Astronomy and the Bible

What does the Bible say about the stars, the earth and our solar system? Are the Holy Scriptures scientifically and astronomically accurate?

Some people claim that the Bible is full of scientific errors. Certainly, the Bible isn’t a science book. It’s a book about life, hope and truth! Still, when the Bible does touch on science, it is correct—and often far ahead of its time. After all, the God who inspired the Bible is also the Creator of everything science can study.

In fact, the scientific accuracy of the Bible is one of the ways we know that the Bible is true and reliable!

Consider these five astronomy facts recorded in the Bible:

1. There are far more stars than a human could count.

Jeremiah 33:22: “As the host of heaven cannot be numbered” (see also Genesis 22:17 and Hebrews 11:12).

On a perfectly clear, moonless night, a person without a telescope might be able to see several thousands of stars in the sky. Yet around 2,000 years before the first rudimentary telescope, the Bible claimed there were countless more.

To this day, scientists cannot tally all the stars in the universe. Studying our galaxy and thousands more through the Hubble Telescope, they conclude that there are probably at least 100 octillion stars. That’s a “1” with 29 zeroes after it! If you could count 1 billion stars every second without a break, it would take more than 3 trillion years to reach that number!

Needless to say, the stars are innumerable for humans. Still, God knows exactly how many stars there are at any time and even “calls them all by name” (Psalm 147:4; see also Isaiah 40:26).

2. Stars can move relative to each other.

Job 38:31: “Can you bind the cluster of the Pleiades, or loose the belt of Orion?”

From the perspective of earth, the stars appear locked into unchanging designs that rotate as a unit. Both Ptolemy and Copernicus took for granted that the stars were fixed in place. Though God’s point was to remind Job of His infinite power, not to teach him astronomy, He clearly implied that the stars are not anchored to their positions! This scripture suggests correctly that stars can move; they can draw together or drift apart.

Moreover, the constellations God mentions are among the best visible examples of both phenomena. The Pleiades are a close-knit group of hundreds of stars called an open cluster, held together by gravitational attraction. Yet gravity can also throw stars out of an open cluster. That is to say, the Pleiades are tenuously bound, as the Bible suggests.

In contrast, the three points of light of Orion’s belt appear to be a unit, but each has a different trajectory. Eventually, as astronomer Garrett P. Serviss projected in 1909, “the two right-hand stars, Mintaka and Alnilam … will approach each other and form a naked-eye double, but the third, Alnita [also known as Alnitak], will drift away eastward, so that the ‘Belt’ will no longer exist” (Curiosities of the Sky, p. 64). In other words, Orion’s belt is loosening!

Yet part of the “belt” is tightly bound: Alnitak itself is actually a triple star, three stars bound by gravity in orbits more stable than an open cluster.

The Bible hinted at these dynamic interactions among stars long before humans had the technology to detect them!

3. The earth is round.

Job 26:10: “He drew a circular horizon on the face of the waters, at the boundary of light and darkness” (see also Isaiah 40:22).

We could deduce from the Bible alone that the earth is roughly spherical. We are told in Isaiah 40:22 that something about the earth appears circular. Whether the word chuwg (Strong’s number H2329), translated “circle” of the earth, is meant to represent earth’s shape from an aerial perspective or the path of earth’s orbit, this scripture was certainly ahead of the common knowledge of the day.

Lending further support, Luke 17:31-36 shows that day and night occur at the same time in different parts of the earth. Jesus describes the moment of His second coming as both “day” and “night,” adding that some will be working and others sleeping at that time. This does not describe a flat earth.

As a note, some believe that the expression “ends of the earth,” used throughout the Old and New Testaments, teaches a flat earth. Actually, “ends of the earth” is a poetic figure of speech conveying great distance from the speaker or center of action.

For example, Jesus says in Luke 11:31, “The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.” The expression “ends of the earth” was obviously not meant to be taken literally.

Likewise, the biblical idiom “the four corners of the earth” does not mean that the earth is a flat rectangle, but rather depicts the most distant reaches of the four cardinal directions. For instance, Isaiah 11:12 poetically says God “will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.”

