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The Christian Bible nowhere categorically states that the earth is flat. However, the shape of the earth can be gleaned from some of its passages (not definitely, so that inerrantists who accept a round earth still have wiggle room), and it is reasonable to assume that the ancient Hebrews had the same flat-earth cosmology as did their neighbours.
For example, Matthew 4:8 and Luke 4:5 says that Jesus saw all the kingdoms of the world from a very high mountain. Unless most of the world was uninhabited (i.e., had no kingdoms), this had to be on a flat earth, for on a spherical earth at least half of the world would be obscured from view. Isaiah 40:22 describes God as sitting above the circle of the earth, which means the earth is a flat disc, and looking upon the inhabitants below.
Bible inerrantists, generally, do not accept the flat earth. They claim that the Bible has the correct, roughly spherical, shape of the earth all along, citing such passages as Job 26:7, where the earth is said to be suspended on nothing, as proof and offer rationalizations for the other portions. This is typical. Nobody takes the Bible entirely literally, indeed, it would be impossible to do so since it contradicts itself. For instance, Revelations 7:1 states the Earth has four corners, contradicting the Isaiah passage given above. "Literalists" are all forced to pick which sections they will consider absolutely intended to be literal and which are metaphoric. There is no in-text reason to consider Isaiah's round Earth literal and Revelations' rectangular a metaphor, both are presented as simple facts. Creationists simply choose the one that happened to be correct and claim that is what "the" Bible meant all along.
For this and other reasons, neither claim, of flat earth or round earth, is watertight. That passage from Job probably means that the earth is not suspended on turtles or elephants as the neighboring peoples believed. The flat-earth view is, on the whole, more probable, both because of the circumstances of the Bible (Ancient Near East), and because a later apocryphal book, First Enoch, explicitly states the flat shape of the earth.
It is important to note that most educated Christians of the Middle Ages did not believe in a flat earth. They had accepted Ptolemy's cosmology of concentric spheres, with the earth a ball at the centre of the universe (see Geocentrism). However, there were exceptions. Church Father Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius found the notion absolutely absurd:
- How is it with those who imagine that there are antipodes opposite to our footsteps? Do they say anything to the purpose? Or is there any one so senseless as to believe that there are men whose footsteps are higher than their heads? or that the things which with us are in a recumbent position, with them hang in an inverted direction? that the crops and trees grow downwards? that the rains, and snow, and hail fall upwards to the earth? And does any one wonder that hanging gardens are mentioned among the seven wonders of the world, when philosophers make hanging fields, and seas, and cities, and mountains? (Divine Institutes 3:24)
A flat-earth movement based on the Bible did arise in the 19th century, headed by Samuel Birley Rowbowtham, and still exists today, but is insignificant in the antievolution movement. Modern young-earth creationists dismiss the flat-earth interpretation as an atheistic smear on the Bible. Also note that the flat earth concept was always alien to most non-Europeans (Europeans here including those in colonies in the continents of America, Africa and Asia).
More resources on the flat earth:
- The Flat-Earth Belief of Bible Writers by Adrian Swindler, on the Skeptical Review
- The Flat-Earth Bible by Robert Schadewald
- Scientific Creationism, Geocentricity, and the Flat Earth by Robert Schadewald
- The size of the round earth was estimated surprisingly accurately by the Greek geographer Eratosthenes in the 3rd century BC: NASA page
- Creationist Responses to the Flat-Earth Issue compiled by AnswersInGenesis
- Talkorigins page on the International Flat Earth Society, complete with application. A masterpiece of unintended humor.
- Bible says earth is flat
- Flat Earth Soceity