Where in the World is the World? The Bible and Cosmic Geocentrism
Note: This is the first of two essays dealing with cosmic geocentrism: the idea that the Earth sits at rest at the center of a rotating universe. Here we deal with biblical testimony favorable to cosmic geocentrism, in the next with the scientific. I have extracted the material for these articles from my book on biblical cosmology, In Search of the Beginning: A Seeker’s Journey to the Origin of the Universe, Life, and Man (Redemption Press). That book contains copious end-notes (not included here) and much additional information about the development of modern cosmological views, and also about the scientific evidence—often suppressed—supporting cosmic geocentrism. If you find this subject of interest, please consult the longer work, and also the resources that I have linked to remarks you will read below. God bless you as you embark on your journey to the center of the universe!
The world is firmly established: It cannot be moved.
Modern Man is lost in the cosmos. He is told by the experts that space is curved and expanding; that the universe is perfectly homogeneous and isotropic (i.e., that it is the same, and looks the same, no matter where you happen to be in it); that it has no center, no edges, and no place special or more important than any other. Believing all this, most folks have no definite sense for the structure of the universe, or for their place in it. Quite literally, they no longer know where in the world they are. And if they no longer know where they are, how can they possibly feel at home where they are?
Giving picturesque expression to this modern mood of cosmic displacement, H. L. Mencken once complained, “The cosmos is a gigantic fly-wheel making 10,000 revolutions per minute. Man is a sick fly taking a dizzy ride on it.”
Carl Sagan agreed (philosophically, if not astronomically), confidently declaring that man’s inheritance from modern science is the humiliating realization that ” . . . we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.”
And yet it has not always been so. Medieval man, for example, was actually quite at home in the cosmos, dwelling securely beneath God’s heaven and envisioning himself at the center of a finite, spherical universe, lovingly set and kept in motion around the Earth by the Father of lights (James 1:17). So too were many of his Catholic and Protestant descendants.
But then came Copernicus, and after him Kepler, Galileo, and Newton. And with these, the dominoes began to fall: first, the Earth-centered universe, then the finite universe, then the sun-centered universe, then the created universe; and finally the creator of the universe himself. Said the poet Goethe after much of the damage had been wrought:
Among all the (scientific) discoveries and (new) convictions, not a single one has resulted in deeper influence on the human spirit than the doctrine of Copernicus…Humanity has perhaps never been asked to do more. For consider all that went up in smoke as a result of this change becoming consciously realized: a second paradise (i.e., a coming Kingdom of God), a world of innocence (i.e., Eden), poetry and piety, the witness of the senses, and the conviction of a poetic and religious faith.
And Goethe was not alone in this gloomy assessment. Contemplating the collapse of the ancient biblical worldview and all the spiritual wreckage it would surely bring in its train, Anglican priest and poet John Donne lamented, “Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone!”
Subsequent history bears out the testimony of these seers. The Copernican revolution did indeed eventually bequeath to modernity an essentially beginningless, structureless, purposeless, and godless cosmos, in which the Earth and man henceforth appear as cosmic specks, meaningless accidents wandering aimlessly about in the void. All coherence—and all comfort—was indeed gone.
Now given this dismal outcome, alert spiritual seekers, tender to the importance of optimism and hopefulness in any viable worldview, may well find themselves asking: Could it be that we have taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way? Might we even have erred at the Copernican crossroads? Could it be that in abandoning cosmic geocentrism we have lost something precious that the Unknown God (i.e., the God who reveals himself in nature and conscience) actually intended his dear human children to enjoy: a sense of place, a sense of importance, and a sense of being at home in the midst of his creation?
The Test Perspective (i.e., the idea that our life is a test from the Unknown God, who, in a world of religious diversity, is testing of our love of the truth about ultimate religious and philosophical questions) boldly answers all these questions in the affirmative. For if, as I have suggested earlier, our spiritual hunger to behold the beginning of the universe comes from the Unknown God, then surely our corresponding hunger to know something about its structure—and to situate ourselves comfortably in its midst—must come from him as well. And if (as the labors of the scientists abundantly attest) we are by nature eager to look upon and contemplate these things, is it not reasonable to expect that a revelation from the Unknown God will enable us to do so, at least in some small measure? Here, then, we find yet another occasion for suspecting that the Unknown God may well be speaking to us in the Bible. For as we have already seen, the Bible does indeed give us a clear revelation, not only of the beginning of the universe, but of its basic structure as well.
The Bible and Cosmic Structure
Concerning this fascinating question, three preliminary points must be made.
First, experience proves that it is difficult to glean from the Bible a detailed picture of the (structure of the) universe. Partly, this is because the data is limited; partly, it is because that same data is amenable to different interpretations. As a result, many questions still remain open. For example, do the waters above the expanse (Genesis 2:6-7) serve as the outer boundary of the atmosphere, or as the outer boundary of the universe itself? Does the third heaven—the abode of God’s continuing self-revelation to the angels—exist somewhere within the expanse of space, or in a “hyperspace” situated just beyond our own, or as another dimension altogether (yet mysteriously related to our own)? Is the expanse of space empty (i.e., a true vacuum), or is it full (i.e., a plenum, filled with an invisible substance such as the light-bearing ether of 19th century physics)? Is space “curved” (as Relativity Theory argues) or “flat” (as Euclid and common sense assert); and is it static or expanding? Is the universe bigger than we have yet to imagine, or smaller than we have been led to believe?
To these and other fascinating questions the Bible may well give definite answers; but again, experience proves that those answers are elusive, and that consensus is difficult to achieve. Thus, it seems fair to conclude that the Bible does not readily yield a detailed picture of the structure of the universe.
