Where in the World is the World? The Bible and Cosmic Geocentrism
In [this] 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.
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.
1. 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.
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).
3. 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.