Is the ’Erets (Earth) Flat?

Seely’s Response

Originally published in Journal of Creation 15, no 2 (August 2001): 52-53.

With regard to James Holding’s paper, Is the ’Erets (Earth) Flat?1 I have never said or implied that the Bible ‘teaches’ either that the ‘firmament’ is solid or that the ‘earth’ is a flat disc. Rather, I believe both are divinely inspired concessions to the views of the times, as Deuteronomy 24:1–4 and Deuteronomy 21:10–14 are concessions to the ethics of the times (Matthew 19:8/Mark 10:5). This later interpretation of Matthew 19:8 /Mark 10:5 is part of mainstream evangelical theology and was greatly employed by Calvin. I am simply understanding Scripture in the light of this Biblical revelation.

As to Holding’s main point, he lifts all the relevant OT verses out of their historical context and some of them out of their Biblical context; and then assumes that if he can get rid of the OT evidence which infers the earth is flat, we have the right to read in a spherical globe as the meaning of the word ‘earth’ in the OT. But there is not a single OT verse which infers that ‘earth’ in the OT is a spherical globe. Holding is rationalizing away the relevant Biblical evidence, and then dragging in the concept of a spherical earth from modern science and reading it into the text. That is exactly what concordists do with the 24-hour days of Genesis 1, the creation of the sun, moon and stars on the fourth day, etc.

Holding’s only positive Biblical case for a spherical earth is a caption to a picture which cites Luke 17:34-35 and Matthew 24:40-41 (NT verses, not OT) and says these verses do ‘not make sense if the world was flat. On a flat earth, the sun would rise on everybody at the same time. You would not expect to find people in bed, while others were out in the field’. [Ed. note: even if Seely were right, which is questionable as Holding shows below, this diagram was inserted by the editors so they, not Holding, are responsible for any error.]

But, neither passage says that some people were in bed while others were out in the field. Matthew 24:40-41 does not mention anyone being in bed. Luke 17:34-35 mentions two people being in bed and two others grinding grain. Only v. 36 (which Holding does not cite) mentions two men out in the field; and that verse is widely acknowledged to be a textual addition to Luke, not part of the inspired original (and hence rejected by the NIV among others).2

As for Luke 17:34–35, ‘the passage refers to the period just before dawn when some people are still asleep and others are up early to perform their tasks’.3-5 And, this could well apply to men in the field as well.

So Holding’s positive Biblical case that ‘earth’ in the OT can refer to a spherical earth is resting on a single NT text which is from a considerable different time period, is probably not part of the inspired original, and can be explained other ways. Holding’s position is, therefore, no different in principle from that of those who rationalize away the contextual meaning of Genesis 1 and put in its place the finding of modern science.

Paul H. Seely
Portland, Oregon


  1. Holding, J.P., Is the ’Erets (Earth) Flat? Equivocal language in the geography of Genesis 1 and the Old Testament: a response to Paul H. Seely, CEN Tech. J. 14(3):51–54, 2000.
  2. Bock, D., Luke 9:51-24:53, Baker, Grand Rapids, p. 1443, 1996.
  3. Marshall, H., The Gospel of Luke, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, p. 667, 1978.
  4. Ellis, E.E., The Gospel of Luke, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, p. 211, 1974.
  5. Bock, Ref. 2, p. 1438.


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