But secondly, despite all this, it is indeed possible to glean from the Bible a reasonably clear picture of the basic structure of the cosmos. Believing this to be so, I would not agree with biblical creationist Gerald Aardsma when he asserts, “The Bible provides no explicit teaching on any questions relating to the form of the universe.” On the contrary, it seems to me that the Bible provides quite a number of concrete and spiritually comforting facts about cosmic structure. Admittedly, some of these must be inferred from the text. Yet down through the years—and especially prior to the Copernican revolution—multitudes of interpreters have made these “good and necessary” inferences, and have therefore reached a significant degree of consensus.
Chief among such basic facts is what I will henceforth call the radical geocentrism of the cosmos, the focus of our attention in these essays. It is crucial to define this idea carefully. As I see it, the biblical revelation of radical cosmic geocentrism involves at least the following five elements: 1) Our habitable Earth lies at (or very near) the geometric center of a spherically symmetrical universe, a view technically referred to as geocentrism; 2) the Earth sits motionless, or at absolute rest, at the center of this universe, a view technically referred to as geostationism. These two ideas imply, of course, that the Earth neither rotates on its axis beneath the “fixed stars,” nor revolves in an orbit around the sun, nor revolves around the center of the Milky Way, nor moves through space with the Milky Way, etc.; 3) the heavenly bodies (i.e., sun, moon, planets, stars, galaxies, etc.), though not necessarily without limited motions peculiar to themselves, nevertheless all orbit the Earth once a day from east to west. The essential idea here is that the universe itself revolves around the Earth, somehow carrying all the heavenly bodies (and their peculiar motions) along with it; 4) this revolving universe is finite, since, quite apart from the direct biblical testimony to this effect, it is self-evident that an infinite universe cannot revolve daily around the Earth, and 5) the radical geocentrism of the physical creation is laden with spiritual meaning, having been designed to reflect the existence, wisdom, and power of the creator, as well as the centrality of the Earth’s inhabitants in his affections and purposes.
Now if all this may be justly deduced from the Bible, one would certainly have to concede that we have indeed been given a clear picture of the basic structure of the universe. Moreover, it is a picture clear enough to make even a little child feel at home in the cosmos—and very important to the divine head of the household!
This brings us to our third point—and to a fact that will come as a surprise to no one—namely, that a radically geocentric understanding of the physical universe is highly controversial, more even than the alleged 6,000 year age of the creation. Just to contemplate such a universe is to completely go against the grain of some 300 years of scientific “common sense.” Indeed, it is to invite charges of abject scientific ignorance and/or religious fanaticism, as though one held that the Earth is flat, or perched on the back of a cosmic turtle. Most assuredly, no son of modernity can fail to be scandalized by the geocentric thesis.
And yet, if that son is a true seeker—and a seeker who truly hungers to find his place in the universe—he will be unable to dismiss it out of hand. Why? Because the biblical signs (i.e., the manifold body of God-given supernatural signs bearing witness to Christ and the Bible) have instilled in him a sense of the trustworthiness of the Hebrew Scriptures. Accordingly, his proper course of action in this matter will soon become clear. First, he must determine if the Bible really does teach radical geocentrism (for some who love the Book say that it does not). And second, if he finds that it does, he must determine whether this teaching has any scientific credibility at all. That is, he must see if the Unknown God has graced the idea of radical geocentrism with enough theoretical and observational support to make it scientifically reasonable to believe.
Needless to say, this will be another daunting—and fascinating—journey. In an effort to point the way, I will now offer a few remarks on the first of these two important questions.
The Testimony of the Bible
Does the Bible really teach radical cosmic geocentrism? Or is Dr. Aardsma correct when he claims that the Bible contains no clear teaching on the physical form of the universe? A careful consideration of several different (classes of) texts will enable the seeker to make his own informed judgment on this important question.
- The Genesis Cosmogony
First and foremost, we have the Genesis cosmogony itself, and especially the material found in Genesis 1:1-19. This passage is, of course, explicitly cosmological, as opposed, say, to the more poetic statements of the Psalms and the Prophets. Moreover, because of its placement at the very head of biblical revelation, it is clearly of first importance in determining the biblical testimony about the structure of the universe. With the question of cosmic geocentrism in mind, let us survey this foundational passage with some care.
Verse 1 is best read as a heading and summary statement. That is, it gives us the gist of all that the writer is about to tell us in verses 2-31; the gist of all that God did when he created “the heavens and the earth,” or what today we call “the universe.”1
In verse 2 we meet the object of God’s primordial creation, what the writer referred to as “the Deep.” It appears to be an enormous sphere of water, standing silent and motionless amidst absolute darkness. Possibly, it is suspended in empty space (see Job 26:7). However, subsequent verses suggest a far different interpretation: that the Deep is the immense physical body within which the womb of space (i.e., the expanse) will be opened up on the second day of creation. Note carefully that the Spirit of God alone is moving—moving upon the face of the Deep.
In verses 3-5 we have the creation (or sudden appearing) of a bank of primordial light. Like the Spirit of God (who is its ultimate source), this light also seems to be moving. Indeed, how else can we picture it except as revolving around the still motionless face of the Deep, thereby introducing the first day and the first night, and thus instituting the fundamental unit of Earth time?
In verses 6-8 we have the creation of the expanse (or firmament). This begins the account of the creation of the heavens, mentioned in verses 1 and 8. Here we can readily envision God separating or pushing back the waters in such a way as to create spherically concentric envelopes of: 1) air, 2) clouds (or water vapor), 3) space, and 4) water or ice serving as the outermost edge and boundary of the universe. In other words, this passage gives us a strong impression of the Earth-centered sphericity of the universe.
