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Friday, December 27, 2013

The Bible and astronomy

Psalm 93:1 Yahweh reigns!
He is clothed with majesty!
Yahweh is armed with strength.
The world also is established.
It can’t be moved. (Scripture quotations from the World English Bible, public domain)

Joshua 10:12 Then Joshua spoke to Yahweh in the day when Yahweh delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel. He said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still on Gibeon! You, moon, stop in the valley of Aijalon!”
13 The sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the nation had avenged themselves of their enemies. Isn’t this written in the book of Jashar? The sun stayed in the middle of the sky, and didn’t hurry to go down about a whole day. 14 There was no day like that before it or after it, that Yahweh listened to the voice of a man; for Yahweh fought for Israel. (I don't know what happened here, other than that it was a miracle.)

Isaiah 11:12 He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.

Jeremiah 49:36 On Elam will I bring the four winds from the four quarters of the sky,and will scatter them toward all those winds.
There will be no nation where the outcasts of Elam will not come. 

Revelation 11:1 After this, I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, so that no wind would blow on the earth, or on the sea, or on any tree.

How can the earth be globe-like if it has four corners, or if the sky has four quarters, or how can the earth be immovable if it is in orbit around the sun? It can’t, of course. But that doesn’t mean that the Bible was actually meant to teach us that the earth is not globe-like, or is fixed in space. The people of Bible times thought that these things were true, and had no good reason for doubting that they were. If the Psalmist had written something like “the earth is in a stable, predictable orbit, and will stay in it” no one would have understood this, including the Psalmist. Isaiah could have said “He will bring back the dispersed Israelites from all over the world,” but, as we do some times, he seems to have used an idiomatic expression. The descriptions given above would have been common to people contemporary with the appearance of the Psalms, Joshua, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Revelation. (By the way, we still say that the sun rises in the east, and sets in the west, when it actually does no such thing – it just appears to, because of the rotation of the earth on its axis.)

The Bible is not an astronomy or geology textbook. It describes the heavenly bodies, and the earth, in terms that would have been familiar to listeners and readers of that day. But the purposes of each of these passages wasn't to teach science, but to teach about God's power. That doesn’t mean that the Bible is in error, unless you have an unreasonable standard for correctness.

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