He Hangs the Earth on Nothing — Job 26:7

The ancient Greeks believed that the world was upheld by a Titan called Atlas. Various Native Americans, Hindus, and Chinese believed that the world was carried about by the World Turtle. Still others believed other animals labored tirelessly in carrying about our planet.

We know those beliefs to be mythical, and we have photographic evidence that the earth is free-floating in space, unattached to anything. This is something which we really didn’t understand thoroughly til various discoveries of the past several hundred years built on one another, culminating in the cosmology we know and are awed by today.

Did the Bible contain this scientific truth millennia before the rest of the world would catch on?

He … hangs the earth on nothing.

Job 26:7, ESV

One apologist points out that in mentioning “nothing,” the Book of Job stands apart from ancient beliefs that empty space was filled with a substance called “ether,” and absolutely, “ether” isn’t what fills space. [ref]InPlainSite.org[/ref] Another says that the earth is “held in place by invisible forces,” which I assume means that what the earth “hangs” on are invisible forces. [ref]The Official King James Bible Online[/ref] If we simply state that the forces which control the motion of our planet are invisible, then yes, that is true.

Does any of that represent a prescient understanding of cosmology, centuries before scientists figured it out?

First, Earth doesn’t “hang.” Hanging implies being pulled in the opposite direction of gravity — or held against the influence of gravity to prevent falling. But the earth is falling. Constantly. The sun’s gravity (and to a far lesser extent, the gravity of every planet and rock in our solar system) is pulling the earth toward it, just as the earth causes a ball you’ve thrown to curve downward. We have the earth’s inertia to thank for keeping us from being pulled to a fiery death by the sun’s gravity.

Second, perhaps this verse is vindicated only if we take it to mean basically the exact opposite — “he hangs the earth on nothing”? Of course! All that really means is “God doesn’t hang the earth at all.” Right? No? Yeah, that isn’t how any apologist or preacher I’ve ever heard has interpreted it, so let’s deal with that second part for real. “On nothing.” “Nothing” is tricky subject, and it’s rather hard to describe anything or anyplace in our universe as “nothing.” Let’s write a more accurate version of the verse: “The earth hangs by inertia over the well of the sun’s gravity.”

There isn’t really a God needed for that, as natural cause & effect processes are fully capable of explaining how the earth is where it is today.

So how does Job 26:7 do as a “scientific fact in the Bible”? It oversimplifies the situation Earth exists in, and it ignores one of the two forces acting on the earth and controlling its path (“hanging [via inertia]” is just half of it). Instead of “hangs,” a phrase like “carries about” would have been far more accurate.

Rather than being a piece of scientific foreknowledge, though, it seems like something which anyone looking around and actually paying attention to the skies could say — do you, after all, see any chains supporting the earth? That actually makes the verse a poor contrast to the ancient myths which tell of the earth being carried about by animals or gods; in fact, they could be complementary: “he hangs the earth on nothing, and when Atlas shrugs, the earth trembles,” for example.

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2 thoughts on “He Hangs the Earth on Nothing — Job 26:7

  1. Mo H. says:

    Just one question about a comment in this post: You mentioned that there isn’t a God needed for something that can be explained by “natural cause and effect processes”. My question is, if there’s not a God, how does one account for the establishment of “natural cause and effect processes”? Did the cosmos form itself with a mind to adhere to physical laws? I have no intentions of an argument, I am just genuinely interested to hear some theories related to the idea.

    Thanks,

    -MH

    • Rick Beckman says:
      Student of the sciences, the religions, the science fictions, and the fantasies… But mostly I’m just trying to find my groove in this big, crazy world.

      You’re presupposing that “physical laws” are something separate from the universe that the universe is subject to.

      In reality, “physical laws” are merely descriptions we’ve come up with to describe how the universe is. The universe isn’t conforming to anything, it just is. We do our best to understand how it is, and in the cases of things which seem to be a certain way universally, we develop “laws” to describe them.

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