Importantly, this impression is confirmed by a number of other biblical texts that refer to the sky as a vault or dome (Job 22:14, NIV; Amos 9:6, RSV), and also as a canopy (Job 36:29, NKJ; Isaiah 40:22, NIV). Note also that the sphericity of the sun, moon, stars, and planets—clearly visible to the naked eye—only adds to our common-sense impression that space itself is spherical, and that Gen. 1:6-8 presupposes this very thing.
In verses 9-13 the focus is upon the creation of the earth, first mentioned in verse 1. Here, God first brings forth (i.e., creates and raises up) the dry land (or earth) out of the waters beneath the heavens, waters that will henceforth be called the seas (v. 10; 2 Peter 3:5). Then, with a view to the service of man (and the animals), he brings forth from the dry land grass, vegetation, and fruit, some of which he will later designate as man’s appointed food (vv. 29-30).
Finally, in verses 14-19 we have the creation of the luminaries on the fourth day: the sun, moon, and stars. This paragraph completes the account of the creation of the heavens. Here the text strongly encourages us to envision God as not only imbedding the luminaries in the expanse (v. 17), but also as setting them in orbit around the still motionless Earth that they will henceforth serve. This important conclusion flows logically from several biblical considerations.
First, it is evident that the luminaries are designed to supplant the revolving bank of light that marked out the Earth’s first three days. This leads naturally to the conclusion that they too revolve around the Earth.
Secondly, in describing their function, the text treats the different luminaries as a unit: all give light upon the earth, all are for telling time, all serve as signs, etc. Presumably, then, all share the same basic motion as well: All revolve around the Earth.
Thirdly, it is highly counterintuitive to imagine that God, on the fourth day, would suddenly set a stationary Earth in motion around the sun. Intuitively, we feel instead that the member of the Earth-sun system that was created first should remain the stationary member—that it should serve as the center—while the other member should become an orbiting “planet,” (from the Greek planao, to wander). Along these lines, note once again that the luminaries are expressly designed to serve the Earth. How, then, shall the Earth subserviently revolve around any of the heavenly lights, including the “greater light” that we call the sun?
Finally, we do well also to observe that the Genesis cosmogony puts life and man only upon the Earth. The uniqueness of the Earth in this regard further inclines the reader to view it as central: central in God’s affection, purpose, and plan—and therefore central in his cosmos.
In sum, we find that the Bible’s premier, foundational, and most explicitly cosmological text, Genesis 1:1-19, positively drips with radical geocentrism. Admittedly, it is not explicitly stated; but it is everywhere implied. Moreover, as we are about to see, subsequent biblical texts go on to make explicit what remained implicit in the all-important cosmogony of Genesis 1-2.
- An Earth at Rest
We come now to a class of passages that affirms cosmic geocentrism by depicting the Earth as being at rest and immovable in the universe. Importantly, these texts seem clearly to presuppose and reflect the cosmology of Genesis 1. In particular, they are designed to glorify God as the divine sustainer of the world. He who in the beginning set the world “in its place” (Job 9:6) is here depicted as the One who keeps it there, safe and sound, day by day, until all is accomplished and the end (i.e., ultimate goal) has come.
Such passages are numerous. The Psalmist declared of God, “You laid the foundations of the Earth so that it should not be moved forever” (Psalm 104:5). Similarly, David said, “Tremble before Him, all the Earth. The world also is firmly established: It shall not be moved” (1 Chronicles 16:30). And again, David proclaims, “The LORD reigns, He is clothed with majesty. The LORD is clothed, He has girded Himself with strength. The world is firmly established: It cannot be moved” (Psalm 93:1, 119:90). The message of such texts is uniform and clear: The mighty creator God has anchored the Earth securely in its proper place beneath the sun, moon, and stars, all of which go about in their courses above (Judges 5:20; Psalm 19:5-6; Ecclesiastes 1:6). Though hell itself should come against it, he will hold it to its place and to his purposes. His obedient and trusting people may rest assured.
Now it is true that a few texts envision the Earth as moving (Psalm 99:1), shaking (Isaiah 2:19-21, 13:13; Haggai 2:6), tottering (Isaiah 24:20), reeling to and fro (Isaiah 24:19-20), and even as fleeing before he face of Christ (Revelation 20:11). While the language here is somewhat figurative and hyperbolic, it is nevertheless clear that these texts do indeed speak of the Earth moving. However, in each case the thought is of the Earth being temporarily moved out of its normal resting place by the end-time judgment(s) of God. Isaiah gives us an excellent illustration of this point:
I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will halt the arrogance of the proud, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible. I will make man scarcer than fine gold, more rare than the golden wedge of Ophir. Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the Earth will move out of her place at the wrath of the LORD of hosts, and in the day of His fierce anger. —Isaiah 13:11-13
Again, this text and the others like it actually support the idea of cosmic geocentrism, seeing that they presuppose a static, immobile Earth as the divine norm. From where will the LORD move the Earth? From her appointed place, which is a place of rest. Such texts reveal the assumption of all the biblical writers, namely, that the Earth is not like the other heavenly bodies, for it alone lies at rest in the midst of the cosmos; it alone, in one form or another, will remain forever; it alone is the privileged, stationary footstool for the feet of him who sits unmoved upon heaven’s throne (Isaiah 66:1; Matthew 5:34-35; cf. Genesis 28:12).
- A Sun In Motion (and the Stars as well)
This class of passages, strictly interpreted, proves challenging indeed for all who have imbibed modern heliocentrism. I refer to a largish number of texts stating or strongly implying that within the Earth-sun system it is the sun that moves. Moreover, the assumption here, as we just saw, is that the sun is in motion relative to an Earth at absolute rest. This was the tenor of Genesis 1:2-19, the basis of Hebrew cosmology. In the passages we are about to consider, that tenor is specified and confirmed in remarkable detail.
