Does the Bible teach that the Earth is flat?

A surprising development in recent years has been the increase of people who believe the Earth is flat. Flat Earthers believe the earth is not a globe, but is a large flat disk. The North Pole is at the center of this disk and Antarctica is an ice barrier on the outer edge of the disk of Earth. Those who have seen the famous “Blue Marble” picture of the Earth, or any other satellite imagery of our planet, may be baffled by the belief that Earth is flat.

Flat Earth beliefs are not limited to Christians, though a large number of professing Christians can be found among flat Earth proponents. However, belief in a flat Earth cannot be equated with any form of Biblical literalism, fundamentalism, Christianity or any other specific religious group. No major Christian denomination, church or organization affirms the Earth is flat. Despite this, many proponents of a flat Earth attempt to show that the Bible teaches the Earth is flat.

The Bible does not teach that the Earth is flat. Those who claim it does make a series of reading errors that cause them to misunderstand certain passages of Scripture. The great majority of the proof texts used by proponents of a flat Earth are Biblical poetry, most frequently from the books of Job, Psalms and Isaiah. Hebrew poetry is a highly descriptive form of literature which uses striking images to make a point. The imagery is never the point of the passage, but is the tool used to make the point. The Bible does not contain any passage which intends to describe the geometry of the Earth. Every passage used as evidence for a flat Earth is a passage discussing something else. To make a passage about the shape of the earth is to misread the text. When Isaiah 40:22 describes God as “He who sits above the circle of the earth” it is doing so using poetic language. This same verse compares the heavens to a curtain and to a tent. This is clearly figurative language intended to describe the greatness of God, not the shape or nature of the universe.

Other passages used by proponents of a flat Earth misunderstand the words of the passage. For example, the King James Version says in Job 37:10, “the breadth of the waters is straitened.” From that verse flat Earth proponents argue that if the waters are straitened, not curved, then Earth must be flat. The Old English word straitened does not mean “straight”, but “to make narrow.” In other words, Job 37 is declaring God’s power to make wide waters narrower. Job 37:10 does not teach that the oceans are a flat surface which can be measured by a straight line. Additionally, Flat Earth proponents insist the Bible’s frequent use of “the face of the earth” means the Earth has a geometrically flat surface like a plane. This assertion is patently false. Though the English word “face” is used at times to refer to a geometric face, like the side of a cube, the original Hebrew word does not mean “flat plane.” The face of the earth is simply the surface of the Earth, the visible area exposed to view. To insist otherwise is to introduce a geometrical concept not present in the Old Testament word.

Flat Earth proponents also fail to take into consideration the use of idioms in Scripture. For example, an English idiom says something occurs, “Once in a blue moon.” Native English speakers understand this phrase to mean an event is rare. No one intends to say that on incredibly infrequent occasions the moon’s color changes to blue. Idiom’s are not intended to communicate historical or scientific details. The Biblical use of idioms like “four corners of the earth” or “the ends of the earth” is no more intended to communicate a fact of geography than “once in a blue moon” is intended to communicate a fact of selenography.

A proper understanding of the types of literature used in the Bible and the meaning of it’s words shows the Bible does not teach the Earth is flat. Flat Earth teaching is not just a harmless fad. Those who teach something contrary to the clear teaching of the Bible are false teachers. Flat Earth proponents may not be denying the gospel of salvation by faith in Jesus alone, but one must be careful of their teaching. Some make the shape of the Earth the most important truth and refuse to attend any church which does not affirm a flat Earth. Some create division in churches over this issue. All proponents of a flat Earth misuse of the Word of God in such a way that it gives the enemies of God opportunity to mock Him. Their poor handling of Scripture may also teach others to interpret the Bible as badly as they do and cause many to misunderstand Scripture. Flat Earth advocates tell lies about God (1 Corinthians 15:15) by declaring He said something which He did not say.