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Isaiah 42:5 - "Thus saith God the LORD, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein"

On a basic reading of this passage, it seems to promote a theory that the earth is flat due to it being "spread forth".

However, Barnes' Notes on the Bible states:

"that spread forth the earth - He stretched it out as a plain - retaining the idea which was so common among the ancients that the earth was a vast plain, reaching from one end of the heavens to the other. The words, however, which are used here are not inconsistent with the idea that the earth is a sphere, since it may still be represented as stretched out, or expanded to a vast extent. The main idea in the passage is not to teach the form in which the earth is made, but to show that it has been made by God."

But, I do not see how this conclusion has been reached. No further explanation is given as to how the words don't necessitate a flat earth theory.

If any of you could explain how this conclusion has been reached, why, and what is the actual meaning of this verse, I would be very appreciative.

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    That does not follow - this very verse is used by some as an attempt at Biblical support for the "stretching" of the universe during the Big Bang in a very three dimensional sense. When a balloon is inflated, it is stretched out but is anything but flat!
    – Dottard
    Oct 30, 2021 at 10:54
  • I was referring to "spreading" the earth. I have no problem with the heavens part, it's just that no satisfactory answer on the earth part can be found, and I can not see how the conclusion arose in the commentary.
    – Tom
    Oct 30, 2021 at 12:33
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    I think it’s simply that the Bible tends to use ancient astronomical / cosmological constructions when talking about the creation of the heavens and the earth. The eagle in Revelation flying “in mid-heaven”; the “stars” falling to earth; the “rising” and “setting” of the sun. These are all largely framed as occurring within a universe that looks something like a snow paperweight. Which is OK because the point of the Bible is not to teach us about the structure of the universe. That’s how I would see it. The commentary’s note is referring to this unmentioned catalogue of biblical descriptions.
    – user36337
    Oct 30, 2021 at 13:23
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    Does this answer your question? Does the Bible describe the "earth" as flat?
    – Bach
    Oct 31, 2021 at 1:31
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    Hi @Bach, OP is asking about the meaning of a particular text. I can see how an answer might hermeneutically interpret the text whether people might try to use the question for a particular agenda or not. if an agenda is pursued at the expense of herm. principles, then that should be addressed imo. Oct 31, 2021 at 4:05

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The verb in Isa 42:5 translated "spread forth" is רָקַע whose meanings are given in the appendix below. This verb occurs 11 times in the OT as follows:

  • Ex 39:3 - They hammered out thin sheets of gold and cut threads from them to interweave with the blue, purple, and scarlet yarn, and fine linen—the work of a skilled craftsman.
  • Num 16:39 - So Eleazar the priest took the bronze censers brought by those who had been burned up, and he had them hammered out to overlay the altar,
  • 2 Sam 22:43 - I ground them as the dust of the earth; I crushed and trampled them like mud in the streets.
  • Job 37:18 - can you, like Him, spread out the skies to reflect the heat like a mirror of bronze?
  • Ps 136:6 - He spread out the earth upon the waters. His loving devotion endures forever.
  • Isa 40:19 - To an idol that a craftsman casts and a metalworker overlays with gold and fits with silver chains?
  • Isa 42:5 - This is what God the LORD says—He who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the land [אֶרֶץ] and its offspring, who gives breath to the people on it and life to those who walk in it. (Compare Gen 1:9, 10 where אֶרֶץ means the arable land.)
  • Isa 44:24 - Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer who formed you from the womb: “I am the LORD, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who by Myself spread out the land [אֶרֶץ]. (Compare Gen 1:9, 10 where אֶרֶץ means the arable land.)
  • Jer 10:9 - Hammered silver is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz—the work of a craftsman from the hands of a goldsmith. Their clothes are blue and purple, all fashioned by skilled workers.
  • Eze 6:11 - This is what the Lord GOD says: Clap your hands, stomp your feet, and cry out “Alas!” because of all the wicked abominations of the house of Israel, who will fall by sword and famine and plague.
  • Eze 25:6 - For this is what the Lord GOD says: ‘Because you clapped your hands and stomped your feet and rejoiced over the land of Israel with a heart full of contempt,

Notice that this verb does not imply anything two dimensional but is often used of thing three dimensional like hammering gold over an idol. Its use of "stamping feet" implies a meaning that includes hammering or squeezing out over a surface of whatever shape.

Thus, when God spread out the the land [אֶרֶץ], it only implies the power of God being manifest by hammering it out over the surface of the earth (it is only a metaphor). Compare Gen 1:9, 10 where אֶרֶץ means the arable land.

Thus, I would beg to differ with Barnes - the verb implies a spreading out over a surface of any shape, not necessarily flat.

APPENDIX - BDB Entry for רָקַע = "spread forth".