Let us begin by noting the obvious: In common with our own habits of day-to-day speech, many Bible passages speak of the motions of the sun (Genesis 15:12, 17, 19:23, 32:31, etc.). One thinks of the words of the Psalmist, who declared, “From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, the LORD’S name is to be praised” (Psalm 113:3). Importantly, in some texts we hear the voice of God himself using these very terms. For example, in the Mosaic Law we find God saying, “If you ever take your neighbor’s garment as a pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down” (Ex. 22:3, 26; Lev. 22:7). Similarly, through the prophet Malachi God says, “From the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles” (Mal. 1:11; Isaiah 45:6). Along these lines, one thinks also of the words of our Lord, who, in urging his disciples to show impartial love to all men, directed their attention to the work of his Father, who “…causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). Just as surely as God sends down a (moving) rain to the parched earth, so surely does he raise up a (moving) sun over the darkened earth. Thus, the Bible gives us many passages about the sun that not only reflect our common sense experience, but actually shape and confirm it.
Of special importance is Psalm 19, in which David vividly describes the motion and ministry of the sun:
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork… In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, rejoicing like a strong man to run his course. Its rising is from one end of the heaven, and its circuit to the other end, and there is nothing hidden from its heat. —Psalm 19:1, 4-6
David’s words here are very like those of his son Solomon, who wrote, “The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it arose” (Ecclesiastes 1:5). Both of these texts have the sun in motion, both have it running a course, and both have it making a circuit around the Earth. Elsewhere, we learn that the stars too go “in their courses” (Judges 5:20). Nowhere, however, do we read of the Earth having a course, or making a circuit around the sun. Like all the biblical writers, David and Solomon assume that the sun—and beyond that, the heavens themselves—revolves around an Earth that remains stationary in the midst of all.
This persuasion is explicitly affirmed in James’ epistle to his persecuted Christian brethren. Seeking to reassure them of God’s immutable love and goodness in all his dealings with his children, James writes, “Every generous act, and every completed gift, is from above, and descends from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow cast by turning” (James 1:17). The idea here is that every gift of God—including the persecutions and temptations he wisely permits—is good; that the goodness of the gifts reflects the goodness of the Giver; and that the immutable God is always good.
Importantly, the saints may catch a glimpse of their Father’s unchanging goodness in his gift of the heavenly lights—the sun, moon, planets, and stars—whose faithful “turnings” in the sky above reliably give us light, warmth, shade, and the ability to reckon time. On the other hand, those same lights stand in stark contrast to God, since their position is always changing—along with the shadows that are cast by their “turning”—whereas God changes not (Malachi 3:6). We see then that James—who may well have been aware of ancient (Greek) heliocentric cosmologies—nevertheless fully embraced the faith of his fathers, presupposing as he did a stationary Earth above which all the heavenly lights are steadfastly “turning” (revolving) in their appointed courses.2
- “Phenomenological” Language?
When modern readers come upon the passages we have just cited, they typically react in one of two ways. If, on the one hand, they are skeptics, they will simply dismiss such texts as yet another “proof” that the Bible is a mythological artifact of pre-scientific man in his spiritual and cultural infancy. If, on the other hand, they are respectful of the evidence pointing to the Bible’s divine inspiration, they will try to interpret such texts “phenomenologically.” That is, they will say, “The (inspired) writers were simply using the language of appearance. Today we know that the sun does not really rise or go down. Rather, the Earth, rotating on its axis before the sun (and moon), makes it appear as if this is the case. Thus, the Bible is simply speaking from ‘the Earth’s reference frame.’ It gives us the language of common sense experience, while science gives us the language of truth and reality.”
Though the latter approach is popular even among strict biblical creationists, there are a number of good reasons why seekers should think twice before embracing it.
First, the contention that the Bible uses phenomenological language does not arise from the Bible itself. On the contrary, the Bible seems consistently to presuppose that the Earth is stationary and that all the luminaries are in motion. If we had just one or two passages in which it was recorded that the Earth turns or moves or goes about in a circuit, then we would indeed have to wonder which of the two classes of passages was telling us the truth and which was speaking phenomenologically. However, we do not have to wonder, for all the texts speak geocentrically. And if the Bible is inspired by God, that is a fact to be taken seriously.
Secondly, the assertion that these texts are speaking phenomenologically clearly does arise from assuming the truth of heliocentrism. Why would this discussion even come up unless a modern reader was interpreting the text through the grid of the prevailing heliocentric model? The preeminent proof of this important point is the simple historical fact that prior to Copernicus no trusted biblical interpreter ever taught that the Bible speaks phenomenologically about the Earth-sun system. Rather, the leading interpreters of Scripture received these texts at face value, and therefore consistently gleaned from them a radically geocentric cosmos. It is, then, our modern indoctrination into heliocentrism that moves even the biblical loyalist to impose a new (and alien) interpretive framework upon the text. “Knowing” that heliocentrism is true, he presumes to vindicate the Bible from an apparent error by saying that it is speaking phenomenologically—and therefore truly enough relative to common sense experience. But one wonders: In thus subordinating his interpretation to prevailing scientific opinion, is he missing the true cosmological teaching of the very Book that he so ardently seeks to defend?
This brings us to our third point, namely, that seekers of cosmological truth cannot take the phenomenological approach. The reason is clear. As seekers, they have interacted with the evidence indicating that the Bible is a trustworthy revelation from God. Therefore, in their quest for truth about the structure of the cosmos, they will want to come to this book with a fresh, unprejudiced mind. In particular, they will want to see what it really says about the structure of the universe. Moreover, if they are well established in the test perspective, they will examine the data with a keen awareness that finite man, apart from divine revelation, can never be sure about the structure of the universe; that sinful man—whose faculties (according to the Bible) are fallen—is always biased and subject to error; and that as a result of all this, scientific theories about the nature of the universe are always in flux. In short, prudent seekers will be wary of imposing popular cosmological models on the biblical data, no matter how deeply entrenched in the culture they may be. Knowing that God uses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, they will try to let the Bible speak in it owns terms (1 Cor. 1:27). And when they do, they will find that it speaks geocentrically from Genesis to Revelation.