Obviously, God is not talking about retrieving Israelites from four literal corners from which they could fall off the earth. In the previous verse (11:11), He listed specific nations and regions from which He would bring His people—places all readers knew were not at an edge of the world.

In short, the Bible clearly supports a round earth.

4. The earth is suspended in space.

Job 26:7: “He stretches out the north over empty space; He hangs the earth on nothing.”

The Bible does not claim that any person, animal or structure supports the earth’s weight, though other ancient peoples had such teachings. Instead, the invisible, intangible laws of physics tether the earth safely in orbit.

Some have wondered whether the Bible contradicts itself by using phrases like “pillars of the earth,” “foundations of the earth/world” or “foundation of the world.” However, studying each term in context shows that the Bible is consistent.

In many cases, the phrase “foundation of the world” actually refers to the time when earth was “founded,” not to a physical object (see, for example, John 17:24 or Hebrews 9:26).

In contrast, when Hannah describes “pillars of the earth” while praising God’s power to raise anyone to greatness, the context suggests this is a metaphor for the human leaders on whom God places responsibility for the world (1 Samuel 2:8). (Of course, “pillars of the earth” could just be a poetic way of describing God’s creation of and power over the earth.)

Sir Isaac Newton himself, whose work on gravity helped to explain how the earth dangles β€œon nothing,” famously declared, β€œI find more sure marks of the authenticity of the Bible than in any profane history whatever.”The remaining scriptures most likely refer not to something below the planet, but below the ground: the massive blocks of stone deep under our feet that support the weight of everything above, and yet can shift and slide past each other, causing earthquakes (Job 9:6). In other words, the foundations of the earth are probably what we know today as tectonic plates, the bases of continents that would be visible if the water of the surrounding ocean were blown out of the way (Jonah 2:6; 2 Samuel 22:16). The Bible’s accuracy is uncompromised.

Sir Isaac Newton himself, whose work on gravity helped to explain how the earth dangles “on nothing,” famously declared, “I find more sure marks of the authenticity of the Bible than in any profane history whatever.”

5. The earth is controlled by the heavens.

Job 38:33: “Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you set their dominion over the earth?”

Laws of physics—gravity and inertia—govern the earth’s place in the universe, just as the Bible reveals.

Galileo Galilei’s experience with the Roman Catholic Church leads many to believe that the Bible presents the earth as the unmoving center of the universe, dominating the sun, planets, moon and stars. Actually, the Bible says that the heavens control the earth and not the other way around!

But what about geocentric-sounding passages such as one that says the “sun stood still” (Joshua 10:12-13), ones that illustrate the apparent motion of the sun (Psalm 19:4-6; Ecclesiastes 1:5), and several that say that the world will never “be moved” (1 Chronicles 16:30; Psalms 93:1; 96:10)? A closer look at these scriptures reveals that they do not require a geocentric cosmology at all.

Referring to the apparent motion of the sun is in no way incriminating. To this day, we say, “the sun rises,” “the sun climbs in the sky” and “the sun sets.” Unless we were talking to a science teacher, we probably would also say “the sun stood still,” if we witnessed such a miracle. Given our common point of view as humans on earth’s surface, these phrases are simply the clearest and most poetic ways to share our observations.

What about saying the world will never “be moved”? A closer look at the word translated “moved,” reveals that the Bible does not require a stationary earth. Synonyms for the verb mowt (Strong’s H4131) include to “totter,” “slip,” “be shaken,” “be overthrown,” “dislodge,” “let fall” and “drop.” Any of these actions can affect an object in motion or an object at rest.

In the case of the earth, Scripture assures us it will continue spinning like a top around a steady, predictable course without interference from an outside force. In other words, the scriptures that say earth shall not “be moved” refer to its inertia! Indeed, gravity alone is not enough to maintain the earth’s orbit. If the earth were simply falling toward the sun from a rest position, it would fall in and burn up!

The earth perpetually falls around the sun, rather than into it, because it is traveling perpendicular to gravitational acceleration at just the right speed. The interaction of these two factors, gravity and inertia, keep the earth the right distance from the sun.

The Bible is consistent with a heliocentric model of the solar system.

Read more about how the Bible does not conflict with science in the article “God and Science.”

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