According to Denis Lamoureux, a prominent professor of science and Christian, the Bible evidences what one might refer to as “pre-scientific beliefs” (1). These are the Bible’s pre-scientific claims about the workings of nature which form the beliefs of the biblical authors that are clearly mistaken given what modern scientific knowledge has revealed. Lamoureux attempts to explains this in terms of its relation to the Christian faith,
“the Bible is not a book of science, but a book to meet the Lord… In fact, Holy Scripture features an ancient perspective of the structure, operation, and origin of the universe and life.”
Lamoureux identifies several such beliefs held by the biblical authors including:
- The earth is flat. The word “earth” appears over 2500 times in the Old Testament (Hebrew: ‘eres) and 250 times in the New Testament (Greek: ge). Never once is this word referred to as spherical or round. Instead, the universe in the Scripture is compared to a tent with the earth as its floor (Ps 19:4, Ps 104:2, Is 40:22).
- A circumferential sea borders a circular earth. Proverbs 8:22-31 and Job 26:7-14 describe the creation of the world. The former states, “God inscribed a circle on the face of the deep” (v. 27); and the latter, “God has inscribed a circle on the surface of the waters” (v. 10). The Bible also asserts that the earth is circular. Isaiah writes, “God sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in” (Isa 40:22).
- The earth is immovable. The Bible records three times that “the world is firmly established; it cannot move” (1 Chr 16:30, Ps 93:1, Ps 96:10). The stability of the earth is understood to be like that of a building set on the solid foundations. The biblical writers frequently refer to this solid base as “the foundations of earth” (Job 38:4-6, Prov 8:29, Jer 31:37). For example, “God set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved” (Ps 104:5).
- A solid domed structure, termed the “firmament,” holds up a body of water over the earth. Created on the second day of creation, the firmament separated the “waters above” from the “waters below” (Gen 1:6-8). Notably, this heavenly dome and body of water did not collapse during Noah’s Flood. As the psalms of King David’s day reveal, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament proclaims the work of His hands” (Ps 19:1); and God “stretches out the heavens like a tent and lays the beams of His upper chambers [i.e., God’s celestial temple] on their waters” (Ps 104:2-3).
- The sun moves across the sky. Created and placed in the firmament on the fourth day of creation (Gen 1:14-18), the daily movement of sun is found in King Solomon’s observation: “The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises” (Eccl 1:5). It also appears in the psalmist’s praise, “The sun rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other” (Ps 19:6).
Lamoureux responds to Christians who say that the passages cited here are only “appearances” in nature, and therefore merely phenomenological descriptions (Greek phainomenon: appearance) as opposed to the actual beliefs on the part of the biblical authors,
“[The claims are sometimes that] the earth “looks” flat, “seems” to be surrounded by water, and “feels” stationary; the sky gives the “impression” of being a blue body of water overhead; and the sun “appears” to cross the dome of the sky, rising and setting every day. However, to ancient peoples like the biblical authors and their readers, these are descriptions of the actual structure and operation of the universe. As history reveals, the notion that the earth was immovable and that the sun moved daily across the sky was part of astronomy up until the early 1600s.”
But what explains the presence of these myths in the Bible? According to Old Testament scholar Peter Enns, God adopted the mythic categories within which ancient people (including Israel) thought in order to reveal scripture,
“[The] opening chapters of Genesis participate in a worldview that the earliest Israelites shared with their Mesopotamian neighbors. To put it this way is not to concede ground to liberalism or unbelief but to understand the simple fact that the stories in Genesis had a context within which they were first understood. And that context was not a modern scientific one but an ancient mythic one.”
Lamoureux agrees and says that God “came down to the level of the ancient biblical writers and employed their understanding of the physical world in order to communicate as effectively as possible life-changing spiritual truths.” Lamoureux believes that this view is compatible with biblical inerrancy as well as the view that the Bible is yet inspired, “God revealed the inerrant message of faith that He created the world, not how He created it.”
Lamoureux contends that one does not “go to the Bible to find scientific facts,” rather one goes “to Scripture to meet Jesus.”
1. Lamoureux, D. 2009. The Ancient Science in the Bible. Available.
2. Enns, P. 2015. Inspiration and Incarnation. p. 87 (Scribd ebook format).