Author: David Wilber
If you’ve clicked on this article, chances are you’re familiar with the growing movement of modern-day flat earth believers. Maybe you’ve heard some persuasive rhetoric by modern-day flat earth proponents and it’s got you questioning things. Perhaps you’re even convinced that we’ve been lied to about the true shape of the earth and you feel the need to expose this lie.
However, if by chance you’re totally confused, let me give a quick summary: A conspiracy theory is going around claiming that the earth is not a sphere. It’s actually a flat circle (like a pizza) with a solid dome over-top of it. Picture a giant snow globe and you’ll get the idea. It is said that NASA, along with every other space agency in the world, has been keeping this a secret from us. Anyway, this used to be just a fringe theory on the internet, but now it seems to be picking up steam among followers of Messiah.
Normally I wouldn’t spend time writing an article on a topic like this. I’m not concerned with the shape of the earth; I’m concerned with ministering to the people who live on the earth. When I read the Bible, that seems to be the concern of Yeshua and the apostles too. The only times that they addressed trivial matters was when they rebuked believers for wasting time on them. And that is why I feel led to write this article. After witnessing many of my brothers and sisters being led astray into nonsense over this flat earth controversy, I sincerely believe that it is a destructive false doctrine, and I would like to encourage believers to avoid it.
Before we begin, I want to give some disclaimers: I am not part of the illuminati or any other secret organization bent on world domination. I’m not a reptilian shapeshifter or an alien in disguise. I feel like it’s important to state that up front, because a common tactic I’ve seen from flat earthers when someone opposes their theory is to dismiss what people have to say by accusing them of such things. In addition, I also don’t care about money. Another accusation I’ve heard from flat earthers is that anyone who opposes their theory is merely concerned about the supposed threat to their ministries and income. If you really believe I work in ministry for the money, I’d love to invite you over to our tiny quadplex unit for some ramen noodles—those accusations will be quickly dispelled.
Now, here are five reasons that believers should avoid the flat earth controversy.
1) The Bible explicitly instructs us to avoid foolish controversies.
In a number of places in the New Testament, the apostle Paul tells believers to stay away from foolish controversies. In 2 Timothy 2:16 he says, “Avoid pointless discussions.” Why? He goes on to say, “For people will become more and more ungodly.”
An obsession with foolish controversies leads to ungodly behavior. Foolish controversies do “no good,” and they “ruin those who listen” (2 Timothy 2:14). They lead to strife and division in the body (2 Timothy 2:23). They are “unprofitable and worthless” (Titus 3:9). Instead of focusing on foolish controversies that have no value, Paul encourages us to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace” (2 Timothy 2:22).
I believe that if Paul were writing 2 Timothy and Titus today, he’d have Flat Earthism in mind. From what I’ve observed over the past two years, this foolish controversy has “ruined those who listen.” Believers who were once passionate about Yeshua and the Torah now talk only about Flat Earthism and have since become very bitter and paranoid people. I’ve seen this topic cause massive division and strife in the body as believers make fools out of themselves fighting over photoshopped images of the earth. And instead of pursuing righteousness, faith, love, and peace, I’ve seen believers claim to spend literally all day in front of a computer watching videos about how NASA is controlled by nephilim or whatever.
In response to this point, Flat Earthers will argue, “But Scripture says to test everything!” I agree that we must test everything, but we cannot leave off the second part of the verse: “Hold on to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). If we’ve tested a theory and found that it is not good—indeed, if it leads to nothing but unhealthy obsession, division, and foolishness—we must not hold on to it. We must put it aside and instead focus on what is good.
Flat Earthers will also argue, “But the Bible supports Flat Earthism! If it’s in the Bible, then it’s important!” First of all, it is debatable whether or not the Bible supports this theory. Are we sure that we’re interpreting the Bible correctly? Are we applying proper hermeneutics? Many Flat Earth teachers do not—they pluck Bible verses out of context and mishandle the text to support their belief. As Christian Theologian Dr. William Lane Craig explains, knowing proper hermeneutics is essential:
Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation. In interpreting a writing, you have to apply or follow certain hermeneutical principles in order to understand it correctly. First, and most fundamentally, we must interpret a writing according to the literary genre, or type, to which a text belongs. It is absolutely critical to interpret a text according to its genre, because it would be a catastrophic mistake to interpret a text literally if the genre of that text isn’t of the sort intended to be taken literally. For example, when the psalmist says, “Let the trees of the woods clap their hands before the Lord,” he’s obviously not trying to teach botany. Think of how inappropriate it would be to read poetry such as the psalms literally. That would be a disastrous misinterpretation of the text.
