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Does the Bible “Teach” Geocentrism?

Geocentrism remains a minority opinion but a lively one among some creationist Christians. See poster below advertising one of their conferences, a joint affair, featuring both Catholic and Protestant speakers:

Geocentrism

Geocentrists remain hopeful even in this heliocentric age because as Gerardus Bouw (Ph.D. in astronomy, president of the Association for Biblical Astronomy and the countryʼs leading proponent of geocentrism) puts it:

“As long as people have some faith in Scripture, thereʼs a future for it.

“I would not be a geocentrist if it were not for the Scriptures.

“The only way we can know for certain whether or not geocentricity is true would be to leave the universe, take a look around outside the universe, and then come back in to tell us what is really happening in that larger scope. Since God is infinitely greater than the universe, and so extends beyond the universe, what God says must present the ultimate case … God, in His Word, consistently teaches geocentricity.”

Compare Bouwʼs words above with these:

“The only way we can determine the true age of the earth is for God to tell us what it is. And since He has told us, very plainly, in the Holy Scriptures that it is several thousand years in age, and no more, that ought to settle all basic questions of terrestrial chronology.” [Henry Morris, founder of the Institute of Creation Research]

Bouw converted to geocentrism only after meeting Walter Van der Kamp and studying Scripture further. Van der Kamp came to creationism relatively late in life and had not gotten far in his research when something began to trouble him about the relationship of creationism to heliocentrism: If Genesis 1 clearly states that God created the sun and the moon on the fourth day in order to rule an already existing day and night on an already existing earth, when did the earth begin to move, and how did we ever get the idea that it was the earthʼs rotation toward and away from the sun that caused day and night, rather than the light that God so dramatically created in Genesis 1:3? Besides, would God really have created a planet, set it into orbit around nothing, then four days later placed a random minor star at the center of that orbit? Obviously, something didnʼt add up. Unless geocentrism was true.

Robert Sungenis, another geocentrist, has an interesting past. He was raised Catholic but became an Evangelical Christian, graduated from a pro-inerrantist Reformed Christian seminary (Westminster Theological Seminary), and later returned to Catholicism before becoming a geocentrist.

Both Bouw and Sungenis admit that some of their fiercest critics are fellow creationist Christians who “want to downplay” geocentrism as much as possible.

For instance, the creationist organization, Answers in Genesis, dismisses geocentrism with several arguments including the observation that “the question of the earthʼs physical position is less important than the spiritual reality of Godʼs love for his people.” But isnʼt that similar to the way Theistic Evolutionist Christians dismiss creationism? i.e., with the observation that “the question of whether humans were created directly from the dust of the earth or not is less important than the spiritual reality of Godʼs love for his people.” Bouw points out that Answers in Genesis is not being consistent, “You canʼt say that one part of the Bible is more credible than another part simply because you feel uncomfortable with what it says.”

Bouw adds that quite a few creationists are closet geocentrists, “including some bigwigs.”

What does the Bible say? Bouw points out that it speaks with divine assurance of the earthʼs “foundations” and that God “has established the world, it shall not be moved.” Bouw asks heliocentric Christians whether they can honestly interpret such speech as Godʼs way of communicating “the relative stability of the earthʼs orbit as it follows its circuit through the heavens?”

He points out that to heliocentrists the earth remains incessantly in motion—rotating daily—revolving annually—and over longer periods of time the tilt of its axis wobbles in a small circle. Heliocentrists are forced to admit that the Scriptures never praise God for exerting His vast power to keep the earth in constant motion, but only praise Him “for establishing the world so that it can not be moved.” What does that imply about Godʼs inability to inspire human writers with true cosmic knowledge concerning creation? If all the Bibleʼs passages that assume geocentrism and daily solar movements and God directing the annual ups and downs of the constellations as they cross the horizon are all untrue—and God is NOT exerting His power to hold the earth still, and the sun is NOT moving daily across the sky, NOR is God “directing” the seasonal movements of the constellations higher or lower above the earthʼs horizons, then what about the truth of Genesis 1-11? How can Young-Earth creationists claim the authority of “Godʼs plain speech” for how THEY interpret what God uses His powers for, but geocentrists must abandon theirs?

