Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I have found so much gossip on the Net and no Biblical verses that clearly support the 'flat earth' notion.

I know Job spoke of the 'circle of the Earth' and other very interesting aspects of the cosmos. I was hoping better evidence could be provided. One person, of many actually, said the 'circle of the Earth' is referring to a flat earth. Silly of course, as you could more easily prove that any 3D object can look flat when viewed from only one location.

For this question, I am beginning with the assumption that the below-listed tests are related and address this issue: Genesis 1, Psalm 74.12-17, Psalm 104, Job 26.5-14, Job 37, Job 38, Proverbs 3.19-20, and Proverbs 8.22-36. I am looking for someone to address these as a whole, addressing the historical, linguistic, and literary context in which they were written as pertinent to the question.

share|improve this question
may be of interest lhup.edu/~dsimanek/febible.htm –  user3376 Jan 26 '14 at 2:57
Not directy relevant to the biblical evidence (I believe), but you might want to look at Jeffrey Burton Russell's work on this, Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians - and see also a brief paper in which he summarizes his argument. –  Davïd Jan 29 '14 at 0:24
I have made an edit that keeps in mind the excellent answer and makes this on topic (rather than searching for texts). –  Dan Feb 4 '14 at 1:45
IF you were attempting to describe a ball om Hebrew, what word would you use? To the best of MY knowledge, there is NO word for sphere, the word is the same for circle and sphere and is differentiated by context. By the way, I don't see the relevance of your illustration to scripture - true it is ONE possible concept, but I think there may be others that are less ethereal and more factual Interested in you comment. –  user4117 May 11 '14 at 1:04

1 Answer 1

up vote 9 down vote accepted

The question is really an issue of what kind of cosmology the authors of the various biblical books assume in the course of their writing. When we read the Hebrew scriptures, the few books that have anything to say on the subject never explicitly say 'the earth is flat'. But if we can determine the overall shape of the cosmos as the different writers describe it, we'll be able to know if a 'flat earth' is an accurate label for what the ancient biblical authors believed.

The main biblical texts that describe the cosmos as a whole are Genesis 1, Psalm 74.12-17, Psalm 104, Job 26.5-14, Job 37, Job 38, Proverbs 3.19-20, and Proverbs 8.22-36, along with a few pieces here and there where a particular cosmology is assumed by the writer.

The primeval waters

Ancient Israelite cosmology begins with a mess of waters, representing the pre-creation chaos. The world is created inside of this chaotic sea. These primeval waters are found in:

  • Genesis 1.2,6-7,9,etc., as 'the deep' and 'the waters', so that the earth was created between 'the waters above' and 'the waters below' when God spoke it so
  • Psalm 74.13, as 'the sea' and 'the waters' (and metaphorically as 'the sea monsters' and 'leviathan'), which God 'divided', 'broke', and 'crushed' as the first act of creation
  • Psalm 104.3,6-9, as 'the waters' and 'the deep', which uncovered the earth when God spoke it so
  • Job 26.8,12, as 'the waters' and 'the sea' (and metaphorically as 'Rahab' the sea 'serpent'), which God 'binds up', 'stilled', 'shattered', and 'pierced'
  • Job 38.8-11, as 'the sea' with its 'proud waves', which God 'prescribed limits' so that it would 'come no farther' over the earth
  • Proverbs 3.19-20, as 'the deep', which God 'broke open' when he 'founded the earth'
  • Proverbs 8.27-29, as 'the deep' and 'the sea', upon which God 'drew a circle' (more below on this 'circle'), and was 'assigned a limit' when God spoke it so

The firmament

Within the primeval waters, God creates a solid dome called (in English) 'the firmament'. This crystalline structure is sometimes compared to sapphire, explaining the blue color of the sky. While some English translations use an ambiguous word like 'expanse' or 'canopy' to make the concept more friendly to modern science, which presents a comparatively 'soft' atmosphere around the earth, the biblical authors consistently portray this firmament as solid. This firmament is found in:

  • Genesis 1.6-8, where it is given the name 'Heaven', where its express purpose is to 'separate the waters [above] from the waters [below]'; the Hebrew word used is raqiya, drawn from a verb regularly used to describe striking or pounding on an object; the sense is of an object that has been 'pounded' into its present shape
  • Job 37.18, where it is called 'the sky', and is 'spread out' (the verb root of raqiya), and is described as 'hard as a molten mirror'
  • Proverbs 8.28, where God 'made firm the sky above'

Numerous passages in the bible describe heaven as a scroll or tent that is 'stretched', or may 'collapse'. The sun, moon, and stars were placed in/on the firmament, and moved upon its surface (e.g. Genesis 1.14-19; Joshua 10.13; Daniel 12.3). The firmament rested upon the mountains/pillars (e.g. Job 26.11), and heaven (as in, God's domain) was conceptualized as resting just above the firmament:

  • Exodus 24.1-2,9-11 shows us Moses and the elders of Israel invited by God to the top of Mount Sinai, whereupon 'they saw the God of Israel'; the narrator describes the firmament as 'a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very clearness of heaven'
  • Ezekiel 1.22-28 and 10.1 has the prophet see a vision of the glory of God in heaven, where he describes the firmament as 'shining like a dreadful crystal', above which was 'the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire'
  • (Revelation 4.6 draws on Ezekiel, describing the firmament as 'a sea of glass, like crystal')

Weather functions are executed through openings that are fixed upon the firmament:

  • Genesis 7.11, 8.2, Second Kings 7.2,19, Isaiah 24.18, and Malachi 3.10 describe heaven / the firmament as having 'windows' through which 'the waters above' fall as rain, and most significantly as a world-ending flood
  • Job 37.6,9-12,15-17 describes the weather functions as executed upon God's command, while Job 38.22,35,37 specifies that snow, wind, and rain are found in heavenly 'storehouses' and 'waterskins', with Job 38.28-30 showing their ultimate origin is 'the deep' found above heaven / the firmament

The earth

The earth is then created inside of the primeval waters, underneath the protection of the firmament.

  • Genesis 1.9-10 has 'dry land' created upon 'the waters under the heavens'
  • Psalm 104.5, where God sets 'the earth' on its 'foundations' (i.e. 'pillars', as in Psalm 75.3) and removes the covering of the deep, so that 'the mountains rose' and 'the valleys sank down'
  • Job 26.7,10, where God 'suspends the earth over nothing' and 'inscribed a circle on the face of the waters'
  • Job 38.4, where God 'laid the foundation of the earth'
  • Proverbs 3.19-20, where God 'founded the earth'
  • Proverbs 8.27, where God 'drew a circle on the face of the deep'

Two verses above describe a 'circle' being 'drawn' on the surface of the deep (Job 26.10, Proverbs 8.27). The only other time this specific Hebrew word 'circle' is used outside of these two verses is in Isaiah 40.22, where it describes 'the circle of the earth'. However, a closely related word is used in Isaiah 44.13, where it is often translated as 'compass'. The word 'circle' in the three verses does not describe a sphere, it describes a round, disc-like shape.


To recap the above: the earth was a disc-like mass that rested on 'the water below', and was contained underneath a crystalline dome, which in turn held back 'the waters above'. While none of the biblical texts describe the act of creation in exactly the same way or shape, they are in general agreement and complement each other quite well. The final picture we are left with is something similar to this:1

Ancient Israelite cosmology

This is remarkably similar to the cosmology of other Ancient Near Eastern cultures contemporary to the biblical authors. For a deeper exploration of the similarities between ancient Israelite cosmology and the cosmology of neighboring cultures, I highly recommend the book The Lost World of Genesis One by John H. Walton.

While we should definitely take the time to lend some nuance to the phrase, the Hebrew scriptures certainly describe a 'flat earth'.


1 I am the creator of this illustration. Subject to CC BY-NC.

share|improve this answer
+1 for a great answer with excellent annotations. –  David H Jan 26 '14 at 6:56
Ok, guideline is minimize 'thanks'... but THANKS. Really love Genesis 1.6-8 "pounding" into shape, as God simplifies intensely complex creation topics throughout the Bible by ease of understanding by how he designed us as well; to design, shape and build. There are a number of verses describing God ("work" and "working" -- ergon er'-gon -- to labor, toil, effort, act). I particularly like Job 33:6; Behold, I am according to thy wish in God's stead: I also am formed out of the clay. –  user3380 Jan 27 '14 at 20:13
Commentary only: Clearly God created the Earth ultimately as round, meaning a 3D ball. I am not sure why He did not more clearly inspire the Bible writers to state it, though I believe His reasoning is He values faith more so than gold (1 Peter 1:7), and He tests faith throughout the Bible (faith is listed 230 times). Finally, He requires faith before He will reveal Himself to a human being. Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing unto him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him. –  user3380 Jan 27 '14 at 20:49
On Job 26:7 -- Strong's Concordance states: "b@liymah bel-ee-mah' -- nothing whatever:--nothing". Contrast with translation of the "north" as "the empty place" is "to lie waste; a desolation (of surface), i.e. desert; figuratively, a worthless thing; adverbially, in vain:--confusion, empty place, without form, nothing, (thing of) nought, vain, vanity, waste, wilderness", I believe the North and the Earth are not similar. Two different words are used, with the Earth hanging on 'nothing, nothing whatsoever'. In my opinion, the north is a wilderness/desert of ice, and the Earth 'hangs' in space. –  user3380 Jan 27 '14 at 21:06
I'll make an edit to my answer, to account for your concern over 'north' in Job 26.7. –  Mark Edward Jan 28 '14 at 23:10

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.