Fourthly, the fact that the Bible uses common sense language to describe the motions of the heavenly bodies should actually be seen as an argument against a phenomenological interpretation. All agree that the Scriptures do indeed reflect our common sense impression of an Earth at rest beneath a revolving heaven full of lights. But this argues against geocentrism only if we assume that heliocentrism is true, and that God, in the Bible, is “accommodating” himself to our scientific weakness by using the language of everyday experience. Yet surely it is just as reasonable to assume that God chose the language of common sense in order to confirm the testimony of common sense. Indeed, of the two options this is clearly the better, since God himself is surely the author of common sense. Why, then, would he deceive us twice: First by inclining us to feel that the Earth is at rest in the center of the universe (as indeed most ancient pagan cosmologists taught), and then again by couching his revelation in language that would only serve to confirm this (false) impression? When Goethe said that Copernicanism overthrows “the witness of the senses,” he put his finger upon a telltale heart. The senses do indeed bear witness to cosmic geocentrism, and have not ceased to do so all these 500 years since Copernicus stepped forward to contradict them. Why is this so?
Fifthly, the fact that occasional Bible passages use figurative language to describe the shape of the Earth does not entail that the geocentric passages are figurative as well. Yes, the scriptures sometimes refer to “the ends of the Earth” (Psalm 72:8; Isaiah 40:28; Matthew 12:42), or to “the four corners of the Earth” (Isaiah 11:12; Revelation 7:1), or to “”the pillars of the Earth” (1 Samuel 2:8; Job 9:6; Psalm 75:3). We can be sure, however, that all such expressions really are intended figuratively. This is usually evident from the contexts in which they appear, but even more so from the important fact that still other passages speak of the sphericity of the Earth, thus directly contradicting them (Job 26:7; Prov. 8:27; Isaiah 40:22; Luke 17:34-36). Moreover, the foundational cosmological text of the Bible (Genesis 1:1-19) gives no hint whatsoever of a flat, four-cornered Earth set upon its pillars. When, however, we read it in conjunction with the other biblical passages cited above—and bring to our reading both common sense experience and a wealth of compelling scientific observation—we see immediately that biblical cosmology everywhere presupposes not only the sphericity of the Earth, but the sphericity of the heavens as well.
In sum, the geocentric passages—unlike those describing the shape of the Earth—are abundant, consistent, and undergirded by explicitly cosmological texts. This is why history provides us with no biblical theologians who believed in a flat Earth, but with many who believed that the sun, moon, and stars go around a spherical Earth situated at rest in the midst of all (here).
This brings us to our sixth and final point: If geocentrism is not true, then the truthfulness of God is impugned. The argument here is straightforward. According to the Bible, God is the author of common sense, a common sense that inclines us to view the universe geocentrically (Psalms 94:8-11; Prov. 20:12). Also, he himself has directly spoken of a sun that rises and sets (Ex. 22:3, 26; Lev. 22:7; Isaiah 45:6; Mal. 1:11). Moreover, he himself was inspiring all the biblical authors when they wrote, believingly, of an Earth at rest “in its place” and of a sun revolving in its circuit around the Earth (Job 9:6; Psalm 19:6; Prov. 30:5; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:19-21).
Thus, in manifold ways the God of the Bible gives us a definite and powerful impression of a geocentric cosmos. Furthermore, until Copernicus, this was precisely the impression that God’s people took from his Book. To say, then, that geocentrism is untrue is to say that God has given us a false impression. But this is to impugn the truthfulness of the God of truth, the God who cannot lie, the God who would not have his people ignorant, and the God in whom there is no darkness at all (Num. 23:19; Isaiah 65:16; John 8:40; 1 John 1:5).
- Joshua’s Long Day
These considerations bring us to a brief discussion of Joshua’s Long Day. This well-known Bible story, which served as a potent theological weapon against the early Copernicans, is among the most impressive bastions of geocentricity to be found in Scripture. As we are about to see, it not only powerfully resists “phenomenological” interpretations, but also contributes decisively to their demise. Let us turn to it now.
In Joshua 9-10 we read of Joshua and the Israelites going to war against a great confederacy of Canaanite kings. When the battle was finally joined, God worked mightily in behalf of his people, strengthening them for victory in direct combat, and further assisting them by casting down hailstones upon their foes. Joshua, however, found that he needed still more time to complete the rout. So he petitioned God, thereby securing a final intervention that stood out far above all the rest:
Then Joshua spoke to the LORD in the day the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, “O Sun, stand still over Gibeon; and O Moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.” So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the people avenged themselves of their enemies. Is this not written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. And there has been no day like that before it or after it, when the LORD heeded the voice of a man, for the LORD fought for Israel. —Joshua 10:12-14, cf; Habakkuk 3:11
Observe first that “Joshua spoke to the LORD.” Presumably, this means that he asked for further help in completing the defeat of the Amorites, whereupon God explicitly authorized him to issue his forthcoming command in the sight of all Israel (John 5:19; 1 Corinthians 4:7). Now if this is so, it means that Joshua’s very words to the sun and moon were, like the miracle itself, God’s idea. But if this is so, it means that God himself presupposed the sun to be moving, or else he would never have spoken to Joshua as he did. For if heliocentrism were true, then God, in the interest of speaking and teaching truth to his people, would surely have told Joshua to say, “Earth, stand still beneath the sun!” But he did not, presumably because heliocentrism is not true (Numbers 20:8).