The Scriptural Basis for a Geocentric and or Flat Earth Cosmology

Non-Canonical Religious Texts That Agree With Scriptural Ones in Assuming the Truth of a Geocentric Cosmology

The Fathers of the Christian Church Were Geocentrists

The Fathers of the Protestant Reformation Were Geocentrists:

People gave ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon. Whoever wishes to appear clever must devise some new system, which of all systems is of course the very best. This man wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.
Martin Luther, Table Talk

The Illustration Of The Cosmos On The Right Appeared In Lutherʼs Translation Of The Bible.

“Scripture simply says that the moon, the sun, and the stars were placed in the firmament of the heaven, below and above which heaven are the waters … We Christians must be different . . . in the way we think about the causes of things. And if some are beyond our comprehension like those before us concerning the waters above the heavens, we must believe them rather than wickedly deny them or presumptuously interpret them in conformity with our understanding.”
Martin Luther, Lutherʼs Works. Vol. 1. Lectures on Genesis, ed. Janoslaw Pelikan, Concordia Pub. House, St. Louis, Missouri, 1958, pp. 30, 42, 43.

The eyes are witnesses that the heavens revolve in the space of twenty-four hours. But certain men, either from the love of novelty, or to make a display of ingenuity, have concluded that the earth moves; and they maintain that neither the [stars] nor the sun revolves…Now, it is a want of honesty and decency to assert such notions publicly, and the example is pernicious. It is the part of a good mind to accept the truth as revealed by God and to acquiesce in it.
Melanchthon, famous Protestant Reformer and dear friend of Luther who helped carry on his legacy.

Those who assert that ‘the earth moves and turns’…[are] motivated by ‘a spirit of bitterness, contradiction, and faultfinding;’ possessed by the devil, they aimed ‘to pervert the order of nature.’
John Calvin, sermon no. 8 on 1st Corinthians, 677, cited in John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portrait by William J. Bouwsma (Oxford Univ. Press, 1988), A. 72

The heavens revolve daily, and, immense as is their fabric, and inconceivable the rapidity of their revolutions, we experience no concussion — no disturbance in the harmony of their motion. The sun, though varying its course every diurnal revolution, returns annually to the same point. The planets, in all their wandering, maintain their respective positions. How could the earth hang suspended in the air were it not upheld by Godʼs hand? (Job 26:7) By what means could it [the earth] maintain itself unmoved, while the heavens above are in constant rapid motion, did not its Divine Maker fix and establish it? Accordingly the particle, ape, denoting emphasis, is introduced — YEA, he hath established it.
John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, Psalm 93, verse 1, trans., James Anderson (Eerdmanʼs, 1949), Vol. 4, p. 7

Bouw also mentions that in the modern cosmos there is no true “up” or “down.” The earth is not higher or lower than anything else in the cosmos, including the stars which “the Jews were tempted to worship” because they imagined them as being above them and divine. The earth is merely one cosmic wanderer among others, neither above nor below “the stars.” Only in a geocentric cosmos is there a firmly established sense of “up and down,” speaking of which, Bouw also introduces an argument based on the relationship between Godʼs throne in heaven and His footstool below. At the very least one can see how the metaphor of a divinely established throne with an unmoved footstool might have appealed to ancient geocentric [and/or flat earth] biblical writers. Bouw writes:

“Isaiah 66:1 and Acts 7:49 both state, ‘Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? [i.e., the Temple]’

“It is usual for thrones and footstools to be at rest relative to each another. As Professor James Hanson has put it: ‘Footstools are not footstools if they are moving.’”

“Compare Lamentations 2:1: ‘How hath the Lord covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in his anger, and cast down from heaven unto the earth the beauty of Israel, and remembered not his footstool in the day of his anger!’”

“From I Chronicles 28:2,7 Psalm 99:5 and Psalm 132:7 we know that ‘his footstool’ is the Temple upon which ‘the LORD looks down, and beholds from heaven’ (Lamentations 3:50 and 51). This is not heliocentric talk. Godʼs footstool has not moved. It is right where he left it. The Temple mount, Mount Moriah, is still under his throne as it was at the time of Isaacʼs sacrifice (Genesis 22), at Davidʼs purchase of the threshing floor (II Samuel 24:18-25), at the destruction of the Temple (Lamentations, Jeremiah 52), and at the millennial return (Ezekiel 40-48).”

