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    FAQ 375
    Is the Earth Literally
    Fixed and Stationary?

    Q. Flat-earthers claim that the earth is fixed and stationary and that the sun, moon and stars rotate around it. They based their claims on 1 Chronicles 16:30, Psalm 93:1, 96:10, 194:5 and Isaiah 45:18. Are these scriptures to be understood in this sense or not?

    A. Many of the misunderstandings concerning these passages stem not only from a misunderstanding of Hebrew idiom but also come out of the verbally infallible dogma of King James Bible Onlyism. For the sake of those who prefer the KJV, at least, we will today stick with that version.

    • 1. "Fear before him, all the earth: the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved" (1 Chron.16:30, KJV).

    This has nothing to do with the earth being anchored in a stationary position in space, as should be obvious even from the KJV. This is simply a statement of the earth's permanence, an idea clearly conveyed in other passages even in the KJV. The Psalmist, speaking of the wicked, says:

      "He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved: for I shall never be in adversity" (Ps.10:6, KJV).

    Here the sense is intransigence or stubborn rebellion based on the assumption that his circumstances are fixed. This has nothing to do with a wicked person being nailed down to one physical spot. Better still, David says of himself:

      "I have set Yahweh (the LORD) always before me: because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (Ps.16:8, KJV).

    Clearly Yahweh is not permanently located on David's right hand side nor has he declared that he will not move himself from the spot his feet occupied when he penned the psalm. This is simply a declaration of emunah (faith), that because Yahweh is always with him that he will remain firm in his testimony and resolve.

    Yes, there are instances in scripture where physical location is plainly meant but the reader must at least conceed that there is more than one meaning to this expression. To 'not be moved' does not necessarily mean 'to be permanently stationary in physical space'.

    • 2. "Yahweh (the LORD) reigneth, he is clothed with majesty; Yahweh (the LORD) is clothed with strength, wherewith He hath girded himself: the world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved" (Ps.93:1, KJV).

    The sense here, is once again of permanency. It won't suddenly be destroyed by an asteroid or be swallowed up by a rapidly expanding sun or supernova. The key word is "stablished" or 'established' in modern English. In other words, Yahweh won't 'de-establish' the earth. It's here to stay. There is no sense in which this verse can interpreted to mean that the planet has been figuratively 'nailed' to one spot in outer space because of the contrast given with "stablished".

    • 3. "Say among the heathen that Yahweh (the LORD) reigneth: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved: He shall judge the people righteously" (Ps.96:10, KJV).

    The contrast here is between Yahweh reigning and the earth being established and won't be moved. In other words, in the same way that Yahweh and His righteous judgment shall never be displaced, likewise the world shall remain in existence. This has nothing to do with Yahweh being nailed to one physical spot or the earth either. The comparison with Yahweh establishes that.

    • 4. "Bless Yahweh (the LORD), O my soul. O Yahweh (the LORD) my Elohim (God), Thou art very great; Thou art clothed with honour and majesty....who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever" (Ps.104:1,5, KJV).

    I have added verse 1 to give some context. This is rather like the last scripture so we'll take both of them together:

    • 5. "For thus saith Yahweh (the LORD) that created the heavens; Elohim (God) Himself that formed the earth and made it; He hath established it, He created it not in vain, He formed it to be inhabited: I am Yahweh (the LORD); and there is none else" (Isa.45:18, KJV).

    It's important that we understand how ancient Hebrew works before we go any further, this last reference affording us with a perfect example. Here Yahweh says of Himself that "there is none else" which, if we interpret it using our modern 21st century Western (and in particular, English) lens could be misunderstood to mean that He is the only Elohim in Creation. There are a number of passages like this one which are used by Jews and some Messianics that only Yahweh is Elohim (God) and that therefore Yah'shua (Jesus) cannot be Elohim (God) because "no other" means literally 'no other':

      "I am Yahweh (the LORD), and there is none else, there is no Elohim (God) beside me" (Isa.45:5, KJV; cp. Ex.15:11; Dt.3:24; 1 Ki.8:23; Ps.97:9).

    The trouble with this argument is that the Bible speaks of lots of other "elohim" that include both Yah'shua (Jesus), members of the Divine Council (Ps.82:1,6), malakim (angels) (Gen.35:7), demons (Dt.32:17), Israelite rulers (like the deceased Samuel - 1 Sam.28:13), and even the false gods of other nations (Judg.11:24; 1 Ki.11:33). The exegetical misunderstandings arise because of a lack of knowledge concerning how the Hebrew language works. When Yahweh says there are no gods besides Him, He is not saying there aren't other elohim for the denial is one of equality - there is basically 'no comparison'. These are statements of incomparibility. How do we know this true? Because Babylon and Nineveh say the same thing of themselves using precisely the same type of language:

      "Therefore hear this now, you who are given to pleasures, who dwell securely, who say in your heart, 'I am, and there is no one else besides me" (Isa.47:8, NKJV; cp. Zeph.2:15).

    Obviously 'Babylon' was not saying she was the only city that existed - rather, that she was boasting that she was incomparible to other cities in her greatness [1]. Yahweh uses the same kind of language - language that would have been understood then in the ancient Middle East - to show that the other elohim were nothing in comparison to Him in power and greatness.

