Is the ’Erets (Earth) Flat?

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Paul Seely tells us that he has ‘never said or implied that the Bible “teaches” either that the “firmament” is solid or that the “earth” is a flat disc.’ I find this disclaimer curious in light of statements in his original articles such as, ‘the language of Genesis 1 suggests solidity’, ‘the historical-grammatical meaning’ is such, ‘Gen. 1:17 also testifies’, etc. If this is not saying that the Bible teaches these things, then what is it saying?

Seely’s comparisons to ethical concessions are without merit. There does exist a hierarchy of morals, wherein under certain conditions one moral imperative may supersede another (which is not the same as saying that morality is subjective),1 but there is no corresponding hierarchy of scientific data. It’s a category mistake–moral statements are in the imperative mood, i.e. about what is permitted and forbidden; propositions about the Earth’s shape are in the indicative mood, and are either true or false. Despite his obfuscations, Seely is claiming that the Author of truth inspired a false teaching.

Another important point is that Scripture itself teaches that some moral imperatives were concessions, but there is nothing in Scripture countermanding the alleged scientific errors claimed by Seely. So his views have baneful implications for the doctrines of the sufficiency of Scripture and that Scripture is its own best interpreter, which are foundational to Seely’s own denomination (Reformed)!

It is clear from Seely’s vague and generalized comments that I lift ‘verses out of their historical context’, etc.—without providing any specific responses!–that he has completely missed the point of my articles concerning the use of equivocal language in Scripture, or else is unable to provide a response. He is as before unable to distinguish properly between adaptation to human finitude and accommodation to human error. It is tempting to ask how he could have missed this point about equivocal language, which was in the very title of both my responses to him, in light of his own equivocation above!

In terms of Luke 17:34–35 and Matthew 24:40–41, while I did not choose the Biblical citation and the illustration it accompanied [True, as we note in Seely’s letter. Also, he subsequently informed us that he no longer holds the eschatological views the picture presupposed, and suggests that anyone wanting more information should contact him. So it’s rather academic now.—Ed.], Seely seems to be trying to separate the two passages somehow, and imply that one of them is not an authentic representation of the words of Jesus–if so, this is not legitimate, and places Seely yet again outside the camp of genuine evangelicalism.2 As the New Testament scholar N.T. Wright has observed, the things Jesus said, he most likely said many times, and with many minor variations.3 These two verses certainly reflect variations upon the same general warning which Jesus made several times during his years of preaching.

That said, we could of course argue that the people in bed were sick during the day while others were grinding grain; or perhaps the word (κλινη klinè) used by Luke indicates a couch for eating or reclining; or perhaps it was early when some people were up and others were not—but an implication of a spherical earth is certainly possible.

In conclusion, Seely has done nothing to defend his original thesis.

JP Holding
Florida
UNITED STATES of AMERICA

Footnotes

  1. Norman Geisler makes a good case that such graded absolutism is consistent with Scripture, Christian Ethics, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, USA, Part 1, 1989.
  2. If Luke 17:36 were not part of Luke’s autograph, then it must have been incorporated by a later scribe from Matt. 24:40. This means that the teaching and context were part of the autographs of the NT as a whole, so reflect Jesus’s teaching accurately. For more explanation on such textual considerations, see White, J., The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust the Modern Translations? Bethany House, pp. 154 ff., 1995.
  3. Wright, NT, The New Testament and the People of God, SPCK, London / Fortress Press, Minneapolis, pp. 422 ff., 1992.

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