Geocentrists also also focus on verses in which the sun is commanded not to move. Job 9:7 says, God “commands the sun, and it does not rise.” This can not be a case of the sun merely “appearing” not to rise, because it is the sun to which God addresses His command. Itʼs true that this line is spoken by Job, who, as a man, may be mistaken, but Bouw believes this passage is a prophetic reference to an incident known as Joshuaʼs long day. Joshua 10 recounts a day in which, according to inspired Scripture, Joshua commanded the sun not to move, instead of the earth, and, “the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.” An obvious rejoinder by a heliocentrist is that if God had inspired the words, “God commanded the earth to stand still,” and, “the earth stood still,” no reader until the 16th century would have understood him. But Bouw labels this as the central heresy of the church—the heresy that the Creator of earth, sun and cosmos was incapable of inspiring human beings to say what He actually commands, moves and does. The God of the cosmos, creator of language, could not have somehow inspired His people to speak of the “circuit of the earth” instead of the “circuit of the sun?”

To quote Bouw:

“Both the anthropocentric theory of inspiration and the phenomenological-language theory are forms of accommodation where God is said to accommodate his wording to the understanding of the common man. Though that may sound good on the surface, accommodation still maintains that God goes along with the accepted story even though he really does not believe it.”

God leaves his followers with the job of continually revising the meaning of Scripture over the centuries in reaction to advances in scientific knowledge such that a rejection (in the 1600s) of geocentric biblical astronomy was only the beginning. It was followed (in the late 1700-early 1800s) by the rejection of a worldwide Flood and rejection of a young-earth. Which was followed by the rejection (in the mid-to-late 1800s) of the special creation of Adam and Eve from the dust of the earth.

Given the capitulation to heliocentrism, says Bouw, the demise of special creation was inevitable. “By the time evolution comes around, well, you gave in on the geocentric thing: Scripture doesnʼt teach how the heavens go, it teaches how to go to heaven. Fine, evolution is like that too, it has nothing to do with how to get to heaven, so thereʼs no contradiction.” Geocentrists view their work as a necessary component of creationism.

Additional Similarities Between Creationists And Geocentrists

[SOURCE: Man in the Middle: An Exclusive Cut Excerpt from Rapture Ready! by Daniel Radosh]

“Having spent a considerable amount of time talking with creationists, I recognized fundamental similarities between their approach and that of the geocentrists: the emphasis on casting doubt on established theories rather than developing their own testable hypotheses; the claim that all theyʼre asking for is an open debate. And Sungenis also echoed creationists’ assertions that they donʼt deny fossil evidence but merely interpret it in a different way. ‘We also have to backtrack on the experiments that were done that were interpreted in the heliocentric framework and ask if they can be interpreted in the geocentric framework,’ he said. ‘And we find that that is the case. That is exactly the case. All the experiments have been done for us already, its just a matter now of showing the world that those very experiments donʼt prove for modern science what they are said to prove.’”

“Another similarity between creationism and geocentrism is that when a typical scientific ignoramus — such as myself — encounters an expert in the field, he will quickly find himself drowning in a swamp of what sure sounds like science. At one point, Bouw sought to dismiss a common objection to geocentrism, which is that if the entire universe is revolving around the earth, the stars would have to be traveling faster than the speed of light in order to complete the rotations observed each day. ‘There are a couple of ways to object to that,’ Bouw explained. ‘First of all, relativity does not deal with rotation, so rotation can be beyond the speed of light. But even if thatʼs not the case — even if you just strictly take the view that all you have is gravitational rotation — because E=mc2, when you use the formula for gravity, you have to replace the m by E/c2, and so then the centrifugal energy — the energy used as the centrifugal force, the kinetic energy there — and even the potential energy — are big enough that they increase the tension so much that the speed of light changes locally. The speed of light is dependent on the strength of the gravitational field: the stronger the field, the faster it goes. And so if the universe is being held together by gravity, out beyond even twenty billion light years or so, itʼs still going to hang together. The gravitational tension is going to be huge, the speed of light is going to be tremendous — much larger, actually, than the speed of rotation — but the physics does work that way.”

“Does it? You tell me.”

“In Walter van der Kampʼs memoir there is a point when he asks himself if by clinging to geocentrism, he isnʼt merely repeating the error of ancient Christians who believed the earth was flat. And then he seems to wonder if that even was an error.”

“One should not so quickly deride these old-time pillars of staunch orthodoxy who predicted and feared that accepting the heathenish Ptolemaic sphericity in the long run would lead to the negation of Godʼs message altogether. It was Jerusalem contra Athens, revelation against human reasoning. In A.D. 748, Saint Boniface, apostle to the Germans, complained that a certain abbot, Vergilius, held the heresy of the existence of antipodes; and many of us, had we been there, might well have sided with the formerʼs literalism against the latterʼs liberalism.”

