Problem: The Bible declares geocentrism and/or a flat Earth
Verses: Multiple; Status: Minor

There are various verses in the Bible that seem to suggest both a flat Earth and a geocentric model of the solar system (whereby the Earth sits in the centre and the sun and the other planets go around it). Here's Ecclesiastes 1:5:

The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. (ESV)

All but the most unreasonable inerrantists say that this is just a metaphor (a very few actually defend geocentrism). Even astronomers and others who know better still talk about the sun "rising" and "setting" when they really mean "the Earth turns". I don't see this sort of thing as a problem. Another verse often mentioned is Joshua 10:13:

And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. (ESV)

But this has a similar solution. It's reasonable that "the sun stood still" could mean "the sun stood still, relative to observers on Earth". Again, I don't regard this as truly problematic. A more difficult verse is Psalm 104:5:

He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved. (ESV)

In this case, if this is a metaphor, it's not entirely clear what it actually means. I suppose you could say this refers to the Earth being in a stable orbit, or something like that. But I find this far less satisfying than the solutions to the other verses.

Another example occurs during the temptations of Christ. This is Matthew 4:8-9:

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." (ESV)

This seems to imply a mountain from which the whole Earth can be seen; yet surely even Matthew knew there was no such mountain, so I wouldn't take this literally.

As a final example, this is Psalm 75:3:

When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars. (ESV)

The natural reading of this is that the Earth rests upon pillars, and is therefore flat. Tektonics says this is just "poetry". Obviously a non-inerrantist can explain some verses by saying they were written by humans with an incorrect understanding of the cosmos. Certainly a belief in a flat Earth would not have been absurd in very ancient times.

Updated: 2009-11-28

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