Notice next that our passage tells us twice that the sun did indeed stop. This double affirmation may well reflect God’s ancient mandate that in the giving of public testimony every matter must be established by two or more witnesses (Deut. 17:6, 19:15; 2 Corinthians 3:1). If so, it implies that we should give special consideration to the magnitude, uniqueness, and importance of the miracle here affirmed. In other words, the double affirmation signals that we are to take this testimony seriously, as all who consent to the divine inspiration of the Bible must.
Finally, we must not overlook the significance of the moon’s having stood still as well. For what is the simplest, most natural implication of this notable fact, if not that the sun, just like the moon, normally makes a daily circuit above the Earth? The text says that sun and moon both stopped. Therefore, the sun and moon both were moving, and moving with the same kind of (orbital) motion. Moreover, we may be sure that the “real” miracle was not, as some heliocentrists have suggested, that the Earth stopped rotating on its axis beneath the sun. For if that had been the case, then it is indeed true that the motion of the moon would not have been apparent to the Israelite’s naked eye; however, since the heliocentric model also posits a monthly journey of the moon around the Earth, the moon would still have been in motion. Yet the Bible says it stood still. For all these reasons pre-Copernican interpreters took this text at face value: They confessed that the sun and moon really did pause in their regular motions above a stationary Earth.
But modern interpreters, constrained by their allegiance to the Copernican theory, have been forced to depart from simplicity and seek out exotic, non-geocentric explanations. Indeed, they have proven endlessly inventive in doing so. Some, of course, simply reject the story out of hand, calling it a mere legend. Others, trying to reconcile their Copernicanism with an inspired Bible, argue that God specially refracted the light of the sun and moon; that he temporarily changed the inclination of the axis of the Earth so that Gibeon became the North Pole for one day; that he slowed the rotation of the Earth, or placed clouds over the sun, or caused his people (fortuitously) to hallucinate a longer day. The list goes embarrassingly on. (See here)
All of these strained interpretations have one common and painfully obvious flaw: They are motivated by a desire to avoid the plain sense of the text. The text says that the sun and moon stood still. Logically, this entails that they were first in motion, then stopped, and then—after about a day, when victory was complete—began to move again. Admittedly, none of this logically requires that the Earth itself remained at rest beneath the sun and moon. Most would agree, however, that this is by far the most natural conclusion. Moreover, when our text is read in light of the Bible’s pervasive geostationism, that conclusion becomes positively compelling.
Seekers of cosmological truth should understand that the story of Joshua’s Long Day (along with one or two others like it) is an especially important piece of biblical testimony since, among other things, it so powerfully anchors down the geocentric interpretation of the rest of the Earth-sun passages in the Bible. To say the same thing negatively, it decisively refutes the phenomenological interpretation of those passages. And indeed, some would say it was providentially designed to do so. Yes, in speaking of the rising and the setting of the sun the biblical authors speak of how things appear. But the story of Joshua’s Long Day—confirmed as it is by widespread extra-biblical evidence—assures us that how things appear is how they really are.3 So does the cosmology of Genesis 1. So does the fact that the God of the Bible always tells the truth. So does the fact that he could easily have told us something else if something else were the truth. So does the fact that he hasn’t.
In sum, the biblical narrative of Joshua’s Long Day wonderfully focuses our attention on the central issue in our quest for cosmological reality: Whom shall we trust to tell us how things really are? Modern science says that the Earth really revolves around the sun, and that the Bible is therefore in error, or that it must be interpreted phenomenologically. The God of the Bible says that the sun—along with the heavens themselves—revolves around the Earth, and that modern science, insofar as it contradicts his word, must be in error. Honesty compels us to admit that the two views and the two antagonists cannot be reconciled. It appears, then, that honest seekers must be willing to search out the truth for themselves, and to stand up bravely for it when he finds it, no matter how foolish it may seem to the world ( 1 Cor. 4:10).
- The Argument from Typology
We come now to a further class of passages often held to support radical geocentrism, passages in which the sun “typifies” the Messiah: the divine Son who “goes down” from heaven to the Earth below to secure his people’s redemption, and who then “rises” from its depths to carry the light of salvation from east to west, and so to the whole world.
By way of introduction let us note that the biblical writers consistently treat nature as “God’s other book”—as another appointed vehicle of his self-revelation to the world. In “general revelation” God uses the book of nature to reveal certain general truths about himself to the generality of mankind. These truths include his existence, eternity, power, intelligence, goodness, etc. In “special revelation” God uses the words of Scripture to reveal certain special truths that man cannot read in the book of nature. These include the answers to the ultimate questions of life, and especially the answer to our urgent questions about eternal rescue from evil, suffering, and death, and eternal restoration to the fullness of life.
If, however, man cannot discover these special truths simply by studying nature, it does not necessarily follow that nature is silent about them. As a matter of fact, Jesus and his apostles did not view nature as being silent about them. On the contrary, they taught that under the light God’s special revelation believers can henceforth see and understand nature in a whole new way. In particular, they (the believers) can see that God has fashioned all things—including nature itself—with a view to glorifying his Son and supplying tangible vehicles for communicating the great truths of redemption. In other words, they can now read “God’s other book” as heralding, celebrating, and confirming the things of Christ.
Here, then, is the reason why we find Jesus and the apostles declaring that rocks (Romans 9:33; 1 Corinthians 10:4), trees (Romans 11:24; 1 Peter 2:24; Revelation 2:7), water (John 7:37), bread (John 6: 35, 48), vines (John 15:1f) and many other material objects all speak mystically of (the things of) Christ. But if this is so, it should hardly surprise us to find that the Bible, in many places, symbolizes or “typifies” Christ and the things of redemption by referring to the sun and its motions (Psalm 89:36; Matthew 17:2; Acts 26:13; Revelation 1:16). Moreover, when we examine these passages closely, we realize that they speak, not only of the things of Christ, but also (in favor) of a radically geocentric cosmos as well.
