The Bible does not teach that the earth is flat, despite what skeptics say.

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Does the Bible teach that the earth is flat?

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The Bible does not teach that the earth is flat. It teaches that the earth is spherical. We did a study of 5000 writings from the time of Plato and Aristotle, and could not find one writer who said the earth is flat. We believe the flat-earth idea is a myth that flourished after Darwinists tried to discredit the Bible.

Despite what some skeptics say, the flat-earth view is not taught in the Bible.

The Bible does not teach that the earth is flat. The flat-earth idea is a relatively recent invention that reached its peak only after Darwinists tried to discredit the Bible, according to a professor of history at the University of California in Santa Barbara.

Professor Jeffrey Burton Russell said in his book Inventing the Flat Earth, first released in the early 1990s, that up until the time of Columbus “nearly unanimous scholarly opinion pronounced the earth spherical”. Professor Russell said he believes that the flat-earth myth can largely be traced back to a story by Washington Irving, which relates a mythical account of Columbus defending a round earth against bigoted, misinformed clergy and university professors.

He said there is nothing in the documents from Christopher Columbus's time or in early accounts of Columbus's life that suggests any debate over the shape of the earth. He said the flat-earth myth flourished between 1870 and 1920, and had to do with the ideological setting created by struggles over evolution. It seemed an ideal way to dismiss the ideas of a religious past in the name of modern science.

Another source for the myth

We believe that another source for the myth was Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. In this satire of courts and politicians, Swift wrote:

They bury their dead with their hands directly downwards, because they hold an opinion, that in eleven thousand moons they are all to rise again, in which period the earth (which they conceive to be flat) will turn upside down …

The Bible actually teaches a spherical shape for the earth. In Isaiah 40:22 God is said to sit above “the circle of the earth” (the Hebrew word for circle can also mean a sphere). Also, in Luke 17:34–36 Christ's Second Coming is portrayed as occurring while some are asleep at night and others are working at daytime activities — which means a rotating earth with day and night at the same time.

What did the ancients believe?

American writer Thomas Bullfinch (1796–1867) said in the Introduction of his book Age of Fable that “The Greeks believed the earth to be flat and circular …”.

Yet when we check Bullfinch's statement with ancient Greek writings we find that his claim was not true of some of the greatest Greek thinkers, such as Aristotle and Socrates. The brilliant fourth century BC Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote in Book II, chapter 14 of his work Heavens (350 BC):

Of the position of the earth and of the manner of its rest or movement, our discussion may here end. Its shape must necessarily be spherical.

Aristotle, Augustine, and others

Aristotle reiterated this in his Meteorology, and gave reasons and calculations to show that the stars and the heavens are also spherical. “… the horizon always changes with a change in our position,” he wrote, “which proves that the earth is convex and spherical.”

Likewise, we find problems with a statement in W. Somerset Maugham's book, Of Human Bondage. In a conversation between Weeks and Philip in Maugham's book, we find this comment:

St. Augustine believed that the earth was flat and that the sun turned round it.

That's what Maugham wrote. But did Saint Augustine believe the earth was flat?

Augustine (AD 354–430) was one of the most prominent of the early church fathers. When we turn to Augustine's 22-volume treatise, The City of God (De Civitate Dei), we find that he didn't believe the earth to be flat at all. Maugham was wrong. Augustine did have problems accepting that there were populated lands on the other side of the earth — not a weird belief at all for the time, because Australia and New Zealand, for instance, were not known to exist — but he acknowledged that a spherical earth seemed to have been scientifically demonstrated.

Augustine wrote:

… although it be supposed or scientifically demonstrated that the world is of a round and spherical form, yet it does not follow that the other side of the earth is bare of water; nor even, though it be bare, does it immediately follow that it is peopled.

Other ancient accounts

Plato, a contemporary of Aristotle and disciple of Socrates, quoted Socrates as saying: “my conviction is that the earth is a round body in the center of the heavens” (Phaedo, 380 BC).

The Roman poet Ovid (43 BCAD 17) wrote in AD 8 that God “moulded Earth into a spacious round” (Metamorphoses, Book the First, The Creation of the World).

Roman philosopher Plotinus (204–270) wrote in his Six Enneads (Eighth Tractate, On the Intellectual Beauty, section 7): “it is possible to give a reason why the earth is set in the midst and why it is round …”.

Flat-earth myth flourished in recent times

There might have been debate about a flat earth among some of the ancients, but from our own research of over 5000 books from ancient times we have to say that Professor Russell seems to be correct when he says the flat-earth myth flourished only recently. Claims that people used to believe that the earth is flat are mostly in modern writings. Charles Darwin made the claim in his Voyage of the Beagle, Rudyard Kipling used the idea in Kim, Arthur Conan Doyle used it in Lost World, and other writers of recent centuries have also used it (such as Thomas Paine, and Swift, Bullfinch and Maugham whom we quoted earlier). All are recent writings.

Compounding their misinformation, some evolutionists claim that creationists are “flat-earthers” or are equivalent to the “flat-earth society”. An evolutionist website says there was supposedly a man in California named Charles Johnson who ran a Flat Earth Society. But even if this is genuine, the writings of his they reproduce are quite irrational. Even though the writings mention belief in a Creator, they end by saying “In 30AD JC said …”, revealing a non-Christian disrespect for Jesus (non-Christians refer to Jesus Christ as “JC”, but Christians don't). To imply that creationists are flat-earthers linked to Johnson or his ideas is mischievous at best, but more likely simply dishonest. It is easier to find a link between evolutionists and astrologers.

As we have demonstrated, a look at some of the ancient writings themselves, including the Bible, leads us to believe that informed opinion among the ancients was that the earth was not flat, but was round or spherical.

And if some of the ancients did believe in a flat earth, it certainly was not an idea that got into the Bible. The Bible, as the Word of God, teaches the correct shape of the earth.

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