Is it true that the Earth really orbits the Sun, or does the Sun orbit the Earth? That may sound like a dumb question to people living in the 21st century, but there are passages in the Bible that say the Earth is fixed and others that say the Sun moves. Consider these examples:
Ecclesiastes 1:5– “The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises.”
1 Chronicles 16:30 and Psalms 93:1– “…the world is established; it shall never be moved.”
Psalms 104:5– “He set the earth on its foundations so that it should never be moved.”
See also Psalms 19:4-6 and 1 Samuel 2:8. Remember that Joshua told the Sun to stand still, not the Earth.
Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Martin Luther, and the Catholic Church all viewed the Bible as saying the Earth was fixed in space. Some of the attacks on Copernicus in 1543 and Galileo in 1632 involved resistance to the idea that the Earth really orbits the Sun.
One of my favorite activities with my high school students was to ask them how they knew the Earth orbits the Sun. While I wasn’t allowed to quote the Bible, I would use the same ideas involved in the above verses. Everyone knows that the Sun rises and sets. If the Earth orbited the Sun, wouldn’t it fly off into outer space? I even used a demonstration using a ball on a string and swinging it around my head. The purpose was to show that massive objects (like a planet) orbiting around a center would obey centrifugal force and fly off. During PTA night, I even had one parent say that he knew the Earth didn’t orbit the Sun.
The lesson here (as we have mentioned before) is failing to take the Bible literally. When you read the Bible, you have to look at who wrote it, to whom they were writing, why they wrote it, and how the people to whom it was written would have understood it. You have to realize what Jesus means when He says in John 6:48, “I am the bread of life,” or John 10:9, where He says He is “the door.” Obviously, that question is answered if we look at the context of the statement.
Saying the Sun rises is very similar, and we do it all the time. The frame of reference is the observer, and the Bible passage is not explaining astronomy. The evidence is clear that the Earth is moving, but it wasn’t until 1725 that accepted evidence proved it. The Earth really orbits the Sun.
Those who use the Bible to justify their denominational belief that the Earth is 6,000 years old are not taking the Bible literally. Ignoring evidence or failing to use common sense is not taking it literally. The Earth isn’t fixed in space, and it is not 6,000 years old.
— John N. Clayton © 2021