Even if we assume that some of the biblical authors believed that the earth was flat, that wouldn’t mean that the earth is indeed flat. Again, this goes back to applying proper biblical hermeneutics, interpreting the text within its historical and cultural context. If we read the Bible like a science text book, we’re going to run into all sorts of problems. In his book, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, Hebrew and ANE scholar Dr. John Walton gives a great analogy to demonstrate the problems that arise when we apply this faulty hermeneutic consistently:
If God aligned revelation with one particular science, it would have been unintelligible to people who lived prior to the time of that science, and it would be obsolete to those who live after that time. We gain nothing by bringing God’s revelation into accordance with today’s science. In contrast, it makes perfect sense that God communicated his revelation to his immediate audience in terms they understood […] For example, in the ancient world people believed that the seat of intelligence, emotion and personhood was in the internal organs, particularly the heart, but also the liver, kidneys and intestines. Many Bible translations use the English word “mind” when the Hebrew text refers to the entrails, showing the ways in which language and culture are interrelated. In modern language we still refer to the heart metaphorically as the seat of emotion. In the ancient world this was not a metaphor, but physiology. Yet we must notice that when God wanted to talk to the Israelites about their intellect, emotions and will, he did not revise their ideas of physiology and feel compelled to reveal the function of the brain. Instead, he adopted the language of the culture to communicate in terms they understood. The idea that people think with their hearts describes physiology in ancient terms for the communication of other matters; it is not revelation concerning physiology. Consequently we need not try to come up with a physiology for our times that would explain how people think with their entrails.
Contrary to the Bible supporting Flat Earthism, I would argue that in principle it discourages it. Indeed, this modern-day obsession with Flat Earthism breaks Scripture and leads to nothing but ungodly behavior and division, which will be unpacked further in the following points.
2) It causes division in the body of Messiah.
Scripture says that God “hates” those who sow discord among brothers (Proverbs 6:19). We’re warned to stay away from people who cause division because they “do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve” (Romans 16:17). If you’ve been part of a congregation for any length of time, you’ve likely met these people. They’ll come to a service for the sole purpose of cornering people in the lobby and sucking them into a “discussion” about their favorite controversial pet doctrine—sacred name pronunciations, calendar disputes, etc. They’ll add thousands of “friends” on Facebook for the sole purpose of arguing with them. And since they don’t know anything about the Torah and sound theology, they promote speculations and drag people into vain discussion. The apostle Paul, in his warning against false teachers, describes these people perfectly:
As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. (1 Timothy 1:3-7)
Flat Earthism has become the latest “myth” that some people use to cause division in the body. Ironically, I’ve been accused of causing division by speaking out against this false doctrine. I’m called mean and arrogant. But I’m merely doing exactly what Paul has done in his letters—identifying the true source of division and exhorting believers to avoid it. Indeed, one of the leading proponents of Flat Earthism recently declared that if you reject his flat earth views, you are basically rejecting God’s Word. You can’t get any more divisive than that. It’s time to avoid this divisive topic.
3) It’s a distraction from what we should be focusing on.
Flat Earthism often becomes an idol. Judging by how some of these flat earth teachers gush over this topic, you’d think that the theory had taken on flesh and died for their sins. In an interview, one of the leading proponents of this theory has admitted to being “obsessed” with it. He says, “I wake up in the morning and it’s all I think about. And I’m doing something related to it until I go to sleep.” Indeed, when you talk to anyone who’s really in to Flat Earthism, you’ll notice that it’s all they seem to want to talk about. All of this time and energy spent promoting Flat Earthism is time and energy taken away from advancing Messiah’s Kingdom.
Flat Earthers will argue, “But I’ve known atheists who have come to know God through their study of this stuff!” That might be the case, but I would argue that it still doesn’t justify obsessing over foolish controversies that ultimately end up doing more harm than good. God can use anything He wants to reach people and accomplish His purposes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that what He uses is always a good thing that believers should engage in it. For instance, many of the believers who obsess over Flat Earthism also believe that Christmas is pagan in origin and should be avoided. But according to the data, Christmas opens people up to considering Christianity unlike other times during the year. So if the ends always justify the means, these Flat Earthers should be encouraging the celebration of Christmas.
Even if someone receives the Lord at a Church Christmas service, I would still argue that they should not celebrate Christmas and should celebrate God’s holidays instead. In the same way, even if someone comes to know the Lord through their study of Flat Earthism, I would still argue that they should avoid foolish controversies and focus on the Kingdom instead. A doctrine should be judged on its own merits, and Flat Earthism is a foolish controversy that should be avoided.
