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astronomy History Physics

Job 38 and a Flat Earth

A Flat-earth believing Christian writes of Job 38

God talking to Job: Where were you when I made the foundations of the earth? Declare if you have understanding. Who has the laid measures thereof if thou knowest or who has stretched the line upon it? (not around it). Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened (how can the foundations be fastened on a spinning ball?). or who laid the cornerstone thereof.

This is God talking to Job. God’s words and not man.

Firstly, I do not consider one passage of scripture of more or less authority than another. It is all God’s Words. In the book of Job when Job is speaking about what God has done, He is speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. That is the only reason he knows anything (e.g. Job 26:7).

All scripture, not some scripture, is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God [literally means God breathed from the Greek original text], and is profitable for doctrine [teaching], for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

2 Timothy 3:16 (KJV)

Also God is sovereign and He promised to preserve His Words so that none will ever be corrupted or lost.

The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried [refined] in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. 7 You shalt keep them [His words], O LORD, You shall preserve them from this generation for ever.

Psalm 12:6-7, KJVER

Looking at Job 38:4-6: (KJVER)

4 Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if you have understanding.

5 Who has laid the measures thereof, if you know? or who has stretched the line upon it?

6 Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;

There is also Job 38:18 talking about the breadth of the earth (how big it is).

Have you perceived the breadth of the earth? declare if you know it all.

And why not add Jeremiah 31:37 (KJVER)

Thus says the LORD; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed [descendants] of Israel for all that they have done, says the LORD.

And Proverbs 25:3 (KJVER)

The heaven for height, and the earth for depth, and the heart of kings is unsearchable.

All these verses refer to measurements of the Earth at a time when it was unknown. They were written long before Eratosthenes measured the circumference of the earth.

In 200 BC Eratosthenes was able to measure the radius of the earth and got it correct to within 10%. Not bad with the tools he had. He did this by measuring the length of the shadow at noon at Alexandria when it was overhead at Syene — two different locations (latitudes) on the earth. See Figure. Such measurements just can’t work on a flat Earth.

The sun’s rays were assumed to be nearly parallel. Eratosthenes calculated the Earth’s circumference without leaving Alexandria. He knew that at local noon on the summer solstice in Syene (modern Aswan, Egypt), the Sun was directly overhead. He then measured the Sun’s angle of elevation at noon in Alexandria by using a vertical rod, known as a gnomon, by measuring the length of its shadow on the ground. From that he calculated the angle of the Sun’s rays. This turned out to be about 7°, or 1/50th the circumference of a circle. Taking the Earth as spherical, and knowing both the distance and direction of Syene, he concluded that the Earth’s circumference was fifty times that distance. The biggest uncertainty for us is in knowing what a stadia is equal to in metres. In 2012, Anthony Abreu Mora repeated Eratosthenes’s calculation with more accurate data on the distance between the two locations; the result was 40,074 km (24,901 mi), which is 66 km (41 mi) different (0.16%) from the currently accepted polar circumference of the Earth. From the circumference you get the radius and diameter.

Thus at the time of writing of all those verses, they were quite true.  Remember God is rhetorically saying to Job “Can you do what I can do?” “Were you there when I made the earth?” “Can you measure or weigh the earth?” etc. Jeremiah 31:37 is a Hebrew way of saying that because it is impossible to measure the heavens God will never cast off Israel. They compare one statement to another impossible one. It is like saying you will do something “when Hell freezes over”. There are many examples of this in both Old and New Testaments. Proverbs 25:3 is similar.

So even if the Earth was flat, at the time of writing these verses the circumference of the earth was not known. Therefore these verses would also have to be applied to a flat earth. So it does not help their argument.

Now let’s focus on the words “foundations of the earth”. Remember this is an English translation of the Hebrew original text.

Looking at another translation that uses the same Hebrew text as its source (KJ3—Literal translation bible by Jay P. Green Sr)

4 Where were you when I founded the earth? Declare if you know understanding.

5 Who has set its dimensions, for you know? Or who has stretched a line on it?

6 On what were its bases sunk? Or who has its cornerstone?

Job 38:4-6 (KJ3)

From this it is clear that this is not some secret knowledge about the foundations of the earth but simply God is questioning Job as to whether he was there when God created the earth. When He founded the earth. Can Job measure the size of the earth? No! He couldn’t but God could. And eventually in 200 BC Eratosthenes was able to measure its circumference and diameter. But at the time of Job he could do none of these things.

Verse 5 has the meaning of measuring its size, which we know now to be about 40,000 km in circumference or about 25,000 miles. In verse 6 there is no meaning of fastening the spinning earth to anything. The scripture in Job 26:7 tells us God hung the planet on nothing. The Hebrew word ‘erets mean the ground (the earth beneath) we stand on here not the planet per se. The reference to a cornerstone is a builder’s reference.  This reinforces the first part as the cornerstone is the important start of the foundation of a building.

אֶרֶץ ʼerets, eh’-rets; from an unused root probably meaning to be firm; the earth (at large, or partitively a land):—common, country, earth, field, ground, land, wilderness, world.

Recommended Reading

  1. THE EARTH IS NOT FLAT AND HANGS UPON NOTHING!
  2. A FLAT EARTH AND OTHER NONSENSE by Robert Carter and Jonathan Sarfati
  3. THE COSMOLOGICAL PRINCIPLE AND GEOCENTRISM
  4. BOOK REVIEW: “SETTING ASIDE ALL AUTHORITY” BY CHRISTOPHER M. GRANEY

By John Gideon Hartnett

Dr John G. Hartnett is an Australian physicist and cosmologist, and a Christian with a biblical creationist worldview. He received a B.Sc. (Hons) and Ph.D. (with distinction) in Physics from The University of Western Australia, W.A., Australia. He was an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award (DORA) fellow at the University of Adelaide, with rank of Associate Professor. Now he is retired. He has published more than 200 papers in scientific journals, book chapters and conference proceedings.

3 replies on “Job 38 and a Flat Earth”

Dear Dr. John,
One other thing–Even if the Earth is round, it has a core, a foundation (a core-nerstone, if you will); it has structure supporting it (mantle and crust); and it has a surface to stretch a line on (albeit a curved surface). What do flat-earthers do when they’re asked to lay a line upon the mountains? There is no sensible reason to suppose that the earth is flat. All dimensionality can be explained by a simple change from linear to spherical geometries. This can be done, and has been done through the centuries as our knowledge of God’s creation has increased.
Great article!
John

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Interestingly, we know far less about the structure and makeup of the earth’s interior, right beneath our feet, than we do about the cosmos, so what was spoken to Job still applies today concerning our knowledge of the “foundations” of the earth.

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As I pointed out in the post the verse is more focused on the questioniing by God; where was Job when God founded the earth. But your point is well made. The foundations are the basement rocks of the continents and everything else below.

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