Astronomy in the Bible

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The Creation Concept


On the Continuity of Day and Night

The Number of the Stars

The Heavens will be Rolled Up like a Scroll

The Darkened Sun

The 2,300 Evening-Mornings

The Heavens to Pass Away with Great Noise

Heaven is God's throne

Paul and the third heaven

The Sacred Calendar

"The heavens declare the glory of God," David wrote in Psalms 19:1. With modern technology, new wonders about the heavens are being discovered continually. Most Christians interpret the reports of these discoveries as proof the Creator's wisdom and power, that illustrate what David wrote.

On the Continuity of Day and Night

In Genesis 8:22, God promised Noah:

While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.

This promise of God rules out any major disruption in the continuity of the seasons, or interruption of the reguar sequence of day and night, in the time since the flood. The promise seems to show that the concept of a post-flood Ice Age some creationists have proposed is misguided.

The promise about continuity of day and night is in harmony with the principle of conservation of the angular momentum of the earth. It is a fundamental law of nature that the angular momentum of a system is constant, unless there is an external torque acting upon it. For more information on the significance of the promise of the continuity of day and night in the Bible, see If the Earth Stopped... Did Earth's Rotation Stop on Joshua's Long Day?

The Number of the Stars

In Genesis 22:16-18 we read about the promise that God gave to Abraham, "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed..." It is fulfilled in Christ, whose death brought salvation for man. Paul calls this the gospel, in Galatians 3:8-9;

And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which are of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.

Abraham was promised a vast multitude of descendants, numbering as the stars, and as the number of grains of sand in the earth. This promise given to Abraham equates the number of stars in the sky with the number of sand grains in the earth, both being enormous numbers. This shows how numerous they are; Psalms 147:4 says God "telleth the number of the stars." Jeremiah 33:22 refers to the number of stars as so great, they "cannot be numbered," just as the sand of the sea cannot be measured.

The huge number of stars in the universe was fully realized only after the discovery of the telescope, when astronomers found many more stars than those visible to the naked eye, that number about two or three thousand. There are more grains than this, in just a handful of sand. So the promise to Abraham recorded in Genesis revealed the enormous number of the stars, long before it was confirmed by astronomers.

The Heavens will be Rolled Up like a Scroll

Some of the references to the heavens in scripture are puzzling; in Isaiah 34:4 we read:

And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree.

Revelation 6:14 contains a similar prophecy:

And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.

Scroll graphic courtesy Corel WP 8

How could the heavens be rolled together like a scroll? When a scroll is rolled up, the spindles cease their revolutions. When they meet the cannot be rolled together any further. At the time of the scientific revolution, heaven similarly ceased its imagined rotation. Men began to understand that the earth rotates, not the sky. The diurnal rotation was assigned to the earth, instead of heaven.

The host of heaven falling like figs from a fig tree is the principle expressed by Newton's law of universal gravitation. Voltaire, in a popular treatise about Newton's theory, compared the heavenly bodies to apples falling from a tree. Thousands of years before Newton, Isaiah had written that the stars fall like figs.

The Darkened Sun

The passage in Revelation 6:12 about the sun becoming "black as sackcloth" has puzzled many, because if the sun literally became dark for some reason (such as an enormous cloud of dust intervening between the sun and the earth), there would be catastrophic consequences for all life on the earth. A literal view of the passage makes little sense, and the "darkened sun" of John's prophecy ought to be taken as symbolic, requiring interpretation, simply because it is a prophecy, which is typically cryptic and symbolic.

There is also a reference to the sun becoming dark in Joel's prophecy of Joel 2:30:

The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.

The first chapter of Genesis says the sun and the moon were appointed as "signs". In the Bible, what does the sun represent, and what would be the significance of its becoming dark?

The sun is the main source of light in the world. Light is essential for plants to grow, and for maintaining most forms of life at the earth's surface. John 1:9 refers to Jesus Christ as the "true Light" which "lighteth every man that cometh into the world." The words of God are often referred to as "light" in scripture, which is contrasted with darkness, or false beliefs.

Light is a metaphor for truth, and since the sun is the main source of the world's light, it is a symbol of the spiritual light and truth of the gospel.

The apostle Peter admonished his readers to take heed to the words of prophecy, in 2 Peter 1:19, calling it "a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts."

Jesus called his disciples "the light of the world", but warned against obscuring or concealing that light.