4) It hurts our witness and profanes the name of Messiah.
The Bible not only speaks against sinful behavior, but also foolish behavior. If you are obsessed with proving to everyone that the earth is flat, most people are going to think you’re insane and will dismiss everything else you have to say. The fact that many believers have become so focused on this controversy makes us all look utterly foolish. We are being laughed at over this. We shouldn’t necessarily care what the world thinks of us, but when we’re engaged in foolish behavior, we need to repent because we are bringing shame to the name of Messiah.
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15-17)
We must make the best use of our time and understand the will of the Lord. God’s will is not to spread Flat Earthism. It’s a waste of precious time that could be better spent advancing His Kingdom. Our children are being swept away by the world because we are not giving them a solid foundation on the Gospel and training them how to defend their faith and engage the culture intellectually. Instead we are filling their heads with foolish controversies.
In addition to making us all look foolish, Flat Earthism often comes as a “package deal” with other false and evil doctrines. As Judah Himango points out, conspiracy theories—including Flat Earthism—are often rooted in anti-Semitism. Followers of the Jewish Messiah should not be associated with such evil false doctrine. Thus, focusing on these foolish controversies profanes the name of Messiah and hurts our witness to the Jewish people and the nations.
5) It simply isn’t true.
The purpose of this article is not to get into refuting all of the arguments in favor of Flat Earthism. People already have entire websites devoted to doing that. My purpose is to get you to stop wasting time on this foolish controversy all together. However, the fact that it’s an obvious false doctrine is a noteworthy point in my argument. Indeed, as disciples of Yeshua, we should be concerned with spreading the truth, not foolish conspiracy theories that are easily debunked.
On this point I’ll just give a few arguments. First, as Zach Bauer points out, in order to believe that the earth is flat, you have to believe that every space agency around the world (not just NASA) has been infiltrated with evil conspirators ordered to fool the world’s population into thinking the world is a globe. Let’s think this through for a second. Many of these government space agencies are not friends with each other. What’s keeping Russia and Iran from blowing the lid on this entire conspiracy and telling Americans that our government has been lying to us this whole time? That’s not to mention private space exploration companies. What reason do the employees of these companies have to keep this a secret? It simply isn’t remotely reasonable to insist that all of these people have successfully lied to us this whole time.
Second, minutephysics released a great short video featuring the top 10 reasons why we know the earth is round. It’s only two minutes if you want to watch it. Time Zones, the Coriolis Effect, Lunar eclipses, etc., are all best explained by the globe model. Also, Christian astronomer Spike Psarris wrote a short article with five simple arguments refuting Flat Earthism, and it’s certainly worth a read. Of course Flat Earthers have explanations for why they reject these facts, but their objections are often completely whacky and bizarre. It’s much more reasonable to accept the model on which all the evidence is clearly and simply explained rather than trying to force the evidence to work with Flat Earthism.
Third, if you want an easy way to verify the globe yourself, Joel Richardson mentioned a great idea. Using the app Stellarium, you can literally verify that the earth is round by looking at the constellations. This is something you can confirm with your own eyes. Again, Flat Earthers might have some convoluted explanation for why they reject this proof, but Occam’s Razor states that the simplest solution tends to be the right one, and the simplest and most reasonable explanation for all of these facts is that the earth is a globe.
Flat Earthers will argue, “You’re a huge jerk! Why do you even care what people obsess over? You’re like the hand saying to the foot, ‘I have no need of you.’ You should appreciate the gifts and calling of other believers!” Anytime I’ve uttered the criticisms I brought up in this article online, I’ve had mobs of offended Flat Earthers accuse me of being a jerk and bashing other believers and teachers. Let me just say that I only bring all of this up because I sincerely love the body of Messiah, and I want nothing more than to see us come together as one and make a real difference for the Kingdom. I’m deeply saddened to see gifted teachers waste their time promoting this topic, because contrary to what I’m accused of, I do appreciate their gifts and I support their calling. That’s why I bring this up—I hate to see gifted believers miss out on their calling because they’re wasting time on foolish controversies.
In conclusion, I think it’s safe to say that these five points are reason enough to stay away from Flat Earthism. I hope this was helpful and that it will encourage the body of Messiah to get back to Kingdom work. Blessings and Shalom!
About David Wilber
David is first and foremost a passionate follower of Yeshua the Messiah. He is also a writer, speaker, and teacher.
In addition to his book, A Christian Guide to the Biblical Feasts, David has written several theological and devotional articles available on various Messianic and Christian websites...