When I was in college I read a lot of apologetics. There was some benefit to this, but most of the arguments that I found convincing almost a decade ago have proven to be much too simplistic. One example would be the use of Is. 40.22 as a proof-text for Scripture’s scientific accuracy.
Many English translations render this passage, “It is he that sits on the circle of the earth…”. The “he” being YHWH God. Overzealous defenders of the accuracy of Scripture quickly noted that this shows the author knew something about the planet that modern science confirms: it is a sphere!
But is that what this text says? Well, not quite.
The text translated “above/upon the circle of the earth” is עַל-חוּג הָאָרֶץ. Yes, חוּג has the idea of a spherical shape to some extent, but not like we may think. Rather, it would be more like a dome above. One could even say the “circle” of the horizon. We would do well to read this text while visualizing how ancient Hebrews formulated their cosmology. This picture provides a helpful visual:
I don’t mention this to discredit Scripture. First of all, Scripture isn’t a scientific text book. It does not seem that at any point God felt obligated to have a scientific apocalypse. God saved his ultimate break-through with humanity for the resurrection.
Second, Hebrew cosmology is phenomenological. For example, I speak of the sun rising and setting. It does neither. The earth circles around the sun spinning the whole time causing there to be certain times when from certain places the sun shines on the earth. If we hold the language of Scripture to scientific language (which we don’t even use in our modern scientific society in day-to-day conversations) then Scripture will be in trouble. If we hear Scripture as it is meant to be heard, i.e. God is above all and transcendent over creation, then we don’t have any problems.
So what is it about the apologetical use of this passage that bothers me? Well, it holds Scripture to the same foreign standard and misguided hermeneutic of its critics. The way to answer criticism of Scripture’s scientific “inaccuracy” (for lack of a better term) is not to try to show where it does cooperate with modern science, but to point out it is not using language that way and it is not having the same conversation that modern science is having anymore than you are when you sit next to someone and say, “Wow, that was a beautiful sunset. Our Creator is amazing!”