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Flat Earth, Conspiracies, and the Bible



Awhile back I was scrolling some reels on social media. I came across a short video of two pastors engaging in a debate during some sort of service. They were arguing about what the Bible says about the earth being flat.


Yeah. That’s right. One of the pastors was arguing that the Bible teaches the earth is flat.


There was a whole lot of emotional immaturity and un-Christlike behavior displayed in this 90 second clip. The pastor who invited and hosted the debate started yelling and ranting at the other pastor and then kicked him out. The other pastor threw his mic at him and walked out. All in the name of “what the Bible says.”


Where on earth (there’s a pun there I think) might some people get the idea that the earth is flat? Well, the Bible says so. I’ll show you:

  • Job 26:7, “He spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing.”

  • Psalm 93:1, “The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.” This is more of an argument against the earth being tilted on it’s axis, rotating around the sun. The “Bible says” it is firm and secure. It does not move.

  • Daniel 4:11, “The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth.” The argument goes that if the earth were a sphere, a tree could not be “visible to the ends of the earth.” But, if it were flat then…it could…?

  • Isaiah 11:12, “He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth.”

  • Isaiah 40:22, “He 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.” The argument goes that the Hebrew word means “circle” (think a circular plate), not sphere (like a ball).

  • Revelation 7:1, "After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree.” This is the most explicit. The Bible “literally” says “four corners.” You only have corners on a flat surface. Boom. Argument settled. The earth has four corners therefore the earth is flat.


Conspiracies and Pseudo-science

In conjunction with these and other biblical texts, flat-earthers also have a handful of “scientific” arguments. The truth is, I am not really well-educated in the various disciplines of earth science. I am not going to pretend that I understand the flat earth arguments nor the counterarguments. I will simply share a few quotes regarding the scientific “evidence.”


Astrophysicist, Paul Sutter states it succinctly: “To put it bluntly, we know more about the curvature of Earth than almost any other topic in the realm of physical science. There are so many experiments, observations and demonstrations that have, time and time again, revealed the curve of the Earth. And it all starts with the horizon.”


In order to sustain this absurd belief, a complicated web of pseudo-science and conspiracy theories has to be weaved. In part, it goes something like this:


The Bible says the earth is flat. Any information, science, or evidence that contradicts that claim is wrong and must be dismissed. In order to remove God from the picture, the scientific community has conspired together to promote evolution. The undermining of what the Bible says about the earth being flat is part of that conspiracy. NASA has conspired to create a fake moon landing and fake pictures of earth from space. It’s all a big hoax. When Biblical scholars point out anything about the nuances of the bible’s historical, cultural, literary, and linguistic context, they are also “liberal” or “progressive” or deceived…or false prophets…(or some other pejorative that deflects the point rather than provides a coherent argument). If you believe in a spherical earth, you are a sheep and unenlightened.


Dr. Danny Faulkner captures the essence of the problem when he writes,

As an astronomer with a Ph.D. in astronomy and enough course work for a Ph.D. in physics, flat-earthers regularly dismiss my knowledge and expertise as rubbish. Some of these people whose formal education likely ended in high school think that they know far more about what science is and how it ought to be conducted. Flat-earthers demonstrate the same attitude toward learned men who have dedicated their lives to the study of Scripture and/or the original languages of the Bible. Twenty-something people who think that their eyes recently have been opened to the true biblical cosmology believe that they have far more understanding of the Bible than these scholars do. They regularly work Hebrew lexicons to sift out their preferred meanings of Hebrew words…When confronted with what that Hebraists have to say, the naïve flat-earthers simply assert that the Hebraists are wrong about what these words mean. There is only one word for the combination of such colossal ignorance and arrogance: hubris.

The combination of ignorance and arrogance is dangerous. When this combination is also joined to religious authority or biblical interpretation, it is even more dangerous.


The Formula

I don’t personally know any flat-earthers and you likely do not either. So what is the point of me writing about this?


