Where in the Bible does it mention a geocentric universe?

I recently read an interesting book on the history of astronomy in which much was said of Copernicus’ “heretical” contention that the universe was not geocentric. Later it went on to describe the famous incident in which Gallileo was coerced by threat of torture to recant his “heretical” argument for a heliocentric model of the universe.

So yesterday I was discussing this book with a friend of mine (who happens to be Christian) and he contends that there is no mention of the geocentric universe in the Bible. Instead, he insists that these theologins of the day just “made it up.”

I find this contention a bit hard to believe, but at the moment I don’t have the time to read the entire Bible in order to find out if there is a mention of a geocentric universe. So I thought I’d see if there were any Biblical scholars amongst the teeming millions who would be able to give me some imput as to where the idea geocentrism in early Christian dogma came from. Is it in the Bible? If so, where? Is it in another one of the holy books that I’m unfamiliar with? You would think that something these early theologins took so seriously (seriously enough to burn Friar Bruno at the stake and potentially torture Gallileo) would be written down somewhere. So where is it?

I don’t think there is anything in the bible that says the earth is the center of the universe. There is also no mention of extra-terrestrial beings so space ships and aliens wouldn’t be in conflict with the bible. Remember in those days heresy was ‘anything we don’t like or agree with’ and often had little to do with biblical truth.

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genesis talks of things that make the earth sound like the center… but nothing much worse than the way the news paper talks about the sun riseing and the sun setting.

The passage that most closely suggests geocentricity is Joshua 10:12-14:

Galileo himself was questioned about this passage. The simplest model implied by this description is a flat earth orbited by a sun and moon, and God stopped the motion of these bodies over that valley. Of course, God could have delayed the rotation of the Earth to achieve the same (or a similar) effect.

But that’s the verse that seems to be most closely associated with attempts to find a Biblical justification for geocentricism. The real basis for the geocentric bias of the Medieval Church is, of course, the long-standing cultural preference for it in Western thought.

I believe there’s a modern (mid 20th century?) commentary in the Book of Armaments to the effect that on one hand, the descriptions of divine intervention (ie. the Holy Handgrenade) in that book can be adequately explained as miraculous with Earth-Centered Fixed coordinates (where ECF is the scientific assumption, for solving certain problems, equivalent to a geocentric universe), on the other hand the effects of the interventions are consistent with then-current scientific theories in a Sun-Centered Inertial reference frame.

Seriously… from a relative point of view, as paperbackwriter noted, a flat Earth with a briefly stationary Sun and Moon appears identical to the Earthbound observer as would a heliocentric system with a temporarily relatively stationary Earth.

In Asimov’s Guide to the Bible: The Old Testament, Asimov has this to say about Joshua 10:12-14:

I also remember his referring at several points to passages that implied the sky was a dome that touched the earth at the four corners. This would also imply a geocentric vision of the earth.

OK, if I may be permitted a highjack, this gives me an opening to repeat a story I once read about Wittgenstein:

He once asked a colleague “Tell me, why do people always say that it was natural for people to believe that the Sun revolves around the Earth?”

The colleague replied “Well, obviously, it looks like the Sun goes around the Earth.”

Wittgenstein replied: “What would it have looked like if the Earth went around the Sun?”

Not really.

In Genesis 1, the formation of the cosmos is described as the act of separating “the waters” (a metaphor for chaos, but one which is used later during the Flood story as a description of physical reality).


After which, God drew dry land from (or above) the lower waters:


Later, God set the sun, moon, and stars in the heaven(s):


So we have watery chaos that has been divided into two strata, with the heavens/sky below the upper waters and the land thrusting up from the lower waters.
When the Israelites encountered the Hellenistic science of Ptolemy, it was no major effort to view his calculations as nothing more than the means to describe the paths of the sun, moon, and stars circling the stationary earth. Even the Greek knowledge of a global, rather than flat, Earth did not do serious violence to the description from Genesis. The concept of the Earth simply was rolled into a ball in which the lower waters were encapsulated. (You can still find a few biblical literalists clinging to the notion that the Flood was powered, in large part, by waters erupting from vaults below the Earth.)

There was no need to “make it up” because the understanding of the two descriptions were not in direct conflict. They simply accepted two descriptions as two slightly different perspectives of the same reality.

Whatever the Catholic Church might have thought in Copernican times, talk of the sun moving across the sky (or not, as in the case of Joshua) is hardly “proof” that the Bible endorses a geocentric cosmic model. The position of the sun in the sky does in fact change, even if it’s true that it’s the sky rather than the sun that’s moving.

Heck, if someone is going to brand as a believer in geocentrism anyone who refers to the movement of the sun across the sky, then that’ll include anyone who uses the terms “sunrise” and “sunset.”

I believe there is a verse that speaks of the earth as God’s footstool; the old Tychonian Society used to cite that as proof of the earth’s primacy and fixity.


cmkeller, I did not say that the Bible describes a geocentric universe. I said that the Medieval Church used those verses against Copernican arguments generally, and Galileo specifically. Which is, I believe, what the OP was asking for.

There are some fundamentalists who still use those verses in the same way today (which is why I used the KJV translation).

That does not mean that Joshua requires a geocentric model, as I believe I also pointed out.

Trinopus, I believe that you are looking for Isaiah 66:1

I think most authorities in Abrahamic religions accept this verse as metaphorical.

Isaiah 66:1,

But metaphor is nothing new; scripture uses it often.

If the Earth were spinning and orbiting we’d fly off. You know, gravity hadn’t been invented yet, and even so, they didn’t have nearly enough physics knowledge to computer tangential acceleration.

Replace “tangential acceleration” with what I meant. You know, whatever would make us fly off.

These are casual phrases which date back to time when people did indeed believe that the Sun went around the Earth. Did the ancient Hebrews believe in a heliocentric system only to have that knowledge be forgotten? Does the Bible anywhere imply knowledge of that most basic piece of cosmology? The difference between stopping the Sun and stoppng the Earth is pretty significant for the Bible’s writers to have glossed over if they truly knew what they were talking about.

Replace “tangential acceleration” with what I meant. You know, whatever would make us fly off.

Not really. The people involved would see/experience the same thing either way. And while the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit, it was written down by human beings. Beings whose knowledge is limited. God wasn’t giving an astronomy lesson, He was demonstrating His power.

If this passage is indeed historical fact, then I feel really bad for the ancient Mayans half a world away, who had to endure three straight days of darkness. :smiley:

Hmm…maybe THAT’S why their civilization collapsed??

Wouldn’t you think that this god would have at least let these human beings who were relaying his word be 100% accurate? At least for the time they’re sitting down to write? Just so the rule book would be clear and precise.
Ya know?