    How is this relevent to 'fixed' or 'immovable' earth passages? Well, as we've already established, we're dealing with metaphors and idioms that can't necessarily be read literally. A large part of scripture is written in poetic style (like the Psalms and nevi'im/prophets whom we have been quoting) and to understand that you need to understand how ancient Middle Eastern linguistics worked. It is our responsibilty, therefore, to translate an ancient language like Hebrew accurately in order to make their worldview properly understood in terms of our own. It is in such situations that literal translations like the KJV, NKJV, NASB, ESV and NRSV can actually become a handicap if they are unaccompanied by footnotes explaining what is meant in the ancient language. Under such circumstances less literal translations like the NIV and CJB can be helpful if they are accurate.

    I diverge to make this point to illustrate how careful one must be in understanding how an ancient language works. Whereas we might say, 'I'm the greatest', the Hebrews would have said, 'I alone exist'. That is why you have got to be very careful in reading everything literally in the Bible. You absolutely need to understand background and linguistics which is why Yahweh has raised up historians and linguists to help us.

    So let us return to our last two passages. To remind you again of these:

    • 4. "Bless Yahweh (the LORD), O my soul. O Yahweh (the LORD) my Elohim (God), Thou art very great; Thou art clothed with honour and majesty....who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever" (Ps.104:1,5, KJV).

    • 5. "For thus saith Yahweh (the LORD) that created the heavens; Elohim (God) Himself that formed the earth and made it; He hath established it, He created it not in vain, He formed it to be inhabited: I am Yahweh (the LORD); and there is none else" (Isa.45:18, KJV).

    Taking Psalm 104:5 first, what is meant by "foundations of the earth" here? Is this literal or metaphorical? And what does its linkage to "it should not be removed forever" mean? Is David comforting worried parties that the earth won't float away into outer space, away from the fixed point flat-earthers are convinced exists? I don't think so - the people of that day had little or no knowledge of what outer space was anyway. David's assurance was that Yahweh, who created the earth, will preserve it. He isn't going to extinguish it as He had once flooded the earth (which he said He wouldn't do again anyway).

    Isaiah 45:18 expresses much the same idea. The creation of the earth was not made in vain - it wasn't a mistake, the project won't be folded up (another metaphor incidentally). It was made to have inhabitants and so it will always be.

    Let's look at these passages from another angle. The underlying assumption of flat-earthers is that it is impossible to be "fixed" and "immovable" and yet orbit around the sun. But the fact is, the earth has proven itself to be fixed and immovable in the poetic format in which these passages were written:

    • 1. The earth is fixed and immovable in relation to its orbit around the sun. Have you ever known the earth to 'unfix' itself and 'move' itself out of its orbit around the sun? It doesn't happen, because the earth is fixed and immovable in relation to its orbit around the sun;

    • 2. The earth also is fixed and immovable in relation to us. There has never been a single day in which we had no place to stand, because the earth unfixed itself and moved itself out from under our feet;

    The trouble with this approach by flat-earthers is that it assumes that David, Isaiah and the Chronicler were able to conceive of themselves being 'in space' and envisaging all of this. They did not have that level of awareness. The only 'science' they had was what they could observe with their naked eye from the vantage point of someone on the surface of the earth. Their consciousness was not as expanded as our own. David had no idea what the "foundations" of the earth might literally be remembering that Hebrew does not work in the same way as English because it is more concerned about 'actions' than it is about 'things'. Thus when David or the other writers spoke of the "foundations" of the earth they weren't thinking about geology but about the forming principle of the Earth, namely, Yahweh Himself, which is why they never decouple the observable universe from the Creator as we can, and do, in scientific circles.

    From the Hebrew persepctive (which remains equally true to us, of course) the earth has always been fixed and immovable, both in relation to us and in relation to its orbit around the sun. In fact we've learned to take it for granted that the sun will shine during the day and that there will ground for us to stand on when we awake in the morning. And as believers we know why - because Yahweh is the foundation of our life here. He's in control.

    Having said that, the flat-earther should at least consider the possibility that the verses cited above are actually using a figure of speech, to express the permanence of Yahweh's will and the permanence of his creation, because that is undoubtedly the primary meaning, without trying to force the verses to fit into a dogma. There is no sense of physics or geometry in these lines.

    I see no evidence from these five passages that the writers were positing the idea that the earth (of whatever shape) is suspended in a single point and is not moving. To try to force that meaning is to do violence to the plain sense of the scriptures. The earth is 'fixed' and 'immovable' in the sense that it is marked by the Divine Hand to exist through all eternity, both in the immediate future as a mortal world and in the distant future as a glorified, immortal one. It will never be destroyed, not by an asteroid impact, not by manipulating CERN to tear the earth's crust apart to make it disintegrate, not by anyone and not by anything. Yahweh wants us to relax on that score. He's taken it under His metaphorical wings.

    Endnotes

    [1] For a good study of this and related matters, see Michael S.Heiser's very important work, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Lexham Press, Bellingham, Washington: 2015)

    This page was created on 21 August 2017
    Last updated on 21 August 2017

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