While not many Christians I know arrive at the conclusion that the Bible teaches the earth is flat, I have come across quite few other “biblical” views and perspectives that essentially use the same formula as the flat-earthers.


There is a very simple formula that leads to this and other biblical convictions. It goes like this:


The Bible is the Literal Word of God + God Literally said it = We Have to Believe it.


Or, perhaps more commonly stated,


“The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”


Sounds right doesn’t it? I mean, that sounds like honest faith right? How then does it lead to so many misguided convictions and so much division in the church (as evidenced by all of our denominational traditions)? Well, in my opinion, there are a couple problems with this formula.


God’s Word

The idea that the Bible is the “literal Word of God” needs some nuance. The Bible is the written revelation of God that was inspired by the Holy Spirit. This written revelation was mediated through human authors. God inspired human authors who wrote stuff down…which was then transcribed and passed down through a number of other human mediums over the course of thousands of years and translated into various other languages. The Bible, as we have it today, has a story. It was written and composed over centuries and then passed down. The process of canonicity also has a story.


The Bible is a collection of 66 books written by at least 35 different authors over the span of  about 1,500 years. The Scriptures were written in specific, yet varying cultural and historical contexts by human authors who were inspired by the Spirit. But, just like in the incarnation where Jesus was born of a woman, the revelation of Scripture did not bypass the human agents who wrote it down. The native language and cultural understandings and even writing styles of the authors are apparent. The Pauline epistles have a distinct writing style that differs from the Johannine writings.


Not only that, there are different genres of literature within the Bible as well. The genre of a writing influences how you approach it and interpret it. Historical writings are different from poetic writings. The Bible contains brilliant literary devices that are often even more evident in the original language. Hyperbole, figures of speech, metaphor, word play, dramatic story telling and so much more  are all part of the literary masterpiece that is the Bible.


Also, is every part the literal word of God? This sounds right, but is it true? I am going to give you a couple of biblical examples and ask the question: Is this God speaking or the human author?

Psalm 89: 19-20; 33; 38; 46; 49

Once you spoke in a vision, to your faithful people you said:“I have bestowed strength on a warrior; I have raised up a young man from among the people. I have found David my servant;


…but I will not take my love from him, nor will I ever betray my faithfulness.


…But you have rejected, you have spurned, you have been very angry with your anointed one.


…How long, Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?

…Lord, where is your former great love, which in your faithfulness you swore to David?

For the sake of space I selected portions of Psalm 89, but you can read the whole Psalm. Essentially the author is “reminding” God of his promise to David (19-20, 33). But, this psalm was likely written during the Exilic period, so the Psalmist essentially says in verse 38 that “you said you wouldn’t take your love from us, but…you definitely have.” Then, he asks God how long is he going to hide and withhold his love (46 & 49). In other words, the psalmist is calling into question God’s faithfulness. Who is speaking here?


How about this passage from 1 Corinthians 1:14-16,

I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.)

What likely happened here is that Paul was dictating his letters to a scribe who was writing it down as he dictated it. Paul was probably thinking out loud, remembering who he baptized. Since paper was expensive back then, his out-loud thinking transcribed and retained in the letter. Is this Paul’s parenthetical phrase or God’s?


Last one from 2 Timothy 4;13,

When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.

Paul is writing to Timothy and at the close of his letter there are several personal requests. This one is for Timothy to bring his cloak, his books, and his journals. Is this God speaking or Paul?


Hear me: The answer is yes. It is not either or. There is a both and mystery in which the revelation of God is mediated through human agency. I believe we do a disservice to the Bible to only approach it from our modern, American, English viewpoints and treat it like it is easy to understand and interpret. I believe it is more faithful to the biblical text to wrestle with this divine-human mystery than to flatten it and iron out the humanity. Further, I believe it is more faithful to the biblical text to do the hard work of understanding the historical, cultural, and literary context of the text.


Further, God revealed things about himself that exceeded human knowledge and understanding, but He did not reveal himself in a way that so transcended their cognitive frameworks that the revelation was meaningless.