In Revelation 12, the woman who represents the Church is "clothed with the sun" so here, the sun is a symbol for the woman's knowledge. It is the knowledge of the gospel, that is symbolised by the sun, but if the sun becomes dark, this symbol implies the knowledge or beliefs of Christians has become flawed.

AChristian believer may understand some of the truth, while at the same time his or her effectiveness can be greatly diminished by ignorance and false beliefs. The prophecy of the sun becoming dark indicates this condition could be such that the Church brings little or no light to the world, but darkness instead.

The 2,300 Evening-Mornings

The prophecy about the 2,300 days of Daniel 8:14, during which the 'sanctuary' is desolate, can be interpreted as a prediction of the scientific revolution. The sanctuary of heaven was cleansed or justified, when the old geocentric cosmology was abandoned, 2,300 years after Daniel saw his vision. This is explained more fully in The 2,300 days of Daniel.

The Heavens to Pass Away with Great Noise

Peter's prophecy in 2 Peter 3:10 says:

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

In Peter's time the heavens were thought to be a series of concentric shells that contained the planets, the sun and moon, and the fixed stars. The cosmology of the age of Peter was set forth by Claudius Ptolemy, and his work dominated the thinking of astronomers for centuries.

But at the time of the scientific revolution, when the discoveries of Isaac Newton were publicized, the old Ptolemaic system of rigid shells collapsed. The idea of a rigid heavenly firmament was abandoned when men realized the earth rotated. The planetary spheres, equants, and deferents, were abolished, and this fulfilled Peter's prophecy, though it was unrecognized. The thief in the night comes and goes, without anyone knowing, until it is too late.

Because statements in the Old Testament seemed to support the geocentric cosmology, the Bible was discredited. Many people abandoned their faith in God, some of them becoming atheists and skeptics. The rising tide of skepticism, and the commotion that accompanied the demise of the geocentric theory was the "great noise" predicted in Peter's prophecy, that accompanied the revolution in cosmology and the new era of scientific discovery.

Heaven is God's throne

In the Bible, heaven is God's throne, and earth his footstool; Isaiah 66:1, Matthew 5:34-35. This rules out the concept of geocentrism; what king would rotate his throne around his footstool every day?

Also, it rules out the idea of a remote empyrean, beyond the universe, as John Milton described; why would God locate his throne so distant from his footstool?

Paul and the third heaven

Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:2-5 wrote about a man who was "caught up to the third heaven," where he "heard unspeakable words, which it is not possible for a man to utter." What was the third heaven, also called "paradise"? Was it the empyrean? What were the first and second heavens?

Paul and the Corinthians probably identified the earth's atmosphere or air with the first heaven, Ouranos. The second heaven, Cosmos, was the region of the sun and moon, and the planetary spheres. The third heaven, Olympos, was the starry sphere, or the universe.

The "unspeakable words" may refer to concepts that could not be expressed in the language of Paul's day. For example, the idea of "gravity" may have been an "unspeakable" concept in those days, due to the limitations of vocabulary.

The Sacred Calendar

On the fourth creation day the sun and moon were established for signs, and seasons, and days, and years [Genesis 1:14]. For the Hebrews, days extended from sunset to sunset. They were numbered according to the weekly cycle, with the sabbath on the seventh day, which is saturday. Months were lunar months that began with the first appearance of a new moon. The length of the year varied; most years were 354 or 355 days, and leap years, with an extra month, were usually 384 days.

In the Mosaic law, seven religious festivals or holy days were specified [Numbers 28-29]. These occurred in the first, third, and seventh month. The first month was called Nisan, and it began in the spring, between mid March and mid April in our modern calendars. The time of the new year was determined by observation of the moon in ancient times. The Passover was observed on the 14th of Nisan; there followed the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a memorial of the exodus from Egypt. The feast of Pentecost was 50 days from the weekly sabbath that occurred during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In the seventh month, called Tishri, the tenth day was the Day of Atonement, a day of fasting. This was followed by the Feast of Tabernacles, with high days on the 15th and 21st days.

The law also specified an annual cycle of seven years; in the seventh year no crops were to be planted, but the land was to be left fallow. There was also a Jubilee cycle of 49 years. The Hebrews needed to keep track of the time and observe the moon's phases in order to fulfil the requirements of the law.

Copyright © 1998 by Douglas E. Cox
All Rights Reserved.