The Bible and Cosmology
Bible passages about cosmology:
Quotes from the
book of Genesis.
Cosmology relates to the layout, size, shape, origins, evolution, relationships, etc. of the earth, moon, sun, and the rest of the universe. The Bible -- particularly the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) -- contains many references to cosmology. But
there is no real consensus on how to interpret these passages.
Historians, archaeologists, mainline and liberal theologians generally
believe that the authors of books in the Bible simply accepted the contemporary Pagan beliefs taught in neighboring countries about
the shape of the earth, and the layout of the universe.
That involved a flat Earth with the Sun, Moon and Stars revolving around the Earth, More details.
Many conservative Christians believe that God inspired the authors of the Bible to write inerrant, text. That is, writings that are totally free of error. Interpreting those biblical passages which discuss cosmology causes a problem, When the passages are interpreted literally, they conflict with scientific beliefs that have been in place for centuries. The latter describe an earth that is approximates a sphere in shape, around which the Moon revolves, with the Earth and Moon revolving around the Sun. The Sun, in turn, is located in one of the arms of a spiral galaxy composed of 100 to 400 billion stars. The Earth is very definitely not the center of the Solar System, the Milky Way, or the universe.
This conflict has been resolved in two main ways:
- Most Christians simply interpret the passages symbolically, and assume that they contain little or no scientific or theological content. They are largely ignored.
- Some conservative Christians -- particularly in ancient times -- interpret the passages literally and have believed in a flat Earth with the Sun, Moon, and stars revolving around it.
Robert J. Schadewald, in his essay "The Flat-Earth Bible," has written:
"Samuel Birley Rowbotham, founder of the modern flat-earth movement, cited 76 [biblical] scriptures in the last chapter of his monumental second edition of "Earth not a Globe. Apostle Anton Darms, assistant to the Reverend Wilbur Glenn Voliva, America's best known flat-earther, compiled 50 questions about the creation and the shape of the earth, bolstering his answers with up to 20 scriptures each." 1,2
in 1893, Professor Orlando Ferguson of Hot Springs, SD provided the following image of his concept of the Earth's shape :
He conceived of the shape of the earth as similar to one-half of a donut mould. He believed that there were two gigantic curved arms rooted at the North Pole, with the sun and moon attached to their ends. They obviously do not actually exist because explorers have visited the North Pole and found only ice sheets there.
Note the squished shape of South America at the 5 o'clock position and the elongated version of Australia at 10 o'clock. which radically differ from actual land surveys.
One wonders why the water from the North Atlantic Ocean in his version of the Earth did not drain into the bottom of the light-colored trench and submerge Australia and South Africa under water. Like more modern versions of the flat Earth, he concluded that Antarctica was not a continent but was a thin layer of ice spread around the rim of the trench. The four angels in each corner of the Earth were inspired by Revelations 7:1 which talked about the angels holding back the four winds. One also wonders why the four angels did not slide off of the edge of the earth into oblivion.
At the right hand side of the image, he drew a characture of two men flying on a spherical earth, desperately trying to hold on as the earth flew around the sun at 65,000 miles and hour. He included a listing of 400 Bible passages that he believed condemn the Globe Theory and/or a non-stationary Earth.
References to cosmology in the Book of Genesis in the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament):
The following quotations are taken from the King James Version of the
Bible. It is not the easiest translation to read. However, it does help us
avoid copyright problems. We will give only the literal interpretations of
Genesis 1:6-8: "And God said, Let there be a firmament in
the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the
firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning
were the second day. And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be
gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it
was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of
the waters called he Seas..."
We are introduced to the cosmology of
the ancient Hebrews at a point only six verses into the beginning of the first book
in the Bible, Genesis.
The term "firmament" meant a dome over the Earth supported by mountains around the edge of the Earth.
Chapter 1 contains contradictions in terminology:
Verses 6, 14, 20, 24, and 26 imply creation by word -- God spoke
the universe into existence. This is a rare concept among the Pagan
religions in the area of the Ancient Hebrews. The Genesis account may have been copied from, or inspired by, a similar
myth about the Egyptian God Ptah who also created by divine command. 3
- Verses 7, 16, 21, 25,and 27 imply creation by action -- God
physically made the world. This concept is more common among the
neighboring Pagan cultures.
This conflict may have been caused by the author(s) of Genesis combining
two ancient Pagan stories into one biblical creation account.
One biblical commentary explains that the Hebrew word translated as
"firmament" is a plate of metal. This formed a vault
over the ocean that supported the weight of the water above the vault. 3
According to another biblical commentary:
"A translucent dome,
like an inverted basin, placed 'in the midst of the waters' defines the
spatial boundaries of God's further work...The solid 'hammered-out'
firmament restrains 'the waters' of chaos from above and receives its
blue color from them. 'Heaven' is therefore the upper protected limit of
This is a passage from the
story of the great world-wide flood of Noah. It seems to have been derived from an earlier Pagan Babylonian myth of a great flood.
The cosmological view of the ancient Hebrews involved a vault or
firmament over the earth which contained floodgates. The latter were
doors that could be opened from above. Water could be poured through the
doors down to the earth as rain or snow. The Babylonian flood myth may
well have been based on memories of a a
catastrophic deluge when a land bridge was breached and the
Mediterranean Sea flooded what is now the Black Sea about 7,500 years ago.
A later text (3 Baruch 3:7) describes how the Tower was eventually built.
The builders reached the underside of the sky and attempted to pierce through
the metal surface with an auger. 3 The story appears to
have been produced by the merger of two earlier myths: one involved the
building of a tower to gain fame; the other involved the building of a
city to preserve the unity of humanity.
Robert J. Schadewald, "The Flat-Earth Bible," at: http://www.positiveatheism.org/
Samuel Birley Rowbotham, "Zetetic Astronomy: Earth Not a Globe," Forgotten Books, (2007). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
- J.D. Douglas, et. al, "Old Testament Volume: New Commentary on the Whole Bible, Tyndale House, (1990), Page 7. This is a conservative commentary.
John Marks, "The Book of Genesis." Part of Charles Laymon, Ed., "The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible," Abingdon Press, (1971), Page 3 & 4. This is a liberal commentary.
Ella Morton, "A 19th-Century Map of Our ‘Square and Stationary’ Earth," 2016-APR-25, at: https://www.atlasobscura.com/
Image: Library of Congress/2011594831
Copyright © 2002 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2002-APR-22
Latest update: 2018-APR-27
Author: B.A. Robinson