Think of it in terms of having “the talk” with a child. (We are not there yet and I will likely be digesting some resources for how to do this well in the future). For analogies’ sake, let’s say my 4 year old asks me where babies come from. There are multiple answers that are all true on varying levels. At age four, I might say that when a mommy and daddy love one another, they come together in a very special way. They each give something of themselves to make a baby with God’s help.


This is true. But if my daughter took this truth all the way into late elementary or middle school as an absolute and dismissed any other truth claims as false, we would have a problem. If she dogmatically held to what we told her and dismissed the biological process as wrong, she would actually be missing another dimension of truth.


To go even further, the mysterious and poetic beauty of intimacy could be lost too. Within this physical and biological process, we know that there are bonding hormones that connect us to one another and develop secure attachments. Oxytocin is sometimes called the “love hormone.” One medical article on line states it this way, “Oxytocin is a hormone and a neurotransmitter that is associated with empathy, trust, sexual activity, and relationship-building. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘love hormone,’ because levels of oxytocin increase during hugging and orgasm.” There is a beautiful mystery here even in the scientific explanation of intimacy.


Here’s my point: at 4 years old, the level of revelation we can share with my daughter about sex is going to be limited to what her cognitive framework can handle. Similarly, at earlier times in human sociological and scientific development, God revealed himself in ways that the ancients could understand while also revealing truth. As my daughter matures, there is more she can come to understand and there is more she can learn (even from science) that actually compliments previous revelation. The earlier definition of a mommy and daddy who love one another is enhanced by this scientific understanding of oxytocin. There is a beautiful mystery here that all of our words can only attempt to convey.


What we call “the Bible” is written revelation attempting to convey in human language the Divine. Absolute transcendence. Ultimate reality. That which cannot be comprehended. Obviously, even though the Bible is inspired by the Spirit, the sheer reality that it is attempting to contain within language revelation about the God of the Universe means it is incomplete.


When we adopt a posture that dismisses new scientific discoveries flat out (another pun if you have been tracking), we become fearful, conspiratorial, and sometimes unintentionally ignorant. Now, do not read into this what I am not saying. I am not saying we accept the interpretation of the modern scientist who brings into their science a sort of dogmatic, naturalistic atheism. Scientists sometimes impose their worldviews on their interpretation of science too. We can be discerning.


We do not have to be fearful of science and always find conflict between science and faith. And, we do not have to adopt all the assumptions of modernity at the expense of faith. Please read that. I am not saying we reject what the Bible says and make modern science, psychology, philosophy, etc. our foundation for a worldview. I am saying we can see revealed truth throughout creation too. Romans 1 says as much. God has revealed himself in science too.


Correctly Handle the Bible

Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15 and 23,

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth….

…Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.

Let’s correctly handle the word of truth and avoid foolish and stupid arguments. Especially about a flat earth.


For me, correctly handling the word of truth involves studying it with a humble posture and holding very few things with a relentless dogmatism. It also means looking to the Living Word (Jesus) for clarity when things in the Written Word are confusing or obscure. The author of Hebrews wrote, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…(Hebrews 1:1-2).”


Post Script: To the Skeptic

Now, much of what I wrote here against ignorant, blind denial of facts sounds…blind and self-deceived itself. I write about God revealing himself to humans and about the incarnation and Jesus…which also assumes the Resurrection. I know. For the skeptic, this is all absurd.


Maybe it is. But that is faith. I have went down several paths of doubt before and I just cannot get away from Jesus. His vision of life and human flourishing and the hope of resurrection is something I believe by faith is true. I am fully aware of that. I believe Jesus is who he said he was and… I love Jesus. Which then leads me to love God because Jesus claimed that He and the Father (God) were one (John 10:30). Likewise, I believe the Scriptures are inspired. I have some reasonable reasons for these beliefs. But at the end of the day, I am fully aware that it comes down to faith. I question and wrestle with whether it is true… I hope it is true. I believe it is true. I trust it is true by how I live. But it is by faith.


Notes:

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