Perhaps the most impressive of these passages is Malachi 4:1-2, where we find God speaking through the prophet as follows:
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes all who do wickedly, will be as stubble. And the day which is coming will burn them up,” says the LORD of hosts. “That will leave them neither root nor branch. But to you who fear My name, the Sun of Righteousness will arise with healing in His wings. And you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves.”
Most interpreters regard this as a Messianic prophecy. In context, the rising of the Sun of Righteousness refers to the coming again of Christ at the end of the age, when he will judge the world in righteousness and consummately “heal” his people by raising them bodily to eternal life in God’s kingdom (Matthew 13:36-43; John 5:24-29). Nevertheless, the NT also affirms that the Sun of Righteousness has already risen, though not yet consummately. Christ now shines as the light of the world (John 1:5, 8:12, 9:5). His light now heals the (spiritually) sick of the world, (Acts 3:11, 8:7; Hebrews 12:13; 1 Peter 2:24). Thus, our text also refers to present blessings, presently enjoyed by all who believe in the Messiah.
How has all of this come to pass? Essentially, it is through the twofold work of the divine Sun of Righteousness. First, this Sun “went down.” That is, the divine Son humbled himself to incarnation as a man, then to death on a cross, and finally to burial in a borrowed tomb. As Jesus himself said, “I have come down from Heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38, 41, 51, 58; Ephesians 4:7-10; Philippians 2:5-8). Thus, the setting of the astronomical sun pictures Christ’s manifold humiliation.
But secondly, this Sun also “rose.” That is, the divine Son was exalted by God unto a resurrection from the dead, an ascension into heaven, and a seat at God’s own right hand, whence, by means of his Spirit working through his obedient people, he henceforth encircles the Earth, sun-like, bringing to the nations the light and warmth of the gospel (Psalm 50:1, 113:3; Isaiah 45:6; Romans 10:18). Thus, the rising of the astronomical sun, as well as its circuit, pictures the full scope of Christ’s exaltation. Notably, it is all but impossible to read Malachi without thinking in particular of Jesus’ resurrection, which occurred at dawn on the first day of the week (Matthew 28:1), just as the sun was rising (Mark 16:2). The NT is clear that for all who “see” this risen Son and believe on him, a new Day—a day of everlasting rejoicing—has begun (Matthew 29:9; Luke 1:78; John 6:40, 8:56).
The geocentric implications of this constellation of texts are evident. According to the Bible, God himself has established a definite correlation, both in nature and in Scripture, between the work of the sun and the work of his Son. This correlation strongly supports radical geocentrism, the idea that the sun (and all the heavenly wanderers) moves around an Earth at rest. For it is clear that in the work of redemption it is the Son who does all the moving. As we just saw, he is the one who came down out of heaven, and he is the one who came (in) to the world (John 16:28). Moreover, such divine initiative was absolutely necessary, since man, being absolutely dead in trespasses and sins, could not make a single move towards the Son (John 6:44, 65; Romans 3:11; Ephesian 2:5). Now if God desired to embed these profound truths in his other book (i.e., the book of Nature), how better or more impressively than by having the astronomical sun—in humble, life-giving subservience—go down and rise upon an Earth that sits absolutely still with the stillness of the grave (Mark 10:45; John 11:1f; Phil. 2:5f)? We conclude, then, that “sun” passages like Malachi 4:1-2—and the great truths of redemption that they typify—do indeed support cosmic geocentrism.
Let us complete this section by looking again at Psalm 19:4-6, already cited above. Just like the passage in Malachi, this text also seems to have the sun typifying Christ at his second coming. For just like the sun, Christ, in that day, will be as a bridegroom coming out of his heavenly chamber (Matthew 25:1f; Mark 2:19; John 14:1-3). Eager to fetch his beloved Bride, he will be as a strong man, rejoicing to run his race. Importantly, his circuit will be from one end of the sky to other (v. 6). This correlates well with Jesus’ own description of his return, in which he said, “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to west, so also shall the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:27). Observe also from our text that no one will be hidden from the heat of this sun when it finally appears. John the Revelator says much the same thing, crying, “Behold, he is coming with clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him (Matthew 26:64; Revelation 1:7). But how can this be unless Christ, like the sun, makes at least one circuit around the globe, safely gathering his Bride to his side, even as he consigns his enemies to the final judgment (v. 6, cf. Matthew 13:42, 50; Luke 17:34-36)?
We see, then, that the typology of Psalm 19:4-6 richly supports the idea of cosmic geocentrism. For just as Christ one day will “rise” and circle the Earth at his coming again, so even now the sun rises and circles the Earth, both promising and warning all nations that the great Day of the Lord—the Day of Christ—is soon to come (Psalm 50:1f; Philippians 1:10, 2:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Peter 3:10).
- The Argument from Eschatology
Let me conclude this essay with a final argument from biblical eschatology: the Bible’s teaching concerning the wrap-up of world history and the future state of the universe.
