Does the bible claim the earth is flat?

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.  This is a well-known saying, and one that we still use today.  Obviously we don’t believe that the sun moves and the earth stands still, but we use the phrase based upon our perspective here on earth.  We also use the term “the four corners of the earth.”  This doesn’t mean that we believe the earth is a polygon with actual corners; it is in reference to the four cardinal points of the compass (north, south, east and west).  Perspectives and metaphors are used by modern man; therefore, should we take every ancient text to literally mean what people believed at the time?
The following bible verses are commonly used by atheists as evidence that the Bible promotes a flat-earth:

The four corners of the earth

“And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.” – Isaiah 11 v 12

“And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree.” – Revelation 7 v 1

There is no reason to believe that the Bible promotes the idea of the earth having literal corners.  In the book of Isaiah, the Hebrew from which “four corners” is translated from refers to corners, ends, or extremities.  The same applies to the Greek translation in the book of Revelation.  The phrases “the ends of the earth” and “the four corners of the earth” are usually used, even today, to refer to the furthest points of the earth in the direction of the four cardinal points of the compass (north, south, east and west).

Today we use maps that have corners, much like the maps used in ancient times, even though we know the world is spherical and doesn’t have corners.  The four points of the compass are used when referring to locations, just as they were in ancient times.  Regarding the “four winds of the earth” in Revelation, even today we use the term “the North wind”, which refers to the direction the wind comes from.

Shaking the wicked out of the earth

“Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days; and caused the dayspring to know his place; That it might take hold of the ends of the earth, that the wicked might be shaken out of it?”– Job 38 v 12-13

The description of taking the earth at its ends and shaking the wicked out is obviously metaphorical, but often used to suggest that people believed the earth was flat.  The term “dayspring” means the dawn, and it is the dawn that is referred to as taking hold of the corners of the earth and shaking the wicked out.  This could refer to the wicked working in the darkness, and having no place to hide when the light shines on them.

“It is turned as clay to the seal; and they stand as a garment.” – Job 38 v 14

The reference to “turned as clay to the seal” is also used by those who claim it refers to a stamped out, flat, circular earth.  The reference does not claim that the earth is flat, or circular in shape, but that as clay is formed beneath a seal, stamped out, this is how God formed the earth.

The circle of the earth

“It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:” – Isaiah 40 v 22

The above passage is referring to God being above the earth and looking down upon it, and therefore observing the earth as a circle.  This is obviously metaphorical, as the bible claims that God is both omniscient (knows everything) and omnipresent (sees everything), not just able to observe things directly beneath him:

“For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.” – Psalm 139 v 4

“The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.” – Proverbs 15 v 3

“Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD.” – Jeremiah 23 v 24

The reference to the ‘circle’ of the earth also goes against the idea that the earth has literal corners, as a circle doesn’t have corners.

The pillars of the earth

“Which shaketh the earth out of her place, and the pillars thereof tremble.” – Job 9 v 6

The use of the term “pillars of the earth” has caused some to assume that the bible claims the world is flat and rests upon cylindrical pillars, such as those that hold up the roofs of ancient temples.  In fact, modern geologists will confirm that the idea of pillars is actually an excellent description of what truly exists beneath the earth:

Many times people have scorned the words in the Bible which mention the pillars on which the earth rests. As the magma plumes which formed the cratons stopped moving, they started solidifying. While the lower parts of the plumes under the cratons remain molten, the upper parts, have formed large, solid pillars. The plumes themselves extend through the crust and the asthenosphere and into the mantle.” –  The Bible and Geology, by Berry Setterfield.

The earth hangs upon nothing

“He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing.” – Job 26 v 7

Not only does the bible mention pillars of the earth accurately, but it also mentions the fact that the earth hangs upon nothing.  Indeed, the earth has no physical support holding it up, and we have now have pictures to prove it.

Conclusion

If we place all of the above passages together we can come to either one the following conclusions:

  1. Each passage is to be taken literally, and therefore they contradict themselves (e.g. the earth is a flat square, a flat circle, rests on pillars and rests upon nothing).Or
  2. Some passages are metaphorical, and others factual, and therefore do not contradict themselves or promote a flat earth.

While contradictions could be expected in different books of the bible, having been written in different time periods, the majority of the ‘contradictions’ discussed here come from a single book, the book of Job.  The likelihood of the author missing these blatant contradictions is highly unlikely, which gives a stronger persuasion that the statements are partly metaphorical.