“Are there still flat-earthers? The Flat Earth Society, an organization whose name is synonymous with delusion, died in 2001 along with its final president Charles K. Johnson, although it has recently been revived with unclear earnestness. The society, founded in 1956, grew out of a movement that began in England in the mid-19th century. Like geocentrism, flat-earthism was as much a religious belief as a scientific one. Members of the Flat Earth Society — there were reportedly a few hundred in 1980 — believed in the plain language of scripture. Didnʼt God say he had “stretched out the earth” (Psalm 136:6) and could “take hold of the ends of the earth, that the wicked might be shaken out of it” (Job 38:13)? Even photographs of the planet from space — alleged photographs — could not sway them from Godʼs word.”

The late Robert Schadewald, while not an exponent of a “flat earth,” wrote several articles on its advocates, past and present, unfortunately he was not able to finish his magnum opus, a book titled, The Plane Truth: A History of Flat Earth Science. But he sent me [Ed Babinski] a couple emails in 1999 to let me know that flat earthism was not quite extinct. Robert said, “Charles Johnson of the Flat Earth Society is sort of a wacky character, but he is not really representative of flat earthers in general. The half dozen or so other flat earthers Iʼve spoken or corresponded with have included a successful Boston trial lawyer, a priest who belongs to a society devoted to the preservation and translation of ancient Coptic manuscripts, a retired financial officer from a major metropolitan school system (he thoughtfully corrected an error in Greek grammar I had copied from a flat earth source), and a young man who intended to translate an 8th century flat earth treatise by Aethicus of Istria from Latin into English. Not exactly a bunch of semiliterates!” He added, “The Antiochene Fathers of the early Christian Church more or less invented the historical-critical method of exegesis popular among modern fundamentalists within the Reformed tradition. Not surprisingly, *every* Antiochene Father whose views on the subject I have been able to discern was a flat earther! So I think it is a bit strong to suggest that this method doesnʼt have ‘anything to do with the history of Scriptural interpretation.’ It may have been moribund for a long time, but it has ancient roots.” [SOURCE: Emails dated 8/10/99 and 8/5/99 respectively from Robert J. Schadewald] See also The Flat Earth Bible by Robert J. Schadewald

Which reminds me, Evangelical theologian Ben Witherington wrote this in Bible Review in 2003:

“In the late 1960s, my car broke down in the mountains of North Carolina, and I had to hitchhike… I was picked up by an elderly couple driving an ancient Plymouth. After a little conversation, I discovered they were ‘Flat-Eathers,’ by which I mean they did not believe the world was round.

“Honest.”

“I pressed them on this and asked, ‘Why not?’”

“The elderly manʼs response was, ‘It says in the Book of Revelation that the angels will stand on the four corners of the earth. The earth couldnʼt have four corners if it was round.’”
[SOURCE: Ben Witherington III, “Asking the Right Question: To Get the Most Out of the New Testament, You Need to Know What Kind of Book Youʼre Reading,” Bible Review (April, 2003) p. 10.]

The 1920ʼs Scope Trial journalist, H. L. Mencken, ran into some flat earthers in Tennessee and they showed him a signed petition they were planning to deliver to their state congressmen to get their sacred flat earth beliefs acknowledged in public school classrooms.

Today many top notch Evangelical OT scholars have given up on attempting to squeeze history out of Genesis 1, or even out of Genesis 1-11. See the BIOLOGOS website.

What does Gerardus Bouw have to say about verses in the Bible that appear to assume a flat earth?

“I investigated it, yes,” he said. “I donʼt see that the scriptures teach a flat earth… But I have no problem defending a flat earth if I have to. Because itʼs a theoretical construct. I can defend a spherical earth too. Just pick your geometry, thatʼs all.”

To End This Blog Entry With The Question With Which It Began, “Does The Bible ‘Teach’ Geocentrism?”

Thereʼs no simple yes or no answer to such a question if only because geocentrism was so much taken for granted at that time that it could be treated as a given, a universal assumption, and thus there was no need to “teach” it. The same could be said about “flat-earth-ism” pre-600 BCE in the Near East.

Which leaves open the question of what other “assumptions” the Hebrew writers of the Bible took for granted concerning kingship, laws, gods, religious beliefs and rites? How can one know they are “true” assumptions or whether they need to be reinterpreted based on later knowledge, like the geocentric passages in the Bible? This also raises the question of whether the Scriptures can indeed “interpret themselves?” Can they?

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