According to the biblical writers, history is moving inexorably towards an awesome consummation of God’s redemptive work in the universe, a consummation that will occur when Christ comes again at the end of the age. In that day he himself will create “new heavens and a new earth” (Isaiah 65:17, 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 22:21). Importantly, this creation is actually a re-creation. That is, the old cosmos—and especially the Earth—will not be annihilated, but rather transformed into a (radically) new cosmos (Romans 8:18f; 1 Corinthians 7:31, 15:35-49; Philippians 3:21). In the Revelation the apostle John gives us some tantalizing glimpses of the new and eternal world to come. Having just described the resurrected and glorified people of God under the imagery of a city that descends onto the Earth as a Bride adorned for her husband, John says of her, the New Jerusalem:
But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God illuminated it and the Lamb was its light…They shall see His face and His name shall be on their forehead. And there shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever. —Revelation 21:23, 22:4-5
This text harmonizes with many others found throughout the Bible, indicating that the sun, moon, and stars will all be dissolved in the end-time conflagration, and also that they—along with darkness itself—will never again be created (Isaiah 13:10, 24:23, 34:4; Joel 2:10, 31; Zephaniah 1:15; Matthew 24:29; 2 Peter 3:10). As John said, God and Christ alone will be the light of the world in the world to come (Isaiah 60:19-20; Zechariah 14:6-7; Matthew 17:1f). The question therefore arises: What part of the old universe does manage to pass through the end-time cataclysm so as to enjoy continuing existence in the eternal Kingdom? The biblical answer is spectacularly clear: only a fully transformed Earth, so firmly established in its place that it “cannot be moved forever” (Psalm 93:1, 104:5; Ecclesiastes 1:40).
Here, then, is yet another line of evidence favorable to cosmic geocentrism. For it is evident from Scripture that the world to come is, in several important respects, exactly like the world as it was before the fourth day of the good beginning: suspended once and for all—majestic, unmoving, and immovable—in the midst of space, and in the midst of God’s loving presence and watch-care. The only real difference is that in the future world, night (a symbol of spiritual darkness) has given way to perpetual day, and periodic illumination to the perpetual light of the glory of God. With the luminaries gone and astronomical time abolished, the consummated Kingdom breathes an atmosphere of eternity, though time itself endures forever. Thus, in biblical perspective, the “day” of the luminaries is surprisingly short and quite temporary: For just a few thousand years out of a whole eternity they shine, move, and at the last move on. But the Earth does not move on. Like God himself, it abides unmoved and immovable, forever.
In our survey of biblical teaching on the structure of the universe we have encountered an impressive body of evidence favorable to the idea of cosmic geocentrism. This includes the Bible’s foundational cosmological passage (Genesis 1:1-19); passages that depict the Earth as being at rest and immovable in the midst of all; passages that depict the sun (and the stars) as revolving around the Earth; Joshua’s Long Day, along with extra-biblical evidences for it; Messianic types indicating that the sun daily encircles the globe; and passages depicting the Earth as the only “world” in the world to come. Moreover, we have seen that in many ways the Bible positively discourages a “phenomenological” interpretation of the relevant texts.
Here, then, is why Christians understood their Bible geocentrically for over 1000 years: For all the reasons just cited, it seemed like the sensible thing to do. Here also is why Christian leaders, both Catholic and Protestant, strenuously resisted Copernicanism for some 200 years, leaders such as Martin Luther (1483-1546), Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560), John Calvin (1509-1604), Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), Gilbert Voet (15881676), Abraham Calovius (1612-1686), John Owen (1616-1683), and Francis Turretin (1623-1687). These men ran deep. Well able to understand the science of their day, and well acquainted with it, they nevertheless remained convinced that the Bible spoke more clearly and more authoritatively about the structure of the cosmos than did the scientists. Said Martin Luther in the midst of the tumult: “Even in these things which are thrown into disorder, I believe the Holy Scriptures.” John Calvin concurred, reaffirming on the basis of God’s inerrant word that, “The heavens revolve daily, immense as is their fabric and inconceivable the rapidity of their revolutions.”
But again, the center did not hold. Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, incorporated by Newton into a powerful new system of celestial mechanics, seemed too compelling. Since Newton’s system described and predicted the motions of the heavenly bodies so well (though not perfectly), most concluded that its underlying heliocentrism must be true. And with few exceptions, most continued to reckon it as true for the next 200 years. Little did they imagine, however, that fresh theoretical insights and new astronomical observations would soon enable even the staunchest opponents of biblical revelation to contemplate a geocentric universe once again.
- Hebrew scholar Dr. Thomas Strouse writes, “Insurmountable arguments for interpreting Genesis 1:1 as the the title for the chapter are the following: 1) the expression “the heavens and the earth” consistently refers to the completed creation of God (Genesis 14:9; Psalm 121:2; Matthew 24:35; etc.); 2) the completed cosmos of v.1 cannot exist contemporaneously with the incomplete cosmos of vv. 2-19; 3) the verb ‘bara’ refers to a finished creation; and 4) the ‘waw’ of v.2 (i.e., the “and” introducing the verse) is disjunctive, thus not giving consecutive action, since it is attached to a non-verb (i.e., and the earth).” Also, the heading of the complementary creation account of Genesis 2 (found at 2:5) suggests that the analogous verse in Genesis 1 serves the same funciton.
- I am indebted to Dr. Martin Selbrede for his close examination of James 1:17. It is found in his video, Geocentricity: The Scriptural Cosmology.
- In his book, A Geocentric Primer, Dr. Gerry Bouw cites many stories from around the world referencing either a long day, a long night, or a long sunset. For example, with regard to an unusually long and frightening night, the Mayan Book of Princes states, “They did not sleep, they remained standing, and great was the anxiety of their hearts and their stomachs for the coming of the dawn and the day…’O, if only we could see the rising of the sun! What shall we do now?’…They talked, but they could not calm their hearts, which were anxious for the coming of the dawn.” Concerning the widespread historical evidence for a global long day, Bouw writes, “That some peoples have tales of a long night, while others tell of a long day, while none have both a long day and a long night tale signifies that Joshua’s Long Day is not one account, originating in the mid-East, which has migrated all over the world. For if such were the case, then all nations would tell of a long day and none would tell of a long night, let alone a perfectly placed long sunset. So we must conclude that Joshua’s Long Day was a real, historical event and not some fiction” (Primer, p. 61). For further historical confirmation of Joshua’s Long Day, click here.