.

One of the two words used for “pillar” is “matsuwq”, which, like the words for “foundation” may be used for “pillar”, but a physical pillar is not necessary, such as 1 Samuel 14:5,

“The forefront of the one was situated northward over against Michmash, and the other"

Ammuwd is used in the Book of Job, such as Job 26:11,

“The pillars of heaven tremble and are astonished at his reproof.”

However, this is very poetic, stylized language and unless we believe that a pillar can be “astonished”, we must conclude that these are, or may be, metaphors.

In any case, these verses are more likely used as a metaphor for the same reason as those referring to the four corners of the Earth. Other verses, which are demonstrably correct, describe the Earth as being without support in space. Job 26:7 says,

“He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing.”

Finally, this sort of language is also in common use today, despite our knowledge, so it is not inconceivable that it was used in the same sense by Bible authors.


It is on the critic to support the claim that the Bible teaches a false cosmology. While it is admitted that the words used by Bible authors may have been used literally, we have no certain reason to believe that this was the case, and we even have a few verses, such as Isaiah 40:22 and Job 26:7, which appear to show otherwise.


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