[רָקַע] verb beat, stamp, beat out, spread out (Late Hebrew id.; Hiphil, Aramaic רְקַע Aphel, both spread out, and derivatives; Syriac press down (Luke 6:38 ᵑ6), spread out, also consolidate; Arabic patch, put on a patch, repair, compare Christian-Palestinian Aramaic patch, swaddling-bands, SchwIdioticon 90; Phoenician מרקע platter, or bowl, of gold CISi. 90, 1); —

Qal Imperfect singular suffix אֶרְקָעֵם 2 Samuel 22:43 I will stamp them down (probably gloss to אֲדִקֵּם preceding, of. BaePs 18:43); Imperative רְקַע בְּדַגְלְךָ Ezekiel 6:11 beat (stamp) with thy foot, in token of contemptuous pleasure, compare Da ("" הַכֵּה בְכַמְּךָ); so Infinitive construct suffix רַקְעֲךָ בְּרָ֑גֶל Ezekiel 25:6 ("" מַחְאֲךָ יָד); Participle active as substantive construct (Ges§ 65d) רֹקַע הָאָרֶץ (i.e. ׳י) he that (beateth out) spreadeth out the earth Isaiah 42:5, רֹקַע ׳הַא Isaiah 44:24, ׳רוֺקַע הָא Psalm 136:6.

Pi`el Imperfect masculine singular suffix בַּזָּהָב יְרַקְּעֶנּוּ Isaiah 40:19 a goldsmith with gold over-layeth it (literally beateth it out3masculine plural וַיְרַקְּעוּ אֶתֿ מַּחֵי הַזָּהָב Exodus 39:3 they beat out the plates of gold; suffix וַיְרִקְּעוּם צִמּוּי Numbers 17:4 they beat them out as plating.

Pu`al Participle כֶּסֶף מְרֻקָּ֑ע Jeremiah 10:9 silver beaten out.

Hiph`il Imperfect masculine singular תַּרְקִיעַ עִמּוֺ לִשְׁחָקִים Job 37:18 canst thou make with (= like) him a spreading for clouds (spread out clouds; cf, רָקִיעַ)?

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    +1 Christians claiming the earth is flat discredit their witness to the lost. People will not believe them at all.
    – Perry Webb
    Oct 31, 2021 at 0:43
  • +1, no one is as thorough as @Dottard :)
    – Tony Chan
    Oct 31, 2021 at 19:33
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DISCLAIMER This response emphasizes Biblical cosmology. I make no apologies for those who will be offended by what the ancients believed or what God claims and is quoted saying about His own Creation. You are free to believe whatever you want, you are however NOT free to impose another cosmology onto the Biblical cosmology hermeneutically and exegetically.

The question lasers in on the earth being spread out. The argument is usually framed around the firmament and the heavens.

No one spreads out a sphere. Every child that makes a ball with play dough compacts. If they want to spread something, they flatten the play dough.

In speaking of the earth God, I emphasize God is being quoted here, God says about the earth

“that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it? It is changed like clay under the seal, and its features stand out like a garment.” ‭‭Job‬ ‭38:13-14‬ ‭

For the earth to have skirts or edges it has to be spread out or flat or a plane.

If you visualize what God is describing, imagine a blob of clay or hot wax and a seal being pressed down on the clay, the blob spreads out and the excess forms a ring around the seal, like skirts or edges.

“Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son’s name? Surely you know!” ‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭30:4‬ ‭

Why are the waters wrapped up like a garment, similar visual as Job 38 speaking about the edges of the earth as like a garment. These edges hold the waters or the ocean(s). Note Proverbs speaks about the ends of the earth, a ball or a sphere doesn’t have ends or edges. A flat plane regardless of shape does.

“It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;” ‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭40:22‬ ‭

The argument made here is that the heavens are likened to a curtain or a tent. The heavens being the firmament and by implication a tent is placed on flat ground. The firmament is spread over the plane of the earth, it is not describing the earth floating in a massive empty space. This points to a spread out or flat earth indirectly.

These next two examples do not make sense on a globe but make sense on a spread out earth.

“And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time,” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭4:5‬ ‭

“Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.” ‭‭Revelation‬ ‭1:7‬ ‭

Every eye will not see Him on a globe, and claiming television is not a solution. It says they will see HIM not the image of Him.

Is the earth spread out, yes it is. Is it compacted into a sphere? Well if it’s a sphere then it wouldn’t be spread out would it now?

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  • "No one spreads out a sphere" Does blowing up a balloon count? Aside, from that, please restrict your comments to constructive comments for this author. If you disagree with what this answer states, you can downvote it.
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 31, 2021 at 4:33
  • The earth or dry land (which is what the biblical term refers to) does indeed end, and its end is always in waters, all continents being surrounded by oceans. In scripture, the word never includes the encircling or encompassing waters, as it would nowadays, when designating the entire planet. Thus, Job does not actually say what you'd want or expect it to. Proverbs speaks of impossible things, such as trapping air in fists, or waters in sheets; as the former escapes through one's fingers, so the latter through the interwoven fibers. Revelation does not imply that Christ is standing still.
    – Lucian
    Oct 31, 2021 at 11:09

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