Is the earth round or flat? How do you know? What did Adam know about it?
Sometimes skeptics call Bible-believers the “Flat Earth Society.” Would Adam be in this club? What did Adam know about Earth’s form?”
Today we think of the earth as a sphere, a round globe like a ball. But while it is close to spherical, the earth is actually not a true sphere. Its rotation causes a slight outward bulge at the equator and the polar regions are slightly flattened. In 1687 Newton predicted this shape distortion in his seminal work Principia.
The distance from the earth’s center to the surface at the equator is 13 miles greater than the center-to-pole distance. Since your weight depends on the center-to-center gravitational attraction between you and the earth, this means you would weigh about 0.3% less at the equator than at the pole. Thus a visit to the equator would result in a loss of weight!
This equatorial bulge also means that Mt. Everest at 29,029 feet above sea level in Nepal is not the world’s highest mountain. Mt. Chimborazo in Ecuador at 20,564 feet above sea level actually extends further outward from the earth’s center due to the equatorial bulge giving it a boost.
Our planet is about 8,000 miles in diameter, so the equatorial bulge is not enough distortion to be visible from space. To the human eye the earth appears round in photos from astronauts and satellites.
Today many think that ancient men were brutish, simple-minded, and unsophisticated. They assume men believed the earth was flat, because they were supposedly scientifically illiterate. Is this an accurate belief about early men?
What Did Adam Think?
Did Adam believe in a flat earth, or did he know Earth was round?
The Bible does not directly address what Adam knew about the geography of the earth, but Earth’s shape is not a hard thing to figure out.
During a lunar eclipse, the moon moves through the earth’s shadow from the sun. The edge of the shadow is always circular, as countless people have personally witnessed during lunar eclipses of the full moon. The circular shadows of the earth show that the earth must be a ball.
The stars and constellations you see change as you travel north or south. This would not happen if the earth was flat. This was the reasoning Aristotle (384-322 BC) used to declare the earth was round.
Additionally, masts of ships gradually appear over the horizon, followed by the ship itself. This implies Earth is a globe.
Any observant thinker would conclude the earth is a globe, and certainly many have understood this throughout the 6,000 years of Earth’s history.
Adam lived for over nine centuries, for almost 1,000 years, for 15% of the total span of history. Adam would have experienced many eclipses during his 930-year lifespan. He would have noticed many star view changes during his travels. He would have seen many ships come over the horizon on the pre-Flood ocean. So Adam surely knew the earth was a globe. He would have scoffed at anyone who tried to convince him that the earth was flat.
Moreover, it is quite likely that Adam began the study of astronomy. The stars were created for signs and for seasons and for days and years (Genesis 1:14), so Adam would have needed to learn about them to be able to measure time. He would have understood that the revolution of the earth on its axis caused the apparent movement of the stars, and the orbit of the earth around the sun caused the seasons.
Throughout Scripture Yahweh points to the heavens as reflectors of His glory.
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork. (Psalm 19:1 ESV)
This is something Yahweh would have shared with Adam in Eden and that Adam would have continued to study and marvel over. Earth’s spherical form is a fundamental characteristic that would surely enter into their discussions.
The first-century Jewish historian Josephus reports that Adam’s son Seth and his descendants developed extensive astronomical knowledge and recorded it for posterity. Seth undoubtedly first learned geography and astronomy from his father Adam. Josephus says that Seth’s descendant Abraham taught astronomy to the Egyptians.
(Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, Chap 2 Para 3 & Chap 8 Para 2.)
Thus I’m sure Adam and the pre-Flood patriarchs knew the earth was a globe. They passed this knowledge down through Noah to Abraham who taught it to the Egyptians who passed it on to the Greeks.
The prophet Isaiah likely knew the earth was a globe in 700 BC. He wrote,
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. (Isaiah 40:22)
The Hebrew word for circle is חוּג, transliterated chuwg. It is usually translated circle, circuit, or compass. It only appears 2 other times in the Bible (Job 22:14 and Proverbs 8:27), so there’s not a lot of context available to determine a precise meaning.
The essence of the word is “round“. This is consistent with what we know of the earth today. It is certainly the case that the Holy Spirit inspired Isaiah to make an accurate statement about the shape of the earth—when viewed from a distance Earth is circular (He sits above the circle of the earth). Only a sphere projects a circular image in every direction. This is a case where the Bible hints at a truth without being explicit.
Pythagoras, of Pythagorean Theorem fame (a2 + b2 = c2 for a right triangle), was a Greek mathematician and philosopher of the 6th century BC. He thought the earth was round, rotated on an axis, and orbited a central point.
Eratosthenes (276-194 BC) was a Greek mathematician, geographer, and astronomer from Cyrene, North Africa (now Libya). He was the director of Alexandria’s great library. He’s called the father of geography (literally, earth writing), because he was the first to coin the word with his book Geography. He developed a latitude and longitude system and published a map of the world.
Eratosthenes was also the first post-Flood man we know of to calculate the circumference of the earth. Around 240 BC he calculated Earth’s circumference to be 25,000 miles. The actual value is 24,901 miles—less than half a percent error!
Contrary to what is commonly taught in government schools, Columbus and many mariners of his time knew the earth was a globe.
Thus men throughout history have deduced the round shape of the earth. It’s quite likely that Adam was the first to learn this.
Questions to Ponder
- Can you remember an experience or observation that confirmed to you the earth’s round shape?
- What feature of Earth spurs you most to praise the Creator?
Share your thoughts on these questions in the comments below. It could encourage or help another reader.
Soli Deo Gloria.
This is the 34th of a series of weekly blog articles on Adam.
Read the prequels:
1. Was Adam in the Garden of Eden?
2. Did Moses Believe in Adam?
3. Did Jesus Believe in Adam?
4. Did Paul Believe in Adam?
5. Does Belief in Adam Matter?
6. Adam and Puppies
7. Why Did Adam Sin?
8. What Should Adam Have Done?
9. What Did Adam Cause?
10. What Was Adam’s Forbidden Fruit?
11. How Long Was Adam in Eden?
12. Was Adam’s Garden of Eden Real?
13. Christmas & Adam (with videos)
14. Where Was Adam’s Garden of Eden?
15. Did Adam Wear Clothes in Eden?
16. Was Adam Backward or Brilliant? (with video)
17. Who Was Mrs. Adam?
18. Adam’s Dream Girl
19. Adam’s Prolific Princess
20. Adam’s Problematic Princess
21. How Many Children Did Adam Have?
22. Whom Did Adam’s Sons Marry?
23. Did Adam Ride a Unicorn?
24. How Long Did Adam Live?
25. Did Adam Swat Mosquitoes in Eden?
26. Did Adam’s Garden Have a Talking Snake?
27. Why Should Adam’s Sin Affect Me?
28. Did Roses Have Thorns in Adam’s Garden?
29. Adam the Image-Bearer & Harambe the Gorilla
30. Did Adam Ever Return to Eden?
31. What Was Adam’s Tree of Life?
32. Will Adam Be in Heaven?
33. Did Adam See the Big Dipper?
Read the sequels:
35. Did Jesus Say When Adam Was Created?
36. Did Adam See Dinosaurs?
37. Did Adam Like Steak?
38. Could Adam Read & Write?
39. Did God Use Evolution to Make Adam?
40. Adam & the Olympics
41. Adam and the Gospel
42. Adam and the Genesis Road
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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
“for the defense of the gospel”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:5; Phil 1:16)
Wednesday July 13, 2016 A.D.
The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. (Genesis 2:16; 3:1-6 NASB)